Hollywood Sends Letter to Congress Asking for Theatrical Fiscal Relief

A movie theater group, the Motion Picture Association of America, Directors Guild of America and dozens of filmmakers have sent a joint letter to leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives asking for leftover fiscal assistance from the CARES Act be redirected to exhibitors.

In the letter addressed to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), among others, the National Association of Theatre Owners said more than 280 million people went to the movie theater in 2019. With the coronavirus shuttering theaters worldwide in mid-March, NATO said 93% of movie theaters suffered 75% fiscal losses in the second quarter of 2020.

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Exhibitors had hoped that Warner Bros.’ Labor Day theatrical release, Tenet, would bring moviegoers back. And the movie has — internationally. But domestically, the film has sputtered since its $20.2 million opening weekend.

NATO said that if the theater closures continue, 69% of small and mid-sized movie theater companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy or to close permanently, and 66% of theater jobs will be lost.

“Our country cannot afford to lose the social, economic, and cultural value that theaters provide,” read the letter. “Movie theaters are in dire straits,  and we urge you to redirect unallocated funds from the CARES Act to proposals that help businesses that  have suffered the steepest revenue drops due to the pandemic, or to enact new proposals such as the RESTART Act (S. 3814/H.R. 7481).”

The trade group said that absent a fiscal solution, theaters may not survive the impact of the pandemic.

“Please fight for our country’s beloved and essential cinemas by including relief for them in any forthcoming COVID-19 legislation,” read the letter.

‘Little Penguin Pororo’s Dinosaur Island Adventure’ Due Dec. 8

Lionsgate will release the animated movie The Little Penguin Pororo’s Dinosaur Island Adventure on DVD, digital sellthrough and VOD Dec. 8.

The latest installment of the globally popular “Pororo” franchise features the voices of Pauly Shore and Jon Heder.

When a space pod crashes close by, penguin Pororo and his animal pals discover Alo, a baby dinosaur. But the pod abducts Alo and dino pal Crong and takes them to a nearby vessel, where an alien invader plans to sell them and get rich. To rescue their friends, Pororo’s gang asks a friendly dinosaur tribe to help battle the alien and his army of robots.

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‘Words on Bathroom Walls’ Available in November

Lionsgate will release the teen romance Words on Bathroom Walls for digital sellthrough Nov. 10, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and VOD Nov. 17.

The story focuses on Adam (Charlie Plummer), a witty, introspective teen pursuing his dream of becoming a chef. When Adam is diagnosed with a mental illness, he lives in fear of being exposed — until he meets Maya (Taylor Russell), an outspoken and fiercely intelligent girl who inspires him to open his heart and not be defined by his condition.

The cast also includes Andy Garcia, AnnaSophia Robb, Beth Grant, Molly Parker and Walton Goggins.

Disc extras include a photo gallery and the film’s trailer.

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Paramount Sets Dec. 8 Blu-ray Disc, Digital Release Date for New Edit, Restoration of ‘The Godfather Part III’

Paramount Home Entertainment has set a Dec. 8 date for the Blu-ray Disc and digital debut of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone — a new edit and restoration of The Godfather Part III.

The rebranded version of the third and final film in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy “achieves director-screenwriter Coppola and screenwriter Puzo’s original vision for the finale, which has been meticulously restored for the finest presentation of the Corleone saga’s last chapter,” the studio said in early September, when it first announced the project.

The 1990 release of the third film was maligned by critics as not living up to the standard set by the first two films in the franchise, which won the Oscar for Best Picture for the 1972 and 1974 movie years, respectively.

Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is an acknowledgment of Mario’s and my preferred title and our original intentions for what became The Godfather Part III,” Coppola said in a Sept. 3 statement. “For this version of the finale, I created a new beginning and ending, and rearranged some scenes, shots and music cues. With these changes and the restored footage and sound, to me, it is a more appropriate conclusion to The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, and I’m thankful to Jim Gianopulos and Paramount for allowing me to revisit it.”

The Blu-ray presentation will include the newly restored and re-edited film, an exclusive introduction by Coppola, and access to a digital copy of the film.

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Coppola’s three-part movie adaptation of Puzo’s novel chronicles the rise and fall of the Corleone mob family. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, The Godfather Part III was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film follows Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in his 60s as he seeks to free his family from crime and find a suitable successor to his empire.

