Apple TV+ to Bow Live-Action Series Based on Legendary’s Monsterverse

Apple TV+ has announced a series order for an original live-action show from Legendary’s Monsterverse franchise.

Following the thunderous battle between Godzilla and the Titans that leveled San Francisco and the shocking new reality that monsters are real, the series explores one family’s journey to uncover its buried secrets and a legacy linking them to the secret organization known as Monarch.

The untitled Monsterverse series will be produced by Legendary Television and executive produced by co-creators Chris Black (“Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Outcast”), who will also serve as show runner, and Matt Fraction (“Hawkeye”), alongside Safehouse Pictures’ Joby Harold and Tory Tunnell, and Toho Co., Ltd. Hiro Matsuoka and Takemasa Arita will executive produce for Toho. Toho is the owner of the Godzilla character and has licensed the rights to Legendary for the series.

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Legendary’s Monsterverse story universe centers around humanity’s battle to survive in a world that is under siege by a catastrophic new reality — the monsters of myth and legend are real. Beginning in 2014 with Godzilla and continuing with 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters and 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, Monsterverse films have accumulated close to $2 billion dollars globally at the box office. The franchise also includes a new anime series “Skull Island.”

Genius Brands Animated Series ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten’ to Stream in China

Genius Brands International has announced the launch of season one of its flagship animated children’s series, “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,”  on Alibaba Group’s video streaming platform Youku starting March 2022.

Youku is one of the top three streaming platforms in the mainland China territory, according to Genius. 

Additionally, the  series will be available via the Tudou and Kumiao apps.

“Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” executive produced by and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, focuses on the adventures of six unique kids who are learning to master their super skills, along with their ABCs, with the help of their teacher Arnold Armstrong (aka the superhero Captain Fantastic).

“I have always loved bringing my latest projects to my Chinese fans, because they’re some of the most passionate fans in the world, so I can’t wait for them to see ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,’” said Schwarzenegger in a statement.

“Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten” premiered on April 23, 2021, on Genius Brands’ Kartoon Channel! in the United States and Canada and has since garnered more than 75 million views, according to Genius.  The company will continue to launch the series in key territories around the world in 2022.

“Alibaba’s Youku is one of the most far-reaching media platforms for kids in the world, and we are excited to make ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten’ available to millions of kids across China,” said Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO of Genius Brands, in a statement. “This unique action-packed series delivers all the elements that resonate with kids today, along with positive messaging and Arnold’s star power.”

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“Genius Brands has done a tremendous job of creating a truly unique series that kids and their families can enjoy together,” said Aaron Liao, GM of Youku Kids, in a statement. “With Arnold Schwarzenegger driving ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten’ and the creative storylines and compelling characters, we have no doubt that we will be able to create an impressive fan base in China, building on the success of the series in the U.S. and Canada.”

The series, voice-directed by John Landis and featuring head writer Steven Banks (“SpongeBob SquarePants”), is produced by Genius Brands and Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment in association with Schwarzenegger’s Oak Productions. Gill Champion, CEO of Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment; Heyward; Schwarzenegger; and Paul Wachter of Main Street Advisors serve as executive producers.

‘Appendage’ Feature Part of New Nine-Film 20th Digital Studio Horror Slate for Hulu

The horror short film Appendage, by writer/director Anna Zlokovic and starring Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby) and Eric Roberts, will expand to a Hulu Original feature film with 20th Digital Studio as part of a nine-film slate currently in development for Hulu.

Appendage is now playing at the Sundance Film Festival.

The films will expand directly on the shorts from the “Bite Size Halloween” collection, featuring previous writers or directors, or inspired by past shorts. The films deal with topical social issues such as mental health, ecological collapse, reproductive rights, interracial adoption and online hysteria.

