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.
As broadcast networks are moving onto screening their pilots for next season, Amazon Studios too is kicking off its pilot screening process. But unlike the traditional TV networks’ pilot screenings, which are shrouded in secrecy, Amazon brass are doing theirs out in the open. The company this morning has unveiled its inaugural slate of 14 pilots — eight comedies and six kids shows. All have been made available for free on Amazon Instant Video, LoveFilm UK and LoveFilm Germany. Viewers are being invited to watch the pilots and review them on the site.
There will be “a lot of data points” in Amazon’s decision-making process as to which pilots will be picked up to series,” said Amazon Studios director Roy Price. Amazon will count how many people watched each pilot, how many watched each pilot from start to finish and how many shared it on social media. Additionally, the company will evaluate feedback from an online panel recruited on Amazon preview as well as traditional offline focus groups.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Lovefilm & Warner Bros’ UK Deal; Alex Williams Joins ‘The Reckoning’; Critics’ Week In Cannes
Lovefilm & Warner Bros Strike UK Deal
Netflix competitor Lovefilm has entered what it calls a “milestone” deal with Warner Bros. International Television Distribution for the UK. From today, library content that includes The West Wing, One Tree Hill, Nip Tuck and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will be available to subscribers. The Amazon-owned streaming service has 2M+ subscribers across Europe. Netflix entered the market in January 2012 where Sky also continues to build its business. The three companies each have deals with the major U.S. studios. In November, Netflix signed its own multi-year pact with WBITD that included shows like The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl.
The UK’s home entertainment sector took a big blow in January when retail giants HMV and Blockbuster filed for bankrupty protection within days of one another. Private equity firm Gordon Brothers Europe rode to the rescue of Blockbuster last month, and today, restructuring firm Hilco says it’s completed an acquisition of HMV’s business and certain assets. Those include 141 stores – 25 of which had been slated for closure – and about 2,500 employees. Hilco CEO Paul McGowan said, “We have spent a number of weeks negotiating revised terms with landlords and the key suppliers to the business, all of whom have been supportive of our plans to maintain an entertainment retailer on the High Street.” Hilco is seeking to re-establish HMV in Ireland after receivers there shuttered the business. The company also owns HMV Canada and hopes to replicate some of the success it’s had in that market. Exec Ian Topping said the Hilco team would “use some of the developments already progressed in Canada to restore HMV to health. We intend to reverse the earlier decisions to sell tablets and other devices in the stores and to reclaim the space for an enhanced music and visual range.”
As it just did with Zombieland, Amazon Studios acknowledged the existence of its comedy pilot Betas after the project was cast and well into production. Set in the land of Silicon Valley start-ups where the right algorithm can make you king, Betas, written by Evan Endicott and Josh Stoddard, follows four computer geeks and their quest for nerd fame as they attempt to crack the ultimate code. Ed Begley Jr, Jon Daly, Joe Dinicol, Margo Harshman, Charlie Saxton and Karan Soni star in the pilot, written by Michael Lehmann (Heathers) who will direct and produce with Alan Freedland & Alan Cohen and Michael London. Betas, the eighth comedy pilot added to Amazon’s roster, will be made available — along with the other seven comedy pilots and six children’s pilots — for free on Amazon Instant Video and Lovefilm UK/Germany.
While the Amazon Studios pilot Zombieland, based on the hit 2009 Sony movie, has already been cast and filmed, this is the first time the company has acknowledged its existence. The pilot hails from Sony Pictures TV, marking the first Amazon original project from a major studio. Here is the release:
SEATTLE—March 25, 2013—Amazon Studios, the original movie and series production arm of Amazon.com, today announced it will add cult classic Zombieland to the line-up of pilots already in production for Prime Instant Video. Zombieland, which is the seventh comedy pilot added to Amazon’s pilot line-up, will be made available (along with the other six comedy pilots and six children’s pilots) for free on Amazon Instant Video and LOVEFiLM UK. Customers are invited to view the pilots and then review them on the site; customer feedback will help determine which of the 13 pilots Amazon Studios will make into full-season productions, to air on Prime Instant Video.
