Haystack News Bows Georgia U.S. Senate Runoffs Streaming Channel

With the nation’s political attention focused on today’s U.S. Senate seat elections in Georgia, Haystack News, the ad-supported news streaming aggregator, has launched separate channels focused on the special election and the Jan. 20 inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden.

Haystack News seeks to differentiate itself within the AVOD and online TV markets by focusing on news-themed content. The platform features programming from ABC News, The AP, Bloomberg, CBS News, Cheddar, Euronews, Newsy and more than 300 local broadcast stations.

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“Haystack News viewing  remains at record-high levels as we enter the new year, with politics driving engagement and news content consumption,” co-founder/CEO Daniel Barreto said in a statement. “Haystack’s dedicated channels…give viewers a better understanding of all angles of an issue; micro to macro, local to global. Look for more new streaming channels every month as we continue on our journey to build televisions best platform for watching news.”

Netflix Drops Trailer on Its Comedic Take on 2020

Many people would count 2020 among the worst years in recent history. Now Netflix has made a comedy about it called “Death to 2020,” which launches Dec. 27. Created by Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, the team behind the Netflix original series “Black Mirror,” the documentary-style program features well-known actors (Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant and Lisa Kudrow, among others) playing characters reminiscing about the dreadful 12-month period that saw the birth of a pandemic, economic loss and politics on steroids, among other issues.

“Those who only know me through ‘Black Mirror’ may not realize that when not writing speculative sci-fi about people frowning at smartphones, I’ve spent years making comedy shows in the U.K. — including many topical comedy specials,” Brooker said in a statement.

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Brooker said “Death to 2020” features fictional characters discussing real events in a “bombastic” mockumentary, that he said is quite a bit sillier than the title would suggest.

“It felt like an apt format for Netflix, which is known for high-end documentaries, but also like a good opportunity to create a different kind of comedy special that deals with the year head-on, while also showcasing some brilliant performers,” Brooker said.

‘Frontline: The Choice 2020,’ ‘And She Could Be Next’ Among Political Titles Available on PBS Documentaries Prime Channel

PBS Distribution is streaming several political titles on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel in time for the upcoming Nov. 3 election.

Among the titles available are Frontline: The Choice 2020, American Experience: The Vote, And She Could Be Next, Ken Burns: The Congress, American Experience: The Presidents and Frontline: Whose Vote Counts.

The subscription rate for PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is $3.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription.

Frontline: The Choice 2020 offers interwoven investigative biographies of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden and examines the defining moments that shaped Trump and Biden’s lives, their approaches to power, and their visions for America’s future at this pivotal juncture.

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One hundred years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, American Experience: The Vote tells the dramatic story of the hard-fought campaign waged by American women for the right to vote, a transformative cultural and political movement that resulted in the largest expansion of voting rights in U.S. history. In its final decade, from 1909 to 1920, movement leaders wrestled with contentious questions about the most effective methods for affecting social change, debating the use of militant, even violent tactics, as well as hunger strikes and relentless public protests. The battle also upended previously accepted ideas about the proper role of women in American society and challenged the definitions of citizenship and democracy. Exploring how and why millions of 20th-century Americans mobilized for — and against — women’s suffrage, The Vote brings to life the unsung leaders of the movement and the deep controversies over gender roles and race that divided Americans then — and continue to dominate political discourse today.

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And She Could Be Next follows a defiant movement of women of color as they transform politics from the ground up. Filmed during the historic 2018 midterm elections, the series follows organizers and candidates (including Rashida Tlaib and Stacey Abrams) as they fight for a truly reflective government, asking whether democracy can be preserved — and made stronger — by those most marginalized.

In Ken Burns: The Congress, Burns profiles a durable American institution in his portrait of the U.S. Congress. Narrated by David McCullough, the film uses historic footage and interviews with “insiders” David Broder, Alistair Cooke and Cokie Roberts to detail the first 200 years. The film chronicles careers of notable members and charts the continuing growth of the Capitol building, in readings from diary entries, letters and famous speeches.

American Experience: The Presidents, including JFK, Nixon, George W. Bush, Clinton and George H. W. Bush, includes five programs taking a look at some of America’s most influential presidents of the 20th century. Focusing on the intersection of public and private, character and history, these programs examine pivotal moments in each of the presidencies and how they affected the country. Viewers will look at George W. Bush and his unorthodox road to the presidency; George H. W. Bush and his life and career as the 41st president; Clinton and his meteoric rise in state politics; JFK, with a new perspective on his private life and reevaluation of his time in the Oval Office; and Nixon, with a look at one of American history’s most powerful figures, exploring a fateful mix of strength and weakness that made him president, and then brought him down.

