Fox Nation to Stream ‘Prisoner of Putin’ March 28 on One-Year Anniversary of ‘Journal’ Reporter’s Detainment

The Fox Nation subscription streaming service will debut a new special titled “Prisoner of Putin” on March 28, one day before the one-year anniversary of the arrest and detainment of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in a Russian prison.

Evan Gershkovich (WSJ image)

The special aims to provide an in-depth look into Gershkovich’s life and his resilience throughout the last year. Contributions will be made by Fox News Channel senior correspondent Steve Harrigan, who was formerly based in Moscow, Wall Street Journal colleagues Gordon Fairclough and Paul Beckett, as well as Jeremy Berke and Sam Silverman, close friends of Gershkovich.

On March 29, 2023, Gershkovich was on assignment in Russia when he was arrested by security forces and accused of being a spy, a charge denied by Gershkovich, the WSJ, and the U.S. government. He is the first Western reporter taken hostage since the Cold War.

Critics of Putin say Gershkovich is being held as a political pawn for possible future negotiations.

The Wall Street Journal is a division of Dow Jones, which is owned by News Corp., a separate business unit owned by Rupert Murdock, most recently executive chair of Fox Corp.

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Paramount Reportedly Looking to Combine Showtime Anytime With Paramount+

Paramount Global has a marketing problem not dissimilar to Warner Bros. Discovery: Both media giants have separate branded subscription streaming platforms (HBO Max and Discovery+, and Paramount+ and Showtime Anytime, respectively) that need to be combined.

Now Paramount is reportedly considering melding the $10.99 subscription streaming platform Showtime Anytime with Paramount+ ($9.99 without ads) in an effort to simplify subscription streaming consumer offerings in a market saturated with competing services, including industry pioneers Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu.

Showtime’s high-profile series include “Billions,” “Yellowjackets,” “City on a Hill” and “The Chi,” among others. The streaming service launched in 2014 and currently offers access to select programming on Paramount+ in Europe.

“We are always exploring options to maximize the value of our content investment by giving consumers access to great Paramount content through an array of services and platforms,” a spokesman told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the possible move, citing sources familiar with the situation.

Paramount+ subscribers grew to more than 43 million in the most-recent fiscal quarter, which reflected the addition of 4.9 million subscribers and the removal of 1.2 million Russia subscribers — the latter due to the Ukraine war.

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Global subscribers, which include Showtime Anytime and Noggin, among others, reached 64 million and reflect the addition of 5.2 million subscribers and the removal of 3.9 million Russia subs.

Paramount recently began bundling Paramount+ and Showtime for $7.99 monthly with advertising, $12.99 without ads. The promotion is slated to end on Oct. 2.

Disney Considering Another ‘Mulan’ Theatrical Release Delay

With spikes in coronavirus infections springing up around the country, the July 24 debut of Walt Disney Studios’ live-action Mulan reportedly could be pushed back again. Disney has not made any official announcement.

With Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and South Carolina setting daily COVID-19 infection records, more than 36,000 new cases were reported June 24 nationwide.

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“The exhibition business will not be at full strength for many months,” David Gross with Franchise Entertainment Research told The Wall Street Journal, which cited studio sources about a possible new Mulan release date.

The release of Mulan has been considered a bellwether among exhibitors regarding moviegoer interest returning to theaters.

The movie, originally slated for March 9 release, had been rescheduled for July 24 — a week after the proposed July 17 launch of Warner Bros.’ international espionage thriller Tenet from director Christopher Nolan. Tenet has now been pushed back to July 31, making Mulan a standalone litmus test regarding a return to the box office normalcy.

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An unenviable position for any major studio tentpole release, especially when the entire domestic exhibition business — led by AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark — has circled the movie for its grand re-opening.

The 1998 animated Mulan generated more than $300 million at the global box office.

Indeed, Disney has pushed back many of its major theatrical releases to next year and beyond, with some smaller titles going direct to SVOD platform Disney+.

Eternals is now set for Feb. 12, 2021; Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is set for May 7, 2021; Thor: Love and Thunder will arrive on Feb. 18, 2022; Black Panther 2 will be released on May 6, 2022, and Captain Marvel 2 follows thereafter on July 8, 2022.

