The fall specialty box office roars back as Barry Jenkins’ festival breakout scores the best reviews and best per theater average of the year.
The embargo on reviews has lifted and we, TheWrap’s Umberto Gonzalez and Beatrice Verhoeven, can give you our thoughts on Marvel’s “Doctor Strange.”
In general, early reviews seem to be praising the performances of Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and Mads Mikkelsen as the villain, as well as the visual effects. We both mutually agree that seems to be the case.
“Doctor Strange” follows the story of talented neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange who, after a tragic car accident, must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions.
If AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner says anything about the media landscape, it’s that content has never been so valuable. But it has too little power on its own to be king.
Premium entertainment content made by Warner Bros. movies and HBO is like water. Everyone needs it, but it’s useless unless it can be delivered to them. And in a world thirstier than ever, high quality content can command a hefty price even as the media industry at large sails toward an unclear future.
In past decades, TV consumers had basically one pipe – the cable-connected television set – connected to a limited number of channels. Now between their smart TVs, smartphones and tablets, everyone has multiple pipes and can draw from any source that’s online. The sources have competition they never expected – YouTube anyone? – but those that everyone wants to tap into have never been so valued.
And that’s why Time Warner, whose highly profitable cable channels face an uncertain future in the age of cord-cutting, was still able to command such a premium from AT&T, bought at $107.50 a share, a 20 percent premium over the $89 share price at closing on Friday.
“You’re seeing a lot of these deals now to create scale and scope and to provide a company like AT&T leverage agains the content owners,” said Kyle Mayer, a professor of vertical integration and M&A at USC’s Marshall School of Business. “As we see a shift toward cord-cutting, the importance of the pipes to the home in terms of the internet is becoming more and more important by the day.”
As more streaming services emerge and have to compete for customers, they need to attract them with content they know and love. Even in the age of peak TV and video cameras on every phone, there’s still a relatively limited supply of that.
Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker acknowledged the strength of Warner Bros. library of prime programming. “Look, we’ve always said that if there’s a library to buy, it’s Warner Bros.,” she wrote in a Friday research note.
At a September investor conference in Southern California, 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Lachlan Murdoch said the sea of new internet-based distribution platforms that are emerging on the market, from Netflix to Amazon to the planned live-TV services coming from Google and Hulu, support the value of content.
“As downstream distribution becomes more and more competitive, the value will flow upstream to the content owners,” he said. “It’s like salmon, value swims upstream.”
If the deal goes through the media giant’s shareholders would see that value swimming into their bank accounts to the tune of a 66 percent pop in the stock since the start of the year.
Middling cable channels and the middling shows they carry are on their way out, but higher-end, hit programming like what HBO and Warner Bros. produce has never been as valuable. There have also never been so many potentially interested, deep-pocketed buyers as the line between internet video and TV becomes even more blurred — and eventually erased.
AT&T loudly announced its desire to become a major media player with its $49 billion purchase of DirecTV last year. In a Friday research note, Amy Yong, an analyst at Macquarie pointed out that AT&T is launching three DirecTV-branded streaming services in the fourth quarter, including the flagship DirecTV now, which will carry more than 100 channels — and therefore, would stand to benefit from more content providers with favorable ownership.
“As a result, the company has signed multiple content deals leading up to the launch; a deal with Time Warner could strengthen its content ownership position which holds great value in an over-the-top world particularly if AT&T could control distribution,” she wrote.
But AT&T, a direct descendant of the first phone company ever, is hardly the only massive corporation with non-TV roots making a huge bet on delivering it over the internet.
Amazon and Google, with their combined market cap of nearly $1 trillion, are also very much in the game. Both are said to be launching live-TV streaming services in the very near future, and Amazon has splashed plenty of cash acquiring original content for its Amazon Prime Video.
Sony has its PlayStation Vue live-TV streaming service, which piggybacks on its popular video game console. Hulu, which is owned by a combination of Comcast, Fox, Disney and Time Warner, is also launching a live-TV service in early 2017.
What all those powerful companies have in common is their pursuit of a limited supply of truly watchable — and bankable — content.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Apple — which suspended efforts to launch its own live-TV service last year — had discussed a possible merger with Time Warner a few months back. And with Apple holding a cool $62 billion in cash and short-term investments on its balance sheet and a $628 billion market cap, that could have could have incentivized AT&T to get the deal done fast.
Those buyers are not just coming from the U.S. Chinese tech conglomerate Le Eco just launched a line of smart TVs and a streaming video service and would like to fill it with a healthy menu of programming. Its subsidiary, Le Vision Pictures, recently opened an office in Los Angeles and plans to produce a slate of English-language movies — with distribution across multiple platforms a main part of its strategy.
Even the best content can’t totally sell itself — HBO, which carries some of the most talked-about shows on TV, only had about 800,000 subscribers on its standalone HBO NOW service as of February. However, distributors definitely can’t sell themselves to subscribers without anything good to watch.
The pursuit of prime programming in a constantly changing distribution atmosphere should only get more active — and AT&T just snagged one of the few big fish.
Jennifer Lawrence is looking to portray socialite Zelda Fitzgerald in the the drama currently titled “Zelda,” which is being developed and eyed by Ron Howard (“Inferno”) as a potential directing vehicle, TheWrap has learned.
“Zelda” reteams Lawrence with former Lionsgate executive Allison Shearmur, who worked with the actress on “The Hunger Games” franchise.
Shearmur is producing “Zelda” with Brian Oliver (“Hacksaw Ridge”). Lawrence and her producing partner Justine Ciarrocchi also will serve as producers.
Based on a script by Emma Frost (“The White Queen”), the story centers on Fitzgerald, an American novelist and socialite who was married to author F. Scott Fitzgerald whose work she strongly influenced.
Nancy Milford’s bestselling biography “Zelda,” which was optioned by the filmmakers, will serve as the inspiration for the script.
Shearmur produced Disney’s live-action “Cinderella” and the upcoming “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Shearmur is also an executive producer on “Power Rangers” and executive producer of the upcoming ABC musical event “Dirty Dancing.”
Lawrence has Sony’s “Passengers” up next, which opens Dec. 21, and most recently starred in David O. Russell‘s “Joy,” for which she received her fourth Oscar nomination.
Lawrence and Howard are repped by CAA.
The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news.
Tammin Sursok of “Pretty Little Liars” and writer-director Sean McEwen have inked a deal with digital studio Astronauts Wanted to develop and produce a new scripted comedy series “Aussie Girl.” The series will be produced by Sursok’s production company, Charlie Baby Productions, and New York-based Astronauts Wanted, a joint venture between Judy McGrath and Sony Music Entertainment. Sursok is… Read more »
EXCLUSIVE: UTA has signed Alan Taylor, returning the director to the agency after a run with CAA that included helming tenpoles Thor: The Dark World and Terminator Genisys. Previously at UTA, he helmed multiple episodes of Game Of Thrones as well as Mad Men, The Sopranos and Sex And The City.
Taylor is still in the mix on GoT and recently finished directing Roadside Picnic, a pilot for WGN America starring Matthew Goode. He is exec producing the Sony TV/Tribune Studios…
Three new high-profile theatrical hits catapulted into the top three spots on the national home video sales charts the week ended Oct. 16, led by Sony Pictures’ much-maligned “Ghostbusters” remake. The comedy, which grossed $128.2 million in U.S. theaters against an estimated budget of $144 million, topped both the NPD VideoScan overall disc sales chart,… Read more »