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Rearview Reflections: A Look Back at the Week’s Big Media/Tech News

media/tech news
VARIETY INTELLIGENCE PLATFORM

With news from the media/tech landscape flooding your inboxes daily, the VIP+ team is at the ready to sift through the biggest stories of each week and share their insights in rousing online discussions, every Friday at 11:30 a.m. PT / 2:30 p.m. ET. This week’s session will take place on Twitter Spaces, so if you agree with our picks or want to make your own, join us!

And if you missed last week’s action on LinkedIn Live, replay it below. 

 

Andrew Wallenstein, Chief Media Analyst

Once it became clear that WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar was not even kept in the loop at AT&T as the company pulled the division out from underneath him to spin into a merger with Discovery, it only seemed like a matter of time before he exited stage left. 

Which made it all the more surprising to learn Kilar made clear to WarnerMedia employees at an internal corporate event Thursday that he plans to remain with the brand through the rest of the year before reconsidering his options in 2022.  

That’s just now how it’s done in Hollywood, where getting snubbed by AT&T is ego-bruising enough to mean immediate evacuation. But as much as it might be nice to think Kilar is sticking it out for the love of the HBO Max product he has made his baby, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t some kind of economic incentive to keep him in place.  

Maybe Kilar being a lame-duck CEO doesn’t seem like a big deal. I can’t imagine he’s going to be working quite as passionately on a streaming service from which he’s certainly going to walk away next year. But what makes this move notable is AT&T seems to be keeping Kilar away from the competition for at least a little while. 

That’s no small feat because of the potential an executive of his caliber has to boost a competitor at, say, Amazon  where he worked earlier in his career  or Apple, should he choose to join a rival venture. And considering the shaft AT&T has given Kilar, that may still be an inevitability, though one could hardly blame him if after all the punches he’s taken at Hulu and WarnerMedia over the years, he finally says goodbye to media for good.  

Gavin Bridge, Senior Media Analyst   

The acquisition of MGM by Amazon garnered headlines galore, with the majority focusing on the glitz and glamour around Amazon acquiring a film studio with a storied past. There is, however, a lot more to the deal than movies. 

A key part of Amazon’s streaming strategy is having ad-supported content that is monetizable. This is a global strategy and was behind Amazon Prime U.K.’s acquisition of Premier League rights, including the rounds of fixtures immediately prior to Christmas. In the U.S., Amazon is putting considerable resources behind making free streaming platform IMDb TV into a major destination. 

It’s a common misconception that Amazon cares only about Prime Video and that IMDb TV is a secondary service. Truth is, the company is determined to see IMDb TV succeed, be it through licensing the first Dick Wolf streaming original or expanding the connected devices on which the service is available. 

This where MGM comes in. MGM has a robust reality-TV studio, producing many hits on Bravo and VH1 as well as big competition shows including “Survivor.” Given that unscripted content is much cheaper to create than scripted and is able to create hits that keep growing in audience even in today’s depressed TV landscape, like TLC’s “90 Day Fiancé” franchise, having access to a team with the nous to operate in this field will be a core element of the acquisition that I expect Amazon to leverage. 

Something else to keep an eye on is what becomes of cable network MGM HD. Amazon will soon be owner of their first basic cable channel (already having a 15% stake in regional sports network YES), and it’s fascinating to imagine how that could develop. 

If it were up to me, I would rebrand it to IMDb Network and include a mixture of MGM library content and high-profile IMDb originals, such as Dick Wolf’s half-hour drama “On Call” or the new Judge Judy court show. Being able to monetize across streaming and cable would bring greater yields  including a monthly affiliate revenue stream — and is something to be considered. 

Heidi Chung, Media Analyst/Correspondent   

The Redditors are back at it again. As of Thursday, AMC Entertainment shares were up a whopping 110% over the past week, and its market cap soared past $10 billion. So far this year, the stock was up nearly 1,300%. 

Remember at the start of this year, retail investors on Reddit flocked to stocks with high short interest, including GameStop and AMC Entertainment, to squeeze the short sellers? Well, those same investors have their eyes set on AMC again. According to data firm S3 Partners, AMC has about 20% of its float shares sold short, which compares with just 5% for the average U.S. stock. 

The sudden retail money being pumped into AMC burned short sellers once again. S3 estimated short sellers lost a total of about $1 billion just this week. And still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, AMC Entertainment has a long way to go before its business can reflect the current market valuation.

This kind of stock pumping is not based on anything fundamental, but rather it’s purely for entertainment. For the investors putting large sums into the so-called meme stocks like AMC, it’s all fun and games until it’s not and people start losing big. 

Kevin Tran, Media Analyst   

Films without theatrical runs will be eligible for the Oscars, as long as the release was initially intended to hit theaters, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Thursday. The Academy noted theaters are still impacted by the pandemic in choosing to allow straight-to-streaming films to qualify for the Oscars for the second year in a row. 

The Academy’s decision seems appropriate. Yes, many theaters are back in business (most AMC locations have reopened), but some people are still shirking moviegoing due to the virus. For example, 18% of U.S. adults in a May 22 Morning Consult survey said it would be more than six months until they’ll feel comfortable returning to theaters. 

With this in mind, the theatrical-run Oscars requirement, which is meant to support the exhibition industry, feels less necessary. Keep in mind that the Academy has previously encouraged voters to see films on the big screen. 

For consumers, the Academy’s decision is a win. It suggests they’ll be able to see some 2022 Oscar contenders at home sooner than they would have had the Academy reversed course on its straight-to-streaming film exception. This could lead to some consumers who consistently accessed films via PVOD ahead of the 2021 Oscars doing the same leading up to next year’s big awards shows.

More widespread usage of PVOD gives studios more flexibility in how they approach their film releases and makes it more likely a company like Disney will adhere to its hybrid film-release strategy. 

Kaare Eriksen, Information Editor   

Universal’s “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” a sequel to the animated 2017 film, is now set for a streaming release on Peacock day-and-date with a theatrical date scheduled for the Fourth of July weekend. 

In March 2020, Universal was the first studio to take current theatrical releases out of cinemas early for VOD platforms as it made April’s “Trolls World Tour” a simultaneous theatrical and VOD release. Likewise, Universal was also the first to arrange a shorter theatrical window with exhibitors back in November. 

But throughout the pandemic, Universal has never set a theatrical release for Peacock, nor has Peacock acquired a new release from other studios. While Warner Bros. has committed to making its 2021 slate available on HBO Max as Disney continues to give theatrical titles Disney+ releases up through “Jungle Cruise,” Universal wading into these waters isn’t necessarily a sign of immediate strategy change. 

Rather, it’s likely an attempt to boost sign-ups for Peacock, streaming partner for the Summer Olympics, which kick off July 23. Plus, Universal is the only major studio that has yet to renew its Pay 1 film deal.

How well “Boss Baby” does on Peacock could very well inform whether or not Universal makes the streamer the future Pay 1 home for new movies instead of renewing its deal with HBO or setting a new pact with a different platform operator.