Who’s Your Sugar Daddy? David Benioff, DB Weiss Exit Disney ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy for Netflix

It’s nice to be loved, but the subscription streaming wars are hitting the bottom line.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss who co-created HBO’s rating juggernaut “Game of Thrones,” have reportedly exited their participation in a new “Star Wars” trilogy series set for Disney’s branded subscription streaming service — for Netflix.

Why?

Benioff and Weiss over the summer inked a $200 million multiyear exclusive content deal with the SVOD pioneer — while also contractually linked to “Star Wars” — not uncommon in Hollywood.

With Netflix and Disney now competitors in SVOD, the bigger money apparently won out.

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“There are only so many hours in the day. We could not do justice to both ‘Star Wars’ and our Netflix projects,” Benioff and Weiss said diplomatically in statement first reported by Deadline. “So we are regretfully stepping away.”

So strong is the duo’s reputation, however, that Disney welcomes their return to the Magical Kingdom sometime in a future galaxy.

“David Benioff and Dan Weiss are incredible storytellers,” Kathleen Kennedy, president of Disney-owned Lucasfilm, said. “We hope to include them in the journey forward when they are able to step away from their busy schedule to focus on ‘Star Wars.’”

Warner Bros. Changes Iconic Studio Water Tower Logo for HBO Max Unveiling

In advance of the the Oct. 29 afternoon WarnerMedia Day unveiling further details on the HBO Max subscription streaming video platform, Warner Bros. has changed the logo on its iconic studio water tower.

“This is a big deal,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told the media from the Warner lot for the Oct. 28 fiscal call. “You’re going to see the result of something that a lot of people said couldn’t be done when we did the Time Warner deal, and that is, breaking down the three silos within Time Warner.”

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AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85 billion, which when including the company’s debt, totaled more than $108 billion.

“Bringing these three companies together, we’re creating something really, really powerful together that could not have been done otherwise,” Stephenson said. “The idea that you can stand up a product, HBO Max, that requires in-depth integration of HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner, not to mention Otter Media, which is a big part of this as well — man, a lot of people said it couldn’t be done. This is exciting.”

Study: Binge-Viewing Up 18% Globally

Binge-watching — the practice of watching multiple episodes of a show in one sitting — became a national habit in the early 2000s when studios began releasing complete season sets, and then complete series, of popular TV shows like “The Sopranos” and “Friends” on DVD. The practice received another big boost in 2013, when Netflix began releasing original series in their entirety at launch.

Collins English Dictionary made “binge-watch” its word of the year two years later.

Now, binge-watching — defined as watching four or more episodes of a show in one sitting — has reached an all-time high of six hours, 48 minutes a week, with 82% of viewers binge-watching shows online, according to new data from Limelight Networks, a cloud-based services provider.

Binge-watching globally increased 18% from last year to an average of two hours, 40 minutes at a time.

Americans are the biggest binge-watchers, with sessions averaging over three hours. In addition to spending more time with online video, consumers are watching more online video services.

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The report — based on responses from 4,500 consumers in France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States age 18 and older, who watch one hour or more of online video content each week — found 70% of respondents subscribe to at least one streaming service (compared to 59% in 2018) and nearly 72% now use dedicated streaming devices (compared to 67% in 2018).

“Consumers are embracing new streaming platforms but retaining subscribers requires more than just good shows,” Michael Milligan, senior director at Limelight Networks, said in a statement. “Streaming service providers have spent extraordinary amounts of capital acquiring content and customers. To be successful in the long-term, quality programming and seamless user experiences are essential.”

With the increase in online viewing, expectations for quality experiences are also on the rise.

Viewers won’t tolerate streaming disruptions with 27% giving up on an online video after one re-buffering incident and another 40% leaving after two.

With nearly half of respondents reporting re-buffering as their primary online viewing frustration and another 31% reporting video quality issues as their top concern, it’s clear that streaming providers must prioritize quality of experience to align with viewer demands and retain subscribers.

