HBO Max Greenlights ‘Suicide Squad’ Spinoff Series ‘Peacemaker’

HBO Max ordered the production of eight episodes for new action-comedy series, “Peacemaker,” starring actor and WWE superstar John Cena, reprising his character from the upcoming Warner Bros. movie, The Suicide Squad.

The movie’s writer/director James Gunn will write all eight episodes of “Peacemaker,” and will direct multiple episodes, including the first. Gunn and The Suicide Squad producer Peter Safran will serve as executive producers of the series, with Cena as co-executive producer.

John Cena

Based on characters from DC, “Peacemaker” is scheduled to begin production in early 2021, prior to Gunn beginning work on the next Disney/Marvel Studios Guardians of the Galaxy film.

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While details about Peacemaker are being kept under wraps, the series will explore the origins of the character that Cena will play in the upcoming film, a man who believes in peace at any cost — no matter how many people he has to kill to get it. The series will extend the world that Gunn is creating for The Suicide Squad movie, which is scheduled to be released in theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures on Aug. 6, 2021.

“‘Peacemaker’ is an opportunity to delve into current world issues through the lens of this superhero/supervillain/and world’s biggest douchebag,” Gunn said in a statement.

Casey Bloys, chief content officer for HBO and HBO Max, said Gunn has the unique ability to create an expansive universe while also bringing to life the soul and wit of each character.

“We look forward to a deep dive into the world of ‘Peacemaker’,” Bloys said.


Regal Cinemas Owner Posts $1.58 Billion Half-Year Loss

With a business model on involuntary lockdown since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cineworld Group Plc, the London-based parent of U.S. theatrical chain Regal Cinema, reported a $1.58 billion pre-tax loss for the fiscal half-year, ended June 30. The chain reported a profit of $117.4 million during the previous-year period.

Revenue fell 66% to $712.4 million from $2.1 billion last year. Ticket sales fell 65% to 47.5 million from 136 million.

CEO Mooky Greidinger said the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s business and the wider leisure industry has been substantial. He said the company has raised $360.8 million of liquidity to support the operations going forward.

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“During this unprecedented time, our priority has been the safety and health of our customers and employees, while at the same time preserving cash and protecting our balance sheet,” Greidinger said in a statement. “Our mitigating actions included reducing and deferring costs where possible; making use of government support schemes for our employees; partially delaying capital investments; and suspending our dividend.”

Greidinger said Warner Bros.’ thriller, Tenet, from director Christopher Nolan has shown promise returning consumers to theaters. The movie has generated more than $250 million at the global box office, including topping $30 million in the U.S. — despite most screens in California and New York remaining shutdown.

“There can be no certainty as to the future impact of COVID-19 on [Cineworld],” Greidinger said. “If governments were to strengthen restrictions on social gathering, which may therefore oblige us to close our estate again or further push back movie releases, it would have a negative impact on our financial performance and likely require the need to raise additional liquidity.”

HBO Max Lands Carrie Underwood Christmas Special

HBO Max Sept. 24 announced today a holiday special starring seven-time Grammy Award winner, five-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year and the 2020 ACM Entertainer of the Year, Carrie Underwood, performing songs from her first ever full-length Christmas album, “My Gift,” which is available on CD and digital Sept. 25th. The streamer will premiere the event this holiday season.

Underwood will appear with a live orchestra and choir, performing a combination of beloved traditional favorites celebrating her faith and the spiritual nature of the holiday, as well as new original material from the highly anticipated album which will also be released on vinyl Oct. 30th.

“Carrie Underwood is a multi-faceted talent and we are thrilled to be partnering with her and our friends at Playtone to bring a dose of holiday cheer,” Sarah Aubrey, head of original content, HBO Max, said in a statement.

The Max Original special will be executive produced by Gary Goetzman and Tom Hanks for Playtone, along with Underwood and her manager, Ann Edelblute. The holiday event is set to shoot this fall.

Underwood emerged to national prominence following her 2005 American Idol win.  All seven of her albums, including her Greatest Hits album, have been certified platinum or multi-platinum, and she has sold more than 64 million records worldwide. She has also recorded 27 #1 singles, 14 of which she co-wrote, and continues to sell out arena tours across North America and the U.K. — before the pandemic.

Underwood starred as Maria von Trapp in NBC’s three-hour 2013 holiday special, the Emmy-winning The Sound of Music Live!, which attracted 44 million viewers. She returns this Fall for her eighth season as the voice of NBC’s Sunday Night Football. This past November, she hosted the CMA Awards for the 12th consecutive year. Apple Music recently announced Underwood’s own monthly radio show, which she hosts and produces and premiered on the newly launched Apple Music Country.


Analyst: SVOD Subs in U.S. to Increase 56% by 2025 — Despite Market Maturity

The United States created the subscription streaming video-on-demand market in 2008 through Netflix and Roku. Despite approaching market saturation, the number of domestic SVOD subscriptions will climb from 203 million in 2019 to 317 million by 2025, according to new data from Digital TV Research.