NBA TV Ratings Down 15% as League Pushes Streaming Access

With several marquee players absent due to injury, the National Basketball Association’s 2019-20 season is off to an inglorious start.

NBA games on national TV drew an average of 885,000 viewers in the first eight weeks of the season, according to The Wall Street Journal, in contrast to 1 million during the previous-year period and 1.2 million two years ago.

The league cites a rash of injuries to big name players such as Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Zion Williamson for the downturn. Indeed, without Curry and Thompson, the former champion Golden State Warriors are dead last in the Western Conference with just nine wins.

Media analysts such as Rich Greenfield with Lightshed Partners contend viewers are diminishing for other reasons such declining pay-TV and increasing content alternatives.

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“There is no doubt that the talent in any season can push ratings up or down, but everyone is fighting a very, very difficult underlying trend, which is less people subscribing to TV,” Greenfield told WSJ. “And of the people who are subscribing to TV, they’re watching less and less every day.”

The NBA for the first time is selling its NBA TV streaming service without a requisite pay-TV contract. NBA TV, which affords subscribers live access to out-of-market games, costs $6.99 monthly or $59.99 annually.

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Launched in 1999 as a 24-hour cable channel, NBA League Pass began offering streaming video access to select games in 2006. It became available on Dish Network’s Sling TV online platform in 2018.

Report: Lionsgate Considering Spinning Off Starz

Lionsgate is reportedly considering spinning off or selling its Starz subsidiary.

Lionsgate, which acquired Starz in 2016 for $4 billion, is looking to leverage the pay-TV and $8.99 monthly over-the-top video subsidiary in an era of burgeoning streaming video, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

Specifically, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based studio/distributor is following the corporate playbook Viacom pursued in 2004 when it spun off its controlling stake in Blockbuster Video for a $1.3 billion impairment charge.

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Lionsgate reported about $2.9 billion in debt at the end of the most-recent fiscal period. The company could offload the debt through a special-purpose acquisition vehicle — a public company created to acquire a specific asset.

Earlier this year, CBS reportedly offered $5 billion for Starz, which Lionsgate considered too low. Two years ago, Hasbro looked to acquire Starz but negotiations ended without a deal.

Lionsgate also has other reasons to consider offloading Starz. With pay-TV operators looking to rework carriage agreements with content holders, DirecTV reduced the amount it pays Lionsgate to carry Starz and Starz Encore.

Now Comcast is reportedly looking to drop Starz when its carriage deal expires at the end of the year. Loss of the nation’s No. 1 cable operator could result in Starz losing millions of subscribers, or more than $225 million in annual revenue.


Disney, Amazon in Dispute Over Fire TV App Ad Revenue

Amazon is much more than an e-commerce behemoth. The Seattle-based company is a major distributor of third-party streaming video services and proprietary content — the former through Amazon Channels.

So when Disney partnered with Amazon to distribute its media apps via the latter’s Fire TV streaming media device, it wasn’t about to relinquish ad revenue from the apps — even if Amazon is reportedly the second-largest distributor of streaming TV apps.

Fire TV, which trails only Roku in Q2 2019 streaming media device shipments, according to Strategy Analytics, enables consumers to stream Prime Video, Netflix, Sling TV and Hulu, among others, to the television.

Amazon wants a piece of Disney’s ad revenue from its branded apps — including ABC, ESPN and Disney Channel — according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited resources familiar to the situation.

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Disney is resisting the request, a move that could see its apps disappear from Fire TV. Indeed, the platform is not slated to carry Disney’s pending subscription streaming service, Disney+.

In the burgeoning over-the-top video ecosystem, media companies and tech companies are grappling with distribution issues — notably carriage revenue agreements — typically reserved for the pay-TV landscape.

Indeed, with Google and Amazon competing for the identical third-party ad revenue, neither offer its proprietary (YouTube, Prime Video) video platform on the other’s platform.

