Science Meets Art

The iconic Fox Plaza building will be forever remembered in pop culture for its role in the 1988 action movie Die Hard, known for its over-the-top special effects.Thirty years later, something just as explosive is happening in a quiet suite of rooms on the 20th floor of the Century City high-rise, adjacent to the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

A pair of double doors with a small “Fox Innovation Lab” placard, along with the suite number (2000), leads into a network of 11 rooms where the future of home entertainment is being discussed, dissected, debated and, ultimately, developed by a full-time staff of five — joined, on occasion, by interns and various other Fox employees.

The high-tech think tank and lab was launched in 2014 — under the auspices of Mike Dunn, now 20th Century Fox’s product strategy and consumer business development president; Danny Kaye, 20th Century Fox’s research and tech strategy EVP; and the studio’s chief technology officer, Hanno Basse — as a way to meld the often disparate worlds of technology and entertainment, of Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

“The notion of the Fox Innovation Lab is simply to work with technology companies to figure out what the next generation of the consumer entertainment experience could be and would be, so we are constantly innovating on new platforms and new technologies that drive the next-gen experience,” says Kaye, a former UCLA psychology professor who serves as the Lab’s managing director. The Lab played a key role in advancing 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range (HDR), which offers a more life-like picture. Most recently the Lab has led the charge to HDR10+, an open, royalty-free HDR technology featuring “dynamic metadata,” which more precisely adjusts content to the capabilities of different TVs.The Lab is also experimenting, and innovating, with virtual, augmented and mixed reality. The Lab’s VR work led to Fox’s first commercial VR product, The Martian VR Experience, a 20-minute interactive experience that lets viewers “become” Matt Damon in the 2015 Ridley Scott-helmed sci-fi film The Martian.
As an outgrowth of the Lab’s VR work, Fox last year launched a new business unit, FoxNext, which not only works on VR and AR, but also on location-based entertainment and gaming.
Fox Innovation Lab is now looking at ways to harness artificial intelligence and machine learning to advance the consumer entertainment experience even more.

And this is why Fox Innovation Lab is one of two honorees in the inaugural Media Play News Fast Forward Awards, honoring people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

The awards are an outgrowth of the Home Entertainment Visionary Awards, which were launched in 2002 by the now-defunct Home Media Magazine. Comcast’s Brian Roberts was the 2017 honoree. Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, was the first, back in 2002. Other
honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson.

With a nod to Dunn and Basse, Kaye says the Lab was initially a studio-only endeavor — but based on its early successes its scope has since expanded to work across the entire 21st Century Fox company, from Fox Sports to FX Networks, from the Fox Networks Group to National Geographic.

“We’re cutting across all film and TV areas as they currently exist,” Kaye says. “And perhaps the most important part of the lab is that we work with technology companies. Samsung was an initial partner in many projects — both of us were the first to introduce HDR TVs and content, physical and digital. Then Ericsson came on board, focused more on mobile entertainment, as the younger demographic depends more on the mobile entertainment experience. And then we’re working with other companies on artificial intelligence and machine learning — the Intels and the Microsofts of the world — and with Technicolor on VR.

“There’s really no limit to the kinds of things we cover, as long as they are relevant to where the consumer experience is being taken.”

Takashi Nakano, director of business development for Samsung Electronics America, says, “Samsung and Fox began working together to create a bridge between technology and media. Many products and initiatives like the UHD Alliance and HDR10+ were the direct result of our partnership with the Fox Innovation Lab. The Fox Innovation Lab creates an open forum for both companies to discuss and debate the intersection between media and technology with the hopes to create an immersive consumer experience and new business opportunities. Our joint initiatives through the UHD Alliance have opened up new markets and provided viewers the ability to
experience content and move closer to experiencing true creative intent. Key technology advancements have led to new and unique opportunities and challenges like 4K and HDR initiatives through OTT and new direct-to-consumer initiatives that open new monetization vehicles. As technology and media continue to converge, our partnership with the Fox Innovation Lab will become increasingly important. Whether it is at the movies or in your home, the partnership advances the screen experience in new and exciting ways.”

