Russell Wolff Upped to GM of Streaming Platform ESPN+

Longtime ESPN executive Russell Wolff has been named EVP and GM of ESPN+, the branded over-the-top video streaming service, it was announced Oct. 31 by Michael Paull, president, Disney Streaming Services, to whom Wolff will report.

In his new role Wolff will be responsible for managing ESPN+, which recently topped 1 million subscribers, in addition to collaborating on the overall management and commercialization of ESPN-branded digital products.

“His strong business acumen and exceptional leadership qualities make him the perfect leader to advance the growth of ESPN+ as we continue to evolve the service,” said Paull, a former senior executive at Amazon Prime Video.

Most recently, Wolff served as EVP and managing director, ESPN International, where he was responsible for all of ESPN’s international businesses, which grew to reach multiple countries and territories across all seven continents.

As part of his previous role, Wolff guided ESPN’s digital expansion around the world, including the launch of mobile, online and streaming platforms, helping it establish a position as the number one digital sports brand globally. He led ESPN’s digital media teams to grow their global digital media portfolio, which included more than a dozen localized editions of ESPN.com and the ESPN app, ESPNFC (global football vertical), ESPNCricinfo (global cricket vertical), ESPN’s streaming platforms (including WatchESPN) and multiple other digital initiatives.

He also was a key driver of ESPN’s continued growth and leadership in Latin America. Under his direction, ESPN’s offerings grew into a multimedia business that includes 13 television networks, the most diverse portfolio of programming and sports events, and the operation of production facilities and offices in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Wolff first joined ESPN International in 1997 as vice president, managing the company’s business interests in the Pacific Rim.  In 1998, he joined ESPN Star Sports, as VP of programming and event management and was later promoted to SVP.  Wolff returned to ESPN in 2000 as SVP, overseeing programming, marketing, and the company’s businesses in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

After graduating from Dartmouth College, Wolff began his career at the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago.  Shortly afterwards, he returned to Dartmouth and received his M.B.A. from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration.  He will continue to lead ESPN’s involvement with the Special Olympics.

 

CBS Launching ‘ET Live’ OTT Video Service

CBS Oct. 31 announced the launch of ET Live, an ad-supported free 24/7 over-the-top video streaming service  based on the long-running entertainment newsmagazine “Entertainment Tonight.”

ET Live will deliver 24/7 programming covering the latest developing entertainment stories, breaking news, celebrity interviews, features, and behind-the-scenes and red carpet coverage, as well as celebrity fashion, beauty and lifestyle trends.

“From CBS All Access to CBSNand CBS Sports HQ, we are dedicated to bringing consumers best-in-class streaming services,” Rob Gelick, EVP and GM, CBS Entertainment Digital for CBS Interactive, said in a statement. “ET Live is a natural expansion of our strategy and expertise in this area.”

ET Live will feature originally produced programming hosted by Lauren Zima, Denny Directo, Cassie DiLaura, Tanner Thomason, Jason Carter and Melicia Johnson. In addition, “ET” hosts Nancy O’Dell, Kevin Frazier, Nischelle Turner and Keltie Knight will regularly appear in segments to promote what’s coming up and exclusive to the on-air broadcast.

At launch, ET Live is available online at ETLive.com, via Android and iOS devices through the ET Live app, on Apple TV, and on Amazon Fire TV, with additional platforms coming soon.

In addition, ET Live will be integrated into the CBS All Access subscription service’s live feed across additional devices and platforms, giving users the ability to toggle between their live local CBS feed, CBSN and ET Live’s coverage. ET Live will also be available as a feed within CBSN, CBS’ 24/7 streaming news service, across additional devices and platforms.

PBS’s ‘Dark Money’ Hits Amazon Prime Ahead of Election

The documentary Dark Money from PBS Distribution is now available to stream exclusively through Amazon’s Prime Video ahead of the election.

Dark Money is also available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray.

