Film Movement Sets Home Release Dates for British Post-War Comedies

Arthouse distributor Film Movement Plus has set Dec. 31 home release dates for two critically hailed British comedies, 1953’s The Titfield Thunderbolt by Charles Crichton and 1949’s Passport to Pimlico by Henry Cornelius.

The Titfield Thunderbolt tells the story of the inhabitants of a tiny village called Titfield, who struggle to prove that a single-track railway that passes through their town is a vital form of transportation — after the British Railways announce its closure. Backed by a wealthy member of the community, a group of local residents make a bid to run it themselves. This places them in direct competition with the owners of a bus line, who had been wanting to introduce a brand-new single-decker bus to Titfield.

The film will be available on Blu-ray Disc and digital on demand at a suggested retail price of $39.95, and will include bonus features such as the featurettes “Making the Titfield thunderbolt,” “The Lion Locomotive,” and “Locations.” Also included will be home movie footage from cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, an audio interview with Slocombe on Charles Crichton audio interview, the original trailer, and an archival stills gallery.

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Passport to Pimlico takes place in the sleepy district of Pimlico, when London’s last unexploded World War II-era bomb goes off. When investigating a crater caused by the explosion, Arthur and his daughter Shirley unearth a buried cellar containing riches and an unknown 15th century royal charter from King Edward IV. The charter declares Pimlico to be recognized as Burgundian soil, and having never been rescinded, the land is now no longer subject to British law — which includes postwar rationing and pub closure hours.

The post-war comedy will be available on Blu-ray Disc and digital on demand at a suggested retail price of $39.95. Bonus features include an interview with BFI curator Mark Duguid, a “locations” featurette with film historian Richard Dacre, a restoration comparison, and a stills gallery.

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HBO Max Greenlights First Full Series

WarnerMedia’s pending HBO Max SVOD service has greenlit the half-hour dramedy “Generation,” which marks the streamer’s first pilot to get a full series order.

The service is set to debut in spring 2020.

“Generation” is created by 18-year old Zelda Barnz and her father, Daniel Barnz, who also directs. Executive produced by Lena Dunham and Ben Barnz, the series is described as “a dark yet playful half-hour following a group of high school students whose exploration of modern sexuality (devices and all) tests deeply entrenched beliefs about life, love and the nature of family in their conservative community.”

The cast includes Nathanya Alexander, Chloe East, Nava Mau, Lukita Maxwell, Haley Sanchez, Uly Schlesinger, Sam Trammell, Chase Sui Wonders with Justice Smith and Martha Plimpton.

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“Daniel and Zelda are an incredibly passionate team with true vision and authenticity, providing an inside look at the windy path many adolescents have to navigate as they come to terms with their identity and sexuality in ‘Generation,’” Sarah Aubrey, head of original content at HBO Max, said in a statement.

“Zelda has a particular ability to speak to and about her generation with humor and relatability, only brought further to life by this incredible cast. We couldn’t be prouder of a show to mark our first pilot to series order for HBO Max,” added Kevin Reilly, chief content officer of HBO Max, and president of TBS, TNT and TruTV.

“I wanted to see myself and kids my own age represented on TV in a way that felt real, without judgement or nostalgia. I’m so appreciative of my mentor and soul-sister Lena Dunham for all her support and guidance, and so thankful to HBO Max for making this crazy dream come true,” said Zelda Barnz in a statement.

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“I have fallen head over heels for this brilliant family, who have allowed their 18-year old daughter Zelda to express herself in a way that’s both effortlessly funny and plumbs the depths of the adolescent experience. Daniel’s direction is sensitive and artful and as a producer, Ben is equally committed to rigor and fun. I cannot wait for people to see Zelda’s brilliance come to life and to meet this insanely impressive cast of honest, powerful performers and I’m so excited to be a part of the soon to be juggernaut of HBO Max,” added Dunham.

‘Goaaal!’ Amazon Gets Record U.K. Prime Membership Sign-Ups Streaming Premier League Soccer

Amazon says its foray into live-streaming Premier League soccer matches in the United Kingdom has resulted in record sign-ups with the e-commerce behemoth.

Prime Video streamed 10 matches between Dec. 4-6 with an army of cameras, operators, sound engineers and on-screen talent to analyze the action.

Amazon said it set a U.K. record for Prime membership sign-ups on Dec. 4, which was then broken again on Dec. 6. Amazon does not disclose Prime membership numbers. Media reports suggest Amazon has 15 million members in the U.K. since launching in 2007.

