Ex-RLJ Entertainment CEO Adds AMC+ to SVOD Duties

AMC Networks Sept. 24 announced that Miguel Penella, president of SVOD, is adding AMC+ to his portfolio of over-the-top video services, which includes Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC. Penella joined AMC Networks following its 2018 acquisition of RLJ Entertainment, where he served as CEO.

Shudder recently became the second of AMC Networks’ SVOD services to surpass the 1 million subscriber milestone, following Acorn TV which reached that mark last September.

“Miguel is a seasoned executive with an extensive track record building successful SVOD products and brands and under his leadership our targeted SVOD services have had tremendous growth,” Ed Carroll, COO of AMC Networks, said in a statement. “We look forward to Miguel bringing his vision and deep expertise to AMC+ as we accelerate our ability to serve fans of our shows by embracing the new ways they are consuming our content.”

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AMC+ is a $6.99 monthly service that brings together content from AMC Networks’ suite of premium brands. It includes original series from AMC and sister networks, ad-free with early premieres on demand, along with AMC Networks’ subscription video-on-demand services Shudder, Sundance Now, and IFC Films Unlimited, and also includes a premium linear network. AMC+ is currently offered to Comcast Xfinity and Xfinity Flex customers as well as to Dish Network and Sling TV customers.

Miguel Penella

AMC+ includes:

  • AMC – offers current seasons of hit series from AMC and its sister networks like IFC and SundanceTV anytime, ad-free, including The Walking Dead and NOS4A2, plus extras including bonus footage, sneak peeks of future episodes and exclusive behind-the-scenes features.
  • Shudder – with more than 1 million subscribers, Shudder offers fans of horror and suspense the largest uncut selection of series and films, including original hit series Creepshow and acclaimed documentary Horror Noire.
  • Sundance Now – offers a rich selection of original and exclusive series from true crime to heart-stopping dramas and thrillers from around the world, including “A Discovery of Witches,” “Riviera” and “Killing for Love.”
  • IFC Films Unlimited – offers a broad collection of theatrically-released and award-winning titles from IFC Films, the leader in quality talent-driven independent film.
  • Linear Network – includes an ad-free linear channel with some of the best programming AMC has to offer.

SVOD services also include:

  • Acorn TV – Acorn is North America’s largest streaming service specializing in British and international television with over 1 million paid subscribers in the U.S and Canada and subscribers worldwide in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America.
  • UMC – the first subscription streaming service created for Black audiences, features a broad mix of original series, network TV shows, classic sitcoms, and feature films.

‘NOS4A2’ Season 2 on Disc Oct. 20

RLJE Films, a division of AMC Networks, will release NOS4A2: Season 2 on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Oct. 20.

Based on Joe Hill’s best-selling novel about a working-class artist who uses supernatural abilities to track an immortal being who preys on children, the horror series premiered its first season on AMC June 6, 2019, as the second-best cable debut of the year. The second season returned to AMC June 1, 2020, and was also simulcast on BBC America.

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The second season picks up eight years after the events of season one. Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) remains more determined than ever to destroy Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto), who, having faced his own mortality, emerges desperate for revenge against Vic. This time, he sets his sights on the person who means most to Vic — her 8-year-old son Wayne. The race for Wayne’s soul sends Vic and Charlie on a high-speed collision course, forcing both to confront the mistakes of their pasts in order to secure a hold on Wayne’s future.

The cast also includes Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Jahkara J. Smith, Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Virginia Kull.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include the show’s Comic-Con@Home panel and the featurettes “A Look at Season 2,” “Catching Up With the Characters” and “The Origin of Charlie Manx.”

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Season One of ‘Eli Roth’s History of Horror’ Coming to Disc Oct. 6 From RLJ Films

AMC Networks’ RLJE Films will release season one of the documentary-horror series “Eli Roth’s History of Horror” Oct. 6 on DVD and Blu-ray.

The series originally aired on AMC Networks in 2018 as part of the AMC Visionaries series.

The documentary is directed by award-winning horror filmmaker Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, The Green Inferno) and written by Kurt Sayenga (“Breakthrough,” “Origins: The Journey of Humankind”). Roth brings together the masters of horror — the storytellers and stars who define the genre — to explore its biggest themes and reveal the inspirations and struggles behind its past and present. Each one-hour episode takes viewers on an exploration of how horror has evolved through the years and examines the genre’s impact on society as well as delving into how horror maintains its fan base and why audiences are addicted to fear.

