Total Recall

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/8/20;
Lionsgate;
Sci-Fi;
$22.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshell Bell, Roy Brocksmith.

The latest edition of the 1990 sci-fi classic offers a new Ultra HD transfer and some engaging new retrospective bonus features that should please fans.

Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story ‘We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” the film that eventually became Total Recall went through dozens of script revisions before ending up in the hands of director Paul Verhoeven, who had just had a massive success in the sci-fi/action genre with RoboCop.

At one point Richard Dreyfuss was attached to star, playing a meek accountant who awakens hidden memories that he is, in fact, a deadly secret agent. When Arnold Schwarzenegger signed on, the character was changed to a construction worker, as the writers felt a character played by the famed muscle-man would not be believable having a number-crunching desk job. (Interestingly, four years later in True Lies Schwarzenegger would play a secret agent pretending to be a boring family man.)

Verhoeven’s version, set in the late 21st century, involves Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid attempting to break from the monotony of his life by visiting Rekall, a company that specializes in implanting memories of exotic vacations. However, Quaid’s attempts to implant a trip to Mars seems to trigger a dormant memory that he’s actually a spy named Hauser working with a revolutionary movement at the colony on the red planet. The unsurfacing of these memories prompts the Martian administrator (Ronny Cox) to send a security team to subdue Quaid, who manages to stay one step ahead thanks to clues his alter ego left himself, but who also wonders if this whole adventure might be nothing more than a dream.

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Even after 30 years, the film holds up as a pulse-pounding actioner with sumptuous visuals, snappy quips and a fair share of laughs.

The film is filled with over-the-top violence, a particular trait of Verhoeven’s style. Ronny Cox, who was so effective as the heavy in RoboCop, takes on a similar role here. Legendary tough guy Michael Ironside, who plays the leader of the hit squad after Quaid, had been in line to play RoboCop before dropping out, Verhoeven said, but ended up working with the director here, as well as in 1997’s Starship Troopers. Meanwhile, Sharon Stone, a mainstay of bit parts throughout the 1980s, got a lot of attention playing Quaid’s supposed wife, leading to Verhoeven casting her in his 1992 thriller Basic Instinct, a role that would catapult her to superstardom.

According to Verhoeven on the film’s commentary, a planned sequel to Total Recall would have adapted Dick’s Minority Report and involved Schwarzenegger leading a team of psychics — mutated Martian colonists — to prevent crimes before they happen. Eventually Minority Report ended up a standalone movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise.

The 30th anniversary Blu-ray set of Total Recall features a new 4K transfer by StudioCanal overseen by Verhoeven. The image retains a fair amount of grain to retain that film look, while giving the color palette a bit more pop, particular the extensive use of red on Mars.

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Among the extras carried over from earlier home video presentations are a 23-minute featurette about the film’s innovating visual effects, which won a Special Achievement Academy Award (meaning it received so many more nominations than any other film that there was no point in actually voting for a winner along with the other categories). Also included are a vintage eight-minute making-of featurette that seems to have been produced to promote the film’s original theatrical release, and a 30-minute “Imagining Total Recall” behind-the-scenes featurette that first appeared on the film’s 2001 DVD.

Also carried over from that original DVD is Verhoeven’s commentary, which he shares with Schwarzenegger, making for an accent-heavy affair as they discuss the film’s development, its production tricks, story points, and working together.

Newly added for this Blu-ray release are the new hourlong documentary Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood, about the history of the film’s production company — a fun look back at some of the biggest action blockbusters of the 1980s and ’90s.

Also new is the 21-minute Open Your Mind: Scoring ‘Total Recall,’ a featurette in which several music experts discuss Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable score for the film. Finally, there’s the eight-and-a-half-minute “Dreamers Within the Dream: Designing Total Recall,” a look at the production design of the film from concept sketches to final product.

Not making the cut this time around from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases is a half-hour Verhoeven interview, Rekall vacation vignettes, photo gallerys, storyboard comparisons, and other featurettes, including “Visions of Mars.”