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The first confirmed titles of the horror film collection include:

  • Appendage is the story of a young fashion designer whose anxiety physically manifests.  The film opened season two of 20th Digital Studio’s “Bite Size Halloween” on Hulu, a short film series that ranges from horror comedy to psychological thrillers and everything in between. Zlokovic has signed to write and direct the feature film version and casting is underway.
  • Grimcutty, written and directed by John William Ross, is a teen tech horror thriller, shot outside Los Angeles in fall 2021 and now in post-production. The film stars Shannyn Sossamon (Wayward Pines, Sleepy Hollow), Usman Ally (A Series of Unfortunate Events, “Veep”), Alona Tal (“Seal Team”) and newcomer Sara Wolfkind.  
  • Wormeater, a rural British family trauma body horror from writer/director Ben Steiner,  recently completed filming in the U.K. with stars Kate Dickie (“Game of Thrones,” The Green Knight) and Jemima Rooper (“The Girlfrend Experience,” upcoming “Flowers in the Attic: The Origin). The film is a thematic successor to Steiner’s 2018 20th Digital short Urn.
  • The Hug will expand on the story of the animatronic “Pandory the Panda” who terrorized children in his Pizza Palace in a viral 2018 short from 20th Digital. The original creators, writing/directing team Jack Bishop and Justin Nijm have signed on.
  • Clock by writer/director Alexis Jacknow and inspired by the “Bite Size Halloween” 2020 short of the same title will follow a woman’s desperate attempt to fix her broken biological clock.

Additional scripts from “Bite Size Halloween” filmmakers are currently in development and will be announced at a later date.

Biopic ‘Nyad’ Heading to Netflix Starring Jodie Foster and Annette Bening

Nyad, a biopic about marathon swimmer Diana Nyad starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, is heading to Netflix.

The feature marks the narrative directorial debut for Academy Award, BAFTA and Emmy Award winning duo Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (The Rescue, Free Solo).

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The film will chronicle the life story of Nyad, a marathon swimmer, who, at the age of 64, became the first person to complete the “Everest of swims,”executing a 53-hour, 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida, through dangerous open ocean, without a shark cage.

Bening will play the role of Nyad; Jodie Foster will play Bonnie Stoll, Nyad’s coach and longtime friend.

Content Business Now Global: What It Means for Streamers and Broadcasters

Now that entertainment is an internet delivered product, the brands that deliver it need to play by the internet’s rules.

The foundation is differentiation. In the endless sea of choices available to the audience today, one burning question for every brand is how to stand out. Such that audiences find you, stay, and then invite their friends.

Ian McKee

The only answer is by not playing it safe. As Seth Godin (the marketing author) says in Purple Cow,  in today’s cluttered landscape, playing it safe means you are, like many other brands out there, forgettable — condemning you to pay the advertising tax to keep reminding your audience that you exist.

The alternative is to be remarkable and differentiated in a way that is valuable to the audience, so that audiences make and repeat remarks about you to their network — which, in turn, reduces your cost of acquisition and retention. Think of the “buzz” around “Squid Game.”

The winds began to perceptibly shift in 2020, when Parasite and Bong Joon-ho won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Beyond the validation those awards meant to a relatively unknown South Korean filmmaker and the value of diversity in storytelling, there was this revelation: Parasite,
acclaimed by critics and hailed as the first foreign-language film to win the top prize in the Oscars’ 92-year history, was also wildly popular in the key market of the United States.

A year later, we witnessed the same phenomenon in the streaming space when “Squid Game” captured the attention of viewers on Netflix.

“Squid Game” was made by Siren Pictures, a Korean-based outfit that had earlier made three films prior, none of which had gained traction outside of Korea. “Squid Games” was made with a production budget of $21 million for 10 episodes. Contrast the average $2 million per episode of “Squid Games” with “Stranger Things,” with its $12 million-per-episode budget.

Still, this was a risky bet. And, clearly, it paid off — only Netflix knows the absolute numbers in terms of acquisition and retention, but from a marketing perspective, it was a huge hit, with the title and Netflix shaping the global zeitgeist for weeks.

The signals are now undeniable: audiences have become receptive to excellent storytelling and quality content, whether or not it comes with subtitles and recognizable faces.

As the leader in the streaming-entertainment space, Netflix might have been tempted to rest on its success and hedge against its risk. Instead, in an industry that too often reacts slowly to change, the company understood the importance of bold, swift action.

