HBO Max Secures Rights to Japan’s Studio Ghibli Movies

HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s pending subscription streaming video platform, has acquired first-time streaming rights to Studio Ghibli’s movie catalog. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

The Japan-based animation studio’s titles include: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, and Castle in the Sky, among others.

“Studio Ghibli films are visually breathtaking, completely immersive experiences” Kevin Reilly, CCO HBO Max and president, TNT, TBS, and truTV, said in a statement. “We are proud to showcase them in an accessible way for even more fans through HBO Max.”

The studio’s animation directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and producer Toshio Suzuki, have won countless international awards, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away, as well as four additional Academy Award nominations for Howl’s Moving CastleThe Wind RisesThe Tale of The Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There.

Director and studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki was separately given an Honorary Award at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Awards in 2014, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will pay tribute to his artwork with a special exhibit when the Museum opens in 2020.

Koji Hoshino, chairman of Studio Ghibli, called HBO Max the ideal “home” for its feature film content.

“Upon launch of the service this spring, existing Ghibli fans will be able enjoy their favorites and delve deeper into the library, while whole new audiences will be able to discover our films for the first time,” Hoshino said.

 

‘Last Week Tonight’ Host John Oliver Mocks HBO Max

British comic John Oliver has never shied away from calling out perceived hypocrisy within corporate America, social media and politics — even if it includes his network employer.

His weekly satirical look at events and newsmakers has made HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” a critical success at industry awards, including winning multiple Primetime Emmy Awards.

On the Oct. 13 broadcast, Oliver included a segment on the NBA’s political entanglement with China and issues involving pro-democracy forces in the semi-autonomous Chinese region of Hong Kong.

Specifically, the NBA has recently found itself in hot water with China after the GM of the Houston Rockets “liked” a social media tweet, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” indicating solidarity with the protestors.

In response, Chinese media announced it would not air or stream NBA games in the quasi Communist country, and two major retailers pulled Rockets apparel from store shelves.

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Significant moves considering the NBA has business deals worth upwards of $4 billion in the Peoples Republic.

Oliver then showed a corny clip of NBA stars celebrating the Chinese New Year with the following retort: “There’s just nothing more cringeworthy  than watching someone forced to engage in promotional bullshit to appease  the whims of their parent company.”

Oliver then spun his chair 45 degrees, and with a glazed look in a monotone voice recited a PR plug for the pending subscription streaming video platform, HBO Max.

“Have you heard of HBO Max? Looking to add another app and monthly charge to watch things?,” Oliver deadpanned. “HBO Max has you covered. It’s going to have all your favorites: Reruns of ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ reruns of ‘Friends,’ reruns of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’. You can pay for all of those through HBO Max. HBO Max. It’s not HBO. It’s just TV.”

HBO Max launches in early 2020.

 

Netflix Inks ‘The Crown’ Creator Peter Morgan to Exclusive Production Deal

With Netflix set to begin streaming the third season of original series “The Crown” Nov. 17, the subscription streaming video behemoth has reportedly signed series showrunner Peter Morgan to an exclusive big-money production deal.

Media reports suggest the pact includes seasons four, five and six of “The Crown,” among other projects, including movies.

Morgan’s screenwriting efforts include Oscar-winning The Queen,

Peter Morgan

Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland and The Damned United.

The signing comes after Netflix renewed hit series “Stranger Things” for a fourth season and signed series creators and showrunners the Duffer brothers to a multiyear film and series overall deal.

Media companies continue scramble to secure/acquire content creators ahead of the November launch of Apple TV+ and Disney+ subscription streaming services.

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WarnerMedia and Comcast’s NBC Universal are launching proprietary streaming services early next year.

WarnerMedia last month inked “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” director J.J. Abrams to an exclusive production deal reportedly worth upwards of $500 million for its pending HBO Max service.

“Fleabag” creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge signed a production deal with Amazon Studios.

Waller-Bridge’s breakout hit won Outstanding Comedy Series, with the actress also picking up Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series.

HBO Max Expands Executive Team

AT&T’s pending subscription streaming service HBO Max Oct. 2 added several executives to its ranks.

The service, which is set to launch in Spring 2020, named Billy Wee SVP of original animation, and Nikki Reed VP of kids and family scripted originals.

Billy Wee

Wee comes from WarnerMedia’s TBS, where he was VP of original programming, and Reed hails from Viacom’s Nickelodeon, where she was VP of original series development.

“The kids and family space has a long history at WarnerMedia, from our legendary animation to classic motion pictures, and is now an essential part of HBO Max,” Kevin Reilly, chief content officer of HBO Max, and president of TNT, TBS and truTV, said in a statement. “We now have a top-notch team to create a slate of original content appealing to kids, tweens, young adults and the whole family.”

Nikki Reed

Separately, Max added Sarah Lyons as SVP of product experience. She previously worked for AT&T’s DirecTV unit as VP of OTT media products.

