Doc on ‘Last Blockbuster’ Video Store Completes Funding

Popmotion Pictures Sept. 4 announced that it has completely funded its latest documentary project, The Last Blockbuster, via Kickstarter.

The Last Blockbuster chronicles the rise and fall of Blockbuster Video, once the nation’s leading video rental chain — whose slogan, “Make it a Blockbuster Night,” has been ingrained in pop culture.

At its peak, Blockbuster Video had more than 9,000 video rental stores, most of them with huge rental cassette inventories and massive “walls” of new releases. The advent of DVD, which shifted consumer behavior from renting cassettes to buying discs, triggered the chain’s decline, as did the rise of Netflix, which originally rented movies by mail, thus eliminating the return trips that consumers in survey after survey said they hated almost as much as another characteristic of video rental stores, late fees.

Blockbuster began losing money in the 2000s, and in 2010 filed for bankruptcy protection from its creditors. In 2011, the 1,700 Blockbuster Video stores that remained were bought by Dish Network, only to be systematically shuttered over the ensuing years.

The documentary follows the chain’s troubled history all the way down to the last remaining operational Blockbuster Video store in the country, which is located in Bend, Oregon.

The production team has launched a trailer and Kickstarter campaign to help complete the documentary, which may be accessed here.

While the project is now completely funded, with just under two weeks remaining on the Kickstarter project, the team is going to use any additional funds to expand the project with additional special features “and ideally can raise enough money to preserve the last Blockbuster store for eternity (in virtual reality),” according to a news release.

“When we started working on this documentary last year there were about a dozen Blockbuster video locations still standing,” said director Taylor Morden. “Now, we’re down to just one. As movie lovers and physical media enthusiasts, we took it upon ourselves to uncover the story of why? What makes Bend, Oregon and this store in particular so special? It’s a fun and uplifting story and quite frankly we think the world needs more stories like that these days.”

‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ Dancing to Digital Oct. 9, Disc Oct. 23 From Universal

The Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Sing-Along Edition will come out on digital (including Movies Anywhere) Oct. 9 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Oct. 23 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film earned more than $118 million in theaters.

Ten years after Mamma Mia! The Movie, the prequel/sequel set to the music of ABBA features returning stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried and Christine Baranski alongside new additions Lily James, Cher and Andy Garcia. The film follows two stories: present day as Sophie Sheridan (Seyfried) prepares for the grand reopening of her mother Donna’s (Streep) hotel and 1979 when young Donna (James) first arrives on the island. Sophie learns about her mother’s adventures with the young Dynamos, Tanya (Jessica Keenan-Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), and how young Donna first met her three possible dads Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine).

Bonus features, some exclusive to 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and digital, include deleted/extended songs and scenes with commentary by director/screenplay writer Ol Parker; enhanced sing-alongs; cast meets cast, in which those playing young and older versions of certain cast members discuss their parts; cast chats between those playing the three young Dynamos and the young dads; a featurette on the choreography; featurettes on the development of the story, the character of Sophie, on Cher’s joining the cast, the costumes and more; and feature commentaries with Parker and producer Judy Craymer.

The film will be available on 4K Ultra HD in a combo pack which includes 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and Digital. The 4K Ultra HD disc will include the same bonus features as the Blu-ray version, all in 4K.

Starz Bowing New LeBron James-Produced Docu-Series ‘Warriors of Liberty City’ Early on Digital

Lionsgate-owned Starz Sept. 4 announced that the premiere episode of the new unscripted six-part series “Warriors of Liberty City” will be available on the Starz App and VOD platforms Sept. 9 — one week ahead of its linear pay-TV debut on Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Each subsequent episode will be available across all digital and on-demand platforms one week prior to the linear airing.

“Warriors of Liberty City” explores Liberty City, a marginalized neighborhood in Miami that is arguably the NFL’s largest, most successful football factory.

The series follows a season with the Liberty City Warriors, a youth football program founded by an unlikely mentor: hip-hop pioneer Luther Campbell, better known as “Uncle Luke.”

Before Liberty City native Barry Jenkins won his Oscar award for Moonlight, the city was best known for producing some of the biggest names in football, including Devonta Freeman, Antonio Brown, Duke Johnson and Teddy Bridgewater.

Beyond football, the Liberty City Warriors Optimist Club is a youth organization that sponsors sports teams, dance, cheerleading, tutoring and academic support. Life, like football, is a contact sport, and for the kids and family of Liberty City, being a Warrior holds the key to both.

“Warriors of Liberty City” made its world premiere with the first episode at the 2018 SXSW Festival in the “episodic” category, making it the first documentary series to be accepted into the category.

