BritBox Touts Agatha Christie Content as Rival Collects License Revenue

BritBox, the British-themed SVOD service operating in North America and the United Kingdom and co-owned by the BBC and ITV, has secured rights to what it says is the largest collection of Agatha Christie-themed content.

Rights include myriad seasons of “Poirot,” “Marple,” “Partners in Crime” and “Poirot: Mysterious Affair at Styles,” which bowed May 15 in honor of the 100th anniversary of Christie’s first novel.

“Only BritBox could create this Agatha Christie collection — working together with BBC and ITV to bring together all of these celebrated adaptations,” Soumya Sriraman, CEO of BritBox, said in a statement. “As the home of great British mysteries, we couldn’t be more proud to be the true home of the most beloved portrayals of Christie’s famous characters.”

BritBox is releasing Christie-themed adaptations including, “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” and “The Seven Dials Mystery,” featuring Sir John Gielgud, in addition to “The Secret Adversary.”

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“I am delighted to see all these shows available in North America on BritBox,” said James Prichard, CEO and chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd. (ACL). “They give a real flavor of the depth and quality of my great grandmother’s work, and I am sure audiences will enjoy them.”

Interestingly, AMC Networks, which owns and operates rival British-themed streaming service Acorn TV, is the majority (64%) stakeholder in Agatha Christie Ltd. AMC reported $6 million operating income from ACL in 2019.

Acorn TV launched in the United Kingdom in Q1 — nine years after bowing in the United States as an alternative to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The company expects to generate upwards of 4 million combined paid subscribers for its four SVOD services, which include Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC (Urban Movie Channel) by the end of the year.

U.K. SVOD Market to Double Subs in Five Years

It’s a SVOD market in the United Kingdom — regardless of the coronavirus pandemic. New research from GlobalData contends growth in subscription video-on-demand is set to double over the next five years. The total number of SVOD subscriptions is expected to increase from 22.4 million to 44.6 million. Total market revenue is projected to also double to £3 billion ($3.6 billion) in 2024 from £1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) last year.

While the London-based research firm agrees there will be some positive impact on SVOD adoption from COVID-19, it expects this to be outweighed by a combination of lockdown-driven adoption and consumer take-up of new services such as Disney+, Apple TV+, Acorn TV and BritBox, among others.

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“Prior to COVID-19, the SVOD market in the U.K. was experiencing a high rate of growth, with no sign of plateauing,” Joel Cooper, senior director, telecoms market data and intelligence, said in a statement.

The U.K. market has traditionally been dominated by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, with Comcast-owned Sky’s Now TV in third place. GlobalData now believes Disney+’s impact is expected to be particularly pronounced given its brand power, breadth of premium content and low price.

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In the U.S., Disney+ acquired about 25 million paying subscribers just two months after launching in November 2019, equivalent to around 10% SVOD subscriber market share.

“SVOD in the U.K. is a long way from saturation point,” Cooper said. “The market represents a clear opportunity for existing players as well as potential new entrants.”

AMC Networks Expects 4 Million SVOD Subs by Year-End

AMC Networks May 5 said it expects to generate 3.5 million to 4 million combined paid subscribers for its four SVOD services — Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC (Urban Movie Channel) — by the end of the year, two years ahead of the company’s original target.

AMC acquired home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment in 2018 for $65 million largely for British-centric programming service Acorn TV and UMC. Notably, Acorn TV launched in the United Kingdom in Q1 — nine years after bowing in the United States as an alternative to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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Separately, AMC, whose signature original programming includes “The Walking Dead,” “Killing Eve,” and “Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul,” inked a distribution deal with ViacomCBS ad-supported streaming VOD platform Pluto TV.

“We continue to make significant progress on our digital initiatives … is enabling us to navigate this challenging time and will continue to serve us well when this [coronavirus] environment stabilizes,” CEO Josh Sapan said in a statement.

Indeed, as it is worldwide, the impact of COVID-19 and measures to prevent its spread significantly affected AMC Networks’ ad revenue and pay-TV business in the quarter and going forward.

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Revenue in the quarter dropped 6.4% to $735 million, while operating profit plummeted nearly 30% to $173 million compared to the previous-year period. Beginning in mid-March, the company experienced adverse advertising sales impacts and suspended content production, which has led to delays in the creation and availability of some of its television programming.

Operationally, nearly all AMC Networks employees are working remotely, and the company has restricted business travel. AMC expects current second quarter revenue to fall 30%.