Mark Russell, CTO and head of strategy at Ericsson Media Solutions, agrees. “The Lab is a great sandbox,” he says. “We can take these amazing Fox assets and experiment with Ericsson’s global operator base on next-gen viewing experiences. We can test new consumer engagements and find out if they are reliable, high quality and secure.

“We are bringing the content creator closer to the consumer than ever before. This partnership allows us to test and build the networks, video processing and delivery specifically for home entertainment in a way we know the studio intended because we are literally sitting at the table with them.”

Russell said Ericsson’s partnership with the Fox Innovation Lab is an ongoing venture. “We were approached by Hanno Basse at Fox in 2016 about participating in the Lab,” Russell says. “His goal then, as it is now, was to explore innovative consumer engagements and find a way to implement them in the real world.

“From an Ericsson perspective, we were clearly interested as our operator customers look to us to help them implement UHD HDR, VR/AR and machine learning into their networks. Having the Fox Innovation Lab as our partner in this was incredibly welcome.

“We signed up as an official partner in 2017 and are still actively engaged today.”
Kaye says the Fox Innovation Lab is carrying on a tradition of innovation that has been a characteristic of Fox for years.

“If you go back to the early 2000s, that’s when we as a company began to be very actively involved with technology companies,” he says. “We were the first studio in the Blu-ray Disc
Association; we worked closely with all the technology companies that were working on Blu-ray, from the big consumer electronics companies in Japan, Korea, and Europe, to the various tools companies.

“Even before that, we worked with JVC on things like Digital VHS, which was really the first high-definition format. And subsequently, when we developed 3D along with the BDA, we again worked closely with JVC on high-quality 3D conversions.

“So I think we developed an attitude and a habit, really, of not waiting for technology to be given to us in the marketplace and then react with content that matched, but, rather, to co-develop content with technology companies — so that when those technologies are ready to be commercialized they are already sensitive to issues we’re familiar with, in regard to the consumer experience and consumer behavior.

“It’s not a matter of ‘build it and they will come,’ but, rather, build an experience through co-development.”

Those early years of innovation and partnerships with technology companies laid the groundwork for what would become Fox Innovation Lab.

“In the early part of this decade,” Kaye recalls, “I became involved in the Innovation Outreach Program that Microsoft was putting together. They brought very large companies from around the globe, in different industries and sectors, together, and all of us were working on innovation of some sort, from autos to pharma to entertainment to chip manufacturers, across the board. The idea was to share innovation developments, experiences and visions across industry sectors. And that gave us the idea that, as an entertainment company, we could actually do something similar.
“So we established our own Innovation Lab in 2014, with the notion of getting influential partners onboard to attack problems we felt would be germane over the years. Our first project, with Samsung, on 4K and HDR proved to be very successful. We essentially initiated what is now a pretty successful part of the business, with tens of millions of 4K TVs and Blu-ray disc players being sold, and of course the content business, the ultra-high-definition disc, which is certainly larger than anybody had predicted at the time.

“That may have happened on its own, but I think through innovation we accelerated that quite a bit.”

Kaye says his focus “is on the living room experience, the mobile experience, of filmed entertainment” — and in using new technologies such as VR and AR to improve and enhance that experience.

“One of the things we try to work on, for example, is how do you use a mobile device in AR to increase the value of the experience. Let’s say, for example, that you’re watching a NASCAR race on TV, and you’re not just seeing what you’re looking at on the TV, what the cameras are showing, but if you have a tablet or phone you can have a whole different experience — a different perspective on the race. You could have the perspective of being in the pit, with an overlay of all kinds of interesting data about the driver, about the car, and just by pointing the device at different objects on the screen that data will pop up.

