OTT.X XFronts Event Spotlights FAST, AVOD Services

Ad-supported streaming services took center stage on the first day of the inaugural OTT.X XFronts event, taking place May 24-25 in Los Angeles.

The event is an exchange consisting of pitches and presentations by prominent and up-and-coming AVOD and FAST (free ad-supported streaming) platforms, networks and channels to an audience of brands, advertisers and ad agencies.

OTT.X president and CEO Mark Fisher said XFronts tallied nearly 400 registrants.

In welcoming the crowd, Erick Opeka, Cinedigm chief strategy offer and one of the creators of the event, said XFronts was designed to help “build the next generation of great streaming companies.”

“For years, the [ad-supported streaming] business was tiny, incremental and frankly a rounding error,” he said. But now with Netflix and other major streamers looking at ad-supported tiers, he noted, “The rest of the industry is catching up.”

Prior to a panel titled “Is FAST Programming Moving in the Direction of Cable TV?” TelevisaUnivision’s Richard Hull said that linear streaming was indeed encroaching on traditional TV turf.

“You’re finally seeing a transition of all the linear dollars on broadcast and cable TV starting to move over to these free ad-supported platforms,” he said.

Panelists agreed that FAST services were the new frontier in the linear TV business that cable and broadcast built.

“We actually consider ourselves as being in the cable TV business,” said Stuart McLean, CEO of FAST Studios, which features numerous channels and is soon launching the Women’s Sports Network. “All of our team come out of the cable business.”

“But there’s the data to back it up on who’s watching when,” he added.

“That’s something that cable’s never been able to do, [serve up ads] customized for the user,” added panelist Anthony Layser, of Xumo.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Adam Bergman, VP of national ad sales for Vizio, which offers FAST services on its connected TV screens including its own WatchFree+, noted Vizio is a service just like cable “without the strings” and also pointed out streamers’ added power of data in serving advertisers.

“That’s my screen and my remote in your hand,” he said of the Vizio service. “I know more than anyone about what happens on my screen.”

Xumo’s Layser said the ad-supported business started to really take off in 2019. “The content doors started opening,” he said, noting that services such as Tubi, Pluto TV and Roku paved the way. “Since that time it’s very different in terms of the premium nature of the content,” he said, adding “more and more studio catalog is available.” Original programming in the space has also started to pop up, he said. Tubi has started to ad originals, he noted with a nod to fellow panelist Sam Harowitz, VP of content acquisition and partnerships at the streamer.

“Our overarching strategy is to superserve passionate communities,” Harowitz said, noting that Tubi has a library of 40,000 titles. In measuring Tubi’s success, he looks at “the total view time that a customer is spending on our service.” Tubi is also built around machine learning, which helps to serve up better content to consumers the more they watch, he said, driving engagement.

While distribution is cheap in the marketplace, FAST Studios’ McLean said, “At the end of the day, you still have to have scale.”

As streamers jockey for distribution partners, carriage conflicts like those frequently experienced in the cable marketplace could become more common, said Vizio’s Bergman, pointing to the dustup between Roku and HBO Max.

“One will look to have the upper hand when maybe they shouldn’t,” he said, pointing out that carriers might say, “I am fine without your content if those are the terms.”

The first day of the conference also included company presentations with details about lineups, content promotion and other plans for the coming year. Presenting companies included FAST Studios, which highlighted the launch of the Women’s Sports Network with an ESPN and surf star; Cinedigm, which outlined its genre-based channels and a partnership with Roundtable Entertainment; Future Today, which highlighted its kids and family content; Plex, which spotlighted its new content discovery product; and AfroLandTV, which highlighted its African content and a move into original programming starting with an African food show.

‘Chip ’n Dale,’ ‘The Circle’ Top Weekly Whip Media Streaming Charts

The Disney+ original movie Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers led the Whip Media chart of top streaming movies, while Netflix’s “The Circle” topped the chart of streaming originals among U.S. consumers the week ended May 22.

Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers, which started streaming on Disney+ May 20, is a live-action and animated comedy featuring the voices of John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the famous chipmunks.

