Laika Animation Studio Exhibits During Comic-Con

Celebrating the film’s 10th anniversary, Teri Hatcher, voice star of Coraline, stopped by July 18 at “Laika Live,” the stop-animation studio’s exhibit running July 13-22 in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and coinciding with Comic-Con. Laika also created ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings and the upcoming Missing Link, due April 19. The free exhibit features props, puppets and sets from Laika’s films; merchandise for purchase; and technology demos, among other attractions.

Streaming Services Sundance Now and Shudder Acquire ‘A Discovery of Witches’ Based on Best Seller

Streaming services Sundance Now and Shudder July 19 announced at San Diego Comic-Con the joint acquisition of the Sky production, “A Discovery of Witches.”

The original drama series will premiere in the United States and Canada simultaneously on both services, marking the first partnership of this kind for the two SVOD services, according to a press release. The release date has yet to be announced.

Sundance Now is AMC Networks’ direct-to-consumer SVOD service featuring dramas, comedies and crime thrillers, and Shudder is a premium streaming service for thriller, suspense and horror.

SundanceTV has also acquired second window linear rights to the series.

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Deborah Harkness, “A Discovery of Witches” stars Matthew Goode (“The Crown,” “Downton Abbey”), Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge), Alex Kingston (“ER,” “Doctor Who”), Valarie Pettiford (“Being Mary Jane”) and Owen Teale (“Game of Thrones”). Filmed in the United Kingdom at Wolf Studios Wales and on location in Oxford, the contemporary love story begins against the backdrop of Oxford academic life, in a world where small numbers of witches, vampires and demons live and work, hiding in plain sight. Palmer plays the brilliant historian Diana Bishop, a reluctant witch denying her heritage. The discovery of a bewitched manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library throws her into the heart of a dangerous mystery — and into the path of the enigmatic vampire and geneticist, Matthew Clairmont (Goode), who hides a dark family secret.

“This captivating story is filled with intrigue, romance and magic and set in spectacular locations that underscore those very qualities,” said Jan Diedrichsen, GM, Sundance Now, in a statement.  “We are thrilled to see Deborah Harkness’ books brought to life in such an inspired way with such a charismatic cast and talented crew. The result is binge-worthy television at its best and we know that ‘A Discovery of Witches’ will appeal to both the premium drama fans at Sundance Now and the genre fans at Shudder.”

“‘A Discovery of Witches’ is a big, bold series with witches, vampires and daemons caught up in an all-too human drama that’s enthralling from the opening minute. It’s unlike anything else on TV and we’re excited to bring it to Shudder members as part of this unique partnership,” added Craig Engler, GM, Shudder, in a statement.

“We’re delighted that ‘A Discovery of Witches,’ a Sky Original production, will make its debut in the U.S. and Canada on Sundance Now and Shudder,” said Gillian Rose, SVP, U.S. sales and acquisitions, Sky Vision, in a statement. “It’s a moving, modern day love story, set in a world where a handful of witches, vampires and daemons secretly live and work alongside humans, and I’m sure it will be a huge success for them.”

Nickelodeon ‘PAW Patrol’ DVD Available Exclusively at Walmart Ahead of TV Debut

Nickelodeon’s TV movie PAW Patrol: Mighty Pups will be available exclusively at Walmart on DVD Sept. 11 ahead of its TV debut.

The DVD of the 44-minute program retails at $17.99 and includes a digital copy on Vudu.

In this mission, the PAW Patrol are given Mighty Pup powers after a mysterious meteor lands in Adventure Bay. When Mayor Humdinger and his nephew trap Ryder and steal the meteor to take over the city, the pups must work together and use their new powers to race to the rescue and save the day.

PAW Patrol: Mighty Pups is produced by Nickelodeon Home Entertainment and distributed by Paramount Home Media Distribution.

Walmart/Vudu Entering the SVOD Market is Crazy

Media reports suggesting Walmart-owned will launch a subscription streaming video service in the fourth quarter to compete against Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu is noteworthy for a variety of reasons, including fiscal insanity.

Walmart has owned and operated Vudu – which rents and sells digital movies – since 2010 will little fanfare. Entering the SVOD space would be a major step up to a completely different market – one dominated in myriad ways by SVOD pioneer Netflix and Amazon.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart in ecommerce, offers Prime Video (among other Prime features) free to its members. But is Walmart ready to emulate Amazon’s spending of billions of dollars acquiring and/or producing original content?

Netflix this year will spend $8 billion on content. It ended the most-recent fiscal period with more than $18 billion in third-party content obligations. Amazon is spending about $6 billion, with Hulu, Apple, Google/YouTube collectively spending billions more as well.

To be sure, Walmart has the financial resources to compete with Netflix and Amazon, but why would it want to in a market already dominated by three players – and Disney planning to become the fourth?