Saved by the Bell (2020)

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Peacock;
Comedy;
Not rated.
Stars Haskiri Velazquez, Mitchell Hoog, Josie Totah, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Belmont Cameli, Dexter Darden, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, Mario Lopez, Tiffani Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

Peacock’s revival of NBC’s long-running Saturday-morning sitcom “Saved by the Bell” has turned out to be a pleasant and often hilarious surprise. The show is a lot of fun, especially for fans of the original 1989-93 series, which is referenced frequently (“Saved by the Bell: The New Class,” not so much).

Decades after the reign of now-married Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), Bayside High remains mired in its own special little world of sitcom sensibilities. Among the faculty are legacy characters A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), who is now the football coach, and Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), who serves as the guidance counselor.

As if in acknowledgement of Funny or Die’s “Zack Morris Is Trash” YouTube videos, whose creator came onboard to help craft the season, the show presents the adult Zack as the smug but bumbling governor of California whose budget cuts result in the closure of several inner-city schools.

Some of the affected students, including Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña) and Devante (Dexter Darden), end up being bussed into wealthier communities, including to Bayside, where Zack and Kelly’s son, Mac (Mitchell Hoog), now carries on his father’s tradition of aloof class troublemaker.

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The main thrust of the season is the culture clash that emerges between the privileged kids of Bayside and the scrappy newcomers who shake things up and give them an injection of self-reflection.

The premise aids in making the new “Saved by the Bell” a self-aware sequel that freely mocks just how dumb the original series was, while hitting all the right nostalgia notes to appeal to Gen X viewers who nonetheless consider it a generational touchstone.

Hence, for the eight episode, the season’s true “reunion” episode that finally brings Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie and, briefly, Lisa (Lark Voorhies), back together again for a Homecoming celebration (the less said about Screech, the better), the show swaps out its hip-hop arrangement of the classic theme song for the original version.

Their reflections of their history together, however, come across more like how they acted when they reunited in 2015 for a sketch on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.” And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The new show manages to capture the absurdist tone of the original series while giving it a 21st century upgrade, mostly by satirizing the tropes of Hollywood’s portrayal of high school. One episode, for instance, lampoons the practice of casting actors who are clearly too old to be playing students.

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The show also mines a lot of comedy from the Gen Z crowd being disconnected from anything resembling a sane reality, though eventually the series ends up completely embracing their social media inspired naivety.

The standout of the first season is the always-reliable-for-a-laugh John Michael Higgins as Mr. Toddman, Bayside’s new principal whose personal life is in shambles and is anything but the hip, cool educator he sees himself as.

Longtime fans will also marvel at the show’s clever production design, which seems to have taken the limited sets from the old days and made them the centerpiece of what feels like it could be an actual school building.

The first episode is available free to anyone. The remaining nine episodes of the first season require an upgrade to one of the service’s premium subscriptions.

Black Friday Online Sales Soar; Retail Traffic Plummets

As expected, ongoing consumer trends toward e-commerce and away from shopping malls magnified during a pandemic. New data from Adobe Analytics saw a 22% year-over-year increase in online sales on Black Friday (Nov. 27), the official start to the winter retail season.

The research firm, citing data from 80 of the top 100 online retail sites, said e-commerce revenue reached $9 billion the day after Thanksgiving, compared with $7.4 billion during the previous-year period. Adobe said it was the second-highest online revenue day since Cyber Monday 2019 when revenue reached $9.4 billion. This year’s Cyber Monday (Nov. 30) is projected to top $10.8 billion, up 15% from last year.

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Meanwhile, e-commerce’s gain was brick-and-mortar’s drain. Preliminary data from Sensormatic Solutions indicated consumer visits to retail stores on Black Friday dropped 51.2% compared with 2019. Shopper traffic also decreased 45.2% week-to-date (Sunday, Nov. 22 to Friday, Nov. 27) compared with the same period last year.

“Due to COVID-19 and social distancing requirements, shoppers were more purposeful in their in-person Black Friday shopping, causing significantly less crowds than we’ve seen in the past,” Brian Field, senior director of global retail consulting at Sensormatic Solutions, said in a statement. “This was compounded by retailers not offering as many in-store doorbusters and the increasing adoption of e-commerce.”

