Weekly Media Biz Report Card: May 11th Edition

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Variety Intelligence Platform

Good morning and glad to see you back for VIP’s weekly Media Biz Report Card. Although Q1 earnings season is still raging on, this week’s Report Card will be programming-themed and not focused on companies beating/missing Wall Street estimates like last week. The goal of the stories analyzed below is to shine a light on the key programming-related decisions made last week that reflect good or bad on networks, streamers, and studios, with the hope of informing the strategies of programming decision-makers (the rerun wells of which are likely running dryer as productions remain at a halt).

Here’s a look at the good and not-so-good programming decisions reported during the week of May 4-8:

Overachievers

Netflix closes deal with Joe Russo to write a sequel to “Extraction” (A). The streamer hasn’t lost sight of spending big on crowd-pleasing blockbusters, which aren’t necessarily critic-pleasers, after going full tilt on Oscar-chasing this past awards season with its “The Irishman”-”Marriage Story”-led prestige film pack. “Extraction” has already reached enough people to become a bragging stat for Netflix (which is something we predicted would occur two Report Cards ago), so it’s very safe to assume there is now a built-in audience for the movie’s sequel. 

CBS All Access gets 100 Paramount films and will add thousands of hours of TV/film in the coming months (A-). Seriously bulking-up of its movie catalog is a good place for CBS All Access to start in ViacomCBS’s quest to hit 16M OTT subs, as the breadth of its film selection is nowhere near that of the other major streamers (see chart). The release of this revamped CBS All Access (which has been moved up to this Summer) could be advantageous to ViacomCBS, because the Summer is also when Peacock (ex Olympics and most Originals content) rolls out broadly in the U.S. The inevitable comparisons of the new CBS All Access and Peacock may end up driving viewers toward the former.

Just OK

Facebook Watch debuts Justin x Hailey Bieber reality show (B+). If there were two people you had to invest in getting your video service off the ground, the Biebers, with their huge social reach to young kids, would be a great pair to go to. Facebook Watch is by no means a ghost-town in terms of viewers (140M reached for at least 1 minute daily), but it still isn’t really part of the dominant longform video streaming platform conversation, which likely impacts the types of creatives that flock to it. But a Bieber-led original certainly could quickly raise awareness of Watch, which needs to happen if Facebook truly wants to contend with the video streamers of this era.

Lucasfilm taps Taika Waititi to direct and co-write a new “Star Wars” feature film (B). Waititi, having directed the $180M-budgeted/$850M-grossing “Thor” in 2017 and the finale to “The Madalorian,” won’t be in completely uncharted territory for this job. But brewing in the back of our minds (Lucasfilm’s too) are the previous instances when the keys to the “Star Wars” universe were handed to acclaimed directors and things still went awry (Ron Howard’s ”Solo” was one of the lowest-grossing “Star Wars” films; critical reception for J.J. Abrams and “The Rise of Skywalker” was lukewarm).

Twitch to develop talk shows and dating programs for gamers (B-). Non-gaming content still draws big views on Twitch (“Just Chatting” was one of Twitch’s most-viewed categories as of this writing), so there’s clear justification for the Amazon-owned live-streamer diving deeper into interactive programming. But the: a) uncertainty on how central a role Twitch’s biggest stars will play in this programming and b) relatively low budget ($50K-$250K per week, even when parent Amazon could seriously juice up this number) Twitch is committing to these shows is what puts this move in “meh” territory. 

Skating by/On thin ice

YouTube TV to add 14 ViacomCBS nets like Comedy Central/MTV this summer (C). Getting its skinny bundle to more closely replicate the live TV offering with popular networks like Comedy Central is smart for Google, but the move doesn’t sound as good when thinking of the likely price hike associated with the ViacomCBS additions. Sure, some Comedy Central-loving cord-cutters are happy to accommodate a pricier-and-bulkier YouTube TV, but the fact the the Google-owned skinny bundle doesn’t currently offer different tiers (meaning non-Comedy Central-loving-YouTube TV-ers will be getting the short end of the stick), dampens the potential impact of this move.

Prime Video debuts docuseries highlighting coronavirus heroes including grocery store workers and delivery personnel (C-). Highlighting essential workers is obviously a commendable move and necessary in the current crisis, but it will be (and has already been) seen by some as ironic given all the recent controversy surrounding Amazon’s warehouse working conditions. Because the WHO has said a coronavirus vaccine can’t be expected until at least next year, it’s not like Amazon had to drop this type of series now to be topical. It would have likely served the company better (in terms of optics) to wait a little longer to release “Regular Heroes,” like until when it isn’t still reeling from its warehouse PR controversies.

In other programming news:

Deals

(5/4) Kerry Ehrin, the showrunner of “The Morning Show,” inked a multiyear extension for her overall deal with Apple.

(5/4) Nick Santora, the showrunner of Prime Video’s upcoming “Jack Reacher,” inked a multiyear overall deal with Skydance TV. 

(5/6) HBO set a two-year overall deal with ‘I Know This Much Is True’ director Derek Cianfrance.

(5/6) Alena Smith, showrunner of Apple TV+’s “Dickinson,” signed a multi-year overall deal at Apple.

(5/7) AMC Studios set overall deals with Rolin Jones (“Perry Mason”), Gina Mingacci (“Killing Eve”), and Ray McKinnon (“Rectify“). 

Hires

(5/4) Christina Davis, previously the EVP of drama series development at CBS, was named Starz’s president of original programming.

(5/4) Carol Turner, who had been serving as Skydance TV’s EVP of physical production, was named EVP of production and post-production for ABC Studios/ABC Signature.

(5/5) Patricia Hidalgo — currently the senior VP, chief content and creative officer at Turner EMEA — was named as BBC’s Director of Children’s and Education. 

(5/6) Alison Kirkham, currently BBC’s controller of factual commissioning, was hired by Apple and will join the Apple TV+ team this summer.

(5/6) Former HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo joined eOne as Head of Television.