Disney, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Halt Theatrical Releases in Russia Due to Ukraine Invasion

With the Russian army’s unprovoked military invasion into democratically controlled Ukraine intensifying, The Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures reportedly plan to halt releasing new theatrical releases in Russia going forward. The decision impacts the pending Pixar Animation release Turning Red, which is set to bow on the Disney+ streaming platform in the U.S., but in theaters in regions like Russia that does not yet have the SVOD service.

The studios’ Feb. 28 action follows economic sanctions imposed by Western countries, companies and the European Union in response to the escalating global crisis after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into neighboring Ukraine.

“Given the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the tragic humanitarian crisis, we are pausing the release of theatrical films in Russia,” Disney said in a media statement.

The company said that future business decisions would be based on the evolving situation. In the meantime, Disney said that given the scale of the emerging refugee crisis, it is working with non-government partners to provide aid and other humanitarian assistance to refugees.

Separately, Warner Bros. Pictures’ parent company WarnerMedia said it would halt releasing this weekend’s The Batman in Russian theaters.

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“In light of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, WarnerMedia is pausing the release of its feature film The Batman in Russia,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves. We hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to this tragedy.”

Sony Pictures joined the growing Hollywood bandwagon announcing that pending release Morbius would not be released in Russian theaters. The decision has impact considering that the studio’s previous release, Spider-Man: No Way Home, generated a reported $45 million at the Russian box office.

“Given the ongoing military action in Ukraine and the resulting uncertainty and humanitarian crisis unfolding in that region, we will be pausing our planned theatrical releases in Russia,” Sony said in a media statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been impacted and hope this crisis will be resolved quickly.”

Over the weekend, Google-owned YouTube and Facebook announced they would block Russian state media outlet RT and other pro-Russian channels from their platforms. Netflix said it would skip streaming 20 free-to-air channels despite Russian regulator Roskomnadzor mandating that any foreign service with more than 100,000 subscribers do so.

“Given the current situation, we have no plans to add these channels to our service,” Netflix said in a statement.

Susanne Daniels Departing as YouTube Exits Original Content Business

Susanne Daniels, the veteran global head of original content at Google-owned YouTube, is reportedly exiting the streamer in March after six years in the position. In a media statement, Daniels said she looked forward “new adventures ahead.”

Separately, YouTube announced it is exiting the original content business, continuing to fund original programming for Black Voices and children going forward, according to Robert Kyncl, chief business officer at YouTube.

“We will honor our commitment for already contracted shows in progress and creators who are involved with those shows should expect to hear from us directly in the coming days,” Kyncl said in a statement.

Susanne Daniels

Daniels is best known for shepherding the launch of the “Karate Kid” franchise continuation “Cobra Kai” on YouTube in 2018. Netflix acquired the rights in 2020, later greenlighting a third and fourth season. It is now one of the streamer’s most-popular series in terms of hours streamed, with a combined 190+million hours viewed through Jan. 9.

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“YouTube’s the biggest and best video platform in the world and what an exciting and tremendous experience I’ve had working to create meaningful programming for global users of all ages and backgrounds,” Daniels said. “I’m so proud that our content could contribute to the ongoing growth and success of this remarkable platform.”

Roku, Google End Dispute, Ink New Carriage Agreement

Roku and Google have ended a reportedly contentious negotiation and signed a new multiyear carriage deal for distribution of the latter’s YouTube and YouTube TV properties on the Roku platform. The existing contract was set to expire Dec. 9.

Roku, with 56.4 million active accounts through Sept. 30, remains a vital conduit linking third-party streaming video services with consumers on their television. In exchange, Roku either collects percentage of the subscription fees and/or access to user data.

It is the latter that apparently irked Google, resulting in a yearlong war of words between the search behemoth and SVOD co-pioneer (with Netflix). While YouTube remains the largest social video platform in the world, YouTube TV relies on consumer awareness to grow its reported 3 million to 4 million subscriber base.

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“Roku and Google have agreed to a multiyear extension for both YouTube and YouTube TV. This agreement represents a positive development for our shared customers, making both YouTube and YouTube TV available for all streamers on the Roku platform,” a Roku spokesperson said in a statement.