The series is created by Evan Rosenfeld, with LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Jamal Henderson for SpringHill Entertainment (Starz Original Series “Survivor’s Remorse,” “The Wall”); Pam Healey, Dan Peirson and Ted Skillman for Shed Media (“Genius Junior,” “Who Do You Think You Are?”), a division of Warner Bros. Unscripted & Alternative Television; and Luther Campbell also serving as executive producers.

Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker and screenwriter Andrew Cohn (Night School, Medora) co-directed the documentary series alongside Rosenfeld.

Starz recently made the first two episodes of the 10-part docuseries “America to Me” available on its app and VOD platforms with subsequent episodes hitting the platforms a week prior to their debut on the Starz linear channel.


Viacom Launching Ad-Supported Indian-Themed VOD Service in the U.K.

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has vowed to expand the media conglomerate’s entertainment assets globally.

In November, Viacom 18 Media’s ad-supported Voot streaming video service will expand operations to the United Kingdom – the first of several planned international markets launches.

Viacom 18, which is majority (51%) owned by Mumbai, India’s TV18 and 49% by Viacom, will produce 18 original multi-lingual, multi-genre series for the platform through its Viacom 18 Motion Pictures unit. A news service is slated for as well.

“Voot is integral to our strategy as we gear up for a future-ready Viacom18 that is screen, platform and pipe agnostic,” Sudhanshu Vats, managing director at Voot, said in a statement. “We are building a digital-first brand to harness [our] strengths across its brands, creative franchises and businesses in multiple Indian languages.”

With an Indian origin population of around 1.8 million consumers, the U.K. market presents a significant opportunity for Voot to leverage.

Voot Originals will feature content across multiple genres, psychology, mystery, sports biopics, comedy, drama, thriller, politics, history, crime and suspense, among others.

“The digital medium brings us close to the consumer at a very personal level,” said Monika Shergill, head of content at Viacom18 Digital Ventures. “Our entire content strategy is based on a deep data backed analysis of the needs and desires of our consumers and their consumption preferences and patterns.”

Voot said it would also will also strengthen its user interactivity options with the adoption of Google Watch Action, an industry first in the Asia-Pacific region for premium OTT players. Voot’s platform will also employ Dolby Surround Sound for all original programming – a first for Indian-based OTT video services.

“At an execution level, we have been extremely lucky to be partnering with a galaxy of very talented and committed actors, writers and directors to bring forth our second bundle of Voot Originals,” said Shergill.


Cisco’s Former Video Software Biz Renamed ‘Synamedia’

A new video technology company named Synamedia has been formed from the recent sale of Cisco Systems’ Service Provider Video Software Solutions unit to investment firm Permira Funds.

“Syna” means “together” in Greek, reflecting Synamedia’s goal to empower broadcast, pay-TV and over-the-top video services to optimize their current infrastructure and capitalize on OTT distribution to expand consumer choice and convenience, secure revenue streams, and develop new offerings.

“From day one we will be the vendor with the ability to deliver products on a global scale while also offering the flexibility required for market localization,” Yves Padrines, incoming CEO for Synamedia, said in a statement.

Padrines is currently VP of Global Service Provider for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Cisco.

Synamedia will offer software for hybrid broadcast/IP services on multiple devices, including set-top boxes devices. Features will include an anti-piracy service for rapid detection of, and response to, illegal streaming. Other new offerings include “VideoGuard Everywhere” and “VideoGuard Server” support for Android devices.

“We will intensify our focus on innovation, building even closer links with our customers and ensuring that we continue to provide the world’s most complete, secure and advanced end-to-end video delivery solution,” Padrines said.

The company is also offering software it claims can reduce streaming latency on a STB down to six seconds – comparable to a live broadcast. This would be lower than traditional streaming technologies, where latency can be as high as 40 to 90 seconds for streaming video to receiving devices.

“Synamedia enters the market at a time when the TV landscape is being redrawn. Building on a 30-year heritage in the pay-TV industry, a market leadership position, and an unrivalled reputation for innovation, we will hit the ground running as a private, independent entity committed to help customers boost engagement and revenues by capitalizing on the myriad opportunities that IP distribution and cloud- based services bring,” said Dr. Abe Peled, incoming chairman of Synamedia.

Launch of Season 2 Propels ‘Ozark’ Back Into Digital Originals Top 10

Once again, there were few changes in demand for the top digital originals this past week, with only one returning series bowing in the top 10, according to Parrot Analytics data for the week ended Sept. 1.

The returnee is “Ozark,” on Netflix, which re-entered the top 10 at No. 10 with a 48% spike in Demand Expressions after the Aug. 31 debut of Season 2. “Ozark” stars Jason Bateman as financial planner Marty Byrde, who suddenly relocates his family from a Chicago suburb to a resort town in the Ozarks after a money-laundering scheme goes wrong.

