The Hits Keep Coming as Summer Box Office Hopes Fade

Last week was one to forget for exhibitors, eager to re-start their business following months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. High-profile studio titles Mulan (Disney) and Tenet (Warner Bros.) were further delayed into August following renewed fears about COVID-19 infection spikes in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, among other areas.

Then came news on June 26 that the long-delayed third installment in MGM’s Orion Pictures’ “Bill & Ted” sci-fi adult comedy franchise Bill & Ted Face the Music, starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in their original roles, was being pushed back to Aug. 28 from Aug. 21 — the new date of the Mulan reschedule. Bill & Ted, about two metalhead slacker friends who travel through time, had been originally slated for Aug. 14. The original Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure launched in 1989, followed by Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1991 — both starring Reeves and Winter — and grossing $78 million ($149 million today) collectively in theaters.

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Over the weekend, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered bars closed again in Los Angeles and six other counties.

“This does not bode well for film and TV production, movie theaters, the restart of sports, including college athletics and theme parks,” Rich Greenfield with LightShed Partners, tweeted June 28.

Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter contends the box office won’t return to normal even as major chains such as AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, re-open screens next month.

“People may be eager to visit the theaters once they feel safe doing so, but we think it is unlikely crowds will return to any semblance of normal before a vaccine is widely distributed, particularly in urban and suburban markets,” Pachter wrote in a note.

Regardless, MGM has a lot riding on the movie, having just secured all remaining international territories (excluding China) for the movie from Endeavor Content. MGM had previously secured distribution in key international territories, including Germany, Greece, Latin America and the Middle East, among others. As part of the June 25 announced agreement, MGM will also distribute Face The Music throughout France, Italy, Spain, Japan, South Korea, Scandinavia, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Hungary, Turkey, Benelux, Bulgaria, Singapore and Romania.

“[The movie] is the perfect dose of fun and nostalgia and universally relatable in its message to ‘be excellent to each other,'” Chris Ottinger, who heads MGM’s international distribution and acquisitions division, said in a statement.

MGM Launches SVOD Service in South Africa

Seeking to expand its catalog of movies and TV shows internationally, MGM has launched a branded subscription streaming video-on-demand service dubbed “MGM” with South African mobile communications company Vodacom.

The service will be marketed as part of Vodacom’s Video Play Premium service, priced at R99 ($6.31), as well as a standalone options priced at R59 ($3.75) monthly; R25 ($1.60) weekly and R10 (64 cents) daily.

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Movies include The Hobbit trilogy, Legally Blonde, Get Shorty, The Pink Panther and Teen Wolf, as well as the TV series,”The Handmaid’s Tale,” among others.

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Netflix, Apple in Preliminary Talks About Possible MGM Acquisition

Both Netflix and Apple reportedly have had preliminary discussions with MGM, whose hedge fund owners have put out feelers for the studio’s storied catalog of movies, the “James Bond” movie franchise and a strong TV production business.

In the burgeoning subscription streaming video ecosystem, content is king. Netflix and Apple are on the opposite ends of the SVOD sphere with the former setting the bar when it comes to market penetration and content spending.

Yet both companies want expansive access to original and catalog content, especially Apple, which has entered the SVOD market relatively late — and with scant programming. Netflix, which has seen third-party catalog content migrate back to original holders’ branded streaming services, is looking for a big push back.

How better to do that than acquiring MGM Studios.

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CNBC, citing sources familiar with the situation, says MGM has shrewdly come back from bankruptcy in 2010, and is now worth a reported $10 billion, with its owners willing to sell.

Both Apple and Netflix have been largely absent from the merger & acquisition playing field. Apple most-recently spent $3 billion acquiring the Beats earphone brand.

In 2017, Netflix made its first M&A deal, acquiring Millarworld, the publishing company of comic book writer Mark Millar. In 2019, co-founder/CEO Reed Hastings said Netflix had “no big appetite” for major acquisitions.

“I don’t think investors have too much to worry about there,” Hastings said on the investor webcast last April. Indeed, neither Netflix or Apple are commenting on the MGM media reports.

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Regardless, MGM had revenue of more than $1 billion for the first nine months of the fiscal year (ended Sept. 30, 2019) consisting primarily of about $600 million in TV and film licensing revenue and $300 million from Epix subscriptions. The studio recorded pre-tax earnings of $123 million.

 

Comcast, Starz Ink New Carriage, Content Distribution Deal

Christmas came early for Starz, the Lionsgate-owned pay-TV and over-the-top video distributor.

