Photo: Reed Hastings. Credit: Norm Betts / Bloomberg.
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Don't bank on Netflix launching a cable service any time soon.
Last week, a Reuters story speculating that Netflix was planning to create a cable distribution platform for its movies and television shows drew a lot of attention. That article grew out of comments that Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings made at an analyst conference where he said down the road he could see his company launching a competitor to HBO.
In the scenario floated by Reuters, Netflix would offer its content in an on-demand format, not as a linear channel. In other words, consumers would go to the channel and see a list of programs from which to choose. It would not be a regular channel with a schedule of shows.
However, Netflix itself is downplaying the speculation and there seems to be little, if any, interest in carrying such a service from the biggest multichannel video programming distributors including Comcast Corp. and satellite broadcaster DirecTV, people familiar with their thinking said.
Most distributors already have on-demand channels with similar content to what Netflix would be offering. Furthermore, cable and satellite broadcasters view Netflix as a competitor and have little incentive to let them in the door.
There is an even bigger fly in the ointment. Executives from some studios and networks that sell content to Netflix, who spoke on background, said Netflix couldn't create an on-demand cable channel under the terms of its current deals. Netflix would have to restructure its content agreements if it wanted to offer its service on more than an online platform.
None of this is to say that Netflix won't eventually find a way to get its service on cable systems, either in on-demand or linear form. But before that could happen, there would be a lot of hurdles to overcome, on both the distribution and programming fronts.
Photo: Director Morgan Spurlock in "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." Credit: Daniel Marracino / Sony Pictures Classics.
Hulu launches a distribution deal. In deal that validates the quality of some original programming for the Web, Internet video service Hulu reached an international distribution agreement with FremantleMedia Enterprises.
Fremantle -- whose television production unit is best known for "American Idol," "America's Got Talent" and "The X Factor" -- signed a first-look deal for rights to distribute Hulu's original shows to global markets.
The first program Fremantle will attempt to sell is documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's acclaimed series, "A Day in the Life." The second season premieres Monday on Hulu and its subscription service, Hulu Plus.
"For us, this isn't about one particular project, it's about getting into business with Hulu around their new content initiative," said Jeff Tahler, Fremantle's senior vice president of acquisitions and development. "Looking at what they've done ... (and) their original programming efforts, it's similar to any other network or production company."
Hulu stands to benefit from Fremantle's broad reach and access to traditional distributors for television programming. For the moment, the online service -- which is jointly owned by media giants News Corp. Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal -- is only available in the United States and Japan.
"That'll expand over time," said Andy Forssell, Hulu's senior vice president of content. "No matter how aggressive we are, there will be plenty of opportunities to get this content out that we'd be crazy not to look at."
Broader distribution also would provide additional revenue to help underwrite the cost of creating new shows. Hulu and competing subscription services like Netflix Inc. have been launching original programs as a way to differentiate their services.
Netflix's first scripted series, "Lilyhammer," premiered last month.
"The quality [of the originals] has got to be really high because it's sitting next to the best shows on TV last night," Forssell said. "It's a challenge. We're going to be very selective."
Hulu also has secured the rights to exclusively distribute more than 30 documentary films, including Amir Bar-Lev's "Re:Generation Music Project" and Spurlock's upcoming "Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope," a behind-the-scenes look at the thousands of fans who gather each year in San Diego to attend the world's largest comic book convention.
"Documentaries have always done well on our service," Forssell said. "It's a passionate audience. Many of them tend to be tech-forward leaning."
Daily Dose: One of the big perks of being head of a movie studio is going to premieres and getting your photo taken with the stars. Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross is no stranger to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. But even Ross knows when to steer clear of the cameras. There are no pictures of him at the premiere for Disney's huge flop "John Carter" on the studio's press website. Ross was at the premiere, so either he avoided the flashbulbs or the Disney public relations folks decided to keep any photos of their boss off the site. Either way, smart move.
Photo: "John Carter." Credit: Associated Press/Disney.
"John Carter" a non-starter. Walt Disney Co.'s "John Carter" -- one of the biggest bets in movie history -- opened with a disappointing $30.6 million at the box office, finishing a distant second behind Universal's "The Lorax," which earned almost $40 million in its second weekend of release. "John Carter" is projected to lose as much as $165 million, according to one Wall Street analyst. The only good news for Disney is that "John Carter" wasn't the only flop of the weekend. The horror movie "Silent House" and the comedy "A Thousand Words" also bombed. Box office coverage from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Movie City News.
Show us the dinero. Univision Chief Executive Randy Falco, once the top salesman at NBC, is now looking to woo away advertising from the English-language networks. Univision is launching a campaign to let Madison Avenue know how big its audience has gotten. One ad asks: "Guess how many nights we beat NBC in 2011?" The answer: 195. That's in the 18-49 demographic, which is the only one that matters to broadcasters. More on Falco's push to take dollars away from Advertising Age.
Keep your enemies closer. Chinese online video company Youku is buying smaller competitor Tudou in an all-stock deal valued at $1 billion. Combined, the two companies will control more than one-third of China's online video market. Details from Reuters.
Or what? Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican media mogul, is going to try to launch a Web network called Ora.tv. He has even recruited Larry King, the former CNN talk show host, to do a show. Of course, King's demographic when he was at CNN wasn't exactly known as the most technically savvy. That's my polite way of saying his audience skewed very old. By the way, I don't mean to imply older people don't know how to use the Web (save that phone call, mom); actually I mean they have better things to do than waste their time surfing the Internet the way I do. The news of Slim's plans was broken in the New York Times, where he happens to be a large stakeholder.
Oops? Did NBC blow an opportunity to have "Downton Abbey," the British import that has been a hit in the U.S. on PBS? The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the show is produced by NBC sister company Britain's Carnival Films, and says the network passed on it, "believing that American audiences wouldn't have the appetite for a very British historical drama set in a country manor in Edwardian England." That said, the story offers little evidence that NBC ever considered the show. A spokesperson at NBC told the Inquirer that the decision not to air the show was made by a previous administration. Beyond that there are no comments in the story -- on the record or on background -- from anyone from the previous administration or at Carnival saying it had been shopped to NBC at all.
Another once-hip event goes mainstream. Like Comic-Con, the South by Southwest conference was once a cool little gathering for geeks. Over the last few years, the music event has been overwhelmed by tech and media companies. So who better to offer a story about the once too-cool-for-the-room gathering than USA Today. Also check into the Hollywood Reporter coverage. The dates of the now three pronged formerly music industry event in Ausin, TX:
Interactive: March 9–13
Film: March 9–17
Music: March 13–18
Bill who? Longtime historians of the television business got a chuckle out of a recent regulatory filing by CBS Corp. that listed its Chairman Sumner Redstone as the "founder" of the company. That will be news to the family of Bill Paley, the man who acquired a few radio stations in the 1920s and then built it into a radio and television giant. The Wall Street Journal on Redstone's revisionist history.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: Movie theater owners are finding ways to make friends with technology. "Gravity Falls," a new cartoon, represents a change in approach in programming at the Disney Channel.
-- Joe Flint and friends
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