Roku’s carriage terms have met resistance from other media companies, which resulted in both HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock SVOD service launching without Roku support. The lack of visibility on the platform hurt both services’ subscriber growth out of the gate, leading WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal to quietly iron out their differences and sign distribution deals.

Comscore to Provide Connected TV Measurement for YouTube and YouTube TV

Comscore Aug. 9 announced it will be including YouTube and YouTube TV measurement into its cross-platform service, Comscore Campaign Ratings. The pact with the Google-owned platforms will help Comscore provide marketers with a better understanding of how audiences are consuming content on YouTube and YouTube TV across desktop, mobile, and connected TVs.

Comscore data metrics provides advertisers and agencies with a deduplicated view of reach and frequency across linear TV, OTT/CTV, PC and mobile inventory. This includes measurement for co-viewers on OTT/CTV. The new capability will pave the way for advertisers and agencies to understand combined co-viewing for YouTube and YouTube TV across OTT/CTV as well as incremental reach to their linear TV buys, providing total cross-platform ad measurement.

“People are watching more YouTube than ever — on mobile, on laptops, and especially on our fastest growing screen, the TV, and we want to ensure advertisers can measure their reach across all devices with third-party partners like Comscore,” Debbie Weinstein, VP of global solutions for YouTube, said in a statement. “We also know people are choosing to watch their favorite YouTube content on connected TVs with others, and the inclusion of co-viewing in this new integration will allow advertisers to understand the full scale of the audience they’re able to reach through YouTube CTV campaigns.”

The rise of streaming on CTV devices continues to create new opportunities for advertisers to reach viewers. Amid such growth and with the proliferation of streaming video services, the addition of YouTube and YouTube TV to Comscore will enable one of the largest advertising sources for modern cross-platform measurement.  As previously published by Comscore, more than 80% of CTV reach in the U.S. falls on only five streaming services — and only two are ad-supported.

“This is a critical milestone for Comscore and for the industry,” said Comscore CEO Bill Livek. “Our clients are placing a large portion of their advertising spend with YouTube, and they need a holistic view of how that spend is performing relative to the entire media mix.”

Livek previously headed home entertainment distributor Rentrak, which was acquired by Comscore in 2016.

Google Services (i.e. YouTube) Ups Q2 Revenue 63% to $57 Billion

Google reported second-quarter (ended June 30) services revenue of $57 billion, an 63% increase from revenue of $35 billion in the previous-year period. Operating income skyrocketed 135% to $22.3 billion from $9.5 billion.

Google Services generates revenue primarily from advertising; sales of apps, in-app purchases, digital content products, and hardware; and fees received for subscription-based products such as YouTube Premium and online subscription-based YouTube TV — the No. 2 online TV platform behind Disney’s Hulu + Live TV.

Indeed, YouTube ad revenue alone topped $7 billion in the quarter.

Overall, Alphabet net income shot up 164% to $18.5 billion from $8.9 billion in the previous-year period. Revenue increased 62% to $61.9 billion, from $38.2 billion in the year-ago period.

“In Q2, there was a rising tide of online activity in many parts of the world, and we’re proud that our services helped so many consumers and businesses,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and corporate parent Alphabet, said in a statement.

Multiple States Join Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google Play Store, Citing Pending 30% Sales Commission Hike

Nearly 70% of the U.S. state attorneys general have reportedly joined an antitrust lawsuit filed July 7 against Google and its branded Google Play Store. The suit, which was filed in California federal court, alleges Google is exercising monopoly power with a planned September 30% commission hike on third-party sales of digital goods, i.e. movies and TV shows, in addition to subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ and Hulu.

Lead states in the suit include Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee, New York, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska — underscoring a trend among conservative states taking on Silicon Valley tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple alleging political bias.

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But this suit, similar to litigation filed against Apple’s App Store, is calling out the company’s gatekeeper tactics as non-competitive. Google also faces separate litigation from myriad states regarding its search engine and advertising technology.

Most studios, media companies and over-the-top video platforms use Google and Apple to market their apps to consumers. Apple mandates that anyone using a branded iOS device must access third-party apps through its App Store. For Android device users, Google Play Store has become the default search tool, although consumers can access apps via alternative channels such as Amazon and Samsung.