Finally, Frontline: Whose Vote Counts, available Oct. 21, investigates allegations of voter fraud and disenfranchisement in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

Facebook Decries Netflix Doc ‘The Social Dilemma’ as Unbalanced

Facebook is pushing back against the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, which it claims misses the point about social media — and puts platforms such as Facebook in a negative light.

The 93-minute doc, which was released on Sept. 9, uses insight from former Facebook engineers (and others at Google and Twitter) to suggest that algorithms intended to bring people together through social media have instead been used to make billions of dollars by dividing people. And in today’s hyper-partisan political divide, that kind of influence and power draws criticism.

Facebook had 1.79 billion daily users in the most-recent fiscal quarter (ended June 30), generating $18.69 billion in revenue.

“It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception that it is product,” says Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and philosophy writer featured in the doc. “There’s nothing else on the table that could possibly be called the product. That’s the only thing there is for them to make money from. Changing what you do, how you think, who you are.”

Comments like that prompted Facebook to issue a seven-point rebuttal seeking to clear misperceptions.

“Rather than offer a nuanced look at technology, [the doc] gives a distorted view of how social media platforms work to create a convenient scapegoat for what are difficult and complex societal problems,” Facebook wrote.

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The platform contends the doc’s creators do not include insights from people currently working at Facebook and other social media companies, and does not include commentary that takes a different point of view.

“They don’t acknowledge — critically or otherwise — the efforts already taken by companies to address many of the issues [raised in the doc],” Facebook wrote. “Instead, they rely on commentary from those who haven’t been on the inside for many years.”

Facebook is referring to previous revelations that it unwittingly helped third-parties working with Russia to use Facebook data to undermine the 2016 presidential election.

“Despite what the film suggests, we have policies that prohibit businesses from sending us sensitive data about people, including users’ health information or social security numbers,” Facebook wrote, adding that it has made “significant changes” as part of its agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.

“We’ve created new safeguards for how data is used,” Facebook wrote.

But as doc reviewer David Ehrlich wrote in IndieWire, the film covers a “staggering breadth” of topics and ramifications, many of which are playing again in the 2020 election cycle.

“Russia didn’t hack Facebook, Russia used Facebook,” Ehrlich wrote.

 

Amazon Prime Video Nabs Rights to Sacha Baron Cohen’s New ‘Borat’ Movie Set to Stream on Oct. 23

Amazon Prime Video has secured streaming rights to Sacha Baron Cohen’s newest political satire, reprising the British comedian’s Kazakhstan television personality Borat Sagdiyev character in a 2020 presidential election movie filmed over the summer.

The film, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, is a sequel to the 2006 sleeper hit Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which generated $262 million at the global box office and was nominated for best adapted screenplay.

In the original film, Cohen’s Borat character travels through the United States to make a documentary featuring real-life interactions with Americans who believe he is a foreigner with little or no understanding of American customs. The film is built around characters from Cohen’s characters “Da Ali G Show,” a British satirical TV show. The second and third seasons of the show ran in the United States on HBO.

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With today’s compromised box office due to the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon saw an opportunity. The film, which reportedly features various Trump campaign events and associates (i.e. former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani) in humorous situations, is set to stream on Prime Video on Oct. 23 in 240 countries and territories.

Analysts: Netflix Eyeing Flat Q3 Sub Growth, Near-Term Price Hike

In the rollercoaster COVID-19 era, few media companies have shined as brightly as Netflix. The SVOD pioneer has defied odds and naysayers, adding more subscribers (26 million) in the first six months of the year than it did in all of 2019. It ended June with 193 million subs worldwide.

As the third quarter closes on Sept. 30, the SVOD pioneer is facing challenges, not the least of which is a probable near-term subscription price hike. Netflix hasn’t raised its domestic fee since May 2019 when the most-popular plan increased $2 to $13 monthly.

“After a change in language regarding pricing on the [Q2] call, we believe a potential hike is probable in the near to midterm,” Alex Giaimo, analyst at Jeffries, wrote in a note. “In Q1, Netflix said that they were ‘not even thinking about price increases,’ while the Q2 language was more open-ended.”