Additional report insights include:

  • Broadcast viewing takes a hit, but remains more popular than online video. Global consumers watch just over seven hours of broadcast television each week, a decrease of 50 minutes since 2018. However, global viewership for traditional TV remains higher than online video across every country except Singapore and India.
  • Price sensitivity is the deciding factor in video subscriptions. Rising prices are the No. 1 reason global consumers will cancel their cable or satellite subscription (42%) and streaming services (52%). Consumers in the United Kingdom are the most apt to ditch cable or satellite TV due to cost (59%), while Italians have the highest price sensitivities for streaming (62%).
  • Streaming advertisements shouldn’t disrupt the viewing experience. Global consumers are most accepting of ads during an online video if they can skip it (59%) or if it’s a short ad before a free video (57%).
  • Mobile phones are the preferred online streaming devices. For the first time, smartphones have overtaken computers as the preferred device global consumers use to watch online video. When it comes to streaming on the big screen, global consumers prefer to use smart TVs (31%) over other dedicated streaming devices.

‘The Wizard of Oz’ 80th Anniversary 4K Release Is the Ultimate Makeover, Say Warner Execs

The Wizard of Oz has gotten a facelift for its 8oth birthday 4K debut, and it looks better than ever, according to Warner executives.

“Never before has a film this old been released in the 4K HDR format,” said George Feltenstein, SVP of theatrical catalog marketing at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, during an Oct. 28 presentation about the restoration on the studio lot. “This is really a huge leap for our company, but it’s representative of the commitment we have for the finest presentation of one of our crown jewels.”

The 1939 classic is being released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack and 4K digital Oct. 29. Directed by Victor Fleming and starring Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz received five Academy Award nominations, two Oscars, Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score, plus a special award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance by Garland. Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s children’s tale about a Kansas girl’s journey over the rainbow, The Wizard of Oz also stars Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley. The film appears on multiple AFI lists, and in 1989, was part of the inaugural group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

The studio went back to the original three-strip negative (retrieved from storage at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, N.Y.) to achieve clarity and color suitable for the new home entertainment format. The classic’s nitrate negative is stored offsite because of its flammability, and the Warner lot can only protect a limited amount of nitrate.

“You’ve heard the term, ‘Fire in a movie theater.’ That’s where it came from,” noted Bob Bailey, VP of operations and sales at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, which handled the new scan.

Warner improved on the 8K, 10 bit scan made 10 years ago for the Blu-ray HD release with an 8K, 16 bit scan and used updated technology.

“You’re going to see a panoply of colors that you could never see before, and yet it is faithful to what was captured on the negative in 1938 when the film was shot,” said Feltenstein.

The process was overseen by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging colorist Janet Wilson, who has supervised every remaster of The Wizard of Oz for the past 20 years.

“With this format, I can have the full range of color that’s available to me in a Technicolor element,” said Wilson.

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As in the HD restoration, those working on the new version had to make judgment calls about when to remove wires that showed up in the more detailed picture, but they left in much of the original work, including the makeup details.

“That we left, we didn’t touch,” Wilson said. “Because part of the sort of handmade quality of this film is seeing some of those edges on the makeup, and some of those details you don’t want to obscure. You can see things like the burlap on the face of the Scarecrow and the rivets on the head of the Tinman. If you start smoothing out too many things you start to lose some of the details that are there that you want to preserve.”

Improvements in technology also allowed Wilson to better color correct complex scenes such as the move from sepia tone to color when Dorothy first opens the door to Oz.

“Some of the satisfaction doing it this time for me was that I had better tools, and I could see things better,” she said.

The result, Warner executives said, is a version of the film that stays true to the original while making it look fresh.

“I’d like to think that the people who made this film 80 years ago would see this and be amazed by what they see and see that their artistic work was recreated with reverence because we haven’t changed anything,” Feltenstein said. “We’ve just made it look better than it’s ever looked before.”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc will feature Dolby Vision HDR.

“It’s really unprecedented that a film of this age is being released using this cutting-edge state of the art technology,” said Feltenstein. “The disc right now is the highest form of quality of reproduction in the home. And unless you are in a Dolby Vision cinema, you can’t even see it look this good in a theater.”

Special features on the 4K Blu-ray disc include commentary by John Fricke with Barbara Freed-Saltzman, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr, Jane Lahr, Hamilton Meserve, Dona Massin, William Tuttle, Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy and Jerry Maren, as well as the 1990 CBS Special “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic.”

