Businesses

Netflix's DVD Rental Business Is Still Profitable (fortune.com) 112

Netflix might be focusing on its streaming business, but the produce that made its name is still alive -- and apparently well. From a report: The company's DVD.com DVD rental business has 3 million subscribers and generated a whopping $56 million in profit on just $99 million in revenue during the first quarter, CNBC is reporting. That staggering profit margin aside, Netflix's business has a wide selection of 100,000 DVDs, which easily overshadows the 5,600 streaming titles available on Netflix, according to the report. DVD.com's profitability might surprise some who moved on long ago from disc-based entertainment in the living room to streaming. Indeed, Netflix itself seemed to have moved on in 2011 when it split the DVD division from its now-core streaming operation. And whenever Netflix discusses its business, the company focuses on streaming and its place in the original content market rather than DVDs.
Businesses

MoviePass' Days Look Limited (bloomberg.com) 149

Kyle Stock writes via Bloomberg: Eight months after slashing its price and expanding membership past 2 million users, MoviePass is now at risk of going bust. The parent company, Helios & Matheson Analytics, which now owns 92 percent of MoviePass, said last week that it had just $15.5 million in cash at the end of April and $27.9 million on deposit with merchant processors. MoviePass has been burning through $21.7 million per month. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing last month revealed that the company's auditor has "substantial doubt" about its ability to stay solvent. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc., warns that MoviePass may not survive the summertime run of blockbusters. On Tuesday, Helios reported the performance of MoviePass for the three months ending on March 31. The company lost $107 million, earning just over $1 million from marketing deals and $47 million from subscriptions. Helios shares have fallen to decade lows of less than $1 after peaking at $32.90 in October, alongside the MoviePass hype.
Sci-Fi

Christopher Nolan Returns Kubrick Sci-Fi Masterpiece '2001: A Space Odyssey' To Its Original Glory (latimes.com) 135

LA Times' Kenneth Turan traces Christopher Nolan's meticulous restoration of Kubrick's masterpiece to its 70-mm glory: Christopher Nolan wants to show me something interesting. Something beautiful and exceptional, something that changed his life when he was a boy. It's also something that Nolan, one of the most accomplished and successful of contemporary filmmakers, has persuaded Warner Bros. to share with the world both at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival and then in theaters nationwide, but in a way that boldly deviates from standard practice.

For what is being cued up in a small, hidden-away screening room in an unmarked building in Burbank is a brand new 70-mm reel of film of one of the most significant and influential motion pictures ever made, Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science-fiction epic "2001: A Space Odyssey." Yes, you read that right. Not a digital anything, an actual reel of film that was for all intents and purposes identical to the one Nolan saw as a child and Kubrick himself would have looked at when the film was new half a century ago.

AI

Could Algorithms Be Better at Picking the Next Big Blockbuster Than Studio Execs? (wired.com) 74

In a world where artificial intelligence is no longer just a Spielberg-Kubrick collaboration, could algorithms be better at picking the next big blockbuster than studio execs? From a report: "Filmmakers are getting closer to understanding what moviegoers go to theaters to see thanks to neural networks fed off of data from previous box office hits," says Landon Starr, the head of data science at Clearlink, which uses machine learning to help companies understand consumer behavior. "Although this technology isn't spot-on quite yet, AI-powered predictions are likely stronger than the human calculations used in the past." And they're advancing quickly.

Vault, an Israeli startup founded in 2015, is developing a neural-network algorithm based on 30 years of box office data, nearly 400,000 story features found in scripts, and data like film budgets and audience demographics to estimate a movie's opening weekend. The company is only a couple years in, but founder David Stiff recently said that roughly 75 percent of Vault's predictions "come 'pretty close'" to films' actual opening grosses.

Scriptbook takes a similar approach, using its own AI platform to predict a movie's success based on the screenplay only. The Antwerp startup's AI analyzed 62 movies from 2015 and 2016, and claims it was able to successfully predict the box office failure or success of 52 of them, judging 30 movies correctly as profitable and 22 movies correctly as not profitable.

Sci-Fi

Sci-Fi Is Still Working on Its 'Stale, Male, and Pale' Problem, Says James Cameron (indiewire.com) 796

An anonymous reader shares a report: As science fiction finally earns mainstream acceptance in Hollywood, James Cameron believes the genre's awards drought will soon be over. "I predict that sometime in the next five to 10 years you will have a science-fiction film win Best Picture," he told reporters while promoting "AMC Visionaries: James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction," which premieres Monday. Films like "Arrival" and "Ex-Machina" have earned nominations, but as the older guard ages out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cameron believes that the membership's "prejudice" against sci-fi -- which he says "definitely exists" -- will fade. "They're definitely a red-headed stepchild when it comes to the acting, producing, directing categories," he said.

