This is “a new, developing phenomenon,” AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told investors this morning at the Barclays’ Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference. Although advertisers still crave ratings points, they also increasingly want to reach people who say that “there are only two or three shows I watch and I live and die for them.” The trend is gaining momentum as viewers discover opportunities to binge view shows on pay TV, VOD and streaming services including Netflix and Amazon Prime. In addition, young viewers become obsessive about programs when social networks such as Facebook and Twitter help to connect them with others who share their passion. As a result, “that favorite stuff in media is emerging as the most important [driver] of value,” Sapan says. That’s encouraging for networks such as AMC — which has high-engagement hits with dramas including Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad. But it’s hard to build a business around the trend: “Good dramatic TV shows aren’t known until they’re on,” he says. And nobody has perfect pitch. “There are many shows that have spectacular television pedigree and the show doesn’t work” while others from untested producers or stars “take off like crazy.” Sapan says he’s encouraged by his upcoming shows including Low Winter Sun (a police drama), Turn (about Revolutionary War spies), Halt & Catch Fire (about the computing boom in the 1980s), and Line Of Sight (a sci-fi drama the AMC chief calls “nuanced and exquisite”).
SEATTLE—(NASDAQ: AMZN)—May 22, 2013—Today, Amazon Publishing announces Kindle Worlds, the first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so. Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Warner Bros. Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment division for its New York Times best-selling book series Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar; Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard; and Vampire Diaries, by L.J. Smith; and plans to announce more licenses soon. Through these licenses, Kindle Worlds will allow any writer to publish authorized stories inspired by these popular Worlds and make them available for readers to purchase in the Kindle Store.
EXCLUSIVE: Grimm co-creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf have signed a new overall deal with Universal TV. Under the pact, the writing partners will continue as executive producers on the NBC drama, produced by Universal TV and Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner’s Hazy Mills. Grimm, which Greenwalt and Kouf co-created with Stephen Carpenter, was recently picked up for a third season with an early renewal. Grimm, inspired by the classic Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales, has been an unsung hero at NBC. It is the only series from the 2011-12 season, the first overseen by NBC’s current regime, to make it to season 3. A rare success story on Friday, Grimm is the night’s No.1 series in adults 18-49. Its most recent second season (6.9 million viewers, 2.4 in 18-49 in Live+7) was up 14% in 18-49 and 12% in total viewers vs. Season 1. Greenwalt and Kouf exec produce the series with Hayes, Milliner and Norberto Barba.
Alex Winter’s documentary about the rise and fall of Napster will open at Manhattan’s Village East Cinema on Friday, June 21 and the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in Los Angeles on June 28, VH1 announced today. Focusing on Napster and its founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, Downloaded examines the rise of digital media sharing and “VH1 is so proud of this timely project, and we want to showcase it in as many ways as possible,” said Brad Abramson, Vice President, Programming and Production, VH1 in a statement today. This comes on the heels of VH1′s distribution deal with AOL. Additional theatrical bookings for Downloaded are scheduled for Albuquerque, Austin, Chicago, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Martha’s Vineyard, San Francisco and Seattle, as well as other cities to be announced, in partnership with specialty distributor Richard Abramowitz of Abramorama. On July 1, the film will debut on several On Demand platforms including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Comcast, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and XBOX, in partnership with digital entertainment curator FilmBuff. Produced by VH1 for its rockDocs series, Downloaded premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival. Following the theatrical and On Demand windows, VH1 will air the film, most likely in 2014. Downloaded is written, directed and executive produced by Alex Winter and executive produced by Maggie Malina.
2ND UPDATE, 11:45 AM: I hear Alpha House has gotten an official pickup, joining Betas. Alpha House follows four senators (John Goodman, Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy, Mark Consuelos) who live together in a rented house in Washington, DC. Zombieland and Browsers did not make the cut.