Google last year began informing companies and services that it would begin enforcing their use of its payment system for all transactions, beginning in September. As the deadline approached companies such as Netflix and Spotify cried foul, which led to Google reportedly proposing a 15% commission on the first $1 million in revenue from video, audio and e-book transactions.

While Apple continues to operate in a closed system, Google does not — a reality Wilson White, senior director of government affairs and public policy at Google noted in written testimony submitted April 21 to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

In his testimony, Wilson argued that use of the Android mobile operating system, which launched in 2008, is free to anyone and has increased third-party competition as a valuable go-to platform for e-commerce, development and marketing.

More importantly, Wilson contends Google operates the Play Store outside of a bubble.

“Distributors can distribute their app via many other Android app stores, directly to OEMs, or through direct downloads on their websites,” he wrote. “And developers are free to contract directly with device makers [i.e. mobile phone, tablet manufacturers] to preload their apps on Android devices.”

Ava DuVernay’s Array and Google Offering Grant to Underrepresented Filmmakers

Array, founded in 2011 by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, has announced a partnership with Google to offer emerging creatives from historically underrepresented communities the opportunity to apply for a $500,000 feature film grant.

Array is a  grassroots distribution, arts and advocacy collective focused on amplifying work by people of color and women. The Array + Google Feature Film Grant, which will provide funds to produce the recipient’s first full-length feature film, was instituted as a way to help build a more equitable and inclusive artistic community of diverse storytellers.

“Having started my filmmaking journey by self-funding projects, this is a full-circle moment,” DuVernay said in a statement. “I’m pleased to partner with Google and Array’s grant advisory committee to identify an emerging writer/director to bring their vision to the screen. Inclusive storytelling is at the heart of Array’s mission and we’re proud to also provide access to Array Crew in order to further ensure that the set of the grantee’s film reflects the full array of the world around us.”

The recipient of this mentorship and filmmaking opportunity will be selected by an advisory committee within the independent filmmaking community, including Gabrielle Glore (Urbanworld, festival director and head of programming), Francis Cullado (Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, executive director for visual communications media), Crystal Echo Hawk (IllumiNative, founder and executive director), María Rauqel Bozzi (senior director of education and international initiatives at Film Independent), and Smriti Kiran (artistic director, Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival).

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“We live and breathe filmmaking at Array. For the past decade we have had the opportunity to amplify the work of so many stellar women and filmmakers of color, and the opportunity to partner with Google on this grant is the start of a strong partnership,” Array president Tilane Jones said in a statement. “We are so lucky to have Crystal, Gabrielle, Francis, Maria and Smriti on our advisory committee and be working with every pillar of Array to produce and distribute this project.”

“We’re honored to help Array showcase talented creatives from underrepresented communities and to add volume to more diverse voices,” Elle Roth-Brunet, Google Assistant’s entertainment partnerships lead and producer on the project, said in a statement. “The Array + Google Feature Film Grant is intrinsically aligned with Google Assistant’s commitment to speak with a diverse set of voices, and connect with more people to help in their everyday lives.”

The production will be powered by Array Crew, the database created by DuVernay as a way for hiring managers in search of below-the-line hires to access underrepresented film and television professionals, including but not limited to women and BIPOC individuals of African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island decent. The platform currently has more than 6,000 qualified members and more than 300 productions across 450 departments. Array Crew includes grips, lighting directors, production designers, costume designers, sound technicians, production accountants, hair stylists, VFX designers, foley artists, ADR mixers, animal trainers, food stylists, choreographers, scenic painters, toolmen, fabric buyers, stitchers, ADR editors, graphic designers, SFX makeup and more.

CPO Neal Mohan: 41% of AVOD Consumption Happens on YouTube

NEWS ANALYSIS — As the ad-supported VOD market skyrockets, including adoption of a new FAST acronym (free ad-supported streaming television), major media companies are clamoring to get a seat on the bandwagon.

“Not so fast,” would appear to be the advice of Neal Mohan, chief product officer of YouTube, who, in a March 10 blog post following comments given at the IAB leadership event, contends the Google-owned streaming platform already has dominant market share in the AVOD ecosystem.