While many retailers limited their Black Friday hours compared to non-pandemic years, the peak time for shopping remained the same, with the busiest influx of footfall around 2 p.m., according to Sensormatic.

“As we approach ‘Super Saturday’ (Dec. 19), and corresponding shipping deadlines, we expect to see some of the in-store traffic that didn’t materialize on Black Friday appear as consumers wrap up their holiday shopping and make last-minute purchases,” Field said.

The research firm expects the 10 busiest shopping days of 2020 to account for 34.2% of all holiday traffic as compared to 46.5% in 2019. The days include:

  1. Friday, Nov. 27 — Black Friday
  2. Saturday, Dec. 19 — Super Saturday
  3. Saturday, Dec. 26 — Day after Christmas, aka “Boxing Day,” in some global regions
  4. Wednesday, Dec. 23 — Wednesday before Christmas
  5. Saturday, Dec. 12 — Second Saturday in December
  6. Monday, Dec. 21 — Monday before Christmas
  7. Saturday, Nov. 28 — Saturday after Thanksgiving
  8. Tuesday, Dec. 22 — Tuesday before Christmas
  9. Saturday, Dec. 5 — First Saturday in December
  10. Sunday, Dec. 20 — Sunday before Christmas

‘The Croods 2’ Leads Slow Thanksgiving Weekend Box Office

Despite opening in more than 2,200 screens, Universal Pictures’ The Croods: A New Age led another lackluster weekend box office undermined by the ongoing pandemic. Making matters worse was the fact the weekend in question was Thanksgiving, which saw projected theatrical revenue of less than $17 million over the five-day period (Nov. 25-29). That pales in comparison to the $262.2 million generated between Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2019, when Disney’s Frozen II and no pandemic fears lured moviegoers.

The Croods: A New Age performed as expected, generating $14.3 million in ticket sales. The sequel to 2013’s The Croods joined Universal’s horror comedy Freaky ($1 million) to lead the weekend.

Universal unit Focus Features’ family drama Let Him Go, with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, generated $660,000 to top $6.7 million since its Nov. 7 release, and finishe fourth. All three movies are headed to premium VOD release in accordance with shortened theatrical window agreements between Universal, AMC Theatres and Cinemark Cinemas. The chains will split PVOD revenue with Universal.

101 Studios’ The War With Grandpa generated $900,000 to finish the weekend in third place, as the Robert De Niro family comedy topped $17.2 million since its Oct. 9 release.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, says consumers won’t return to theaters in pre-virus numbers until there’s a vaccine on the market some time next year.

“People aren’t dying to go to the movies,” he said.

As COVID-19 Surges, Black Friday Crowds Don’t

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed this year’s Black Friday retail shopping frenzy, in which hordes of shoppers typically camp out overnight waiting for stores to open early on the morning after Thanksgiving — or, in recent years, start shopping right after they finish their turkey dinners.

Not this year.

With COVID-19 surging in what health experts are calling a third wave of the disease, none of the big retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day — not even Walmart, which used to be open all day, or Target and Best Buy, which opened for business in the late afternoon or at midnight.

The big retailers also began offering their deep discounts several weeks before Black Friday, often targeting online shoppers with Web-only specials. And the year’s hottest gift item, Sony’s new PlayStation 5 video game console, saw gamers glued to the Internet to watch for alerts on Twitter and other social media channels about the next wave of consoles available at the various retailers, mostly for online purchase.

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“One thing that is happening, and has been happening for awhile, is the past couple of years, we’ve seen Black Friday deals moving more and more online,” Amir Neto, director of Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University, told USA Today. “This year, there are more incentives to maintain or expand this trend.”

Adobe Analytics on Nov. 27 reported that online spending on Thanksgiving Day rose by nearly 22% to reach a new record of $5.1 billion, from $4.1 billion last year. The research firm said November and December online sales are expected to jump 33% this year, totaling $189 billion, including $10.3 billion on Black Friday.

