The life of the Mexican drug kingpin is being brought to television screens in a drama co-produced by Netflix and Univision.
While the real Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is locked up in a cold, tiny cell in New York, his career as a drug lord apparently over, his fictional counterpart is free and in top form in Colombia, where the Univision network and Netflix are filming a television series about his life.
Ironically, Guzman’s re-arrest in 2016 — after two dramatic prison escapes — has created such a bloody power struggle for his Sinaloa cartel in Mexico that the series’ producers thought it would be safer to film in Colombia, the country that used to be the epicenter of the hemisphere’s drug violence.
It’s been an eventful few months for Gimore Girls fans, from the announcement that the series was getting a Netflix revival to its growing cast list and the constant question of Melissa McCarthy’s involvement. The revival, which consists of four seasonally-themed movies, is currently in production and doesn’t have a release date — but new set photos prove that all is well, and the Gilmore world is very much alive.
The fictional small town fans all wanted to move to is still hosting hilarious town hall meetings and eccentric festivals for every occasion, populated once again by lovable weirdos including Miss Patty, Babette and Kirk.
Since the death of Richard (the late Edward Herrmann), life looks different to the widowed Emily (Kelly Bishop) — but her style and living room bar remain as classy as ever.
Rory is a teacher, not Cristiane Amanpour, and Lorelai and Luke are finally together (again!). How did they get there — and will these life changes stick?
Netflix has joined the “Internet Slowdown Day” protest against the FCC potentially allowing Internet “slow” and “fast” lanes. Scheduled for this Wednesday, September 10, Netflix and other participating sites will demonstrate what a two-tiered Web might look like, by running simulated page-loading icons on its pages.
Other websites taking part include the ACLU, I Can Has Cheezburger, Digg, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Reddit, Upworthy, Urban Dictionary, Vimeo, and WordPress. Porn sites Pornhub, Redtube and Youporn will also be involved. Note:
The slowdown will only be simulated, not actual—the spinning “loading” icons you’ll see on those sites are entirely symbolic.
The idea behind the Internet Slowdown is to galvanize public support to save “net neutrality,” preventing carriers from making bandwidth distinctions between companies who pay for carriage (fast lane) and those who do not (slow lane).
The FCC has been struggling to redefine net neutrality after its old rules were struck down earlier this year.
Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter have already been lobbying the FCC to save net neutrality. The idea of allowing Internet fast and slow lanes is being advocated by some major U.S. cable and broadband carriers, who would profit by charging a premium for higher-speed carriage.
Citing “Team Cable” (AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon) as the enemy, Internet Slowdown co-organizer Fight for the Future is trying to rally all Americans behind its September 10 protest.
“Cable companies want to slow down (and break!) your favorite sites, for profit,” says a declaration on the organization’s home page. “To fight back, let’s cover the web with symbolic ‘loading’ icons, to remind everyone what an Internet without net neutrality would look like, and drive record numbers of calls and emails to lawmakers.”
Given that the FCC has shown itself open to allowing cable companies to charge for preferred fast access, the stakes are high in the net neutrality debate. Hence the timing:
The Internet Slowdown Day protest takes place just five days before the FCC closes second-round comments into the net neutrality issue.
HBO‘s new agreement to share Tony Soprano with Jeff Bezos’ streaming service could boil down to a mentality that “the enemy of Netflix is my friend.” But it also indicates a need to remain relevant in the age of binge-watch TV
This morning, Amazon and HBO announced what amounts to an alliance in the Great Streaming Wars of 2014: For the first time, an Amazon Prime subscription will give you access to HBO’s archive of series, up to approximately three years ago. That means The Sopranos, Deadwood, and many other TV monuments that were only available through HBO are now included with your free shipping and future access to Jeff Bezos’ drone armada. (Current series like Girls will become available over time.)
I’ll leave it to others to analyze the business implications of this move, which, from where I’m sitting, boil down at least partly to Prime’s quickly ramping-up ambitions, partly to “The enemy of Netflix is my friend.” (Both Amazon and HBO are in direct competition with the streaming giant.) But at least one of the big motivations for HBO could be cultural: making sure that its legacy, and its brand, are not lost in the emerging canon of binge-watched TV.
(Disclaimer: HBO is currently a sister company of TIME in Time Warner, though that will change when publisher Time Inc. spins off later in the year.)
One of HBO’s defining features–and a source of zillions of dollars–is that it’s a closed system. You want to watch its shows, you had to subscribe to it, and thus, had to subscribe to cable. (With a few exceptions: you could watch bowdlerized edits of Sex and the City on basic cable, or watch series on DVD–like a caveman.) This was true not just for new episodes but the on-demand back catalog available through HBO GO.
This paywall approach meant a more limited audience, but one that was paying, and paying top dollar. (Or at least its parents/friends were, in the case of folks borrowing HBO Go logins to watch True Detective.) If only a fraction of the total TV audience had access to HBO, fine–the network was making millions off that fraction.
