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‘Batgirl,’ David Zaslav and the End of Streaming Evangelism in Hollywood (Column)



Five years almost to the day after it began, Hollywood’s evangelistic fervor for streaming has been extinguished this week by the “Batgirl” imbroglio. 

Warner Bros. Discovery’s decision to scrap the completed DC Comics film that was bound for HBO Max marks the boldest example of Old Media economic rigor being applied to contemporary content spending. 

David Zaslav, CEO of the newly reconfigured media conglomerate, didn’t even mask his bewilderment at the decision-making process and optimistic profit projections made by the previous WarnerMedia regime. Zaslav and other executives spoke Aug. 4 during WB Discovery’s second-quarter earnings conference call with Wall Street analysts that ran 95 minutes as executives spoke with candor about the new world order. 

Zaslav and WB Discovery chief financial officer Gunnar Wiedenfels said more than once, with palpable exasperation, that there was simply no business case to be made for spending $90 million on a DC Comics movie designed to skip theaters and go straight to HBO Max.   

“We’ve looked hard at the direct-to-streaming business,” Zaslav said. “And our conclusion is that expensive direct-to-streaming movies in terms of how people are consuming them on the platform, how often people go there or buy it or buy a service for it and how it gets nourished over time is no comparison to what happens when you launch a film in the theaters. And so this idea of expensive films going direct-to-streaming, we cannot find an economic case for it. We can’t find an economic value for it.” 

The emphasis on how “Batgirl” could – or could not – possibly recoup its costs was the equivalent of a bucket of ice water being thrown on the media and entertainment sector. Zaslav has already vowed that he’s not trying to “win the spending wars” as he made the pre- and post-merger rounds around the AT&T spinoff transaction with Discovery.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav
Art Streiber for Variety

But the granular financial detail and significant strategy shifts outlined by Zaslav and Wiedenfels brought the curtain down on a period of irrational exuberance in Hollywood that began on Aug. 8, 2017 – the day former Disney CEO Robert Iger surprised many of those same Wall Street analysts by announcing plans to launch the streaming platforms that became Disney+ and ESPN+. 

“I would characterize this as an extremely important, very, very significant strategic shift for us,” Iger said at the time. 

That was the cap gun going off. From that day on, Disney outmaneuvered Comcast buy 20th Century Fox, AT&T went after what was then Time Warner and Paramount Global chair Shari Redstone redoubled her efforts to reunite Viacom and CBS under one roof in a deal completed in December 2019. 

Disney’s strategy pivot toward a direct-to-consumer business model for most of its content – following the path blazed by Netflix as a platform with global reach – also crystallized the industry focus on content spending as measured in double-digit billions. Netflix drew talent like moths to a flame with its regular reveals of eye-popping content spending numbers. The traditional TV industry was already feeling the strain of Peak TV production levels, but Disney’s big move in 2017 set most of its Hollywood peers on a mission to further grow the volume of content production. 

Five years later, there’s more content available than ever before but the path to seeing a return on movies and TV shows that are less than “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Stranger Things”-level smash hits is murkier than ever. It’s no secret that executives at Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and others are looking at the worst-performing shows in their vast streaming libraries. There’s growing realization that there’s a financial imperative to consider some form of syndication licensing for little-watched shows in the hopes of seeing some kind of return by selling it to an outside buyer.

Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish has been a proponent of taking a diversified approach to streaming. He has championed the company’s investment in free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels on its wholly owned Pluto TV platform, which is built on a revenue-share model with outside content providers, mixed with the premium subscription content offered by Paramount+ and the standalone Showtime streaming app.

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Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish
Celeste Sloman/Variety

“We believe our streaming business can get to TV Media-like margins (of 20%-25%) over time,” Bakish told Variety. “We’ve only been in streaming for a short time. It’s going to take a little while and that’s why we say our model has some real advantages.” 

Heretofore, the major TV networks have never had to grapple with juggling so much movie and TV inventory – all of which comes with some level of residual fees due to creative partners. That’s another cold, hard financial reason why it made more sense for WB Discovery to ground “Batgirl” and take a big tax write-off on the movie rather than spend more money on a property that  Zaslav made clear was not up to snuff for the valuable “Batman” franchise. 