"Science fiction is kind of a commercial genre, it's not really an elevated dramatic genre. I would argue that until I'm blue in the face that science fiction is the quintessence of being human in a sense. We are technological beings. We are the only truly conscious species that we know of. We are struggling with ourselves over the issue of our own question for understanding, our own ability to manipulate the fabric of our reality. Our own technology is blowing back on us and changing how we behave amongst ourselves and as a civilization," he added. "I would argue that there's nothing more quintessentially human than dealing with these themes. But Hollywood tends to pull short from that."

But as Hollywood changes its perception of science fiction, Cameron stressed that the genre itself needs to continue to evolve from its origins of being too "stale, male and pale." "It was white guys talking about rockets," Cameron said of early sci-fi. "The female authors didn't come into it until the '50s and '60s and a lot of them had to operate under pseudonyms." But even now, "women are still unrepresented in science fiction as they are in Hollywood in general," he said. "When 14 percent of all film directors in the industry are female, and they represent 50 percent of the population, that's a big delta there that needs to get rectified."

Books

A Mass of Copyrighted Works Will Soon Enter the Public Domain (theatlantic.com) 113

For the first time in two decades, a huge number of books, films, and other works will escape U.S. copyright law. From a report: The Great American Novel enters the public domain on January 1, 2019 -- quite literally. Not the concept, but the book by William Carlos Williams. It will be joined by hundreds of thousands of other books, musical scores, and films first published in the United States during 1923. It's the first time since 1998 for a mass shift to the public domain of material protected under copyright. It's also the beginning of a new annual tradition: For several decades from 2019 onward, each New Year's Day will unleash a full year's worth of works published 95 years earlier.

This coming January, Charlie Chaplin's film The Pilgrim and Cecil B. DeMille's The 10 Commandments will slip the shackles of ownership, allowing any individual or company to release them freely, mash them up with other work, or sell them with no restriction. This will be true also for some compositions by Bela Bartok, Aldous Huxley's Antic Hay, Winston Churchill's The World Crisis, Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Pigeons, E.E. Cummings's Tulips and Chimneys, Noel Coward's London Calling! musical, Edith Wharton's A Son at the Front, many stories by P.G. Wodehouse, and hosts upon hosts of forgotten works, according to research by the Duke University School of Law's Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

Throughout the 20th century, changes in copyright law led to longer periods of protection for works that had been created decades earlier, which altered a pattern of relatively brief copyright protection that dates back to the founding of the nation. This came from two separate impetuses. First, the United States had long stood alone in defining copyright as a fixed period of time instead of using an author's life plus a certain number of years following it, which most of the world had agreed to in 1886. Second, the ever-increasing value of intellectual property could be exploited with a longer term. But extending American copyright law and bringing it into international harmony meant applying "patches" retroactively to work already created and published. And that led, in turn, to lengthy delays in copyright expiring on works that now date back almost a century.

Movies

MoviePass Changes TOS To Prevent You From Seeing the Same Movie More Than Once (engadget.com) 69

MoviePass has changed its terms of service to prevent subscribers from seeing the same movie more than once. First spotted by iMore, the new limitation will apply to all subscribers, new and existing. MoviePass' website says, "We recently updated our Terms of Service to reflect that MoviePass subscribers are only permitted to see a select movie in theaters once with your MoviePass. We hope this will encourage you to see new movies and enjoy something different!" Engadget reports: This isn't the first time the company has done this, however. It limited users to seeing titles just once in its earlier days as well and CEO Mitch Lowe said the rule's reinstatement is to cut down on fraud. "When we took that policy down, we saw some people turning MoviePass into a cottage industry, standing in front of a theater selling their tickets to Star Wars, or whatever," he told The Hollywood Reporter. Lowe also said that new features are in the works including couples plans and options that include 3D and IMAX movies.
Businesses

CEO Doesn't Know if MoviePass Will Offer a Movie Per Day Plan Again (engadget.com) 39

