Joseph Morgan in a scene from the CW hit "The Vampire Diaries." Credit: Quantrell Colbert / CW
From the LA Times Company Town blog
Same Day Video from CW. After studying the viewing behavior of its young audience, the CW television network has switched strategies and is no longer delaying the online release of such popular shows as "Gossip Girl" and "The Vampire Diaries."
CW -- a joint venture of CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. -- said Thursday that it would begin making episodes of its prime-time series available several hours after their initial television broadcast. The move is significant because it illustrates how television companies are moving quickly to adapt to rapid changes in technology in an effort to protect important revenue streams.
"Consumers have been telling us that they want the ability to watch their shows whenever and where ever they are," said Rick Haskins, CW executive vice president of marketing and digital programs. "If we don't listen to them, we will be missing an opportunity."
In recent years the CW has made dramatic changes in its online strategy as the network has figured out how to better monetize digital views of its programs.
Early on, the network hesitated to put its shows on the Web at all. But since September 2010 the CW has been delaying the online release of its episodes until three days after airing.
The three-day blackout was designed to boost the TV ratings, and thus protect the important TV advertising revenue. Advertisers pay premiums to reach viewers who watch shows on TV or within three days of their original airing, if the program has been digitally recorded.
CW executives were betting that viewers would be so eager to watch fresh episodes of their most popular shows, including "The Vampire Diaries," "One Tree Hill," and "90210," that they would watch them on TV rather than wait to see them on their laptops.
Viewers were eager to see the latest episode, all right. Research by the Warner Bros. anti-piracy group discovered that nearly a third of online viewers of CW's most popular shows were so motivated that they watched them on a pirate website.
"And 50% of that consumption was done during the first three days after the television run," Haskins said. "That's a lot of money out of our pockets."
By releasing its shows just a few hours after their TV broadcast (at 3 a.m. Pacific time), the CW hopes to reach viewers who otherwise would have pirated them. New technologies also allow the CW to measure the number of online viewers and determine whether they watch the commercials, providing another source of reliable audience data to share with advertisers.
The CW also has been at the forefront of advocating heavier "commercial loads," so the online streams contain as many ads as would be seen in a TV broadcast.
That is a departure from conventional wisdom among most online video distributors. Many believed that online viewers would lack the patience to sit through too many commercials. Sites such as Hulu offer episodes with about half the number of ads that would run on TV.
"We have found that viewers were indeed willing to watch a full commercial load," Haskins said.
CW also announced Thursday that it was introducing its first mobile application for iPad, iPhone and Android platforms. The app enables full-episode streaming of the network's prime-time series and provides a feature for fans to alert their friends on Facebook and Twitter that they are watching a particular episode.
Daily Dose: The Hollywood Reporter's decision to co-host a party with Google after next month's White House Correspondents' Assn. annual dinner -- D.C.'s version of the Golden Globes -- has some in Hollywood shaking their head. That's because Google played a key role in defeating the anti-piracy legislation Hollywood studios and networks pushed hard for earlier this year. "It did not go unnoticed in the community that they are getting into bed with someone considered unfriendly," said one senior media executive. A spokesperson for the Hollywood Reporter, which counts on the studios and networks for access to talent and executives as well as advertising dollars, said "Hollywood wholeheartedly has embraced the evening's event and it is already on track to be one of the hottest parties of the weekend."
HBO's "Luck." Credit: Gusmano Cesaretti / Associated Press
HBO's Luck loses its race. Take two volatile creative geniuses with differing visions, add a slow-moving plot about an arcane sport with incoherent characters who speak in obscure lingo, throw in the dangers of working with animals, and you have a trifecta, but not the good kind.
The expensive show, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte and was produced by David Milch and Michael Mann, had faced animal-activist accusations of putting horses in danger. Although HBO called the decision heartbreaking, the show was far from a hit. Some industry observers wonder if the issues with the horses also gave the pay cable channel -- which had ordered a second season after only one episode had aired -- an out to cancel a high-profile flop. Coverage and analysis from the Los Angeles Times, the Hollywood Reporter and the Wrap.
The death of a third horse during production made it easy for HBO to pull the plug on its horse-racing drama "Luck." Already renewed for a second season despite very low ratings, "Luck" was quickly becoming the type of vanity project that HBO may no longer have the luxury to indulge.
