‘The Rook’: Spy Drama Made By “Naturally Duplicitous” Brits As Producers Explain Stephenie Meyer Exit – TCA

Read on: Deadline.

The Rook is a supernatural spy drama – a genre particularly suited to be made by “naturally duplicitous” Brits, according to exec producer Stephen Garrett. Character Seven boss Garrett, who co-founded Broadchurch producer Kudos, also discussed th…

Endemol Shine: How The ‘Black Mirror’ & ‘MasterChef’ Owner Can Cook Up A Multi-Billion Dollar Sale

Read on: Deadline.

Endemol Shine is dancing towards a new future with a coterie of former top lieutenants potentially leading the waltz.
The superindie is up for sale, a process that could see a romantic recoupling with the likes of founder John De Mol and ex-creative ch…

TiVo Shares Drop As CEO Quits Less Than A Year After Taking The Helm

Read on: Deadline.

TiVo Corp., which is already reviewing its strategic options as a company, said its CEO made a “personal decision” to resign less than a year in the role.
Enrique Rodriguez is becoming chief technology officer at Liberty Global, a major cab…

Cheddar Raises $22M Series D Round; “Post-Cable” Business Network Expanding Into News, Overseas

Read on: Deadline.

Cheddar, which bills itself as a “post-cable” media network covering the business world, said it has raised a $22 million Series D round of financing, which includes new investors such as Liberty Global and Goldman Sachs.
Existing investors, including major media players AT&T, Amazon, Comcast Ventures and Altice USA, all participated in the Series D round.
The company plans to use the money to expand internationally and to launch a second live news network. Cheddar Big…

Amazon, Liberty Global Order ‘The Feed’ From ‘Walking Dead’ Writer Channing Powell

Read on: Variety.

Amazon and Liberty Global have ordered “The Feed,” a London-set drama about the family of a man who invents a brain implant that allows people to share thoughts and emotions. Things take a turn for the worse when people with “the Feed” technology in their heads start to become murderous, and the family struggles to […]

Amazon/Liberty Global Back Sci-Fi Drama ‘The Feed’ From ‘The Walking Dead’ Producer & Studio Lambert

Read on: Deadline.

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon and Liberty Global are travelling into the future with their latest big-budget drama order – a social media-infused sci-fi series from The Walking Dead exec producer Channing Powell and British producer Studio Lambert.
The SVOD service and the European pay-TV operator have commissioned The Feed, a TV adaptation of Nick Clark Windo’s dystopian novel. It will air on Amazon in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, while Liberty Global will air across Europe…

Kew Inks Rights On ‘Perfect Skin’; Vodafone Eyes Liberty Assets – Global Briefs

Read on: Deadline.

KEW Media Group has acquired worldwide sales rights to Perfect Skin. A controversial dark thriller directed by Kevin Chicken, it stars Richard Brake (Game Of Thrones), Natalia Kostrzewa (The Cured) and Jo Woodcock (Dorian Grey). Perfect Skin dives deep into the culture of tattooing and body modification and follows a young Polish woman adrift in London who meets an American tattoo artist with a reverence for his craft. She is drawn to his mysterious aura and the taboo…

Vodafone Confirms Talks to Buy European Cable Assets from Liberty Global

Read on: Variety.

Vodafone has confirmed it is in talks to buys a tranche of European cable assets from Liberty Global. U.K.-based telco Vodafone has previously been linked with a move for Liberty’s cable operations, positioning it as a triple-, or quad-play operation with interests spanning TV, broadband, and telephony. “Vodafone confirms that it is in early stage discussions […]

Inside the STX Mess and the End of Sophie Watts’ Odd Couple Executive Pairing (Exclusive)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

STX Entertainment, one of the few independent movie companies to launch in recent years, started with an unusual partnership between a blue-blood finance executive and a charismatic business ingénue from the British music scene, neither of whom had deep roots in Hollywood’s tricky landscape.

One of those partners, president Sophie Watts, suddenly exited this month amid a cloud of accusations that, according to multiple STX insiders, her CEO Robert Simonds was “obsessed” with his subordinate, attempted to control her movements and that the company failed to respond to her numerous complaints about his behavior.

No new president has been named to replace her, and Watts — who was billed as an STX co-founder in a company bio from 2016 — has been erased from the STX website and even on Wikipedia.

It’s a sudden and mysterious turn of events for a company that prided itself on seeking to shake up the way Hollywood does business.

Also Read: STX President Sophie Watts Exits Over CEO Robert Simonds’ Alleged Harassment (Exclusive)

After declining to respond to TheWrap despite numerous requests, STX issued this statement on Wednesday:

“We direct you — once again — to the joint STX-Sophie Watts press release issued on January 16, 2018 and Sophie’s internal personal memo to employees.”

