Amazon Eyeing Mark Cuban’s Landmark Theatres

Amazon reportedly is among several companies looking to acquire Landmark Theatres, the indie exhibitor co-owned by “Shark Tank” veteran and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and his business partner Todd Wagner.

Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with the situation, said Amazon is interested in Landmark as the ecommerce behemoth ventures further into brick-and-mortar businesses. Any deal would be relatively small compared to Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Los Angeles-based Whole Foods last year.

Landmark operates 50 theaters with 250 screens in 27 markets, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Dallas.

The chain last year became one of the few high-profile exhibitors to ink a revenue-sharing agreement with ticket subscription service MoviePass.

With Amazon operating a proprietary studio, ownership of an exhibition venue would technically be in violation of the 70-year-old Paramount Pictures consent decrees, which prohibits studios from owning theaters.

The Justice Department antitrust division earlier this month announced it would revisit the rulings due to changes in the distribution of entertainment.

“The Paramount decrees have been on the books with no sunset provisions since 1949,” Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust unit, said in an Aug. 2 statement. “It is high time that these and other legacy judgments are examined to determine whether they still serve to protect competition.”

Delrahim is also responsible for the antitrust litigation filed against the ATT/Time Warner merger, in which a federal judge sided against the government’s claim the merger was anti-consumer. The decision is under appeal.

 

Amazon Studios Unscripted Content Boss Heather Schuster Departs

Heather Schuster, head of unscripted content at Amazon Studios, reportedly has left the company after less than 12 months on the job.

Media reports suggest the longtime TV executive’s exit followed an internal probe into her corporate behavior.

It’s the first executive departure since Jennifer Salke became head of Amazon Studios.

Schuster, recently cited in Media Play News’ annual “Women in Home Entertainment” issue, worked with President Donald Trump (then a real estate businessman) during five seasons of “The Apprentice.”

During that period, Schuster worked with “Apprentice” executive producer Mark Burnett and his producing partner Conrad Riggs.

Notably, Schuster replaced Riggs last October at Amazon Studios after the latter, along with Joe Lewis, left the studio following the exit of former head Roy Price, who was forced out following allegations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

 

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.

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.”

Amazon Studios Shuffles Executives Under New Boss Jennifer Salke

New Amazon Studios CEO Jennifer Salke April 9 announced division management changes, including expanding COO Albert Cheng’s responsibilities to include co-head of television development.

Prior to Salke’s arrival from NBC Universal, Cheng had been interim boss of Amazon Studios following the departure of Roy Price after allegations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

“I’m delighted that an opportunity for Albert to be elevated within the Television Studios has been created,” Salke said in a statement. “His business acumen, collaborative nature and clear goals toward continued success make him an invaluable team player as we move forward.”

Cheng’s co-head reportedly will be named in the coming months.

Meanwhile, former Fox TV executive Sharon Tal Yguado was named head of drama after filling to oversee scripted TV programing after Price and Joe Lewis’ departures.

Marc Resteghini was named head of drama, with former department boss Nick Hall named head of alternative programing. Georgia Brown, director of original TV programing in Europe, was named head of U.K.-original scripted television – reporting to Brad Beale.

Heather Schuster and Melissa Wolfe remain in charge of unscripted and kids programing, respectively. Ryan Andolina and Gina Kwon remain jointly in charge of comedy.

Amazon Greenlights ‘Cortes’ Miniseries

Amazon Studios March 26 announced greenlighting a four-miniseries based on legendary conqueror Hernan Cortes, starring Javier Bardem and produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television.

Cortes led a rebellious expedition to the heart of King Montezuma II’s Aztec empire, connecting two civilizations for the first time and changing the course of history.

“Cortes” is created and written by Academy Award-winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and based on the screenplay by Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday).

Emmy-winning Zaillian, Emmy-winning Darryl Frank and Emmy-nominated Justin Falvey (“The Americans”) are set to executive produce, along with Bardem.

“Cortes’ epic discoveries shaped the world as we know it today, and … we will bring Prime Video members on an exhilarating journey,” Sharon Yguado, head of scripted series at Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “There are few moments in history that shape an entire culture such as Cortes’ story, and this series will be one filled with drama and adventure.”

Amazon Prime Video Viewership Revealed

Amazon Prime Video reportedly generated 26 million initial viewers for original programs in early 2017, including 5 million viewers for top shows such as “The Man in the High Castle,” “Transparent,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” and ‘The Grand Tour.”

Subscription streaming video heavyweights Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have staunchly refused to reveal viewership (or ratings) for their ad-free original programs, citing lack of required advertiser justification. It’s a stance that irritates ad-supported TV broadcasters beholden to live-or-die ratings.

Now, internal documents obtained by Reuters reveal in part why original programing is driving Netflix and Amazon to spend $8 billion and $5 billion, respectively, on programing in 2018: New subscribers. It’s growth that drives revenue – and that’s what Wall Street loves.

With Prime Video a free component of Amazon’s $99 annual Prime free two-day shipping membership program, original episodic programs and movies drive subscriber growth, which in turn drives growth of other items on Amazon – including movies.

Unlike Netflix, which reveals (if not champions) subscriber data, Amazon refuses to disclose Prime membership data, which was estimated to top 54 million in the United States at the end of 2015, according to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners survey.