Wiendenfels acknowledged that WB Discovery’s thinking on content spending for its soon-to-merge streaming platforms – HBO Max and Discovery Plus – has changed over the 16 months since Discovery and AT&T first reached a deal on the spinoff transaction that created WB Discovery. Those changes were also surely accelerated by the volatility in equities markets and the plunge in WB Discovery stock price over the past few months. On Friday, the market cap of the company that is home to two of Hollywood’s glossiest brands — HBO and Warner Bros. — fell to $35.4 billion as the stock price sank 16% following the after-market earnings report. 

Direct to consumer streaming is “one platform in a larger portfolio of assets and in a larger lineup of distribution outlets. We are not going to be religious about driving hard to fuel just one platform,” Wiedenfels said on the call. “DTC has its space and Warner Bros. Discovery is uniquely positioned with the enormous surface area with our customers to service them and to tell great stories for decades to come.” 

Zaslav went further, saying that WB Discovery will return to pursuing international sales of content in select cases. Under the previous WarnerMedia regime led by Jason Kilar, the studio made the hard choice to forgo that third-party revenue in favor of stocking up titles that could only be found on HBO Max. 

“Anything that’s important to us to growing HBO and HBO Max … we are going to keep that exclusively,” Zaslav said. “What kind of content could be non-exclusive and have no impact on us (that’s what) we want to monetize to drive economic value. And then there’s content that we are not even using right now — massive amounts of TV and motion picture content that we are not using.” 

The steepness of the climb that Team Zaslav has ahead was underscored by a question from Morgan Stanley media analyst Ben Swinburne, who gently reminded the new owners that HBO not long ago was delivering about $2.5 billion in earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) a year as a linear cable offering. 

But therein also lies the dilemma for Big Media. There’s no going back to the linear era of fat profit margins from traditional cable. The explosion of free and lower-cost options has led to a steady shrinkage of high-paying subscribers to linear MVPD providers like Comcast, Charter and DirecTV. The customer exodus is running about 4%-5% a year in the U.S. It’s carefully tallied every quarter because of pay-TV’s importance to Hollywood earnings.

WB Discovery is mulling a FAST channel iteration of HBO Max and Discovery+ to serve as a kind of barker service to lure paying subscribers. The exploding popularity of FAST channels has industry veterans clucking that consumers now have the means to recreate the traditional cable bundle but on economic terms that are far worse for content providers.

All of this volatility, coupled with the gathering macroeconomic headwinds, explain why media stocks have been pummeled so far this year. Once Netflix’s aura of invincibility came down with its Q1 surprise of subscriber losses ahead, the gospel of spend-at-all-cost to build platforms and gain market share has lost some of its hold on CEOs and CFOs.  

The health of the subscription streaming market will get an important temperature check next week when Disney reports its fiscal Q3 earnings on Aug. 10. 

Paramount’s Bakish has been gratified to see that the strategy he set off on in 2019 of assembling a mixed portfolio of FAST and pay channels is being embraced by Paramount’s larger rivals. With the road ahead more unclear than ever, Bakish said it’s the kind of business environment that creates its own opportunities, for companies that aren’t paralyzed by fear and second-guessing.

“You make your own decisions about what to do and then get on about doing it,” Bakish said. 

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Jason Momoa Gets Brutally Honest About Conan The Barbarian Remake



Jason Momoa gets brutally honest about his Conan the Barbarian remake, praising his experience but feeling it was turned into a “big pile of s–t.”

While audiences have largely moved on from the project, Jason Momoa is getting brutally honest about his Conan the Barbarian remake. Robert E. Howard’s iconic titular character was first brought to life on the big screen with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1982 film of the same name, which saw his Conan on a quest for vengeance for the death of his parents at the hands of snake cult leader Thulsa Doom. Though met with mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike upon its release, Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian was a box office success and became a cult favorite, spawning the sequel Conan the Destroyer, which scored poor reviews and underperformed at the box office, leading to a threequel dying in development hell.


