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It Was A Good Week For... YouTubers Caspar and Joe, set to be Q4's fastest week one sellers in the special interest arena
It Was A Bad Week For… The Czech pirate forced to film a special message on YouTube as his punishment…
So, the big question this week, is has Black Friday kicked off Christmas in earnest? After what could at best be described as a soft start to the blockbuster film and special interest sector, fingers were crossed as the huge shopping day arrived. With titles performing at a decent level, but maybe not as high as some distributors particularly had hoped, there were plenty of industry types keenly observing and analysing what was going on in stores and online. The chat this week among those in the industry, at assorted presentations and event taking place, included key topics such as not only getting through the day and weekend itself, but also as to whether it’d be strong enough to give sales a much needed boost and up some of those blockbuster titles into the bug leagues they deserved to be playing in. Having seen some ICM research – which, among other things, suggested almost a quarter of the population would be taking part, with entertainment product, Blu-rays and DVDs key among the things they’d be buying (more than a third going for entertainment), with an average spend approaching £270, then maybe, just maybe, Christmas will finally begin…
Retailers were offering up big deals on Black Friday itself and on in to the weekend. Zavvi was one of those key online operators offering a wealth of choices and, on the day, reported some strong results. It was giving discounts on its specialist areas, especially Steelbooks, going for the collectors’ market, as well people looking for Christmas gifts. Offering up a sharp, sweet, succinct comment to The Raygun on Black Friday, Markus Bhatia from Zavvi parent The Hut said: “Business has been phenomenal and we keep going. Christmas is well and truly here.” You can see some of Zavvi’s deals up here

Amazon has been a key Black Friday retailer, not least in the way it helped import the concept from its original home in the US, where the day after the Thanksgiving holiday has traditionally marked the start of the seasonal sales push began. And it had another storming day of business in the UK too – as of 9.10pm on Friday night the day had been deemed as its biggest ever in the UK. The stats were impressive – 7.4 million items sold, at a rate of something like 86 items every second. It eclipsed the previous biggest day for the online giant – Black Friday in 2016, which sold a mere 5.5 million items at a rate of 64 a second. Celebrating the achievement, UK md Christopher North said: “Customers have showed us again just how much they love Black Friday. For the second year straight, customers in the UK have blown us away with their response to the many great deals on great products that we've made available for Black Friday. On behalf of all of us at Amazon and our many hundreds of sellers who are also offering great deals, we would like to thank our customers for choosing to shop with us and for making it a day for the record books. Throughout the year, we have been investing in more distribution centres and hiring many more great people in anticipation of our biggest Christmas period ever and, in particular, our biggest ever Black Friday. We are delighted that millions of customers loved the deals on offer. The bargains are not over yet. There is still time to take advantage of the great savings with deals running throughout this weekend.”
As noted previously on The Raygun, was planning some 7,000 offers, with again DVD and Blu-ray being among its chief offers. Earlier in the week UK md Christopher North had said: “Yesterday we saw high demand for deals from the early hours of the morning and we expect  to see this build throughout the week towards Black Friday itself. We have been asked whether we believe that Black Friday 2015 will be  the biggest sales day ever. We will have to wait and see but we are certainly ready if it is with more distribution centres, more stock, more deals and a large team of talented people ready to fulfil the highest levels of demand.”   
And beyond Black Friday, what are the week’s biggies? Well, Disney’s Inside Out was leading the way in the Official Charts Company’s midweek bulletin, having sold 166,000 in its first few days on sale, with the latest from the Pixar hit factory destined for the number one slot in the end of week chart. There were initial fears that it was not quite going to do the business and offer up another relatively soft week for a big release, but, as one retailer confided to us: “After the worries, it looks as if we’ll have a good week with Inside Out.” Other titles in the top 10 included another Universal release, Ted 2, at number three, Southpaw at five, YouTubers Joe and Caspar with their feature length outing Hit The Road at number six, ahead of comic Kevin Bridges at number seven in his latest outing. A couple of Black Friday and assorted catalogue offerings were also in the 10, in the shape of The Hobbit - The Battle Of The Five Armies at number four and the James Bond Collection at number nine. Just outside the top 10, other new entries included another BBC Worldwide title in the shape of Peter Kay’s Car Share. 