Coppola and his production company American Zoetrope worked from a 4K scan of the original negative to undertake a frame-by-frame restoration of both the new Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone and the original The Godfather Part III. Zoetrope and Paramount’s restoration team began by searching for more than 50 original takes to replace lower-resolution opticals in the original negative. This process took more than six months and involved sifting through 300 cartons of negative.  American Zoetrope worked diligently to repair scratches, stains, and other anomalies that could not be addressed previously due to technology constraints, while enhancements were made to the original 5.1 audio mix. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, midway through the project all work — even the search for the negative — shifted to the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles and was completed remotely.

“Mr. Coppola oversaw every aspect of the restoration while working on the new edit, ensuring that the film not only looks and sounds pristine, but also meets his personal standards and directorial vision,” said Andrea Kalas, SVP of Paramount Archives.

On Rotten Tomatoes, The Godfather Part III has a 69% favorable rating from critics and a 78% favorable rating from audiences. This compares to 98% for The Godfather from both segments and 98% from critics and 97% from audiences for The Godfather Part II.

UHD Alliance Announces Amazon Prime, Hisense Support for Filmmaker Mode

The UHD Alliance on Sept. 30 announced that Amazon Prime will begin supporting Filmmaker Mode next year and that Hisense has joined consumer electronics companies Panasonic, Vizio, Samsung, LG, Kaleidescape and Philips in supporting the feature.

The announcements came during an online presentation with DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Filmmaker Mode, introduced by the UHD Alliance in August 2019, is designed to reproduce the content in the way the creator intended. It allows viewers to enjoy a more cinematic experience on their UHD TVs when watching movies by disabling all post-processing (e.g. motion smoothing, etc.) so the movie or television show is displayed as it was intended by the filmmaker, preserving the correct aspect ratios, colors and frame rates, according to the Alliance.

“Prime Video will be launching this feature on select players next year,” said UHD Alliance chairman Mike Zink. “It’s something that we’ve been working very hard on, and I think we are very, very excited for this to come to life.”

UHD Alliance president Mike fiddler noted that CE companies supporting Filmmaker Mode represent a big chunk of TV unit shipments both domestically and globally.

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Zink interviewed colorist Jill Bogdanowicz and Stephen Lighthill, president, the American Society of Cinematographers, about the importance of maintaining the intention of creators in content viewed in the home.

“Anyone that does not look at the way the image is going into the home is foolish,” noted Lighthill, adding “producers want to make sure it’s going to look the same in Jill’s suite as it does at home.”

CE company executives also joined the discussion to describe and express their support for Filmmaker Mode.

LG Electronics’ Tim Alessi said the company was putting Filmmaker Mode in every new UHD model produced in 2020.

“We kinda went all in on Filmmaker Mode,” he said, noting, “what really sets this whole effort apart is we got the entire industry to rally around one name and one set of features.”

LG is mounting an in-store display at Best Buy describing the advantages of the feature.

Samsung’s Bill Mandel said the manufacturer put the Mode in all its 2020 UHD TVs, and about a month ago launched new projectors with the feature. Samsung is running an in-store video loop about it on its TVs, he noted.

First Presidential Debate Broadcast, Cable TV Viewership Down From 2016 in Early Ratings

TV viewers apparently tuned out quickly during the first presidential debate Sept. 29, with the four major broadcasters reporting a 35% decline in viewers who watched incumbent President Donald Trump and Democrat nominee Joe Biden hurl nasty barbs and allegations against the other, according to new data from Nielsen.

First reported by The Hollywood Reporter, 29 million people collectively watched the debate from Cleveland, Ohio, across NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. Separate reports claimed 27.3 million and 22.8 million, respectively, watched the debate with ABC the winner grabbing 10.3 million viewers. Viewership from pay-TV channels such as MSNBC (6.9 million), CNN (7.9 million) and Fox News — the latter with 17 million — pushed total viewership upwards of 65 million.

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That still trailed the first debate in 2016 between Democrat Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump, where a record 45 million watched on broadcast networks. The tally skyrocketed to 84 million after including cable, satellite and telecom viewers.