“The traditional negotiations between cable operators and media companies are the most vicious negotiations that I’ve ever been exposed to. And now you see that world colliding with these tech behemoths,” said Steve Shannon, chief executive of Tetra TV, which operates a marketplace for ads on streaming video, told The Journal.

When Amazon launched Fire TV in 2014, it didn’t seek a cut of third-party ad revenue. But five years later, Amazon takes significant revenue cuts from third-party streaming services offered on its Channels platform for Prime members.

The strategy is now being emulated on Fire TV, with the platform reportedly seeking upwards of 40% of third-party app ad-revenue. Disney apparently is willing to offer 10%, according to WSJ.

Meanwhile, Roku reportedly demands as much as 30% of revenue from third-parties operating on its platform. Disney-owned Hulu pays Roku about 15%.

Until the dispute is resolved, Disney+ will be available via Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, Android devices, Chromecast, Sony PS4, Xbox One and Roku.

Stankey: AT&T Keeping DirecTV, Integral to HBO Max Launch

John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia and COO of parent AT&T, Sept. 24 sought to dispel media reports the telecom is looking to jettison satellite operator DirecTV to appease an activist investor and reduce debt.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Stankey said DirecTV would “be important” as WarnerMedia rolls out new subscription streaming video service, HBO Max, early next year.

Specifically, the executive said subscriber data from DirecTV would help WarnerMedia target the appropriate users for HBO Max.

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“We’re constantly looking at the [business] portfolio,” Stankey said. “That’s the normal course of business and it’s not unique to DirecTV.”

The Journal previously reported that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was considering spinning off DirecTV, which has lost more than 1 million pay-TV subs as consumers continue to embrace over-the-top video and alternative forms of home entertainment.

Indeed, AT&T has 3 million fewer pay-TV subs since acquiring DirecTV in 2015.

Stankey suggested DirecTV has suffered by not being able to bundle high-speed Internet to consumers as competitor Comcast does.

“Where we’ve built better broadband, the business is performing just fine,” he said.

Stankey also said that Stephenson met with investor Elliott Management Co., which holds more than $3.2 billion worth of AT&T stock, to seek a compromise regarding sought management changes — including replacing the CEO and COO.

Stankey told The Journal there are no plans to replace his position at WarnerMedia or the CEO’s of AT&T.

“I’m not looking to find my successor right at the moment,” he said.

Th executive also alluded to HBO Max being offered at premium price compared to Netflix’s $12.99, Apple TV+ ($4.99) and Disney+($6.99).

With the current HBO Now priced at $15 monthly, HBO Max, which will offer original and catalog programming, will be the most expensive SVOD on the market.

“Higher quality should warrant a slightly higher price,” Stankey said.


WarnerMedia Readying $16-$17 SVOD Service Focused on HBO, Cinemax, Warner Bros. Movies

WarnerMedia reportedly plans to launch a subscription streaming video service later this year revolving around HBO, Cinemax and Warner Bros. movies — and priced from $16 to $17 monthly.

The unnamed service, which will bow in beta later this year, would join similar SVOD efforts from Disney ($6.99 Disney+) and Apple aimed at competing against Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

NBC Universal is readying an ad-supported VOD service for Xfinity subscribers in 2020, which would be available separately to consumers for a monthly fee.

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Notably, WarnerMedia’s service would cost slightly more than what HBO Now ($14.99) and Cinemax ($12.99) do now separately — the latter charged to pay-TV subscribers.

WarnerMedia, which formed following AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, is also eyeing ad-supported VOD service.

The rush to over-the-top distribution comes as AT&T continues to hemorrhage pay-TV subscribers among its DirecTV and AT&T U-verse platforms. Standalone online TV service, DirecTV Now, for the first time lost subscribers in the most-recent fiscal period as well.

Indeed, AT&T is scrambling to find an OTT product that resonates with consumers. Late last month, it inked a joint venture deal with The Chernin Group aimed at investing $500 million into both ad-supported and subscription-based online video businesses.

“Combining our expertise in network infrastructure, mobile, broadband and video with The Chernin Group’s management and expertise in content, distribution, and monetization models in online video creates the opportunity for us to develop a compelling offering in the OTT space,” John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia, said in a statement.