The subscription service famous for supplying a movie ticket per day for just $9.95 a month hasn't been offering that wildly popular package since April 13. From a report: The company's too-good-to-be-true offer of one movie per day for $10 subscription model brought it 500,000 subscribers in one month, but MoviePass' finances show that the startup is struggling while still being dogged by its CEO's comments around tracking his customers. Recently, the company downgraded its available new subscriber plans to a three-month, $30 "limited time" offer that includes four movies per month and a three-month trial of iHeartRadio premium. It seems as if this offer now has no limit; CEO Mitch Lowe told The Hollywood Reporter that he was unsure if the movie-per-day plan would even return as an option. "Do you think you will go back to a movie a day?" a THR reporter asked Lowe at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. "I don't know," he responded.
Businesses

Netflix Could Start Buying Movie Theaters to Help Films Gain a Boost in Oscar Race, Report Says (indiewire.com) 49

Netflix has made a strong effort to land Oscar nominations since debuting its first original feature, "Beasts of No Nation," in 2015. The next step in the streaming giant's plan to secure film awards could be to buy and own movie theaters. IndieWire: A new report from the Los Angeles Times says Netflix is considering buying theaters in Los Angeles and New York in order to gain a boost during Oscar season. People familiar with the situation say the theaters would be used to give greater exposer to the feature and documentary titles Netflix is hoping to push into the awards race. According to the Times, Netflix executives originally considered purchasing the Los Angeles-based Landmark Theaters, which is co-owned by Mark Cuban. The theaters are well known for attracting awards voters by running first-run features, documentaries, and foreign films during Oscar season. Sources close to Netflix confirm the company has no current plans to buy Landmark properties. Landmark has three Los Angeles locations and 53 theaters overall in the U.S. Sources close to Netflix.
Movies

MPAA Silently Shut Down Its Legal Movies Search Engine (techdirt.com) 63

Back in 2015, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) released its own search engine to combat the argument that people pirate films because there are too few legal alternatives. According to TorrentFreak, the search engine, WhereToWatch.com, has since been quietly shut down by the movie industry group, stating that there are plenty of other search options available today. From the report: The MPAA pulled the plug on the service a few months ago. And where the mainstream media covered its launch in detail, the shutdown received zero mentions. So why did the site fold? According to MPAA Vice President of Corporate Communications, Chris Ortman, it was no longer needed as there are many similar search engines out there. "Given the many search options commercially available today, which can be found on the MPAA website, WheretoWatch.com was discontinued at the conclusion of 2017," Ortman informs TF. "There are more than 140 lawful online platforms in the United States for accessing film and television content, and more than 460 around the world," he adds. "That is all absolutely true today, though it was also true three years ago when the site was launched," adds Techdirt. "The simple fact of the matter is that the site did little to serve any real public customer base. Yes, legal alternatives to piracy exist. Everyone knows that, just as they know that there are far too many hoops and restrictions around which to jump that have nothing to do with price. The MPAA and its client organizations have long asserted strict control over their product to the contrary of public demand. That is, and has always been, the problem. On top of all that, the MPAA showed its no better at promoting its site than it was at promoting the legal alternatives to pirating movies."
Movies

Netflix Licensed Content Generates 80% of US Viewing, Study Finds (variety.com) 109

Netflix is spending a pretty penny on original entertainment -- but while that stuff grabs most of the headlines, it's actually licensed titles like TV show reruns that still form the core of the company's streaming business. From a report: That's according to a data analysis from 7Park Data, which found that 80% of Netflix U.S. viewing is from licensed content with 20% from original shows like "House of Cards" or "Stranger Things." The firm also found that 42% of Netflix subscribers watch mostly licensed content (95% or more of their total streaming). Just 18% of Netflix's U.S. streaming customers are "originals dominant," whose viewing comprises 40%-100% of originals, according to 7Park. The data is for the 12-month period that ended September 2017.
Piracy

Telegram is Riddled With Tens of Thousands of Piracy Channels; Apple and Google Have Ignored Requests From Creators To Take Action (theoutline.com) 49

joshtops writes: Instant messaging platform Telegram, which is used by more than 200 million users, has had an open secret since its inception: The platform has served as a haven for online pirates. The Outline reports that the platform is riddled with thousands of groups and channels, many with more than 100,000 members, whose sole purpose of existence is to share illegally copied movies, music albums, apps, and other content. The files are stored directly to Telegram's servers, allowing users to download movies, songs, and other content with one click. Channel admins told The Outline that they have not come across any resistance from Telegram despite the company, along with Apple and Google, maintaining a 'zero tolerance' stance on copyright infringement. This permissiveness on Telegram's part has led to the proliferation of a cottage industry of piracy marketplaces on the service.

