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It Was A Good Week For… HMV staff who both got paid and were allowed to accept gift cards, ending in-store aggro…

It Was A Bad Week For… Independents and majors alike, given administrators' offers…

It's been a week of fevered speculation, frantic phone calls and intense media scrutiny as the administrators continued going through the books at both Blockbuster and HMV with a fine toothcomb. And for independent labels, studios and major distributors, it was a week of hugely difficult decisions, especially when it comes to the latter. The next few days will, it appears, be crucial for the future not just of HMV, but, arguably, some distributors too. Speculation is still rife as to what will happen – it appears no one has the answers or can second guess the thinking of administrators Deloitte and Hilco, which acquired the debt from HMV's lenders, RBS and Lloyds. It has been widely reported that Hilco will pay £40million for the £140 million debt, taking it off the banks' books and leaving them with a hit for £100 million. Hilco said it believes there is "a viable underlying HMV business" and is working with Deloitte, "reviewing the business to determine future options". But here's where it starts to get more complicated: with HMV doing huge business (estimates of £60 million this week) things should be looking up for our business. But much of the stock being sold is on consignment – it's owned by the labels until it's sold. And, according to some, they've been offered just upwards of 10p in the pound per unit sold, leaving them potentially out of pocket, while Hilco and Deloitte pull in the revenue. Selling the consignment stock also changes the position of labels, moving them from unsecured to secured, which again raises further questions. There are also question marks about the store locations, with some publications reporting interest from both fashion chains and grocers, who are sniffing around some of the prime retail sites. Many are predicting a strong future for the chain, others are more pessimistically projecting other likely scenarios and
positing conspiracy theories about the outcome. What is clear – from everyone we've spoken to – is that, for HMV, the next few days are crucial. As ever, our thoughts are with those who are caught up in this nightmare position. More next week, when hopefully some of the uncertainty and speculation will have ended…

The administrators also announced this week at the chain would be accepting gift cards at the retailer, giving store staff respite from angry customers blaming them for something that was out of their hands. In the only statement to come directly from Deloitte this week, joint administrator Nick Edwards said: ““The ability of Administrators to honour gift vouchers will depend on the specific circumstances of each case.  Since our appointment as Joint Administrators on Tuesday afternoon, we have been urgently assessing the Companies’ financial position.  I am pleased to confirm that, having concluded this assessment, we are able to honour gift cards.  I can also confirm that all money raised by HMV for various charities will be paid in full.  We recognise that both of these matters have caused concern for individuals and organisations affected and are pleased to have reached a positive outcome. We will continue to assess the longer term options for the business whilst continuing to trade.  I am hopeful this process will result in the business continuing as a going concern.”

While HMV continues trading, and is enjoying great success at the tills, it seems as if Blockbuster's future is more clear-cut. Again, Deloitte have been going through the books, but the position of Blockbuster’s stock is far clearer. It’s still receiving new releases too, such as this week’s exclusive rental window bow for Sinister. Over the weekend, Deloitte announce closures a 129 of its stores, taking the total to shutter to 160. The closures aren’t immediate, but some 800 staff were said to be facing redundancy. There is said to be interest from potential buyers. In a statement joint administrator Lee Manning said: “Having reviewed the portfolio with management, the store closure plan is an inevitable consequence of having to restructure the Company to a profitable core which is capable of being sold. We would like to thank the Company’s employees for their support and professionalism during this difficult time. We are also grateful to the customers for their continued support.”

More retail news now and some interesting figures from Kantar Worldpanel which show that Amazon increased its share of the UK entertainment market in the run-up to Christmas, rising three points to 23.4 per cent. Asda had a strong Q4 too according to the research experts, its share of entertainment us now above 10 per cent, driven, among other things, by a growth in games. Consumer insight director Fiona Keenan said: ““Christmas resulted in an all-time record share for Amazon. The retailer posted growth across all categories, with its most notable performance in CD sales – historically HMV’s stronghold. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it would benefit the most from possible HMV store closures. HMV shoppers are more likely to shop in physical stores, leaving the likes of Game and the grocers in a good position if HMV leaves the high street – particularly if they react quickly. Amazon’s strong performance may not sit so well for the wider industry as a move away from the high street brings with it a move away from impulse purchasing. Last year, HMV music customers spent £61m on CDs picked up while browsing. Generating sales in this way remains a challenge for online retailers.” HMV’s market share was up slightly in the quarter.

