James Beale, ACMA Head of Finance, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment UK

Financial Management (UK), May 2009 | Go to article overview
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James Beale, ACMA Head of Finance, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment UK


We've all heard of Disney, but what does your bit of the business do?

Wait Disney Studios Home Entertainment (WDSHE) is the marketing, sales and distribution company for the products of the Walt Disney, Touchstone, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax and Buena Vista studios. These include titles on DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and electronically distributed formats.

Do people buy fewer DVDs in a downturn?

Consumer confidence is at an all-time low, according to a survey conducted for the British Video Association (BVA). Its findings suggest that, as a result, shoppers are actively seeking promotions and special offers. But only six per cent of respondents indicated that they would consciously cut back on their DVD purchases. In essence, the research points to a view that the home entertainment industry is better set than other leisure and entertainment sectors to weather the current economic situation.

How do you distribute your products?

WDSHE doesn't offer its products directly to the consumer. We focus on getting them into strong and varied sales channels such as grocers, online retailers and both generalist and specialist vendors. We have a dedicated sales and customer marketing department that implements these functions. The finance team works with it when we get involved with the sales forecasting, reporting and retail pricing maintenance.

What are the main challenges facing you?

Probably the biggest ongoing threat is piracy: a 2007 survey by Ipsos estimated the total revenue lost to this crime as 500m [pounds sterling] a year. WDSHE co-operates closely with anti-piracy organisations such as the Federation Against Copyright Theft (which you see advertised before films in UK cinemas), the Industry Trust and the Motion Pictures Association of America, as well as the police. We work to minimise the risk of having our products pirated and we also support cross-studio initiatives to reinforce the message to consumers that piracy is unacceptable in the eyes of the industry and the law.

More recently, the collapse of the Woolworths group, including the wholesale distribution company Entertainment UK (EUK), created shockwaves for many industries, not only home entertainment. EUK was the route for film studios, video game producers and book distributors to get their products into retailers such as Woolworths, Zawi, WH Smith, Borders, Morrisons and Sainsbury's. This presented a significant challenge to everybody using EUK, as it happened over Christmas, the busiest period for all the above industries.

How is the industry reacting to this?

Considering the challenges, it's an exciting time to be in the business. It's always been a dynamic place to work, but especially now as technological advances mean that consumers have more choice than ever in how they want to watch their films. Five years ago, there was only really DVD. The VHS video format was being phased out and had become defunct. Consumers today have the choice of DVD; a much more immersive and dynamic high-definition experience on Blu-ray Disc; and digital files and digital downloading. The industry has to move quickly to develop new products and channels to keep up with consumer demand.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

From a financial perspective, these unpredictable and changing times have made the industry very interesting. We encounter new titles, product franchises, formats and retailers that can be unlike anything we've dealt with before. Often there isn't any precedent to refer to when managing these situations, which makes life even more interesting. This is where a broad knowledge of the industry becomes invaluable. The finance team is integral in helping to shape what that business model might look like for the UK market.

You have a retail background. Is this something that always attracted you?

I always knew I wanted to go into business. I did a geography degree at the University of Leeds, but only applied for jobs to do with business management.

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James Beale, ACMA Head of Finance, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment UK
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