He fled to the Ozarks in the hopes of paying off a debt to a Mexican drug lord, only to become entangled with a whole new breed of organized crime.

“Demand Expressions” is a proprietary metric used by Parrot Analytics to measure 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.

Elsewhere on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals chart, the Netflix women-in-prison drama “Orange is the New Black” remains No. 1, a position it has now held for five consecutive weeks. Demand for the series, a month after the launch of Season 6, rose nearly 12% during the week.

“Stranger Things” (Netflix) remains No. 2, with demand relatively flat.

Hulu’s “Castle Rock,” a horror series based on the writings of Stephen King, moved up to No. 3 from No. 4 with an 8% gain in demand, bumping “Voltron: Legendary Defender” (Netflix) to No. 4 after two weeks in third place.

Netflix’s “Disenchanted” remains No. 5 for the second consecutive week with a nearly 15% spike in demand. Created by “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” creator Matt Groening, “Disenchantment” is Netflix’s sixth animated series targeting adults.

The show debuted in the top 10 the previous week following its Aug. 17 debut. “Disenchantment” follows Bean, a wild and heavily drinking princess, her innocent elf companion Elfo, and her “personal demon” Luci.

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.

Big Data Revolution

Content will always be king.

But in the home entertainment business, as in the broader entertainment industry, data is increasingly regarded as the crown, throne and scepter.

Data analytics, quite simply, is predicting future consumer behavior based on as much information about your target audience as you can get. Data comes into play when deciding windows, store allocations, distribution platforms, marketing campaigns, even greenlighting movies.

“Data hasn’t changed the importance of content, but it has helped make informed decisions,” says Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment and Games. “From deciding which content to make, how to price, where and what to market, data influences everything we do.”

At the studios, data analytics has become integral to doing business. The home entertainment divisions of the big studios say content and data now pretty much go hand-in-hand.

“Content is what we do — how it connects, moves, inspires and makes consumers and audiences feel something is what we are all about,” says Kim Overall, EVP of consumer insights and innovation for Sony Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “Understanding what is resonating with people, why and where, is how we get the right content into consumers’ hands.”

“Data and analytics don’t provide all the answers as there are many things that can’t be measured or interpreted — you still need talented, impassioned people to create, market and distribute great content,” adds Wuthrich. “We try to use all our resources to predict outcomes and data is one tool. But there are limitations. For instance, despite our years of experience and endless data, it’s hard to predict how many people will show up on street date, be it measured by box office on opening weekend or disc sales on street date. New tools are coming all the time (such as social sentiment, trailer views on social platforms, etc.) and will continue to improve predictions.”

How has Hollywood’s reliance on data analytics changed in, say, the last three years?

“It depends on which part of the business,” Wuthrich says. “We’ve always seen Warner as a data-driven company, but the tools continue to evolve. For our games business, the fastest-growing category is free-to-play games. Two examples of successful games are Golf Clash and Game of Thrones Conquest. Data and analytics drive the success of these games, from finding an audience to optimizing game play and monetizing.”

“We have invested in data and analytics as a key input to many decisions across the studio (or distribution group),” Overall adds. “As consumers and audiences tastes, preferences and behaviors evolve we have to be in lock step understanding the impact it has on our business.”

Independent content suppliers also are embracing the new world of data analytics. Cinedigm Entertainment Group president Bill Sondheim, speaking in July at the Los Angeles Entertainment Summit in Hollywood, told attendees, “We put a great deal of focus and investment in securing extensive and detailed data, and we have a strong culture of analytics and self-reflection. Cinedigm looks at each piece of content to determine the right demographics. It starts and ends with the consumer.

“And once we’ve determined who will want a particular piece of content, then we determine where that consumer shops. That could mean Walmart or Best Buy, but it can also mean Netflix or Amazon or iTunes or even something more unique, like Crunchyroll.”

Later, in an interview with Media Play News, he elaborated: “These new data analytics are playing an immense role in how we window every film or TV show we represent. First, it is important to note that as a distributor you must be channel agnostic. Our first responsibility to the rights owner is to maximize their revenue potential. This means we must model out numerous windowing scenarios and attach forecasts based on the data to see what is the best fiscal outcome.

“While other considerations like competitive releases scheduled and promotional opportunities and talent support are all taken into consideration with any windowing decisions, at the end of the day financial return on investment is the final arbiter.”

The use of data and predictive analytics has become increasingly sophisticated, Sondheim maintains.

“We have taken a culture of data analytics and applied it to virtually every aspect of our operation,” he says. “From the earliest stages of content development and title selection we have relied extensively on comparative competitive data. We track the performances of individual stars, we segment the genres and we carefully measure the effects of seasonality and consumer traffic. This has provided Cinedigm with a clear and well-defined roadmap of where we want to deploy our working capital as we invest in new content and productions.

