Sling TV Gets New Group President

Michael Schwimmer has been named group president, Sling TV, following the departure of Warren Schlichting, Dish Network Corp. announced.

Schwimmer, who returned to Dish in June 2019 to lead international business development and strategy, will report to Dish CEO Erik Carlson.

During his career at Dish, which began in 1996, Schwimmer led the company’s marketing, programming and media sales organizations and played a key role in launching the Dish International and DishLATINO brands. In addition to his work on Sling TV’s international business, he honed his over-the-top expertise at Fuse Media, where he served as president and CEO. In his new role, Schwimmer will be responsible for all aspects of the Sling TV business. He has also assumed responsibility for Dish Media Sales.

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Kevin Arrix, SVP, Dish Media Sales, will now report to Schwimmer, and will continue to be responsible for the company’s advertising sales, analytics and operations.

New Seasons of ‘Grantchester’ and ‘Seaside Hotel,’ ‘Wuthering Heights’ Streaming on PBS Masterpiece in June

New seasons of “Grantchester” and “Seaside Hotel” and the Emily Bronte adaptation Wuthering Heights are streaming on PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel in June.

The subscription rate for the channel is $5.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription.

Streaming starting June 5 is Wuthering Heights. Tom Hardy (InceptionMad Max: Fury Road) stars as Heathcliff and Charlotte Riley as the heroine Cathy in this adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic love story. Set against the stark beauty of the English moor, the mysterious gypsy boy Heathcliff, adopted by the Earnshaw family, discovers his soul mate in his stepsister Cathy. But as a man unable to have the love of his life, he seeks vengeance against anyone who comes between them.

Also debuting on the channel June 5 is the documentary Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History. Historian Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb unfolds the extraordinary story of the tumultuous love affair between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and asks: Was it really love that brought them together? And was it love that tore them apart? Using first-hand accounts from the time and visiting the places where Henry and Anne lived and stayed, the program delves into this passionate and volatile relationship — one which would send a queen to her death, amputate England from Europe, and lead to hundreds of years of religious conflict. Suzannah argues against many of the established theories and notions on Henry and Anne, revealing a very different story of their tragic marriage while attempting to answer many of the questions that are still fiercely debated.

The seven-episode “Walter Presents: Monster” also hits screens June 5. In the Norwegian crime thriller, a brutal murder reveals a mass grave which links old cases to missing people. Local policewoman Hedda is put on the case with special investigator Joel Dreyer, who comes from the metropolitan south. Their different backgrounds, personalities and methods immediately set them against each other. But when the investigation begins to spiral out of control, both detectives resort to questionable tactics in order to stay on the case and protect their secrets.

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Due June 12 is season five of the drama “Walter Presents: Seaside Hotel.” It’s the summer of 1932 and like clockwork the regular guests of the hotel arrive to escape their everyday lives and relax for the summer. But when two new guests, the celebrity couple the Molins, check in, their presence interferes with the regular guests’ activities and their daily routines are disrupted. As always, the guests have their own drama and scandals that they need to resolve before the summer ends.

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Hitting screens June 14 is season five of “Masterpiece Mystery!: Grantchester.” It’s 1957, and Will Davenport (Tom Brittney) has settled into his role as the vicar of Grantchester, preaching to a packed church. His best friend, Detective Inspector Georgie Keating (Robson Green), has come to accept his wife Cathy’s commitment to her job (just about). Mrs. C. happily juggles her roles as the vicarage housekeeper and being a well-to-do married woman, and after a trip to Marrakech, even Leonard has managed to carve out some happiness with Daniel. But Will’s faith will be thoroughly tested as he and Geordie are reminded once more that there’s darkness lurking in their little corner of Cambridgeshire. In addition to Brittney and Green, returning members of the acclaimed ensemble include Tessa Peake-Jones, Kacey Ainsworth and Al Weaver.

Available June 19 is the six-episode crime drama “Walter Presents: Trauma.” Adam Belmont is a brilliant and admired cop and has been investigating a series of deaths of young girls thought to be the work of a serial killer. As Adam gets closer to the identity of the killer, he is shot in the head but miraculously survives. With the bullet still lodged in his brain, Adam now suffers from amnesia. As he begins to recover, he discovers a young woman tied up and tortured in his basement. With no memory of his past, Adam is now faced with a terrifying thought: is he the killer?

