More Fox, Disney Layoffs — Five Months After Closure of Sale

Two days after Media Play News reported head of marketing Julia Howe as the latest high-profile 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment departure, multiple sources Aug. 29 said the company — now owned by the Walt Disney Co. — has been racked by more layoffs, including division veterans Jennifer Chai and Kavita Smith.

Jennifer Chai

Chai held the title of SVP of worldwide brand marketing for the home entertainment arm. She led worldwide brand marketing and strategy for the entire Fox new release theatrical slate and third-party titles for both the physical and digital business. She also was involved with the cross-studio Movies Anywhere service as well as other digital strategic initiatives. Chai has been at Fox since 2000, joining after three years as brand manager at what was then Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the Walt Disney Co.’s home entertainment arm.

Smith was VP, global marketing communications and publicity. According to her LinkedIn profile, she joined Fox as director of publicity in November 2005 and was elevated to executive director in September 2012. She was promoted to VP in August 2014. She will stay on through October, sources said.

Reports say the layoffs — nearly 60 — have occurred in both the home entertainment and TV distribution divisions, encompassing both Disney and Fox employees. 20th Century Fox TV Distribution EVP of worldwide marketing Greg Drebin also is exiting.

Fox president of worldwide home entertainment Keith Feldman is staying on with Disney, sources told Media Play News, although his contract has not been finalized.

Howe is said to be leaving the company in November.

The new departures come on the heels of previous high-profile exits in the wake of the Disney acquisition.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Mike Dunn, for years the top home entertainment executive at 20th Century Fox, was among a handful of high-ranking studio executives to leave the studio on March 21, a day after the acquisition closed.

A short time later, Janice Marinelli, head of home entertainment at Disney, set up an office at Fox, reportedly to acquaint herself with the studio’s home entertainment team and see how they operate. But July 16 the 34-year Disney veteran announced her exit.

Also in July, veteran division publicist James Finn, who recently had become co-head of marketing, quietly announced his departure in an email to friends and colleagues. “For nearly 20 years I’ve called Fox my home,” he wrote. “Thank you to my colleagues, my mentors, my family, my friends and my team for making it so much fun.”

After Fox’s sale to Disney closed in March, reports surfaced that as many as 4,000 people could ultimately lose their jobs.

Fox Fetes ‘Mayans M.C.’ Season One DVD

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment celebrated the DVD release of FX’s Mayans M.C.: The Complete First Season with a party Aug. 18 at Heroes Motors in Los Angeles. “Mayans M.C.” is the next chapter in Kurt Sutter’s “Sons of Anarchy” saga. The show takes place in the same fictional universe, and deals with the Sons’ rivals-turned-allies, the Mayans Motorcycle Club. (Photos by Dan Steinberg)

‘Booksmart’ Matriculates to Digital Aug. 20, Disc Sept. 3 From Fox

The teen coming-of-age comedy Booksmart will come out on digital Aug. 20 and Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 3 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, the unfiltered comedy follows best friends and academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) who realize they’ve missed out on pretty much all fun during high school. On the eve of graduation, they decide to make up for lost time with one wild adventure. The film also stars Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Billie Lourd and Jason Sudeikis.

Disc bonus features include audio commentary by Wilde, “Booksmart: The Next ‘Best High School Comedy,’” “Pliés and Jazz Hands: The Dance Fantasy,” “Dressing Booksmart,” deleted scenes and a photo gallery.

The film made $22.2 million at the domestic box office.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Analyst: Netflix to Weather Content Migration — For Now

With Netflix set to release second-quarter (ended June 30) financial results on July 17, Michael Pachter, analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles and longtime Netflix bear, contends the subscription streaming video pioneer will add 5.3 million subscribers, including 300,000 in the United States.

The tally surprisingly exceeds Wall Street consensus and Netflix’s projection of 5 million new subs, including 4.7 million international subs.

Pachter argues that despite media attention to the departures of popular TV reruns “Friends” and “The Office” from Netflix in two years, the service has more than enough content in the pipeline and willingness to spend big on new programming to weather the storm.

“Friends” and “The Office” account for an estimated 5% of all viewing on Netflix, leaving other content that accounts for 95% of viewing on Netflix in place.

Indeed, Netflix launched 21 new shows in Q2, excluding 13 returning series. That compared to six news series and 17 returning series in the previous-year period.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

At the same time, content from NBC Universal, Fox, Disney and Warner Bros. currently accounts for upwards of 65% of Netflix viewing hours, according to Wedbush.

Pachter expects the migration of third-party content away from Netflix to competing platforms to be relatively slow and is unclear whether the service can successfully replace it with quantity and quality to keep its subscribers loyal.

“We think it is likely that Netflix will pay whatever it takes to attract high quality content and believe its competitors will be slow to gain scale,” Pachter wrote in a note. “Thus, we expect the status quo to be largely maintained until the end of 2021. For now, Netflix provides tremendous value for its subscribers.”