More on that Joe and Caspar release and The Raygun was out for the Hit The Road premiere, as the Empire Leicester Square was full to the brim of assorted YouTube stars for BBC Worldwide’s video exclusive. Given its success this week, BBC Worldwide deserves plaudits for spotting a good old-fashioned publishing opportunity, noting the success of a phenomenon outside of the video industry and turning it into a sellable release – it was set to thinnish its first week as the fastest selling non-feature film release of Q4 thus far. Strong, targeted marketing PR and other activity has helped it off to a strong start, the premiere was streamed live through YouTube (natch) and has racked up more than 300,000 views, with the event receiving acres of coverage and the release’s two stars giving it plenty of support. A live Twitter Q&A with @JoeSugg and @Caspar_Lee also took place on the evening of release too, which once again got #HitTheRoad trending at number one in the UK. More on this remarkable achievement next week, but commenting on its debut, BBC Worldwide’s head of sales Rhidian Bragg said: “Before Joe & Caspar Hit The Road we’d never commissioned any DVD titles starring YouTubers before. When you take a punt on something new it’s difficult to predict how well it will be received, yet Joe & Caspar Hit The Road has built fantastic momentum, we’ve had great support from retail partners and we’re really pleased with its sales so far this week.”
In a ridiculously busy week for the trade, the key diary date for many was Signature’s event at the Ham Yard Hotel in the West End of London. Opening the presentation, Signature founder and md Marc Goldberg had further signalled its aspirations, telling the assorted exhibitors, retailers and digital operators: “We are hugely ambitious. We will bring you better titles to your cinema, your store and your platforms.” He could show some impressive figures too – 2 million DVDs sold this year, 15 per cent year on year growth. The launch saw the growing and ambitious label unveil a new imprint that will become the new home for its non-theatrical releases. Precision Pictures will house the majority of the releases from Signature under its banner, while the Signature imprint itself will become the focus for its theatrically released titles. Launching later in 2016, Precision will have at least one release a week, with Signature expanding its team to help look after the new operation. It was good to see the company further committing to the DTV sector and video market, as he noted, although it is bringing more titles overall, including wider theatrical releases, more day and date titles and event cinema, as Signature owner and md Marc Goldberg said: “There’s still a huge demand for non-theatrical product, there’s a clear demand for titles that don’t have a cinema platform.” Precision will target pretty much every genre, with action, cool edgy horrors and family films all well covered. Of its 2015 releases, more than half would have fallen under the Precision umbrella. 
Meanwhile, Signature went on to highlight a baker’s dozen of titles due for release next year, further signifying its ambitions. These included one already covered here, Rise Of The Footsoldier Part II, the sequel to the hooligans meet gangsters hit that has sold more than 1 million units; Dragon Blade, a $200 million grossing Chinese box office hit that marks East meets West, starring Jackie Chan, Adrien Brody and John Cusack; animated adventures in A Warrior’s Tail; more gangsters in Fall Of The Krays; Keanu Reeves in Eye For An Eye; Noomi Rapace in Rupture; a brace of Nicolas Cage films in the form of The Trust and Dog Eat Dog (Cage’s five releases in 2015 have sold 500,000 plus units); Stephen King adaptation The Cell; Daniel Radcliffe in Imperium; Colonia, a political thriller starring another Harry Potter alumnus, Emma Watson; Shia LaBeouf in Man Down and some very strong family fare in the shape of Norm Of The North. The slate, like the Precision launch, went down very well and there was a firm buzz in the room at the reception after the presetnation. Commenting after the event, Signature sales chief Gemma Stockley said: “We are delighted to have such a response from all the trade to both the slate presentation and the launch of our new label: Precision Pictures. Signature has always been an exciting place to work, it goes from strength to strength, year on year, that you can’t help but get caught up with that. So it’s always encouraging when physical, digital and theatrical customers feedback their own enthusiasm after a presentation such as this. We are eager to get started on 2016 with all our customers and share our amazing new content with the British public."