Comcast Cable and Starz Dec. 23 announced they have entered into a long-term agreement for the continued carriage of the Starz networks on Xfinity TV as well as a new content deal between Lionsgate and NBCUniversal.

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“We are pleased that we were able to extend the partnership to Peacock and other businesses within Comcast while also ensuring Xfinity customers continue to enjoy great Starz programming,” Dana Strong, president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, said in a statement.

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The companies announced that NBCUniversal will license content from Lionsgate for Peacock, its streaming service launching in April 2020. Peacock will have access to hundreds of feature films and shows from the Lionsgate catalog to stream alongside the previously announced slate of original series, TV shows, and films from Universal and other major studios.

NBCUniversal will also license content to Starz to be featured in the U.S. and on its international streaming service, StarzPlay, now available in 49 countries worldwide.

The new pact represents a lifeline of sorts for Starz as Comcast remains one of the premium channel’s largest domestic distributors. Comcast had previously said it would replace Starz with MGM’s Epix platform is no agreement was in place by Dec. 31.

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Under the new agreement, the Starz flagship premium channel, as well as the Starz Encore suite of channels — including Encore, Encore Westerns, Encore Black, and Encore Action — and related video on demand content will continue to be available to Xfinity customers with expanded distribution on the Comcast Flex platform and a path for an orderly transition to an à la carte business.

“We look forward to continuing our longstanding partnership with Comcast to deliver great content and great value to our customers,” said Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch. “Our ongoing relationship with Comcast reflects our ability to unlock opportunities across all of our businesses to the benefit of our subscribers.”

Animated ‘Addams Family’ Due Digitally Dec. 24, on Disc Jan. 21

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release MGM’s animated adaptation of The Addams Family through digital retailers Dec. 24, and on Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Jan. 21.

Based on the kooky comic strip characters created by Charles Addams, The Addams Family puts the eccentric and unconventional family in the spotlight as they move to a bland suburb, where Wednesday Addams’ friendship with the daughter of a local reality show host causes tension between the families.

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The voice cast includes Oscar Isaac as Gomez, Charlize Theron as Morticia, Chloë Grace Moretz as Wednesday, Finn Wolfhard as Pugsley, Nick Kroll as Uncle Fester, Snoop Dogg as It, Bette Midler as Grandma and Allison Janney as Margaux Needler.

The film has earned $96.4 million at the domestic box office.

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Home video extras include deleted and extended scenes; a Christina Aguilera “Haunted Heart” lyric video; a “My Family” lyric video featuring Migos, Karol G, Rock Mafia and Snoop Dogg; an “Addams Family Throwback” featurette; a “Welcome to the Family” making-of featurette with character profiles; a “Life of a Scene” featurette that follows the filmmakers bringing a scene to life from storyboards to layouts to animation; and “Charades With Thing,” a look at the stars of the film trying to guess clues in a game of Charades with Thing, who is just a hand.

Plex Launches Ad-Supported VOD Service Featuring Studio Movies

Upstart video streaming service Plex Dec. 4 formally launched an ad-supported platform featuring free access to catalog movies and TV shows from Lionsgate, MGM Studios, Legendary and Warner Bros., among others.

The service joins a crowding field of AVOD platforms that include The Roku Channel, Amazon’s IMDb TV, Shout! TV, Crackle, Pluto TV and Tubi, among others.

“Plex was born out of passion for media and entertainment, and offering free, ad-supported movies and TV shows is just the latest step in our mission to bring all your favorite content together in one place,” CEO Keith Valory said in a statement.

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Plex’s ad-supported video-on-demand offering requires no paid subscription or additional equipment to access thousands of titles across a variety of genres such as action, sci-fi, comedy, drama, thriller, anime, kids and family.

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Plex offers a wide range of device support, including: Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, smart TVs, Android and iOS mobile platforms, Xbox, PlayStation, Amazon Fire TV, and more.

Titles available at launch include:

  • American Ultra starring Kristen Stewart (available for a limited time)
  • Bruce Campbell masterpieces Evil Dead 1 & Evil Dead 2
  • Frequency starring Dennis Quaid
  • Multi-Oscar award-winning Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise
  • Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell classic Overboard
  • Teen Wolf starring Michael J. Fox
  • The Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Award-winning indie films, including Wristcutters: A Love Story, Dolphin Boy, and The Sandlot Journey.
  • Kids, family, and educational options like The Undersea Adventures of Ripples and His Friends, Make it Work, and Brain Candy TV
  • Music concerts and documentaries featuring some of the biggest stars in music, including Nicki Minaj: Pink Planet, Deadmau5: Live @ Earl’s Court, Taylor Swift: Just for You, and Electric Daisy Carnival Experience.