Warner Bros. later acquired the rights to the Conan the Barbarian character and spent years attempting to develop a remake, only for Nu Image/Millennium Films to later acquire the rights and partner with Lionsgate to produce it. Having endured a variety of directors and writers coming and going on the project, the Conan the Barbarian remake began moving forward with Marcus Nispel in the director’s chair and Jason Momoa attached for the titular role. Hitting theaters in mid-2011, Momoa’s Conan the Barbarian debuted to mostly negative reviews from critics and audiences alike and was a box office bomb, scrapping plans for a follow-up and now one of the stars at the center of the project is getting honest about the film.

In a recent cover feature with GQ, Jason Momoa reflected on some of his lesser-received films from early in his acting career. Momoa specifically looked towards his time on the Conan the Barbarian remake, praising his experiencing filming it but criticizing how it was changed in the editing process. See what Momoa said below:

“I’ve been a part of a lot of things that really sucked, and movies where it’s out of your hands. Conan [the Barbarian] was one of them. It’s one of the best experiences I had and it [was] taken over and turned into a big pile of shit.”

As is the case for a variety of other remakes in Hollywood, Momoa’s Conan the Barbarian endured a variety of troubles in its development, with the likes of The Matrix duo The Wachowskis, Schwarzenegger’s first Conan director John Milius, Robert Rodriguez and Brett Ratner all having been in various points of negotiations to helm the project. With it having been one of his first major film roles after breakout TV roles in Baywatch and Stargate: Atlantis, Momoa memorably underwent rigorous training in order to effectively portray Conan, enrolling in a six-week training program at a stunt and martial arts academy before even finishing negotiations to star in the film. Momoa also turned to future John Wick directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch to help him build 10 pounds of muscle for his role in the Conan the Barbarian remake.

As he notes, Momoa’s Conan the Barbarian was largely dismissed by critics and audiences alike upon its release, namely for its poor script, characters and performances, though Momoa himself did ultimately receive some positive reception for his work in the film. Luckily for him and action genre fans, Momoa would go on to better make a name for himself on both the big and small screens with everything from Game of Thrones to Aquaman. While audiences await the latter character’s return in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom in March, they can revisit Momoa’s Conan the Barbarian streaming on HBO Max now.

Source: GQ

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Jennette McCurdy Opens Up About Friendship With Miranda Cosgrove and Why She’s Not in the ‘iCarly’ Reboot



Jennette McCurdy is opening up about her friendship with Miranda Cosgrove. In her new memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, the 30-year-old former actress reveals her first impression of her iCarly co-star and shares why she didn’t sign on to be a part of its recent reboot. The show ran for six seasons, which aired between 2007 and 2012.

After landing the role of Sam Puckett when she was 14, McCurdy was “fascinated” to learn of Cosgrove’s “independence,” something McCurdy wasn’t accustomed to, given her abusive relationship with her now-late mom.

“She walked alone to pick up food from a different nearby restaurant each day — alone! What’s that like? Then I’d always hear when she came walking back into the studio because she’d be playing Gwen Stefani or Avril Lavigne from her Sidekick. I knew of these artists, but Mom didn’t allow me to listen to them because she said their music might make me wanna ‘do bad things,'” McCurdy, who grew up Mormon, writes of Cosgrove. “On set, Miranda said cuss words like ‘s**t’ and ‘a**,’ and she took the Lord’s name in vain at least fifty times a day. Mom warned me not to get too close to Miranda because she doesn’t believe in God.”

The then-teens quickly developed a friendship, mostly through AIM.

“Miranda and I spent hours talking every day on it,” McCurdy recalls. “… Even though in person Miranda seemed shy and quiet, she had a distinct and hilarious personality through her written words. So many of the things she said made me laugh. Her way of observing things — people, habits, human nature. I loved her. And I was so excited we were becoming friends.”

As iCarly‘s success continued, so too did McCurdy and Cosgrove’s friendship.

“My friendship with Miranda has been a source of camaraderie and emotional support,” McCurdy writes. “I’m friends with the rest of the cast too, but my connection with Miranda is different and special. We Skype on the weekends and see movies at ArcLight after work.”

When iCarly came to an end, McCurdy worried that it’d mark the end of her friendship with Cosgrove too. That fear really came into focus when the women shot their final scene together through tears.