Blockbuster UK has been pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy with private equity firm Gordon Brothers Europe riding to the rescue and acquiring the company’s business and assets. Blockbuster sought bankruptcy protection in January with Deloitte taking over the day-to-day operations and looking for a buyer. Financials were not disclosed, but Gordon Brothers said the 264 stores across the UK and Channel Islands will continue to operate on a business-as-usual basis, saving over 2,000 jobs. When Blockbuster first went into administration in January, it had 528 stores. Supermarket chain Morrisons bought 49 of them and about 200 were closed, BBC News notes. As with UK retail giant HMV, which has also sought bankruptcy protection, Blockbuster has faced stiff competition from online streaming services, which in the UK include Lovefilm and Netflix. Gordon Brothers said it will make “substantial investment” and fully utilize Blockbuster’s “existing trading platform, powerhouse brand and extensive customer database.” It intends to enhance “the customer experience through the use of new product offerings, new technologies and better basic retailing.” Gordon Brothers CEO Frank Morton said, “We acknowledge the industry is in transition;
Hyde Park Names Stephen Gary VP
Ahead of Cannes, Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment Group has picked Stephen Gary as VP of its international sales division. He comes from IM Global, where he worked on titles like Before Midnight Dead Man Down. He’ll report to Hyde Park International’s president Eric Christenson. The company’s current slate includes Every Secret Thing with Diane Lane and Elizabeth Banks, Adult World with Emma Roberts and John Cusack and Sunlight Jr. with Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon, as well as an untitled Elmore Leonard project that stars Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes and Tim Robbins. Gary’s career began in the global finance and distribution department at William Morris Endeavor and includes a stint at Essential Entertainment, where he executed sales on The Expatriate and Barney’s Version. - Joe Utichi
Netflix Nabs ‘Hunger Games’ For The UK & Ireland
Netflix has secured exclusive rights to The Hunger Games for the UK and Ireland before it hits the streaming service in the U.S. Netflix entered the market in January 2012 where Amazon’s Lovefilm is a strong player and where Sky continues to build its business. It hit 1M subscribers last August and has UK deals with studios including Disney, Fox, NBCU, Paramount and Miramax.
Bérénice Bejo To Star In ‘Le Dernier Diamant’
The Artist star Bérénice Bejo has booked her latest French film and will start shooting next week. The Eric Barbier-directed Le Dernier Diamant co-stars Yvan Attal, Jean-François Stévenin and Annie Cordy. France’s Vertigo Productions is producing with international sales handled by Other Angle Pictures. The heist movie follows an ex-con who is coerced into participating in the theft of a celebrated diamond during an auction in Antwerp and who becomes entangled with the diamond’s owner (Bejo).
Amazon Studios is staying on track with the original programming strategy it laid out last spring, which involved the development and launch of comedy and children’s series. The original movie and series production arm of Amazon.com this morning gave green light to five children’s pilots from auspices who have worked on such kids series as Blue’s Clues, Sid the Science Kid and Dino Dan. The announcement was made by Amazon Studios director Roy Price who comes from kids animation background. The pilots vary in genre from animation to stop-animation and live-action. They join the six comedy pilots Amazon Studios ordered in December. Once completed, all 11 pilots will be posted on Amazon Instant Video, Prime Instant Video, Lovefilm UK and Lovefilm Germany for Amazon customers to watch for free. Viewer feedback will help determine which of them will go to series. Here are details about the children’s pilots:
As the UK’s Sky Living ramps up its NBC co-production Dracula with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, it’s also commissioned a slate of new series with talent that includes The Newsroom‘s Emily Mortimer and Emmy- and Oscar-nominated writer Simon Blackwell. Mortimer stars in and created the six-part comedy Doll & Em, an L.A.-set female buddy show that will co-star her real-life best friend Dolly Wells, and come replete with surprise high-profile celebrity cameos. Blackwell, whose credits include Veep, In The Loop and The Thick Of It, co-created new comedy Trying Again with actor Chris Addison, who starred in both In The Loop and The Thick Of It. The eight-part show, about a man whose fiancée has an affair with her boss, has yet to finalize cast, but is set for production this summer. The commissions follow last week’s announcements of the Sky/BBC America James Bond biopic Fleming along with a group of dramas involving Matt Smith, Idris Elba and Vanessa Redgrave which are all part of Sky’s drive to invest £600M in original content by 2014.