“And we have to think of similar things in filmed entertainment, and that’s where things like mixed reality come in — where you have the potential to have an experience similar to virtual reality, but instead of being completely in a virtual world, isolated from your surroundings, you’re also seeing your own environment and overlaying other environments through the lens of a headset.
“You could be in this particular room and I could be playing a game in this room and the game would map out in the room and take advantage of the walls and furniture as they exist, so I could see objects through the lens in an environment I know, because I know the room.”

At this point, one of Kaye’s lieutenants, director Clayton Biele, demonstrated Microsoft’s futuristic HoloLens, a pair of mixed-reality smart glasses. The headset goes on, and when you look at blood spatters that have been painted onto a wall in one of the lab’s demonstration rooms a holographic “memory” comes up that shows how the blood spatter got there — specifically, through a brutal murder.

Danny Kaye, managing director of the Fox Innovation Lab

Kaye is undisputedly one of the best-educated studio executives. A native of the Bronx, he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cornell University and went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychology from Syracuse University, with specialized experience in statistics and methodology, human perception and cognition.

He continued post-doctoral studies at Yale University and taught there, as well, before moving out west in 1981 to join UCLA as a psychology professor, focused on visual cognition and visual perception in both children and adults.

“When I decided to move into the business world, I at first worked at Mattel Toys, which was heavily represented by psychology Ph.D.s, doing research on kids and parents.”

After five years at Mattel, Kaye in 1994 joined Applause Inc. as VP of strategic planning and research. In May 1996 he began a three-year run as VP of research and strategic planning at Universal Studios Consumer Products. He landed at 20th Century Fox in 1999, rising to EVP of research and technology strategy, and in 2014 played a key role in establishing the Fox Innovation Lab.

“One of the reasons the lab works the way it does is because in our Fox tradition we have also had a seamless relationship internally between the business folks and the engineering and technology teams,” Kaye says. “Most of the projects are driven by the engineers, with Fox engineers working with engineers at the other companies. But even beyond that, through my business and research and Hanno’s technology teams driving development, we’re also involved with the creative community internally. That is certainly demonstrated with VR and AR, where we brought the whole film community in to develop those technologies.”

It’s the same thing with HDR, Kaye says. “The project started as an engineering project to create this new high dynamic range technology, but rather than let Samsung develop the technology in a vacuum, making sure the bees and flowers look good on the screen, we brought in our creative teams, as well as our directors and colorists, to make sure we were utilizing that technology to reflect the creative intent of the filmmakers.

“Back with Blu-ray Disc, we worked with people like Ridley Scott — Blu-ray was the only format for the home that reminded him of what he intended to film on the set, he told us. And now with HDR10+, we again have something that brings the best experience into the home — and not just on high-end TVs, but also on mid-range TVs that most people buy.

“It’s because of this intersection of business, technology and creative that we are able to see where this business is going. And as long as we continue to combine those three segments, we’ll be ahead of the curve. We don’t predetermine projects; we keep track of trends and prioritize trends that we think we will be able to make an impact on in a relatively short period of time.

“At the same time, we also keep an eye on technologies beyond that, and that is why we have an interest in 5G, and why we dabble in artificial intelligence and machine learning.”Through it all, in both the short term and the long term, Kaye says his ultimate goal is to enhance the entertainment experience and, in the words of Paul Simon, keep the customer satisfied.

“We still believe that people will consume our entertainment, in part, because of the quality of the experience, visual and audio,” he says. “And, again, if you track back, starting with DVD, there was a great increase in quality of the viewing experience, and then we did it again with Blu-ray Disc and then we went to 4K with HDR, and all along, at the same time, TV manufacturers were making better and better products.

“So we have to keep pace or move even further forward with the quality of the content we are giving the consumer. We’ve done it with physical formats, and now we’re doing the same thing with digital formats.

“If you compare digital files today with digital files 10 years ago, they’re night and day in terms of quality. And at the same time we’re working on improving the speed of delivery, on how to get high-quality content more rapidly into the home or on whatever device the consumer is using. This is where the new 5G networks come. And devices are getting better, so you’re going to keep having better experiences on almost any device.