“This analytic process then is applied to marketing and package decisions. We determine the target audience and look carefully at where they shop, the prices they respond to, the art work and graphics which seem to perform best and the promotional vehicles and advertising outlets that appeal most to the targeted consumer.

“From there, online or in-store placement becomes the focus and again we look at past sales performance metrics to determine how we can best maximize the value of any given title.”

How is Cinedigm management able to view all this rich and detailed data?

“We rely on internal data collection as well as outside subscription services and, on occasion, customized consumer studies,” Sondheim says. “We maintain an elaborate data warehouse that allows our sales and marketing teams to delve deep into granular data that comes from our sales history.

“We also subscribe to numerous outside data collection services that gives us competitive performance data looking at each major channel of distribution, from cable buy rates to VOD transactions to units scanned at stores across the United States and Canada. When you combine all these factors and make them a crucial part of the decision process it can have a profound impact on your ability to accurately predict future performance. We spend significant dollars and human resources and we see an excellent return on those investments.”

The drive toward relying on data and predictive analytics has accelerated in recent years with past experience “a gentle footnote in the process,” Sondheim maintains.

“Increasingly, we are going to have to develop dynamic real time and predictive ways to understand what is resonating with consumers,” Overall adds. “Equally, the other opportunity is how data and analytics can help us be more efficient across the distribution business.”

The Quest for Efficiency

The quest for efficiency is what drove John Daly, then an SVP at Sony Pictures Entertainment in charge of supply chain for home entertainment, to call on Algomus three and a half years ago. Algomus at the time was handling the studio’s vendor managed inventory.

“I realized, oh my gosh, there are a bunch of smart guys here, a bunch of guys from MIT,” he recalls. “The meeting goes from an hour-long meeting to like a four-hour session.”

Daly’s problem was the eternal one for supply chain executives, how to get the right physical product in the right amounts to the right stores at the right time. Sony was shipping to 25,000-plus stores, which kept Daly up at night.

“I needed to understand how the stores were behaving differently,” he says. “Although we had the data, I just couldn’t see it. I could get to it in an excel file, but it would take me forever to play around with it, and by the time a week and a half went by, it would be old data.”

That’s where Algomus stepped in, creating tools to speed up that process and evaluate the growing mound of data coming out of the retail pipeline. The tools use predictive analytics and machine learning — or using statistical techniques to give computer systems the ability to “learn” with data, without being explicitly programmed — to streamline the process.

After being a client, just this April, Daly joined Algomus as president.

“What our tools do is it takes all that data, and it simplifies your ability to look at it,” he says.

All stores don’t behave the same, he notes.

“You don’t want too much inventory; you don’t want too little inventory, and you want to have the right assortment for a customer that tends to shop in those stores,” he says. “And the only way we know we can do this is by using big data and analytics to figure this out.”

Algomus tools answer such questions as why a store has a low in stock rate, why certain stores have high return rates, how a particular new release is selling for the first eight weeks of its life cycle, how corrugated placement is selling, how promotions are selling and how certain genres sell in certain stores.

“It also gives us the ability for what I’ll call anomaly detection,” Daly says. “For instance, we had stores that were selling well and in the last two weeks the sales just slowed down, and now it allows us to go back and look at that. We can see all that data down to that store and SKU level very clearly, so that’s where the excitement comes in.”

Algomus tools also help studios allocate limited edition product, such as steel books and gift sets, more accurately.

“You can’t go back and remake them,” Daly notes. “They have to be ordered six, seven, eight months in advance.”

Algomus clients include the majority of studios, but the data analytics are appreciated by retailers as well, he says.

“They are very much encouraged that the studios are taking on this opportunity to drive the supply chain,” Daly says.

The home entertainment industry is in the vanguard in using data analytics, he notes.

“Very few industries are leaning in as much as home entertainment,” he says. “And that’s a pretty good story, that’s a positive story for the home entertainment physical part of the business.”

Exploring the Digital Frontier

While physical distribution has built the business and continues to be a big part of the home entertainment industry, digital delivery of content is the future — and data about that market is key.

“At one point the data focused primarily on physical formats, but as more data subscription services were launched covering transactional VOD, cable ratings, and SVOD performance, we have seen this become a dominant management tool,” notes Cinedigm’s Sondheim. Cinedigm has its own subscription, over-the-top services, Docurama and the Dove Channel.

Perhaps the most direct use of big data and predictive analytics is in the OTT/subscription streaming sector of home entertainment. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are known for their use of data.

As Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris note in their book Competing on Analytics: The Science of Winning (2017, Harvard Business Review Press), “Netflix employs analytics in two important ways, both driven by customer behavior and buying patterns. The first is a movie-recommendation ‘engine’ called Cinematch that’s based on proprietary, algorithmically driven software. Netflix hired mathematicians with programming experience to write the algorithms and code to define clusters of movies, connect customer movie rankings to the clusters, evaluate thousands of ratings per second, and factor in current website behavior — all to ensure a personalized web page for each visiting customer.”

Netflix also created a $1 million prize for quantitative analysts outside the company who could improve the Cinematch algorithm by at least 10%, according to Davenport and Harris. “It was an innovative approach to crowdsourcing analytics, even if the winning algorithm was too complex to fully adopt,” the authors wrote. “But no doubt Netflix’s data scientists learned from the work and improved the company’s own algorithms. CEO Reed Hastings notes, ‘If the Starbucks secret is a smile when you get your latte, ours is that the website adapts to the individual’s taste.’”

Now that Netflix is churning out original content — the company has said ultimately it wants 50% of its total programming to be original shows — the company uses analytics “to predict whether a TV show will be a hit with audiences before it is produced,” according to Davenport and Harris’ book. “Netflix … has used attribute analysis, which it developed for its movie recommendation system, to predict whether customers would like a series, and has identified as many as 70,000 of movies and TV shows, some of which it drew on for the decision whether to create it.”

Just last month, during the Television Critics Association media tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., Netflix VP of original series Cindy Holland pulled back the curtain a bit on its data analytics. She told the audience that Netflix doesn’t look at demographics per se but at “taste communities,” groups of subscribers who gravitate toward the same shows. She called the connections somewhat “unituitive,” noting that fans of Dave Chapelle’s stand-up also paradoxically like the film The Theory of Everything, a biopic of scientist Stephen Hawking.

Good information, no doubt. But since Netflix and other OTT leaders are proprietary and carefully guard their data “silos,” competitive analysis can be difficult. Calculating an overall measure of the SVOD market is a more complicated endeavor that third-party companies, such as Parrot Analytics, are tackling.

“We are becoming the source of media information that is beyond the traditional,” says Alejandro Rojas, regional director, Parrot Analytics.

Parrot — which provides global demand data on specific content to such clients as CBS Studios International — uses various data sources to measure the overall demand for SVOD programs. For instance, Parrot offers 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. Demand Expressions 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.

“Parrot Analytics measures ‘popularity’ by holistically capturing digital footprints left by TV consumption journeys across multiple viewing and engagement platforms,” Rojas says.

The data monitored is everything from a “like” on social media to a download from pirate site Bittorent, a rare instance in which piracy may actually help inform the industry at large. It’s a different metric than is provided by services such as Nielsen – which explains why Nielsen and Parrot Analytics charts are not often in sync.  For example, for the week ended July 30, Nielsen ranked these five shows as the most popular: No. 1, “America’s Got Talent”; No. 2, “60 Minutes”; No. 3, “NFL Preseason Game”; No. 4, “NFL Preseason Kickoff”; and No. 5, “Big Bang Theory”. Parrot’s top 5 was quite different: No. 1, “Spongebob Squarepants”; No. 2, “Steven Universe”; No. 3, “The Walking Dead”; No. 4, “America’s Got Talent”; and No. 5, “Flash”.

“As opposed to traditional ratings, Parrot Analytics does not rely on panels or depend on existing linear programming schedules,” Rojas says. “Its Demand Expressions is an empirical measurement that gauges consumer interest on thousands of TV shows, independent from their airing status or platform consumption. Its top list reflects the fact that not all views are created equal. TV shows with an active and vibrant fan base tend to outperform those that do not establish strong and sticky followings.”

Nielsen show measurement only includes shows that are currently being broadcast, he notes, while the set of shows being evaluated by Parrot Analytics not only includes shows on-air but also shows that are not currently being broadcast.

“Demand Expressions also reflects how passionate a fan base is while traditional ratings just look at views,” Rojas says. “In the end, it gives you an understanding of the emotional connection [to a show].”

Content and the Machine

The future of data analytics is what some term greater “machine learning” and others categorize as “artificial intelligence” — basically computers beginning to solve problems intelligently. The new analytics schemes can do everything from anticipating your business questions to telling you what star to cast and what genre to produce for a particular territory.

“We’re just hitting the first phases of artificial intelligence,” says Algomus’s Daly. “Where I really think this will go is — and we’re starting to get there now — the tool will answer questions before we ask them and create actions so you can take your hands off the steering wheel. You’ll come in in the morning and the tool will be able to tell you, ‘Hey, you better start shipping product to these stores. Something just happened last night. And I’ve created that order. Here’s what we’re going to do.’”

