The Home Entertainment Revolution: Then and Now

Posted by Ron Greenfield
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

Today's guest post comes from Stage 32 member, Ron Greenfield.

Ron has had an extensive and distinguished career in the entertainment and interactive industries. He began his career in New York designing, marketing and producing trailers and promos for the major studios, networks, cable stations, and their affiliates. For his work he has received numerous Emmy and Clio award nominations.

As home entertainment began to gain popularity, Ron joined CBS/FOX in a senior creative capacity. There he conceived and produced the campaigns for such films as, Rocky II and III, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Sophie’s Choice as well as such classics as The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.

In Los Angeles Ron joined Republic Pictures (a Blockbuster owned company) as Senior Director of Creative Services. During his tenure he originated the marketing and creative campaigns for the company’s indie and Hallmark Hallof Fame home entertainment releases. His duties expanded to include work on the popular series Beauty and The Beast as well as several television pilots, award-winning mini-series and reality programming.

Joining Spelling Entertainment and working for the legendary Aaron Spelling as Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services, his duties expanded to include public relations/publicity and producing specialized programming for the company’s releases as well as grow the company’s presence at international film conventions and festivals. For his overall efforts he is the recipient of several awards for outstanding creativity in addition to serving as judge and being nominated for several Hollywood Key Art Awards.

From Spelling Ron became active in the console/online gaming industry. As its Chief Marketing Officer, the firm of Software Magic worked with many of the industry’s top publishers, developing game concepts and online projects, working in tandem with companies such as Electronic Arts, Activision, Vivendi-Universal, Dreamworks Interactive, Lucas Arts, and Midway Games.

Following Software Magic, Ron began developing online projects, most notably with online networking and the development of social communities. Given their potential and phenomenal growth rate, he recently created the website Having worked in so many areas of the entertainment industry, he sees it as a portal of information whereby he can provide useful information and tools for anyone, especially those individuals seeking careers in the industry.

I thank Ron for his contributions to the community and to the Stage 32 Blog.



Entertainment is a social, cultural, and educational phenomenon in whatever form it happens to be – a film, live performance, game, or any interactive channel or device.  Whatever it is, it is part of our lives and doesn’t discriminate as to age, culture, or locale.

Entertainment allows us to suspend our beliefs, makes us aware of different points of view, provides new insights, and experience new feelings. And today we are not confined to our homes, theatres or other venues. We can access and be engaged by it where ever we happen to be.

Some Perspective.

Theatre, dance, music and books are probably the earliest forms of entertainment and have lasted for centuries. In the early part of the 20th century, movies were the game changer, followed by radio, television, home entertainment, computers, the internet and now phones, mobile devices, and a broad array of apps. The reasons are very basic. With the introduction of each one, they essentially did three things:

  • Presented entertainment in a new way that was accessible to more people.
  • Provided more choices of entertainment that tapped into the imaginations of audiences, offering programming that was meaningful, was varied and unlimited.
  • It was affordable.

In the early eighties something radically new was introduced to consumers – home entertainment. It changed the entire entertainment industry and its paradigm of doing business. Now anyone could watch a movie without going to their local Cineplex or having to wait for a network or PPV airing. There were VCR’s and Betamax machines, Laserdisc and CED machines, all with one purpose – to bring the movie-going experience into the home, at the consumer’s leisure.

For those of us who were there at the beginning, it was an exciting time, but also a perplexing and challenging one. At first, we weren’t sure how to market this “new concept,” let alone where people could go and purchase these videos and discs because the concept of “rentals” hadn’t caught on yet.

When anything captures the public’s attention, the playing field will eventually give way to consumer tastes and preferences and that is what happened. They preferred the VHS format over Beta and Laserdiscs over CED discs.

At first videocassettes and discs were sold or rented in music and book stores because they were the only viable extension at the time, but in time giants like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video as well as neighborhood mom and pop stores came to be.

The sky was the limit for those of us involved in marketing, advertising, and promotion. Literally anything could be put on tape or disc and sold. At the company I worked for, CBS/Fox, it could be just about anything - the release of George Lucas’ Return of the Jedi, classics such as Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon to “How To” videos for plumbing, gardening, exercising, or videotaping a wedding.

As its popularity rapidly gained momentum, the floodgates burst open. Hollywood took notice. At first, home entertainment was looked upon as the bastard child of the industry, but when the studios saw its potential as a major revenue source, things changed very quickly.

Every major studio as well as a glut of independent companies soon had fully staffed Home Video divisions that included development, sales, distribution, marketing, promotions, and publicity. Home entertainment was now big business and a major factor in contributing to a film’s profitability. Films, long relegated to studio vaults, were dusted off and found new life and were significant sources of revenue to these companies. Films like The Wizard of Oz, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Gone With The Wind.

Home Entertainment Evolves.

Every entertainment platform evolves as the audience increasingly becomes more sophisticated and their expectations become more demanding.

Throughout the eighties, nineties, and into the new century, the industry grew by leaps and bounds. For anyone working or wanting to work in home entertainment, it would require a great deal of tenacity, hard work, and adaptability as new technologies were introduced and implemented. It’s not like working on the promotion of one film over a period of months. It is a beast that constantly must be fed to meet the demands of the marketplace.