Even Netflix, the longest established platform, will add 10 million domestic subs in the period. This growth is overshadowed by Disney+ (27 million additions) and Hulu (22 million). Peacock, HBO Max and CBS All Access/Paramount+ will each add more subs than Netflix — largely due to their breadth of content not found on the SVOD pioneer. Six platforms will together bring in 94 million new subscribers [82%] from the 114 million total additions.

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“The depth of choice in the U.S. will not be replicated in any other country,” analyst Simon Murray said in a statement. “Eight U.S. platforms will have more than 10 million paying subs each by 2025. Disney+ will overtake [Disney-owned] Hulu by 2025.”

Europa+ SVOD Service Launches in Latin America

A new subscription streaming video service based in Atlanta has launched operations in Latin America. Dubbed Europa+ (Europa Más), the $5.99 monthly service features content from the U.K., Germany, France and Nordics.

Designed for European ex-pats, Latin Americans of European descent and the large community of those passionate about European culture throughout the region, Europa+ offers viewers a variety of the latest European TV shows to link them to their roots, culture and tastes.

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The service draws a curated list of programs from from more than 1,500 hours of library content from BBC Studios, Studio Canal, TF1, ZDF, NordicWorld, Studio 100, Spiegel and Mediaset. Programs are presented ad-free, in high-definition and their original language – all with subtitles and the majority sub-titled in Spanish and English. It is available on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices and all shows are available for download for later viewing on portable devices.

Europa+ is owned and operated by Mexico City-based investment fund, Innokap, and Atlanta-based Castalia Communications Corp.

“For nearly 30 years, Castalia Communications has forged a track record of successfully launching new media ventures worldwide,” Luis Torres-Bohl, president of Europa+ and co-owner of Castalia Communications, said in a statement. “Our mission has always been to enable the many and different voices of our world the opportunity to be heard.”

“We provide programming that makes Europeans living and working in Latin America and the Caribbean feel more connected to home,” said Rubén Mendiola, COO and managing director of Europa+. “Subscribers will have the newest European dramas, comedies, documentaries, reality, nature, motor shows, kids’ toons and more at their fingertips.”


TikTok Owner Seeks Injunction Stopping App Ban in the U.S.

ByteDance, the Chinese owner of social video platform TikTok, has filed for a preliminary injunction against the Trump Administration’s executive order banning U.S. access to the app, effective on Sept. 27. About 100 million Americans use TikTok on a monthly basis.

The request, filed Sept. 23 in the District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to stop a DOJ mandate ordering Google and Apple to remove the TikTok app from their platforms on Sunday — in addition to ceasing to provide updates for current holders of the app.

ByteDance is currently in negotiations with Oracle and Walmart to sell 20% (for $20 billion) of a new corporate entity called TikTok Global. Trump last weekend publicly gave his approval of deal — until he found out the Chinese would still own 80% of the company. Oracle reportedly said the sale would preclude ByteDance from owning the TikTok app outright.

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Regardless, the Chinese government would have to approve of any deal, which seems increasingly unlikely following reports in the government-owned English newspaper, China Times, which called the transaction “dirty and unfair,” and based on “bullying and corruption.”

The Trump Administration, which eyes TikTok as a threat to national security, continues to engage in a war of words with China over trade and technology.

ByteDance says the security fears are overblown and political in nature.

“There is simply no genuine emergency here that would justify the government’s precipitous actions,” read the filing. “And there is no plausible reason to insist the prohibitions be enforced immediately.”





Disney Delays Theatrical ‘Black Widow’ Release to May 2021; Exhibitor Stocks Drop

In another blow to the beleaguered exhibitor business, Walt Disney Studios Sept. 23 announced it would delay the planned Marvel Studios’ Black Widow actioner theatrical release, starring Scarlett Johansson, to May 2021 from the previous Nov. 6 launch date.

Disney is also delaying by 12 months a reboot of West Side Story from director Steven Spielberg to Dec. 1o, 2021, and Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, a sequel to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, to Dec. 18 from Oct. 23.

The moves by the box office’s perennial leader represent another dagger in the heart of exhibitors looking to jumpstart the moviegoing consumer from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown — albeit without much content. While 70% of domestic screens have re-opened with social distancing and mask requirements, many analysts predict 2020 will achieve a record low at the box office with revenue down more than 80% from 2019.

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Warner Bros.’ Tenet, which was supposed to bring consumers back to theaters, has generated about $250 million at the largely international box office. Domestic ticket sales have wilted from the Christopher Nolan-directed thriller’s opening $20 million weekend over Labor Day to a cumulative tally around $36 million.

Eric Handler with MKM Partners says the sluggish domestic box office is in part due to ongoing theater closures in California and New York.

Tenet’s U.S. results definitely showed us that middle America cannot carry a tentpole film. You need the coasts,” Handler wrote in a note.