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Jeffries contends price hikes from $1 to $2 monthly in North America and Europe could see Netflix add near $1 billion in fiscal 2021 revenue. A similar price hike in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) could add $700 million.

“We have confidence that Netflix can raise prices in international markets, given its deepening content library and outsized consumer value proposition,” Giaimo wrote.

On the domestic front, Netflix is facing blowback from politicians and public action committees regarding a small French movie, Cuties, critics say exploits young girls. The streamer also received a letter from GOP senators questioning its motives behind greenlighting an original series based on a book by a Chinese author accused of being pro-Beijing government and anti-ethnic Uyghur Muslims. Both situations have seen increased calls on social media to cancel Netflix subscriptions.

Wells Fargo analysts contend Netflix will add 2.5 million subs globally in Q3 — down from a previously projected 5 million due to increases in subscriber churn. The culprit: a fivefold churn increase to 4.7% in one-week subscriber defections due to Cuties. The analysts said that could result in a sub loss of 28 million. Netflix is projecting a global sub gain of 2.5 million.

Meanwhile, Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said he would surprised if the Cuties controversy extended beyond the United States. The analyst said that with one-third of households considering themselves religious, it’s possible Netflix saw a spike of 1% to 2% over its normal churn.

“Combine that with the pull-forward of new subscribers from shelter-in-place. and they could deliver disappointing domestic subscriber growth,” Pachter said in an email.

The analyst said he would be “shocked” if Netflix raised prices in the face of new competitors such as Disney+, Peacock, Apple TV+ and HBO Max.

“They had no competition before and now they have [competition] priced lower, Amazon content is getting better, and HBO Max will someday figure out how to get their product on Roku-powered TVs,” Pachter said.

“Yes, I think that they can raise the price and that the brand is super strong, but the cult [Netflix bulls] values them at ridiculous levels because the cult believes in unfettered growth, and any shift in that narrative will disappoint them,” he said. “I still don’t expect a price hike.”

Netflix reports third-quarter results Oct. 20.

GOP Senators Question Netflix’s Planned Chinese-Based Sci-Fi Series

A group of Republican senators has sent a letter to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos questioning why the SVOD behemoth plans to adapt Chinese sci-fi trilogy “A Three-Body Problem” by author Cixin Liu into an original series. “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been tasked with creating the series for Netflix about humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization.

Liu is also author of the short story upon which Chinese sci-fi theatrical hit The Wandering Earth is based. The movie, which has topped Mulan in theatrical revenue, has generated more than $690 million at the Chinese box office. Netflix acquired SVOD rights to the movie for North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

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Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) contend Liu is sympathetic to Chinese government’s forced re-education of ethic Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

The Uyghur Muslims have become political pawns for the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress seeking leverage in the government’s ongoing trade disputes between Beijing and Washington, D.C.

Earlier this month, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) took to social media, accusing Disney of “whitewashing genocide” by allegedly cooperating with Chinese police working at the Uyghur camps, including crediting them in the live-action Mulan movie credits. Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said it was common practice in Hollywood to acknowledge local governments for a movie filmed abroad.

In the Sept. 23 letter to Sarandos, the senators are seeking answers to the following questions:

  1. Does Netflix agree that the Chinese Communist Party’s interment of 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?
  2. LWere Netflix senior executives aware of the statements made by Mr. Cixin liu regarding the Chinese Communist Party’s genocidal acts prior to entering into an agreement to adapt his work? If so, please outline the reasoning that led Netflix to move forward with this project. If not, please describe Netflix’s standard process of due diligence and the gaps therein that led to this oversight.
  3. Does Netflix have a policy regarding entering into contracts with public-facing individuals who, either publicly or privately, promote principles inconsistent with Netflix’s company culture and principles? If so, please outline this policy. If not, please explain why not.
  4. In order to avoid any further glorification of the CCP’s actions against the Uyghurs, or validation of the Chinese regime and agencies responsible for such acts, what steps will Netflix take to cast a critical eye on this project – to include the company’s broader relationship with Mr. Liu?

 

A Netflix representative was not immediately available for comment.

TikTok Owner Seeks Injunction Stopping App Ban in the U.S.

ByteDance, the Chinese owner of social video platform TikTok, has filed for a preliminary injunction against the Trump Administration’s executive order banning U.S. access to the app, effective on Sept. 27. About 100 million Americans use TikTok on a monthly basis.