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“We’re delighted that millions of football fans enjoyed watching Amazon’s first ever round of Premier League matches on Prime Video,” Alex Green, managing director of Prime Video Sport Europe, said in a statement.

Green said the matches — similar to IMDb TV and Prime Video content — featured in-program special features such as live stats, ‘X-Ray’ highlights, in addition to commentary-free option.

Amazon’s next Premier League action is a nine-game slate on Dec. 26.

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Sling TV Offering Free Google Nest Hub With Three-Month Pre-paid Subscription

Dish Networks’ online television service Sling TV is offering new subscribers a free Google Nest Hub ($129 value) voice-activated streaming media device when pre-paying for three months service.

Sling TV options include Sling Orange for $20 monthly and Sling Blue ($25), in addition to separate premium content additions.

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Google Nest is a brand used to market smart home products, including smart speakers, smart displays, streaming devices, thermostats, smoke detectors, routers and security systems including smart doorbells, cameras and smart locks.

Launched in 2015, Sling TV helped create the online TV market, which today includes AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and fubo TV, among others.

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Verizon CEO: Free Disney+ Promotion a ‘Win, Win’

Following the Nov. 12 launch of the Disney+ subscription streaming service, Verizon began offering new and existing mobile subscribers 12 months of free access to the SVOD service.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told Fox Business response to the promotion has been strong. Indeed, 10 million consumers signed up for Disney+ in the first 24 hours, with 15 million reportedly becoming subscribers in the first five days — many due to the Verizon promo.

Verizon subs accessing Disney+ automatically transition to the $6.99 price plan after one year unless they cancel their membership.

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“We can partner with anyone, and we partner with the best brands and, of course, Disney+ is a win-win,” Vestberg said Dec. 5. “I mean, we are gaining and they are gaining in this partnership.”

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The CEO wouldn’t disclose initial viewership data, saying the promo melds the telecom’s 5G partnership with Disney, which includes undisclosed initiatives with Disney Innovation Studios and theme parks.

Verizon had more than 156 million subscribers at the end of the second quarter this year.

“I think we both are very happy with … the start of [the relationship],” Vestberg said.

Disney+ Generates 15 Million Subs in First Five Days

Disney’s high-profile subscription streaming service generated 15 million subscribers in the first five days following its Nov. 12 launch, according to new data from IMA Research.

By comparison, Apple’s branded streaming service has generated 1.1 million subs since its Nov. 2 debut.

Citing respondents from a survey of 1,097 people between Nov. 14 and 17, IMA found awareness of Disney+ extremely strong (63%) compared with 34% for Apple TV+.

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Of those aware of the streaming service, 28% reported already subscribing or intending to do so, while 40% said they would utilize a free promotion, including Verizon’s free 12 months of Disney+ service to mobile subscribers.

Nearly half (47%) of respondents thought the $6.99/month to be fair; while 25% found it too expensive. The Disney/Pixar catalog is its most attractive feature to respondents, while 24% of respondents say they would cancel an existing streaming or pay-TV service in favor of Disney+.

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Women (68%) were more aware than men (61%). Age played a factor regarding awareness of Disney+, with 70% awareness among 18- to 24-year-olds; 55% awareness among 55-64. Awareness among the oldest respondents (65+) increased to 62%.

Interestingly, almost half (49%) of respondents were not planning to subscribe to Disney+, with 23% not sure. Meanwhile, only 10% of respondents said they intended to subscribe to Apple TV+.

IMA said respondent intent to subscribe to Disney+ translated to about 23 million households. Among those with intent, 69 percent said they had already subscribed, making the early adopters total over 15 million households.

“Our estimate is in line with the 15.5 million sign-ups through the first 13 days of launch reported by Apptopia1, which included some foreign subscribers as well. (Disney reported over 10 million sign-ups by the day after launch2.).

IMA found 40% of respondents seeking to stream Disney+ (or already streaming) would do so through a free promotion; 35% would pay $6.99 monthly; 13% would pay $12.99 for a monthly bundle of Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+; and 12% would pay a reduced annual fee of $69.99 (which was reduced even further as a Cyber Monday promotion).

“If the current and future subscribers break down in this fashion, and we apply it to the 23 million households with intent, they would generate $1.3 billion annually,” Jeff Hoyt with IMA Research wrote.