Due June 22 is the six-episode documentary “Lucy Worsley’s Royal Myths and Secrets.” In each 60-minute episode, host and historian Worsley takes viewers across Britain and Europe to visit incredible locations where royal history was made. During Worsley’s tour through European history, viewers learn the true stories behind Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, Queen Anne and the information of Great Britain, Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, and more.

Finally, hitting screens June 26 is the drama “Walter Presents: The Berlin Dance School.” Conservative mother Caterina Schollack runs the prestigious dance school Galant in 1956 Berlin during Germany’s economic boom after WWII’s strict and authoritative attitudes begin to loosen. Caterina’s main concern is marrying-off her three daughters, Monika, Eva and Helga, to wealthy or well-established gentlemen. The sisters do their best to live up to their mother’s expectations and prudish morality while struggling with adulthood and first experiences as women.

Apple TV+ to Bow ‘Hedy Lamarr’ Starring Gal Gadot

“Hedy Lamarr,” an eight-episode limited series starring and executive produced by Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman” franchise), will premiere globally on Apple TV+.

The series is written and executive produced by Golden Globe Award winner Sarah Treem (“The Affair,” “House of Cards,” “In Treatment”).

Hailed as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” Hedy Lamarr was first exalted and iconized, then destroyed and eventually forgotten by American audiences, all the while keeping her brilliant mind active through a series of inventions, one of which became the basis for the spread spectrum technology used today. The series will follow the life story of the Hollywood glamour girl, spanning 30 years from Hedy’s escape from prewar Vienna, to her meteoric rise in the Golden Age of Hollywood, to her fall and eventual disgrace at the dawn of the Cold War.

The notion for the historical drama originated from Gadot and producing partner Jaron Varsano (“My Dearest Fidel”), who then partnered with Emmy and BAFTA Award winner Warren Littlefield (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Treem, the latter of whom created the series, according to an Apple release.

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In addition to Gadot and Treem, “Hedy Lamarr” will be executive produced by Littlefield and Katie Robbins (“The Affair”). Gadot and Varsano will produce through their production company, Pilot Wave. Adam Haggiag (Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story) and Alexandra Dean (Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story) will serve as co-producers, with Hedy Lamarr’s children Anthony Loder and Denise Deluca consulting on the series.

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Apple TV+ is available on the Apple TV app on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch, Mac, select Samsung and LG smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices, as well as at tv.apple.com, for $4.99 per month with a seven-day free trial. The Apple TV app will be available on Sony and VIZIO smart TVs later this year, according to the release.

HBO Max Greenlights ‘Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020’

WarnerMedia’s newly launched streaming service HBO Max has greenlit Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020.

Laura Benanti (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

Inspired by Tony Award winning actress Laura Benanti’s (“My Fair Lady” and “She Loves Me” on Broadway, Younger, Supergirl, Nashville) online movement #SunshineSongs, in which she offered to be an audience for the students around the country whose spring musicals were cancelled because of COVID-19, the show will give students the opportunity to sing and dance from the safety of their homes.

Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 will explore themes of classic teen movies through the lens of a world turned upside down by the global pandemic. The cast, featuring a diverse group of student actors with compelling backstories, will play seniors from the same high school. While the pandemic may have shut down their school, the drama and romantic intrigue live on.

“As a mom of teenagers, I know that this time has been a struggle for them. High school seniors in particular have been hit hard by this pandemic, their dreams of homecoming, prom, spring performances and even graduation being cancelled,” said Jennifer O’Connell, HBO Max EVP, original non-fiction and kids programming, in a statement. “Laura’s brilliant idea to give these kids an audience and a platform has blossomed into this unique opportunity for us to not only celebrate their talent, but to entertain many other families across the country sharing their experience.”

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“Our school shows are more than just entertainment,” said Benanti in a statement. “At the very least, they bring our communities together to revel in the talent of our young artists. At their best, they are a life changing experience that these kids will bring with them into the rest of their lives. I am thrilled that the #SunshineSongs initiative has put the spotlight on so many incredible young performers; grateful to World of Wonder for its grand vision and to HBO Max for providing a global platform on which America’s youth can shine.”

Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 is executive produced by Benanti along with Randy Barbato, Fenton Bailey and Tom Campbell for World of Wonder Productions (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”). Leland (Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) will write and produce the original songs and score.

Subscriptions to HBO Max are $14.99 per month.

Comscore: Streaming Services’ Share of Streaming Hours Surged During Pandemic

Engagement with streaming services surged in the beginning of May 2020 as Americans adjusted to stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from Comscore.