Rising from No. 2 to the top spot on the streaming originals chart, Netflix’s reality competition series “The Circle” features contestants who compete in challenges to earn a cash prize as top influencer. Season four started streaming May 4 in weekly episodes.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

TV Time, a Whip Media company, is a free TV and movie viewership tracking app with 21 million global users. The streaming originals chart rankings are determined by streaming original TV series with the greatest share of views in the given week, among a balanced panel of U.S. users of the TV Time app. The movie rankings are determined streaming movies with the greatest share of views in the given week, among a balanced panel of U.S. users of the TV Time app.

Follow us on Instagram

Remaining at No. 2 on the streaming movies chart was Netflix’s Senior Year, which debuted May 13. The comedy stars Rebel Wilson as a cheerleader who lands in a 20-year coma after a stunt gone wrong. Awakened at 37, she’s ready to live out her high school dream of becoming prom queen.

Landing at No. 3 on the streaming movies chart was The Lost City, an action-adventure starring Channing Tatum and Sandra Bullock that hit Paramount+ May 10. It follows a reclusive romance novelist on a book tour with her cover model who gets swept up in a kidnapping attempt that lands them both in a cutthroat jungle adventure.

Coming in at No. 2 on the streaming originals chart was Netflix’s “Love, Death & Robots,” an adult animated anthology series. A third set of episodes started streaming May 20.

Dropping from the top spot to No. 3 on the streaming originals chart was Netflix’s “Ozark,” a crime drama that follows the exploits of a money laundering couple. Part two of season four started streaming April 29.

 

Top Streaming Originals Among U.S. Consumers for the Week Ended May 22:

  1. “The Circle” (U.S.) — Netflix
  2. “Love, Death & Robots” — Netflix (Season Premiere)
  3. “Ozark” — Netflix
  4. “The Flight Attendant” — HBO Max
  5. “Halo” — Paramount+
  6. “The Lincoln Lawyer” — Netflix
  7. “Grace and Frankie” — Netflix
  8. “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” — Paramount+
  9. “Made for Love” — HBO Max
  10. “Candy” — Hulu

 

Top Streaming Movies Among U.S. Consumers May 20 – 22:

  1. Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers — Disney+
  2. Senior Year — Netflix
  3. The Lost City — Paramount+
  4. A Perfect Pairing — Netflix
  5. The Batman — HBO Max
  6. Our Father — Netflix
  7. Firestarter — Peacock
  8. Ghostbusters: Afterlife — Starz
  9. Top Gun — Netflix/Paramount+
  10. The Valet — Hulu

Gravitas Ventures Appoints Chris Horton Senior Director of Business Development

Gravitas Ventures, an Anthem Sports and Entertainment company, has appointed film veteran Chris Horton senior director of business development.

Horton reports to Gravitas president Michael Murphy.

In his newly-created role, Horton will be responsible for developing original IP to further bolster the content libraries of Gravitas and Anthem properties — driving the media companies’ mission to create and distribute content across multiple platforms. The new IP will be produced for AVOD and FAST channel platforms, complementing the company’s already-existing roster of FAST channels that includes AXS TV Now, IMPACT! Wrestling, Gravitas Movies, Gravitas Documentaries, Gravitas Adrenaline, Fight Network, Unexplained and Inside Sportfishing.

Horton has more than 20 years of experience across every facet of the independent film landscape — ranging from financing and production to sales and distribution. Before joining Gravitas, he spent nine years with the Sundance Institute, where he founded and led the Creative Distribution Initiative. While there, Horton also spearheaded the marketing and distribution efforts for more than 200 films, including Columbus, Unrest and Thunder Road. Prior to joining Sundance, Horton served as the head of acquisitions for independent distributor FilmBuff, where he acquired more than 300 films. He spent his early career working with John Sloss’ Cinetic Media.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“It’s thrilling to be working with Nolan, Michael, and the rest of the Gravitas team,” Horton said in a statement. “I’ve known and admired them for years, and am excited to implement and drive new content strategies to help the company grow.” 