The documentary examines one of the greatest present threats to American democracy: the influence of untraceable corporate and union money on our elections and elected officials. The film takes viewers to Montana — a frontline in the fight to preserve fair elections nationwide — to follow a local journalist working to expose the real-life impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, uncovering the truth of how American elections are bought and sold.

The recipient of the Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios’ Producers Award, Dark Money is directed and produced by Kimberly Reed. The film was recently nominated for top documentary awards at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards (winners announced Nov. 10) and the International Documentary Association’s IDA Awards (winners announced Dec. 8).

Dark Money was released theatrically in July and broadcast on PBS’s documentary series “POV” Oct. 1.

Cinedigm Will Launch Chinese Content Channel Bambu in First Quarter 2019

Cinedigm announced it will launch Bambu, its Chinese content entertainment channel, in the first quarter of 2019, unveiling the channel’s logo.

Bambu will be available as both a free, ad-supported service and an ad-free subscription-based service providing content for $3.99 a month.

“While the network will appeal to Americans of all ages, Bambu’s primary focus is on Gen Z viewers ages 16-24, and Millennial viewers ages 25-35,” according to the Cinedigm announcement. “These ‘digital natives’ have been exposed to global culture from an early age, and hunger to stay at the forefront to discover the latest global trends — as evidenced by the unparalleled rise of Anime and K-Pop in North America in recent years.”

These viewers represent more than 27 percent of the U.S. population, according to Cinedigm, and Bambu aims to provide Chinese entertainment previously unavailable to American audiences.

Curated offerings will span beyond martial arts and period epics to contemporary action epics, serial dramas, romantic comedies, sci-fi, horror, fantasy adventure sagas, music and reality series, and educational programming ranging from instructional Chinese language courses to cultural cooking shows, according to Cinedigm.

The company billed the site as “the only complete Chinese entertainment platform in the United States.”

Cinedigm will provide content for Bambu from licensor partners, as well as from Chinese licensors and distributors, according to the announcement. Content will potentially include hundreds of hours of first-run television programs, made available through Cinedigm’s partnership with state-run broadcaster Central China Television and others, the company announced. Select titles include the bomb squad thriller Shock Wave, starring Andy Lau; the sci-fi epic Kung Fu Traveler; and Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-Fat in the 2016 fable The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven’s Palace. Bambu will also feature such series as the most watched show in Chinese TV history “Journey to the West”; “Nirvana in Fire”; the thriller “Lost in Translation”; the popular food/cooking documentary series “A Bite of China”; the fantasy crime show “The Four”; and new shows such as “The Advisors Alliance” and “Diamond Lover.”

“Young Americans are incredibly culturally savvy, and proudly receptive to the latest global trends,” said Erick Opeka, Cinedigm’s president of digital networks, in a statement. “Bambu allows these modern tastemakers to stay at the cultural forefront, introducing them to a roster of new series and up-and-coming artists that they can discover and show their friends. It also presents tremendous potential for substantial marketing opportunities, opening up China’s prolific and profitable content industry to a massive American audience. This is phase one in what we envision as a fruitful partnership between the United States and China, enriching both cultures by providing them with the absolute best in Chinese and American entertainment, respectively.”

“Bambu is another very important step in our bilateral content distribution strategy for China and North America,” said Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm Entertainment Group, in a statement. “We have made tremendous progress in that regard over the last year with the key Bison, Starrise and Youku agreements, as well as many other important content and distribution deals with key Chinese media companies either announced or in final stages. Bambu is the perfect vehicle to expose undiscovered quality film and TV content to North American audiences and provide vital feedback to Chinese producers, which should help them create Chinese content with the potential to be much more successful abroad.”

Bambu is “an important vehicle to provide immediate and invaluable” audience feedback to Chinese producers working to produce films and television for a global audience, according to Cinedigm, and the consumer data should help better inform the development process in China about the categories of entertainment content, stories and characters that appeal most to an American and eventually a global audience.

