AMC Networks Completes Acquisition of RLJ Entertainment

AMC Networks Nov. 1 announced it completed the acquisition of home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment, after the latter’s stockholders approved the transaction at a special meeting on Oct. 31.

AMC Networks acquired all of the shares of common stock of RLJE not owned by founder and namesake Robert L. Johnson, for about $59 million in cash.  RLJ Entertainment is now a privately-owned subsidiary of AMC Networks, with Johnson and his affiliates owning a stake of 17%.

RLJE operates two subscription streaming services with about 1 million combined subscribers: Acorn TV, known for its British and international mysteries and dramas; and UMC, which offers films, documentaries, original series and comedy for African-American and urban audiences.

The growth of Acorn TV has been driven by the current release of “A Place to Call Home.” Other pending original programs include, “Agatha Raisin,” “Queens of Mystery” and “London Kills.” UMC original series include “Monogamy” and “5th Ward.”  Recent releases from RLJE Films include MandyArizona and Galveston.

“Our businesses each serve unique audiences and have a strong connection to their viewers,” Miguel Penella, CEO of RLJ Entertainment, said in a statement. “”AMC Networks has been an ideal partner as we developed Acorn TV and UMC for their respective audiences.”

In addition, RLJE owns a majority stake in Agatha Christie Ltd., a popular IP franchise. Last year’s 20st Century Fox Kenneth Branagh-directed adaptation of Murder on the Orient Expressgrossed more than $350 million in worldwide box office. It sold more than $9 million in combined DVD/Blu-ray Disc units from 20thCentury Fox Home Entertainment.

Forthcoming adaptations include Fox’s Death on the Nilesequel as well as the BBC’s recent multi-show deal with Agatha Christie Productions for seven dramas based on the author’s works.

“This acquisition furthers AMC Networks’ direct-to-consumer strategy and accelerates our interests in subscription video-on-demand services that we own and control,” said Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks.

MoviePass Films Invests in Sports-Themed Documentary

MoviePass Films, the theatrical ticket subscription service’s content acquisition unit, Nov. 1 announced an agreement with Art of Sport, the newly-formed, sports-centric distribution entity behind upcoming feature-length documentary, In Search of Greatness.

MoviePass Films, which is owned by MoviePass parent Helios and Matheson Analytics, has come on as an investor and strategic marketing partner ahead of the film’s early-November theatrical release.

In Search Of Greatness, directed by documentarian Gabe Polsky, best known for Red Army, which debuted in Cannes in 2014, and his work on Nat Geo’s Emmy-award-winning TV show, “Genius,” examines the importance of creativity in determining athletic ability, in addition to analyzing the roles nature and nurture play in the development of young athletes.

The film, which includes interviews with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, superstar wide receiver Jerry Rice, and soccer icon Pele, opens in 11 major U.S. markets on Nov. 2, and expands to theaters across North America by mid-month.

“We are pleased to be able to continue supporting independent creators and helping them bring their artistic visions to life on the big screen,” MoviePass Films chairman Ted Farnsworth and co-CEO Randall Emmett, said in a statement.

The investment follows a busy month of deal-making for the MoviePass Films. In September, it partnered with indie distributor Neon to co-release Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Sundance award-winner Monsters and Men (currently in theaters), and is preparing to co-release the second film in that partnership, Ali Abassi’s Cannes award-winner Border (which debuts in theaters this week).

MoviePass Films also recently wrapped production on its Bruce Willis-starrer 10 Minutes Gone and green-lit Neil Marshall’s The Reckoning, which starts production in Wales in January. The MoviePass Films team intends to produce 10-12 films annually, in addition to acquiring 8-10 films per year, starting in 2019.

MoviePass Films via MoviePass and Moviefone, will mount a marketing campaign to support the film’s success, while in theaters. In Search of Greatness will be made available to MoviePass subscribers as a “Bonus Movie,” which will not count toward their monthly in-theater movie ticket allotment. MoviePass™ subscribers will also have a chance to attend the films’ red-carpet premieres and receive other special perks throughout the duration of the partnership.

 

 

Netflix Reverses Script, Bowing Three Movies Theatrically

The old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” has been taken to heart by Netflix when it comes to theatrical releases.

The streaming video-on-demand behemoth revealed it will debut original movies Roma, from Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity); The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen) and post-apocalyptic thriller Bird Box, from Danish helmer Susanne Bier (Oscar-winning In a Better World) in limited domestic theatrical releases – ahead of streaming.

Netflix, through a longstanding mandate by CCO Ted Sarandos to upend the theatrical window, has always made its original movies available theatrically and streaming at the same time.

The stance has angered the Hollywood status quo, notably some film festivals (Cannes) and exhibitors – the latter refusing to screen Netflix movies also available to its 130 million subscribers.

It has also kept Netflix movies out of Oscar award consideration, whose voters apparently prefer watching new titles in the theater. And Netflix feels it has a trio of possible contenders. Hence the policy the change.

As a result, Roma will bow in theaters in select markets Nov. 21, followed by streaming on Dec. 14. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (featuring Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson and Stephen Root, among others) will hit the box office on Nov. 8 – eight days ahead of streaming. The same time gap for Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson, which hits screens Dec. 13 and SVOD on Dec. 21.

“These upcoming engagements are following the success of our theatrical and Netflix releases of Private Lifeand 22 July,” Scott Stuber, head of original films at Netflix, said in a statement. “There’s been an overwhelming response to all of our films this festival season, including Outlaw King, which will be in theaters and on Netflix next week, and this plan is building on that momentum.”

Stuber said the policy change reflects the Netflix’s desire to attract the best filmmakers and talent.

Indeed, one of Netflix’s first original movies – Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba and Abraham Attah, and directed by Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective”) was ignored by the Academy Awards despite strong critical reviews. A move many saw as an industry rebuke of Netflix’s release strategy.

“Our members benefit from having the best quality films from world class filmmakers and our filmmakers benefit by being able to share their artistry with the largest possible audience in over 190 countries worldwide,” said Stuber.