Aside from the big retail players, Family Video, the last remaining national chain of dedicated video stores, sent out an email early Friday morning offering discounts of up to 75% on Warner Bros. DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD titles, including Aquaman, The Dark Knight, Inception, Doctor Sleep, 12 Strong and Annabelle. “You will not find better Black Friday deals on Blu-rays, DVDs, and 4K Blu-rays from Warner Bros. anywhere else!” the Family Video email read, noting that the sale ends Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, with physical stores having offered discounts all week, reports on Black Friday itself suggest the early rush to physical retail stores is more of a trickle this year. A Target store in Costa Mesa, Calif., was practically empty shortly after 7 a.m. on Nov. 27. “It looks like any other day,” said one observer.

Target is running a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on books, movies and music. Blu-rays and DVDs could be had for as low as $4, $7 and $9. Signs were placed not only in the electronics area, but in some stores displays were put in the clothing section in the center of the store and at checkout. One customer in Mission Viejo, Calif., noted that the sales weren’t as prevalent as previous years.

At a Costa Mesa Best Buy, there were fewer than two dozen people waiting in a socially distant line, a far cry from prior years.

In Oceanside, Calif., a Walmart was a little busier, but the traditional DVD and Blu-ray Disc “dump bins,” featuring catalog movie titles priced as low as $2 to $5, were conspicuously absent. “It’s really slow,” a clerk said.

The movie aisle at an Oceanside, Calif. Walmart on Black Friday 2020, shortly before 9 a.m.

Chicago resident Maria Lopez, who often shops on Black Friday, said she was only visiting one store this year out of concerns of contracting the coronavirus. Lopez bought a 42-inch television from Best Buy.
“It’s so sad,” Lopez told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve been out since 6 a.m. and there were no long lines. It’s definitely not the same like years prior.”

And yet the National Retail Federation earlier in the week  forecast that total holiday sales during November and December would be up by as much as 5.2% from the same period last year, generating $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion in revenue. The data, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compares with a 4% increase in 2019, and an average holiday sales gain of 3.5% over the past five years.

“We know this holiday season will be unlike any other, and retailers have planned ahead by investing billions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers,” Matthew Shay, CEO of the retail trade group, said in a statement. “Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year.”

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20% and 30% to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year.

“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving most have the ability to spend,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Redbox is participating in the Black Friday discounting frenzy with specials across all its platforms, physical as well as online. Through the weekend, the retailer is offering customers who rent two discs at its more than 40,000 kiosks 50 cents off, as well as “price drops” on digital rentals through Redbox On Demand. Redbox also is hosting a used movie sale at “select kiosks,” selling off previously viewed copies of films such as Trolls World Tour ($3.99), The Tax Collector ($5.99) and Justice League ($3.99).

On the streaming front, NBCUniversal as a Black Friday special offered 20% off access to the Peacock subscription streaming service, while Hulu launched a discounted $1.99 monthly promotion at midnight on Thanksgiving Day. The campaign gives new and returning subscribers 12-month access to the ad-supported Hulu option, which amounts to a $48 savings over the recently reduced $5.99 monthly fee (from $7.99). The ad-free subscription plan remains priced at $11.99 monthly.

Additional reporting by John Latchem and Stephanie Prange

Streaming Concert Series in 3D Audio Launches on New Lemonade.tv+ Platform

SoundFi has announced the launch of the first-ever streaming concert series in 3D audio on Lemonade.tv+, a new online and mobile platform.

The move marks an expansion of the availability of SoundFi’s 3D spatial audio format from movie theaters into the home.

SoundFi CEO Chris Anastas said Lemonade.tv+ is designed to enable the global creative community to seamlessly go live so they can promote and share their music. Fans can not only experience binaural audio while watching concerts, but also interact with artists and other fans, watch exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, purchase limited-edition merchandise and more.

Similar to the SoundFi theatrical experience for moviegoers, no special hardware or software is required; in fact, any pair of headphones or ear pods can be used to listen to content in SoundFi. Lemonade.tv+ is free and available everywhere on all devices (except Android, which is still in beta).

