Lionsgate Stock Jumps on Acquisition Scuttlebutt

Lionsgate’s stock took a mid-morning bounce Jan. 18 following media reports the studio/distributor is in the M&A crosshairs of media giants Amazon, Verizon, CBS and Viacom.

Shares increased 5% the day after a Deadline.com report – citing sources familiar with the situation – said the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company was in active merger discussions. Lionsgate shares have increased 20% in value since last November.

Lionsgate, which is headed by CEO Jon Feltheimer, has a box office hit in Wonder, which has generated $120 million at the box office since Thanksgiving. The studio ranks fourth in nascent domestic box office.

With Disney’s pending $52.4 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox, consolidation within the media industry has renewed interest as online powers Netflix and Amazon expand their entertainment prowess globally.

Lionsgate, which has a robust home entertainment business, in addition to multiple digital ventures, is also a major producer of television content. The company’s $4.4 billion purchase of Starz in 2016 underscoring further its presence in premium television.

The company has also expressed interest in ancillary revenue streams, including a theme park in South Korea and live theatrical productions – ventures that require significant capital investment.

Last August, Reuters reported merger negotiations between Lionsgate and Hasbro ended following an impasse on the price.

Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate, last month told CNBC the Disney/Fox pact was good news since it eliminates one competitor from the market, while further validating the value of content.

“I think Lionsgate actually thrives in chaos. You’re in a place right now where you are going to see serious consolidation out there,” Burns said.

Lionsgate reports third quarter results Feb. 8.

CES 2018 Mission: Improving the Home Entertainment Experience

More than 4,000 companies have arrived in Las Vegas for CES 2018, the world’s largest tech show, with many hoping to improve the home entertainment experience.

In addition to omnipresent television makers touting larger skinnier 4K UHD displays, CES promises myriad smart home enhancements – many featuring voice-activation.

With research firm Gartner predicting that, by 2019, at least 25% of households in developed economies would rely on digital assistants, competition to help people more easily consume anything from pizza to a movie from the comfort of the sofa has become fierce.

“Innovations such as voice control have increased consumer interest in solutions that enhance the entertainment experience,” said Elizabeth Parks, SVP at Parks Associates.

Google, for example, is coming to CES hoping to up its 25% market share of the smart speaker market, according to Strategy Analytics. Amazon Echo currently commands a 67% market share.

Both companies (and Apple) sell digital movies and TV shows, including 2014 sci-fi hit Ex Machina. Seems natural to order the Oscar-winner by voice-command.

“You should have the same assistant helping you across all the contexts of your life,” Scott Huffman, VP for Google Assistant, told The Washington Post, whose founder/CEO Jeff Bezos owns Amazon.

But what good is virtual assistance if you can’t live forever, looking like George Clooney?

Netflix has a solution, showcasing the pending original series “Altered Carbon,” which launches globally Feb. 2. The streaming giant “partnered” with PsychaSec, the fictional company whose tech underscores the cyberpunk sci-fi series about technological advances that allow one to extend life indefinitely – without arguably selling your soul to the Devil, a.k.a., “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Twentieth Century Fox, Panasonic and Samsung will present updates for HDR10+, the open-source High Dynamic Range platform Samsung began pushing last year to avoid paying HDR royalties to Dolby Vision.

Amazon Prime Video has already incorporated the enhanced 4K UHD format for original content “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” comedy “Jean-Claude Van Johnson,” and “The Tick,” among others.

Chinese TV manufacturer TCL Jan. 8 will announce plans to join Roku’s “Whole Home Entertainment Licensing Program,” a new platform enabling OEM brands to incorporate voice-activated Roku Connect software as a home entertainment network. TCL manufactures Roku-branded TVs.

“Consumers will love the benefits of … having more affordable options – using their voice, having a simplified set up and Wi-Fi connectivity, and holding just one remote control,” said Roku founder/CEO Anthony Wood.

Seeking to make sense of it all, Hulu CEO Randy Freer joins Turner CEO John Martin Jan. 10 on a keynote panel titled “Reimagining Television.” Freer and Martin are slated to discuss how technology companies are moving into content creation, while content companies are expanding digital distribution. The panel takes place at Monte Carlo’s Park Theater.

Finally, leave it to French furniture maker Miliboo to feature a smart sofa allowing users to wirelessly charge cell phones and related portable devices while watching TV.

Even smarter: The sofa tracks how long you’ve been a couch potato, while monitoring the effects on your body’s posture.