“The reason I’m crying is that I don’t know what will become of my friendship with Miranda. We’ve gotten so close. Like sisters, but without the passive-aggression and weird tensions,” McCurdy writes. “I have my judgments around female friendships being catty and petty and backstabby, but that couldn’t be further from the truth with Miranda. With Miranda, it’s always been so easy. Our friendship is pure.”

McCurdy soon realized, however, that her fears were unfounded.

“There was no need to worry about context; our friendship has gotten stronger since iCarly ended,” she writes. “We hang out three or four times a week. Usually one of the nights is a sleepover.”

In fact, their bond remained so close that McCurdy eventually opened up to Cosgrove about her struggles with anorexia and bulimia. 

“Miranda’s been very supportive. I appreciate her support but it’s also difficult at times,” McCurdy writes. “Before Miranda knew about this stuff, when bulimia was my secret, I could get through the ups and downs on my own. I was the only person I had to be accountable to, the only person I would disappoint. But now that she’s in on the secret, I can tell she’s hyperaware of my eating tendencies. She’s constantly observing. I’m not just disappointing myself with my slips, but her too.”

As close as the women once were, though, they did start to “drift apart” as they entered their late 20s.

“At the beginning of the decade, the people I was close to seemed like friends for life, people I could never imagine not seeing every day. But life happens. Love happens. Loss happens,” McCurdy writes. “Change and growth happen at different paces for different people, and sometimes the paces just don’t line up. It’s devastating if I think too much about it, so I usually don’t.”

That change in their dynamic came around the same time that an iCarly reboot was in the works. Cosgrove wanted McCurdy to jump on board, but the latter actress had expressed embarrassment about her time on the series.

On a phone call, McCurdy insisted, “Miranda, I’m not doing the reboot. There’s nothing you can say to convince me.” 

“She tells me she thinks the reboot could be an opportunity for all of us in the cast to ‘get back out there,’ maybe get some other opportunities from it,” McCurdy recalls of Cosgrove.

When that tactic didn’t work, Cosgrove reminded McCurdy that “it’s really good money.”

“But there are things more important than money. And my mental health and happiness fall under that category,'” McCurdy recalls telling her. “There’s a moment of silence. It’s one of those rare moments where I feel like I didn’t say too much, or too little. I feel like I represented myself accurately and there’s nothing I would change about the way I said it. I feel proud. We wrap up our conversation, promising to keep in touch, and hang up.”

When ET spoke to Cosgrove last year, she reacted to McCurdy’s decision not to reprise her role in the reboot.

“We all really wanted Jennette to be a part of the show in real life, but she’s just doing other things and we’re really happy for her,” Cosgrove said at the time, adding that McCurdy would be welcomed onto the reboot “anytime.”

I’m Glad My Mom Died is out now.

ET, Nickelodeon and Paramount+ are all subsidiaries of Paramount.


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Apple Orders Dramedy Series ‘Land of Women’ Starring Eva Longoria, Carmen Maura



Apple has ordered the limited dramedy series “Land of Women” with Eva Longoria and Carmen Maura set to star.

The six-episode series is based on the Sandra Barneda novel of the same name. Longoria will star as Gala, a New York empty nester whose life is turned upside down when her husband implicates the family in financial improprieties, and she is forced to flee the city alongside her aging mother (Maura) and college-age daughter.

To escape the dangerous criminals to whom Gala’s now vanished husband is indebted, the three women hide in the same charming wine town in Northern Spain that Gala’s mother fled 50 years ago, vowing never to return. The women seek to start anew and hope their identities will remain unknown, but gossip in the small town quickly spreads, unraveling their deepest family secrets and truths.

The series is currently in pre-production in Spain and will be shot in both English and Spanish and will be made available to view in both languages.

Ramón Campos and Gema R. Neira are adapting the book for the screen, with Campos also set to serve as showrunner. Longoria will also serve as an executive producer under her UnbeliEVAble Entertainment banner along with Ben Spector. Teresa Fernández-Valdés will also executive produce. Carlos Sedes will direct. Bambu Studios will produce the show for Apple.

This is the latest Spanish-language production for Apple. The streamer also has the thriller series “Now & Then,” “Acapulco” starring Eugenio Derbez, and the recently ordered “Midnight Family,” based on the documentary of the same name.

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