Thriller ‘A Simple Favor’ to Be Offered on Digital Dec. 11, Disc Dec. 18

A Simple Favor will be offered on digital Dec. 11 and 4K Ultra HD combo pack (plus Blu-ray and digital), Blu-ray combo pack (plus DVD and Digital), DVD and on demand Dec. 18 from Lionsgate.

The film earned $52.3 million in theaters.

Anna Kendrick (Pitch PerfectTrolls) and Blake Lively (The ShallowsThe Age of Adaline, TV’s “Gossip Girl”) star in this thriller from director Paul Feig (BridesmaidsGhostbusters, TV’s “Freaks and Geek,” TV’s “The Office”), based on the novel by Darcey Bell. The film also stars Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians), Andrew Rannells (TV’s “Girls,” TV’s “The Knick”), Linda Cardellini (TV’s “Freaks and Geeks,” Hunter Killer) and Rupert Friend (TV’s “Homeland”).

The story follows Stephanie (Kendrick), a mommy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily’s (Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Stephanie is joined by Emily’s husband Sean (Golding).

Special features on digital, 4K UHD and Blu-ray include three audio commentaries with the cast and crew, eight making-of featurettes, a gag reel, deleted scenes, and an alternate ending. The DVD special features include all of these except there are six making-of featurettes, instead of eight.

The 4K UHD includes Dolby Vision HDR.

Video Remains Double-Edge Sword for Facebook

Facebook ended its most recent third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) fiscal period with 2.3 billion people worldwide using the social media platform monthly, including 1.5 billion every day. Revenue grew 33% to $13.7 billion.

Facebook Watch, the ad-supported VOD service, was launched Aug. 10, 2017, followed by Instagram TV (IGTV) this past June. Both platforms targeting YouTube continue to pose challenges to Facebook’s business model structured around user exposure to advertising. Indeed, streaming video could actually hurt revenue, Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on the Oct. 30 webcast.

“Video monetizes significantly less well per minute than people interacting in [community] feeds,” Zuckerberg said. “So, this means that even though we’ve made video more community-oriented and minimized displacement of social interactions, as video grows it will still displace some other services where we’d probably make more money.”

In other words, as Facebook users consume video, they interact with “friends” less — and in turn deprive advertisers (which account for more than 90% of Facebook revenue) channels to pitch products and marketing campaigns.

“Video is a critical part of the future, it’s what our community wants, and as long as we can make it social, I think it will end up being a large part of our business as well,” said Zuckerberg.

Indeed, the executive admitted Facebook has had to “rate-limit” video growth on the platform. Characterizing video consumption as “passive” compared to users aggressively engaging in community, political and social conversations, Zuckerberg said Facebook Watch is working with advertisers to better fit their marketing and ad-buying process for video.

In Q3, Facebook introduced a way for advertisers to buy video ads from specific content categories and pay only for ads that are watched to the end.

“The biggest thing that we need to do is make sure that the video experience is people-centric, and that we’re helping content creators [and advertisers] build a community and we’re helping people interact with each other,” Zuckerberg said.  “We build social products that help people interact. There are lots of places in the world that you can go to consume content, but we’re the Internet service that people use to help connect with other people, and we’re not going to let passive consumption get in the way of that.

“We needed to figure out a way so that video can grow, but people can also keep on interacting and doing what they tell us that they uniquely want from Facebook,” he said.

Zuckerberg said Facebook Watch user growth has tripled in the past few months.

“I think that’s a very exciting opportunity ahead,” he said. “And that’s one of the reasons that I’m very optimistic about the Watch growth.”

‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ Tops Redbox Digital Chart

Universal Pictures’ Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, a musical comedy based on the music of Swedish pop group ABBA, took the top spot on the Redbox On Demand chart for the week ended Oct. 28.

The Redbox On Demand chart tracks digital transactions, both electronic sellthrough (EST) and transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) streaming, the electronic equivalent to renting a DVD or Blu-ray Disc.