Fox, Panasonic, Samsung Push for Wider Adoption of HDR10+ Technology

Twentieth Century Fox, Panasonic and Samsung Jan. 5 announced updates for the proprietary High Dynamic Range platform called HDR10+ Samsung began pushing last year.

In the move towards advanced 4K ultra high-definition televisions, including higher resolution, frame rates and enhanced contrast, and color, adoption of High Dynamic Range has been limited to paying Dolby Vision or using HDR10 – an open-source format any CE manufacturer can use without paying a licensing fee.

The companies envision the updated metadata platform being made available to content companies, UHD TVs, Blu-ray Disc players/recorders and set-top box manufacturers, among others, in the new year.

Samsung and Amazon Prime Video last April first partnered on HDR10+, with Panasonic and Fox joining in August. Media reports suggest Netflix is considering implementing the format as well.

“It was important for us to create an open system that is flexible and offers a viewing experience much closer to the filmmaker’s creative intent for the film,” Danny Kaye, EVP of 20th Century Fox, and managing director of the Fox Innovation Lab, said in a statement. “Together with Samsung and Panasonic, we aim to standardize the licensing process making it easy for partners, including content creators, television and device manufacturers, to incorporate this technology and improve the viewing experience for all audiences.”

Companies attending CES 2018 in Las Vegas Jan. 9-12 can view the new logo, learn about the license program, including final specifications, adopter agreements and/or sign up to receive a notification when technical specifications for HDR10+ become available at http://www.hdr10plus.org.

 

Battle of the Sexes

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 1/2/18;
Fox;

Comedy-Drama;
Box Office $12.6 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some sexual content and partial nudity.
Stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Andrea Riseborough, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Natalie Morales.

The marketing materials for this high-profile sports film positioned it as a comedy, and it has been nominated as such in the corresponding categories for a slew of awards, including the Golden Globes.

But watching it yields one of those classic disconnects between expectations based on the trailers, and the film itself. While the film certainly has moments of levity, centered mostly on the performance of Steve Carell as aging tennis icon Bobby Riggs, whatever comedic elements come through are mostly due to how much of a farce the real-life event at the center of the story was, and how much Riggs acted like a clown trying to promote it.

Otherwise, the movie is mostly a straightforward biopic drama about tennis legend Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) discovering her sexuality while fighting to raise the stature of women’s tennis on the professional circuit

The key event of the title, of course, is the legendary 1973 exhibition match between 30-year-old King, at the time the world’s top female tennis player, and the 55-year-old Riggs, a ruthless self-promoter and gambling addict whose claim to fame was winning the three big titles (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) at Wimbledon in 1939, and who threw himself back into the spotlight by betting that even in his old age he could beat any top woman in the circuit.

And Riggs made good on his word, defeating Australian Margaret Court after King initially refused to play him and then stumbled in the rankings to push the Aussie star into the spotlight. In the aftermath of Court’s defeat and positioned to take on Riggs for the honor of all womanhood, King is portrayed as focused on practically nothing but training for her match with him, to the detriment of her regular tournament play, and relationships with her husband (Austin Stowell) and her lover (Andrea Riseborough).

Riggs, on the other hand, seems barely interested in the match at all, soaking up the publicity and sponsorship money in one long poolside party. It’s not until she starts to pull ahead of him in their match when he finally seems to care about the result, and I suppose it’s up to viewers to decide what lessons can be gleaned from the outcome following such a set-up, or if it does, in fact, support what many would infer as the obvious message of the film.

But these are fairly straightforward re-creations of historical events, and the film has a great look retro look about it, which has become something of a trend recently in period pieces. Where the film really shines is in conveying the idea that people should be true to themselves and accepting of others, and only then can societal barriers be torn down. It is here where the film has bigger fish to fry than the result of a highly publicized stunt.

Emma Stone disappears in the role, making it somewhat jarring to be reminded what the real King looked like when she turns up in archive footage in the bonus materials. She and Carell are captivating in their respective roles whenever they’re on screen pushing forward their separate storylines that eventually converge.

The Blu-ray includes an interesting behind-the-scenes featurette about the level of detail used by the filmmakers in re-creating the 1970s setting. They even brought on an old friend and coach of Riggs to train Carell to emulate Riggs’ playing style. The Blu-ray also includes an interview with the real-life King, plus raw footage of the filming of her entrance into the Astrodome for the big match.