But as streaming became mainstream, through the likes of Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, this meant a sizable chunk of the TV audience for whom HBO just didn’t exist. There was now a vast library of TV available on demand–and really good TV, from decades ago, from the recent past, from the present. If you didn’t want to get a $200+ cable subscription, you missed HBO, which was too bad, but there was always, say, FX and AMC shows–the final season of Breaking Bad exploded in the ratings, and that was attributed largely to a vast audience who had caught up on Netflix.
For a certain generation of TV connoisseurs, HBO was the standard of quality. But for another–especially younger ones, with Internet but no cable–it didn’t exist at all. Last year, TV critic and media-studies academic Anne Helen Petersen wrote about how her students, though highly savvy TV-lovers, were almost totally unaware of The Sopranos. Why? It wasn’t on Netflix. And if you’re a college student with little money but easy access to broadband, Netflix is a lot more attractive.
That might not matter for HBO right now; it’s still printing money by all accounts. But long term, that could make a big difference to its brand perception–that halo effect in which pop-culture addicts have the sense that they can’t be truly current unless they’re up to speed on its shows. And to the extent that HBO cares about its larger, non-economic cultural place (and it does), it could make a huge difference to the canon of Great TV in future decades. If you don’t give streamers more means of access, there will be a great big HBO memory hole that will just be filled in by Mad Men, The Shield, and Orange Is the New Black.
The new Amazon deal doesn’t mean there’s no point in subscribing to HBO, since it’s your only (legal) option for new episodes of Game of Thrones et al. But it shows that the network is recognizing a change in how people consume and discover TV–archivally, online, and all at once, as selected from a vast menu of TV’s past. If HBO wants to keep its cachet, it also needs to be part of the buffet.
As AMC’s TV drama Breaking Bad took over the water-cooler conversation in 2013, and television critics dominated Twitter in a way that no movie debaters did, it served to reinforce the fact that film’s glory days are over. In today’s omnivorous world, it’s no longer about seeing the new movie opening on Friday or waiting eagerly for the next New Yorker review. Cinephiles go to film festivals for their fix, or to SnagFilms, Criterion, Indieflix, Fandor, Mubi, or Turner Classic Movies. Why schlep out to the new Dumb and Dumber sequel when the glories of Hollywood’s Golden Age are easily Netflixed? (As of this writing, Netflix boasts “38 million members in 40 countries enjoying more than one billion hours of TV shows and movies per month, including original series” even partnering with Marvel on four new live-action MTV series) Even the New York Times film critic A. O. Scott admitted that he was according many of his weekly viewing hours to television—just like everyone else.
There was a time during the golden age of the studio system when Hollywood churned out hundreds of quality films for grownups. In many ways 2012 boasted the best crop of films since the banner year of 1939 that yielded Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Ninotchka, and Dark Victory.
Six of the nine 2012 Best Picture Oscar nominees passed the $100 million mark—the biggest numbers, even with ticket-price adjustments, in recent box-office history. All six were released in the later part of the year. So why don’t the studios finance even more quality “prestige” films—by proven directors, at high budget levels—and aggressively back them, aiming for mass audiences all year long?
Admittedly, this is hard to do. It demands confidence and risk-taking. In late 2012, the studios released a group of films that were made by directors who had won Best Picture and/or Best Director (Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Sam Mendes’s Skyfall, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, Robert Zemeckis’s Flight, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables), and all but one of those films were released initially in over 2,000 theaters, rather than platformed like the majority of top Oscar contenders in most other years—which is the usual sign of high awards expectations. And they all not only earned consensus rave reviews but made a healthy profit. (Specialty Oscar nominees Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild took the usual slow-release route.)
But despite 2012’s bountiful harvest of strong, substantive films and action and animated blockbusters that scored record global box office, from Brave to The Hunger Games, there’s precious little optimism about the future of movies. The Best Picture Oscar nominees (whether in 2012 or 2013) are always exceptions that prove the rule, from outsiders jumping over the wall at Sundance (Beasts of the Southern Wild) to insiders willfully refusing to play by the rules (12 Years a Slave). Sure, the studios will permit a few top-of-the-line filmmakers to chase adults in the fourth quarter, but no wholesale changes are in store.
No wonder Spielberg was pissed off. He saw a crowd pleaser in Lincoln. And he was right. It was the top-grossing Oscar contender ($182 million), the eleventh most successful domestic performer of 2012. Why was it so difficult to get traditional studio financing? Like many independents these days, Reliance-backed DreamWorks cobbled together presales on territories overseas (via Twentieth Century Fox, which also took home-video rights) and brought in an outside investor (Participant Media) to fund the movie, which was released by DreamWorks distributor Disney.
The old days of studio largesse are over—even for Spielberg, arguably the most powerful and versatile filmmaker in Hollywood. And if he has to hustle, what about the hordes of less prepossessing talent who find themselves frozen out by the studios? They’re heading where the money is: foreign financing, television, cable, HBO, or Netflix.