“As we continue to produce new FAST channels in a dynamic global environment, adding senior talent with strong experience as entertainment executives with a solid foundational understanding of how to connect the dots becomes more and more crucial,” Murphy said in a statement. “If you know Gravitas, you know Chris was cut from a similar cloth, making him the perfect complement to our team. It’s great to have an immediate shorthand with a new teammate and it’s been fun to watch Chris triangulate on viable commercial opportunities right out of the gate. We could not be more excited to have him onboard.”

Disney+ Orders Fourth Season of ‘High School Musical: The Musical — The Series’

Disney+ has ordered a fourth season of its original series “High School Musical: The Musical — The Series” just ahead of its third-season premiere on July 27.

Each of the eight episodes of the third season will stream weekly on Wednesdays, exclusively on Disney+. The Disney Branded Television series, created and executive-produced by Tim Federle, is inspired by the two-time Emmy Award-winning “High School Musical” franchise. The music-driven, GLAAD Media and Kids Choice Award-winning series has garnered record numbers for its soundtracks across the first two seasons and holiday special, with 2 billion combined streams to date, according to a Disney+ release.

“This series continues to deliver best in class drama, humor, and heart,” Ayo Davis, president of Disney Branded Television, said in a statement. “Tim Federle’s vision and interpretation of this legacy IP keeps evolving season over season and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Wildcats next.”

“This series has been an epic adventure from the start and I’m beyond grateful that we get to keep making music, telling these stories, and showcasing these exceptional stars,” Federle said in a statement.

Season three of “High School Musical: The Musical — The Series” is set at Camp Shallow Lake, a sleepaway camp in California, as the Wildcats and their fellow campers are primed for a summer ripe with romance, curfew-less nights and a taste of the great outdoors.  Also, there’s a high-stakes production of Frozen on the horizon and a drama-filled “docu-series” of the production in the works.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“High School Musical: The Musical — The Series” season three stars Joshua Bassett, Sofia Wylie, Matt Cornett, Julia Lester, Dara Reneé, Frankie Rodriguez, Saylor Bell Curda and Adrian Lyles. Also featured this season are recurring guest stars Aria Brooks, Liamani Segura and Ben Stillwell  as well as guest stars Corbin Bleu, Meg Donnelly, Jason Earles, Kate Reinders, Olivia Rose Keegan, Olivia Rodrigo, Larry Saperstein and Joe Serafini.

 

Our Father

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Netflix;
Documentary;
Not rated.

Our Father is a real-life horror thriller, exploring the disturbing results of power in the wrong hands.

The story starts with Jacoba Ballard, an only child conceived via donor sperm. An at-home DNA test led her to the discovery of not one, but seven half-siblings — a number that defied best practices in fertility medicine. As the group set out to learn more about their curious family tree, they soon found out the sickening truth: Their parents’ fertility doctor had been inseminating his patients with his own sperm — without their knowledge or consent.

Each new revelation in this film elicits an astonished gasp. The discoveries build in intensity as viewers learn the extent of this doctor’s carelessness, conceit and deceit. A well-respected member of the community with a family at home, he somehow found it necessary to break the trust of the women he treated, violating them in a most intimate way and playing God with his own offspring. These children now walk the world wondering if they may unwittingly bump into a half-brother or half-sister.

The horror is amplified by their father’s dismissive and cold attitude toward his enormous brood as they look for answers and take legal action. He seems incapable of comprehending the pain he has caused. Indeed, he remains a puzzle. Like his children, the audience is left wondering why he did it, what drove him and why he got away with it for so many years. If there is a weakness in the film, it’s that viewers are left with few answers about the man at the center of the story.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Still, Our Father brings up important moral questions and uncovers a blind spot in a legal system that was not set up to properly protect the rights of families created via fertility treatment. This left them vulnerable to a perverted man on the cutting edge of science who was fittingly caught by the availability of new technology — DNA testing.

HBO Max to Stream Documentary on Lizzo

A new Max Original untitled Lizzo documentary will follow three-time Grammy Award-winning superstar singer, songwriter, rapper, flutist and actress Lizzo.
 
The HBO Max documentary shares the inspirational story behind her humble beginnings to her meteoric rise with an intimate look into the moments that shaped her hard-earned rise to fame, success, love and international stardom.
 