Also on the High Street and interesting to note that WH Smith, formerly one of the leading video retailers, is not interested in getting back into the sector in a big way. Entertainment accounted for just between one and two per cent of its sales, with Smiths selling DVD in 350 of its stores. The retailer was once a giant, with suppliers and distributors creating exclusives for it and often referring to releases as “Smith’s titles”. But unveiling its latest figures, chief executive Kate Swann said: “Its just not profitable.”

Deal news now and while the administrators have been in at some High Street retailers, their digital counterparts have been doing what they do best – inking deals for more content. Chief among this this week were blinkbox’s announcement that it has signed a major contract with Studiocanal that will give it access to more than 160 films from the company’s vast library, ranging from classics such as Apocalypse Now through to recent outings such as Source Code and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It will also include rentals of forthcoming releases such as Rust And Bone and Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Michael Comish, CEO Tesco Digital Entertainment, said: “This latest deal brings some of the most critically acclaimed films ever made to blinkbox for 2013. That’s great news for movie fans. We set the bar high with new content in 2012 but we’ll be looking to add even more great titles this year.” Studiocanal coo Robb Smith said: “We are delighted to be in partnership with blinkbox and look forward to providing its innovative service with a wide range of world-class Studiocanal productions.”

The other major deal saw LOVEFiLM and Channel 4’s 4OD arm, which will offer LOVEFiLM Instant customers access to 4OD’s massive library of classic programming from the channel. This takes in streaming of everything from The Inbetweeners and Father Ted through to Friday Night Dinners, Peep Show and The IT Crowd, by way of Shameless, Queer As Folk and Teachers. LOVEFiLM md Jim Buckle said: “"Our TV offering has gone from strength to strength and this deal will bring even more iconic British content to the service. We're proud to offer more diverse and exciting instant television programming to our members than any other subscription service." Channel 4’s director of commercial and business development Sarah Rose added: "We're very proud of our rich archive of shows on 4oD and we're delighted to find another platform for many of them on LOVEFiLM. Our growing mix of classic comedy, drama and documentary spanning 30 years of broadcasting, complements LOVEFiLM's already diverse range of great programmes and films."

There’s been news emanating from Revolver’s HQ recently about redundancies and the like, with some publications reporting lay-offs at the independent without comment from the distributor. The Raygun popped over to the company’s office this week to look at its forthcoming slate and talk about its future. The company has acknowledged what it described as “regrettable” redundancies, but stresses they are few and insists there is plenty of good news to come too. It points to a decline in catalogue sales and the fact that digital has yet to make up the shortfall. New Revolver md Nick Taussig said: “The risks are much greater, we’re trying to start feeding ourselves, rather than over-paying for films where costs are ever-increasing.” He points to the fact that it costs less money to make films than buy them, which means Revolver is refocusing its efforts on its own Gunslinger production arm, with titles such as Bootnecks and London Syndrome on the way. “Our aim this year is to release three of our own productions,” said Taussig. 

Revolver said it has had a bright start to 2013, buoyed by some of its end of year releases, When The Lights Went Out, UFO, Offender and, particularly, The Imposter have all started brightly. And it is promising an interesting slate for the first part of the year. First up is Not Suitable For Children, a title that has already benefited from a digital release, the success of which bodes well for its physical bow, Revolver noted. March sees The Liability, a film that boasts an impressive cast headed by Tim Roth. It will benefit from a platform theatrical release. Crawlspace has already wowed audiences at festivals such as Sci-Fi London and Grimmfest and will come wrapped in a mirrorboard. Liberal Arts has already performed at theatrical and stars BAFTA nominee Elizabeth Olsen. Citadel is a tale set in a tower block about a group of feral children, while The Darkest Day is another homegrown title with a Centurion feel. And Entity is a Dervla Kirwan found footage flick that will appeal to the audience who lapped up Chernobyl Diaries. Beyond that comes one of the year’s most eagerly awaited British films, based around the seminal Stone Roses gig.