The request, filed Sept. 23 in the District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to stop a DOJ mandate ordering Google and Apple to remove the TikTok app from their platforms on Sunday — in addition to ceasing to provide updates for current holders of the app.

ByteDance is currently in negotiations with Oracle and Walmart to sell 20% (for $20 billion) of a new corporate entity called TikTok Global. Trump last weekend publicly gave his approval of deal — until he found out the Chinese would still own 80% of the company. Oracle reportedly said the sale would preclude ByteDance from owning the TikTok app outright.

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Regardless, the Chinese government would have to approve of any deal, which seems increasingly unlikely following reports in the government-owned English newspaper China Times, which called the transaction “dirty and unfair,” and based on “bullying and corruption.”

The Trump Administration, which eyes TikTok as a threat to national security, continues to engage in a war of words with China over trade and technology.

ByteDance says the security fears are overblown and political in nature.

“There is simply no genuine emergency here that would justify the government’s precipitous actions,” read the filing. “And there is no plausible reason to insist the prohibitions be enforced immediately.”

Disney CFO Takes High Road in ‘Mulan’ Film Credits Controversy

In the highly partisan political landscape, a growing controversy has emerged regarding locations and local authorities in China where some of Disney’s live-action Mulan was filmed.

With the $200 million budget movie set to open in Chinese theaters, in addition to the current Premier Access on Disney+ in the U.S. and other territories, human-rights activists have raised questions about Disney’s cooperation with local authorities in China’s Xinjiang region, where allegations of abuse and re-education internments against ethnic Muslim Uighur minorities originate.

In response, there have been growing calls on social media to boycott Mulan over the issues.

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Mulan is a patriot but she shouldn’t be placed in Xinjiang because patriotism has been forbidden in Xinjiang,” Abduweli Ayup, a Norway-based Uyghur activist, wrote in a post. “In China, patriotism is loving the Chinese Communist Party.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) weighed in on the matter, accusing Disney of “whitewashing genocide” by allegedly cooperating with Chinese police working at the camps.

“Your decision to put profit over principle, to not just ignore the CCP’s genocide and other atrocities, but to aid and abet them, is an affront to American values,” Hawley wrote in Sept. 9 letter to Disney.

Liu Yifei, the lead actress in Mulan, added fuel to the controversy when she tweeted support for police crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Speaking Sept. 10 on the Bank of America Securities Virtual Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said she had no interest in discussing international politics. Instead, the executive reiterated that production on Mulan involved numerous international locations — most notably in New Zealand.

“The real facts of Mulan [are] that it was primarily shot in — almost the entirety in New Zealand. And in an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country of China for this historical period piece drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China,” McCarthy said.

The CFO said it is standard procedure that when filming in China or any foreign country, that permits must be obtained. And in China, that permission comes from the central government in Beijing. McCarthy added that it is also common practice in Hollywood to acknowledge the appropriate agencies, authorities and governments in a movie’s credits.

For Mulan, Disney reportedly thanks eight government entities in Xinjiang, including security in the city of Turpan, where the government allegedly operates the camps. Disney also credits the publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uighur Autonomy Region Committee, an agency that reportedly produces state propaganda.

McCarthy said it is common practice in movies to also acknowledge  national and local governments, which for Mulan included both China as well as New Zealand.

“I would just leave it at that,” she said. “But that’s generated a lot of issues for us.”

‘Irresistible’ Available for Sale Digitally Aug. 18, on Disc Sept. 1

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release the political comedy Irresistible through digital retailers Aug. 18, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Sept. 1.

Directed by Jon Stewart, the film stars Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer, top Democratic political consultant who sees an opportunity to win back voters in America’s heartland when a video of a passionate farmer and retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) goes viral. After a long, hard day’s work as a farmhand, Gary persuades the farmer to run for mayor of a small town in Wisconsin. However, he soon finds himself squaring off against his brilliant Republican counterpart, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), as the election turns into an all-out battle between the national parties.

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The cast also includes Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne.

The disc and digital editions include more than 30 minutes of bonus content, including deleted and extended Scenes; a gag reel; and the featurettes “Campaign Comedy: The Cast of Irresistible,” “Taking the Lead: Jon Stewart” and the behind-the-scenes vignette “An Irresistible Story.”

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