Among the “big five” streaming services — which still account for upwards of 80% of total hours streamed at home — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ saw growth in share of streaming hours in the week of May 11 versus the week of Feb. 3, according to Comscore.

Netflix’s and Amazon’s streaming hour share each grew 1.5% while Disney+’s grew 0.5%. YouTube’s was steady, down just 0.1%. Hulu’s was the only share to fall, down 2.9%.

While Disney+ held a smaller share of streaming hours among the “big five,” it is nearly two times larger than the next video-oriented OTT app offering in terms of streaming hours, according to Comscore.

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Other key points included:

  • Average in-home data consumption was up 33% during the first 10 days of May 2020 compared to the first ten days of May 2019 (May 1-10, 2020 versus May 1-10, 2019). This follows 28% and 36% year-over-year increases in March and April 2020, respectively. Smart TVs (+60 percent), mobile phones (+47 percent), streaming boxes/sticks (+39 percent), and smart speakers (+35 percent) are driving the year-over-year growth trends.
  • In-home data usage remained strong through the week of April 20, 2020 but began to decline in recent weeks, possibly due to some states easing their social distancing protocols.

‘The Last Dance’ Draws 23.8 Million International Household Viewers for Netflix

The Last Dance, the documentary series about basketball star Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls championship team, attracted 23.8 million households outside the United States on Netflix, the service announced May 20.

The miniseries, a co-production of Netflix and ESPN Films, aired on ESPN in the United States April 19 through May 17 with each episode being made available the day after airing to international audiences via the SVOD service.

“23 was always his lucky number! 23.8 million households outside the U.S. checked out The Last Dance in its first four weeks on Netflix,” the service tweeted.

Jordan’s jersey number was 23.

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Interest in Digital Home Entertainment Spread in Pandemic, DEG Speakers Say

Staying at home during the pandemic increased digital home entertainment interest across the board — for free VOD, SVOD and TVOD — according to speakers at a virtual DEG Expo May 21.

“We’re seeing in this moment really strong momentum for content consumption, discovery, engagement across our whole ecosystem,” said Google’s Jonathan Zepp. “That’s especially true in our user-facing, consumer businesses. For example, since stay-at-home has been in place, our home entertainment transactional business has seen tremendous growth in consumption, and it’s driven not only by new-release, home-premiere titles, but also catalog titles that have been wonderful and enjoyed by families together.”

Consumers were also searching for older shows. As consumers began to shelter in place, search queries for “The Sopranos” grew 67%, “Game of Thrones” 36% and “Mad Men” 31%, noted Google’s David Wang.

“If you take even some of these older titles that are evergreen, we’re seeing significant increases in search volume for these titles over the past several months, and they all roughly correlate with the timing of stay-at-home orders,” he said.

Consumers also increased searches for “Marvel movies in order” and — perhaps coming as no surprise — “virus movies.”

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“Right around the time that the pandemic was declared, we saw a huge spike in the number of queries for virus movies, and thankfully that’s tapered off a little bit, and people are looking for a little bit lighter fare,” he said.

“Tiger King,” Netflix’s much talked about documentary about eccentric big cat collectors, also got a search boost.

Consumers were also looking for content broadly, with searches such as “what to watch on Netflix” up 114%, “best TV shows” up 62% and “action movies” up 58% as stay-at-home orders took effect.

“Eventually you run out of things that you know you want to watch, and you need to discover new content, so we see increases in broad inquires,” Wang said.

Consumers were also looking for specific content providers, with searches for “Disney+ movies” up 135%, “Netflix movies” up 86% and “Hulu movies” also up 86%.

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“Oftentimes, you want to maximize the value of an existing subscription that you have, and you want to find out what’s new or what’s hot on one of those services or maybe you’re trying to understand whether you want to subscribe to a new service,” Wang noted.

Searches for free content also grew, with “free TV websites” up 179% and “free movies” up 60%.

“What we’ve observed is that a lot of free content has been made available over the past couple of months, generally brought about by COVID and stay-at-home orders,” he said, adding, “I do think that the business model is changing slightly in terms of free content. We see more advertising video-on-demand players, so we see a definite shift in increasing query volume for that. I think we’ve established a new baseline.”

As some areas opened, such COVID-spawned entertainment search activity decreased, he said, pointing to South Korea, where the infection curve flattened early, as an example.

Still, he thinks there has been a permanent shift in viewing habits.

“Even as we start going out a little bit more, I think the general consumption of streaming over something more linear is probably here to stay,” Wang said.

