20th Century Fox unveiled new footage and cast at Comic-Con on Friday for The Maze Runner, which bows September 19. It’s based on James Dashner’s bestselling YA novel about youngsters marooned on a maze-ridden island. Wes Ball directed and Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie Sangster and Aml Ameen star. Noah Oppenheim, Grant Myers and T.S. Nowlin adapted the book. The pic had been set for a February 2014 release but it was pushed back. That shouldn’t be an indication of unhappiness though — Fox already exercised the option to buy The Scorch Trials, the second book in Dashner’s four-book series. So is this looking franchise-worthy?
EXCLUSIVE: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants) have signed a two-year overall deal with Sony Pictures TV. This marks the first overall TV pact for the Oscar-winning writing duo. Under the agreement, Faxon and Rash will develop and produce series projects with Kevin Walsh, their film and TV producing partner at the trio’s B Story banner. Faxon and Rash previously penned the 2005 ABC comedy pilot Adopted and made their TV directing debut this past season with Fox’s comedy pilot Fatrick, which they also executive produced. Additionally, both have series experience as actors. Rash has a relationship with Sony TV with his co-starring role on the studio’s cult comedy Community, which recently found a new home at Yahoo, while Faxon stars on FX’s freshman comedy series Married.
On the feature side, in addition to earning an Oscar for co-writing The Descendants with Alexander Payne, the duo helmed their script for The Way, Way Back, which starred Steve Carell and premiered at Sundance in 2013. Faxon and Rash were repped in the deal-making with Sony TV by CAA. The duo have since signed with WME. Faxon is managed by Principato-Young; Rash by Intellectual Artists. Both are with Stone, Meyer, Genow.
One of the lingering questions when Yahoo acquired rights to revive NBC’s Community was how the 13-episode season would roll out. Today we know: Episodes will be made available weekly, it was announced during its Comic-Con panel. That plan is in contrast to rival Netflix’s binge model, in which entire seasons of a series are made available at once. Which way would you prefer it?
As for when to expect Season 6, the only hint so far is that it won’t come before Christmas 2014.
Creator Dan Harmon quipped during the panel that everyone will be watching the show the way they always did — “except now legally.” Joel McHale joined Harmon on the panel that included producer Chris McKenna, Jim Rash, Gillian Jacobs and writer Dino Stamatopoulos.
NBC and cable networks led by USA “were trading at a 20% discount to our competition” in the cost-per-viewer of ad sales before the recent upfront market, NBCU chief Steve Burke told analysts this morning. “We’re now at about a 10% discount.” Comcast‘s entertainment arm says it bucked a trend in the upfront — seen as generally down 5% vs last year — as it benefits from the growing popularity of its shows, and a decision to sell broadcast and cable ad inventory together. “If the industry was down 5% and we were up 10%, that’s a 15% difference vs what we would have done” if NBCU had sold broadcast and cable separately. “It’s a swing of $750M” that will go “a long way toward closing monetization gap.”
One Chance, the David Frankel-directed film about opera singer Paul Potts, will make its first performance on Yahoo Screen, an advertiser-supported online service from Yahoo. In a new wrinkle about finding an audience for a crowd pleasing film with no big stars, Yahoo has made a deal with The Weinstein Company to air the film on its Yahoo Screen service ten days before it rolls out in theater this fall. The plan is different from the multi-platform strategy used by RADiUS-TWC on films like Snowpiercer, which has broadened to 356 screens and grossed $3.5 million theatrically. Here, Yahoo will show a commercial movie to its audience, making it available free, before TWC takes it to movie screens. The film opened last year overseas and grossed $9.9 million.
Potts was an assistant who dreamed of being an opera singer. His audition for Britain’s Got Talent became a YouTube sensation. He went on to win the competition and has a thriving career. James Corden, who won the Tony for Orie Man, Two Guvnors and who co-stars in the TWC release Begin Again, plays Potts. Julie Walters, Mackenzie Crook, Colm Meaney, Jemima Rooper and Alexandra Roach also star.