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The series features interviews with author Stephen King (“Creepshow,” The Shining), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, “Kill Bill” franchise), Greg Nicotero (“The Walking Dead,” “Watchmen”), Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses), Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Tippi Hedren (The Birds, Marnie), Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense), Elijah Wood (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) and David Arquette (“Scream” franchise).

Bonus features include five featurettes and extended interviews with Stephen King, Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino, Diablo Cody, Roger Corman, John Landis and Joe Dante.

‘The Pale Door’ Opening on Disc Oct. 6

The horror-Western The Pale Door will come out Oct. 6 on Blu-ray and DVD from AMC Networks’ RLJE Films and Shudder, AMC’s online service for horror, thriller and supernatural tales.

Directed by Aaron B. Koontz (Scare Package) who also co-wrote the script with Cameron Burns (Camera Obscura) and Keith Lansdale (“Creepshow”), The Pale Door stars Devin Druid (“13 Reasons Why”), Zachary Knighton (“Happy Endings”), Noah Segan (Knives Out), Stan Shaw (The Monster Squad), Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills), Bill Sage (We Are What We Are), Melora Walters (“PEN15”, Magnolia) and Natasha Bassett (Hail, Caesar!).

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In The Pale Door, the Dalton gang find shelter in a seemingly uninhabited ghost town after a train robbery goes south. Seeking help for their wounded leader, they are surprised to stumble upon a welcoming brothel in the town’s square. But the beautiful women who greet them are actually a coven of witches with very sinister plans for the unsuspecting outlaws — and the battle between good and evil is just beginning.

AMC Reopening Additional 170 Screens on Aug. 27

After reopening more than 100 locations nationwide, AMC Theatres is preparing to reopen its second wave of theaters, with 170 additional locations set to open Aug. 27, ahead of the release of 20th Century’s The New Mutants. After the second wave of theaters re-openings, AMC will have nearly 300 locations operational nationwide. Kansas-based AMC is the world’s largest exhibitor, with about 1,000 screens, which have been effectively shuttered since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This second wave of reopenings is part of a phased plan to reopen AMC in the United States. AMC currently expects to open approximately two-thirds of its more than 600 U.S. theaters in time for the Sept. 3 release of Warner Brothers’ Tenet. The remainder of AMC’s U.S. theaters will open only after authorized to do so by state and local officials.

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In addition to New Mutants, moviegoers can screen Unhinged (Solstice Studios), Words on Bathroom Walls (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions), and The Personal History of David Copperfield (Disney). Pending new releases include The Broken Hearts Gallery (Sony Pictures/TriStar) and Infidel (American Cinema International) on Sept. 11, and The War with Grandpa (101 Studios) on Sept. 18.

AMC CEO Adam Aron said consumer feedback to theater reopenings has been positive, with the theater imposing seating restrictions and mandating moviegoers wear masks while inside.

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“Our comprehensive commitment to operating our theaters safely now includes social distancing through limiting ticket sales and automatic seat blocking, seamless contactless ticketing, greatly enhanced cleaning procedures, the availability of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes throughout our theaters,” Aron said in a statement.

Whether that will be enough to lure consumers remains to be seen. Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter contends consumers won’t feel safe returning to the cinema until there is a coronavirus vaccine — a requirement that likely won’t materialize until 2021.

AMC Theatres locations are also screening catalog titles such as Warner Bros.’ Inception; Universal Pictures’ Jurassic Park; Raiders of the Lost Ark; The “Rocky” franchise; Spider-Man: Homecoming; Spider-Man: Far From Home; Shrek; and Sonic: The Hedgehog. Tickets are just $5 each.

AMC is also offering an array of $5 food and beverage treats, including regular popcorn, regular Coca-Cola Freestyle drinks and KidsPacks, through the end of October. All AMC Stubs members will earn double points on all ticket and food and drink purchases through the end of October.

“We have invested millions for high tech solutions to sanitization and disinfection, including electrostatic sprayers, HEPA vacuums and MERV 13 air filters,” Aron said. “Guests returning to AMC can do so knowing that we’ve been in constant dialog with top scientists and experts in public health and cleaning about how best to reopen our theaters in ways that will be responsible and welcoming.”

Ampere Research: Pandemic Breaks Down Value of Theatrical Window

The pandemic has opened a door to breaking the theatrical window.

Research firm Ampere modeled various fictional scenarios of windowing during the pandemic, comparing the income post-COVID 19 to the income a title would have expected to have generated pre-2020.