Related: Full Amazon Pilot Listings
UPDATE, 9 AM: Zombieland writer-producer Rhett Reese took to Twitter to blame the series’ pickup fail on Zombieland fans themselves: “I’ll never understand the vehement hate the pilot received from die-hard Zombieland fans. You guys successfully hated it out of existence.”
UPDATE, THURSDAY PM: There will be no Zombieland TV series, at least not on Amazon. The streaming service has passed on the pilot, as well as Browsers, as it continues to narrow down the field.
This is a — and possibly “the” — key question for Big Media investors coming out of the major broadcast and cable networks’ upfront programming presentations this week. As the sales pitches wore on it became clear that execs plan to spare no expense to recover from a year of dreary ratings. There’ll be 25 new programs on the Big Four networks, up from 18 planned this time last year. What’s more, “all of the broadcast networks are moving toward year-round original schedules, less re-runs [and] more frequent ‘mini-events’,” Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger says. He adds that networks continue to depend on star power — for example CBS landed Robin Williams for its sitcom The Crazy Ones and Turner enlisted off-camera help from Michael Bay (Transformers), Dick Wolf (Law & Order), Howard Gordon (Homeland), Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead), and Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI). “These guys don’t come cheap, and we presume they must participate significantly in the back-end,” Juenger says. Execs no doubt feel confident that their bets will pay off. For example, hit dramas could play well in international syndication. Mini-series also should appeal to streaming services including Netflix and Amazon where subscribers like to binge view.
But domestic advertisers still provide lions’ share of revenues for TV shows. And if networks are optimistic about that market, it has as much to do with whether they believe consumers will buy lots of cars as with the merits of what programmers put on the screen. “Auto represents about 13% of annual TV ad spend and is seen as a pivotal player in this year’s upfront,” says Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible. That may be good news for the networks: Car companies appear to be headed for a big year as the economy improves and consumers take advantage of today’s low interest rates. As a result, Wible says “the tone of the upfront was more in favor of the sellers than we had anticipated” — leading him to forecast “substantial CPM [unit cost] increases that will offset recent ratings losses.” UBS Investment Research’s John Janedis forecasts that cable CPMs will be up as much as 7% with the major broadcasters “slightly better,” although some advertisers will just shift dollars for late this year from the scatter market to the upfront “which will make the total dollars look a little better.”
CW’s ‘Amazon’ Pilot Redeveloped With New Writer, Net Eyes ‘The 100′ & ‘Carrie Diaries’ For Limited Run, Mulls Return To Comedy
She may rise again. The Wonder Woman origin drama Amazon is in active redevelopment at the CW. The project was originally written by Allan Heinberg last season. Despite doing some preliminary casting on the lead while the script was still being written, the network ultimately didn’t give it a pilot order, instead rolling it to off-season. A new writer, Heroes alum Aron Eli Coleite, was brought in. Now “we’re waiting for the script to come in,” CW president Mark Pedowitz said following the network’s upfront presentation today. “We do not want to produce something that doesn’t work for that character. It is the trickiest of DC characters to get done.” If the network likes the script, the project will be ordered as an off-cycle pilot. As for The Selection, it is “unlikely” the property will be re-visited again after two failed pilots, the second of which came close to a series pickup, CW brass said.
Related: CW New Series First Looks: Video
SEATTLE—May 16, 2013—(NASDAQ:AMZN)—Amazon.com today announced an expanded content licensing agreement with NBCUniversal Cable & New Media Distribution that will bring a variety of popular programs to Prime Instant Video. Prime Instant Video offers more than 40,000 movies and TV episodes for Prime members to stream on Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Roku, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and Wii U, among other connected TVs and devices – all at no additional cost. To sign up for Amazon Prime, visit www.amazon.com/primeinstantvideo.
