AMC Networks Eyes Growth in ‘Targeted’ SVOD Services

AMC Networks’ majority acquisition of RLJ Entertainment continues to pay dividends as the media company expands its subscription streaming video-on-demand profile in an over-the-top ecosystem.

While the media company didn’t disclose new subscriber data, CEO Josh Sapan said SVOD  and ad-supported VOD distribution continued to drive AMC’s second-quarter (ended June 30) “International and Other” business objectives.

“We have made particular progress during this COVID-19 period with strong growth across our targeted SVOD services — Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC — as consumers increasingly subscribe to both our targeted offerings in addition to general entertainment SVOD services,” Sapan said in a statement.

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During the quarter, AMC launched new SVOD bundles AMC+ and WE tv+. The company acquired exclusive streaming rights to “Mad Men.” The company furthered its AVOD strategy with launches on ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV and Dish Networks’ Sling Free services.

Second-quarter revenue primarily reflected an increase at AMC Networks SVOD business, more than offset by a decrease at Levity Entertainment and, to a lesser extent, a decrease at the company’s international programming networks.

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Citing ongoing fiscal impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, AMC reported a $112 million operating loss at the “International and Other” segment. The increased loss was primarily related to $130 million in impairment charges due to the pandemic. Segment revenue for the quarter decreased 10.3% to $161 million.

‘James Cameron’s Story of Science-Fiction’ Coming to Disc July 28 From RLJE

The sci-fi documentary series “James Cameron’s Story of Science-Fiction” will come out on DVD and Blu-ray July 28 from AMC Networks’ RLJE Films.

The series originally aired on AMC Networks in 2018 as part of the AMC Visionaries series.

The show, an intimate look at science fiction’s roots, its futuristic vision and our fascination with its ideas, is hosted by Academy Award winner James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic). It features interviews with ‘A’-list storytellers, stars and others whose careers have defined the field of science fiction movies and television. Interviewees include Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), George Lucas (“Star Wars” franchise), Ridley Scott (The Martian, Blade Runner), Christopher Nolan (Tenet, Interstellar), Will Smith (Men in Black, I Am Legend), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator, Terminator) and Bruce Willis (Die Hard, The Sixth Sense).

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Bonus features include extended interviews with Spielberg, Lucas, Scott, Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro and Schwarzenegger.

You Don’t Nomi

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 7/21/20;
RLJ;
Documentary:
$27.97 DVD, $28.97 Blu-ray;
Not rated.

In general there are two types of movies that might have documentaries made about them generations after their release — the all-time classics, and the notoriously bad ones that now enjoy a certain cult status.

The subject of You Don’t Nomi falls decidedly in the latter category — director Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 bomb Showgirls. The punny title derives from the name of the main character, Nomi Malone — the amped up stripper with attitude played by Elizabeth Berkley in an attempt to shed her straight-laced reputation playing “Jessie” on “Saved by the Bell.”

The highly absorbing documentary isn’t so much an examination of the making of the film as it is a critical re-evaluation of it after a generation of reflection. To wit, how a pair of the most in-demand filmmakers in Hollywood in the early 1990s — Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, could produce the film the Razzies declared the worst of the decade, and whether it was the critical community that got it wrong.

The documentary seems to come down on the side that the critical drubbing was fair, but misplaced. Any critic can rip apart a bad film; the talented ones can appreciate the art of true dreck.

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Director Jeffrey McHale cleverly juxtaposes some of the more outlandish scenes of Showgirls with similar scenes from other films spanning Verhoeven’s career, painting the portrait of a gifted satirist poking fun at his own audience for their desire for sex and violence. Showgirls, then, fits the Verhoeven milleu to a T — an over-the-top indictment of the culture of fame. After coming over from Europe, Verhoeven made a splash in Hollywood with popular sci-fi actioners such as 1987’s Robocop and 1990’s Total Recall, before veering into the realms of sex and noir with 1992’s Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Judging from the clips, the latter two are more in line with the sensibilities of Verhoeven’s European films.

