Category Archives: Movies

Disney’s forthcoming streaming service will kill the Disney Vault

It looks like the Disney Vault is dead. For years, Disney relied on limited time releases of its films on DVD and Blu-ray to encourage sales. The strategy worked. Consumers snapped up the titles to build out their home video collections. But in more recent years, DVDs have given way to streaming. For Disney, that’s an opportunity to resell its movie library all over again – this time, by way of subscription. At a shareholder meeting week, Disney CEO Bog Iger announced the company’s forthcoming Disney+ streaming service would soon include the “entire Disney motion picture library.”

He clarified that this meant it would house the movies that were previously locked up in the Disney Vault, Polygon reported on Thursday, following the meeting.

“The service, which I mentioned earlier is going to launch later in the year, is going to combine what we call library product, movies, and television, with a lot of original product as well, movies and television. And at some point fairly soon after launch it will house the entire Disney motion picture library, so the movies that you speak of that traditionally have been kept in a vault and brought out basically every few years will be on the service,” said Iger. “And then, of course, we’re producing a number of original movies and original television shows as well that will be Disney-branded.”

There are, of course, movies that aren’t in the “Vault” – they’re no longer being released, period. But most people aren’t worried about whether or not they’ll gain access to Disney’s full historical archives – they’re interested in Disney’s classics as well as its newer films, and its Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel movies. In addition, Disney promises original programming will come to its streaming service, which will make it more attractive to consumers. It will even feature select non-Disney content at launch, to fill out its catalog.

Iger additionally noted that new films would arrive on Disney+ within a year of their release to theaters, and that films Disney is releasing this year – like Captain Marvel – will be included on the service, as well.

Disney+ will launch later this year, Iger also confirmed. But no exact date has been announced.

After Roma swept the Oscars, Steven Spielberg seeks to block streaming films

Like some other industry figures, Spielberg doesn't seem to like where Hollywood is going.
Enlarge / Like some other industry figures, Spielberg doesn’t seem to like where Hollywood is going.

A spokesperson for Amblin, the production company run by director Steven Spielberg, has told IndieWire that Spielberg plans to support an effort to change the rules of the Oscars to bar some films primarily distributed via streaming platforms like Netflix from nomination for Academy Awards.

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” the spokesperson told the publication. “He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting].”

The conversation in Hollywood about the legitimacy of films made for streaming has been fierce since critical darling Roma—a Netflix-backed film from Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón—took home Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Cinematography in an unprecedented sweep for a streaming film. However, Roma lost Best Picture to controversial film Green Book, which Spielberg backed.

Some industry figures have proposed a requirement that films run in theaters for at least four weeks before they can be considered for Oscars. Others have said they believe the amount of money Netflix spent lobbying for Roma (estimates range from $25 to 50 million—much more than is common, IndieWire reports) was unfair. But there is not yet any consensus on which specific changes to the rules will be proposed or potentially ratified.

When asked in an earlier interview with ITV News whether streaming is a threat to cinema, Spielberg provided this answer:

It is a challenge to cinema, the same way television in the 1950s pulled people away from movie theaters and everybody stayed at home cause it was more fun to stay at home and watch, you know, a comedy on television in the 1950s than it was to go out to see a movie. So Hollywood’s used to that. We are accustomed to being highly competitive with television.

The difference today is that a lot of studios would rather just make a branded, tentpole—you know, guaranteed box office hits from their inventory of branded, you know, successful movies than take chances on smaller films. And those smaller films the studios used to make routinely are now going to Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. And that’s where—and by the way, the television is greater today than it has ever been in the history of television. There’s better writing, better directing, better performances, better stories are being told. Television is really thriving with quality and art, but it poses a clear and present danger to filmgoers.

Further in the conversation, he explained his reasoning for why films released primarily on Netflix or the like should not be candidates for the Oscars:

Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money or to go over to compete in Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically, publicly. And more of them are going to let the SVOD businesses finance their films, maybe with the promise of a slight, one-week theatrical window to qualify them for awards as a movie.

But in fact, once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. You certainly—if it’s a good show—deserve an Emmy. But not an Oscar… I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.

Historically, TV movies have not attracted the kind of filmmaking talent and production values that films on Netflix or Amazon do now, and this has created a point of contention in the industry when it comes to classification. Later, Spielberg reiterated the point while accepting an award from the Cinema Audio Society:

I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience. I’m a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever… The sound is better in homes more than it ever has been in history, but there’s nothing like going to a big dark theatre with people you’ve never met before and having the experience wash over you. That’s something we all truly believe in.

