“I actually still have a mini DVD player,” says Jim Wuthrich, who is being inducted into the Home Entertainment & Digital Hall of Fame at Variety’s Press Play event Dec. 5.
The obsolete technology is a physical reminder of a mutable industry.
“I’ve been in this business for 19 years, and it has changed so much,” he says. As president, the Americas and Global Strategy, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Wuthrich is always ready to adjust.
While he and his team employ a five-year business plan to set a direction, “I always tell my team, one thing I know for sure is we’re going to be wrong,” he jokes.
Growing the user base of digital consumers is top of mind at the studio.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge that is actually facing home entertainment right now. We need to bring more people into the ecosystem. If you think back to the heyday of the physical business, we had many more transactions than we are having in ownership or rental. Those people have gone away, and it’s incumbent upon us to bring them back to the category.”
That means competing with an exploding number of entertainment choices.
“There are so many more options for consumers now, so we’ve been moved down in the consideration set, and the challenge for the industry is to move us back up in that consideration set,” he says. “When somebody sits down on a Friday or Saturday night and tries to figure out what they’re going to view, we just need to make sure we’re part of that calculation, that they don’t spend their time on all of the other options.”
Studio research shows that 65% of households are still engaged in the transactional home entertainment business, but the bulk of that is on the physical side.
Wuthrich says the studio is looking at several initiatives to add value to the digital experience, including exploiting that first window into homes; offering better, connected special features; and providing shared entitlements.
“That’s basically giving the consumers the utility that they buy it once and they can play it back anywhere, and we think that that will become an increasingly important product feature for digital ownership going forward,” Wuthrich says.
As part of that shared entitlement plan, Warner recently joined Disney, Universal, Sony and Fox in offering its movies on the Movies Anywhere cloud-based digital locker service launched in October.
Despite the focus on growing digital consumers, Wuthrich says the physical disc still drives the business and is also the best, most reliable delivery system for 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range, the new format that provides a picture with greater contrast and more vivid colors.
Other new technologies that the studio is bullish on are virtual, augmented and mixed reality. The studio released a VR experience for the hit horror film “It,” and plans a home VR experience for “Justice League” as well.
“It’s a nascent marketplace, but we think that this is going to be a very important part of the home entertainment/entertainment slate,” he says.
The change doesn’t stop at the border for Wuthrich. He leverages his four years of experience as president of international to direct global strategy.
“Every marketplace has its own dynamics. There’s one constant, though. Hollywood content tends to play well around the world.”
It will play well in the future as well, he says.
“One thing that has remained constant is the relevancy of the category the we are in. We have meaning in people’s lives, and because of all that’s going on, it only continues to grow and become more enhanced, so it’s an exciting time to be in the business.”