EXCLUSIVE: British actress Annabelle Wallis has been cast in Sky Atlantic and BBC America’s just-announced four-part biopic Fleming. Dominic Cooper is playing James Bond creator/author Ian Fleming with Wallis as Muriel Wright, a woman with whom Fleming had a love affair and who some believe to be the original inspiration for the Bond Girl. Fleming, an Ecosse Films production for Sky Atlantic and BBC America, takes a no holds barred look at the 007 creator and his early life set against the permissive society of war-torn WWII London. Mat Whitecross is directing from a script by John Brownlow and Don MacPherson with shooting to start in Budapest next month. BBC Worldwide is distributing internationally. Wallis has also signed on for a part in Hello Carter, Anthony Wilcox’s upcoming UK indie that’s produced by Fiona Neilson of Fiesta Productions. The actress just wrapped BBC period series Peaky Blinders opposite Cillian Murphy. Her other credits include Pan AM, The Tudors and Snow White And The Huntsman. She’s repped by ICM Partners, United Agents and Untitled Entertainment.
While its sister channel Sky Atlantic gears up BBC America co-production Fleming, Sky Arts has assembled an all-star roster for its new Playhouse Presents showcase. The slate of new shows is part of the paybox’s commitment to increase investment in original content to £600M by 2014. The previous Playhouse Presents series, which included such talent as Jon Hamm, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Thompson and David Tenant, was the most successful ever for the Sky Arts channel. This year’s lineup includes Kylie Minogue, David Harewood, Anna Friel, Matt Smith, Idris Elba and Vanessa Redgrave, among others. Doctor Who‘s Smith will make his directing debut with Cargese starring Being Human‘s Craig Roberts and A Long Way Down‘s Joe Cole. Luther star Elba will helm The Pavement Psychologist from his own script that centers on Friel as a woman whose world is turned upside down when she meets a homeless man. Stephen Fry‘s Sprout Pictures produces. Also from Sprout, dark comedy Hey Diddly Dee will star Minogue and Homeland‘s Harewood while Redgrave stars in Union Square, a story of loneliness in the big city, written and directed by her son Carlo Nero. The series of programs starts in the UK in March.
Global Showbiz Briefs: NBCU-Lovefilm TV Deal, Ian Fleming Miniseries, Aussie Fracking Doc, Hong Kong Fund
NBCUniversal Inks TV Series Deal With Lovefilm
Amazon’s European service LoveFilm has secured an agreement with NBCUniversal International TV Distribution to deliver audiences on-demand access to hundreds of episodes of iconic American TV. Deal includes recent and library titles including comedies like the U.S. version of The Office starring Steve Carrell and 30 Rock starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. Deal also includes NBCU science fiction dramas like Heroes as well as David Hasselhoff’s 1980s cult TV classic Knight Rider. Lovefilm’s latest major studio deal follows agreements with ABC, BBC and ITV.
Blockbuster now becomes the second UK retailer this week to go into administration, the British equivalent of bankruptcy protection, after music and DVD chain HMV did the same on Tuesday. As it has in the U.S., the movie and video game rental giant has faced increasing competition from online streaming services, which in the UK include Lovefilm and Netflix. Deloitte, which was also hired by HMV, will take over the day-to-day operations at Blockbuster UK which has 528 stores and employs 4,190 staff. Stores will continue to do business while the firm seeks a buyer. In a statement, Deloitte’s Lee Manning said, “We are working closely with suppliers and employees to ensure the business has the best possible platform to secure a sale, preserve jobs and generate as much value as possible for all creditors.” The first Blockbuster UK store opened in 1989. In April 2011, Dish Network acquired Blockbuster Inc. in a bankruptcy auction for $320M. Blockbuster UK is owned by Dish, but operates separately from its U.S. parent.
Apple TV Adds Video Streaming Service Watchever In Germany
Apple TV has added access to Vivendi’s streaming video subscription service Watchever in Germany. The move could open the door to more region-specific deals “where there is a strong localized offering that delivers content appealing to Apple TV owners there,” according to Next Web. Watchever offers access to whole seasons of U.S. series, movie blockbusters and international art house films for €8.99 ($11.99) per month. Purported “thousands” of available titles include AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad, early seasons of HBO shows such as The Sopranos and Sex and the City and films like Slumdog Millionaire and There Will Be Blood. Netflix is not available in Germany. Amazon-owned Lovefilm, which offers both streaming and physical DVDs, is available but as with Amazon Instant Video in the U.S., it’s not available on Apple TV.