WarnerMedia executive Katie Soo, was named SVP of growth marketing, while Keith Camoosa, was named SVP of data insights and operations.

DirecTV Now’s Jess Miller was named VP of project management, while former Crunchroll executive Reid DeRamus was named senior director of business operations.

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Meanwhile, Sean Kisker, transitions to EVP and chief strategy officer for Otter Media and WarnerMedia direct-to-consumer. He will work with Josh Walker, chief strategy officer and EVP of financial planning, WarnerMedia Entertainment.

“We have gathered an all-star team of executives whose innovative contributions have directly advanced the digital media industry,” said Tony Goncalves, CEO of Otter Media.

 

Report: 90% of Brits Stop at One or Two Streaming Video Services

New subscription streaming video services coming from Disney, Apple and WarnerMedia, in addition to Disney’s Hulu, all eye the United Kingdom as market growth opportunities.

But will consumers there even care?

New research from online ad exchange OpenX and The Harris Poll, found that nearly 90% of U.K. consumers limit their SVOD services to one or two, with just 12% having three or more.

Indeed, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Now TV, ITV Player, and BritBox, among others, currently dominate the U.K. market. 

The report was commissioned to underscore the effectiveness of advertising in an evolving media landscape and changing consumer viewing habits.

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Regardless, television consumption continues to proliferate. The report found that consumers stream nearly seven hours of video per week. Millennials stream upwards of 10 hours weekly.

Older baby boomers, on the other hand, consume 16 hours of live TV weekly, while millennials stream 77% more than watch traditional TV.

“Whether they are watching TV, using a mobile device or browsing the web on a desktop computer, the way consumers are engaging with media is changing rapidly,” Gavin Stirrat, VP of partner services, EMEA at OpenX, said in a statement.

Post Kevin Tsujihara, WarnerMedia Releases First Diversity Report

WarnerMedia Sept. 26 released its first-ever annual report looking at diversity, inclusion and belonging across both its corporate operations and the films, television series and digital content created by its various production businesses.

In September 2018, WarnerMedia announced a “production diversity policy,” which included the commitment to report on its diversity and inclusion efforts annually.

The policy was partially in response to the fallout following the resignation of former Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who left the studio after revelations of an extramarital affair with an aspiring actress.

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Earlier this year, WarnerMedia hired its first chief enterprise inclusion officer, Christy Haubegger, saying her leadership would be key to expanding and developing initiatives designed to make the company and its content more diverse and inclusive.

The report, covering 2018, highlighted three areas at WarnerMedia: workforce (including workforce composition, employee resource groups), content (including scripted TV, films, news, animation) and community (including industry and local outreach partnerships and programs).

Among the key findings related to workforce and production staffing:

WarnerMedia’s global workforce is 54% male and 46% female, and its U.S. workforce is 53% male and 47% female.

Globally, half of all new hires and promotions to VP and above were women.

About 42% of non-managers were people of color, but representation decreased at more senior levels. However, the percentage of people of color who were hired or promoted in 2018 exceeded their total percentage across all levels.

“This will lead to increased representation going forward,” read the report.

Across WarnerMedia’s non-film scripted programming, females represented 34% of onscreen roles and 23% of behind-the-camera positions.

Across WarnerMedia’s non-film scripted programming, people of color represented 24% of onscreen roles and 23% of behind-the-camera positions.

“[At] WarnerMedia companies, we have a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and consider these values an important part of our culture and a business priority,” John Stankey, COO of AT&T and CEO, WarnerMedia, said in a statement.

“While I’m incredibly proud of what this report shows and our ongoing dedication to transparency, I recognize that we’ve got more work to do at every level. We know diversity, inclusion and belonging are important to our employees, our creative partners, our customers and to our success.”

Indeed, the report underscored various examples of diversity and inclusion in action, including spotlights on various employee resource groups (Black Professionals@Turner, HBO Proud, Women of Warner UK and others), employee-centric content and platforms showcasing D&I activities across the enterprise (Warner Bros.’ “We See You,” Turner’s “Hello, My Name Is…” and “HBO POV”) and a behind-the-scenes look at the company’s films, TV shows and animated series.

While the report only tracked gender and race, WarnerMedia said it is developing new processes, tools and formats for gathering more detailed information about the diversity of its workforce and productions, allowing it to better tailor its efforts and outreach.

Going forward, the annual report will look at data from the previous full calendar year, and will evolve to reflect the changes taking place across WarnerMedia’s businesses.

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.

 

HBO Max Adds Nonfiction Executives

HBO Max, the pending subscription streaming video service from WarnerMedia, Sept. 23 announced the hiring of three senior executives to its nonfiction content production team.

Max named Lizzie Fox, SVP of nonfiction programming, and Rebecca Quinn, VP of nonfiction programming. Brett Boydstun was hired as SVP of nonfiction programming as well.