Special features on the Blu-ray (included in the combo pack) include:

  • “The Making of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”;
  • “The Wonderful Wizard of OzStorybook” (narrated by Angela Lansbury);
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Frank Morgan”;
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Ray Bolger”;
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Bert Lahr”;
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Jack Haley”;
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Billie Burke”;
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Margaret Hamilton”;
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Charley Grapewin”;
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Clara Blandick”;
  • “We Haven’t Really Met Properly: Terry”;
  • a music and effects track;
  • the original mono track;
  • sing along tracks;
  • an audio jukebox;
  • the “Leo is on the Air” radio promo;
  • the “Good News of 1939” radio show;
  • the 12/25/1950 Lux radio broadcast;
  • stills galleries; and
  • trailers.

‘Beverly Hills Cop’ Remastered for 35th Anniversary Digital, Blu-ray Releases

Paramount Home Entertainment is celebrating the 35th anniversary of Eddie Murphy’s action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop with a special digital and Blu-ray re-release of the entire trilogy.

All three films, including the 1984 original, 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II and 1994’s Beverly Hills Cop III, have been remastered and will be released in 4K Ultra HD with HDR for the first time through digital channels Dec. 17.

In the first film, Eddie Murphy stars as streetwise Detroit cop Axel Foley, who tracks down his best friend’s killer in Beverly Hills. In the sequel, Foley goes deep undercover to investigate a gang of international munitions smugglers. In the third film, he investigates a counterfeit money ring being run out of a theme park in Los Angeles.

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A three-movie collection on standard Blu-ray will be released Jan. 14, 2020, with new bonus features with the first film, including two never-before-seen deleted scenes; four new behind-the-scenes featurettes incorporating vintage 1984 interviews; an isolated audio track of Harold Faltermeyer’s Grammy Award-winning musical score; and “BHC Mixtape ’84,” which allows viewers to go directly to the scenes featuring the hit songs “The Heat Is On,” “Neutron Dance,” “New Attitude,” “Stir It Up,” “Do You Really” and “Nasty Girl.”

The new Beverly Hills Cop Blu-ray will also include previously released special features including commentary by director Martin Brest, a location map, the theatrical trailer, and the featurettes “Beverly Hills Cop — The Phenomenon Begins,” “A Glimpse Inside the Casting Process” and “The Music of Beverly Hills Cop”

 

HBO Max Orders CNN Content, Anthony Bourdain Doc and Floral Competition Series

WarnerMedia’s pending SVOD service HBO Max is ordering and partnering with CNN on documentaries and films for the service and has ordered a competition series, “Full Bloom,” about floral arranging.

HBO Max is sent to launch in spring 2020. WarnerMedia is the also the parent corporation of CNN.

HBO Max, CNN Films and Focus Features are partnering for a documentary film about celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, to be directed and produced by Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?).  Focus Features will first release the documentary exclusively in theaters worldwide before the film premieres on television on CNN and streams via HBO Max. CNN Films and HBO Max will executive produce the film. The late Bourdain worked for CNN for five years on his series “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown” and at CNN Films on a theatrical documentary about a chef who inspired him, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, in 2016.

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“It requires a filmmaker as expert and prolific as Morgan Neville to capture the essence of a raconteur and world explorer like Anthony Bourdain,” said Sarah Aubrey, head of original content, HBO Max, in a statement.

HBO Max has also greenlit four original unscripted projects from CNN. The slate includes “Heaven’s Gate” and “Generation Hustle” (working title) from CNN Original Series and two feature-length documentaries, The Scoop and Persona (working title), from CNN Films. “Heaven’s Gate” is a four-part HBO Max original from CNN Original Series that explores the infamous religious movement that culminated in the biggest mass suicide to ever take place on U.S. soil. “Generation Hustle” (working titleis a 10-part HBO Max original from CNN Original Series about the lengths young people will go to for fame, fortune and power. The Scoop (working title) is a documentary feature produced by CNN Films and will following the lives of CNN’s female political reporters as they cover the most unpredictable presidential campaign in American history. Persona (working title) is a documentary feature produced by CNN Films that explores the unexpected origin story of America’s obsession with personality testing.

Finally, HBO Max has ordered “Full Bloom,” an eight-episode, hour-long competition series featuring 10 of America’s budding florists vying to be crowned America’s best. Contestants will design and execute elaborate floral creations. Each episode features themed challenges centered around a unique stem of the floristry world, including fashion, art, events and weddings. Contestants’ designs and creations will be mentored and judged by floristry artists Maurice Harris and Elizabeth Cronin with celebrity florist Simon Lycett serving as host. At the end of each episode, unsuspecting people will be surprised with a floral arrangement.