How wide the film opens after its Yahoo bow remains to be determined when the film opens later this fall. Exhibitors don’t love the multi-platform model, and as is often the case with some multi-platform releases, and it will be interesting to see how they greet an online showing. TWC will four wall some theaters to reach …
Jim Gaffigan Eyes Move To TV Land, ‘Clementine’, ‘The Pro’, ‘Cabot College’, ‘Sober Companion’ & Jerrod Carmichael: What Broadcast Pilots Are Still Alive
Two months after the upfronts, where the broadcast networks introduced the pilots they had chosen to join their 2014-2015 schedule, there is still hope for a handful that didn’t make the cut. Sony TV, which already successfully rescued its cancelled NBC comedy series Community with a deal at Yahoo, has been in conversations with TV Land for its Jim Gaffigan single-camera comedy pilot. The family comedy, inspired by Gaffigan’s real life, went through two incarnations at CBS with pilot orders in 2013 and 2014. TV Land had been interested, and conversations have been going on for the past month or so. I hear TV Land is well down the road of trying to make the show work there. I hear the cable network is currently looking to reduce the actors’ compensation to get the budget — which already has been adjusted down — feasible. If the project goes at TV Land, I hear Sony would likely have a passive role and Peter Tolan, who co-wrote and executive produced the CBS pilot, would probably consult.
ABC Studios extended the options on the cast of ABC drama pilot Clementine a month ago. I hear the studio and ABC are exploring the possibility to do Clementine as a summer series. The action project co-produced by The Mark Gordon Co centers on habitual criminal with supernatural abilities Clementine Ross (Sarah Snook), who digs into the mystery of her origins after she becomes the target of a group of zealots.
Three comedy pilots, all from outside studios, are awaiting for the new regime at Fox to weigh in: The Pro, from ABC Studios, Cabot College, from Universal TV, and Sober Companion from CBS TV Studios. Previous Fox chairman Kevin Reilly had expressed interest in Rob Lowe and Rob Riggle’s workplace single-camera pilot The Pro, which was set up at NBC last season. I hear the studio has extended the options on stars Lowe and Riggle as it awaits word. Matt Hubbard’s Cabot College, executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, had been in talks with Fox for a possible six-episode order, which were put on hold when Reilly stepped down. Cabot College was one of two Fox comedy pilots from this past cycle that were considered frontrunners. The other, Sober Companion, starred Justin Long and Nick Frost. Despite not getting a series order in May, the network was interested enough, with Reilly commissioning a second script. The project now too awaits review from Dana Walden and Gary Newman, who are taking oversight of the network later this month. Long and Frost are no longer under deals but I hear they loved the project and working together so much, they would be open to coming back in case of a pickup.
It’s a foregone conclusion now that something big will happen with Time Warner. Its stock wouldn’t be up 20% since yesterday morning — when Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch‘s $80B June offer came to light – if investors thought that Time Warner’s rejection of it was the last word on the matter. Indeed, the stock closed today at $86.12, which means a lot of people are betting that Fox or someone else will top the $85 a share stock-and-cash proposal that Time Warner shunned.
But here’s the problem: Some of Wall Street’s top analysts don’t know who has the desire and wherewithal to wage a bidding war with Fox. If Time Warner seriously wants to escape Murdoch’s embrace, it might have to make a deal of its own — perhaps to buy CBS. Even if it did, “Time Warner would still have to make the argument that more value would be created by merging with CBS than by accepting Fox’s tender offer,” Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger says.
What about other usual suspects who might covet Time Warner? Comcast and AT&T are out of the running as they pursue their acquisition deals with, respectively, Time Warner Cable and DirecTV. Here are others that might conceivably kick the tires:
Disney: Hard to find anyone who thinks the company will jump in. Disney doesn’t need a big deal, especially with a “clear strategy that should play out over the last two years of Bob Iger’s contract,” MoffettNathanson Research’s Michael Nathanson says. The CEO likes properties that appeal to targeted audiences that he can coax to attend Disney …
UPDATE: The relief over the Alibaba news didn’t last long. Yahoo shares are now down 2.4% following management’s call with analysts who mostly focused on the company’s lousy Q2 results — and execs ratcheted back their Q3 guidance. CEO Marissa Mayer said it will take “multiple years” to turn things around, although she called the Q2 numbers a “short term set back.” CFO Ken Goldman says that “clear we need to operate with a greater sense of urgency” as he projected that Q3 numbers will look a lot like Q2′s.
