‘The Romanoffs’ to Debut Oct. 12 on Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime Video announced the Oct. 12 premiere of “The Romanoffs” at the Television Critics Association Summer 2018 Press Tour over the weekend.

The SVOD service also released a new teaser revealing the line-up of guest stars featured in the series created, written, directed and executive produced by nine-time Emmy award winner Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”).

“The Romanoffs” is a contemporary anthology series, set around the globe, featuring eight separate stories about people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family. The series was shot on location on three continents and in seven countries collaborating with local productions and talent across Europe, the Americas, and the Far East, according to an Amazon release. Each story takes place in a new location with a new cast.

In addition to the previously announced cast, including Isabelle Huppert, Diane Lane, Christina Hendricks, Paul Reiser, Amanda Peet and John Slattery, Amazon announced guest stars, including Noah Wyle (“Falling Skies”), Kathryn Hahn (“Transparent”), Kerry Bishe (“Halt and Catch Fire”), Jay R. Ferguson (“Mad Men”), Ben Miles (“Collateral”), Mary Kay Place (“Big Love”), Griffin Dunne (“Imposters”), Cara Buono (“Mad Men”), Ron Livingston (The Conjuring), Clea DuVall (“Veep”), Radha Mitchell, (Silent Hill) and Hugh Skinner (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again).

Walmart Streaming Service Hires Former Epix CEO Mark Greenberg, Targeting ‘Roseanne’ Crowd?

Walmart’s secretive subscription streaming video service is reportedly targeting consumers not catered to by traditional content distributors — and at a price point below Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

The Wall Street Journal — citing sources familiar with the situation — said the pending SVOD service — which Walmart has not officially greenlighted — is working with former Epix CEO Mark Greenberg.

The executive, who helped bow multilevel (online, linear) distribution platform Epix with MGM, Lionsgate and Paramount Pictures in 2008, left last September after MGM acquired majority ownership. Greenberg previously worked at HBO and Showtime.

Specifically, Greenberg is looking at programming that would appeal to consumers living in middle America – away from traditional bi-coastal markets. Sources told The Journal the service would target viewers attracted to the short-lived “Roseanne” TV reboot.

“They’re catering to that Americana base,” said the source.

Whether Walmart plans to rival original content spending by Netflix ($8 billion), Prime Video ($5 billion) or HBO ($2.7 billion) remains to be seen. Not doing so would limit the service to licensing content already available on other OTT video services.

The platform would also operate separate from Vudu.com, the digital retail and transactional VOD service Walmart acquired in 2010.

 

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts Punts on Hulu Stake Question

Late in Comcast’s July 26 fiscal call, chairman/CEO Brian Roberts was asked about becoming a minority stake holder in Hulu should Disney’s $71 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film and other Fox assets be approved.

Roberts replied management was not “prepared to address” some issues, which apparently included Hulu, which Comcast co-owns with Fox, Disney and WarnerMedia (formerly Time Warner).

Disney acquiring Fox would give it 60% ownership of Hulu, with Comcast holding 30% and WarnerMedia with 10%.

There’s no love lost between Disney CEO Bob Iger and Roberts when it comes to media mergers.

The two high-profile executives have been embroiled in competing bids to acquire controlling stakes in 20th Century Fox and British satellite TV operator Sky, among other properties.

With Disney planning to launch a branded over-the-top video platform in 2019, scuttlebutt suggests the Mickey Mouse company could hit the ground running incorporating Hulu — with 17 million subscribers — as part of its strategy increasing direct-to-consumer exposure with exclusive content.

Such a move could further undermine Comcast’s legacy cable business, which continues to lose consumers to cord-cutting and OTT video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video — and Hulu.

“We’re focused on Sky now,” Roberts said. “We think it’s a great business, it will fit well, good use of capital. It’s also unique, but I don’t want to say anymore today and hopefully that addressed a number of your issues.”