Sticking with a proven formula is easy. It is comfortable. It requires no internal justification.

But it’s the wrong thing to do in today’s fierce battle for audiences.

Internet businesses need to be learning organizations, testing and learning over and over. Not every title will be a hit — nor should it be. If it is, then you’re not taking enough risks!

Acquisition teams should move out of their comfort zones and search for content that may not even have U.S. distribution. By the time it has, it is no longer as remarkable as it needs to be. Your competitors are just as able to pick it up as you are, so you gain no competitive advantage.

New, upcoming sources of production — Korea, Turkey, India, Nigeria (Nollywood) and, now, almost every other producer country — are where hidden gems are to be found.

For those without the infrastructure or scale of a Netflix, how can they go about the process of sourcing and discovery of content globally?

Digital solutions platforms help. Online content marketplaces have aggregated huge catalogs of content globally and now provide the convenience to buyers of a single destination in which to easily search for content, no matter where it originates. This allows acquisitions teams to look further than what has distribution locally.

With standardized metadata, in English, with trailers and screeners instantly available, online content marketplaces allow acquisition teams to quickly search for and evaluate titles to find those remarkable titles that will differentiate your platform.

Once you’ve acquired a piece of content, you can push it out and learn how it performs. If it moves the needle, turn up the marketing machine (as Netflix did for “Squid Game.”) Unique, objectively interesting content gets people talking. And word of mouth can be a powerful, organic promotional tool.

New pricing models, e.g. per viewer, per minute (or, if yours is an ad-funded platform, a percentage share of ad revenue) means that taking these more adventurous acquisition choices does not mean having to pay a flat rate and the platform taking all the risk.

In the end, there’s no magic formula or set of data points that can consistently predict which titles will hit and which won’t. Entertainment is a creative industry, and creating content is still principally an art rather than a science.

But by understanding your brand, your audience and precisely what you’re measuring for (retention? watch times? new subscribers?), you’ll have what you need to build a global acquisition strategy and truly differentiate your brand in a crowded, competitive market.

Ian McKee is the founder and CEO of Vuulr, an online global film and TV content marketplace with over 35,000 titles and 173,000 hours of content across 60 genres and 90 languages. He has more than 20 years’ experience in the field of technology, digital marketing and disruptive innovations. McKee was named by Business Insider as one of the top 10 leaders transforming media and advertising in Asia in 2020.

‘Scream’ Indeed: Does ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Still Have Box Office Legs?

NEWS ANALYSIS: Paramount Pictures’ slasher reboot Scream ended Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: No Way Home weekend box office reign in convincing fashion through Jan. 16. Can the fifth installment in Scream franchise hold off the webslinger’s enduring appeal through Jan. 23?

Industry estimates peg Scream generating $12.7 million in ticket sales, with No Way Home just behind at $12.6 million, followed by Universal Pictures’ enduring animated musical Sing 2 rounding out the podium with a projected $5.4 million in revenue.

Scream is projected to surpass previous release, 2011’s Scream 4, in total revenue ($38 million) today (Jan. 21). Meanwhile, No Way Home, after passing fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe box office champions Black Panther ($700 million) and Avengers: Infinity War ($679 million) for No. 4 on the all-time box office revenue chart, still lags significantly behind Avatar with more than $760 million in North American ticket sales. No Way Home is projected to approach the $720 million mark this weekend.

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Regardless, Spider-Man and Co. are expected to easily fend off box office newcomers The King’s Man (Universal) and, separately, The King’s Daughter (Gravitas Pictures).

Analysis: As Netflix Stumbles, So Does Streaming Video Market

NEWS ANALYSIS: Netflix’s scant miss on fourth quarter subscriber growth projections was one thing, but when the SVOD pioneer and industry heavyweight revealed a meager Q1 2022 sub growth estimate (2.5 million) that was less than half Wall Street’s guidance — the stock selloff took off. Stoking the fire: Netflix’s estimated 10% revenue growth in 2022 is the lowest in 10 years — and also below analysts’ projections.

Red Notice, Netflix’s most-watched movie ever, was now a fiscal siren to investors.