The new learning algorithms are starting to take some of the guesswork out of what content to produce and with whom.

“We have met with several companies in the last few months that are building robust AI predictive models that deal with casting and script development when in the past we only used these tools after content was already in the can,” says Cinedigm’s Sondheim. “The utilization of data analytics has evolved from a way to check certain decisions on limited aspects of the content acquisition and distribution process to the central driving force. And we see the tools becoming more sophisticated in handling multiple data sources, which allows them to be more accurate and predictive.”

Once such company looking to help make decisions in greenlighting a project is Cinelytic, which launched its analytics program for the film industry about a year ago.

“Our DNA is a combination of entertainment, science and finance,” says the company’s CEO and co-founder Tobias Queisser,  noting that his partner, co-founder and CTO, Dev Sen, is a former NASA rocket scientist and that key team members include entertainment industry producers and an MIT data scientist.

“I myself was in finance for 10 years in merger and acquisitions and a hedge fun, before producing independent films,” he says.

Cinelytic’s cloud-based platform is designed to help the industry better inform key decision making across the film lifecycle by offering predictive financial forecasts, key talent analytics and distribution strategies.

“We have the industry’s leading predictive forecasting model, in which you can input key parameters, including the film’s budget, genre, key talent, if it’s adapted from other media and if it’s a sequel or franchise. Based on these inputs, our system forecasts revenues for a range of scenarios across release windows, including digital and physical home video, free and pay TV,” he says.

Cinelytic also allows clients to assess the economic value of actors, directors, producers and writers.

“You can view an actor’s profile and see their top genres, top countries, and top release windows to understand where an actor is most valuable,” Queisser says.

Cinelytic is working toward forecasting audience size and audience demographics, as well as predicting home video revenue for films that are not released theatrically.

“We developed machine learning algorithms which are basically going towards AI,” Queisser says. “Our limit is only the data.”

Predictive Talent Scouting?

The music industry has long depended on talent scouts, and human ears, to discover future superstars.

But even that time-honored process appears to be changing.

Warner Music Group in May announced it has acquired Sodatone, a data analytics platform designed to unearth emerging talent. Sodatone tracks streaming, social media, touring and playlisting data and their analytics provide managers with enough information to track their current roster and search for emerging talent, help concert promoters to find acts that will draw a crowd and assist A&Rs in finding the “next big thing.” CEO Stephen Cooper said in May 2018, “A&R expertise has always been informed by different types of data, but today, tech tools are bringing deeper insights to our decision making.”

Mike’s Picks: ‘Trapeze’ and ‘Never So Few’


Street 9/25/18
Kino Lorber, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Gina Lollobrigida, Katy Jurado, Thomas Gomez.
1956. Trapeze was a big deal at the time for boomer kids who wanted to see real stars, plus kinetic scenes where the mechanics of flying are explained.
Extras: Includes a very strong commentary by Kat Ellinger.
Read the Full Review 

Never So Few

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida, Steve McQueen, Richard Johnson, Charles Bronson, Peter Lawford, Paul Henried.
1959. There’s really only one “must” reason to give this glossy adaptation of a 1957 novel by Tom C. Chamales a cursory whirl, and that’s seeing the emergence of Steve McQueen into what now seems like inevitable stardom.
Read the Full Review



Street Date 9/25/18;
Kino Lorber;
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Gina Lollobrigida, Katy Jurado, Thomas Gomez.

Though Burt Lancaster eventually finessed the transition into senior emeritus status as skillfully as any actor who comes to mind, he and Tony Curtis were close to their irresistibly youthful peaks when they teamed up for Trapeze, the box-office chances of which were already tableset with the kind of title that looked irresistible on a marquee. To be sure, this onetime circus performer, who not long before had rewritten the book on screen gymnastics with The Crimson Pirate, was already past 40 when his production company took on this transparent labor of love. But no matter. Lancaster still looks here as if he could easily benchpress even portly Thomas Gomez, who plays the picture’s circus owner.

For that matter, Gina Lollobrigida, who shares top billing, doesn’t exactly look out of shape in her skimpy costume, though she’s more successful dressing up the poster art than struggling with English whenever her character is agitated — her perpetual state when so much (and too much) of the drama is driven by a love triangle.

Even so, Trapeze was a big deal at the time for boomer kids who wanted to see real stars (and not always their stunt-folk) photographed way up high, back when (Disney aside), there was only minimal distinction between adult and kids’ Hollywood fare. It was one of the three top box office draws of 1956, a very good movie year, and commercially hefty enough to play three weeks solo at one of my local downtown palaces, including one of them over the July 4 weekend. And sometime in the give-or-take early ’60s, United Artists even re-released it in a killer double bill with 1958’s The Vikings, which even could have made guys coming up for air in the local drive-in passion pit look at the screen at least once in a while. (This pairing would have made the aggregate tally here a pair of Tony’s, one Burt, one Kirk, profile shots of Janet Leigh and the sight of Ernest Borgnine doing a cannonball into a pit of wolves — that’s entertainment!).