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“Now more than ever, the audio experience is increasingly important as we spend more time in headphones streaming on devices,” Anastas said. “We designed Lemonade.tv+ to bring consumers an easy way to enhance their entertainment experience, just by connecting their headphones to activate our 3D spatial sound technology.

“We pivoted quickly in March to see how we could bring this state-of-the-art technology into the homes and onto the mobile devices and laptops of every consumer, and we’re thrilled to launch.”

The Lemonade.tv+ platform is launching with a “SundaySessions”  virtual concert series featuring artists with the Texas Music Project, an organization that supports music education in schools. All proceeds from the concerts will benefit the Music Heals Program at Texas Children’s Hospital.  Virtual concerts will run into 2021.

“Lemonade.tv+ presents an opportunity to connect with fans like they’re in the studio with me, and that means so much at a time when we’re all longing for connection during the pandemic,” artist Hayley Orrantia said.  “As an ambassador and long-term partner with the Texas Music Project, I could not be prouder to be part of this program to bring smiles to everyone. The realistic live sound is incredible, and I’m so excited for my fans to hear some new music I’ve been working on, too.”

Sponsored by Sennheiser and Taylor Guitars, fans will be able to donate as well as participate in a virtual tip jar and giveaway for a GS mini guitar.

Later, the Lemonade.tv+ platform will offer movies, music, virtual concerts, eSports and additional exclusive events throughout 2020 and into 2021.

It’s Time to Streamline Streaming Services

Last Sunday evening, we played Twister with our daughter after she complained, “I’m bored and there’s nothing on TV.”

Are you kidding me?

We have Netflix, Disney +, Amazon Prime, Apple TV +, Hulu, Pluto, Tubi and Peacock streaming to us here in Silicon Valley; and you can’t find anything?

You’re not trying!

But we rolled out the Twister mat and went to work climbing, stretching, falling over each other, getting some exercise and having fun. We’re pretty sure we were more agile in “the old days” and despite the fun it sort of reminded us of the constantly changing entertainment world, with everyone jumping from one circle to be at the right place at the right time.

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Back before our daughter could crawl, we had a growing number of TV channels/shows but a single pipeline of distribution and selection.

Then the industry started wheeling and dealing — and all of a sudden, we had special stuff and paid-for services like Hulu, Showtime, Starz, Epix and others to expand our viewing options.

Content distributors suddenly discovered:

  • Consumers had taste and could tell good content from stuff;
  • People who wanted more than pablum would actually pay to watch solid creative work.

 

Life was good; except for the fact that inevitably, the shows you wanted to watch were on at the same time as other good shows so you had to make a choice.

Fortunately, the Internet emerged and a new streaming service emerged that let you pay-to-store programs you missed to watch later.

Andy Marken

That streaming was OK but Netflix was tired of mailing you red envelopes and wanted to “give” you a subscription service that BAM! you could watch anytime you wanted on any screen you wanted and … as much as you wanted at one sitting. Viewers liked it so much that Netflix spread around the globe; and today, it has more than 183 million subscribers in 190 countries.

Tech and media companies realized that Netflix CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos had a good thing going so they set up their own OTT service sites with their own unique, original content for a “reasonable” subscription fee.

In no time, consumers around the globe had an embarrassment of rich, anytime/any screen content choices from Amazon, Disney, Apple, NBCUniversal, Hulu, CBS All Access, Pluto, Tubi, Britbox, Alibaba, Tencent Video, Hotstar, Canal +, Joyn, Viu, Stan, Foxtel and hundreds of other streaming SVOD services.

Well, yes, there was a “reasonable” subscription cost with some, but others were ad-supported services.

AT&T liked the idea, so they went into debt for $85 billion for WarnerMedia on top of the $67 billion for DirecTV and then proceeded to improve what they bought by cutting operations and staff.

It didn’t take long to make a good thing, aahh … better?