Amazon Posts 38% Sales Gain While Net Income Soars in Q2

Amazon July 26 reported second-quarter (ended June 30) online “stores” sales of $27.1 billion, up 14% from ecommerce revenue of $23.7 billion during the previous fiscal period.

The ecommerce behemoth says online stores revenue includes product sales, physical and digital media, such as books, music, videos, games, and software. This includes digital products sold on a transactional basis such as Amazon Instant Video.

Digital subscriptions that provide Prime members unlimited viewing (Prime Video) or usage rights from third parties (via Amazon Channels) generated $3.4 billion, up 57% from revenue of $2.1 billion last year.

Total North American revenue, which includes third-party sellers, topped $32.1 billion, up 44% from $22.3 billion during the previous-year period. Operating income topped $1.8 billion from $436 million last year.

International revenue increased 27% to $14.6 billion from $11.8 billion last year. Operating loss decreased to $494 million from an operating loss of $724 million last year.

Amazon Web Services generated operating income of $1.6 billion, up nearly 75% from $916 million last year. Revenue topped $6.1 billion, up 48% from $4.1 billion last year.

Home entertainment-related highlights during the quarter:

  • Amazon and Best Buy released the first of the next generation Fire TV Edition smart TVs to customers in the U.S. The new Toshiba 4K TVs are now available for purchase in Best Buy stores and online at bestbuy.com and amazon.com, with additional models coming later this year to customers in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Amazon announced the Fire TV Cube, a 4K Ultra HD streaming media player with Alexa that allows customers to control the TV with their voice. Fire TV Cube uses multi-directional infrared technology, cloud-based protocols, and HDMI CEC to control compatible TVs, sound bars, cable and satellite boxes, and AV receivers.
  • Amazon introduced the Fire HD 10 Kids Edition, which comes bundled with a Fire HD 10 tablet, a year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a kid-proof case, and a two-year worry-free guarantee. Additionally, Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is now available on iOS devices, offering kids access to over 10,000 age-appropriate books, movies, and TV shows.
  • Amazon announced Show Mode and the Show Mode Charging Dock for Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets. Show Mode offers a hands-free Alexa experience with full screen visual responses. The Show Mode Charging Dock automatically switches Fire HD tablets into Show Mode and holds the device at an adjustable angle while charging.
  • Amazon Prime Video received 22 Emmy nominations for its original programming, including 14 nominations for comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
  • Prime Video and the National Football League renewed their streaming partnership for Thursday Night Football, which will be available globally during the 2018 and 2019 seasons to over 100 million Prime members. Additionally, Prime Video and the Premier League announced that live and exclusive Premier League football matches will be available in the U.K.beginning in 2019 at no extra cost to Prime members.
  • Prime Video debuted the second season of the original series “Goliath,” starring Billy Bob Thornton in his Golden Globe-winning role. Prime Video continues to launch local original series around the world, including “Comicstaan” in India, an unscripted series that looks to discover India’s next big comedic sensation; “Diablo Guardián” in Mexico, based on an award-winning novel of the same name; and season two of “The Bachelor Japan.”
  • Prime Video Channels is now available to Prime members in Japan with more than 30 channels including J Sports, BBC World News, and Nikkei  CNBC Plus.
  • The fourth annual Prime Day was Amazon’s biggest global shopping event ever, welcoming more new Prime members on July 16th than any other previous day in Amazon history. Members purchased more than 100 million products, and the best-selling items worldwide were the Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and Echo Dot. Small and medium-sized businesses selling on Amazon exceeded $1.5 billion in sales during the Prime Day event. Additionally, Prime members saved millions of dollars at Whole Foods Market with Prime Day deals.

 

eMarketer: Cord-Cutting Escalating

AT&T bought Time Warner to support its over-the-top video aspirations. Disney will launch a branded OTT service next year. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu dominate the domestic SVOD market.

The trend is clear: The number of cord-cutters — adults who have canceled pay-TV service and continue without it — will climb 32.8% this year to 33 million, according to new data from eMarketer. That’s higher than the 22% growth rate (27.1 million) projected in July 2017.