To the Toy Fair, over in west London's cavernous Olympia, where, as well as roaming around playing with and looking at new toys, we also bumped into FremantleMedia, there to talk about Tree Fu Tom, one of last year's key children's launches. The company and assorted toy licensees are pressing ahead with more from the environmentally-friendly animated hero in 2013, with a number of new product launches and the second DVD release of his adventures all due in half-term week. Fremantle's Julia Rich said: "We're going to make as much noise as we can during that week, the toys and DVDs will be in all the major retailers. It gives us real brand leverage. We'll be cross-categorising product with the toy companies, we're all pulling together. We had a good start last year and the brand is growing." Tom himself, or at least the version we saw roaming around Olympia, is also set to make some in-store appearances to tie in with the February 18 release of Tree Fu Magic. It's also worth noting another Fremantle-associated brand, the Power Rangers, were out in force in Olympia, the brand will receive another boost this year thanks to its 20th birthday celebrations (that's right – it's celebrating its 20th year in 2013).

Sticking with FremantleMedia, it appears as if its long-standing Merlin franchise is going out with a bang, not a whimper. For the fifth and final series of the Saturday evening family show, which brought the curtain down on its successful run, is set to become the best selling in the programme's history if its performance this week is anything to go by. As we write, the programme is sitting pretty at number one in the TV charts. The complete fifth series box set and a second part of series five release were both released on Monday, January 21. Fremantle's Tristan Whitlam said: "It's bucking the trend of the market and it looks like we might beat last year's series 4 sales, which is testament to what an amazing brand it is, and the hard work that's gone into the product marketing." 

The past Monday, January 21, marked a momentous occasion for Fremantle, as it was the first release for WWE titles going through the company under its new deal with the wrestling organisation. The past seven days has also seen the Fremantle-run e-commerce site going live too, at Fremantle's WWE Label Manager Ken Law said: "We're delighted to kick off our WWE license and launch a new beginning for WWE home entertainment. Night Of Champions' is the first of over 30 titles we have slated for the rest of 2013. Our new e-commerce site has already had fantastic feedback from the fans and with WrestleMania 29 just over two months away, we are all very excited about the forthcoming year". The next release under the new deal will be Hell In A Cell due out on Monday.

Also out on Monday is one of the more eagerly awaited titles of the year so far, and one that ended up on a lot of year-end Best Of lists in 2012 – Holy Motors. The title, if not one of the year’s best, certainly its most bizarre, is directed by Leo Carax and includes, among other things, the appearance of one Kylie Minogue. Commenting on its campaign, Artificial Eye’s Paul Diment said: “We'll be supporting the release with a national press and PR campaign, as well as dedicated Facebook sponsored stories and Youtube pre-rolls.”

We’ve mentioned Mission To Lars earlier on, after last week’s story looking at Clear Vision’s acquisition of one of last year’s best films. We’ve also been chatting to the independent label about its plans for the future. You can expect to see the label at plenty of film markets this year, starting with the imminent one in Berlin. The company’s Gil Garagnon said: “We’ve got a clearer idea of what we want to do and where our strength are. We have really good people here and fantastic experience of the DVD market. And we’re in a unique position in that we have an international network of distribution, which works for DVD. We’re also building an international digital network.” He added that the company is looking at TV and animation programming it can put through this network as well as some six or seven feature films a year. Garagnon added: “We’re looking at films from around the world, we’re trying to acquire films that are different, we’re not going to compete with the majors or the eOnes of this world.” We’ll have more on Clear Vision’s plans up on our website shortly. 

Also on our website this week: our Top 10 Of Everything 2012, compiling all sorts of year-end charts, from the serious with sales figures, to the more flippant…There’s also a look at Studiocanal’s Comedown, with its writer who used to work in the industry, as well as Momentum’s Pusher…

And while were on about our website, recent retail shenanigans have prevented us fully chasing up our year-end poll. We’ve got a fair few in now, but join in by answering the following questions and emailing them to us at the usual address. The more the merrier…
Favourite three releases of the year:
Highlights of 2012:
Lowpoint of 2012:
Event of the year:
Biggest challenge in 2013:
What I’m looking forward to in 2013:

Monday January 21 also saw the release of American Mary, the well-received horror film acquisition from Universal. As previously reported here, the major collaborated closely with the FrightFest organisation, taking the film’s directors and one of its stars around the UK ahead of the release. Here’s a report from Universal’s Mike Hewitt: “We're incredibly pleased with our theatrical partnership with FrightFest Presents to bring American Mary to the big screen, along with the main three talented ladies behind the project; writer/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska and their lead actress Katharine Isabelle. We cannot thank the ladies enough for being phenomenal with their time on tour, whether it be the often rather risqué Q&As or the lengthy signing sessions of free DVD and Blu-ray covers with the fans which overran most nights. The week-long drive around the country also provided many highlights, least of all being caught up in a rolling police roadblock on the motorway during one phone interview with The Hollywood News. A terrifically original independent horror film, American Mary has provoked many debates over the last few weeks on many topics, including its unique feminist stance, and we're delighted for the filmmakers who managed to experience a hugely positive audience response to the film across the length and breadth of the UK.” You can see more from the tour here.

More forthcoming release news now and, in keeping with some of its contemporaries in the specialist sector, Arrow’s Arrow Video imprint, which harks back to the glory days of the industry, took to Twitter this week to announce its line-up for the second quarter. And the cognoscenti received the announcement warmly, praising the company’s slate for the second three months of the year, which now includes George A Romero’s Knightriders, a brace of Mario Bava titles (Baron Blood and Black Sabbath) as well as a saucy pair from Tinto Brass (The Key and All Ladies Do It). Other titles include Motel Hell and Spider Baby, as well as blaxploitation classic Foxy Brown, starring Pam Grier. One of the most eagerly awaited, certainly around these parts, is Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, a fine thriller starring John Travolta. Arrow’s Francesco Simeoni said: “In these difficult times it was refreshing to hear from rabid film fans asking when they could buy our forthcoming releases. Fans have gone crazy for the Q2 line-up of cult goodness, which includes two director-approved Blu-rays, three UK premieres and five world premieres on Blu-ray. The slate features exclusive restorations of some truly classic films, and having the filmmakers directly involved is a real treat. What is great about this quarter's slate is the variety we are bringing to the table - while it includes our traditional genres like horror and action, we've mixed-in classic erotica from Tinto Brass, Blaxploitation in the form of Foxy Brown, and we're continuing our hugely popular director collections with George Romero's Knightriders and Brian De Palma's Blow Out.”

This week marks the release of the latest historical drama from Steven Spielberg, Lincoln, at cinemas, so it's only fitting that Universal has just announced the release of arguably the director's finest work in this field, Schindler's List, on Blu-ray for the first time ever. The title is due in an all-singing, all-dancing Blu-ray Steelbook on April 8 and also marks the 20th anniversary since its original release. Universal believes that the bow of the awards-friendly film marks the last big blockbuster films to debut on the format. The company's Vicki Davis said: "We’re very excited about releasing what is probably the last great film yet to make it onto Blu-ray. As well as giving the consumer the opportunity to watch the hugely acclaimed Schindler’s List with superior picture and sound, we will also be including UltraViolet and Digital Copy and a 16-page collector’s booklet to maximise consumer value. A title of this calibre deserves the very best in marketing support, so as well as a substantial above-the-line investment, we will be exploring many PR angles, including a visit to Krakow for key media partners, access to film-makers and working closely with charities that seek to raise awareness and study the impact of the Holocaust. Consumer research shows that this is an important film, which many people want to own in the best possible quality, and we are confident that our Blu-ray, DVD and Limited Edition Blu-ray Digibook releases will both satisfy this demand and commemorate the 20th Anniversary of this culturally significant Academy-Award winning film in a fitting manner."

More from Universal and tomorrow (Saturday January 26) see the opening of a major exhibition at Ham House and Garden to mark the impending release of its historical adaptation, Anna Karenina. The Joe Wright film, which was partly filmed at the National Trust site on the fringes of London, is due on February. The exhibition will show not just some of the locations used, but also showcase the costumes worn by the likes of Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The exhibition will run until April 4, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity to flag up the film’s release to visitors.