To compete more aggressively with NBCUniversal’s Peacock and the other streaming powerhouses, ViacomCBS said enough is enough! It was time to rebrand CBS All Access and show their 16.9 million subscribers (and the competition) that they were going all in to become a true international super service. Rolling out early next year, that service will instantly have more than 40,000 TV episodes and movies from Paramount, Nickelodeon, Showtime, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and Smithsonian as well as live programming, news, tentpole events, sports, local CBS stations nationwide and CBSN, CBS News and more all for a “reasonable” ($6 with ads, $10 without) monthly subscription.

It will also offer international streaming, focusing on “high value” countries including Australia, Latin America, the UK, Nordics, EU and countries to be named later.

It has already buffed up its free streaming service, Pluto TV, and helped it expand the ad-supported stuff to meet the demands of APAC viewers and the desires of folks in the ROW.

“We want to be big in AVOD — Pluto TV has nearly 30M active users in 20+ countries – and we want to be big in SVOD. Those two services I see as completely complementary to each other,” said ViacomCBS CEO David Lynn.

Most of the pay TV cable bundle companies didn’t really mind that consumers cut, shaved or never had their service because firms like Comcast owned NBCUniversal, Peacock and Sky — and, admit it, you did stick with them for their high-speed, reliable Internet service.

“Each streaming service by itself is great,” said Allan McLennan, CEO of PADEM Media Group. “However, people are getting to the point where they are being overloaded with subscription fee on top of subscription fee, as well as the subscription fee plus pay-per-view for special stuff. It makes them think of the ol’ bait-and-switch marketing of yesteryear.”

“No service has everything an individual or family wants to watch,” he noted. “For example, my wife likes a certain type/set of shows, our son has content he follows as well as game channels, and I like specific genres.

Trying to find something we all like at the same time is a challenge.

“The same holds true for households around the globe and it can take 10-15 frustrating minutes for someone to find something they want to watch or settle on watching,” he added. “People are questioning their subscription budget and the real value of all of the great content selection. They’re yearning for a single content source solution but without the restrictive long-term contract.”

According to GlobalWebIndex, 36% of respondents said their growing list of streaming services is getting too expensive.

Twenty-eight percent of UK and U.S. users expressed frustration with the need for multiple services to access the content they want to watch.

People have discovered they have to subscribe to four, five or more SVOD services just to assemble their own personalized content bundle.

If the consumer is at their budget maximum and alerted to a new “gotta see” set of movies/TV series, they cancel their least-used service and add the new, more interesting service that better fits their needs.

All of the streaming services are focusing on grabbing the other guy’s subscribers, creating churn in the existing streamer pond rather than developing long-term, increasingly profitable consumer relationships.

Because of the explosion of content and the explosion of services, consumers are increasingly suffering from an explosion of confusion.

“With more than 300 SVOD platforms in the US and 1000s globally, consumers are getting tired of navigating between multiple services to find the specific content they want to watch,” McLennan said. “People are finding they have to weigh the intangible of what content in service A is worth to them compared to the content on service B.

“When the entertainment value shifts, consumers leave,” he added. “Every business owner will tell you it costs more to sign a new customer than keep an existing customer and that it’s difficult and expensive to win that customer back.

“No content creator/producer wants that. And no consumer really wants to go back to their old cable bundle. What people do want a well-executed aggregated, single-sourced solution that delivers a very wide range of content choices that will present intelligent content recommendations with a single front end and stable user experience.”

The “new” CBS super service seems to be a move in the right direction.

Smart TVs from firms like Sony, LG and Samsung as well as vMVPD solutions such as Roku and Apple TV could potentially provide the single-source service consumers want without the binding service contract.

“Depending on your personal interpretation, we’re on the cusp of the third or fourth wave of broadcast/entertainment growth,” McLennan said. “We’re entering the new golden age of content that could provide each viewer their own television experience … an empowering moment societally.”

The ultimate solution is a single source that can quickly search global, regional or local genres — depending on an individual’s licensing/fee agreement — and deliver just the content you want, when you want it, to the device you’re looking at at that specific time.

We understand that such a complex, comprehensive solution is quite a ways off because it will require an intelligent platform that will know confidentially the individual consumer as well as the service’s ability to understand and deliver entertainment regardless of the influence of the creator/owner.