The film, a belated sequel to 2008’s Mamma Mia, debuted at No. 4 on the Redbox kiosk chart, which tracks DVD and Blu-ray Disc rentals at the company’s more than 40,000 red disc vending machines, typically positioned inside or outside of supermarkets and mass merchants like Walmart.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again grossed more than $120 million in North American theaters and features an ensemble cast that includes Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Andy García, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, Cher, and Meryl Streep.

The Mamma Mia sequel was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on Oct. 23, two weeks after it became available for digital purchase or streaming.

On the Redbox kiosk chart, Walt Disney’s Ant-Man and the Wasp moved up to No. 1 in its second week of availability, knocking Universal Pictures’ Skyscraper to No. 2 after two weeks as the most in-demand disc rental.

Sony Pictures’ Hotel Transvylvania slipped a spot to No. 3 after two weeks in the second chart position.

Rounding out the top five on the Redbox disc rental chart was Universal Pictures’ The First Purge, which moved up a spot from No. 6 the prior week.

On the Redbox On Demand digital chart, Skyscraper and Hotel Transylvania 3 both slipped a spot, to No. 2 and No. 3, to make way for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Warner’s Ocean’s 8 moved back up to 4 from No. 5 the previous week, with Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom taking its place, down two spots from the previous week.

 

Top DVD and Blu-ray Disc Rentals, Redbox Kiosks, Week Ending October 28

  1. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  2. Skyscraper
  3. Hotel Transylvania 3
  4. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (new)
  5. The First Purge
  6. Sicario: Day of the Soldado
  7. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  8. Reprisal
  9. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  10. Ocean’s 8

 

Top Digital, Redbox On Demand, Week Ending October 28

  1. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
  2. Skyscraper
  3. Hotel Transylvania 3
  4. Ocean’s 8
  5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  6. The First Purge
  7. Tag
  8. Sicario: Day of the Soldado
  9. Hotel Artemis
  10. Unfriended: Dark Web

 

Visit the Redbox website.

Buy or rent Redbox On Demand movies.

‘Gosford Park,’ ‘Gas Food Lodging’ Among November Blu-ray Releases on Tap From Arrow and MVD

Gosford Park and Gas Food Lodging are among four Blu-ray releases coming in November from Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group.

From Arrow Academy Nov. 13 comes Gas Food Lodging. Based on a novel by Richard Peck and directed by Allison Anders, this story of a young single mother desperately trying to find love was a hit at the 1992 Berlin International Film Festival. This newly restored release comes director approved and contains a number of special features, including “The Road to Laramie: A Look Back at Gas Food Lodging,” a new interview with Allison Anders and Josh Olson; Cinefile: Reel Women, a 1995 documentary by Chris Rodley looking at the challenges women face in the film industry and featuring interviews with Anders, Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion and Penny Marshall; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film.

Due Nov. 27 from Arrow Academy is director Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, starring Alan Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bob Balaban, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Clive Owen. The murder-mystery features a new 2K restoration from a 4K scan approved by director of photography Andrew Dunn. Special features include audio commentary by Altman, production designer Stephen Altman and producer David Levy; audio commentary by writer-producer Julian Fellowes; new audio commentary by critics Geoff Andrew and David Thompson (author of Altman on Altman); an Introduction by Andrew; new cast and crew interviews recorded exclusively for this release; the “The Making of Gosford Park” archive featurette; the “Keeping Gosford Park Authentic” archive featurette; a Q&A Session with Altman and the cast; 15 deleted scenes with optional Altman commentary; a trailer; reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Sheila O’Malley and an archive interview with Altman.

Nov. 13 comes The Wizard of Gore from Herschell Gordon Lewis. In the film, Montag the Magnificent wows audiences with his macabre magic act, but before long his volunteers start to wind up dead. Is Montag a modern day wizard or just your everyday serial killer? Special features include the 1968 bonus feature How to Make a Doll; feature-length audio commentary with Lewis and Mike Vraney; “Montag Speaks,” an interview with Wizard of Gore actor Ray Sager; Stephen Thrower on The Wizard of Gore; “The Gore the Merrier,” an interview with Jeremy Kasten, director of the 2007 Wizard of Gore remake; “The Incredibly Strange Film Show,” an episode of the cult documentary series focusing on the films of Lewis; the original theatrical trailer; and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil.