Another segment hilariously shines the light on Berkley’s performance, tracing its roots back to her “Saved by the Bell” days and the infamous episode in which Jessie gets hooked on “caffeine” pills (since network censors at the time wouldn’t let a Saturday morning kids show depict characters using speed). Jessie, like Nomi, has an interest in dance, and one critic can’t help but see the constantly topless Nomi as something of an inversion of the budding feminist Jessie.

Another critic takes it a step further, and ties Jessie’s pill-popping days directly to the legacy of Nomi, claiming Showgirls is the completion of an all-time camp trilogy that includes 1967’s Valley of the Dolls (the dolls of the title being a euphemism for pills) and 1981’s Mommie Dearest.

Like Mommie Dearest and other cult classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Showgirls has become a staple of midnight showings and audience-participation screenings. One critic prominently featured in the movie is David Schmader, who has made such a career out of re-interpreting Showgirls as a camp classic that his recorded commentary appears on the actual Showgirls DVD and Blu-ray.

The film even spawned a parody stage musical, with the actress playing Nomi having cut her teeth as Jessie in an earlier “Saved by the Bell” stage farce.

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To his credit, Verhoeven always seemed to embrace the film’s campy reputation, becoming the first filmmaker to actually show up to accept a Golden Raspberry award (Showgirls won a then-record seven Razzies for the 1995 film year, including Worst Picture and Worst Director).

Showgirls still ranks as the highest-grossing ‘NC-17’-rated film, at just over $20 million, and its cult following has made it a top-seller for MGM on home video. But overt sexual content wasn’t apparently what Hollywood wanted from Verhoeven, who revisited the sci-fi genre with his next two films — 1997’s Starship Troopers and 2000’s Hollow Man — before returning to Europe.

Creepshow: Season 1

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

RLJ/Shudder;
Horror;
$34.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Tobin Bell, Adrienne Barbeau, Giancarlo Esposito, Cailey Fleming, Jeffrey Combs, DJ Qualls, Bruce Davison, David Arquette, Dana Gould, Tricia Helfer, Scott Mescudi.

This original series of the Shudder streaming service continues the tradition of anthology horror established in the 1982 movie Creepshow directed by George A. Romero and written by Stephen King, as well as the 1987 sequel written by Romero.

The new series, executive produced by Greg Nicotero of “The Walking Dead,” offers two short stories per hourlong episode, with six episodes in the first season. The series expands on the visual style of the films, which were heavily influenced by horror comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. Episodes frequently use comic book-style artwork for story introductions and scene transitions, as well as a vibrant color palette for the title designs and linking materials.

The shorts are a mixture of adaptations of existing stories and original material. They range from the downright disgusting to the generally creepy, typically offering a helpful metaphor to a real-life problem. For example, the first story in the first episode, “Grey Matter,” presents an allegory for the dangerous effects of alcoholism on friends and family, in transforming a drunk father into a monster who eats local pets and absorbs anyone he comes into contact with, causing him to duplicate and spread his numbers to the rest of society.

The back half of the episode is the charming “The House of the Head,” about a little girl (Cailey Fleming of “The Walking Dead”) whose dollhouse seems to be haunted by a strange miniature rotting head that causes the figures of the family to move while she isn’t looking (shades of the Weeping Angels from “Doctor Who”) leading to her discovering them in new poses of varying degrees of terror as she tries to figure out what is happening to them.

Those looking for a more comedic mix in their horror should like “The Finger,” which stars DJ Qualls as a loner who stumbles upon a weird demon-like creature that ends up doing his bidding in ridding the world of the people who plague his life.

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The Blu-ray is absolutely loaded with bonus materials, including several episode commentaries, featurettes for each episode and myriad behind-the-scenes galleries. There’s also a special featurette about the Easter Eggs in the episodes that reference the movies — and as a fun touch it’s set up like an unlabled old-school DVD Easter Egg you actually have to search for in the menus. It’s a nice touch that lends to the throwback nature of the series.