PREVIOUS, 1:16 PM: Yahoo only has to sell 140M of its Alibaba shares after the Chinese e-retailer goes public, down from their previous agreement that required Yahoo to unload 208M shares. That led to a 2.5% jump in Yahoo’s stock price in early post market trading — not bad considering what looks at first glance to be tepid financial results in Q2. Yahoo generated $272.6M in net income, -18.6% vs the period last year, on revenues of $1.04B (not including traffic acquisition costs), -2.9%. The top line is a hair lower than analysts expected. Net earnings at 37 cents a share were a penny light of the consensus forecast.
The Q2 results will do little to assuage investors who are wondering when CEO Marissa Mayer — who’s been at the company for two years — will show solid improvements at Yahoo’s core ad-supported businesses. The stock is down nearly 12% so far in 2014 as people lose patience, and fear what will happen now that it has to reduce its 24% stake in Alibaba, which is seen as a success.
UPDATED, Monday, 4:56 PM: Saturday’s panel with Secretary of State John Kerry and interviewer Charlie Rose went off without a hitch after some technical problems the previous day, but listening about the conflicts in the Middle East was not as interesting to moguls (‘what else is new, it’s a mess over there’) as the panel that featured billionaire investor Warren Buffet and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, according to some in attendance. Bezos, whose company Amazon has become a powerhouse in publishing and is creating its own content now, told the group gathered that the Amazon business model in publishing and creating content is here to stay. While the panels are always greatly attended, some of those who sat through the first few said they were a bit dry and boring, but “Buffet is always interesting to listen to,” said one attendee. Said another, “All the networking is really done in the first day … unless you’re Jeffrey Katzenberg lining up meetings every hour.” Added another, “He sits there and does one meeting after another … he must have had like 20 meetings.” Yes, DreamWorks Animation’s Katzenberg was doing his ‘speed-dating’ meetings near the duck pond as usual which had some entertainment moguls laughing and others rolling their eyes (‘He has like what? One movie in the marketplace?’ Does he know how silly it looks?).
On Saturday, too, were presentations from the younger entreprenuers of Lookout, Xapo and Lending Club, which another attendee said he thought was fantastic (‘The guy from Lookout looked like he was 16 years old’). Also interesting to one attendee was the education panel with Eva Sarah Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools and Kaya Henderson who is the D.C. school superintendent. “They were really good together and kept everyone’s interest.” That panel took place last Thursday.
The five-day Sun Valley retreat wrapped up last night with the annual dinner hosted by Herb Allen, whose aserbic wit and self-deprecating humor was enjoy by all. In reference to the panel earlier in the week that featured producer Brian Grazer and TWC’s Harvey Weinstein talking about the creative process, one attendee noted that “Brian really hit the mark on it. He was pitch perfect. If he did that same speech in showbiz circles it might not resonate but it did with most of people who were not in the business.’” One of the things that they both suggested was to listen to the voices in your head and get in touch with your instinct, which Allen use as a set up for a joke at the Sunday night dinner: “I have the voices in my head. I just don’t know what to do with them yet.” Until next year …
3RD UPDATE, FRIDAY, 2:50 PM: People actually enjoyed the Michael Bloomberg panel today at the Herb Allen Sun Valley conference as the 72-year-old answered questions from journalist Willow Bay, wife of Disney’s Robert Iger. The former mayor of New York whose fight for reasonable gun laws is well-documented, spoke about his philanthropy efforts and giving back to society. Through Bloomberg Philanthropies, the billionaire does just that in the areas of education, the arts, gun issues, governance and public health. He spoke about how dysfunctional the current U.S. system is politically and otherwise to get things done — no doubt as he personally saw what happened behind the scenes in Washington D.C. as politicians in the pocket of the NRA stymied efforts to get background checks on gun sales passed. Leave it to a politician — an orator and a former Eagle scout (hey, it’s no small task) — to wake up the moguls.
The second panel, which was supposed to feature Charlie Rose interviewing Secretary of State John Kerry piped in live from Afghanistan, went awry as the video feed didn’t work (they tried for about 15 minutes to get it up and running to no avail). That conversation, which was expected to be about how heavily the U.S. should be involved in the current explosive situation in the Middle East, will now take place tomorrow after journalist Becky Quick interviews Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos.