There are several comedy and drama pilots not picked up to series yet that are still in play. But among returning scripted series, only one, NBC drama Hannibal, went through the upfronts without learning its fate. The series, from Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller, got off to a solid ratings start and was in serious contention for an early renewal. The numbers eventually tapered off, and NBC put the renewal decision on hold. Hannibal was well reviewed, and I hear there has been interest from at least one cable network in case NBC passes on a second season. Additionally, I hear Amazon, which currently carries repeats of the show, has expressed interest in taking it on. There are no talks going on and Hannibal has not been shopped as the producers are waiting on a renewal at NBC. Hannibal, from Gaumont International Television, is produced under a different model at a license fee that is a fraction of what dramas with similar production values cost.
Turner Entertainment seems to try hardest to make advertisers laugh at its upfront presentation — and generally succeeded this time with help from Will Ferrell, Conan O’Brien, and TBS newcomer Pete Holmes. In a recorded routine, Ferrell said that he had bought the company and with his background in comedy “I couldn’t care less” about networks including CNN, TNT, and TruTv. Since “I like to mess around with my new toys,” he introduced the new boss: Charles Barkley. The former NBA star said that since “I’m in charge now” viewers would be “seeing a lot more Charles Barkley” — cutting to clips from Turner shows that insert him into the action. “This is the kind of bold thinking I was hoping for,” Ferrell said. “With me as CEO of Turner, and Charles, can you really go wrong?”
EXCLUSIVE: Transformers producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura is making his first foray into the digital world, joining with Break Media on thriller Higher Power (see trailer below). Produced by Di Bonaventura Pictures and the digital video company’s SVP Entertainment Development Greg Siegel and Evan Cholfin, the film is a sci-fi thriller about a regular guy who acquires the power of a demi-God. The plan is to shoot Higher Power as a feature but release it in several formats. As one example, the movie will be reformatted into chapters to be distributed online through Break Media’s male-targeted network. Higher Power will also come out as a feature through more traditional distribution options including Netflix and Amazon, VOD and international film and television channels. 300 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine VFX specialist Matthew Santoro is slated to direct from a script by Julia Fair. “We are very excited about the opportunity to partner with Greg, his team at Break Media, and Matt and Julia on this project, which I believe can be a new model for bringing high-concept, long-form content to the public,” said di Bonaventura in a statement today. Both di Bonaventura and Santoro are repped by CAA. Check out the trailer here:
UPDATE, 8:40 AM: Now we can add the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD to the devices that can receive Starz Play, Encore Play, and Movieplex Play programming from participating distributors. The new apps are available for free at the Amazon Appstore for Android.
In the company’s first such deal, Amazon-owned LoveFilm has acquired exclusive streaming rights to History‘s Vikings for the UK and Germany. The Netflix rival will make all nine episodes of the hit show available via LoveFilm Instant in the UK on May 24 and in Germany on June 15. Vikings, handled internationally by MGM Television, is the No. 1 new cable series of the year in the U.S. and was renewed for a second season in April. This marks the first time LoveFilm has pacted for a series to stream on the service ahead of traditional broadcast television. Amazon Studios recently used the platform for its pilot screening process, making a slate of 14 pilots available on Amazon Instant Video, LoveFilm UK and LoveFilm Germany.
It’s natural to wonder whether Liberty Media Chairman John Malone’s new acquisition of 27.3% of Charter Communications is merely Step One in a plan to make him a U.S. cable titan — the role he played until 1999 when he sold Tele-Communications Inc to AT&T. And while Liberty CEO Greg Maffei doesn’t predict that, he also didn’t rule it out today in a quarterly earnings call with analysts. He says that cable “could be in for a round of consolidation” at a time when it’s so inexpensive to borrow money and large companies covet opportunities to cut costs — for example by negotiating lower prices from programmers. He cryptically adds that even though Charter can do just fine as a stand-alone entity, “we’ll see” whether it ends up being “a consolidator or condolidatee.” Liberty’s stock purchase agreement gives it the right over time to raise its stake to 40%. Will it do so? “We’ll see what time holds,” Maffei says.