MGM Inks Distribution Deal With Kaleidescape

Transactional VOD movie service Kaleidescape Nov. 5 announced the availability of select films from Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM). With the addition of MGM’s catalog, Kaleidescape’s 11,000+ titles include most of Hollywood’s top-rated movies, including 88 of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time, according to the service.

Over 100 MGM titles are available now, including The Princess Bride; The Silence of the Lambs; the “Rocky” franchise, including Creed, Creed II and the original Rocky; romantic comedies When Harry Met Sally and Four Weddings and a Funeral; classics Some Like It Hot and 12 Angry Men; actioners Robocop and The Terminator; and Oscar winners Rain Man and Dances With Wolves.

MGM owns one of the world’s deepest libraries of premium film and television content as well as the premium pay television network EPIX, which is available throughout the U.S. via cable, satellite, telco and digital distributors.

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“MGM’s storied catalog is home to some of Hollywood’s most iconic films, and this partnership with Kaleidescape represents a unique opportunity for us to reintroduce audiences to many of our most classic titles at an incredibly high quality, all in the comfort of their homes,” Chris Ottinger, president of worldwide TV distribution & acquisitions at MGM, said in a statement.

“The combination of Kaleidescape’s high-quality playback and metadata-rich movies enables cinema connoisseurs to rediscover and experience some of the greatest Hollywood movies,” Cheena Srinivasan, Kaleidescape founder and CEO, said in a statement.

80-Year-Old ‘Wizard of Oz’ Gets Makeover for 4K

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment hosted a presentation on the studio lot Oct. 28 to talk about the restoration of The Wizard of Oz for the 4K UHD release. The studio went back to the three-strip Technicolor negative to restore the film in 8K, 16 bit resolution for the film’s 80th anniversary release.  The classic debuts Oct. 29 on 4K UHD with HDR, including Dolby Vision, on Blu-ray Disc and digital.

Epix Launching ‘ScreenPix’ Channel Featuring Classic Movies and TV Series

Epix, the pay-TV network owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Oct. 16 announced an expanded carriage agreement with Comcast Cable that will enable the pay-TV operator to deliver Epix’s portfolio of movies and original series to Xfinity subscribers. 

On Dec. 12, Epix will launch ScreenPix, a suite of library channels offering a curated collection of classic movies, uncut and commercial free.  The suite includes ScreenPix; ScreenPix: Action; ScreenPix: Westerns; and ScreenPix: Voices, a channel dedicated to diverse voices.  

“We have a shared commitment to providing viewers an unmatched experience and are excited for Xfinity TV customers to experience Epix’s lineup of new original series and great movies,” Michael Wright, president of Epix, said in a statement.

Beginning with the first quarter 2020, Xfinity subs will have access to Epix original docuseries “Slow Burn” and “Laurel Canyon”; as well as limited series “Belgravia,” from Julian Fellowes and the creative team behind “Downton Abbey.”

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Othe programming includes recently premiered “Godfather of Harlem,” starring and executive produced by Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker; season three of “Get Shorty”; “NFL: The Grind,” from NFL Films and hosted by Rich Eisen; as well as recent dramas “Pennyworth” and “Perpetual Grace” and “LTD.”

Epix movies include titles from MGM, Paramount and Lionsgate, including RocketmanTerminator: Dark FateJohn Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum and the upcoming James Bond release No Time to Die.

“Epix has been a great partner, and we are very pleased to deliver its critically acclaimed originals and vast content library to more Xfinity TV customers,” Dana Strong, president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, said. 

‘Daniel Craig Collection’ of Bond Films Shooting to 4K UHD Oct. 22

The Daniel Craig Collection, with four James Bond films starring the actor, will come out on 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision Oct. 22 from MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The collection includes Casino RoyaleQuantum of SolaceSkyfall and Spectre, and features the extended unrated version of Casino Royale and includes select special features on Casino Royale and Skyfall.

Casino Royale features crew commentary, and Skyfall features commentary by director Sam Mendes and commentary by producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli and production designer Dennis Gassner.

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Craig is currently in production on his fifth installment as James Bond in the franchise’s 25th feature film No Time to Die, set for U.S. theatrical release on April 10, 2020.