Disney, which is about to become majority owner of Hulu, has a major Ace up its sleeve: Pixar, Lucasfilm (Star Wars) and Marvel movies. The titles dominate the box office – and ostensibly could drive SVOD traffic as well.

Walmart/Vudu own no studio, production house or marquee show runners as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Disney do.

Unless Walmart envisions Vudu SVOD as a loss-leader service driving traffic to its ecommerce website, simply streaming licensed TV shows and movies for $8 a month isn’t going to move the needle – just expenses.


‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Still No. 1 on Digital Originals Chart, While ‘Orange is the New Black’ Sees Demand Double

The arrival of the highly anticipated finale of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” on July 11 meant the dystopian drama series had no trouble staying at the top of the digital originals chart the week ended July 14, with 25% higher demand compared to last week, according to Parrot Analytics data.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” also surged up to fourth place (from No. 10) on the overall TV series chart.

Parrot uses a proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which measures global demand for TV content through a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

The Hulu series is not the only digital original series to post a significant gain in demand, according to Parrot Analytics. Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” saw its demand more than double as trailers arrived promoting the July 27 debut of Season 6 – propelling the women’s prison drama to the No. 2 spot on the digital originals chart, up from No. 7.

New to the digital originals top 10 chart is Hulu’s “Castle Rock,” which debuted at No. 6.  The Stephen King-based horror series doesn’t arrive on the OTT channel until July 25, but interest in the show is clearly mounting, Parrot Analytics data shows.

Netflix’s “Stranger Things” also is back on the chart, as fans discuss the recent teases about Season 3. Fan engagement is also keeping “Sense8” in high demand: The show remains at No. 5 on the digital originals chart, even after the two-hour finale in June, as fans continue to campaign for Netflix to “un-cancel” the sci-fi title.

The controversial teen suicide drama “13 Reasons Why” swapped places with “Marvel’s Luke Cage,” finishing the week at No. 3 from No. 4 the prior week.

Media Play News has teamed with Parrot Analytics to provide readers with a weekly top 10 of the most popular digital original TV series in the United States, based on the firm’s  proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which measures global demand for TV content through a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

Could Disney (Finally) Make Hulu a Netflix Killer?

NEWS ANALYSIS – With the Walt Disney Co.’s path to acquiring select 21st  Century Fox assets apparently cleared after Comcast dropped a competing bid, the Mickey Mouse company becomes the majority stake holder in Hulu.

The SVOD platform launched in 2007 has more than 17 million subscribers but remains an ongoing runner-up to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in the United States.

With Disney in command, that could change. Disney has made no secret it believes direct-to-consumer distribution of entertainment is the future. It is planning to launch a branded SVOD service in 2019 after spending billions acquiring technical subsidiary BAMTech.

But why reinvent the wheel when Hulu already has brand recognition, and more importantly, could benefit from having exclusive access to Disney content, including Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm titles?

To be sure, such a move would incrementally benefit Hulu minority owners Comcast and WarnerMedia, but a collective approach featuring Disney’s coveted movies would appear to be requisite to any serious attempt to bridge the Netflix divide.

“Disney has already announced its plans to pull much of its content away from Netflix in 2019 and launch a competing service, and we suspect that the rollout of a Disney-led platform can be accelerated if the company uses Hulu as its base,” Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, wrote in a note.

Pachter contends that by setting up a competitive service and outbidding Netflix for content created by the owners of that service, i.e. Disney/Fox, Comcast and Warner, Disney/Hulu should be able to capture a portion of the $160 billion in enterprise value Netflix commands.

“A reconstituted Hulu could successfully compete with Netflix if its owners sell content to Hulu exclusively,” wrote Pachter. “A re-imagined Hulu could compete successfully with Netflix in attracting new subscribers.”

It could also help mitigate losses on the bottom line.

Disney in February disclosed it expects more than $250 million in equity losses on Hulu in 2018 — up from a previously disclosed loss of $100 million.

As a stake holder, Disney expects to recoup the loss through Disney-ABC Television Group content sales as well as various affiliate network revenue.

Regardless, it is on the hook for about $450 million in capital contributions to Hulu this year, according to a regulatory filing.

While regulators might raise concern over Disney having too much control of Hulu (an issue back when Comcast acquired NBC Universal), the OTT video landscape has changed significantly since then.

Netflix finished the second quarter (ended June 30) with more than 57 million domestic subscribers. But its subscriber growth in the U.S. is waning, which means there’s opportunity for a strong third-party competitor not named Amazon.

Indeed, Netflix has been transitioning to proprietary content in recent years in an effort to minimize the impact of rival services from its content providers.