Netflix shares lost nearly 20% of their value in premarket Jan. 21 trading, falling about $100 below the streamer’s previous 52-week low of $508 per share. On paper, Netflix lost around $45 billion in market valuation — a fiscal shock wave that reverberated throughout the streaming video market.

Wall Street banks Morgan Stanley, KeyBank and Barclays all downgraded Netflix shares. Premarket share prices for AT&T, which owns HBO Max, Roku, Disney (Disney+) and Discovery (Discovery+) all declined in low single-digit price-per-share drops.

“The [Netflix] share price is plummeting, and the numbers say a comet is on a collision course with its business model,” wrote analyst Rick Munarriz with The Motley Fool. “The competition is getting stronger, and Netflix doesn’t have the pricing elasticity it used to.”

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Lost in the frenzy is that Netflix had one of its best quarters for content. In addition to actioner Red Notice, co-staring Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot and Dwayne Johnsson, and climate satire Don’t Look Up, co-starring Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, Netflix’s Korean series, “Squid Game” generated the streamer’s biggest viewership ever at more than 2 billion hours in the first 28 days.

With a new “Squid Game” series in development, in addition to a new season of “Bridgerton,” as well as another Ryan Reynolds actioner, Netflix’s brass appeared at a loss to explain away the low sub growth going forward.

“It’s tough to say exactly why our acquisition hasn’t kind of recovered to pre-Covid levels,” CFO Spencer Neumann said on the fiscal webcast. “It’s probably a bit of just overall Covid overhang that’s still happening after two years of a global pandemic that we’re still unfortunately not fully out of, some macroeconomic strain in some parts of the world, like Latin America, in particular.”

Neumann appeared to ignore the gorilla in the room: Market saturation. With its SVOD rivals ramping up their own original content spending, and the majority of consumers now subscribing to upwards of four+ streaming services, the market for new sub growth is slowing.

“This translates to more choice for consumers, who are growing concerned with the aggregate costs of their streaming subscriptions,” Mike Proulx, VP of research for Forrester Research, wrote in a note.

Netflix co-CEO/chief content officer Ted Sarandos, on the fiscal call, tried to calm the waters, saying that viewer engagement for the streamer’s original content remained strong and growing.

“We didn’t see a hit to our engagement,” Sarandos said. “We didn’t see a hit to retention – all of those things that would classically lead you to looking at competition.”

Indeed, Wall Street’s reaction may be a wakeup call to the SVOD industry, but not an obituary on streaming video.

“In the end we think the Netflix flywheel is still working, it is just operating at a slower pace given the massive pull forward of demand enabled by pandemic shutdowns, and over time we expect normalization in subscriber results and for the stock to work,” wrote Jeff Wlodarczak, analyst with Pivotal Research Group.

‘Dune,’ ‘Halloween Kills’ Debut Atop Disc Sales Charts

The new adaptation of Dune from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment debuted at 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 Jan. 15.

Identified onscreen as Dune: Part One, the film is directed by Denis Villeneuve and covers roughly the first half of the 1965 Frank Herbert novel upon which it is based. Dune tells the story of factions in a galactic empire in the far future warring over a desert planet that houses valuable resources. It earned $107.4 million at the domestic box office.

The No. 2 seller on both charts was another newcomer, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s Halloween Kills, the sequel to 2018’s Halloween, which itself was a sequel to the 1978 film of the same name and rebooted the franchise by ignoring all previous sequels. It earned $92 million at the domestic box office and sold about 57% as many copies as Dune.

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The top seller the previous three weeks, MGM’s No Time to Die, slipped to No. 3 on both charts. The latest James Bond actioner is distributed on disc by Universal Pictures.

The Marvel-inspired sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage from Sony Pictures slipped to No. 4 on both charts in its fifth week on Blu-ray and DVD.

No. 5 on both charts was Disney-owned Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the 25th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

Other newcomers to debut in the top 20 include, at No. 6, Sony Pictures’ Cobra Kai: Season 3, a disc release of the third season of the Netflix series continuation of the “Karate Kid” franchise. No. 14 on the overall disc sales chart (No. 11 on the Blu-ray chart) was Decal’s Spencer, a drama depicting a fictionalized account of Princess Diana’s 1991 Christmas visit to the royal family that spurred her to seek a separation from them, starring Kristen Stewart as Di.