“To get the chance to work with someone we have admired and adored for so long is a dream come true,” said Sarah Aubrey, head of original content at HBO Max. “Lizzo’s formidable talent has entertained and inspired millions, and we are ecstatic to help share her incredible journey.” 

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Growing up I never dreamed I’d get to experience all of the things I’ve accomplished in my life, and I’m just getting started,” said Lizzo. “I’m so excited I get to share and relive my journey with my fans and HBO Max. From ‘Cuz I Love You’ to my dramatic world tour, losing and gaining love, and creating my new album ‘Special,’ y’all get to see the amount of time, patience, blood, sweat and tears that went into this process. It takes ten years to become an ‘overnight success,’ and hopefully I can inspire other young creatives to keep going.” 

Research: U.S. OTT Access Revenue Grew 37% to $39.4B in 2021

Convergence Research estimates U.S. OTT access revenue grew 37% to $39.4 billion in 2021 and forecasts $51 billion for 2022 and $69 billion for 2024.

That’s based on more than 75 OTT services (more than 50 providers) — led by Netflix, Disney/Hulu, Amazon and Warner Bros. Discovery — analyzed in its 2022 Couch Potato Reports.

The firm forecasts 2022-24 annual U.S. OTT household penetration, subscriptions per household, and net OTT subscriptions added will each progressively see more moderate growth. Convergence forecasts 80 million additional U.S. subscriptions in 2022 and 50 million in 2024.

Convergence estimates 2021 U.S. cable, satellite, telco TV access revenue declined 4% to $91 billion and forecasts a decline of 6% to $85.5 billion in 2022 (hence ARPU should grow 3.5%), with higher revenue declines in 2023 and 2024. The firm estimates 2021 saw a decline of 6.5 million U.S. TV subscribers, 2020 a decline of 6.5 million, and forecasts a decline of 7 million TV subs in 2022 and 7.2 million in 2024. In its U.S. Cord Cutter/Never Household Model, as of year-end 2021, Convergence estimates 47% of U.S. households did not have a TV subscription with a cable, satellite, or telco TV access provider, up from 42% at the end of 2020. The firm projects that figure will rise to 53% by the end of 2022 and 64% by the end of 2024. 

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Convergence estimates 3.715 million U.S. residential broadband subscribers were added in 2021 (down from 5.1 million in 2020) and revenue grew 10% to $79.6 billion, and forecasts 4.3 million residential broadband subscriber additions in 2022 and 7% revenue growth to $85.5 billion. While cable dominates residential broadband and continues to add the largest share of residential broadband subs, telco and fixed-wireless sub additions continue to improve, according to the firm.

Disney+ to Stream Documentary on Elton John

Disney Original Documentary and Disney+ have announced the feature documentary Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: The Final Elton John Performances and The Years That Made His Legend.

From Academy Award-nominee R.J. Cutler and filmmaker David Furnish, the documentary will serve as the official feature on Elton John, comprised of unseen concert footage of him over the past 50 years, hand-written journals and present-day footage of him and his family. Following a festival run and limited theatrical release, the film will be available exclusively on Disney+. 

Rooted in Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour,” the feature documentary film will capture his final months on the road, culminating in his final North American show at Dodger Stadium this upcoming November. The film will also look back at the first five years of John’s career when, between 1970 and 1975, he released 10 albums, seven of which went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and became a global phenomenon. The documentary will include exclusive new interviews and performance clips from Madison Square Garden, London and other performance venues.

“There are no superlatives left to describe Elton John and his impact on music and culture — he’s simply unrivaled,” Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said in a statement. “Like a good Disney story, Elton’s music has both universal appeal and the ability to connect with audiences on a deeply personal level. He has been part of the Disney family since 1994 when he helped make The Lion King an instant classic, and we could not be more excited to collaborate with him on this new documentary.”

“Working with R.J. Cutler and David Furnish on what will undoubtedly become the definitional film about the iconic Elton John is a great honor,” Ayo Davis, president of Disney Branded Television, said in a statement. “Their incredible vision and intimate access to exclusive, never-before-seen anecdotes and footage will provide the deepest, most captivating insight yet into one of the world’s most beloved and prolific artists.”