The statement, which can be found below in full, did not address the specific question of Simonds’  relationship with Watts but it did stress that STX  regularly reviews and updates “our internal policies and procedures to protect and nurture our people.” A spokesman declined to say whether any internal measures had been taken in response to the alleged harassment, and again referred reporters to their policy.

Unusual Origins

Many things about the origins of STX are unusual: its investment from China and private equity fund TPG with a promise to spend $1 billion a year on content, its reliance on a network of close friends from Yale University, its ability to hire veteran Hollywood executives including former Universal chief Adam Fogelson, former Disney marketing head Oren Aviv and many others.

But nothing was more unusual than Simonds teaming up with the then-26-year-old Watts in 2012 to lead an entertainment company when her only experience was as a financier or executive producer on two 2011 documentaries, “Bully” and “Sarah Palin: You Betcha.”

From the start, many even inside STX remarked on the odd pairing. Simonds was a strait-laced, married, wealthy, middle-aged man with a finance background, taking as his partner a loud and proud lesbian 25 years his junior, whose friends were the likes of singer Ariana Grande and hipster DJ Samantha Ronson.

Watts had short, bleached blond hair, a British boarding school accent and an unmistakable personal style. “She’d wear the most expensive silk blouse but way too low cut, without a bra,” said one former employee. “She’s got that fashion model thing.”

Simonds, scion of a wealthy family from Arizona, had been a producer on broad comedies like Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy” and “The Water Boy,” and Steve Martin’s family movie “Cheaper by the Dozen,” but he came from the finance world rather than the hands-on producing side of the business. (On the STX website he is billed as an “accomplished businessman.”)

His closest friends at Yale, Bill McGlashan and now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, were also at the intersection of finance and entertainment. Watts came to Hollywood by way of London and the music business.

Her mother, Tessa, was an early member of Richard Branson’s team at Virgin Records and became a respected executive who helped to create legendary music videos like “Sledgehammer,” and to launch MTV in Europe. She died of cancer just months after STX was founded in March 2014.

Both McGlashan and Simonds found Watts unusually riveting as she spun a vision of creating a digital-age entertainment company making mid-budget movies at a time when Hollywood studios largely did not, the insider said. While Watts grew up in the fast lane of British pop music, that did not necessarily give her credibility in Hollywood.

Simonds, it seemed, was not deterred. He made her president and introduced her in public as a co-founder.

“She was focused and smart and could move him [Simonds] forward,” said another former employee. “She brought something to the table he didn’t have — a big personality and luster. Without her — we used to talk about it — [STX] was a bunch of old men. She was the only one who made it look forward-thinking.”

Still, optically the pairing was jarring to many, especially as the two were inseparable as co-executives — he the CEO, she the president — who shared an office and went everywhere together in style, including on private planes to China, where STX’s leading investors Tencent and Hony Capital were based.

In meetings, Simonds praised his young charge as an agent of change and a visionary executive to a point that made employees uncomfortable – particularly given her lack of experience.

“It became an unhealthy obsession of his,” said one of the former employees, using a term echoed by multiple people interviewed for this story. “It was common knowledge. “They had some kind of friendship that was peculiar to everybody, because it made no sense why she was being anointed the way she was.”

Relationship Sours

Even as STX was rolling out its first theatrical releases, insiders say that Simonds and Watts maintained at best an arms-length role in the moviemaking process. (Watts didn’t present the studio’s slate at 2016’s high-profile CinemaCon presentation, but she did shmooze with “The Free State of Jones” star Matthew McConaughey at Mr. Chow atop the Caesar’s Palace afterward.)

From left: Mila Kunis, Bob Simonds, Annie Mumolo, Kathryn Hahn and Sophie Watts attend the New York premiere of “Bad Moms” in 2016.

“She was everybody’s boss. Technically we all reported to her. But we never talked to her. We didn’t intersect with her,” said one of the former employees. Movies were acquired and put into development, while Watts focused on other projects, such as tapping friends in the gay music community to start a short-lived digital platform.

Watts eventually hired former Yahoo marketing chief Kathy Savitt to run digital, thought she exited after just eight months, in May 2016.

Despite flops like “Free State of Jones,” the company scored its first big hit in summer 2016 with the comedy “Bad Moms” — which grossed $184 million worldwide on a modest $20 million budget — and also secured strategic investments from the Chinese technology giant Tencent and Hong Kong-based telecommunications firm PCCW.

In addition to its original capitalization, the company had access to about $700 million in new capital for a planned expansion and was worth roughly $1.5 billion.