EXCLUSIVE: Haley Joel Osment is set to co-star opposite Will Ferrell, Tobey Maguire and Kristen Wiig in The Spoils Of Babylon, IFC’s six-episode miniseries produced by Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny Or Die. In the vein of The Thorn Birds and Winds Of War, the epic story of The Spoils Of Babylon chronicles the sexy and dramatic lives of the Morehouse family who made their fortune in the oil business.
UPDATE, 3:10 PM: Clarifying statements from the involved parties have been flooding in since last night’s news about Netflix losing hundreds of movies from its streaming service beginning today. Reports originally said the vacating titles were from Warner Bros, but it turns out the majority were “older features that were aggregated by Epix,” a Netflix spokesman said this afternoon. Epix’s two-year exclusive deal with the streaming service expired in September; content from Epix — owned by Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM — also streams on Amazon Prime Instant Video. A source tells Deadline that that the number of expiring titles is closer to 1,000, rather than the 2,000 figure floating around online. “This ebb and flow happens all the time”, Netflix said. The company also said it is adding 500 more titles starting today, including Mission: Impossible 2.
EXCLUSIVE: Onion, Inc. has signed with WME. The agency will represent The Onion brand in areas including scripted and non-scripted television, digital media, and public appearances. The Onion satire news organization reaches over 10 million fans per month via a family of digital properties including TheOnion.com and AVClub.com. The Onion recently produced the Amazon Originals pilot, Onion News Empire, a behind-the-scenes look at a cable news network starring Jeffrey Tambor, Chris Masterson, William Sadler and Cheyenne Jackson. The pilot is in consideration for a series pickup and currently available for viewing on Amazonoriginals.com. The company’s previous TV efforts include the 2011 series Onion SportsDome on Comedy Central and Onion News Network on IFC.
Analysts expect to hear encouraging news across the board from the barrage of Big Media Q1 earnings reports and conference calls this week and next. But they’ll be listening especially carefully to Viacom on Wednesday. Its shares — which recently hit all-time highs — are down 3.6% since Monday night, when Netflix said that it will let its streaming deal with Viacom expire next month. Netflix says it would rather secure exclusive rights to particular shows instead of broad deals for shows that also appear on other streaming services including Amazon and Hulu. That worries some investors: Viacom has reassured them that all’s well following Nickelodeon‘s ratings dive last year — and backed up its confidence by promising to repurchase $2.5B in stock this year and pay $1 per share in dividends. The question now is whether Viacom can afford to make good on those vows. “Cash, rather than content, remains king,” Pivotal Research Group’s Brian Wieser says this morning. The Netflix news adds to the concerns about Viacom already held by Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger — the company’s toughest critic on Wall Street. “We don’t think Netflix will bid a big sum for the specific programs it wants from Viacom,” he says this AM. “If they were willing to do so, they wouldn’t have gone through this exercise.” Nor does Juenger believe that Amazon will become a white knight. It “has all the leverage. Anything they offer to Viacom is better than nothing.” He adds that it would be “the ultimate irony if Viacom claimed the loss of Netflix would help their linear ratings, given years of arguing the opposite.” Others are more sanguine about Viacom’s prospects.
Despite NBC‘s decision last week to pull low-rated new show Ready For Love from the schedule, the dating reality series will continue to run as scheduled, just not on the broadcast network. Instead of pushing the unaired episodes to summer, NBC is putting them on NBC.com, VOD, Electronic Sell-Through (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, etc.) and Hulu. In all, three episodes of the serialized/competition show aired on NBC for the past three Tuesdays. Starting next Tuesday, April 30, a new episode will be made available until the finale on June 4. Keeping a weekly release is unusual for streaming of TV series, which is normally done through so-called binge viewing. But while that is reserved mostly for scripted series, Ready For Love‘s airing pattern will adhere to the one viewers are accustomed to for unscripted series.