Currently, films do not need to run exclusively in theaters to qualify for Oscars, but they must play for one week in New York and Los Angeles and receive reviews in print newspapers—qualifications Roma met. (In fact, Roma played for as long as three weeks in some theaters, and it ran in theaters outside of New York and LA as well.)

The Academy holds a post-Oscars meeting every year. Spielberg reportedly will seek to promote the changes at that meeting. The Academy gave a comment acknowledging that it would discuss the issue of streaming: “Awards rules discussions are ongoing with the branches. And the Board will likely consider the topic at the April meeting.”

The Star Wars trailer you’ve been looking for: All 10 films edited into 5-minute tease of iconic franchise

The Millennium Falcon may have made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, but a trailer combing bits of all 10 of the Star Wars films will make your heart race in just about 5 minutes.

From “A New Hope” to “Solo,” the super sci-fi cut is the work of two total Star Wars geeks — actor Topher Grace and editor Jeff Yorkes. The video, titled “Star Wars: Always,” has more than a million views after being released on YouTube this week.

There’s young Luke Skywalker and old Luke Skywalker; young Hal Solo and old; young Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and old. Oh, and old Yoda and … old Yoda. Characters and footage from the original trilogy, prequels and latest trilogy are combined for a rather seamless take on the franchise.

Bookended by Luke at the start and Rey at the end, the trailer would be a great primer for a newbie who might be just getting around to taking in the iconic storyline of good vs. evil in a galaxy far, far away.

Here’s how Grace and Yorkes shared the trailer on Twitter:

Ridley Scott’s Alien will finally be released in 4K HDR for its 40th anniversary

The titular alien.
Enlarge / The titular alien.

The long wait is over for sci-fi and horror film buffs: the 1979 classic Alien will be released in 4K and HDR for the film’s 40th anniversary. The remaster will be available on an UltraHD Blu-ray disc.

20th Century Fox and partners embarked on an effort to remaster the film in 4K last year, under supervision by Pam Dery and director Ridley Scott. Alien was originally shot on 35mm film, and the remaster was made using the original negative.

Remastering older films for the UltraHD era has sometimes proven challenging for studios. In many cases, original film masters have degraded, and 4K on a 65-inch TV is adept at revealing graininess and other flaws that result from aged or damaged film.

Both the 1979 theatrical version and the 2003 director’s cut of Alien will be included. The audio for the director’s cut will be mastered in DTS-HD MA 5.1, but it will just be 4.1 surround for the theatrical version. However, the theatrical version will offer two versions of the film score.

The discs will include new commentary from Ridley Scott and members of the cast and crew, and it will also include a previous commentary by Scott from 1999 and a number of deleted scenes. While the UltraHD Blu-ray disc will be available from a variety of retailers, Best Buy will offer an exclusive steelbook edition with artwork and other extras.

Alien is an undisputed classic, and it spawned a franchise and universe that continues to this day. It stars Sigourney Weaver as part of the working-class crew of an interstellar freighter that stumbles upon the eggs of an apparently alien biological entity. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the resulting encounter with the alien (designed by famed gothic artist H.R. Geiger) takes a horrific and deadly turn for the crew.

The remaster will be available starting April 23.

Another blow to Blu-ray: Samsung will no longer make Blu-ray players for the US

If you didn’t notice any Blu-ray player announcements from Samsung at CES this year, there’s a reason for that: the company has told both Forbes and CNET that it is getting out of the Blu-ray player business in the United States.

The large chaebol conglomerate will introduce no new Blu-ray players anywhere, it seems, and will stop making existing players for the US market. This comes as a confirmation of what many observers expected, given that the company last released a new player in 2017. Samsung was reportedly working on a high-end Blu-ray player for release in 2019, according to Forbes, but those plans have been scrapped.

Samsung didn’t tell either publication why it decided to exit the business, and there is probably no big, single reason for this shift. But there are a lot of small ones.

Samsung’s Blu-ray players lacked Dolby Vision HDR support and relied instead on HDR-10 or the Samsung-backed HDR-10+. This was an important omission for the target audience; Dolby Vision is attractive to home theater enthusiasts because of its theoretically superior specifications and because it allows moviemakers to more finely tune the experience as compared to HDR-10.

Most people probably don’t care about the differences between HDR-10 and Dolby Vision, but if anyone does, they’re buyers of UltraHD Blu-ray players who may feel that the bitrate of content streamed from Netflix, Amazon, or Apple is inadequate for their setups.