BET Founder Robert L. Johnson Wants U.S. Government to Pay Blacks $14 Trillion in Reparations for Slavery

Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment (now majority owned by AMC Networks), wants the federal government to give blacks $14 trillion in cash as compensation for the country’s history of slavery.

The U.S. Census Bureau in 2018 estimated there were 47.8 million African-Americans living in a country of 327.2 million. Johnson advocates giving each black American about $293,000 each.

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Speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Johnson, 74, said the funding would acknowledge the fiscal damages owed to blacks in America following a history of fiscal unfairness.

“Wealth transfer is what’s needed,” Johnson said. “Think about this: Since 200-plus-years or so of slavery, labor taken with no compensation, is a wealth transfer. Denial of access to education, which is a primary driver of accumulation of income and wealth, is a wealth transfer.”

Johnson sold BET to Viacom in 2001, becoming the country’s first black billionaire.

“Damages is a normal factor in a capitalist society for when you have been deprived for certain rights,” he said. “If this money goes into pockets like the [coronavirus] stimulus checks … that money is going to return back to the economy.”

Season One of ‘Creepshow’ Coming to Digital and Disc From RLJE

RLJE Films has picked up select rights to season one of “Creepshow” from parent AMC Networks’ Shudder streaming service and will release it June 2 digitally, and on DVD and Blu-ray.

The six-episode season of the horror-comedy from showrunner Greg Nicotero (“The Walking Dead”) stars Tobin Bell (Saw franchise), Adrienne Barbeau (Escape From New York), Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”), Cailey Fleming (“The Walking Dead”), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi (Bill & Ted Face the Music), DJ Qualls (“The Man in the High Castle”), Bruce Davison (X-Men), David Arquette (Scream franchise), Dana Gould (“Stan Against Evil”) and Tricia Helfer (“Battlestar Galactica”).

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The new anthology series is based on George A. Romero’s 1982 horror comedy film. A comic book comes to life in a series of 12 vignettes over six episodes, exploring terrors from murder to the supernatural and unexplainable, including haunted dollhouses, werewolves, murderous goblins, villainous trick-or-treaters, the dead and medical marvels.

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The six episodes were directed by Greg Nicotero (“The Walking Dead”), Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), John Harrison (Book of Blood), Rob Schrab (“Community”), David Bruckner (The Ritual) and Roxanne Benjamin (Body at Brighton Rock).

Bonus materials include more than three hours of interviews, featurettes and behind-the-scenes footage, audio commentary tracks with the cast and crew for each of the episodes, and a 24-page comic art booklet.

Update (5/12/20): The original street date of May 19 was changed to June 2 by RLJ.

Sundance Now Adds International Thrillers, Romance

AMC Networks’ streaming service Sundance Now Nov. 6 announced a distribution deal with Banijay Rights for five dramas, including “The Gulf” and Norwegian drama “Wisting.”

German-New Zealand thriller “The Gulf” centers around the moral disintegration of Detective Jess Savage, who finds herself caught between upholding the legal justice system, and morality, as she investigates crimes on her home patch of Waiheke Island, New Zealand.

German/New Zealand co-production, “The Gulf”

Crime thriller “Wisting” is based on the best-selling novels written by Jørn Lier Horst. The series stars Sven Nordin (“Lilyhammer,” “Valkyrien”) and Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix” trilogy, “Marvel’s Jessica Jones”). The 10-part production follows homicide detective William Wisting as he wrestles with the most challenging and shocking case of his career: a wanted American serial killer living in Norway.

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Sundance Now ($4.99) will stream the exclusive U.S. premieres of “The Gulf” on Dec. 4 and “Wisting” Dec. 18.

Other titles acquired by Sundance Now include Scandinavian romantic offerings “Couple Trouble” and “Idiomatic.”