Back to the BVA, The Raygun helped pull a wealth of independent labels, representing some of the bigger labels as well as some of the industry’s more boutique operations, to hear about advances the trade organisation was up to and what it could offer to the independent sector in terms of working more closely with the BVA. A rather stroppy bar manager aside, it was an interesting preliminary discussion between the two groups to explore ways of linking closer together. One of the key elements is to look at ways that the BVA can help independents establish themselves in the digital distribution sector too. Further meetings are planned for the months ahead, with the potential for bigger events due to to take place in the months ahead too. The independents are due to report back on elements they would like to see and it looks as if new channels could be opening up. Watch this space for more details and to ensure you are involved and on our collective indies and BVA mailing list, please get in touch with …
Nordic Noir returned to our screens with a bang at the weekend, as one of the finest and defining programmes of the genre, The Bridge, arrived in a new series on BBC4. It gave the channel its biggest ever unconsolidated audience, with 1.2 million viewers, with more catching up via BBC iPlayer. Arrow’s strategy for the release, with iTunes availability after transmission, is paying off, as it sits at number three in Apple’s chart and is also doing “great numbers” pre-ordering as a physical release on DVD and Blu-ray. Commenting on the series, Arrow’s Jon Sadler said: “We are thrilled to be bringing the Nordic Noir jewel-in-the-crown to UK consumers just before Christmas, 3 years after we released The Killing trilogy, its predecessor and previous title-holder. After building a brand around Nordic Noir in early 2012 – a genre that some wrote off as a fad – it’s great to have a peak in interest so far along its life-cycle and we look forward to significantly building the brand in 2016 with the fantastic new series’ Trapped and Follow the Money – from the makers of The Killing and Borgen.”
Regular readers will know, thanks in no small part to numerous mentions on our newsletter and via Twitter, that Michael Shannon is one of our favourite actors in the world, so we’re eagerly awaiting his return to the fray with Studiocanal’s forthcoming release of 99 Homes, which pits him against former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield. Here’s Studiocanal’s Kelly Morris on the release: “Winner of Best Film at the Toronto Film Festival (2014), 99 Homes is the nail-biting thriller from up-and-coming writer and director Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo, Man Push Cart), with powerhouse performances from Andrew Garfield (Spiderman franchise) and Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, The Iceman) and featuring a brilliant supporting cast including Laura Dern (Wild, The Fault in Our Stars). If you missed this superb film at the cinema, then it is a perfect opportunity to check it out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD in the new year when you’ll be staying in post all the festive overindulgence! The story is inspired by true events, the film provoking interesting ideas around the current economic downturn and its effect on people’s behaviour. The critical reception has been fantastic due to the terrific acting and gripping pace and we’ll be supporting the release with a press, digital & PR campaigns, and we strongly suggest you give this one a watch.”