“In a pre-COVID world, many of the scenarios would have offered only marginal gains (with significant risks) compared to a traditional release strategy,” according to Ampere. “However, in post-COVID markets, these options have started to look like viable opportunities.”

To assess the viability of a selection of alternative approaches, Ampere created a fictional mid-tier movie and modeled a series of windowing scenarios based on market trends, designing four scenarios of new windowing practices studios may adopt:

  • Scenario 1: Replace the first window theatrical distribution with premium video-on-demand (PVOD).
  • Scenario 2: Adopt strategies of using PVOD and theatrical windows sequentially, similar to Universal’s recent deal with AMC.
  • Scenario 3: Replace traditional windowing with a pure direct-to-consumer offering.
  • Scenario 4: Release films theatrically before making titles available exclusively on their own direct-to-consumer services.

The firm found the Universal deal with AMC (Scenario 2) was the most viable model for mid-tier releases. In Scenario 2, Ampere found that an accelerated PVOD window, such as the deal between Universal and AMC, is the most stable for exhibitors and studio groups, offering comparable returns for cinemas and increased revenue for the studio on mid- and lower-tier releases. However, top-tier titles are likely to be better monetized via traditional windowing models. The presence of theatrical releases still offers consumers the opportunity to view the movie with a cinema experience, meaning that this model doesn’t risk ‘lost’ transactions — unlike some of the other scenarios Ampere explored. The success of the model depends on negotiations with exhibitors and retailers, Ampere noted. Before agreeing to an earlier window, exhibitors will want to ensure that the mid-term future of the theatrical business is not being eroded to the extent that it will sideline them in future periods. Studios will need to work with digital retailers to ensure that films are adequately signposted as premium releases and are not unfavorably compared to catalogues of cheaper rentals, according to Ampere.

There is a significant appetite for home rental and purchase, with the domestic U.S. transactional video market at roughly 40% of theatrical’s size, according to Ampere. In principle, some titles could earn comparable amounts from PVOD as from theatrical distribution. However, for high-end blockbuster titles, which are typically able to obtain greater cuts of box office revenue, and international releases (in markets where the digital rental and retail market is less well developed), a pure PVOD approach would be far more risky. To account for this, split models would be more appropriate, with strategies tailored according to local importance of a title and the appetite for home rental and retail, according to Ampere.

Ampere’s research revealed that a theatrical to direct-to-consumer model is likely to be more feasible than a pure D2C model (bypassing theatrical entirely). However, both approaches are dependent on numerous influencing factors. Whether the model suits any given title is contingent on the retention of any new subscribers who signed up to watch the movie, and therefore the strategy is reliant on keeping both wider catalogue costs, and subscriber churn rates, down, according to Ampere.

“Looking forward, Ampere believes some of the major studios will adopt split strategies that can utilize PVOD while maintaining the benefits of theatrical distribution,” said Ampere analyst Peter Ingram in a statement. “Most of the studios have been experimenting with strategies during lockdown that completely eschew the theatrical window. However, despite the change we are expecting to the cinema market, theatrical remains one of the best revenue streams for titles throughout their life cycle. Not only do most people see the film in its theatrical window, but tickets are charged on an individual basis. By comparison, when a film is bought via PVOD, or watched via an SVOD service, it can be shared with friends and family under a single transaction.”

James Cameron’s Story of Science-Fiction

DVD REVIEW: 

Street Date 7/28/20;
RLJ;
Documentary;
$34.97 DVD or Blu-ray;
Not Rated.
Featuring James Cameron, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott.

This six-episode documentary series hosted by filmmaker James Cameron should prove a fascinating viewing experience for any fan of the title genre, primarily due to the high-caliber talent on display sharing their insights on the topic.

The series is structured with each episode taking on a different topic within the genre: “Alien Life,” “Space Exploration,” “Monsters,” “Dark Futures,” “Intelligent Machines” and “Time Travel.” They run a shade over 40 minutes each on disc, long enough to fill an hour-long time slot when commercials are added in (the series originally aired on AMC in 2018).

Much of the series follows a typical documentary format tracing the history of the episode’s topic, with analysis from various talking heads in the form of critics, authors, actors and filmmakers. Particular emphasis is placed on the various social, political and philosophical underpinnings of various sci-fi stories throughout history. One primary thesis that arises is the notion that science-fiction isn’t about predicting the future, it’s about choosing our future — an observation that demonstrates why there’s still considerable value to older sci-fi tales that might otherwise seem outdated.