So they are attempting to fix the video feed for tomorrow, but let’s face it, if it doesn’t work, we doubt anyone will be upset as Kerry drones … on and on. Speaking of drones, there has been some attempt to make sure that drones don’t fly over the conference taking pictures, according to Bloomberg News. Ahhh, technology … the age of the paparazzi drone? If people are still awake after Kerry and Rose, a number of younger entrepreneurs will have their turn at bat.
Most all we spoke with don’t expect any major deals to go down at this conference. That
The $9.95 a month service (with a 10-day free trial), kicks off tomorrow — and may be most noteworthy as the first of several planned specialty video offerings from Hearst Digital Studios. “The CosmoBody channel is part of a larger umbrella strategy around the Cosmo brand, and an excellent template for how Hearst Magazines and the Studios will work together going forward,” says Hearst Magazines President David Carey. Other SVOD ventures will come from within Hearst, and with outside partners, and are designed to be available to subscribers “on any platform or device, at any time, anywhere in the world,” says Hearst Digital’s Neeraj Khemlani, who’s also co-president of Hearst Entertainment & Syndication.
The former Yahoo News exec describes CosmoBody as a “Netflix for fitness and lifestyle content.” It will feature workout videos, dating advice, and food and fashion information. Programming will come from Mark Burnett’s VIMBY studios (a partnership with Hearst), and will be updated daily. CosmoBody will feature eight trainers ( Jennifer Johnson, Astrid Swan McGuire, Adam Rosante, Ary Nunez, Don Saladino, Tara Stiles, Katia Pryce, and Rique Uresti), and food blogger Camille Becerra. Programming titles include Wowza Wedding Body, Sexier by Saturday, and Revenge Body.
Hearst hopes to make CosmoBody available to TV streaming devices such as Roku and Apple TV by mid-September.
Hearst has a lot riding on the initiative. The premium SVOD strategy sets the publisher apart from others that have tried to adapt to digital media by selling ads for text or a combination of text and video, or put their packages behind pay walls. …
EXCLUSIVE: Having just revived NBC’s Community, Yahoo might be looking to do the same with another recently cancelled cult broadcast comedy series, Fox‘s Enlisted. I hear talks are under way between the online giant and Enlisted producer 20th Century Fox TV for a second season of the military series, created by Kevin Biegel, on Yahoo’s streaming service Yahoo Screen. Sources cautioned that the conversations are preliminary and it’s unclear whether they would result in a deal.
Much like Community, Enlisted has a passionate and loyal following, something that is attractive to digital platforms which crave core groups of passionate fans. Interestingly, following the news of Yahoo’s deal for another season of Community, Enlisted fans targeted Yahoo Screen with a major save-our-show campaign, pitching the service a Community/Enlisted double feature.
After he was booted from Community, show creator Dan Harmon hit the road taking his Harmontown podcast to fans across the country as filmmaker Neil Berkeley (Beauty Is Embarrassing) documented the tour. The resulting film, Harmontown, world-premiered at SXSW and has now been acquired by MCN/distribution co. The Orchard, which is plotting a theatrical and digital release this fall in North America and the U.K.
Film features Harmon buddies and former collaborators Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman, Jason Sudeikis and Joel McHale among other comics and Community stars. Harmon, who returned to Community for Season 5, is an exec producer on the Future You Pictures and Starburns Industries film. “Harmontown is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a man that would quote himself saying that a movie about him is fascinating,” says Harmon. “It’s more than a documentary. It’s your chance to figure out what’s wrong with me while cutting me in on the profit.”
Lenny Daniels To Run Turner Sports
This is a promotion for Lenny Daniels, who was EVP and COO of Turner Broadcasting System’s sports operation. He’ll handle day-to-day management and continue to work with TBS President David Levy on strategic issues including acquisitions, programming and expanding sports media rights. Daniels helped negotiate TBS’ 2012 deal with Major League Baseball, the 2010 agreement with the NCAA to offer Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, and the 2012 acquisition Bleacher Report, a sports Web site.