“Nonfiction storytelling will be a crucial component to HBO Max and we now have the leadership and team in place to bring the best this genre has to offer to our offering,” Keven Reilly, chief content officer at Max, said in a statement.

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Fox and Quinn report to Jennifer O’Connell, EVP, original nonfiction and kids programming. Boydstun reports to Mark Weissman, SVP, production.

“As a multi-Emmy winner, Lizzie has a reputation for producing a list of critically-acclaimed and award-winning documentaries and non-fiction series,” O’Connell said. “Rebecca has a proven track record of creating and producing internationally renowned formats and franchises. I’m so fortunate to have this killer team to help build up the HBO Max non-fiction slate with our producing partners.”

Fox comes to HBO Max from CNN; where she managed more than 40 original nonfiction series, including “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell,” “This Is Life With Lisa Ling,” “The Sixties,” “The Seventies,” “The Eighties” and “The Nineties.”

Quinn previously headed development for  number of pilots, net work series at Lionsgate, including “Kicking and Screaming,” “Candy Crush” and “Kavin Hart: What the Fit.”

Boydstun most-recently was EVP, head of production for Karga Seven Pictures, working on “JFK: Declassified,” “Hunting Hitler” and “The Hunt for the Zodiak Killer,” among others.

 

Sony PlayStation Vue Could Lose HBO, Cinemax

As media distribution competition intensifies, existing carriage agreements are changing.

Sony’s online TV service PlayStation Vue warned on its website that it may soon lose WarnerMedia’s HBO, Cinemax and NBA TV, among other programming.

“Most of the programming/content you watch on PlayStation Vue is licensed from programmers for the right to air their networks/channels,” read the site. “Once these agreements near expiration, we enter into renewal discussions where we work hard to try and obtain the best value for our customers.”

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While Vue has license agreements with WarnerMedia through the end of the month, the AT&T subsidiary is reportedly looking for increased subscriber commitments from licensees.

Dish Network recently dropped HBO from its satellite and online service Sling TV due to the demands. CEO Charlie Ergen recently argued Dish users could subscribe to HBO Now separately if they wanted the programming he has no interest in subsidizing.

With Vue subscriptions reportedly trailing Sling, AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Sony is trying to streamline programming costs.

“Though infrequent, sometimes certain licenses will not be renewed, in which case PlayStation Vue would no longer carry the affected channels or networks,” read the site. “This section will be updated periodically to list channels and networks coming up for renewal.”

 

AT&T CEO Defends Media Strategy, Including John Stankey as Possible Successor

Facing a boycott of sorts from an activist investor calling for senior management changes at AT&T, CEO Randall Stephenson Sept. 17 sought to outline to Wall Street why the telecom under its current management is on the right path in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Speaking Sept. 17 at Goldman Sachs 28th Annual Communacopia confab in New York, Stephenson said his decision to spend hundreds of billions of dollars acquiring satellite operator DirecTV and Time Warner was based in part on an evolving in a digital ecosystem.

“If you had asked me that question five years ago, I’d be hard-pressed to say it makes sense, in the old world,” he said. “In the new world, it makes all the sense in the world. We believe people are going to spend more and more of their day watching premium content.”

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Stephenson said AT&T has more than 170 million “customer relationships” requiring more bandwidth and connectivity to consume content, which is why he spearheaded the telecom’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner two years ago and the $67 billion purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

AT&T also operates 5,500 retail stores nationwide.

But it was those acquisitions, which have ballooned AT&T’s debt exponentially, while at the same time DirecTV and AT&T U-verse continue hemorrhaging subscribers (1 million this year) that led investor Elliott Management, who owns a $3.2 billion stake in AT&T, to write a letter to the board seeking changes.

Specifically, Elliott CEO Paul Singer wants Stephenson and COO John Stankey, who is also CEO of WarnerMedia, replaced.

Stephenson, who says the board will “evaluate [the letter] and see what makes sense for our shareholders,” says the content creation business is changing dramatically — moving from a linear TV distribution business model to over-the-top video.

The executive says WarnerMedia is uniquely qualified to meet the challenge with both himself and Stankey in their current positions.

“It’s a hard play to take a legacy company on legacy distribution models and make a pivot into digital distribution,” Stephenson said. “[Stankey] has done a really nice good job breaking down the [intra-company] silos. He’s got experiences that are long, wide and deep.”

“[WarnerMedia] is one of the largest-scaled TV and film production studios in the world,” he said, adding that AT&T has now become the largest distributor of HBO in the world, including 66% bigger than the premium channel’s No. 2 distributor.

Stephenson said acquiring Time Warner was due to the fact the media distribution world was changing and not growing on legacy pay-TV platforms, but rather digital platforms.

“We’ve had to reorient the business,” he said.