Hoyt said breaking down intent with actual subscription results in about 15+ million households having already subscribed to Disney+, which equates to $900 million annually.

For Apple TV+, Hoyt contends that if all 1.1 million households are paying $4.99 per month, the projected annual revenue reaches $66 million.

Main attractions to Disney+: 46% selected Disney/Pixar Catalog; 38% selected Marvel/Star Wars/National Geographic Catalog; 26% selected new original content; 25% selected $6.99/month pricing; and 21 percent selected promotions to try the service free.

On the $6.99 price point, IMA found 47% think the price is fair, 17% found it “good” and 11% found it a “great” deal. Another 25% found the price too expensive.

“It is too early to predict whether Disney+ will steal significant market share from existing competitors (i.e Netflix), but 24% of those subscribing or intending to subscribe indicated they would cancel an existing streaming/pay service in exchange for Disney+,” Hoyt wrote.

The analyst contends the best predictor of subscriber intent is a subscription to Hulu, which is owned by Disney and offered in a money-savings bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+.

According to Apptopia1, both Hulu and ESPN have seen downloads increase since the launch of Disney+, with Hulu seeing the biggest boost.

“Even if Disney does steal market share away from its competition, Disney+ appears to be doing a good job so far of not cannibalizing itself,” Hoyt wrote.

Netflix Film Chief Talks Theatrical Windows, Viewership Data, Building Studio ‘From Scratch’

Netflix film chief Scott Stuber discussed his leap from the studio system to Netflix, releasing viewership data and the SVOD service’s theatrical model at the Variety Innovate conference in Los Angeles Dec. 5.

“The appealing thing was to do something from scratch,” he said of his joining the streaming service after a long studio career, adding that he “saw Reed [Hastings] and Ted [Sarandos] as decent human beings.”

The mission is to “evolve storytelling and give new voices chances,” he said.

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Variety editor-in-chief Claudia Eller asked about the service’s evolution on the theatrical window, from day-and-date on the streaming service to giving theaters a few weeks’ exclusivity, as it did with the Oscar-lauded Roma, and more recent award contenders such as Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Marriage Story.

Stuber said that Netflix has to consider the desire of its subscribers, which finance the business, to get the content as soon as possible.

“For that $10 [monthly sub price], do you get that content or do you have to wait?” he said.

He said giving Roma and other films from the studio a theatrical window only increased the appeal, noting Roma is still playing theatrically in Europe.

“We are sometimes categorized as anti-theatrical, and that’s not the truth,” he said.

Discussing the SVOD service’s legendary reticence to release viewership data, Stuber said Netflix would be more forthcoming in the future.

“No one’s afraid of it, and we really want to do it,” he said. “It’s just getting it right.”

He noted that some films theatrically are declared failures when they don’t meet a certain box office benchmark, but at Netflix they see a streaming audience not reflected in the theatrical numbers.

“I just want it to be articulated correctly to protect the filmmaker,” he said, adding, “You’ll see more numbers from us, more transparency.”

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Eller noted Netflix has a shot at a Best Picture Oscar with The Irishman and Marriage Story, which are getting rave reviews.

If that happened, “it would be big,” he said.

“I will be running around cheering.”

‘Star Wars,’ Comic Books and the Legacy of Fox

One of the overriding concerns of the aftermath of the Walt Disney Co.’s purchase of 20th Century Fox studios has been how the House of Mouse would treat its newfound assets and the legacy of the studio in general.

The immediate assumption was that the studio was bolstering its content roster for the Disney+ streaming service, which we have seen come to pass with the myriad Fox catalog titles available on the service, such as Home Alone, The Sound of Music and 30 seasons of “The Simpsons.”

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Other questions centered on how Disney would treat established Fox franchises such as “Aliens” or “Die Hard,” and the latest reports have Disney interested in a new “Planet of the Apes” sequel. The fate of Fox’s comic book properties is a bit more cut and dry, with the “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four” licenses simply being reabsorbed back into Disney’s Marvel subsidiary, which many fans wanted anyway (and while we’re on the subject, can I pitch a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs. Blade crossover?).

On the downside, though, are reports that Disney was cutting back authorizations for repertory theaters to show prints of Fox catalog movies — these are the special screenings you might find at film festivals or smaller theaters that show classic movies one night a week.

And on Disney+, old Fox movies were being lumped in with Disney fare in “Disney Through the Decades” categories.