Overall, 186.7 million U.S. adults will watch pay-TV in 2018, down 3.8% from last year. That’s slightly higher than the 3.4% dip in 2017. Satellite providers will have the biggest decline, followed by telecom (i.e. AT&T).

“Most of the major traditional pay-TV providers now have some way to integrate with Netflix,” Christopher Bendtsen, senior forecasting analyst, said in a statement. “These partnerships are still in the early stages, so we don’t foresee them having a significant impact reducing churn this year.”

Another factor driving the acceleration of cord-cutting is the availability of compelling and affordable live TV packages that are delivered via the internet without the need for installation fees or hardware.

“With more pay-TV and OTT partnerships expected in the future, combined with other strategies, providers could eventually slow — but not stop — the losses,” said Bendtsen.

Meanwhile, the streaming platforms are growing at the expense of pay-TV. In fact, eMarketer has increased its future viewership estimates for YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Growth is being fueled by more original programming and demand for multiple services.

“The main factor fueling growth of on-demand streaming platforms is their original content,” added analyst Paul Verna said. “Consumers increasingly choose services on the strength of the programming they offer, and the platforms are stepping up with billions in spending on premium shows.”

 

 

Sony Seeking Fiscal Partner for Crackle

Sony Pictures Entertainment reportedly is looking for a fiscal partner to help expand Crackle.com, the ad-supported streaming video service it acquired in 2006 for $65 million.

In an employee email first reported by Deadline, Mike Hopkins, former CEO of Hulu and now chairman of Sony Pictures Television, said that the right minority partner could help “drive scale and position [Crackle] to be more competitive.”

“Crackle is a tremendously valuable asset for us, and with premium [ad-supported VOD] getting more and more traction as advertisers seek high value online advertising opportunities, we feel there is room for greater growth for our OTT business,” Hopkins wrote. “With the right partner – one that could bring additional content or users or leverage existing assets for advertising and promotion – we feel we can expand Crackle’s audience and significantly increase revenue.”

The streaming platform is recent years has moved into original programming to better compete against Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and Roku’s ad-supported channel, among others.

Original forays included “The Art of More,” and “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” featuring Jerry Seinfeld playing hooky with various celebrities, including then-President Barack Obama. The series has since been acquired by Netflix.

Crackle just announced it will begin streaming the second season of original series, “Snatch,” starring Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint, who is also an executive producer of the 10-episode drama.

 

 

 

Cast and Producers Discuss Amazon’s ‘Man in the High Castle’ at Comic-Con Ahead of Oct. 5 Third-Season Debut

Streaming viewers, used to the immediate gratification of binging, will have been waiting nearly two years to see the third season of Amazon’s original series “The Man in the High Castle” when it debuts on Prime Video this fall.

“The anticipation is great,” said producer Isa Dick Hackett, who is also the daughter of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, who wrote the book.

Hackett, producer Daniel Percival and cast members spoke at Comic-Con about the epic science-fiction drama.

The third season, which debuts Oct. 5, will feature more about the resistance, some reunions and more romance, Hackett said.

“We wanted to offer some sort of hope because it’s an awfully bleak world,” she said.

Set in 1962, “The Man in the High Castle” explores an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II. The Nazis rule over the Eastern part of the United States and the Japanese the West, with a neutral zone in the middle. The theme of fascism is particularly resonant in light of current events, producers noted.

“We’re on a slippery slope to fascism,” said Percival.

“It’s not even a slow roll. It’s like a jog,” added Hackett. “My father really feared fascism.”

Rufus Sewell plays Nazi leader John Smith, who is rising in the Reich despite some family secrets. Smith’s vicious actions and Nazi membership don’t make him an archetypal villain, Sewell said. He is a human reacting to circumstances as did many Germans who supported the Nazis in World War II.

“The reason he made the decisions he made was to protect his family,” Sewell said. “People are on to the genetic problem in his family. It’s not patriotism that makes him climb. It’s survival.”