YouTube CPO Neal Mohan

Mohan says 41% of all ad-supported VOD viewing is currently done on YouTube, a reasonable assessment considering the platform, along with Netflix, literally created the streaming video market.

According to eMarketer, more than 106 million U.S. households are projected to watch streaming content in 2021, surpassing pay-TV.  More than 82% of Internet-connected TV reach occurs through five streaming services: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney+, according to Comscore. Only two of the platforms sell ads: Hulu and YouTube.

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“All of this makes clear how Internet-connected TV has opened a significant new chapter for video on YouTube and beyond,” Mohan wrote.

The executive claims 70% of YouTube viewers have purchased products advertised on the platform. Last December, more than 120 million people in the U.S. streamed YouTube or YouTube TV on their TV screens.

“There’s another interesting viewing behavior emerging,” Mohan wrote. “A new generation of viewers chooses to watch YouTube primarily on the TV screen: Also in December, over a quarter of logged-in YouTube CTV viewers in the U.S. watched content almost exclusively on the TV screen.”

Google this month will roll out YouTube Shorts, a mobile phone-centric platform that aims to compete with TikTok, enabling creators and artists to shoot snappy videos. Currently, Shorts is available in beta in India. Since the beginning of December, the number of Indian channels using Shorts creation tools has more than tripled, and the platform’s Shorts player is now receiving more than 3.5 billion daily views globally, according to the company.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll begin expanding the beta to the U.S., unlocking our tools to even more creators so they can get started with Shorts,” Mohan wrote.

YouTube TV Bows 4K Content, Will Launch Mobile Phone Video Tool to Compete With TikTok

Online TV platform YouTube TV has 3 million subscribers, 85 channels and access to the MLB World Series and the NFL, among other high-profile events. Now, the Google-owned platform is offering subs access to 4K content (4K HD TV required), offline content, and unlimited concurrent streams at home so the whole family can stream on different screens at once.

YouTube TV now supports a combination of SD, HD, 4K, VR, HDR and live video, as well as DVR on nearly every device with an Internet connection — from desktops to mobile, and gaming consoles to VR headsets.

“While the majority of YouTube videos are watched on mobile, our fastest area of growth is the TV,” Neal Mohan, chief product officer for YouTube, wrote in a blog post. “Later this year, we’ll launch a redesign of the YouTube VR app homepage to improve navigation, accessibility and search functionality.”

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Separately, Google in March will roll out YouTube Shorts, a mobile phone-centric platform that aims to compete with TikTok, enabling creators and artists to shoot snappy videos. Currently, Shorts is available in beta in India. Since the beginning of December, the number of Indian channels using Shorts creation tools has more than tripled, and the YouTube Shorts player is now receiving more than 3.5 billion daily views globally, according to the company.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll begin expanding the beta to the U.S., unlocking our tools to even more creators so they can get started with Shorts,” Mohan wrote.

Google Agrees to Pay News Corp. for Content in Landmark Media Boost

In a major shift, Google has signed a three-year deal with News Corp., agreeing to pay “significant payments” to the corporate parent to The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, New York Post, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun in the U.K., among others.

The deal also calls for development of a news-based subscription platform and revenue-sharing deals for advertising, audio journalism and video journalism on Google-owned YouTube.

News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said that the deal would have a positive impact on journalism around the globe having firmly established that there should be a premium for premium journalism.

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“I would like to thank [Google CEO] Sundar Pichai and his team who have shown a thoughtful commitment to journalism that will resonate in every country,” Thompson said. “This has been a passionate cause for our company for well over a decade and I am gratified that the terms of trade are changing, not just for News Corp, but for every publisher.”

Google for years has been accused of distributing proprietary content from news outlets around the world for free via its vaunted search engine. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was one of the first media companies to fight back, erecting pay walls and lobbying government pushback against Google, including in the U.S. Congress. Similar deals with Google have occurred following government fines in France and Australia.

Thompson credited the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, along with the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, for sticking up for news journalism and enabling providers the ability to get paid.

“The deal simply would not have been possible without the fervent, unstinting support of Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, and the News Corp board,” Thompson said. “For many years, we were accused of tilting at tech windmills, but what was a solitary campaign, a quixotic quest, has become a movement, and both journalism and society will be enhanced.”