Now, is Trapeze actually a good movie? Well, notes that Pauline Kael dug the star power (check) and Robert Krasker’s camera work (check), while the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther (a reviewer I don’t usually quote) called the dialogue “dull and hackneyed” (check; good work, Bos, though this is much truer in the romantic scenes ). Kael also liked Carol Reed’s direction, and I will say that he and Krasker really do pack the CinemaScope frame with detail and circus “business” — working, in the process, a few magician’s diversions on the eye to make us think that the actors are doing more of their own stunts than they are. Then again, and depending on how you feel about 1955’s A Kid for Two Farthings (a half-naturalistic color fantasy I personally love), Trapeze is really the dividing line for Reed. Though more successful than not, it was, up till then, his one relatively weak movie of the postwar era. After this, he fell off his Fallen IdolThird Man throne for the remainder of his career — the sole exception being the glorious oasis of Oliver!, a best picture Oscar winner and one of my favorite movies of all time.

Despite all the illusionary glitz (the spectacle doesn’t exactly extend to the performers’ spartan living conditions), the Trapeze story basics aren’t complicated. With circus aspirations in his blood, Curtis journeys from Brooklyn to Paris because he wants to learn how to perform the dangerous and super-specialized “triple” — which in trapeze terms is just what it sounds like. Once-famous Lancaster now works as a rigger in a Paris circus — no longer able to perform, other than maybe catching a healthy flier, after having taken a terrible bounce in the movie’s opening scene while attempting a triple himself. After initial reluctance, Lancaster agrees to act as teacher, leading to a flier act that decorative Lollobrigida would like to crash — though she seems a little taken aback upon learning that she might have to develop at least cursory high-wire skills. To scheme her way in, she shafts her old partners while strutting her stuff and wedging herself between the equally smitten Lancaster and Curtis. The hetero jealousy angle really grinds the movie down, though there’ll inevitably be some who see some gay subtext in the guys’ dynamics — a subject that bonus commentator Kat Ellinger accordingly examines in a very strong commentary, especially since the Lancaster character was gay in the Max Catto novel. My own opine on this is just as a country boy myself, though by 1956, my 9-year-old self was reading the Police Gazette in the barber shop. Most of what really puts the movie over are the far more kinetic scenes where the mechanics of flying are explained.

In 2014, Germany’s Concorde Video put out a Region ‘B’ Trapeze Blu-ray that I would have ordered at the time but for reviews that were consistently awful — so much so that they’ve stood out in my memory ever since. The hope was that this new Kino Lorber salvo would rectify these problems, but what we get must be (guessing here) a moderately polished-up version from the same inadequate ancient master — a Blu-ray oddity in that almost every other color United Artists release I’ve seen from this era has looked acceptable or better in home renderings. Though some of the non-big-top scenes do look a lot better than some of the panoramic stuff within the tent, the dribbly color takes a lot away from some very keen Reed-Krasker CinemaScope framing (this was Reed’s first widescreen effort) and doesn’t do Lollobrigida’s makeup any favors. She looks almost incomparably better in MGM’s Never So Few (see below), which came out four years later.

For all my reservations about Trapeze, I rarely resist giving it repeat glances or even more — undoubtedly due in part to personal nostalgia (I saw it at the time at a Saturday matinee; what could be better?) but also because of the no longer common “guy” star power on exhibit here. Home studio Universal-International had loaned out contract player Curtis twice before for Houdini and Beachhead, but the latter had cast him with Frank Lovejoy, which was not the means by which to afford Malibu domiciles or jumbo prawns anytime you wanted them. Trapeze, though, was the big leagues, and just a year later, Curtis would be back with Lancaster again in Sweet Smell of Success — a flop at the time but a Real Deal masterpiece, and in the long run, how many actors have had their historical standing imperiled by one of those?

Mike’s Picks: ‘Trapeze’ and ‘Never So Few’

Never So Few


Available via Warner Archive;
$21.99 DVD;
Not rated.
Stars Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida, Steve McQueen, Richard Johnson, Charles Bronson, Peter Lawford, Paul Henried.