“Continuous improvement — that’s really what we’re all about.”

Hulu Pulls Ads From ‘The Laura Ingraham Show’

Hulu has pulled TV commercials from “The Laura Ingraham Show” on Fox News following the conservative host’s tweets mocking a high school student survivor of the recent Parkland, Fla., shooting.

“We’d like to confirm that we are no longer advertising on Laura Ingraham’s and are monitoring all of our ad placements carefully,” Hulu said in a March 29 Twitter post.

The subscription streaming video service, co-owned by The Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox, Comcast and Time Warner, joined a growing group of advertisers (including TripAdvisor, Expedia, Wayfair and Johnson & Johnson) that have pulled spots.

The controversy involves David Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who survived the Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) mass shooting where gunman (and former student) Nikolas Cruz allegedly killed 14 students and three teachers with an assault weapon.

Hogg, along with other students, has become a face of the tragedy and emerging gun control activist, speaking out on national media. He is a founding member, along with 19 other students, of the “Never Again MSD” advocacy group that has spearheaded movements against gun violence, including the March 24 “March for Our Lives” demonstration that attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters nationwide.

Ingraham, along with other conservatives in the media, have criticized Hogg as a mouthpiece of a liberal agenda aimed at curbing gun rights they claim are guaranteed under the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution.

But Ingraham went one step further, attacking Hogg personally on social media.

The former MSNBC host, who worked as a speech writer for President Reagan, clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and guest-hosted the former “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News, called Hogg a “whiner” for not getting accepted into UCLA, despite reportedly having a 4.1 grade point average.

“David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it. (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA…totally predictable given acceptance rates.),” Ingraham tweeted, linking it to an online story about four universities that reportedly rejected Hogg’s college admissions application.

“In our view, these statements focused on a high school student, cross the line of decency. As such, we have made a decision to stop advertising on that program,” a spokesperson for TripAdvisor.com said in a statement.

Home furnishing company WayFair, in a statement, said it supports open dialogue and debate on issues – with restrictions.

“The decision of an adult to personally criticize a high school student who has lost his classmates in an unspeakable tragedy is not consistent with our values. We do not plan to continue advertising on this particular program,” the ecommerce company said in a statement.

Ingraham – who courted controversy last month criticizing NBA superstar LeBron James’ comment about President Trump not understanding black people – made no comment of the Hogg controversy on her March 29 show and has apologized for her comment, tweeting:

“Any student should be proud of a 4.2 GPA —incl. @DavidHogg111. On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland. For the record, I believe my show was the first to feature David…”

 

Gallagher Tapped to Replace Longwell as MD, North America, at Universal

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) on March 30 announced the promotion of sales and retail marketing executive Kathleen Gallagher to EVP and managing director, North America.

Gallagher will lead UPHE’s physical home entertainment business, including sales, operations, finance, customer marketing and distribution partnerships across the United States and Canada.

“Kathleen’s sharp instincts and expert insights have long been pivotal to UPHE’s evolution of standards, processes and best practices across the nation’s largest retailers,” said Eddie Cunningham, president of UPHE. “She is a talented executive with a deep knowledge of the home entertainment landscape, making her the ideal choice to lead UPHE’s North American retail business into the future.”

Gallagher most recently was SVP of sales, customer marketing, and category management for UPHE’s U.S. physical sellthrough and rental businesses. She began her career at Universal in 2000 as assistant category manager and quickly advanced up the ranks, serving in various sales, category management and customer marketing positions.

Gallagher began her career in 1999 at Sony Pictures Entertainment, where she held sales planning positions within what was then Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.

Gallagher replaces longtime UPHE executive Dick Longwell, who is retiring. Longwell has served UPHE in senior sales and distribution capacities since joining the company in 1998. Previously, he held similar roles at MGM Home Entertainment and Buena Vista Home Video.