Also, streaming has come to dominate Americans’ viewing habits, especially in high-income households that would be enticed by expensive 4K HDR Blu-ray players. Physical media sales have been declining at double-digit percentage rates for a few years running. Even within those sales, 4K Blu-rays account for only 5.3 percent of sales compared to the aging DVD format, which still sits at 57.9 percent, according to Forbes.

Sony and Panasonic currently lead in the Blu-ray player market, and they have not announced plans to discontinue production. Samsung may have made this decision in response to its competitors’ market dominance, not just the shrinking marketplace for physical media. And it probably doesn’t help that the widely owned PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game consoles are also perfectly adequate Blu-ray players for most consumers.

Samsung is not alone in abandoning the market, though. Last year, Oppo also left Blu-ray players behind.

Listing image by Mark Walton

Wattpad’s latest deal will turn its stories into TV shows and movies in Korea

Wattpad’s ambitions to grow beyond a storytelling community for young adults took another leap forward today with the announcement of a new partnership that will help expand its reach in Asia. The company has teamed up with Huayi Brothers in Korea, which will now be Wattpad’s exclusive entertainment partner in the region. The two companies will co-produce content sourced from Wattpad’s community as it’s adapted for film, TV and other digital media projects in the country.

Development deals like this are not new to Wattpad at this point.

In the U.S., the storytelling app made headlines for bringing to Netflix the teen hit “The Kissing Booth,” which shot up to become the No. 4 movie on IMDb for a time.

Wattpad also recently announced a second season for “Light as a Feather,” which it produces with AwesomenessTV and Grammnet for Hulu.

It additionally works with eOne, Sony, SYFY, Universal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal) and Germany’s Bavaria Fiction.

Outside the U.S., Wattpad has 26 films in development with iflix in Indonesia.

And WattPad’s feature film “After,” based on Anna Todd’s novel, will arrive in theaters on April 12.

Key to these deals is Wattpad’s ability to source the best content from the 565 million stories on its platform. Do to so, it uses something it calls its “Story DNA Machine Learning technology,” which helps to deconstruct stories by analyzing things like sentence structure, word use, grammar and more in order to help identify the next big hits using more than just readership numbers alone.

The stories it identifies as promising are then sent over to content specialists (aka human editors) for further review.

This same combination of tech and human curation has been used in the past to help source its writing award winners and is now being used to find the next stories to be turned into novels for its new U.S. publishing arm, Wattpad Books.

In addition to its hit-finding technology, studios working with Wattpad also have a way to reach younger users who today are often out of touch with traditional media, as much of youth culture has shifted online.

These days, teens and young adults are more likely to know YouTube stars than Hollywood actors. They’re consuming content online in communities like Reddit, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and elsewhere. And when it comes to reading, they’re doing more of that online, too — whether that’s through chat fiction apps like Hooked or by reading Wattpad’s longer stories.

Wattpad says it now has 70 million users worldwide, who now spend 22 billion combined minutes per month engaged with its website and app.

With the Korean deal, Wattpad is further growing its international footprint after several other moves focused on its international expansions.

For example, today’s news follows Wattpad’s raise of $51 million in funding from Tencent; its appointment of its first Head of Asia for Wattpad Studios, Dexter Ong, last year; and its hiring of its first GM of India, Devashish Sharma, who is working with local partners to turn its stories into movies, TV, digital and print in the region.

Huayi Brothers Korea hasn’t announced any specific projects from the Wattpad deal at this point, but those will follow.

“Wattpad’s model is the future of entertainment, using technology to find great storytellers and bring them to an international audience,” said, Jay Ji, CEO, Huayi Brothers Korea, in a statement. “In an era of entertainment abundance, working with Wattpad means access to the most important things in the industry: a data-backed approach to development, and powerful, proven stories that audiences have already fall in love with,” he said.

Higher, further, faster: Alaska Airlines unveils ‘Captain Marvel’ plane ahead of superhero film

The Alaska Airlines “Captain Marvel” plane at Sea-Tac Airport. (Alaska Airlines Photo)

“Captain Marvel,” the latest action flick from Marvel Studios, will arrive in theaters next month, but fans looking forward to the movie can already catch a glimpse of the female superhero in the skies.

Alaska Airlines unveiled a special-edition 737-800 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Tuesday during a gate celebration for passengers flying to Orange County, Calif. The all-new adventure stars Brie Larson in the title role as Carol Danvers, a female pilot who has acquired special powers.