These tend to bely the assumption that Disney would be keeping Fox as a separate theatrical unit, perhaps to distribute edgier, ‘R’-rated content.

The latest example involves, of all things, a reprint of a classic comic book. In the run up to the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Disney subsidiary Marvel Comics Dec. 4 released reprints of several “Star Wars” comic book issues, including “Star Wars” No. 1 from 1977.

Marvel Comics’ original “Star Wars #1” from 1977 on the left, the 2019 reprint on the right

While reprints such as these are rather commonplace in the comic book industry, usually they involve the original pages of art and dialogue being repurposed with modern advertisements, and other changes such as new cover artwork.

The reprint of the original issue of “Star Wars,” however, was what is called a “facsimile edition,” which generally means the original issue is reprinted in its entirety, with the original ads and all. The only updates are usually the pricing, UPC code and the legal text with the copyrights and statements of ownership.

Marvel had also published the original run of “Star Wars” comics in the 1970s and 1980s, so a facsimile edition of the first issue makes sense for them to do. (The first issue, being the first part of an adaptation of the first movie, has been reprinted several times over the years in trade paperback collections by both Marvel and Dark Horse Comics, which had the “Star Wars” license throughout the 1990s and early 2000s).

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Interestingly, this facsimile edition is missing two prominent instances that identified the original “Star Wars” film as a 20th Century Fox release. The first is on the cover, where the comic is described as “Marvel’s Epic Official Adaptation of The Monumental 20th Century Fox Movie! — A Film by George Lucas.” The second is on the first page of the comic, under the masthead as part of the introduction of the story, which identified the film as “A 20th Century-Fox Release” (using the hyphen from the studio’s old branding).

The introduction to “Star Wars #1” from 2015/2019 reprint on top without the 20th Century-Fox credit, compared to the original version below.

The facsimile edition reads “Marvel’s Epic Official Adaptation of — A Film by George Lucas” on the cover. And the first page instead has prominent Disney and Lucasfilm logos stamped at the bottom, with a blank space where the mention of 20th Century-Fox used to be.

While it’s not uncommon for comic book companies when reprinting material obtained from other companies to remove or replace the old company’s logos (for example, Dark Horse reprints of this issue would remove the Marvel logo), reprints of “Star Wars” No. 1 prior to Disney owning Lucasfilm left the Fox credit intact.

It turns out that Disney and Marvel (which Disney bought in 2009) first removed the Fox credit when the original 1970s and 1980s Marvel “Star Wars” comics were reprinted as hardcover omnibus editions in 2015, and that this new facsimile is based off of that reprinting, from before Disney’s acquisition of Fox (and not wanting to publicize what was then a rival studio). Rather than restore the text in the facsimile edition, Marvel used the altered versions they already had ready to go.

1977 version on top, 2015/2019 version below

The idea of leaving off the 20th Century Fox credit from the “Star Wars” movie now seems especially bizarre given how Disney+ restored the 20th Century Fox logo to the beginning of the first six “Star Wars” movies — after removing them from the digital releases of the films after it bought Lucasfilm in 2012 (with the exception of the original film, which maintained the Fox logo since Fox had distribution rights to the film in perpetuity).

The ‘Bulletins’ page of the “Star Wars #1” facsimile showing the original unaltered cover art.

But alas, all traces of Fox’s connection to that first comic book weren’t removed from the artwork entirely. The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page near the back of the issue, essentially a “Notes from the Publisher/Letters to the Editor” type of page, has a miniature picture of the cover, and this version wasn’t altered in the facsimile edition, so at least Fox’s legacy survives there.

 

 

Panelists Discuss SVOD Services, Data at ‘Variety’ Conference

SVOD services’ design, data collection and effect on content creation were front and center at the Variety Innovate conference Dec. 5.

On the heels of its launch Nov. 12, Michael Cerda, VP of product at Disney+, told attendees, “What it really comes down to is building a really compelling consumer experience that’s easy to use that honors the content.

“We weren’t going to reinvent the wheel, but what you do is put touches in.”

That included putting buttons on the site with brand names such as Marvel, Disney and National Geographic that help consumers find the content they want.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” he said.

Households can have up to seven profiles, with kids getting buttons that appeal to them, such as “character sets like princesses,” rather than brands.

Executives also quietly tested Disney+ in the Netherlands for a month before its U.S. launch, he noted.