Also Read: STX Entertainment Struggles With Flops, Executive Exits and a Shift in Strategy (Exclusive)

But in the office, three former employees reported seeing heated exchanges between the two top executives. The relationship between Watts and Simonds began to visibly fray. Two insiders said that Watts was pushing back on Simonds’ unwelcome interest in her – such as asking to move to a separate office – and reported her displeasure to General Counsel Noah Fogelson, begging for protection.

“They’d be alternately lovey-dovey and hysterically angry at each other,” said one of the former employees. “It was a common sight to see Sophie in Noah Fogelson’s office broken apart in tears.”

Said another former employee: “I saw them fight a lot. I saw them clash.”

Said a third insider: “Watts called Noah Fogelson asking for help for years. We have glass walls and offices…. We heard her calls and their arguments and helped her when we could.”

On Wednesday, TheWrap received the following statement from STX regarding this report, and its initial report on Jan. 16:

We [STX] direct you–once again–to the joint STX-Sophie Watts press release issued on January 16, 2018 and Sophie’s internal personal memo to employees. Both of these communications clearly demonstrate STX’s gratitude to Sophie for her contributions to the company’s success and, in Sophie’s own words, her pride at building up STX and the reasons for her decision to leave the company. Unfortunately, the Wrap chose to disregard this unequivocal, on the record, joint statement in favor of its uncorroborated and contrary thesis, relying on unnamed sources.

STX is proud to have built a safe working environment that encourages employees to share their concerns. We have consistently taken all reports seriously regardless of the source, and we regularly review and update our internal policies and procedures to protect and nurture our people.

STX sent a statement announcing Watts’ departure 20 minutes after TheWrap published the initial report — and nearly 24 hours after they were contacted for comment.

As TheWrap previously reported, Watts complained repeatedly about the unwanted attention, and Simonds’ wife suspected a sexual relationship, calling the office to complain that the two were having oral sex, according to two knowledgeable individuals.

In September 2016, an outside attorney was brought in who recommended that a bodyguard be present when the two were alone in the office, and that they not fly to Asia together without others present, one of the insiders said. STX attorney Bert Deixler said: “There was no bodyguard, there was no recommendation. That’s not true.”

By the fall of 2017, the conflict became more than Watts could handle. She ceased coming to the office, and in January her exit was attributed to announced after  without explanation. When TheWrap reached Watts for the original report she merely stated, “I can’t comment on any of this.” Since then her cellphone has been out of service.

The Future of STX

Even as Watts was withdrawing from STX, the company was moving forward on with its many media divisions, to varying degrees of success.

Last November’s “Bad Moms Christmas” grossed only $72 million domestically, and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” — which STX distributed for EuropaCorp — was a costly flop. The studio has multiple movies on deck for 2018, including “Gringo” starring David Oyelowo in March and “Adrift’ starring Shailene Woodley and Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty,” both in June.

The company’s TV division has been mostly quiet, producing Katherine Heigl’s short-lived NBC “State of Affairs” and lining up a few cable projects, including Matthew Carnahan’s ’90s tech-boom drama “Valley of the Boom” at NatGeo.

Also showing little traction are the company’s digital and VR ventures, including the VT company Surreal it acquired in 2016 on the strength of interactive content for YouTube stars and live events like the 2016 Emmy Awards. According to two individuals familiar with the operation, it’s mostly thought of as a value add for big-name talent looking to diversify the platforms on which fans receive them. (The division took meetings with Mark Wahlberg to entice him to sign on for the STX thriller “Mile 22,” one insider recalled.)

Despite the spotty track record, John Malone’s Liberty Global invested an undisclosed amount of money last November and placed an executive on STX’s board. And recent reports have suggested that STX may be close to an initial public offering on the Hong Kong Stock exchange.

How the departure of Sophie Watts may bear on all this remains to be seen, and the company’s reticence to shed light on the situation, along with her excision from its history, leaves more questions than answers.

“This was a classic case of quid pro quo, whether she was conscious of it or not,” said one of the former employee at STX. “You don’t get to run a company without having worked for it. What part of the deal did she not get?”

Matt Donnelly contributed to this report.

Related stories from TheWrap:

STX President Sophie Watts Exits Over CEO Robert Simonds’ Alleged Harassment (Exclusive)

STX Gets Investment From John Malone’s Telecom Giant Liberty Global

‘Bad Moms’ Studio STX Plans 2018 IPO on Hong Kong Stock Exchange

Liberty Global Sells Austrian Cabler UPC to Deutsche Telekom

Read on: Variety.