HBO brass often makes the case that because it is a pay cable channel that carries no advertising, it doesn't have to worry about ratings. That is true to an extent. HBO's billion dollars in profits comes from subscriber fees as well as sales of its content both here and abroad.
However, ratings do indicate whether a show is catching on with HBO's audience. HBO has close to 30 million subscribers. It is a number that has not been growing in recent years (while its competitors Showtime and Starz have added subscribers) and, in a tough economy, all pay cable channels have to be worried that frugal consumers may decide to save a few bucks.
That doesn't mean every HBO show has to be a home run. Indeed, a massive hit on HBO is considered a flop on a broadcast or basic cable channel that is available in more than 100 million homes. HBO knows it has a diverse subscriber base. It kept "The Wire," its critically acclaimed drama about the drug war in Baltimore, on for five seasons because it appealed to those who liked intellectual political drama as well as viewers who enjoyed a gritty crime show.
But "Luck" was not even a hit by HBO standards, drawing less than 500,000 viewers in its Sunday night time slot. While additional runs during the week and people watching episodes they had recorded earlier likely boosted those numbers, the show's limited appeal made "Luck" a bad long-term bet.
That HBO renewed "Luck" after only one episode aired was seen as a case of jumping the gun since the premiere had only drawn 1.1 million viewers. Given that the star-studded cast of "Luck" includes Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, and that it is produced by David Milch ("Deadwood," "NYPD Blue") and Michael Mann ("Miami Vice," "Heat"), a second season was all but guaranteed before the show's debut. (The network is also bringing back its dark comedy "Enlightened," starring Laura Dern even though its ratings were also very low with one episode drawing less than 100,000 viewers.)
The behind-the-scenes drama early on in production with "Luck" should have been a red flag to HBO.
Milch and Mann, both perfectionists, often clashed. "There was a day that David was going to kill Michael," Nolte recently recalled in an interview with The Times. The tension behind the scenes, coupled with a lack of action on the screen, led to mixed reviews from critics, many of whom thought "Luck" was a scratch.
"This nine-episode series is maddeningly and needlessly opaque, and so deferential to the rites and rituals of the track that the storytelling is labored and even joyless," wrote Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times in her review of "Luck."
If "Luck" had been a big hit, HBO might have been willing to weather the storm from the death of the horses. But given that "Luck" was unlikely to win, place or show with critics and viewers, putting the series down was the network's only real choice.
Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum star in "21 Jump Street." Credit: Sony Pictures
"21 Jump Street" is set to school the competition at the box office this weekend.
The comedy, starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as two inept cops on an undercover mission to bust a high school drug ring, is expected to open with between $30 million and $35 million in ticket sales, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. Sony Pictures, the studio distributing the film, is predicting a softer opening of around $25 million.
No other new movies are hitting theaters in wide national release this weekend, though the Jason Segel-Ed Helms dramedy "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" and Will Ferrell's Spanish-language "Casa de Mi Padre" will play in roughly 60 of the country's top markets.
"21 Jump Street," inspired by the '80s television series that spawned Johnny Depp's career, was co-financed by Sony and MGM for about $42 million. Sony has held about 350 screenings to spread word of mouth about the film in advance of its opening, and it premiered to strong buzz at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this week.
So far, the picture has earned overwhelmingly positive reviews: On Thursday morning, it had an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie was a passion project for Hill, who executive produced the picture. Five years ago, at age 23, he teamed up with producer Neil Moritz to make the movie, but the actor was unable to film the movie in ensuing years because his comedy career was picking up with roles in pictures such as "Superbad" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."
Hill has since proved he also has dramatic acting chops — scoring an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in last year's "Moneyball" — but his costar Tatum has yet to show audiences that he has a funny bone. "21 Jump Street" marks the first major comedic role for Tatum, who was a box-office draw earlier this year in the romantic tear-jerker hit "The Vow."
"21 Jump Street" will also open overseas in the United Kingdom and Australia this weekend.
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" is the latest film from brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, known as establishing members of the independent filmmaking movement referred to as "mumblecore." After starting out making a string of ultra-low-budget, documentary-style films with naturalistic dialogue, the Duplass brothers teamed up with Fox Searchlight on the 2010 independent movie "Cyrus," starring Hill and John C. Reilly. The movie only collected $7.5 million at the box office by the end of its run.