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But the heart of the program involves Cameron sitting for a series of one-on-one interviews with other high-profile directors as they discuss each others work (with no shortage of praise for one another, as could be expected). The stories the directors tell range from the oft-repeated tales that every fan knows, to interesting insights into what guided certain filmmaking decisions, such as how Steven Spielberg adapted much of his childhood into Close Encounters and E.T.

The discussion with George Lucas raises some eyebrows during the A.I. episode, when Cameron says so many movies depict the machines as bad guys, leading to Lucas stating that’s why he decided to depict robots as the good guys in “Star Wars” — the pair apparently sidestepping the fact that Lucas made three “Star Wars” films in which the good guys fought entire armies of evil robots.

Still, the conversations are fun to watch and the various TV and movie clips offer enough nostalgia that any viewer should find something to like.

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The bonus section includes extended interviews with Spielberg, Lucas, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith and Sigourney Weaver. These run about three to four minutes each.

Season Two of ‘The Terror’ on Disc Aug. 18 From Lionsgate

Lionsgate will release The Terror: Infamy, the second season of the critically acclaimed AMC anthology series, on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Aug. 18.

Executive produced by Alexander Woo, Ridley Scott, Guymon Casady, Alexandra Milchan, David W. Zucker and Jordan Sheehan, and written by Max Borenstein, The Terror: Infamy deals with World War II-era Japanese-Americans on Southern California’s Terminal Island who are menaced by a “bakemono,” or folkloric specter.

Suffering forced evictions and imprisonment after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Terminal Islanders are hounded by prejudice and injustice, as well as bad omens and bizarre deaths. One of them, Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio), decides to take on the malevolent entity, journeying to realms of evil in both the present and the distant past.

The cast also includes Kiki Sukezane, Naoko Mori, Miki Ishikawa, and George Takei.

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Shudder’s ‘Belzebuth’ to Come Out on Disc, Digital and VOD July 7 From RLJE

RLJE Films, a business unit of AMC Networks, has picked up select rights to Belzebuth from Shudder, AMC Networks’ streaming service for horror, thriller and the supernatural.

The title will be released on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray on July 7.

Belzebuth is Emilio Portes’ (Pastorela) fourth feature film and first horror film, from a script co-written by Portes and Luis Carlos Fuentes (“Kipatla”). The horror/thriller stars Joaquín Cosio (“Narcos: Mexico,” The Lone Ranger), Tobin Bell (Saw franchise), and Tate Ellington (Sinister 2). The film premiered at the 50th Sitges Film Festival and received Best Picture at 2019 Santiago Horror Film Festival and Best Special Effects at 2019 Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre. 

In Belzebuth, Special Agent Emanuel Ritter leads a police investigation into a series of shocking deaths. But after a priest from the Vatican finds a link between the murders and an ancient demon, a descent into horror ensues.

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Season One of ‘Creepshow’ Coming to Digital and Disc From RLJE

RLJE Films has picked up select rights to season one of “Creepshow” from parent AMC Networks’ Shudder streaming service and will release it June 2 digitally, and on DVD and Blu-ray.

The six-episode season of the horror-comedy from showrunner Greg Nicotero (“The Walking Dead”) stars Tobin Bell (Saw franchise), Adrienne Barbeau (Escape From New York), Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”), Cailey Fleming (“The Walking Dead”), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi (Bill & Ted Face the Music), DJ Qualls (“The Man in the High Castle”), Bruce Davison (X-Men), David Arquette (Scream franchise), Dana Gould (“Stan Against Evil”) and Tricia Helfer (“Battlestar Galactica”).

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The new anthology series is based on George A. Romero’s 1982 horror comedy film. A comic book comes to life in a series of 12 vignettes over six episodes, exploring terrors from murder to the supernatural and unexplainable, including haunted dollhouses, werewolves, murderous goblins, villainous trick-or-treaters, the dead and medical marvels.

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The six episodes were directed by Greg Nicotero (“The Walking Dead”), Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), John Harrison (Book of Blood), Rob Schrab (“Community”), David Bruckner (The Ritual) and Roxanne Benjamin (Body at Brighton Rock).

Bonus materials include more than three hours of interviews, featurettes and behind-the-scenes footage, audio commentary tracks with the cast and crew for each of the episodes, and a 24-page comic art booklet.

Update (5/12/20): The original street date of May 19 was changed to June 2 by RLJ.