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Blu-ray Disc formats accounted for 81% of first-week Dune unit sales, with 39% from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, 2% from a 3D Blu-ray edition, and 40% from the regular Blu-ray. For Halloween Kills, Blu-ray accounted for 67% of its tally, 40% from regular Blu-ray and 27% from 4K. Spencer had 51% of its sales come from the HD format (it was not released on 4K disc).

The Media Play News rental chart for the week ended Jan. 16 also had Dune in the top spot and Halloween Kills at No. 2.

The previous week’s top rental, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, slipped to No. 3, followed by No Time to Die at No. 4.

Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures’ horror film Antlers entered the rental chart at No. 5 after being delayed a week at Redbox rental kiosks.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 1-15-22
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 1-16-22
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 1-15-22
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 1-15-22

Netflix Generated $200 Million in 2021 Disc Rental Revenue, Unchanged From 2020

Netflix’s legacy by-mail DVD/Blu-ray Disc movies rental service continues to generate incremental revenue for the SVOD behemoth. The streamer reported revenue of $200 million for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2021 — unchanged from $200 million in revenue in 2020.

Netflix doesn’t include packaged-media rental revenue or subscriber data in its financials, categorizing disc rental as separate revenue. The company reported $400 million in disc revenue in 2018 — underscoring the ongoing decline of its packaged-media business. It last reported about two million disc-rental subscribers in 2019.

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Regardless, with Family Video calling it quits, Netflix and Redbox remain the only packaged-media rental services operating nationwide.

Netflix: ‘We Slightly Over-Forecasted’ Q4 Sub Growth, Missed Projection by 200,000

Netflix Jan. 20 said it added 8.3 million subscribers worldwide in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2021. The tally was off less than 3% (200,000 subs) from the streamer’s projection of 8.5 million net paid additions. But enough of a miss to send the streamer’s stock tumbling. Netflix ended the quarter with 222 million subs globally.

“We slightly over-forecasted paid net adds in Q4,” Netflix co-CEOs Reed Hastings, Ted Sarandos and CFO Spence Neumann co-wrote in the shareholder newsletter. “While retention and engagement remain
healthy, acquisition growth has not yet re-accelerated to pre-Covid levels. We think this may be due to several factors including the ongoing Covid overhang and macro-economic hardship in several parts of
the world like Latin America.”

Indeed, the streamer added 200,000 fewer subs (1 million) in South America than in the previous-year period at 1.2 million, for more than 39.9 million total subs at the end of 2021.

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The SVOD pioneer added 1.2 million subs in North America, its biggest domestic sub growth in the region since the early days of COVID-19 in 2020. The region ended the quarter with 75.2 million subs.

In the Asia Pacific region, Netflix increased paid memberships by 2.6 million (up from 2 million in the year ago quarter) with strong growth in both Japan and India — to end the year with 32.6 million.

In Europe, Middle East and Africa, Netflix added 3.5 million subs vs. 4.5 million in the prior year period. The region, which end 2021 with 74 million subs, delivered record quarterly revenue, exceeding $2.5 billion for the first time.

For the year, Netflix added 18 million vs. 37 million in 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the streamer had a strong quarter with new releases, including a new season of “The Witcher” (484 million hours viewed), “You” (468 million hours viewed), “Emily in Paris” (287 million hours viewed) and on Dec. 31, 2021, a new season of “Cobra Kai” (274 million hours viewed), as well as the critically acclaimed limited series “Maid” (469 million hours viewed).

Netflix later this year will launch a Korean adaptation of its popular Spanish “La Casa de Papel” aka “Money Heist” (6.7 billion hours viewed over its lifetime). The new series, “Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area,” aims to expand the LCDP universe outside of Europe.

“Over the years, we’ve learned that big hits can come from anywhere in the world (with great subtitles and dubbing) … but our goal with non-English originals is to first and foremost thrill audiences in their home country,” wrote Hastings, Sarandos and Neumann.