Paramount's specialty label Vantage co-financed "Jeff" with independent production-financing company Indian Paintbrush, and the studio is releasing the film in 250 theaters this weekend. The movie stars Segel as an idealistic thirtysomething who still lives in his mother's basement, waiting for a sign about the direction his life should take.
"Casa de Mi Padre," meanwhile, stars Ferrell as a member of a Mexican ranch family caught up in a drug war. The comedy spoof was developed by the actor's Gary Sanchez Productions and was financed by Nala Films for $6 million. Targeted at Latino audiences, the movie is being distributed by Pantelion Films, Lionsgate's co-venture with Mexican media company Televisa. Founded in 2010, Pantelion has yet to release a major box-office hit: Its biggest success was last year's "From Prada to Nada," which grossed a mere $3 million.
Transparency. Broadcasters are up in arms over a proposal from the Federal Communications Commission to require local television stations to publish online the amounts they charge for political ads. Technically, broadcasters are already required to make such information available to the public. However, there is a difference in keeping a folder in a desk waiting for someone to schlep in and ask to see it versus throwing it up on the Web. Broadcasters fear that the rate information will undercut business practices and negotiations with advertisers. Legally, stations are required during election season to charge candidates the lowest rate for ads. Cable networks are not required to report such information. Details on the skirmish from the Wall Street Journal.
As if it couldn't get any worse. Add witness intimidation to the growing list of things Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has been accused of doing. The New York Times reports that a former News of the World employee was arrested and charged with witness intimidation and tampering. The person, the newspaper said, is Neville Thurlbeck, who was previously arrested in the hacking scandal and fired by News Corp. last year. The ethics scandal at News Corp. has led to arrests of almost 50 people and the closing of News of the World. Yet Wall Street analysts continue to downplay the mess as not likely to damage the long-term prospects of the media giant.
No evidence on demand music streams hurting downloads or sales. Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems released a chart Wednesday suggesting that there's no evidence that on-demand streaming kills digital download sales.
Nielsen, which has been tracking online music streaming since 2005, released the data in conjunction with a joint effort with the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers to publish a new "On-Demand Songs" chart with Billboard magazine.
The chart, above, reveals that streaming activity decreased 17% in the week after Christmas, while digital download sales jumped 20% -- presumably from people cashing in their iTunes and Amazon.com gift cards.
Secondly, even as on-demand streams hit all-time highs this year, digital track sales are up 7% so far compared with the same period in 2011, according to Chris Muratore, vice president of merchant services and emerging growth for Nielsen. In the week ended March 4, the number of audio and music video streams hit 625 million, up 32% from the week that ended Jan. 8.
But while streaming music marched steadily up, download sales have remained stable -- bouncing between 32.8 million and 26 million tracks.
Take the week ended Feb. 12, for example. Streaming activity ticked up 2%, while download sales surged 9.5%. In other words, the increase in streaming did not correlate with a decrease in sales.
Does this necessarily prove that streaming music services such as Spotify and Rhapsody don't cannibalize sales, as some have feared? Not really, because correlation is not the same as causation. It's just that there's no smoking gun here.
Streaming suicide? Broadcast and cable networks continue to make deals to sell their content to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon's Prime Instant Video. On the one hand, it is bringing in new revenue. But down the road will such deals come back to bite programmers and take viewers away from their primary distribution platform? That continues to be a subject of hot debate. Variety tries to make the case that there is a downside to the new money.
Big bet. Some Hollywood money men and producers are teaming up to launch Solar Pictures, a production company that hopes to launch about half a dozen movies a year. According to Deadline Hollywood, filmmaker and financier Bobby Paunescu and Jared Underwood, a former Comerica Entertainment executive, will be managing partners and plan to make movies in the $30-million range.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: Jonah Hill tries an action comedy with a lighthearted movie version of "21 Jump Street." Movie executive Peter Guber is joining Magic Johnson's chase for the Los Angles Dodgers.
-- Joe Flint
Follow me on Twitter. I won't tweet "Mad Men" spoilers. Twitter.com/JBFlint
From the LA Times Company Town blog