In addition to directing, R.J. Cutler will also produce the film under his company, This Machine Filmworks, as will David Furnish, who will produce under his and Elton John’s formed Rocket Entertainment. Trevor Smith will also serve as producer. Joining as executive producers are John Battsek, Jane Cha Cutler and Elise Pearlstein.

“What a thrill and an honor it is that David Furnish and I get to create this intimate and unique look at one of the world’s most celebrated artists,” director and producer Cutler said in a statement. “As it has for so many others, Elton John’s music has had deep meaning for me for decades, and this opportunity is nothing short of a career highlight and privilege.”

“Elton and I could not think of a better collaborator than R.J. Cutler for a film that represents more than just Elton’s career — it’s his life,” Furnish said in a statement. “From the Troubadour to Dodger Stadium, we knew that R.J. would help guide Elton’s story and its many layers in a way that feels authentic and evocative. We’re ecstatic to be working together.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Cutler is the director, producer and writer of four-time Emmy-nominated and Oscar-shortlisted feature documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, about music sensation Billie Eilish. His additional feature documentary credits include Critics’ Choice Award-nominated Belushi, Oscar-nominated The War Room, Emmy-nominated A Perfect Candidate, the Sundance Award-winning The September Issue, the Peabody Award-winning and Oscar-shortlisted Listen to Me Marlon, the Grierson Award-winning Thin and The World According to Dick Cheney.

Paramount+ to Bow Sylvester Stallone Series ‘Tulsa King’ Nov. 13

Paramount+ will bow the original series “Tulsa King,” starring Sylvester Stallone, with two episodes on Nov. 13.

Creator and Academy Award nominee Taylor Sheridan serves as executive producer alongside Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winner Terence Winter (“The Sopranos,” The Wolf of Wall Street), who will also be at the helm as showrunner and writer.

Mirroring the 2021 launches of “1883” and “Mayor of Kingstown,” Paramount Network will air a linear sneak peek of the “Tulsa King” debut episode on Nov. 13, as a special simulcast event immediately following the season five premiere of “Yellowstone.” Similarly, the second episode of “Tulsa King” will air behind “Yellowstone” on Nov. 20. All remaining episodes will be available to stream weekly on Sundays exclusively on Paramount+. 

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Tulsa King” follows New York mafia capo Dwight “The General” Manfredi (Stallone), just after he is released from prison after 25 years and unceremoniously exiled by his boss to set up shop in Tulsa, Okla. Realizing that his mob family may not have his best interests in mind, Dwight slowly builds a “crew” from a group of unlikely characters to help him establish a new criminal empire in a place that to him might as well be another planet.

“Tulsa King” is the latest addition to Sheridan’s growing slate on Paramount+ which includes “1883,” “Mayor of Kingstown” and the upcoming series “Lioness,” “1883: The Bass Reeves Story,” “Land Man” and “1932” (working title). 

Report: U.S. Digital Media Consumption Growth Slows

U.S. consumers are projected to spend about 8 hours and 14 minutes daily consuming digital media in 2022, up about 14 minutes (1.9%) from 2021, according to new data from eMarketer. The research firm said the gain is less than during the pandemic when housebound consumers worked from home using laptops and tablets, in addition to consuming entertainment.

The report found that increases in digital media consumption are driven by internet-connected devices such as smart TVs and video game consoles. In 2020 during the pandemic, use of internet-connected devices mushroomed 35.4% to 1 hour and 35 minutes per user. U.S. consumers are projected to spend 1 hour and 47 minutes internet-connected devices this year.

On the flipside, with the pandemic waning, use of desktops and laptops in the home will decline, with the typical user spending six minutes less in 2022 than they did in 2020. The eMarketer report also found that tablet usage will give way to increases in smartphone and smart TV use.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The report’s author, Sara Lebow, contends that digital distribution will account for an increasing share of time spent with media, totaling 8 hours and 28 minutes in 2024, or 64.9% of time spent with media.

“Digital’s growth is driven by increasing time spent with smartphones and other connected devices, which are making up for losses in the desktop/laptop and tablet categories,” Lebow wrote.