Longwell initially left UPHE in 2012 as EVP of sales and category management for North America, but rejoined the studio in October 2016 as managing director of North America, a position he had been filling on an interim basis since John Morici left in January.

“Dick has been an exceptional leader and collaborator, expertly guiding our domestic business through change during the last two years,” Cunningham said. “While it is tough to see him go, we are grateful for the invaluable contributions he has made to UPHE’s advancement and wish him well in his next chapter.”

Why Are Consumers Shocked About Data Exploitation?

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here,” is the famous quote from the policeman in Casablanca (who promptly collects his winnings in Rick’s “illegal” casino).

It was an open secret that gambling was taking place at Rick’s, and it seems to me a likewise open secret that data collection is happening at Facebook, Netflix, Google, MoviePass and numerous other websites at which we access content or information for little to no price. As long as Wall Street is collecting its winnings and consumers are getting information at no cost (Google), a personal website at no cost (Facebook), or content (Netflix, MoviePass, etc.) for an obscenely low subscription fee, everybody looks the other way as these sites collect personal data.

Pardon me if I’m not surprised that these Internet goliaths are allegedly selling, neglecting or taking advantage of outside exploitation of our data. That is their business model. I’m more surprised that consumers are just now seeming to catch on. A March Deloitte survey found consumers are increasingly concerned about putting their personal data online, but it doesn’t seem that it stops them from continuing to expose themselves.

This month, I wrote a widely picked-up story in which I quoted MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe, who said of the theatrical subscription app: “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”

The reaction was outrage. Lowe and the company assured the public in a statement that they would not sell the data and backtracked on the tracking comments.

But to those shocked, I must ask why?

Didn’t we all know these Web goliaths were going to collect their winnings?

‘Jumanji’ Ventures to No. 1 on Home Video Charts

Sony Pictures’ Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle debuted at No. 1 on the national home video charts the week ended March 24.

The adventure comedy – a sequel to the 1995 original Jumanji — was a surprise hit at the box office, earning $402 million in U.S. theaters and nearly $950 million worldwide. The home video edition bowed in the top spot on both the NPD VideoScan First Alert sales chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, as well as the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart.

The original Jumanji starred Robin Williams and was based on a children’s book about a board game come to life. The follow-up features a group of teenagers sucked into a video game version of Jumanji, where they take on avatars played by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas.

Warner’s Justice League dropped to No. 2 on both charts, selling 35% as many copies as Jumanji. The superhero team-up adventure, which earned $229 million at the domestic box office, had debuted at No. 1 on both charts the prior week.

Universal Pictures’ Pitch Perfect 3 debuted at No. 3 on both charts. The musical comedy, the third and final installment in the “Pitch Perfect” series, has made $104.9 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters. a Pitch Perfect Trilogy set debuted at No. 15, accounting for about 8% of purchases of people picking up a copy of the third film. However, even if the trilogy were added to standalone sales of the third film, Pitch Perfect 3 still wouldn’t have reached the unit tally of Justice League.

Walt Disney’s Coco remained No. 4 on both charts.

No. 5 on the overall chart was 20th Century Fox’s animated comedy Ferdinand, while on the Blu-ray Disc sales chart, the No. 5 spot went to Disney’s Thor: Ragnarok.

A third new release to make the top 10 was Paramount’s Downsizing, a social satire about people shrinking themselves to save money — and to save the planet. The film, which stars Matt Damon, earned less than $25 million in U.S. theaters and debuted at No. 8 on both sales charts.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle generated 58% of its total unit sales from Blu-ray Disc, according to VideoScan, with 7% coming from 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Pitch Perfect 3 generated 57% of its sales from Blu-ray Disc, and Downsizing, 60%.

On Media Play News’ rental chart for the week ended March 25, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle also debuted at No. 1, while Justice League soared to No. 2 now that it’s week-long holdback from Redbox is over.