In a blow to comers Netflix and Lovefilm, the UK’s Sky has entered a new multi-year deal with NBCUniversal International Television Distribution that will give it exclusive rights to current, upcoming and library film titles for its Sky Movies service. The pact will give customers an exclusive first window to Universal films after their theatrical runs for at least a year. Titles covered include The Bourne Legacy, Snow White And The Huntsman, Ted and, down the road, Les Miserables, Anna Karenina and Despicable Me 2. All movies will also be available on Sky’s recently-launched video on demand service Now TV.
The deal comes on the heels of September’s exclusive arrangement with Warner Bros. for recent and upcoming titles. That extended agreement was Sky’s first with a Hollywood major since Netflix appeared on the scene at the beginning of 2012. It was also the first pact announced with a major after the UK’s Competition Commission confirmed this summer that the News Corp-controlled Sky does not have a material advantage over its rivals in the first window pay-TV arena. These latest agreements mean that Sky retains exclusive first window rights to films from all of the Hollywood majors.
UPDATE, 5:15 AM: James Murdoch has been re-elected as a non-executive director of BSkyB. Murdoch won more support at today’s shareholder meeting in London than he had at the last one when he was still chairman of the pay-TV group. Although some investors opposed his retaining a seat, only 4.98% of proxy voters wanted him out this year compared to 19% last year. One shareholder, alluding to the troubles at News Corp.’s UK newspapers, asked if the name Murdoch is now “toxic,” but chairman Nicholas Ferguson replied there had been no negative impact on company business.
PREVIOUS, 3:19 AM: BSkyB earnings were up 16% in the fiscal first quarter on revenue of £1.715B (+4%) and operating profit of £310M (+5%). The increases came as the pay-TV giant offered new products and added 20,000 net customers to its subscriber base, for a total of about 10.7M subscribers. In response to competition in the UK streaming arena from Netflix and Amazon’s Lovefilm, BSkyB added Now TV during this quarter, a service that allows non-Sky customers to access movies on demand. It also agreed to pay £760M per season for rights to the English Premier League soccer games through 2014 (NBC just acquired rights in the States for a reported $83M per year).
Television is where it’s at. That’s a refrain that I’ve heard not only – and not surprisingly – from the TV execs on the ground here in Cannes as Mipcom revs up, but also one I heard from movie execs when I was in Los Angeles last week. With fewer mid-range budget pictures being made by the studios and tentpoles trying to establish the stars of tomorrow from a well of unknowns, marquee names are increasingly looking to the small screen for traction in global event-style programming. Even Cannes Film Festival fixture Harvey Weinstein will grace the Croisette again this year when he unveils The Weinstein Co’s new TV slate on Tuesday. In the meantime, minis and limited series are all the rage. In just the past week, NBC picked up The Slap, an eight-episode limited series from Brothers & Sisters’ Jon Robin Baitz and Universal TV-based Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald based on the award-winning Australian short-form. And, Fox and FX Networks moved into the long-form event programming arena, teaming for a new production unit that will supply the sibling networks with high-profile limited and miniseries.
NBC this summer announced its plans for a live broadcast of The Sound Of Music from Smash executive producers (and Oscar show producers) Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. In a TV universe steadily taken over by time-shifted viewing, sports and event programming’s importance is on the rise. A U.S. TV exec told me on Sunday they wouldn’t be surprised if star-studded primetime event TV started to resemble the days of yore with miniseries becoming the must-see appointment, non-DVR wave of the future.
A movie exec in LA lamented to me last week the lack of film roles for serious actors who are mid-career. But Kevin Costner’s Emmy-winning turn in hit History miniseries Hatfields & McCoys had the knock-on effect of reinvigorating the star’s career, scoring him some key roles in major Hollywood features. “Everyone wants miniseries from networks to cable companies. You can drop a star into a mini giving them back-end potential… and there’s less pressure than with a feature if it doesn’t open at $30M,” a TV exec says. Not so coincidentally, A+E Networks’ president of entertainment and media Nancy Dubuc, riding high after Hatfields & McCoys, is in Cannes this week to deliver a keynote address.