“Idiomatic” follows the life and times of an urban, bilingual, environmentally conscious left-wing couple in their thirties. Meanwhile, “Couple Trouble” revolves around a couple who aren’t prepared to give up on each other so together start seeing a counsellor.

The French ratings hit, “The Red Shadows,” has also been snapped up by Sundance Now. The series tells the story of a young woman who uncovers

“These international dramas deliver exactly what [SVOD] viewers are looking for right now — strong universal themes placed in unique and intriguing settings with high-end production values and talent,” Andreas Lemos, VP of sales, North America, Banijay Rights, said in a statement.

In the past year, Sundance Now has premiered several Sundance Now Original Series, including supernatural thriller “A Discovery of Witches,” starring Matthew Goode and Theresa Palmer; thriller “Riviera,” starring Julia Stiles; British thriller “The Cry,” starring Jenna Coleman; and French crime drama “The Bureau,” as well as exclusively streamed SundanceTV’s “State of the Union,” starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd, medieval drama “The Name of the Rose” and British legal drama “The Split,” among others.

AMC Networks’ RLJ Entertainment Narrows Q3 Operating Loss

RLJ Entertainment has struggled to be profitable ever since BET founder Robert L. Johnson acquired Acorn Media and Image Entertainment in 2012 to form the home entertainment distributor.

Spurred by over-the-top video successes of Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel (UMC), AMC acquired majority ownership of RLJ Entertainment in 2018 for $65 million.

AMC Oct. 31 reported RLJE posted third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) net revenue, operating loss and adjusted operating income of $31 million, $1 million and $3 million, respectively.

Robert L. Johnson

For the nine months of the fiscal year, RLJE recorded net revenue, operating loss and AOI of $79 million, $6 million and $5 million, respectively.

RLJE operates under AMC’s “International and Other” segment, which includes AMC Networks International, the company’s international programming businesses; Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC; Levity Entertainment Group, the company’s production services and comedy venues business; and IFC Films, the company’s independent film distribution business.

“We are optimizing the value and reach of our content in a variety of ways and executing on a plan that will enable us to thrive in a very dynamic and competitive environment,” Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks, said in a statement.

Indeed, Acorn TV recently surpassed 1 million subscribers in North America.

International and Other revenue for the third quarter increased 20.5% to $183 million, operating loss decreased $5 million to a loss of $12 million, and adjusted operating income (AOI) increased $6 million to $13 million, all compared to the prior year period.

International and Other revenue for the nine months increased 30.2% to $533 million, operating loss increased $8 million to a loss of $53 million, and adjusted operating income increased $24 million to $35 million, all compared to the prior year period.

Third quarter revenue primarily reflected $31 million related to the acquisition of RLJE.

Third quarter operating loss and adjusted operating income reflected the increase in revenue as well as an increase in operating expenses. The increase in operating expenses were primarily attributable to the acquisition of RLJE.

As previously disclosed, in connection with the acquisition of RLJE, the AMC acquired RLJE’s 64% interest in Agatha Christie Limited (“ACL”), which manages the intellectual property and publishing rights based on the late author’s works.

As a result of the RLJE acquisition, AMC modified its definition of AOI to include majority owned equity investments. For the third quarter, the company recorded adjusted operating income of $1 million related to ACL. For the nine months of the fiscal year, AMC recorded adjusted operating income of $4 million related to ACL.

 

Charter Communications to Carry Acorn TV, Urban Movie Channel Streaming Services

AMC Networks Oct. 31 announced that Charter Communications will launch its full suite of subscription video-on-demand services as well as AMC Premiere, the company’s premium ad-free version of its AMC channel, to Charter’s Spectrum customers.

The launch of AMC Premiere, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and Urban Movie Channel (UMC) affords Spectrum subscribers access to a wide variety of exclusive AMC Networks content, including the Emmy-Award winning “Killing Eve” (AMC Premiere), “Doc Martin” (Acorn TV), “Creepshow” (Shudder), the Emmy Award-winning “State of the Union” (Sundance Now) and Craig Ross Jr.’s “Monogamy” (UMC).