Pitch Perfect 3 debuted at No. 3, while Ferdinand shot to No. 4 now that it’s available at Redbox, also a week after its initial release.

Thor: Ragnarok, the top rental the prior week, slipped to No. 5.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 03-24-18
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 03-25-18
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 03-24-18
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 03-24-18
Sales Report for Week Ended 03-24-18

‘Coco’ Leads Disc Sales in February

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Coco was the top-seller on the NPD Group’s list of combined Blu-ray and DVD sellers for February 2018.

The Pixar Animation Studios film was released on disc Feb. 27, meaning it managed to take the top spot despite being officially on shelves for only two days during February (though preorders often represent a significant portion of a title’s early sales).

Similarly, Fox’s Murder on the Orient Express, released the same day as Coco, managed to score the No. 5 position.

According to NPD, the February 2018 top 10 were:

  1. Coco (Disney)
  2. Wonder (Lionsgate)
  3. Daddy’s Home 2 (Paramount)
  4. A Bad Moms Christmas (Universal)
  5. Murder on the Orient Express (Fox)
  6. Only the Brave (Sony Pictures)
  7. Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (Lionsgate)
  8. It (2017) (Warner)
  9. The Star (Sony Pictures)
  10. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (Warner)

Warner’s It, having been released in early January, remains the top seller for the year through the end of Feburary, with Coco at No. 2.

Year-to-date Top 10 (through February 2018):

  1. It (2017) (Warner)
  2. Coco (Disney)
  3. Wonder (Lionsgate)
  4. Blade Runner 2049 (Warner)
  5. Dunkirk (Warner)
  6. Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (Lionsgate)
  7. Daddy’s Home 2 (Paramount)
  8. Despicable Me 3 (Universal)
  9. American Made (Universal)
  10. A Bad Moms Christmas (Universal)

Lionsgate to Mount ‘Escape Plan’ on 4K UHD

Lionsgate will release Escape Plan (2013), starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a first-time pairing, in a 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (plus Blu-ray and digital copy) June 5 from the Summit Entertainment label at $22.99.

The thriller also stars Jim Caviezel, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio and Amy Ryan. In the film, one of the world’s foremost authorities on structural security agrees to take on one last job: breaking out of an ultra-secret, high-tech facility called “The Tomb.” Deceived and wrongfully imprisoned, Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) must recruit fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to help devise a daring, nearly impossible plan to escape from the most protected and fortified prison ever built.

The 4K disc will feature Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio.

Combo pack special features include:

  • audio commentary with director Mikael Håfström and co-writer Miles Chapman;
  • the “Executing the Plan: The Making of Escape Plan” featurette;
  • the “Maximum Security: The Real-Life Tomb” featurette;
  • the “Clash of the Titans” Featurette; and
  • deleted scenes.

Starz Bows App on LG Televisions

Starz March 29 announced the launch of its Starz app on select LG Smart TVs, including the recently debuted 2018 LG OLED TVs and LG Super UHD TVs with AI ThinQ.

Starz subscribers, including pay-TV and standalone over-the-top, can now watch original series, including “Counterpart,” “Power,” “Outlander,” “American Gods,” as well as hundreds of movies and first-run films on LG Smart TVs via LG’s webOS Smart TV platform.

The app on LG Smart TVs is a single destination for all subscribers who want to stream Starz premium content. It features intuitive content discovery and navigation regardless how the consumer purchased a subscription to Starz.

Starz, which is owned by Lionsgate, earlier this year entered into a multifaceted agreement with Bell Media in Canada.

The deal marked the first international launch of Starz since the Lionsgate acquisition in December 2016 as well as the first time it would be available in Canada. Starz content will be available across all Bell Media platforms, including TMN Encore and streaming service CraveTV.

Mark Cuban Accepting MoviePass Fits Maverick Role

NEWS ANALYSIS – Billionaire Mark Cuban is as much reality TV showman as digital pioneer, self-help author, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise, AXS TV network and Magnolia Pictures, among other hats.