“I hope that people are able to connect with these characters,” said Alexa Davalos, who plays Juliana Crain, a woman on the run and caught up in the resistance. Even Smith has elements of humanity, she noted.

Jason O’Mara is joining the cast for the third season as an Irishman in the neutral zone.

“He and his family have been persecuted by the Nazis,” O’Mara said. “Essentially he’s a good person, but we’re not sure whether to trust him or not.”

Hackett noted she spent years trying to get the “High Castle” project off the ground, until Amazon stepped in.

“It was impossible to get it sold on a network, I think because it’s very subversive,” she said, noting the show is also expensive to produce.

Though streaming viewers have been known to binge an entire season at once, “I also think people like to go through it at their own pace,” she said.

The streaming format allows for a less episodic feel, Percival noted.

“We don’t have to create false climaxes to bring you in and out of commercial breaks,” he said.

Producers have had to make a few plot adjustments because of the state of current affairs, Sewell noted. A plotline about a wall, for instance, had to be scrapped.

Amazon Studios has greenlit a fourth season of the series.

Amazon Unveils Premiere Dates for ‘Homecoming,’ ‘Jack Ryan,’ Other Originals

Amazon Studios July 20 unveiled premiere dates for several series and Homecoming, starring Julia Roberts, as well as casting news and clips and trailers for upcoming shows during its San Diego Comic-Con panel.

Homecoming will premiere Nov. 2 on Prime Video. The psychological thriller directed by Sam Esmail (creator of “Mr. Robot”) stars Roberts as Heidi Bergman, a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a facility helping soldiers transition back to civilian life. Walter Cruz (Stephan James) is one of these soldiers. Overseeing Heidi and the facility is Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale), an ambitious company man whose manic demands point to questionable motives. Four years later, Heidi has started a new life, living with her mother (Sissy Spacek) and working as a small-town waitress, when a Department of Defense auditor (Shea Whigham) comes to her with questions about why she left the Homecoming facility.

See the teaser trailer for Homecoming here.

Amazon will debut “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” co-produced by Paramount Television and Skydance Television, Aug. 31 on Amazon Prime Video. The eight-episode drama is a reinvention of the Tom Clancy hero with a modern sensibility starring John Krasinski (A Quiet Place, 13 Hours) as Jack Ryan, as well as Wendell Pierce as James Greer and Abbie Cornish (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Cathy Mueller. Noomi Rapace will play Harriet “Harry” Baumann in Season 2, Amazon announced. Amazon screened the first episode during the panel.

Season 2 of “Lore” will debut Oct. 19 on Prime Video. The series explores the real-life frightening and disturbing tales that give rise to modern-day myths and legends. The hybrid series will continue to feature narration, archive footage and animation to complement the filmed segments.

Frances McDormand, Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress, will lend her voice to the series “Good Omens” as “the voice of God.” In the series, the end of the world is coming, which means a fussy Angel and a loose-living Demon who’ve become overly fond of life on Earth are forced to form an unlikely alliance to stop Armageddon. But they have lost the Antichrist, an 11-year-old boy unaware he’s meant to bring upon the end of days, forcing them to embark on an adventure to find him and save the world before it’s too late.

Season four of “The Expanse” will debut on Amazon Prime Video in the United States in 2019. Cast and creators of the show sent a video message thanking fans for saving the series based on the popular science fiction novels by James S. A. Corey.

Among the talent in attendance at the panel were Carlton Cuse, a showrunner and executive producer of Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan”; “The Tick” creator Ben Edlund; Sam Esmail, director of Homecoming; author Neil Gaiman, creator-writer-showrunner of “Good Omens”; “Lore” executive producer Gale Anne Hurd; and Naren Shankar, showrunner of “The Expanse.”

Walmart/Vudu Entering the SVOD Market is Fiscal Craziness

Media reports suggesting Walmart-owned Vudu.com will launch a subscription streaming video service in the fourth quarter to compete against Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu is noteworthy for a variety of reasons, including fiscal insanity.