AMC Acquired UMC and Acorn TV through the majority $65 million acquisition of RLJ Entertainment in 2018 — the company formed through Robert L. Johnson’s purchase of Acorn Media and Image Entertainment in 2012.

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The services will be offered on the majority of Spectrum set-top boxes in the coming months.

The launch is part of a recent broader long-term agreement between the two companies that includes continued carriage of AMC Networks’ AMC, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv and BBC World News linear television networks as well as an extension of a previously announced co-production arrangement between the companies.

“As both of our businesses continue to evolve, we are very pleased to expand our relationship by enriching Charter’s offering with our targeted SVOD services,” Ed Carroll, AMC Networks COO, said in a statement. “Our SVOD services serve passionate audiences with the content they love. We look forward to continuing to forge a new path with Charter, giving Spectrum customers access to our shows on whatever platform they choose.”

AMC Premiere delivers fans of AMC’s original programming with commercial-free viewing, early access to content and the opportunity to binge select series, including the Emmy- and Golden Globe-Award winning “Killing Eve,” “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead” and “The Terror.”

AMC Networks’ SVOD services have experienced substantial growth over the past year, with its Acorn TV service, North America’s largest and most popular streaming service for British and international television, recently surpassing the 1 million paid subscriber milestone.

The growth has been driven by demand for acclaimed series “Line of Duty,” “Agatha Raisin,” “Doc Martin,” and Lucy Lawless in “My Life is Murder.”

AMC Networks’ other SVOD services include:

  • Shudder, an essential offering for fans of horror, thriller and suspense with an unmatched library of series and films, including the premiere of its newest original series, “Creepshow,” which set records in terms of viewers, subscriber acquisition and total minutes streamed, and was just renewed for a second
  • Sundance Now offers a rich selection of original and exclusive series from engrossing true crime to heart-stopping dramas and fiercely intelligent thrillers from around the world, including “Discovery of Witches,” “Riviera” and “Killing for Love.”
  • UMC (Urban Movie Channel), the first subscription streaming service created for African American audiences, features a broad mix of original series, network TV shows, classic sitcoms, and feature films, including Daytime Emmy-nominated series “Bronx SIU,” OWN’s “Black Love,” the LisaRaye McCoy and Duane Martin-led classic UPN sitcom “All of Us,” and the recent theatrical release of Master P’s I Got the Hook Up 2.

Acorn TV Partners with RTÉ for New Irish Comedy/Drama ‘The South Westerlies’

 Acorn Media Enterprises and RTÉ have partnered for the production of “The South Westerlies,” an Irish comedy-drama starring Orla Brady (“American Horror Story,” “Mistresses”), Eileen Walsh (Catastrophe, Women on the Verge, Can’t Cope Won’t Cope), Ger Ryan (Little Dog, Rialto, Raw), and Patrick Bergin (Sleeping With the Enemy, Patriot Games, EastEnders, Red Rock), among others.

When a small coastal town in the south-west of Ireland is earmarked for a Norwegian-owned wind farm, it’s not just the spectacular scenery that’s under pressure. For a single working mother (Brady), tasked with going undercover to bring the project home, her eco-battle is compounded by the return of a crinkly-eyed surfer with an unmistakable resemblance to her teenage son.

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“With an impressive ensemble cast, a picturesque setting, and first-rate writing, ‘The South Westerlies’ will definitely interest Acorn TV’s subscribers and audiences worldwide,” Catherine Mackin, managing director of Acorn Media Enterprises, said in a statement.  

Acorn is operated by AMC Network’s RLJ Entertainment subsidiary.

Filming began in mid-September with the 10-week shoot ending in mid-November. Shoot locations include Wicklow Town and Cork in Ireland and Oslo, Norway.