In a separate 2016 survey from “CutCableToday” of 380 Prime members, 40% said they rented or bought movies not available on Prime Video from Amazon Instant Video on a monthly basis. The survey also found that 20% of Prime members don’t use Prime Video.

“When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes,” Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos told a 2016 tech confab. It’s an outlook CFO Brian Olsavsky drones on monotonously in Amazon’s conference calls.

Reuters reported that “High Castle,” which is an adaption of Philip Dick’s 1962 alternate historical fiction showcasing Axis powers Germany, Japan and Italy having won World War II, cost $72 million in first season production and marketing.

It reportedly generated 1.15 million new Prime subscribers, or about $63 in subscriber acquisition costs – 36% below the annual Prime membership fee.

Amazon Studios Inks Deal With Oscar-Winning Filmmaker

Amazon Studios has closed an exclusive first-look deal with Oscar-winning filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, who won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and a nomination for Best Director for Manchester by the Sea, distributed by Amazon.

The two-year deal for directing and writing will cover both film and television projects.

“I’m thrilled to renew my connection to Amazon Studios,” said Lonergan in a statement. “They’ve done amazing work wherever they’ve turned their attention. They did a perfect job with Manchester by the Sea, and it’s a pleasure to be in business with them again.”

“Kenny is one of the finest directors and storytellers of our time,” said Jason Ropell, VP of worldwide motion pictures, Amazon Studios, in a statement. “Following our successful and memorable partnership on Manchester by the Sea, we are excited to further our relationship and continue supporting his visionary work.”

Lonergan’s upcoming projects include Howards End, a four-part limited series starring Hayley Atwell, and the play “Lobby Hero” starring Chris Evans, Michael Cera, Bel Powley  and Brian Tyree Henry, set to premiere on Broadway in March.

Manchester by the Sea is available now for streaming and download on Prime Video.

Amazon Streaming 2017 SXSW Film Festival Selections

Amazon Studios may have cut back on acquisitions at the recent Sundance Film Festival, but it’s hardly turning a blind eye toward independent film.

The company March 7 announced that more than 30 official selections from the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, are now able to stream on Prime Video.

The films are available through the Prime Video Direct (formerly Amazon Video Direct) Film Festival Stars program that offers filmmakers up to $200,000 and royalties of $0.30 for every hour the film is streamed on Prime Video.

Though criticized by some as lowballing content creators, the Film Festival Stars program is designed to establish a distribution model for titles screened at film festivals that either don’t secure theatrical distribution deals or are looking for distribution options after a theatrical release.

The official selections from the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival include Grand Jury winner for Narrative Feature, Most Beautiful Island; Special Jury Recognition for Best Ensemble, A Bad Idea Gone Wrong; Special Jury Recognition for Excellence in Documentary Storytelling, I Am Another You; SXSW Audience Award for Narrative Feature Competition, The Light of the Moon.

Prime Video Direct returns to the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival (starting March 9) with the FFS program. A representative said Prime Video Direct would be taking meetings from March 10 – March 12 at the InterContinental (701 Congress Ave) to discuss the program. Interested rights holders should email PVD-festival@amazon.com to set up an appointment.

Other SXSW titles available to stream include:

 2 Pigeons

A Bad Idea Gone Wrong

Assholes

Bad Lucky Goat

Barracuda

Bill Frisell, A Portrait

California Dreams

Daphne

Divine Divas

Drib

Easy Living

Fits & Starts

Flesh and Blood

Going to Brazil

I Am Another You

Infinity Baby

Inflame

Inheritance

Let There Be Light

M.F.A.

Maya Dardel

Meatball Machine: Kodoku

Most Beautiful Island

Paa Joe & the Lion

Pornocracy

Ramblin Freak

Satan Said Dance

Signature Move

Spettacolo

Sylvio

The Honor Farm

The Light of the Moon

The Price

The Secret Life of Lance Letscher

Tormentero

Win By Fall

 

Amazon Renews Longest-Running Original Drama Series, ‘Bosch’

Amazon Feb. 13 announced the fifth-season renewal of original drama, “Bosch.” Season four of the Emmy-nominated Los Angeles police detective drama premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, April 13.

Based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling novels, the hour-long series Bosch stars Titus Welliver (“Lost”) as homicide Detective Harry Bosch, Jamie Hector (“The Wire”) as Jerry Edgar, Amy Aquino (“Being Human”) as Lt. Grace Billets, Madison Lintz (“The Walking Dead”) as Maddie Bosch and Lance Reddick (“The Wire”) as Deputy Chief Irvin Irving.

Season three has an average customer rating of 4.8, with 89% 5 star reviews.

In the 10-episode season four, when an attorney is murdered on the eve of his civil rights trial against the LAPD, Bosch is assigned to lead a task force to solve the crime before the city erupts in a riot. Bosch must pursue every lead, even if it turns the spotlight back on his own department. One murder intertwines with another, and Bosch must reconcile his past to find a justice that has long eluded him.

“As Prime Video’s longest-running one-hour series, ‘Bosch’ has long been a cornerstone of our scripted programming,” Sharon Tal Yguado, head of scripted series, Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “We are excited to give them another season with Harry Bosch, Jerry Edgar, Grace Billets and the rest of the diverse characters that make up the Bosch universe.”