“That was a bet we’d made a long time ago when we got into original programming,” CCO Ted Sarandos said on the July 16 webcast. “And every year since that, we’ve been doing less and less off-net business with Disney and Fox. And our bet is that is long term, that they’ll want all of their content on their service.”

Warner Bros. Sets ‘DC Universe’ SVOD Pricing

Warner Bros. Digital Labs’ pending over-the-top video service, DC Universe, July 19 disclosed its pricing, which is $74.99 annually pre-ordered or $7.99 monthly upon launch.

Warner will be selling memberships at 2018 Comic-Con International: San Diego, which runs through July 22.

In conjunction with the pricing announcement, Warner released a first-look at the SVOD service’s upcoming original series Titans with the trailer premiere.

The series will debut on the digital service in the fall of 2018. In addition, more DC library content has been confirmed for DC Universe, including Batman Beyond (1999)Justice League the Animated Series (2001-04) and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-11).

DC Universe is also offering The Aquaman Premiere Sweepstakes. Fans who pre-order between Thursday, July 19 (9:30 a.m. PT) and Sunday, July 22 (5 p.m. PT) will be automatically entered for a chance to win two tickets to the U.S. premiere of the Warner Bros. Pictures film, Aquaman in December.

Comic-Con attendees who visit the DC booth #1915 and pre-order, will receive an exclusive collectible t-shirt. Fans can also visit the DC UNIVERSE Experience at the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter to immerse themselves in content from the upcoming service and literally walk through the new originals, beloved classics and iconic comics.

Fans who pre-order a yearly membership before the service’s launch in fall 2018 will get an additional three months of DC Universe for free. Annual memberships will go live with product availability in the fall.

The SVOD service will be available in fall 2018 as a direct-to-consumer digital service, backed by Warner Bros. Digital Networks and built by Warner Bros. Digital Labs.

Subscribers have access to new original live-action and animated series, classic TV series and films, a curated selection of comic books, breaking news, an expansive encyclopedia, and access to exclusive merchandise, among other features.


Comcast Ends Pursuit of 20th Century Fox, But Not Sky

As expected, Comcast Corp. July 19 officially dropped out of its attempt to acquire select assets of 21st Century Fox, including 20th Century Film and majority ownership of Hulu.

The media giant was considering upping its $65 billion offer for Fox, which included a 39% stake in British satellite TV distributor Sky.

“Comcast does not intend to pursue further acquisition of the Twenty-First Century Fox assets and, instead, will focus on our recommended offer for Sky,” the company said in a statement.

Comcast currently has a $34 billion (£14.75 per share) offer on the table for Sky, which exceeds Fox’s revised offer of £14 per share.

The decision should clear a path for Disney’s $71.3 billion bid, which has been approved by Rupert Murdoch, majority shareholder of 21st Century Fox.

“I’d like to congratulate [Disney CEO] Bob Iger and the team at Disney and commend the Murdoch family and Fox for creating such a desirable and respected company,” said Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts.



DOJ Wants Fast-Tracked AT&T-Time Warner Appeals Process

The Trump Administration really doesn’t want a merger between AT&T and Time Warner, whose assets include Warner Bros., Turner (TBT, TNT, CNN) and HBO.

On July 18, the government requested the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia speed up the process by mandating an October deadline for all legal briefs, with oral arguments to follow. Such a schedule could reportedly see a decision by early 2019.

The DOJ (and AT&T) contend that a drawn-out appeals process “will make it increasingly difficult to unwind the merger,” should the government win.

Indeed, former Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes has stepped down and John Martin, CEO of Turner, was let go, among other personnel changes.

The Justice Department earlier this month filed the appeal seeking to overturn U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s ruling that found the government hadn’t proved its antitrust claims in the $85 billion merger.

The antitrust case marked the first time in 40 years that the government had sought to challenge a vertical merger between two non-competing companies. The DOJ typically might intervene in horizontal mergers between competitive rivals.

Regardless, the government believes Leon didn’t understand the economic ramifications of a combined AT&T/Time Warner when negotiating with pay-TV operators. It contends AT&T could demand higher carriage fees for CNN, TNT and TBS while leveraging satellite-based DirecTV and online TV platform DirecTV Now as competitive threats.

Leon disagreed, ruling pay-TV operators could survive without Turner programming, alleged restrictions to HBO access and thwarting third-party over-the-top video services.

“We are disappointed with the [judge’s] decision,” Makan Delrahim, Trump’s appointed antitrust boss at the DOJ, said in a June 12 statement. “We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner.”

Some observers contend the DOJ’s opposition to the merger is largely political as Trump in the 2016 election campaign and thereafter has often criticized CNN (and other media outlets critical of his administration) as peddlers of “fake news”.

Indeed, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson rejected initial government demands calling for the divestiture of select Time Warner assets, including CNN.