80-Year-Old ‘Wizard of Oz’ Gets Makeover for 4K

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment hosted a presentation on the studio lot Oct. 28 to talk about the restoration of The Wizard of Oz for the 4K UHD release. The studio went back to the three-strip Technicolor negative to restore the film in 8K, 16 bit resolution for the film’s 80th anniversary release.  The classic debuts Oct. 29 on 4K UHD with HDR, including Dolby Vision, on Blu-ray Disc and digital.

HBO Max to Include Live Streaming — in the Future

Heading into WarnerMedia Day on Oct. 29 for the official unveiling of pending subscription streaming video product HBO Max, AT&T CEO Randell Stephenson said the service over time would deliver live-stream television.

Reiterating that HBO Max, which launches in early 2020, would not replicate Netflix, Stephenson said the platform would instead offer live TV similar to online services such as Sling TV.

“So you want an SVOD service, HBO Max is great. Over time, we look forward to bringing in a live element as well,” he said.

Stephenson said the company hopes to soon focus on a traditional satellite TV business, which he contends will be there “for a long time,” and the HBO Max platform.

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Streamlining video is part of management’s goal over the next three years to aggressively reduce the  massive debt load (more than $160 billion) following (i.e. costly) acquisitions of DirecTV ($67 billion) and Time Warner ($108 billion) — both including debt.

Speaking on the Oct. 28 fiscal call, CFO John Stephens said WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey has been tasked with generating 200 basis points (2%) of margin expansion in video going forward. To do that, the company is narrowing its focus on HBO Max and AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) in an effort to mine 1% to 2% out of cost-of-equity (COE) per year, according to Stephens. COE is the return a company requires to decide if an investment meets capital return requirements.

“If we can mine that out of our COE every year, that’s $1.5 billion to $2 billion [in savings],” he said.

Netflix Testing Speeding Up Movie Playback on Mobile Devices

Users of portable media devices gravitate toward short-form video. It’s the premise for the Quibi SVOD start-up.

Now Netflix has begun testing playback of movies up to 1.5 times their original speed.

“We’re always experimenting with new ways to help members use Netflix,” the company said in a boilerplate response to media inquiries.

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Indeed, Netflix pioneered binge viewing making all episodes of a series available at launch, launched the first recommendation software and ushered in Q&A fiscal webcasts devoid of perfunctory balance sheet readings.

The concept has produced blowback from some content holders, including longtime Netflix fans such as director Judd Apatow and “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul.

“No @Netflix no. Don’t make me have to call every director and show creator on Earth to fight you on this. Save me the time. I will win but it will take a ton of time. Don’t fuck with our timing. We give you nice things. Leave them as they were intended to be seen,” Apatow tweeted.

Netflix contends the app helps viewers seeking to consume longer form content on the go.

“As with any test, it may not become a permanent feature on Netflix,” said the company.

Actor Paul hopes so.

“There is NO Way Netflix will move forward with this,” he tweeted. “That would mean they are completely taking control of everyone else’s art and destroying it. Netflix is far better than that. Am I right Netflix?”

Mike’s Picks: ‘When We Were Kings’ and ‘The Return of Martin Guerre’

When We Were Kings

Criterion, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for images of violence, brief nudity and some language.
Featuring Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton.
1996.
The now famed, Zaire-set 1974 Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman provided the century-caliber upset of which Oscar-winning documentaries are made, which is what happened with 1996’s When We Were Kings, one of my favorite movies of any kind ever made, dealing with Ali’s spiritual renewal with the African people who adored him.
Extras: A three-night event featuring concerts by some of the era’s major musical acts was filmed leading to the main event, and much more of the music footage formed the basis for 2008’s theatrically released Soul Power, which is included on this release as well.
Read the Full Review

The Return of Martin Guerre

Cohen, Drama, $22.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gerard Depardieu, Nathalie Baye.
1982.
The possibility of identity theft in The Return of Martin Guerre provides the drama, as it looks at the effect its title’s mysterious not-exactly-stranger has on a 16th-century village. A onetime arthouse hit that Hollywood later modified and more or less remade, it boasts two international stars, one or two familiar faces from French cinema and a lot of cackling chickens who’d probably be crossing the road if there were any roads here beyond modest horse paths.
Extras: Includes an interview of female lead Nathalie Baye.
Read the Full Review