Walmart has owned and operated Vudu – which rents and sells digital movies – since 2010 will little fanfare. Entering the SVOD space would be a major step up to a completely different market – one dominated in myriad ways by SVOD pioneer Netflix and Amazon.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart in ecommerce, offers Prime Video (among other Prime features) free to its members. But is Walmart ready to emulate Amazon’s spending of billions of dollars acquiring and/or producing original content?

Netflix this year will spend $8 billion on content. It ended the most-recent fiscal period with more than $18 billion in third-party content obligations. Amazon is spending about $6 billion, with Hulu, Apple, Google/YouTube collectively spending billions more as well.

To be sure, Walmart has the financial resources to compete with Netflix and Amazon, but why would it want to in a market already dominated by three players – and Disney planning to become the fourth?

Disney, which is about to become majority owner of Hulu, has a major Ace up its sleeve: Pixar, Lucasfilm (Star Wars) and Marvel movies. The titles dominate the box office – and ostensibly could drive SVOD traffic as well.

Walmart/Vudu own no studio, production house or marquee show runners as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Disney do.

Unless Walmart envisions Vudu SVOD as a loss-leader service driving traffic to its ecommerce website, simply streaming licensed TV shows and movies for $8 a month isn’t going to move the needle – just expenses.

 

IHS Markit: Amazon and Netflix Ramp Up Global Production

Since rolling out worldwide in 2016, streaming-video giants Amazon and Netflix are building their presence in local country markets with a growing amount of original content, according to IHS Markit.

Netflix launched 1,257 hours of original first-run content in 2017, well ahead of Amazon Prime Video’s 285 hours, according to IHS Markit. Netflix has also dramatically increased that content outside the United States, with 402 hours launching last year.

International content accounted for 40% of Amazon’s total original first-run output last year, compared to 32% for Netflix, according to IHS.

“The availability of local content is primarily how both platforms adapt their services to various countries, along with local currency pricing, local-language websites, dubbing and subtitling,” according to an IHS release.

Netflix global original production has jumped from the first season of “Lilyhammer” in 2012 to 300 titles in 2017.

“Offering content that is locally made, but which plays worldwide, is just one of the methods Netflix, in particular, has revolutionized the TV programming business,” according to IHS.

Amazon has stepped up original production, but is well behind Netflix in overall volume, IHS noted. Amazon Prime Video also produced a single international title in 2012, renewing a cancelled BBC series, “Ripper Street,” and the company has gone on to launch 56 such original titles in 2017.

“Netflix and Amazon have cast a wide net, in terms of program genres, commissioning dramas and comedies, children’s live action and animation, documentaries and rights to theatrical movies,” said Tim Westcott, director of research and analysis, channels and programming, IHS Markit, in a statement. “Both companies have also dabbled in reality TV, and they are expected to move further into this area in the future.”

According to the Channels and Programming Intelligence Service from IHS Markit, at the end of last year, Netflix had 52.8 million online streaming video subscribers in the United States. Netflix international subscriptions outstripped those in the United States in 2017, with 57.8 million at the end of the year. Amazon Video subscribers in the United States reached 30.2 million in 2017. Amazon Video, having switched on globally later than Netflix, is well behind in terms of subscribers outside the United States, which totaled just under 15 million at the end of last year.

“In the linear TV era, channels produced programming primarily for domestic consumption, with international sales an often lucrative — but definitely secondary — revenue stream,” Westcott said in a statement. “The time-lag between U.S. and international release also encouraged piracy of hit shows, like HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones.’ Now, both Amazon and Netflix are originating programming in order to capture a global audience, releasing their originals on the same day and date in multiple territories. This also means that non-U.S. programming has the potential to find an audience in the world’s largest entertainment market — one where subtitled or dubbed programming has been almost unheard-of outside the art-house cinema circuit.”