Report: Bandwidth Costs, Viewer Engagement, Changing Business Models Among Biggest Challenges to Web Developers

With a consumer base seeking more video distractions from the coronavirus pandemic, a new study by Bitmovin contends Web developers are grappling with a host of issues, including bandwidth costs and viewer retention in a market that has seen the arrival of Apple+, Disney+, HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock in just the past 12 months.

While the number of household viewers streaming video, and their viewing hours have skyrocketed since the onset of the pandemic, the report found that many developers are cautiously scaling back on new projects to control costs in an age of distribution uncertainty.

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With more than 30% of the report’s participants citing changing business models as their third-highest priority due to the impact of COVID-19, it still remains to be seen whether intensified competition in this hotly contested SVOD market may also lead to new business and pricing models.

Indeed, 47% of survey respondents cited reducing costs and time-to-market (40%), followed by changing business models (31%) and content acquisition (23%), the principle challenges.

“For many, COVID-19 has impacted content distribution and shifted focus away from live events and sporting engagements,” read the report.

While the study delved into technical issues important to developers, including encoders, video codecs, workflows, CDNs and streaming formats, among others, to the casual observer, which platforms and devices used to stream video or audio content might resonate more clearly.

The vast majority of developers use HTML5 on a browser (87%), Native Apple iOS (58%) and Native Android (57%), followed by HTML5 on Android (56%) and Apple iOS (53%). Other platforms include Apple TV (38%), Android TV (37%), Chromecast TV (37%), Samsung TV (31%), LG WebOS (25%), Roku (22%), Sony TV (19%), Amazon Fire TV (19%), Panasonic, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at 13% each.

“This data indicates that game consoles have not yet caught on as streaming devices,” read the report. “However, the longer tail is where there’s potential for these numbers to change with the annual fall launches of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series S & X.”

Season Three of ‘Garfield & Friends’ Due on DVD Oct. 27 From PBS

The third season of “Garfield & Friends” will come out on DVD Oct. 27 from PBS Distribution.

Based on the beloved newspaper cartoon created by Jim Davis, the series includes animated adventures that star Garfield, his owner Jon Arbuckle and his dog friend Odie.

The DVD set features 18 episodes of escapades with Garfield and his friends getting into trouble and learning valuable lessons on two discs with more than seven hours of content. Viewers will watch as Garfield becomes a stowaway after Jon goes on a cruise in “Ship Shape,” as Garfield hosts a televised debate on why cats are better than dogs in “The Great Debate,” and more.

The collection also includes the animated shorts of Davis’ other comic strip, “U.S. Acres,” which features a group of barnyard animals.

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Docs on Current Events, Issues Added to PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel

PBS Distribution in October will be adding a number titles focusing on current events and issues to the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel, including Frontline: America Unprotected: The Medical Supply Crisis, Latino Vote: Dispatches From the Battleground, Frontline: Race, Poverty and the Pandemic, Frontline: Battle for Hong Kong and Frontline: Amazon Empire — The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos.

The subscription rate for the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is $5.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription.

Frontline: Race, Poverty and the Pandemic, which premiered Sept. 9, covers the effects of George Floyd’s death beneath the knee of a police officer, which has sparked grief and rage in the streets of Minneapolis and across the country. Jelani Cobb, a historian, professor of journalism at Columbia University and writer at The New Yorker examines a connection between George Floyd’s death and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 deaths among African-Americans. Cobb helps put this volatile moment in context, explaining why we’ve reached a boiling point, and what he says needs to happen now. Cobb describes how the relationship between black Americans and the police has become a “barometer” for race relations in the country, drawing on his years of covering explosive tensions that he says are “overwhelmingly” in response to an issue of police use of force. “Once you looked at the way that policing functioned, it was almost an indicator of the way lots of other institutions were functioning in those communities,” he says. This time — as the nation battles a highly infectious outbreak — the outrage is spreading in a way that seems different, he says.