The personalized content service would require a robust amount of AI that would know or anticipate what the viewer wanted to see, depending upon a wide range of personal data.

“We are close to having the technology to sync up with and deliver the right content along with production/distribution needs to enhance and expand the availability of super aggregators — services and devices,” McLennan said. “The sooner we get there, the sooner we can eliminate or minimize expensive customer turnover to benefit all segments of the ecosystem.”

More importantly, we believe the move will be an important step in removing the industry’s massive overhead cost caused by content piracy.

We’re really fed up with people — primarily academics or pirates themselves — justifying the hundreds video pirate sites like Pirate Bay and BitTorrent as being “good for the industry.”

For example, the most recent was a University of Georgia study released in Management Science that piracy actually improves viewership (they also included theater ticket sales but that’s too far in the future to even think about).

Let’s lay our cards on the table regarding piracy … it’s not a victimless crime!

Video content piracy — something for nothing — has been around forever.

People snuck 8mm cameras into theaters to shoot crappy content off the screen.

Studio people “borrowed” master prints.

Folks griped about expensive cable bundles and the need to pay for the hundreds of channels to get the few they really wanted to see.

IP-based streaming “eased” the pirate demand until “everyone” got into the act offering their service for $5 to $15 plus subscriptions and suddenly the overload complaint returned.

In addition, streaming made it remarkably easy for pirates to divert excellent quality content to their torrent sites and offer a “better” subscription service at a very reasonable fee.

Since pirate viewing was running rampant, some folks liked to tout the volumes of “free” views as a hint as to the project’s success:

  • The first episode of season seven of “Game of Thrones” was pirated 91.74 million times and the season accumulated more than 1 billion illegal downloads a week after it ended.
  • Disney’s “Mandalorian” was pirated three hours after the first segment release and quickly became the most pirated TV show – at that time.
  • While Netflix’ Hastings called sleep the streaming service’s leading competitor, freeloaders cost the company an estimated $192 million in monthly revenues.

 

According to anti-piracy experts at Nagra, illegal piracy costs the US industry more than $1 billion a year.

Their joint report with Digital Citizens Alliance noted:

  • An estimated 9 million fixed broadband subscribers in the U.S. use a pirate subscription IPTV service.
  • The $1 billion industry is even larger because it includes the sale of pirate streaming devices as well as ad- financed piracy.
  • Since they don’t pay for programming, their profit margins are between 56% (retailers) to 85% (wholesalers).
  • The ecosystem relies on legitimate players to exist including hosting services, payment processors and social media.
  • Pirate sites partner with malware hackers that steal/use personal and financial data, use individuals’ systems for cryptocurrency mining, adware, ransomware, DoS botnet attacks.

 

We understand the frustration consumers have with:

  • Favorite content suddenly being pulled from their subscription service to another service they don’t subscribe to.
  • Really great shows, content available in certain countries – especially if one of them is “just across the road” because of governmental “limitations.”

 

But is the potential indirect cost to the consumer worth it?

The U of G academics and others (including studio/service heads who want to minimize the loss to non-thinking stockholders) like to picture piracy as a marketing expense to prove the value of the content and stimulate WOM advertising to attract more paying viewers.

Are you outta your mind?

Piracy is an “inconvenience” for companies like Netflix, Hulu, Peacock, Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access, Hotstar, Sky, Tencent, Alibaba and hundreds of streaming services around the globe.

Those illegal activities mean profits have been siphoned off the content creators, studios and distributors’ bottom line.

That means they don’t have added money to invest in new, different, more exciting, more enjoyable video content that is produced by tens of thousands of independent creative pros — writers, producers, directors, shooters, editors, audio engineers, boom operators, grips, FX, stunt, animators and more — who use their expertise to give people more visual stories.

We realize the pirates don’t care and consumers really like the free stuff those folks have liberated for them. But money feeds the ecosystem that creates new, different, interesting content.

Without it, the ecosystem dries up and you’re left with TikTok or YouTube stuff to watch.

Or, you’ll end up playing Twister with us; and we warn you, we’ve really gotten good at it … again.