‘Tolkien’ to Arrive on Digital July 23, Disc Aug. 6 From Fox

Tolkien, about the life of the famous “The Lord of the Rings” author, will come out on digital (including Movies Anywhere) July 23 and Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 6 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The biopic follows the early years of J.R.R Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) from the halls of Oxford to the grim and bloody trenches of World War I. It also traces the relationships that defined the legendary author he would become, chronicling his romance with Edith Brant (Lily Collins), as well as the various members of the Tea Club, Barrovian Society.

Special features include deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Dome Karukoski and audio commentary by Karukoski.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Hulu CEO Eyes Ad Growth, Clarity Under Disney Ownership

With Disney agreeing to acquire Comcast’s 33% stake in Hulu, the subscription streaming video service with 28 million subscribers is now under the direction of one company instead of four (Disney, Fox, Comcast, WarnerMedia).

In an interview with CNBC, Hulu CEO Randy Freer said consolidation among the platform’s corporate owners offers increased clarity on the service’s objectives, strategic planning and voice going forward.

Randy Freer

“We’re super excited about the opportunity,” Freer said.

The executive added that Disney’s plan to incorporate Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+ into a possible SVOD bundle sold to consumers and distributors offers additional opportunities.

“I think it’s another way for Hulu to extend and grow its already fast-growing subscriber base,” Freer said.

With Hulu the only major SVOD service streaming advertising on its basic subscription plan, Freer said marketers are looking for consumer access in over-the-top video ecosystem dominated by ad-free players Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

“I think the opportunity at Hulu … with huge audiences … long engagement times, a young audience, 20-to- 25 years younger than network television … is a huge for brands to come in and talk to the consumers that they’re looking to reach the most,” he said.

At the same time, Freer cautioned that marketing Hulu as a service with half the ads of broadcast TV is not “okay anymore.”

“We have to find new ways to integrate brands into the ad,” he said.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Indeed, Hulu has launched a number of new ad formats, including “pause ads,” which displays a static ad when a viewer pauses programming; and “Friends with Benefits” featuring “Easter eggs” hidden on the site that offer special deals from brand partners when clicked.

“There [are] all kinds of ways to make the customer experience on Hulu better than any of our competitors,” Freer said. “And we can’t forget that the most important thing to consumers is choice. What’s more important is giving them the option of an ad service and the option of an ad-free service so they can determine what’s the best experience to view things.”

Animated Film ‘Missing Link’ Coming to Digital July 9, Disc July 23 From Fox

Missing Link, the newest stop-motion animated feature from Laika, arrives on digital July 9 and Blu-ray and DVD July 23 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana and Zach Galifianakis lead the voice cast in the adventure from the makers of Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings. Jackman is Sir Lionel Frost, a brave and dashing adventurer who considers himself to be the world’s foremost investigator of myths and monsters. The trouble is no one else seems to agree. Galifianakis is Mr. Link. As species go, he’s as endangered as they get; he’s possibly the last of his kind, he’s lonely, and he believes that Sir Lionel is the one man alive who can help him. Along with the independent and resourceful Adelina Fortnight (Saldana), who possesses the only known map to the group’s secret destination, the unlikely trio embarks on a journey to seek out Link’s distant relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Disc extras include commentary by director Chris Butler; “Creating Mr. Link”; “Bringing the Final Battle on the Ice Bridge to Life”; animation inspiration w/optional commentary by Butler; a VFX breakdown reel; “Oh What a Mystery: Pulling the Camera Back on Missing Link’s Magic”; “Making Faces”; “Inside the Magic of Laika”; and a photo gallery.

Faith Film ‘Breakthrough’ Breaks Out on Digital July 2, Disc July 16

The faith-based film Breakthrough will come out on digital July 2 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD July 16 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

In the film, when Joyce Smith’s (Chrissy Metz, “This Is Us”) adopted son John (Marcel Ruiz) falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope seems lost as John lies lifeless. In the face of every bleak medical case history and dire scientific prediction, Joyce’s unwavering belief inspires her community to pray for John’s recovery.

Along with producer DeVon Franklin (Miracles from Heaven), the film was adapted for the screen by Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds) from Joyce Smith’s book (The Impossible). The film also stars Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), Topher Grace (“That ‘70s Show”), Mike Colter (“Luke Cage”), Sam Trammell (“This is Us”) and Dennis Haysbert (“24”).

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The film has been awarded the Dove Seal of Approval for all ages.

Extras on the discs include a making of featurette; “Carry My Soul,” a Phil Wickham deleted scene with optional audio commentary by Franklin and director Roxann Dawson; “Trapped in Icy Waters”; audio commentary by Franklin and Dawson; and a photo gallery.

OTT Video’s Growing Secret: Sports Gambling

Over-the-top video is developing a lucrative relationship with legalized sports gambling — thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a ban on sports gambling a year ago.

Fubo TV and FanDuel Group May 23 announced a partnership that will make FanDuel the exclusive sportsbook, online casino, horse racing and DFS (distributed file system) partner of the live TV streaming service. The companies have also signed a media buy, which makes FanDuel the exclusive advertiser on fuboTV in these categories.