While the studios could build on these year-end successes and try to make more of them, they won’t. While they could try to diversify and make movies for underserved constituencies like Hispanics, African Americans, adults, and women, they won’t. They’d rather stick to what they know: cookie-cutter movies for families and young men, and throwing millions of dollars at building a bigger mousetrap. Truth is, the more expensive a movie, the tougher it is for it to have any noticeable personality: all the edges get shaved off. By default the picture has to appeal to the widest number of people—all over the globe. That’s how genre formula, nonstop action, and eye-popping pixel effects keep trumping witty dialogue and old-fashioned storytelling.
To the winners go the spoils. But 2013 revealed the hazards of the tentpole, all-or-nothing approach. Just as Spielberg predicted in his June 12, 2013, panel at USC, six costly would-be summer blockbusters tanked domestically, although a few were barely bailed out by their international grosses. 2013 proved the cyclical theory held by the late A. D. Murphy, aVariety box-office analyst and professor at USC’s Peter Stark program. He declared that it’s perilous to follow the trends of what works at the box office, because when the studios throw imitations of recent hits at moviegoers, moviegoers inevitably get bored. Tom Rothman, an eighteen-year Fox veteran and Fox chairman and CEO until January 2013, who during his tenure backed such risky films as Peter Weir’s Master and Commander and Ang Lee’sLife of Pi, concurs: “Movies struggled this summer because they were, essentially, all the same and the audience was bored. No longer can an audience be pounded into attendance by dint of spending. Now, exactly because of how much great work there is on television, films have to raise the bar, to be more original, more complex, more imaginative, more daring. That is hard because of the huge cost/risk involved, and cost often has an inverse relationship with creativity. But I am fervently optimistic. We can make the films for less, sell them for less, and push creative boundaries more. And when we do, the audience will set the DVR, go out of the house, and come to the theaters. As long as we don’t underestimate them, they will reward us.”
In Hollywood you have to keep moving and stay ahead of the trends. And being able to adapt to digital is key, as is the recognition that consumers’ viewing habits have irrevocably changed.
From the point of view of the seven major studios, the migration of film talent to television isn’t an issue, because their corporations are not losing income; they own pieces of that business too. If HBO makes money, that’s good for Warner Bros. Viacom and Paramount want MTV, VH1, and CBS to succeed. Comcast owns Universal and NBC; Disney owns ABC and ESPN; Sony produces Breaking Bad, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune; and Lionsgate roots for its own shows on AMC Networks.
Tellingly, three studios (Disney/ABC, Twenty First Century Fox, and NBC Universal) decided to hang on to their online streaming service, Hulu, instead of selling it. Finally, they recognized its value—and didn’t want anyone else to get it. Hulu has conducted valuable experiments in what audiences want, even if it’s mostly TV shows. But challenging the studios’ dominance in entertainment are digital powerhouses Google, Apple, Amazon, and Netflix. They are encroaching more and more on the studios’ territory—as Apple did in the music business. Mobiles are the new window into viewing content, and everyone knows it.
Netflix and Amazon are all about giving their customers what they want by constantly tweaking complex algorithms to determine how to anticipate consumer desires. That’s how Netflix knew their subscribers would love a remake of House of Cards, directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey, and banked $100 million launching their own content division. They probably won’t spend that much again, but they were right. Their high-stakes gamble paid off and made them a potentially strong competitor to HBO, Showtime, FX, and AMC.
While the studios are trying to hang on to their market-share dominance, they are keenly aware that smaller, more nimble companies with less to lose have more freedom to experiment. They saw the music industry’s rapid decline, reinvention, and ascension. The indies can take advantage of new funding sources like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, produce microbudget films that can make back their money by reaching out to burgeoning online fanbases, and figure out the video-on-demand paradigm as the old windows model eventually falls away. The new indie entrepreneurs are getting their scripts rated on Spec Scout or The Black List. They are connecting with potential investors and sales agents through Slated. They’re going to Seed & Spark for marketing expertise, hiring the best marketing and distribution experts, and using on-demand theater-booking service Tugg to predetermine audience interest in seeing their film in specific markets before making a booking as they control their medium and message.
Digital is winning, even inside the studios. Kevin Tsujihara grabbed the reins at the Warner Bros. studio, knocking out his rivals from TV and motion pictures. Comcast’s Steve Burke let go the movie-bred chairman of Universal, Adam Fogelson—even after what looked like a successful year in 2012—in favor of cable guy Jeff Shell. After a rocky box office in 2013, Sony replaced their marketing chief with their digital marketing pro. And innovative digital-marketing guru Amy Powell—who pioneered Paramount’s on-demand booking of movies—continues to rise in the executive ranks at that studio.
The motion picture CEOs aren’t stupid. While they may be hanging on tight to the old ways so that they can grab as much short-term cash as possible via top-down models that manipulate consumers by telling them what to buy, they know the ground under their feet is unstable. In order to survive they will have to learn to listen to their customers, find out what they want and how to best serve them. The old strategies in the movie business are disintegrating, as the ownership model gives way to one that is all about access. Adapt or die.
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