Then you’ll have to reluctantly agree with Rob in High Fidelity when he said, “You know, it sounds boring, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t spectacular either. It was just good. But really good.”

Andy Marken is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications and industry trends in media and entertainment, as well as consumer electronics, software and applications.

Horror Sequel ‘Return to Splatter Farm’ on DVD From MVD

Return to Splatter Farm, the sequel to the 1987 direct-to-video cult horror film Splatter Farm, is available on DVD from MVD Entertainment Group and Wild Eye Releasing.

Thirty years after the infamous “Death Farm” murders in rural Pennsylvania, serial killing is in season once more. A young woman and her friends descend upon the farm to party after discovering that she has inherited the land. Soon after, the strange occurrences and brutal murders begin again.

The film, directed by Mark Polonia (Sharkenstein, Bigfoot vs. Zombies, Feeders), stars Ken Van Zant (Razorteeth, Splatter Beach, Empire of the Apes) and scream queens Mel Heflin (Mrs. Claus, Plan 9, The Profane Exhibit) and Danielle Donahue (Queen Crab, Amityville Island, Jurassic Prey).

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Special features include a director’s commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, a promo video and trailers.

Netflix Upped U.K. Content Spend 50% to $1 Billion in 2020

After signing a 10-year lease for original content production at Shepperton Studios in the United Kingdom, Netflix has significantly upped content spending across the Atlantic.

The streaming video behemoth is reportedly set to spend $1 billion (£750 million) on U.K. episodic and feature film productions in 2020, up from the £500 million spent in 2019 and spearheaded by “The Witcher,” starring Henry Cavill (Man of Steel).

Netflix, which launched streaming service in the U.K. and Ireland in 2012, topped more than 13 million subscribers in the region at the end of March.

“The U.K. is an incredibly important market to Netflix and we are proud to be increasing our investment in the U.K.’s creative industries,” a Netflix U.K. rep told The Guardian. “‘The Crown,’ ‘Sex Education’ and ‘The Witcher’ are among the shows that have been made in the U.K. this year and will be watched by the world. These shows are a testament to the depth of talent that exists here.”

Regardless, Netflix’s content spend still lags that of the BBC’s TV spend of £1.6 billion and ITV’s £1.1 billion, respectively. Both companies co-own BritBox, a competing SVOD service launched in the U.S. and now also operating in the U.K. and Australia.

Thanksgiving Weekend Box Office Eyes Pandemic Plummet

With just one major new release, Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age, hitting theaters over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, observers contend the traditional box office bonanza is set to disappoint this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, movies such as Disney’s Frozen II and Lionsgate’s Knives Out helped the Thanksgiving box office generate a healthy $263 million in ticket sales, still down almost 17% from 2018’s record North American haul of $315 million. This year, The Croods: A New Age is projected to generate no more than $15 million. The film tallied $1.8 million on opening day Nov. 25, according to Box Office Mojo.

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“The pandemic has negatively impacted every traditionally important box office holiday from Memorial weekend to Fourth of July, and even sidelined the almighty summer movie season, so it’s no surprise that Thanksgiving would be impacted as well,” Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian said in a statement. “Usually, it’s a time frame when family and friends get together and historically it’s been a big weekend. This year it’s literally going to be a turkey.”

Indeed, the Thanksgiving weekend has typically generated around $250 million in annual revenue over the past decade, with just 2011 and 2014 falling slightly below the average. In 2020, the last major box office period, Labor Day weekend, saw revenue plummet 76.5% to $28.4 million despite the opening of Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet.

With multiple virus vaccines reportedly readying for distribution, the Hollywood box office, and large group gatherings, could return to some sense of normalcy in 2021. A new reality that includes premium VOD. Universal is set to release The Croods: A New Age into homes as early as Dec. 11 should it fail to generate $50 million at the box office as part of a shortened theatrical window agreement the studio has with exhibitors AMC Theatres and Cinemark.

“I do think in the future, Thanksgiving will indeed return to prominence as one of the most important holidays, both symbolically and financially for movie theaters,” Dergarabedian said.