The agreement is FanDuel Group’s first partnership with an online TV service and will expand fuboTV’s sports offering for consumers while integrating betting data on the fubo platform.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

In addition, horse racing networks TVG and TVG2 (and FanDuel affiliates), will also be available to fuboTV subscribers nationwide. TVG will be added to Fubo’s 90+ channels ($54.99/month after seven day free trial), and TVG2 will be available through the Sports Plus add-on package of nearly 25 channels ($8.99/month).

With these channels, fuboTV subs will have access to horse racing industry coverage, in addition to expanded programming on sports betting and fantasy news, including TVG’s sports betting focused pre-game show, “More Ways to Win.”

“We are always looking for ways to add value for consumers and enhance their premium experience with fuboTV,” Min Kim, VP of business development at Fubo, said in a statement. “Gaming and sports are natural complements.”

Indeed, Disney-owned ESPN earlier this month announced it was partnering with Caesars Entertainment to build a branded studio in Las Vegas. The studio will offer sport-betting-related content on ESPN and ESPN+, the newly-launched SVOD service.

“The sports betting landscape has changed, and fans are coming to us for this kind of information more than ever before,” said Mike Morrison, VP of business development at ESPN. “We are poised to expand our coverage in a big way.”

In February, WarnerMedia Entertainment inked a deal with Caesars Entertainment to build a branded Vegas studio for its Bleacher Report (B/R) platform.

Fox Sports on May 8 became the first major media company in the U.S. to acquire a stake in sports gambling after paying $236 million  for a 5% ownership of The Stars Group.

“Digital sports wagering represents a growing market opportunity that allows us to diversify our revenue streams, connect directly with consumers and expand the reach of the Fox Sports brand,” said Eric Shanks, CEO of Fox Sports.

Adam Kaplan, VP of content business & operations at FanDuel, said the company’s data analytics will change how people watch sports on TV.

“We can enhance the live-viewing experience by allowing cord-cutting sports fans to view the content that matters to them the most from their TV, phone, tablet or computer,” Kaplan said.

Regardless of its legality, Disney CEO Bob Iger, speaking on the recent fiscal call, was quick to deflect the family-based media giant’s tacit support for gambling.

“We’ve already done some [gambling-related] things that we would integrate it into our programming, but not to the extent that we would be facilitating gambling as an entity,” Iger said. “In other words, we’ll provide programming that will, I guess, be designed to enlighten people who are betting on sports. But that’s as far as we would go. We just don’t intend to go into the gambling business.”

Ted Sarandos: Most-Watched Netflix Shows are Originals

Much attention has been given to major media companies such as Disney, NBC Universal and WarnerMedia pulling back content licensing to Netflix for their own branded over-the-top video platforms — and what impact that would have on the SVOD juggernaut.

Not much, according to CCO Ted Sarandos, who says the streaming service has anticipated such changing market dynamics for the past seven years.

Speaking on the April 16 fiscal webcast, Sarandos said CEO Reed Hastings and others long ago concluded Netflix’s future required streaming original scripted series, unscripted series, feature films, documentaries, standup comedy and children’s programming.

“And that’s what we set out to do,” he said.

Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos

Longtime Netflix bear Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, contends about 80% Netflix’s content license deals with WarnerMedia (“Friends”) and NBC Universal (“The Office”) expire in 2020.

Subscribe HERE to FREE Media Play Daily Newsletter!

Disney’s exclusive feature film agreement ends this year. Netflix’s recently cancelled Marvel Defenders Universe series, which included “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “The Punisher,” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist.”

“Netflix can thrive in the face of new [OTT video] competition only if it has the content to compete,” Pachter wrote in an April 17 note, aptly named, “Netflix: 57 channels (and Nothin’ On).”

Hastings characterizes any comeback strategy aimed at filling in exiting studio content with similar programming as “very minimalist.”

“You look at [global nature series] “Our Planet,” that’s not filling in for anything else, that’s setting a bold new vision of what programming can be,” he said.

Sarandos said Netflix original interactive series “You vs. Wild” has been streamed by about 25 million households in its first 28 days of release. Pending releases include Klaus, Netflix’s first animated feature film from veteran animator Sergio Pablos, and “Green Eggs and Ham,” an Ellen DeGeneres-produced 13-episode animated series.

“It’s pushing storytelling forward, which I think we’re trying,” he said.

The longtime content executive contends most TV programming is largely interchangeable. Netflix’s focus, according to Sarandos, is original programming (such as India’s “Sacred Games,” and “Love Per Square Foot,”) targeting local audiences that can appeal globally as well.

“If you look at our Top 10 most-watched shows on Netflix, they’re all Netflix original brands,” he said, adding that only four TV series among the service’s Top 25 have at least one season available elsewhere.

“It’s hard to imagine a couple of years ago when Fox said, ‘sunset all of their second-window content on Netflix off of the service to focus on their own efforts,’ and we’ve seen how we’ve been doing since 2017, so we’re pretty happy about it,” Sarandos said.

So is Wall Street, which lifted Netflix shares nearly 3% in April 17 pre-market trading.