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Universal’s Vid Chief Eddie Cunningham Puts Best Formats Forward

Juggling is probably easier.

The home entertainment industry is in a state of constant change, forever eyeing new formats, new delivery systems and new markets while maintaining legacy businesses.

Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, balances it all. The exec, who is being inducted into Press Play: Variety Home Entertainment & Digital Hall of Fame on Dec. 6, doesn’t want to abandon physical discs prematurely, but at the same time he wants to improve digital ownership with what he calls “next-generation EST.”

Home entertainment executives industrywide have sought to boost digital ownership — variously known as electronic sell-through (EST) or Digital HD — through early release before disc and greater marketing. Cunningham believes more can be done.

“The EST business has been growing fairly significantly over the past few years, but I think we have recognized that we haven’t really improved the product,” he says.

It’s all about taking advantage of digital connectivity, he maintains.

“When people are consuming EST, they are connected to the Internet so what does that allow us to do that we couldn’t do on a physical piece of content?” Cunningham says. “That allows us to use that connectivity as a gateway to so much other bonus content that you couldn’t really put on a physical disc. It allows us to change and update that content on a daily basis.”

Another growth prospect: the burgeoning format 4K Ultra High Definition, offering four times the resolution of HD, with high dynamic range (HDR), which produces brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays.

“I think there’s no doubt in our minds that this is going to be an important format physically and digitally,” Cunningham says, noting projections of 15 million UHD TV sets sold in the United States alone this year, double last year’s number.

Cunningham also has his eye on overseas markets. Prior to taking on global duties, he headed the studio’s international home entertainment business for eight years, so he is intimately aware of its potential.

“I would actually start by banishing the word international,” he says. “I think as the business grows, it’s an increasingly sort of lazy way of describing those 7 billion people who live outside these shores.”

There are differences in each territory that merit attention, he adds.

“Our theme at Universal is very much think global, but act local,” he says. “So in other words think globally about your strategy, but be prepared to flex that strategy locally depending on market conditions.”

In South Korea, for instance, Universal has changed its distribution plans to offer more digital access to combat piracy, he says.

It’s all a part of the continuous juggling home entertainment executives must do.

“I think the role of the studio is to make great movies, tell great stories, and our job is to respond to changing consumer behavior brought about by technological changes or any other changes.”

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