When Cuban talks, people listen. As a celebrity TV judge on “Shark Tank,” contestants are often grateful just to hear Cuban’s input on their entrepreneurial dreams – even if he has no financial interest backing them or advice to offer. Cuban makes no secret his affection for upstart techies looking to disrupt the status quo.

Like movie ticket subscription service MoviePass, which is now offering (for a limited time) daily access to a theatrical screening for a $6.95 monthly fee. The strategy — however fiscally illogical — has irked major theater chains, despite increasing moviegoing foot traffic.

MoviePass is spearheaded by CEO Mitch Lowe, a longtime industry disruptor who cut his teeth helping Netflix and later Redbox reinvent the home video market.

When Cuban agreed to give MoviePass a percentage of ticket sales from his Landmark Theatres chain, it was much more than revenue-sharing from 255 screens across 53 theaters in 27 markets nationwide. It was subtle affirmation without Lowe pitching five “Shark Tank” judges.

“There is no better place to watch a movie than Landmark and now MoviePass customers will be able to enjoy all of our theaters,” Cuban said in a statement.

Landmark, which Cuban co-owns with Todd Wagner, is no stranger to bucking distribution norms. The chain was one of the first to screen (independent) movies concurrent with their release in retail channels.

Cuban infamously blogged in 2005 that consumers should have access to Hollywood movies, “How they want it, when they want it, where they want it.”

Cuban released faith-based drama, The War Within, simultaneously on Landmark screens and HDNet (now AXS TV).

In 2008, he experimented screening a Mavericks game in 3D at a Landmark/Magnolia theater in Dallas.

Last year, Landmark opened the first new theater in midtown Manhattan in 15 years: a 30,000-square-foot complex with eight screens featuring wall-to-wall screens, laser projection and oversized lounge chairs for viewers.

“We are creating a new destination for cinema,” Ted Mundorff, president of Landmark Theatres, said in a statement.

Cuban himself upended conventional wisdom during the dot-com bubble in 1999 selling (with Wagner) upstart Internet-radio platform, Broadcast.com, to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock – or reportedly more than $10,000 per subscriber. Cuban shortly sold his Yahoo stock, netting $1 billion at the age of 41.

Yahoo shut down Broadcast.com in 2002. Cuban now markets “three-comma” T-shirts in support of the entrepreneurial spirit – and his fiscal legacy.

AT&T/DOJ Judge Tells Lawyers to Speed Up Proceedings

The federal judge in the Justice Department’s antitrust case against the $85 billion AT&T/Time Warner merger reportedly told lawyers for both sides to up their tempo or risk missing the extended June 21 deadline to consummate the deal.

If the merger is denied by regulators, AT&T would have to pay Time Warner $500 million for its efforts. If the media company backs out, it would be on the hook to AT&T for $1.7 billion.

“Both sides need to sit down with their clients and their teams and make sure they have down what they need versus what they want,” U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon said March 28, as reported by Reuters. “If we are going to get this done prior to that date, we have to move.”

The trial in Washington, D.C., which is in its first week, is slated to last six to eight weeks.

The DOJ contends the merger would be harmful to consumers, with AT&T leveraging third-party access to Time Warner assets HBO, Turner (TBS, TNT, CNN) and Warner Bros. for its own DirecTV platforms.

On the stand, John Martin, CEO of Turner, denied any content would be withheld from distributors following the merger.

“I would like every distributor to carry every network I have and carry it at 100% penetration,” Martin said in cross-examination by AT&T lawyer Daniel Petrocelli.

Later, Petrocelli grilled Marty Hinson, marketing strategy and intelligence with Cox Communications, regarding his testimony that Cox subscribers would pay more for content if AT&T acquired Time Warner.

Hinson admitted he had no direct knowledge or had seen any documentation supporting the allegation.

Petrocelli in 1997 successfully prosecuted O.J. Simpson in the wrongful death civil suit involving his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.