Due Nov. 20 is Teruo Ishii’s anthology Orgies of Edo, featuring three stories with a corrupt moral center. Politically incorrect, each tale is that of tragic heroines caught up in unspeakable violence. Special features include “The Orgies of Ishii,” an exclusive, newly filmed interview with author Patrick Maccias; the theatrical trailer; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Tom Mes.

Report: Third-Quarter Streaming Video Consumption Up 63%

Consumption of streaming video – via over-the-top platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu — continues to mushroom.

New data from digital measurement firm Conviva found a 63% increase in third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) video viewing hours from the previous-year period. Video program plays increased 53%.

“Streaming TV consumption shows no signs of slowing down, and publishers have stepped up to the plate, delivering better quality and reliability that viewers have come to expect,” Conviva CEO Bill Demas said in a statement. “The demand for quality is pushing connected TVs to the top in terms of device share, commanding more than 50% of total viewing hours at the expense of PCs that have lost 7%, while mobile remains relatively flat.”

Indeed, the report — based on Conviva’s claims of tracking 1 trillion data events daily around the world – found that live sports (i.e. NFL football) streaming increased 3% in September, driven by Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football webcasts. Amazon said more than 8 million people collectively streamed the first four games of the season.

Connected TV video plays increased 145%, while viewing hours increased 103%. Online TV platforms such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV Now, Spectrum TV Plus, PlayStation Vue, Pluto TV and Fubo TV helped mushroom video plays 292%, including 212% increase in viewing hours from the previous-year period.

And consumers are streaming longer-form (TV shows and movies) entertainment, with 111% increase in video plays and 93% increase in video hours streamed.

Finally, Roku remains the No. 1 streaming media device, commanding 40% market share in viewing hours.

Barnes & Noble Reveals New Details for CEO Firing

Barnes & Noble has disclosed new details on its firing of CEO Demos Parneros in July after 16 months on the job.

The nationwide bookseller (and home entertainment retailer) in an Oct. 30 legal filing (Parneros v Barnes & Noble, 18-cv-7834, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York), outlined further details of alleged sexual harassment by Parneros against a female employee, in addition to breach of fiduciary duty after allegedly scuttling a possible sale of the fiscally-challenged company.

Parneros, who maintains his innocence, sued Barnes & Noble in August for wrongful termination and payment of severance, claiming he was abruptly dismissed by the chain’s founder Leonard Riggio for no reason.

Barnes & Noble, in the filing, claims Parneros acted inappropriately with the female staffer he had called into his office, including pinching her neck after comparing heights.

“She also reported that just a few days after this incident, Parneros again called her into his office, inappropriately showed her pictures of what he considered to be romantic Quebec City hotels, told her that he ‘would have taken’ her to those hotels if he were her husband, pulled her towards him so that their faces touched cheek-to-cheek and, as she attempted to pull away, angrily told her that he thought she seemed like someone who ‘would put out’ if he ‘wined and dined’ her,” according to the complaint.

Barnes & Noble says it has received additional complaints about Perneros from other female employees.

In addition, the company alleged the former CEO made repeated negative comments about Barnes & Noble to an unnamed potential buyer, including questioning “Why did I come here?” to the buyer’s representative.

Parneros denies he tried to quash the transaction.

“These false allegations are nothing more than an effort to tarnish my reputation and punish me for seeking justice,” Parneros said in an email statement to Bloomberg.

Barnes & Noble in September reported a first-quarter (ended July 28) net loss of $17 million, up 70% from a net loss of $10.7 million during the previous-year period. Revenue dropped 7% to $794 million from $853 million last year.

The bookseller’s Nook business, which includes digital media such as TV shows and movies, narrowed its operating loss to $330,000 from an operating loss of $2.7 million last year. Revenue dropped 14% to $25.2 million from $29.5 million last year.