“This new plane featuring Captain Marvel will delight guests of all ages,” Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of marketing and advertising, said in a news release. “We’re excited to showcase a pilot who’s risen to superhero status –– an image that embodies strength and confidence and inspires future aviators across our expansive network to go further.”

(Alaska Airlines Photo)
(Alaska Airlines Photo)
(Alaska Airlines Photo)

The hero is show blazing across the fuselage of the aircraft in her red and blue suit. A cat named Goose in the film is also shown on one of the plane’s winglets.

The plane began flights throughout Alaska’s route network Tuesday and will be visible throughout the country via cross-country routes and flights to Hawaii.

Marvel Studios fans can follow Alaska Airlines on Twitter and on Facebook to learn about the promotions related to the film. Wednesday through Saturday, enter for a chance to win one pair of tickets to the premiere of the movie, including roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations for two in Los Angeles.

“Captain Marvel” opens on March 8 in U.S. theaters. Check out a trailer below:

The forthcoming WarnerMedia streaming service will be partially supported by ads

In November, AT&T opened up about its plans for its forthcoming WarnerMedia streaming service, which aims to leverage the entertainment properties AT&T gained by way of its Time Warner acquisition last year. The company said the service will have three tiers — an entry-level, movie-focused service; a premium tier with original programming and blockbusters; and a bundle that includes them both. Today, AT&T revealed another detail: Some of the service’s content will be supported by advertising.

Speaking to investors this morning on its Q4 earnings call, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the new service will have what he referred to as a “two-sided business model.”

That is, the service will include subscription-based, commercial-free programming on the high-end — like HBO or Netflix offers. But it seems the entry-level portion of the service will be ad-supported, according to the exec’s comments.

“Customers have become accustomed to advertising-free subscription services,” Stephenson noted. “And we think HBO and a lot of the Warner Brothers content, that’s really premium content, will fit into that mold,” he said. “But there are other elements where advertising-supported models are going to be important to keep prices down, to keep costs for the consumer down and actually fund additional content acquisition and purchasing,” Stephenson added.

He said the model for the new service would be “heavy” on the subscription side, with “some” ad-supported elements to it. The latter would be enabled by AT&T’s ad tech called Xandr.

The exec acknowledged, too, the challenge of entering the market at this point with yet another streaming offering, but seemed optimistic about AT&T’s chances.

“We have really high expectations for our streaming service. We don’t think there is going to be a proliferation of these that will succeed over time, but those who have very, very strong IP — deep libraries of IP — are the ones that we think are going to succeed over time,” he said.

What was less clear is whether the ad-supported elements to the WarnerMedia service would actually involve any of its content streaming for free to consumers, or whether it will just make the service more affordable — like Hulu’s core TV package, which just dropped its pricing to $6 per month. (AT&T currently owns a stake in Hulu, but it has been weighing putting it up for sale to pay down debt. That’s still on the table, the company said today.)

If WarnerMedia’s service goes the ad-supported route for its entry-level tier, it will face a lot of competition. Today, there are a number of ways to stream free movies and TV on demand, thanks to advertising-supported offerings from a host of major players.

For example, there’s free content on The Roku Channel; Walmart’s ad-supported video on Vudu; Amazon-owned IMDb’s new service FreediveViacom’s new acquisition, Pluto TV; Sinclair’s local broadcaster-focused service Stirr; and sometime this year, media center software maker Plex will offer free movies. Comcast will also launch a free streaming service for its pay TV customers in 2020.

If, however, WarnerMedia chooses to charge a small amount for its ad-supported content, then it will have to go up against Hulu’s core package — which looks more compelling as it includes original programming.

On the subscription side of things, the service will be up against paid services like Netflix, Time Warner’s own HBO NOW (and the other ways to get HBO over-the-top), plus the forthcoming launches from Apple (presumably) and Disney.

What’s more is that the company doesn’t plan on entirely cutting off access to its content by bringing it all in-house. As Stephenson mentioned today, AT&T recently extended its license for “Friends” to Netflix, instead of cutting them off.

“We said exclusivity is probably not that critical on that type of content, but it’s critical to have on our platform,” he explained. “So we did license it to Netflix as you saw, but on a non-exclusive basis. And so each of these decisions on significant content like that are going to be evaluated in terms of how critical is it to our platform to have it as exclusive, versus the economics of licensing it to others.”