The odds of my writing about two Gina Lollobrigida movies in the same week are about the same as seeing Frank Sinatra in a goatee on screen (or, matter of fact, anywhere else), but here we are. For whatever reason in Never So Few, a chin-full of Francis follicles shows up early on in this glossy adaptation of a 1957 novel by Tom C. Chamales — but are soon dispensed with once we get to this yarn’s two dominant threads. And these would be: a) fighting the Japanese in 1943 Burma as part of an under-equipped OSS detail; and b) Captain Sinatra’s attempt to pry the more or less “kept” Lollobrigida away from a high-rolling merchant (Paul Henried) who, in one of the not infrequent scenes where the narrative takes a respite from the jungle, throws glitzy bashes for which the MGM set-dresser did a really bang-up job.

Sometimes a bad movie can be passable fun to watch in the home arena when there are historical (or otherwise non-aesthetic) reasons to do so, especially when the print is as immaculate as the one in this Blu-ray from Warner Archive. For the right person in the right mood, this one might be among those, though there’s really only one “must” reason to give this misfire with compensations a cursory whirl, and that’s seeing the emergence of Steve McQueen (then on the heels of TV’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” but not much else) into what now seems like inevitable stardom. McQueen plays the corporal/driver for Sinatra and his British counterpart-in-charge (Richard Johnson), and it’s a kick seeing the youngster, who was then about 28, interacting with his senior in movie rebel-dom, who looks admiringly amused. The two have a lot more chemistry than the future Chairman had with the King on Sinatra’s Welcome Home Elvis TV special from about a year later, and you can almost hear Frank saying, “Henry Silva and I were really digging you in that Blob thing, which is why I OKed you for this caper.”

Sinatra had that kind of clout, and, in fact, the corporal role was originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr. — who got bounced from the project when he went on a radio interview show and hinted that his superstar benefactor sometimes treated people harshly. In addition to keeping this picture from then qualifying as a footnote in the Rat Pack oeuvre (Peter Lawford is cast here as a military doctor), you have to believe that Davis’s firing necessitated a little script-doctoring, given a scene early on where McQueen beats up a couple of fairly burly guys. In fact, given Davis’s real-life ocular situation, you have to figure the army wouldn’t want him peeling rubber on Burmese dirt roads in a government Jeep. The payoff was that Few’s nominal director was John Sturges (probably forced by Frank to phone it in), who then cast McQueen in The Magnificent Seven and (speaking of peeling rubber) The Great Escape.

Getting back to what’s on screen (which isn’t as interesting) and speaking again of chemistry, Sinatra had more of the latter with the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1963 than with Lollobrigida here, though you’d think that Old Home Country considerations just by themselves might have generated some sizzle. When you combine my comments here with the ones on Trapeze, I likely come off as a disser of “Lollo” (as I seem to recall she was termed), though I suspect the actress’s pre-Hollywood career in Italy was a lot more potent. For one thing, Kat Ellinger says so on the Trapeze commentary, and she thoroughly knows the material. For another, I fairly recently saw the actress’s substantial career-makers Bread, Love and Dreams and sequel Frisky for the first time, and both are delightful. (I’m pretty sure Bread was the first foreign-language film I wanted to see as an 8-year-old during my weekly devourings of the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer movie page). Lolo just didn’t register well in domestic productions, and December 1959 was a bad month for her all around when she also co-headlined one of the era’s most snake-bit undertakings, Solomon and Sheba, which gave the originally cast Tyrone Power a fatal on-set heart attack and further ended King Vidor’s five-decade directorial career. I did like Lollobrigida’s 1961 Come September, though substantially because Bobby Darin sang “Multiplication,” which we about-to-be ninth graders thought was a dirty song.

Few is more fun when Sinatra’s captain tosses out the book and stays sassy: talking back to nurses, combatting institutional racism against the campaign’s Kachin colleagues and risking an almost certain court martial for defying orders to combat Chinese renegades who’ve been killing American soldiers. The last confirms a couple things we already knew — that Brian Donlevy was great at playing grizzled old army generals and that when Whit Bissell was a child, the pediatrician must have said to his parents: “This lad was put on this earth to grow up and play army psychiatrists.” A most handsome picture, Few was shot by Sinatra favorite William H. Daniels, who before that had been an Anthony Mann favorite and a Greta Garbo favorite and before that had photographed Greed. In an alternate universe, one can imagine Sinatra on location in Death Valley for the famed climax of the Stroheim picture, with Daniels saying, “Don’t worry Frank; we’ll fly in Dean with the liquor cart for your trailer-with-a-pool — plus some Vegas showgirls who want to get a really deep tan.” Either it was this kind of excess or simply the impressive Burma-Thailand-Ceylon location shooting, but Few’s swollen budget prevented it from covering its costs, even though a lot of people did end up paying to see it. Sinatra was Ruler of the World at the time, and Come Dance with Me had been a monster hit earlier in the year on LP.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Trapeze’ and ‘Never So Few’