Netflix Helping Long-Dormant Subs Cancel Service

Netflix in a blog May 21 announced it is sending emails to long-dormant subscribers asking them if they would like to cancel the service.

The emails will go to those not using the service for more than a year. If they don’t reply to the email, Netflix will automatically cancel their subscription.

“You know that sinking feeling when you realize you signed up for something but haven’t used it in ages?,” wrote Eddy Wu of product innovation. “At Netflix, the last thing we want is people paying for something they’re not using.

“So we’re asking everyone who has not watched anything on Netflix for a year since they joined to confirm they want to keep their membership. And we’ll do the same for anyone who has stopped watching for more than two years. Members will start seeing these emails or in app notifications this week. If they don’t confirm that they want to keep subscribing, we’ll automatically cancel their subscription.”

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Such inactive accounts represent less than half of 1% of Netflix’s overall member base, according to the blog, amounting to “a few hundred thousand,” and are already factored into financial guidance.

“We’ve always thought it should be easy to sign up and to cancel,” read the blog. “So, as always, anyone who cancels their account and then rejoins within 10 months will still have their favorites, profiles, viewing preferences and account details just as they left them. In the meantime, we hope this new approach saves people some hard-earned cash.”

Hulu Unveils Updated Interface

Hulu has unveiled an updated interface designed to make content choices easier to navigate and more personalized.

The changes will be available to some viewers on Roku and tvOS devices beginning May 20 and roll out more broadly over the next few months, according to a company blog.

“With our growing audience, we’re constantly thinking about creating the best possible experience for our viewers, by getting them to the content they want to watch quickly while also helping them discover their next favorite movie or series to binge,” wrote Hulu’s VP of product management Jim Denney and director of product management Jason Wong in the blog. “We listened to feedback from our viewers and heard they loved how easy it was to continue watching the shows and movies they love, but not as easy to discover new content.”

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With the changes, viewers can navigate through collections vertically and explore within a collection by moving horizontally.

“This navigation pattern is something our viewers are accustomed to and matches the navigation pattern across Disney+ and ESPN+, making it easier for viewers who subscribe to the Disney bundle to switch between services and navigate with ease,” they wrote. “When testing, viewers found it easy and intuitive to adjust to this updated navigation pattern.”

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The service is also simplifying navigation. Categories of content such as TV, movies, and sports are moving to the master navigation.

The changes also communicate information through tile size.

“New shows or movies we know you won’t want to miss will be larger in size,” they wrote.

“Keep Watching” tiles may be smaller, so viewers can see more of their titles at a glance and quickly return to their favorite shows with less clicks.

The service is also making changes to more personalize collections, using both algorithms and human input.

“We’re always working on bettering our recommendations to help you discover more, faster,” they wrote. “In addition to changes to the Hulu user experience, we’ve also made some backend changes to improve the way our recommendations work.

“Since Hulu launched, we knew it was incredibly important to have human editors surfacing content, in addition to smart algorithms identifying the next binge-worthy series for you to watch. Starting today, our team of content experts and recommendation system work even more closely together, with our recommendation system fine-tuning curated collections so they are more personalized for our viewers. With this change, a viewer who may be a fan of medical dramas will see those titles first in a curated drama collection. In that same collection, a fan of romantic dramas may see those prioritized instead.”

Apple TV+ to Debut Sports Doc Series ‘Greatness Code’ July 10

Apple TV+ July 10 will exclusively debut globally the documentary series “Greatness Code,” featuring such top athletes as LeBron James and Tom Brady.

The short-form unscripted series spotlights untold stories from the top athletes in the world. The first season includes seven episodes, each examining a pivotal moment that defined an athlete’s career. Athletes profiled in season one include:

  • four-time NBA MVP, three-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist LeBron James;
  • six-time Super Bowl champion and four-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady;
  • Olympic gold medalist and co-captain of the US Women’s National Soccer Team Alex Morgan;
  • record-holding Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Shaun White;
  • world’s fastest man and eight-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt;
  • five-time Olympic gold medalist and 15-time world champion swimmer Katie Ledecky; and
  • 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater.

 

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“Greatness Code” is a co-production between sports content platforms Religion of Sports, which is co-founded by Gotham Chopra, Tom Brady and NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, and Uninterrupted, founded by LeBron James and Maverick Carter.

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The series is directed by Chopra, who also executive produces through Religion of Sports, and executive produced by Maverick Carter via Uninterrupted. Ameeth Sankaran also serves as executive producer through Religion of Sports, and Devin Johnson executive produces via Uninterrupted.