“In what has been a unique operating environment, [we] continue to generate significant levels of free cash flow and remain well capitalized with a strong balance sheet and strong liquidity,” Sapan said.

Acorn TV Launching in the U.K. on April 29

Taking a page from rival streaming video service BritBox, AMC Networks’ Acorn TV is slated to launch in the United Kingdom on April 29.

Acorn TV, which owns a majority stake in the Agatha Christie literary estate, bowed in the United States in 2011. It now claims 1 million subscribers in North America.

New subs in the U.K. will get an extended 30-day free trial for a limited time. The service will also be available on a number of devices, including Roku, Fire TV, Android and Apple mobile and Apple TV — with Amazon Channels and Apple TV Channels pending.

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Acorn TV will add new content every subsequent Monday, and all series will include English subtitles. After the free trial, Acorn TV costs £4.99 ($6.18) per month or £49.99 ($61.90) per year.

“The United Kingdom has a long-standing tradition of producing first-rate dramas and mysteries, so we’re thrilled to feature so many popular, award-winning programs in one place like ITV’s ‘Foyle’s War’ and BBC’s ‘Keeping Faith,’ as well as introduce U.K. audiences to the charming, British-produced Acorn TV Original ‘Queens of Mystery,” Matthew Graham, GM at Acorn TV, said in a statement.

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For the last nine years, Acorn TV has curated and produced a diverse mix of shows from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Scandinavia with a reported focus on older female viewers.

“We continue to greatly expand our commission and co-production slate and are extremely excited for U.K. viewers to get the opportunity to see the wonderful ‘Queens of Mystery’ filmed in the beautiful countryside of Kent as well as several other productions later this year, including Irish period mystery series ‘Dead Still’ and New Zealand thriller ‘The Sounds,’ among many others,” added Catherine Mackin, managing director, Acorn Media Enterprises, the UK-based development division for Acorn TV.

AMC Networks Says SVOD Services Top 2 Million Subs

When AMC Networks acquired a majority stake in RLJ Entertainment for $60 million, it did so primarily for the home entertainment distributor’s two SVOD services — Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel (UMC) — and control of Agatha Christie Limited intellectual property.

Smart move.

AMC Feb. 26 reported that its combined SVOD portfolio, which also includes Sundance Now and horror-based Shudder, topped two million subscribers in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2019.

“We are seeing momentum for our targeted SVOD services … as we continue to invest in strong, desirable content and valuable IP, diversify through new areas of content monetization and maximize the long-term value of our core networks and brands,” CEO Josh Sapan said in a statement.

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What is AMC is also seeing are increased losses as it ups spending on SVOD.

Revenue for the “international and other” segment, which includes SVOD, increased 6.5% to $201 million, while the operating loss increased $69 million to $118 million from an operating loss of $49 million in the previous-year period.

AMC said adjusted operating income increased 75.1% to $15 million, all compared to the prior year period.

The operating loss and adjusted operating income reflected the increase in revenue as well as an increase in operating expenses. The increase in operating loss also reflected $107 million in impairment and related charges at AMC Networks International partially offset by a reduction in restructuring and other related charges.

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For the full fiscal year, “international and other” revenue increased 22.7% to $734 million, operating loss increased 82.2% to a loss of $170 million, and adjusted operating income increased $31 million to $50 million, all compared to the prior year period.

Meanwhile, Agatha Christie Limited reported adjusted operating income of $2 million. For the full year, the unit recorded adjusted operating income of $6 million.

 

AMC Networks’ Acorn TV Acquires British Drama ‘Deadwater Fell’

AMC Networks’ British-centric SVOD platform Acorn TV Jan. 16 announced it acquired exclusive North American rights to new four-part British drama Deadwater Fell from Endemol Shine International. The miniseries will make its U.S. debut as an Acorn TV Original in April.

Produced by Kudos and filmed in Scotland, the drama’s cast features David Tennant (“Broadchurch,” “Doctor Who,” Good Omens), Cush Jumbo (“The Good Fight,” “The Good Wife,” “Vera”), Matthew McNulty (“Versailles,” “Cleaning Up,” “The Terror”) and Anna Madeley (“Patrick Melrose,” “The Crown,” “Utopia”).

When a seemingly perfect and happy family is murdered by someone they know and trust, the small Scottish community they call home becomes torn apart with mistrust and suspicion as those closest to the family begin to question everything they thought they knew about their friends.

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Deadwater Fell examines the nature of female friendship and the harmful, entrenched gender stereotypes and conformity that can lead to the most devastating consequences. Laying bare the fragility of trust and the corrosive nature of lies, the series demonstrates that even the closest of friends all have their secrets.