There is a mindset or way of thinking that is imperative and needs to be understood for anyone working in this industry. First, there is the increasing consumer demand for quality entertainment and the best way to achieve that, which has a great deal to do with production, marketing, and distribution. At the same time, there are the companies that distribute home video product and look to the bottom line for profitability. At any one time campaigns and promotions are scheduled at least six to nine months out before they’re released. Then again, the time can change at any given point. If a film is released and falls short of box-office expectations, its video release is moved up in the schedule to realize additional potential profits.

These include blockbuster as well independent, television, and special interest videos.

Understanding consumer expectation and their purchasing power are monumental in order to be successful in this industry. They are motivated by essentially three factors in renting, viewing, and purchasing any type of programming:

  • Name or Title Recognition
  • Star Power
  • Cover or Artwork Appeal

As this industry continues to grow and expand, consumer demand has increased for “added value” or supplemental materials, especially with the advent of DVD and Blue-Ray discs.  It is no longer enough to distribute a film - audio commentaries, behind the scenes footage, even outtakes became part of the mix for any release.

In addition, whatever your involvement is in the process, there are unforeseen benefits that come into play. There are collaborative, creative possibilities, involving the talents of many people, some very distinguished and well-known in their respective fields. At one of the companies I worked for, Spelling Entertainment, I was afforded the opportunity of working with two of them –Sidney Lumet on one of his last films Night Falls on Manhattan and Martin Scorsese in restoring and preserving some of the films in the company’s library.

Recording the commentary with Mr. Lumet was like attending a Masters Class on Film Directing, as he explained his process – how shots were set up, the coverage he needed for editing, and his intention in eliciting the best performances from his actors. Having been an actor at the beginning of his career, he had a tremendous respect for actors and always spoke so highly of them, whether they were the stars of the film, featured in supporting roles, or actors used in background scenes.

Martin Scorsese, as well, is one of the most vocal champions of Film Restoration. His intention is to clearly preserve the legacy of films as an art form and in the last twenty years or so has actively done just that. I had the opportunity to work with him on a number of films in the company’s library – Johnny Guitar, A Double Life, and Pursued. These are great learning opportunities for anyone open to increasing their knowledge about the industry and going in new directions in their chosen professions. Mr. Scorsese, like Mr. Lumet, was very generous with his time and talent, all with the purpose of leaving a legacy for future generations to learn from and expand upon, as these films were re-released into the home entertainment market.

Now we have high-definition and Blue-Ray which means better quality images and the increased capacity to carry additional information and interactive features for films and other programming. It also includes copy protection systems to reduce illegal copying and pirating. This is even true of the porn business which has always been a leader when it comes to incorporating new technologies.

In addition, every campaign  is dependent on a multitude of industry support services which are necessary for every release – the production of trailers, featurettes, and commentaries, design and marketing firms,  printing facilities, fulfillment companies, media buyers, advertisers, cross promotional partners and companies, product placement - the list is virtually endless.

The Internet Changed Everything.

When our culture began to move online, so did home entertainment, although reluctantly at first. Letting go of traditional modes of distribution and retail was difficult at first, falling by the wayside as conducting business online was fast becoming the accepted norm.

And then Netflix and iTunes changed the paradigm completely with streaming video directly onto our laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. Again, it was the ease and the immersive quality of the experience. We can access it anywhere now, whether in the comfort of our homes, at the gym, or travelling. It is a virtual reality we can access 24/7 without incurring late fees or returning overdue discs.

But more importantly, what does this mean for any person considering a career in this industry? The competition has grown tremendously and while the online marketplace offerings are almost immeasurable, it is over-saturated with so much information and choices it’s hard to pick and choose. How do you get seen and noticed above the crowd?

This is one of the major dilemmas facing this segment of the industry. In 2004, the industry peaked with over $20 billion in worldwide sales, but has been on the decline, although there is an upward trend recently. And with Netflix, Amazon, and Yahoo producing original content, not to mention other sources like Youtube and Hulu, how will home entertainment change and fair in the next ten years?

This question remains to be answered but there are certain indicators that are pointing in new directions. As a worldwide society and as entertainment professionals, we have to let go of the “old notion” of home entertainment as essentially just streaming a film or other content into our homes.

We have to stop thinking of it as “one way entertainment,” but consider its immersive possibilities. How we interact with entertainment, no matter the place or time. What kind of content do we want and what kind of value are we looking to gain from it? And then, there is transmedia, a whole new concept, just beginning to find acceptance. What is transmedia? With all these new online initiatives, it means producing content that we have access to, but the content changes on different media platforms, producing content that is different, but also compliments one another. People, then, can choose accessing only one or many different media as a means of continuing the story, so in this way they can have the most complete viewing experience.

Studios and other media conglomerates will have to change the way they produce entertainment content. It will become more of a collaborative endeavor for all the creative forces involved, from authorship through marketing. The creative process involved will require involving different people with different skillsets working together cohesively. It will redefine management as well as anyone involved in the creation, production, distribution, marketing, and promotion of any product – film, TV show, webisode, original content, etc.

It is quite ironic, but not all that much has changed in the last one hundred years. Human nature has pretty much stayed constant where entertainment is concerned. We want some kind of value in whatever the experience happens to be. The only thing really that has changed is the technology that has provided greater freedom in doing it, but it still comes down to what I stated in the beginning. With the introduction of new technologies and protocols, three basic factors still remain constant:

  • Present entertainment in a new way that is accessible to more people.
  • Provide more choices of entertainment that taps into the imaginations of audiences, offering programming that is meaningful, is varied and unlimited.
  • It is affordable.

Ron is available for questions and remarks in the Comments section below.

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