As for the much-reported glitches at launch, he said, “It’s software and stuff happens with software. You deal with it quickly.”

“Amongst CTO’s there’s a great deal of empathy for Disney,” said Jeremy Legg, CTO, WarnerMedia, who noted that its upcoming SVOD service HBO Max will be using human curation, in addition to algorithms, to help consumers discover content.

The services are using data and algorithms to better target consumers.

“All of us are using some sort of personalization algorithm,” said Lindsay Silver, VP of product at Conde Nast.

“We collect 100 terabytes of data every day,” added Jim Denney, VP of product management at Hulu.

That data is combined with input from such sources as surveys and ethnographic studies.

“You have to collect all these things,” Denney said.

Variety co-editor-in-chief and moderator Andrew Wallenstein asked if streaming services can gauge such things as interest “when Baby Yoda comes on screen,” referring to the new Disney+ original “The Mandalorian.”

“We do have real-time video analytics,” Cerda said. “You pay attention to this stuff.”

“You have to pick and chose what works together,” said Sonu Durgia, director, product management, search, Walmart Labs. She noted that someone who buys diapers might be receptive to content for young kids.

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The growth of streaming services has generated an explosion in spending on content, noted Wallenstein.

“We have crossed the $100 billion mark,” he said with spending in 2019 at an estimated $108.2 billion, according to the magazine’s research.

One content producer taking advantage of this explosion is legendary TV creator Chuck Lorre, who at the event explained how his “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix has changed how and what he writes. For one thing, appealing to the advertising sweet spot of those 18-49 isn’t a concern with streamers.

“You’re not concerned with how old the audience is,” he said. “You are determining if there is one.”

This allowed Lorre to explore a subject with “Kominsky Method” that he couldn’t on broadcast TV.

“I wanted to write about the minutia of getting old,” he said, as well as older folks’ “fears of being irrelevant.”

Writing for a streaming service without commercials also allows for different pacing.

“You’re not writing to an ad break,” he said. “You’re not writing to the ‘Perils of Pauline’ cliffhanger [hoping the viewer will come back].”

He compared watching a season of “Kominsky Method” to a four-hour movie or reading a book. Viewers can choose when they want to pause before continuing the story.

“In the Netflix environment, if an audience is watching show four, you know they’ve watched one, two and three,” he said, which isn’t true in broadcast TV.

“It changes the way the story unfolds,” he added. “It’s not so episodic.”

 

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Emerges Atop 2019 Black Friday Sales Derby

The Black Friday post-Thanksgiving sales rush saw Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Far From Home in its ninth week on disc return to No. 1 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended Nov. 30.

The superhero movie was originally released on disc Oct. 1 and hasn’t been the top title since its debut week.

No. 2 on the overall disc sales chart and No. 3 on the Blu-ray chart was Warner’s Aquaman, selling 85% as many copies as the top title in its 36th week on disc. Aquaman is the year’s second-best selling title, according to VideoScan.

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No. 3 overall (No. 10 on the Blu-ray chart) was Warner’s Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, in its 17th week of availability.

The No. 4 overall seller and No. 2 Blu-ray was Lionsgate’s John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.

Warner’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, in its 38th week, was No. 5 overall and No. 14 on the Blu-ray chart.

The No. 4 Blu-ray, and No. 13 overall in its 16th week, was the year’s top-selling title, Disney’s Avengers: Endgame.

The No. 4 Blu-ray was Warner’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which was No. 17 overall in its 14th week.

The week’s top newcomer, and the only new release to crack the top 50 as a result of deep-discount sales pushing older titles back up the charts, was Lionsgate’s Angel Has Fallen, which was No. 15 overall and No. 11 on the Blu-ray chart.

Angel Has Fallen is the third film in the “Fallen” trilogy featuring Gerard Butler as a U.S. Secret Service agent who fights off terrorists threats against the American presidency — following 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen and 2016’s London Has Fallen. The actioner earned $69 million at the domestic box office.

Blu-ray Disc formats accounted for 60% of first-week Angel Has Fallen sales, with 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray comprising 12% of its total sales.

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Angel Has Fallen was the top title on the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended Dec. 1, pushing Paramount’s Dora and the Lost City of Gold to No. 2.

Universal’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw slid to No. 3, with Universal’s Good Boys at No. 4 and Disney’s The Lion King remake at No. 5.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 11-30-19
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 12-1-19
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 11-30-19
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 11-30-19