With no COVID-19 vaccine ready for consumption, Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, says consumers remain leery.

“People may be eager to visit the theaters once they feel safe doing so, but we think it is unlikely crowds will return to any semblance of normal before a vaccine is widely distributed, particularly in urban and suburban markets,” Pachter wrote in note earlier this year.

Indeed, the latest delays sent exhibitor stocks into a tailspin, with AMC Entertainment down 5.5%; Cinemark down 4.1%; Imax down 5.6%; Marcus (-3%); Reading International (-0.9%) and National CineMedia down 0.9% in midday trading.



Pluto TV Lands on Roku Platform in Latin America

ViacomCBS’ ad-supported VOD platform, Pluto TV, has inked a distribution deal with Roku for the streaming video device manufacturer’s platform in Latin America.

The agreement is aimed at expanding access to Pluto TV’s planned 70 channels featuring curated Spanish-language content in 17 Latin American countries. Pluto TV, which ViacomCBS acquired in 2019 for $340 million, has more than 33 million users internationally (including the U.S., Europe and Latin America).

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The deal sees Pluto TV available on The Roku Channel Store in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru.

“The arrival of Pluto TV to Roku…will allow our users to have an excellent experience of streaming content on a bigger screen, easily, comfortably and without restrictions,” Marco Nobili, SVP of emerging business and strategy at Pluto TV, said in a statement. “We believe Pluto TV is a great complement to all of our distribution partners who can offer free fan-favorite content to their subscribers and users on the same platform that they consume content.”

Yulia Poltorak, director of international content distribution at Roku, said the deal expands upon The Roku Channel’s ad-supported free content in the U.S.

“Now more than ever, our users are asking for [more] free content on the Roku platform,” Poltorak said.


Sling TV Bows ‘Watch Party’ Featuring Voice, Text

With most TV viewers multitasking on social media, Dish Network’s online TV streaming service, Sling TV, Sept. 23 launched a new feature in beta, “Sling Watch Party,” which enables subscribers to connect via voice and text with non-subscribing friends and family in remote locations to stream programming together — a first for the live television industry.

Through a special beta preview of Sling Watch Party ending Sept. 30, invited guests may attend a Watch Party simply by creating a Sling TV account.

“We know that for so many, it’s not just about what you are watching, it’s who you are watching with,” Jon Lin, VP of product, said in a statement. “We could all use more time together to enjoy our favorite sports and entertainment, which is why we created this new feature.”

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Sling Watch Party features include:

  • Video and text chat: Connect in real-time with other SLING Watch Party guests while viewing a program, via video or text chat.
  • Audio and visual controls: All participants have full control over their own video camera, the volume of their individual content stream and volume of video chat streams received from other participants.
  • Player controls: Slingers hosting a Watch Party can manage player controls, including play, pause and rewind for on-demand programming.
  • Sling TV programming: Choose from live or on-demand content available in Sling Orange, Sling Blue, Sling Latino and Sling International services, or any Sling TV Extra, depending on a customer’s current subscription.

The feature is available on Google Chrome web browsers and allows subscribers to invite up to three guests to for shared TV viewing.

To host a “watch party,” sign in on via Google Chrome web browser. Select any eligible live or on-demand title from a Sling TV ribbon; a Watch Party may be created up to 60 minutes prior to air time, for live program. Click “create watch party” from the title’s information screen. Invite up to three guests to join via a unique, shareable link or email. Click “start watching” when the selected title is scheduled to begin.

FilmRise Acquires Streaming Rights to Classic Anthology Series ‘Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction’

FilmRise, the New York-based TV and film distribution company, has acquired streaming rights to the classic cult anthology series, “Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction” for North America, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and New Zealand from MRC’s dick clark productions.

Each episode of this cult anthology series presents several stories that appear to defy logic – the supernatural, ghosts, psychic phenomena, destiny and the divine – and offers the viewer a chance to decide what is fact and what is fiction.

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FilmRise CEO Danny Fisher said the deal for “Beyond Belief” expands the company’s partnership with dick clark productions, which included series, “Unsolved Mysteries,” among others.

“[It] contains bone-chilling stories that stick with audiences, lending itself to repeat viewing,” Fisher said. “Its nostalgic feel adds to the viewer’s engagement.”

“Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction” originally aired for four seasons on television (1997-2002), with a total of 45 episodes. Originally hosted by James Brolin and then by “Star Trek: The Next Generation” star Jonathan Frakes, the series portrayed multiple, unbelievable stories often dealing with the supernatural or paranormal phenomena where the viewers are challenged to guess which installments depicted are true or fictional. The program was narrated by Don LaFontaine for seasons one through three, and Campbell Lane for the fourth and final season.

dick clark productions claims to be the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Golden Globe Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance” from 19 Entertainment and dcp.

dcp, which is owned by MRC (formerly Media Rights Capital), also owns one of the world’s most extensive entertainment archive libraries, with more than 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and related programming.