Deadwater Fell is an excellent addition to our Acorn TV Original lineup with its beautiful Scottish setting and a gripping script that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats as new revelations arise,” Don Klees, SVP, programming for Acorn TV, said in a statement.

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Endemol Shine International’s Matt Creasey said producer looks forward to continuing its relationship with Acorn TV with another U.K. productions.

“With its superbly written scripts and intriguing characters, Deadwater Fell is a suspenseful crime drama that will captivate American audiences,” Creasey said.

Acorn TV Readies First ‘Miss Fisher’ Theatrical Movie

AMC Networks’ Acorn TV Dec. 10 said it would debut a feature-length film, Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears, Jan. 4, 2020, at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The movie is based on the international “Miss Fisher” television series and murder mystery books.

Filmed on location in Melbourne, Australia, and in Morocco, Essie Davis (Lambs of God, “True History of the Kelly Gang,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Babadook”) returns in the eponymous lead role as the glamorous private detective, The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, whose exploits in 1920s Melbourne, Australia, lead her to murder, mystery and mayhem from London to British Palestine.

Private investors and fans contributed more than $1 million to the budget for Miss Fisher & The Crypt of Tears through a successful crowd funding campaign.

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Roadshow Films will release the film in Australia on Feb. 27 and it will make its U.S. launch in select theaters and on Acorn TV in March 2020.

Essie is joined by her co-stars from the series including Nathan Page as Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Prudence and Ashleigh Cummings as her loyal companion Dorothy ‘Dot’ Collins. The international cast includes Britain’s Rupert Penry-Jones (Vita & Virginia, Spooks, Black Sails), Egyptian star Kal Naga (Vikings, The Last Post) and, returning to Australia, Daniel Lapaine (Muriel’s Wedding, Upright, Zero Dark City).

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“After first introducing U.S. audiences to Miss Phryne Fisher, Acorn TV is thrilled for her highly anticipated return at one of the United States most prestigious [film] festivals,” Don Klees, VP of programming for the Acorn brands, said in a statement. “Australia continues to produce first-rate programs, and Acorn TV remains a leading destination for bringing them to U.S. audiences.”

AMC Networks’ RLJ Entertainment Narrows Q3 Operating Loss

RLJ Entertainment has struggled to be profitable ever since BET founder Robert L. Johnson acquired Acorn Media and Image Entertainment in 2012 to form the home entertainment distributor.

Spurred by over-the-top video successes of Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel (UMC), AMC acquired majority ownership of RLJ Entertainment in 2018 for $65 million.

AMC Oct. 31 reported RLJE posted third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) net revenue, operating loss and adjusted operating income of $31 million, $1 million and $3 million, respectively.

Robert L. Johnson

For the nine months of the fiscal year, RLJE recorded net revenue, operating loss and AOI of $79 million, $6 million and $5 million, respectively.

RLJE operates under AMC’s “International and Other” segment, which includes AMC Networks International, the company’s international programming businesses; Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC; Levity Entertainment Group, the company’s production services and comedy venues business; and IFC Films, the company’s independent film distribution business.

“We are optimizing the value and reach of our content in a variety of ways and executing on a plan that will enable us to thrive in a very dynamic and competitive environment,” Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks, said in a statement.

Indeed, Acorn TV recently surpassed 1 million subscribers in North America.

International and Other revenue for the third quarter increased 20.5% to $183 million, operating loss decreased $5 million to a loss of $12 million, and adjusted operating income (AOI) increased $6 million to $13 million, all compared to the prior year period.

International and Other revenue for the nine months increased 30.2% to $533 million, operating loss increased $8 million to a loss of $53 million, and adjusted operating income increased $24 million to $35 million, all compared to the prior year period.

Third quarter revenue primarily reflected $31 million related to the acquisition of RLJE.

Third quarter operating loss and adjusted operating income reflected the increase in revenue as well as an increase in operating expenses. The increase in operating expenses were primarily attributable to the acquisition of RLJE.

As previously disclosed, in connection with the acquisition of RLJE, the AMC acquired RLJE’s 64% interest in Agatha Christie Limited (“ACL”), which manages the intellectual property and publishing rights based on the late author’s works.

As a result of the RLJE acquisition, AMC modified its definition of AOI to include majority owned equity investments. For the third quarter, the company recorded adjusted operating income of $1 million related to ACL. For the nine months of the fiscal year, AMC recorded adjusted operating income of $4 million related to ACL.