Tribune Digital Ventures Acquires What’s-ON
The $27M deal is the Chicago-based media company’s latest effort to establish itself as a power in TV metadata, including information for onscreen program guides. What’s-ON provides that data for cable and TV services in 16 countries including India, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. The transaction means “we will have a new presence in markets with significant opportunity,” CEO Peter Liguori says. What’s-ON’s management will stay with the operation which will continue to operate from Mumbai.
Ross Levinsohn Joins DramaFever Board
This is an interesting choice for the media exec who recently left as chief of Guggenheim Digital Media, and previously served as Yahoo’s interim CEO, and president of Fox Interactive Media. DramaFever is an online video service (with subscription and ad-supported free options) that syndicates programming from around the world, …
Perhaps it’s due to profit taking ahead of earnings season. Or maybe investors became scared early this morning when Samsung said that it expects its Q2 earnings to come in far below analyst expectations due to weakening demand for its mobile products. Whatever the reason, or reasons, traders pummeled tech stocks today in the second day of declines after the market hit an all-time high last week. The tech-heavy NASDAQ fell 1.4% while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was -0.7% to 16,907 after crossing the 17,000 mark for the first time last week. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index slipped 1.1%. Among the tech companies we watch, Pandora was -7.3% followed by Twitter (-7.0%), Facebook (-3.9%), Netflix (-3.4%), Amazon (-2.9%), Yahoo (-2.8%), and AOL (-2.5%).
Community has done it, beating the odds and overcoming a cancellation to score a sixth-season order. After a couple of weeks of negotiations, series producer Sony Pictures TV has closed a deal with Yahoo for 13 new episodes to air this fall on Yahoo Screen. Talks went down to the wire as the options on the cast were set to expire today. Ever since NBC canceled Community last month, there had been interest from multiple outlets in continuing the cult comedy. I hear the list of possible suitors also included rebranded cable network Esquire; streaming service Hulu, which already has off-network rights to the series; and the Sony-owned Crackle.
Dan Harmon created Community and is returning as executive producer with Russ Krasnoff, Gary Foster and Chris McKenna. “I am very pleased that Community will be returning for its predestined sixth season on Yahoo,” Harmon said in the announcement of the deal. “I look forward to bringing our beloved NBC sitcom to a larger audience by moving it online. I vow to dominate our new competition. Rest easy, Big Bang Theory. Look out, Bang Bus!”
With its devoted following by a core group of passionate fans, Community is the type of show digital platforms crave. Complicating the series’ options was the fact that it has a digital syndication deal in place with Hulu, in addition to a cable off-network pact with Comedy Central.
Ned Benson‘s directorial debut The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby received a 10-minute standing ovation at its Cannes premiere in May. The version that played was Them, the film that Benson cut to tell a straight narrative story after two versions, Him and Her, debuted in Toronto last fall. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain play a married couple whose relationship disintegrates when tragedy intervenes. The Weinstein Co is releasing the combined version Stateside on September 26. Six weeks later, it will put out the two earlier takes. All told, there is expected to be a big awards-season push by TWC, and in particular for the performances of Chastain and McAvoy. Viola Davis, Bill Hader and William Hurt also star. Here’s the trailer:
Here’s a fun fact that summarizes RBC Capital Markets’ David Bank’s conclusion from his thorough examination this morning of the video ad marketplace — and the potential threat that digital poses to broadcast and pay TV: An entire week of YouTube is roughly as valuable to major advertisers as a single, first-run episode of The Big Bang Theory. “Is The Big Bang Theory a big show? Yes,” Bank says. “Does its scale threaten the fabric of the rest of the TV advertising ecosystem? We do not think so.” That’s one reason the analyst says the market isn’t a zero-sum game, and is big enough to support growth in digital and traditional video ad sales.
It’s an important issue for investors. Many are becoming wary about conventional TV’s prospects as the ranks of people who watch video on their smartphones, tablets, and PCs grow. Last year was the first in which people spent more time with digital devices including their phones than they did with TV, and the gap between the platforms will continue to grow. No wonder advertisers also are looking seriously at digital, which companies including Google, Yahoo, and AOL encouraged at their NewFront presentations. Sales to national and local Web video providers have grown an average of 20.6% a year since 2009 vs 4.9% a year for national and local TV.