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Frontline: Battle for Hong Kong, which premiered Sept. 9, covers the unrest in Hong Kong. In 2019, a controversial extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China sparked a massive and unprecedented pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. At the start, the vast majority of protesters were peaceful, but a few tried to take on the police. The documentary traces what happened next. With remarkable access, the program follows five young protesters through intense and escalating clashes with Hong Kong’s police. The protesters say they’re fighting for their freedom against the communist government of China, which is due to take complete control of Hong Kong in 2047. China, meanwhile, says the protestors are “radicals,” “thugs” and “separatists.” The film tells the story of the eight-month, youth-driven pro-democracy movement through the eyes of the protesters. They are transformed — and, in some cases, radicalized — by their experiences. As the program unfolds, viewers meet Momo, a nurse in her late twenties; Vincent, a high school student who grew up in mainland China; Lomi, a researcher; Li, a young man who is married with a daughter; and Agnes, a veteran pro-democracy protestor. Through the stories of these five young people, the documentary explores the aims and motivations of the protesters. Amid concerns about China’s growing influence in Hong Kong, the extradition bill (which was eventually withdrawn) struck a nerve. Ultimately, the film sheds new light on what both the movement and the authorities’ response to it portend for Hong Kong’s future.

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Frontline: Amazon Empire — The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos, which premiered Sept. 9, covers the rise of the tycoon. Amazon’s Bezos built a business empire that is unprecedented in the history of American capitalism — delivering endless products, entertainment services and technology innovations to customers with just a click of a button. But what is the cost of Amazon’s convenience? The documentary examines Amazon and Bezos’ ascent to power — and his ability to shape everything from the future of work, to the future of commerce, to the future of technology. From award-winning filmmakers James Jacoby and Anya Bourg (The Facebook Dilemma), the documentary draws on interviews with current top executives and former insiders, as well as regulators and critics, raising tough questions about Bezos and the empire he built. Through these interviews, Jacoby and Bourg’s investigation presents an inside look at who Bezos is, and how he transformed a tiny company run out of a garage into a staple of American consumerism that critics contend is willing to dominate the market at all costs.

Frontline: America Unprotected: The Medical Supply Crisis, which premieres Oct. 7, explores questions around readiness for the epidemic. Why was the U.S. left scrambling for critical medical equipment as the coronavirus swept the country? With the Associated Press the documentary investigates the fragmented global medical supply chain and its deadly consequences for Americans.

Latino Vote: Dispatches From the Battleground, which premieres Oct. 7, explores how voters in Nevada, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania could very well determine the next American president. One of the top priorities on both sides of the political divide is to engage Latino voters. Projected to be the largest voting-eligible ethnicity in the country, Latino voters are often sought after by both Republicans and Democrats as if they are a monolith. With both younger Latinos and new citizens joining the ranks of registered voters across the country, the growing magnitude of this cross-section of the electorate has clear political implications for the 2020 presidential election. But trying to woo voters based on their cultural similarities without factoring in their complex and varying individual interests could prove to be a losing game plan. Following activists, organizers and others who are working to maximize Latino turnout in their local communities while simultaneously devoting their efforts to COVID-19 relief as the pandemic surges, the program delves into the high-stakes fight to activate Latino votes in these battleground states and give voices to newly registered Latino voters themselves about what the galvanizing issues are for them.

Google Play Store Looking to Stop Third-Party Apps From Avoiding Revenue-Sharing

The days of free co-existence among tech platforms and third-party media apps is coming to an end. Google is telling apps holders on its Google Play Store it would no longer allow them to direct subscribers to their own websites to avoid paying a 30% revenue-sharing agreement for in-app purchases.

Writing in a Sept. 28 blog post, Sameer Samat, VP of product management for Google, said Google Play’s billing system provides an efficient means for Android users to transact using their local, preferred method of payment. He said the platform (specifically Google Play Store) has become a trusted source for the safe, secure and seamless interaction with third-party apps, including Netflix and Spotify.

While only 3% of Google Play Store apps involve fiscal transactions, Samat said some apps automatically re-direct users to their websites rather that going through Google’s paywall — a move that avoids the app holder from paying Google any share in revenue.

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“We only collect a service fee if the developer charges users to download their app or they sell in-app digital items, and we think that is fair,” he wrote. “Not only does this approach allow us to continuously reinvest in the platform, this business model aligns our success directly with the success of developers.”

Google is giving app developers until Sept. 30, 2021, to integrate their billing with the Android platform.

“We will require Google’s apps that do not already use Google Play’s billing system to make the necessary updates as well,” Samat wrote.