Independent Dogwoof is set for what could be one of its biggest releases ever next week, as Monday January 28 sees the release of its much-talked about documentary Queen Of Versailles. For those that don’t know, the film follows Jackie Sigel, the wife of a US property billionaire whose lavish plans to build a replica of the Paris palace of the title as a family home were scuppered by the financial crisis, which also hit her lavish lifestyle. Sigel herself and director Lauren Grenfield have spent what Dogwoof’s Terry Stevens said was a “full on week of activity”, including a screening and Q&A at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, south London, hosted by Kate Spicer of Mission To Lars fame. Stevens said: “The screening was a complete sell-out and there was a packed foyer after for a signing session. There was also photo shoot for the Daily Mail, they were on BBC Radio London and are set to be on Monocle Radio too on Monday. Lauren is also going to be giving a master class at the Frontline club on Monday night. We had a great time hosting Jackie and Lauren and have received a lot of attention ahead of the release of what promises to be one of our most successful DVDs to date.” You can read more in Dogwoof’s blogpost here.

Job news now and congratulations to Abbey  Home Media’s Dan Harriss, who has been promoted to the role of chief operating officer at the company. Harriss, formerly at the likes of Blockbuster, THE and SPHE, has been at the children’s specialist for a year. Chairman Ian Miles said: “In the past 12 months Dan has made an outstanding contribution to the business, including fully transforming our Digital and New Media strategy. He has also focused on moving forward the development of our own IP and has developed a clear strategy that we need to implement to ensure we grow in the current challenging environment. It is in recognition of this we have decided to promote him to the role of chief operating officer.” Harriss added: “I am delighted to take on this new role. While the entertainment market is definitely challenging there are still many opportunities for us to grow the business both within the UK and Internationally, through licensed properties and developing our own intellectual property. The team here at Abbey are fantastic and being a relatively small business we can move and develop quickly to adapt to these changing times.”

“In other words, when it comes to the most popular content with members on Netflix, none of these [other SVOD] services are good substitutes to Netflix, When it comes to competition, we not only have a superior content offering due to our larger budget, but we are further along the experience curve when it comes to improving our user interface. For all of these reasons, Netflix continues to add members rapidly.”
Netflix’s Reed Hastings and David Wells compare the company’s service with rivals such as Amazon, Redbox and Hulu.

Another big week, with the huge premiere for Lionsgate’s eagerly-awaited return to the big screen for Arnold Schwarzenegger as a leading man, The Last Stand. It’s a hugely commercial offering for home entertainment, and the reception for both Arnie and the film showed his pull. We also finally got to see the rather excellent Django Unchained courtesy of SPHE at its Golden Square screening room.

Snow, snow and more snow: the weather dominated the proceedings at the box office, although Les Miserables still managed to retain the top slot and has now accumulated more than £17 million at UK cinemas. Highest new entry was Django Unchained, with a haul of £2.8 million, while the only other new entry in the top 10 was Monsters, Inc 3D, which took £681,247.

The Internet went into meltdown on Thursday night as news leaked out that JJ Abrams, the man behind many of the sci-fi and superhero blockbusters of recent years, was set to direct the next planned film in the Star Wars franchise, the first since its acquisition by Disney towards the end of 2012. It’s another feather in his cap, and sees him monopolizing franchises with Star in the title – the second in his revamped and rebooted Star Trek series is due later this year.

TV news now and, following hot on the heels of the US take on The Killing, word arrives of a unique take on The Bridge. A UK and French co-production is set to offer its own take on the Nordic Noir hit. The Tunnel will be set in both Folkestone and Calais (oh, the glamour) and is the first bi-lingual series collaboration between the two countries.  It will star. Among others, Clemence Poesy, who appeared in the Harry Potter franchise, and Stephen Dillanes. from Game Of Thrones. No word on video rights yet, it’s a joint production from Canal Plus and Sky Atlantic.

Other big Internet news focused on plans for a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Veteran Chinese director Ronny Yu is likely to be at the helm, with The Weinstein Company producing from the same source material as the original film, a series of Chinese fiction tales. It could be called Silver Vase, Iron Knight, although can we suggest our pet name for Ang Lee’s film, Frozen Turkey, Cheeky Monkey.

A minor spat with a notable film critic (and Raygun fan), HMV updates, reports from premieres, all in a week’s work for The Raygun on Twitter. Follow us on

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