With the Krays returning to the home entertainment fray once more early in 2016, both in Legend and the aforementioned Fall Of The Krays from Signature, as well as the latter’s impending sequel Rise Of The Foot Soldier Part II, it looks like the coming months will be another right royal Cockney barrel of monkeys. And there’s more too in the shape of documentary Essex Boys: The Truth. It comes from the same team-up that proved so fruitful for The Krays: Kill Order, with distributor turned production outfit Revelation and Metrodome joining forces to work on the release. It’s due on January 4 on DVD after a limited theatrical and vod release in December, already picking up traction and interest on the PR front from everyone from through to the Daily Express. Commenting on the release, Metrodome’s Jezz Vernon said: “There’s been so much mythmaking over the years, but the truth is far more shocking, it’s a very powerful piece of film making.”
Sticking with Metrodome one title we’ve been tracking for a while is Future Shock!, as it’s subtitled The Story Of 2000AD, the seminal British comic that helped launch the careers of scores of legendary artists and writers and has been a thorn in the side of the establishment for years. Not only are we interested in it as comic book fans ourselves, but it’s also the latest example of someone from the video sector, Helen Mullane, formerly at the likes of Studiocanal and elsewhere, turning their hands to filmmaking – she is one of its producers. We've finally caught up with the film, which aired at this year’s Film4 FrightFest, this week and it really is rather excellent. After its bow earlier this year, Metrodome is now gearing up for its release, it’s due at cinemas and on vod on Friday December 4 ahead of its physical release three days later on Monday December 7. In between that, on the Saturday, there’s a special screening at the Genesis cinema in London’s East End, with assorted special guests taking part in a panel discussion. It further arrives on the back of some impressive PR, including features in the Guardian and assorted magazines and newspapers. Commenting on the release, Metrodome’s Jezz Vernon said: “We are proud to be releasing Future Shock! next weekend, the film has gone a storm at both the Edinburgh Film Festival and Fright Fest, with packed audiences and rapturous reactions and reviews.”
Appointment news of the week comes from the BBFC, which has formally announced that current assistant director David Austin OBE will be taking over the role of director of the BBFC when current post-holder David Cooke retires in March next year. Austin, a former diplomat who was awarded the OBE for his work in the former Yugoslavia, said: “I am delighted to bring my expertise as both a film examiner and assistant director to the role of BBFC Director. It is vital for the BBFC to continue to consult the public regularly and to meet their expectations of both classification and the ease with which they expect to be able to access to classification information, enabling them to make informed decisions about what they and their family watch at the cinema, on DVD or Blu-ray and online. Under David Cooke and in partnership with the home entertainment industry in particular, the BBFC has transformed its remit to reflect the needs of a digital society, bringing its expertise in child protection and information provision online. I am greatly looking forward to continuing to work with my colleagues at the BBFC, the Presidential Team, the Council of Management and the Board's advisory bodies and stakeholders to ensure the BBFC continues to act as an expert and trusted guide to film, DVD/Blu-ray and digital platforms.” Cooke himself added: “I am sure that David will take the BBFC from strength to strength in serving the public, and the cause of child protection, in the internet age."
And so, after the initial announcement recently, Disney’s new pan-European subscription vod service, DisneyLife, launched this week. At a cost of more than many of its svod rivals – £9.99 a month after a free month-long trial period – the system offers a wealth of Disney product from across the entertainment spectrum. It includes the crown jewels, classics such as The Jungle Book, Toy Story, Mary Poppins, The Lion King and more on the feature side, taking in Pixar as well as its own classics, with TV, music and even books. Frozen will appear on DisneyLife in the first half of 2016. It’s appearing first in the UK, before launching on other territories. Commenting on the launch, DisneyLife UK general manager Paul Brown said: “Our team has worked tirelessly to create a personal, intuitive and unique experience for the whole family. Disney means something different to every parent and child and now with DisneyLife, we are handing over the keys to them to explore the ever expanding digital world of Disney - wherever they are, and whenever they want.”

“We have been informed of a defect in copies of the DVD which...results in freezing/interruption of play between 13 and 15 minutes. We are currently working on a resolution and will be contacting customers in due course to replace any orders sold and dispatched directly by as soon as possible. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
The Amazon statement made after the new Take That live DVD was pulled from sale after a problem with freezing, label Polydor and parent Universal Music had yet to respond…
The final swansong of The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay Part 2, made its debut with more than £11.25 million in its opening frame. Other new entries included The Dressmaker with £235,968 and The Perfect Guy, with a touch over £100,000. 
We’re not sure about you, but every time we’re flicking through the TV channels and bump into the Kevin Bacon creature feature Tremors (chances are it’s airing on one of the ITV channels) then we’ll invariably watch it again. And the good news this week is that the film that’s so good they made another four following that hugely impressive first outing is returning complete with star Bacon for a new TV series. The franchise has already had one outing on the small screen, but this new version is a far more ambitious outing, returning to its roots and Bacon himself. The only downside us it seems to be at the drawing board, although reports from the US suggest that there’s a lot of interest from TV companies and beyond… 
Meanwhile, Universal’s plans to give a new lease of life to its whole monsters universe continue apace, as it aims to create a whole new world for its characters with the kinds of interlinking films that have typified the Marvel world. The latest news from the studio is that Tom Cruise may become involved, with a key role to play within the Mummy franchise. No more detail yet, but stay tuned for this one…
Also heading for a spin-off series is Vin Diesel’s outer space beefcake Riddick, set to appear in both a new film, following the eponymous outing and Pitch Black…

Our junior correspondent Albie Murray has been busy this week, with his review of the Joe & Caspar film, Hit The Road, due up on shortly and more additions to his YouTube channel, including a look at the excellent Undertaker boxset from the WWE via Fremantle…

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