[...] The Outline also discovered several groups and channels on Telegram in which stolen credentials -- i.e., the username and password for a website -- from Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, HBO, CBS, EA Sports, Lynda, Sling, WWE Network, Mega, India's Hotstar, and dozens of other services were being offered to tens of thousands of members each day. The Outline sourced nearly three-dozen free credentials from six Telegram channels, all of which worked as advertised.
The report says that content creators have reached out to Apple, requesting the iPhone-maker to intervene, but the company has largely ignored the issue.

In an unrelated development, a Moscow court cleared the way on Friday for the local government to ban Telegram, the messaging app, over its failure to give Russian security services the ability to read users' encrypted messages.
Businesses

Netflix Pulls Out of Cannes Following Rule Change (variety.com) 183

Netflix and Cannes are breaking up, at least for now. On Wednesday, Netflix chief Ted Sarandos said that the streaming platform won't be sending any films to the prestigious French festival, formally severing the strained relationship between the two power players. The decision was a long time coming, after Cannes established a rule that forbade films without a theatrical distribution plan from its competition. From, a report: In an exclusive interview with Variety, Netflix's chief content officer says that the festival sent a clear message with a new rule that bans any films without theatrical distribution in France from playing in competition. Netflix could screen some of its upcoming movies out of competition, but Sarandos says that doesn't make sense for the streaming service. "We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker," Sarandos says. "There's a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival. They've set the tone. I don't think it would be good for us to be there."

Netflix made a big splash at the prestigious film festival last year with two movies that showed in competition: Bong Joon-ho's "Okja" and Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories." But after the 2017 announcement, French theaters owners and unions protested the inclusion of these films to Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of Cannes. Netflix was amenable to having their movies play on big screens in France, but a law in the country requires movies to not appear in home platforms for 36 months after their theatrical release.

AI

Elon Musk Is Paying For Free Streaming of a New Documentary about AI Dangers (syfy.com) 185

An anonymous reader quotes Syfy.com: There's a new documentary warning about the perils of artificial intelligence out there, and Elon Musk wants you to see it. So much so that he's making it available to stream for free this weekend. The documentary -- Do You Trust This Computer? -- explores the rise of machine intelligence and its possible consequences... Check out the trailer, and then proceed to be creeped way the hell out.... "It's a subject that I feel we should be paying close attention to," said Musk in a news release. "I think it's important that a lot people see this movie, so I'm paying for it to be seen to the world for free this weekend."
Musk attended the premier of the film with the creator of HBO's Westworld, and tweeted Saturday that the video had 5 million views in just 36 hours.

Musk himself is interviewed in the film, warning of the dire possibility of "an immortal dictator from which we can never escape."
Anime

Animation Legend Isao Takahata, Co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Dies at 82 (nbcnews.com) 27

Isao Takahata, co-founder of the prestigious Japanese animator Studio Ghibli, which stuck to a hand-drawn "manga" look in the face of digital filmmaking, has died. He was 82. From a report: Takahata started Ghibli with Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985, hoping to create Japan's Disney. He directed "Grave of the Fireflies," a tragic tale about wartime childhood, and produced some of the studio's films, including Miyazaki's 1984 "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind," which tells the horror of environmental disaster through a story about a princess. Takahata died Thursday of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital, the studio said in a statement Friday.

He was fully aware of how the floating sumie-brush sketches of faint pastel in his works stood as a stylistic challenge to Hollywood's computer-graphics cartoons. In a 2015 interview with The Associated Press, Takahata talked about how Edo-era woodblock-print artists like Hokusai had the understanding of Western-style perspective and the use of light, but they purposely chose to depict reality with lines, and in a flat way, with minimal shading.
"Pom Poko", a movie released in 1994, is often considered the best work of Takahata. The New York Times described it as, "a comic allegory about battling packs of tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) joining forces to fight human real estate developers. It's earthy and rollicking in a way that his co-founder's films aren't." In an interview with Wired in 2015, when Takahata was asked what he felt about people regarding him as the heart of Studio Ghibli. "Now you've both finished your final films, what are your feelings on Ghibli's legacy and reputation?, the interviewer asked. Takahata said, "I'm not sure I can respond in any meaningful way. What Hayao Miyazaki has built up is the greatest contribution. The existence of that thick trunk has allowed leaves to unfurl and flowers to bloom to become the fruitful tree that is Studio Ghibli."