Free streaming service Tubi plans to invest $100M+ on content in 2019, expand internationally

Free TV and movie streaming service Tubi is preparing to double down on content acquisitions this year, the company announced this morning. The service today offers over 12,000 movies and TV series, totaling 40,000 hours of content. All of this can be streamed for free as the content is paid for not via customer subscriptions, but rather by advertising. Now the company is preparing to invest more than $100 million to expand its library this year, after hitting profitability in Q4 2018, and tackle new markets.

Founded in 2014, Tubi has benefited from the trend toward cord cutting, as well as the increasing number of younger consumers who never opt to pay for cable or satellite TV in the first place — sometimes called the “cord nevers.”

The company claims that its viewership increased by more than 4.3 times from December 2017 to December 2018, which allowed it to hit the profitability milestone. In the fourth quarter alone, it saw more revenue than in all of 2017 combined, it also noted. And it grew revenues by 180+ percent in 2018.

On the advertising front, the company says it ran campaigns from more than 1,000 advertisers in 2018, including those from the majority of the top CPG and automotive companies.

However, several aspects of Tubi’s business aren’t being disclosed alongside today’s news — only the highlights. What the company won’t say is how many monthly active users it has, how many hours they watch or how many ad impressions take place across its platform. These sorts of metrics are critical to measuring success in ad-supported video.

According to estimates from Sensor Tower, Tubi has close to 51 million installs on mobile, with 1.7 million of those coming in December 2018, a 21 percent year-over-year increase. That could indicate that Tubi’s viewership growth is largely taking place on other platforms — like TVs through media players or deals with service providers, like Comcast, for instance.

Along with its plans to grow its library, Tubi is preparing to expand outside the U.S. and Canada, with the first market launching this quarter.

To help fund its growth and content acquisitions, Tubi closed on $25 million in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank in December.

These plans come at a time when Tubi’s business model has been seeing increased competition.

For example, Roku entered ad-supported programming with its own The Roku Channel launch in fall 2017, and said earlier this month it now has 27 million user accounts. Of course, Roku doesn’t break that down by how many use its platform for other services, versus those who specifically launch Roku’s own free content — but that is its ad-supported channel’s potential reach.

In addition to Roku, Tubi competes against Walmart’s ad-supported video on Vudu; Amazon-owned IMDb’s new service FreediveViacom’s latest acquisition, Pluto TV; Sinclair’s local broadcaster-focused service Stirr; and soon, Plex. Comcast will also launch a free streaming service for its pay TV customers in 2020.

Tubi, like many of these services, believes in its potential as consumers tire of being nickeled and dimed for video subscriptions.

“In 2018 we at Tubi saw tremendous growth as consumers, fatigued by SVOD subscriptions and services, sought alternative entertainment choices,” said Farhad Massoudi, CEO of Tubi, in a statement. “We will continue to use profits to make bigger bets on content, enhance the viewing experience, and continue to press ahead into new grounds in what is our core advantage: technology and data,” he added.

In reality, however, Tubi competes for attention among a growing streaming market, which includes those paid subscription video offerings. Today’s consumers are building out customized bundles that make sense for them — a little Netflix and HBO perhaps, fleshed out with some free content through services like Tubi, for example.

Tubi’s advantage, of course, is that it doesn’t have to spend the billions on content and originals that subscription video services like Netflix do to win users. Instead, it relies on titles that have mainstream appeal, but may not be winning any awards — like older movies, kids shows, B-flicks, horror films and reality TV.

At the end of the day, however, Tubi won’t necessarily gain from people tiring of subscription video, but from the growing influx of cord cutters who are searching for older or niche content not included in subscription libraries — or who just want to watch a free movie.

Netflix is a leading Oscar contender as ‘Roma’ scores 10 nominations for the streaming service

(@Romacuaron via Twitter)

Netflix will not only be representing the streaming services at this year’s Academy Awards, it will be leading the way among all contenders as it picked up 10 Oscar nominations on Tuesday for “Roma.”

Netflix got its first-ever best picture nomination, as “Roma” — a black and white film about life in 1970s Mexico — was one of eight pictures to make the top category.

Other nominations for “Roma” included star Yaliza Aparicio for best actress, director Alfonso Cuarón, and best cinematography and original screenplay.

Netflix also collected nominations for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” a Coen Brothers film. The collection of Wild West stories was recognized for adapted screenplay, original song and costume design.

Amazon was shut out this year. Amazon Studios won three Oscars in 2017 and last year had a single nomination.

See the complete list of Oscar nominations here.