Liberty Global has sold its Austrian cable provider UPC to T-Mobile Austria, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, for 1.9 billion euros ($2.25 billion). The sale stands in contrast to Liberty Global’s acquisition of companies elsewhere in Europe. Liberty Global has also recently pushed into producing original content. For its part, by buying UPC Austria, Deutsche […]

John Malone’s Liberty Global Buys Stake In STX

Read on: Deadline.

STX is getting an investment from Liberty Global, the latest deal made by John Malone’s international TV and broadband company. As part of the stake pact, Liberty Global chief programming officer Bruce Mann will join STX’s board of directors.
No terms or amounts were disclosed in the press release STX sent out this afternoon, though the Wall Street Journal is reporting it’s a $35 million investment that values the studio founded by Robert Simonds and TPG Growth’s Bill…

STX Gets Investment From John Malone’s Telecom Giant Liberty Global

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Independent distributor STX, which is heading toward a Hong Kong IPO, has secured an investment from telecom giant Liberty Global, the company announced Thursday.

Bruce Mann, Liberty’s chief programming officer, will join the STX board concurrent with the investment.

“Having one of the world’s biggest content distributors incentivized in STX’s continued success is gratifying confirmation of our brand and business strategy,” STX Chairman and CEO Robert Simonds said in a statement. “We look forward to benefiting from Bruce and Liberty Global’s counsel to accelerate our plans for expansion.”

Also Read: ‘Bad Moms’ Studio STX Plans 2018 IPO on Hong Kong Stock Exchange

“I am so pleased to be part of the team that made this investment in STX,” Mann said in a statement. “In this unprecedented and transformative time in our industry, it is more imperative than ever to align with the best partners and most forward-looking leaders. With Bob, the STX team and its other sophisticated investors, I can’t think of a more proven group to chart the course for the future of entertainment.”

STX, which counts Chinese tech powerhouse Tencent among its investors, recently released Jackie Chan’s “The Foreigner,” a U.S.-China co-production and “A Bad Moms Christmas.” The studio will release Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game,” starring Jessica Chastain, in December. The company, which is planning an initial public offering on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, is also involved television, virtual reality, digital video, music and live entertainment.

Liberty Global, whose chairman is media mogul John Malone, operates in more than 30 countries across Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and counts more than 24 million TV, broadband and landline customers, as well as over 10 million mobile subscribers.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Bad Moms’ Studio STX Plans 2018 IPO on Hong Kong Stock Exchange

Maya Rudolph to Reunite With Melissa McCarthy for ‘Happytime Murders’ at STX

Jennifer Aniston in Talks to Headline Parenting Comedy for STX

Starz, Lionsgate & Liberty Global Team On Spy Thriller ‘The Rook’ With Stephenie Meyer, Stephen Garrett – TCA

Read on: Deadline.

Lionsgate and Liberty Global are partnering to produce supernatural spy thriller, The Rook, which will air on Starz in the U.S., and across Liberty Global’s international platforms. Twilight creator Stephenie Meyer and The Night Manager‘s Stephen Garrett are exec producing. This is Starz’s first series order from Lionsgate TV since Lionsgate acquired the pay cable network last year. Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht made the announcement at TCA today.
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Liberty Global Reports 18% Drop In Q1 Euro Operating Profit

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John Malone‘s Liberty Global is lowering its European growth target this year after the international cable operator posted a lower-than-expected start in the region with European operating income for the group down 18% year-on-year at $431M.
The company said in its 2017 Q1 financial and operating results for Liberty Global Group and LiLAC Group that it now anticipated its full-year growth for Liberty Global Group to be around 5%, down from 6% in February.
“In terms of…

Liberty Global Sees European Operating Income Down 18% in Q1

Read on: Variety.

Liberty Global has announced first quarter 2017 results for its Liberty Global Group and LiLAC Group. European operating income for Liberty Global Group was down 18% year-on-year at $431 million, impacted by decreases in operating cash flow (OCF), depreciation and amortization. “In terms of our European financials, we had a soft start to the year… Read more »

Asian Video Platform Iflix Hires Netflix’s Sean Carey as Content Head

Read on: Variety.

Iflix, the subscription video group that last week raised $90 million for its international expansion, has appointed Sean Carey as its new chief content officer. He joins the Malaysia-based startup from Netflix. Carey was VP, global television at Netflix, where he was responsible for all licensed television series, kids and family content, and co-productions for… Read more »

Liberty Global Joins $90 Million Funding Round for Iflix

Read on: Variety.

Asian subscription video firm, iflix has attracted $90 million of capital from companies including Liberty Global. The capital will be used to boost its international expansion. The company said that it had closed the funding round. New investors include: Liberty Global; Zain, a mobile and data services operator in the Middle East and Africa with… Read more »