 

Charter Communications to Carry Acorn TV, Urban Movie Channel Streaming Services

AMC Networks Oct. 31 announced that Charter Communications will launch its full suite of subscription video-on-demand services as well as AMC Premiere, the company’s premium ad-free version of its AMC channel, to Charter’s Spectrum customers.

The launch of AMC Premiere, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and Urban Movie Channel (UMC) affords Spectrum subscribers access to a wide variety of exclusive AMC Networks content, including the Emmy-Award winning “Killing Eve” (AMC Premiere), “Doc Martin” (Acorn TV), “Creepshow” (Shudder), the Emmy Award-winning “State of the Union” (Sundance Now) and Craig Ross Jr.’s “Monogamy” (UMC).

AMC Acquired UMC and Acorn TV through the majority $65 million acquisition of RLJ Entertainment in 2018 — the company formed through Robert L. Johnson’s purchase of Acorn Media and Image Entertainment in 2012.

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The services will be offered on the majority of Spectrum set-top boxes in the coming months.

The launch is part of a recent broader long-term agreement between the two companies that includes continued carriage of AMC Networks’ AMC, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv and BBC World News linear television networks as well as an extension of a previously announced co-production arrangement between the companies.

“As both of our businesses continue to evolve, we are very pleased to expand our relationship by enriching Charter’s offering with our targeted SVOD services,” Ed Carroll, AMC Networks COO, said in a statement. “Our SVOD services serve passionate audiences with the content they love. We look forward to continuing to forge a new path with Charter, giving Spectrum customers access to our shows on whatever platform they choose.”

AMC Premiere delivers fans of AMC’s original programming with commercial-free viewing, early access to content and the opportunity to binge select series, including the Emmy- and Golden Globe-Award winning “Killing Eve,” “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead” and “The Terror.”

AMC Networks’ SVOD services have experienced substantial growth over the past year, with its Acorn TV service, North America’s largest and most popular streaming service for British and international television, recently surpassing the 1 million paid subscriber milestone.

The growth has been driven by demand for acclaimed series “Line of Duty,” “Agatha Raisin,” “Doc Martin,” and Lucy Lawless in “My Life is Murder.”

AMC Networks’ other SVOD services include:

  • Shudder, an essential offering for fans of horror, thriller and suspense with an unmatched library of series and films, including the premiere of its newest original series, “Creepshow,” which set records in terms of viewers, subscriber acquisition and total minutes streamed, and was just renewed for a second
  • Sundance Now offers a rich selection of original and exclusive series from engrossing true crime to heart-stopping dramas and fiercely intelligent thrillers from around the world, including “Discovery of Witches,” “Riviera” and “Killing for Love.”
  • UMC (Urban Movie Channel), the first subscription streaming service created for African American audiences, features a broad mix of original series, network TV shows, classic sitcoms, and feature films, including Daytime Emmy-nominated series “Bronx SIU,” OWN’s “Black Love,” the LisaRaye McCoy and Duane Martin-led classic UPN sitcom “All of Us,” and the recent theatrical release of Master P’s I Got the Hook Up 2.

Acorn TV Partners with RTÉ for New Irish Comedy/Drama ‘The South Westerlies’

 Acorn Media Enterprises and RTÉ have partnered for the production of “The South Westerlies,” an Irish comedy-drama starring Orla Brady (“American Horror Story,” “Mistresses”), Eileen Walsh (Catastrophe, Women on the Verge, Can’t Cope Won’t Cope), Ger Ryan (Little Dog, Rialto, Raw), and Patrick Bergin (Sleeping With the Enemy, Patriot Games, EastEnders, Red Rock), among others.

When a small coastal town in the south-west of Ireland is earmarked for a Norwegian-owned wind farm, it’s not just the spectacular scenery that’s under pressure. For a single working mother (Brady), tasked with going undercover to bring the project home, her eco-battle is compounded by the return of a crinkly-eyed surfer with an unmistakable resemblance to her teenage son.

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“With an impressive ensemble cast, a picturesque setting, and first-rate writing, ‘The South Westerlies’ will definitely interest Acorn TV’s subscribers and audiences worldwide,” Catherine Mackin, managing director of Acorn Media Enterprises, said in a statement.  

Acorn is operated by AMC Network’s RLJ Entertainment subsidiary.

Filming began in mid-September with the 10-week shoot ending in mid-November. Shoot locations include Wicklow Town and Cork in Ireland and Oslo, Norway.