Further reading: Isao Takahata's stark world of reality (The Japan Times).
Movies

Stan Lee's Stolen Blood Was Used To Sign Marvel Comic Books (tmz.com) 134

ISoldat53 writes: Someone stole a sample of Stan Lee's blood and stamped comic books with it to increase their value. TMZ reports: "We've learned several 'Black Panther' comic books are currently available at the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. store on the Las Vegas Strip. Each edition comes with a certificate of authentication that details the item as a 'Hand-Stamped Signature of STAN LEE using Stan Lee's Solvent DNA Ink.' Stan's friend and partner Keya Morgan discovered the 95-year-old's blood was allegedly stolen back in October after a former business associate presented Lee's nurse with fake docs that authorized that a sample be drawn. Our sources say the nurse pulled enough blood from Stan for him to feel lightheaded and dizzy. We're told the 'Black Panther' comic with Stan's Hancock in blue is selling for $250. The one in gold is twice that at $500. Stan's legal team is currently weighing its options to go after the former business associate who allegedly lifted Lee's blood." Evan Michailidis, a legal rep for the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. tells TMZ, "We're a retail store which purchased product from Hands of Respect LLC and DLK Brand Consulting LLC that appeared certified and obtained with authorization. The books were removed from our shelves immediately."
Movies

The 50th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" 206

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the original release of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," a seminal film in motion picture history and one that has awed millions over the years. Kubrick's title has often been credited with paving the way for science-fiction films that took a realistic approach to depicting the future. Even as "2001" has grown to become one of the most iconic movies of all time, the reception it received when it originally premiered wasn't good. An excerpt: The film's previews were an unmitigated disaster. Its story line encompassed an exceptional temporal sweep, starting with the initial contact between pre-human ape-men and an omnipotent alien civilization and then vaulting forward to later encounters between Homo sapiens and the elusive aliens, represented throughout by the film's iconic metallic-black monolith. Although featuring visual effects of unprecedented realism and power, Kubrick's panoramic journey into space and time made few concessions to viewer understanding. The film was essentially a nonverbal experience. Its first words came only a good half-hour in.

Audience walkouts numbered well over 200 at the New York premiere on April 3, 1968, and the next day's reviews were almost uniformly negative. Writing in the Village Voice, Andrew Sarris called the movie "a thoroughly uninteresting failure and the most damning demonstration yet of Stanley Kubrick's inability to tell a story coherently and with a consistent point of view." And yet that afternoon, a long line -- comprised predominantly of younger people -- extended down Broadway, awaiting the first matinee.
The Cannes Film Festival will celebrate the 50th anniversary of "2001: A Space Odyssey" with the world premiere of an unrestored 70mm print, introduced by Christopher Nolan. The event is set for May 12 as part of the Cannes Classics program. The screening will also be attended by members of Kubrick's family, including his daughter Katharina Kubrick and his longtime producing partner and brother-in-law Jan Harlan.

Further reading: Why 2001: A Space Odyssey's mystery endures, 50 years on (CNET); 50 years of 2001: A Space Odyssey -- how Kubrick's sci-fi 'changed the very form of cinema' (The Guardian); The story of a voice: HAL in '2001' wasn't always so eerily calm (The New York Times); and The most intriguing theories about "2001: A Space Odyssey" (io9); and Behind the scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the strangest blockbuster in Hollywood history (Vanity Fair).
Movies

Netflix Banned From Competing At Cannes Film Festival Due To Lack of Theatrical Releases (theverge.com) 120

Netflix has been banned from competing in the Cannes Film Festival, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter. "Theirry Fremaux, the head of Cannes, told THR last week the ban is because Netflix refuses to release its films in theaters, choosing instead to debut them on its streaming service and, in some rare cases, do day-and-date releases so the film can be seen both online and off," reports The Verge. From the report: In the case of Bong Joon-ho's Okja and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories -- films that were entered into last year's Cannes to widespread protest from French filmmakers -- Netflix was unable to secure last-minute permits for one-week theatrical releases due to French media regulations. "Last year, when we selected these two films, I thought I could convince Netflix to release them in cinemas. I was presumptuous, they refused," Fremaux told THR. "The Netflix people loved the red carpet and would like to be present with other films. But they understand that the intransigence of their own model is now the opposite of ours." Starting with this year's Cannes, which takes place in May, films screened in competition will need to have a French theatrical release. Netflix is still allowed to show films at Cannes, Fremaux added, but its films will not be eligible for the prestigious Palme d'Or.
Businesses

MoviePass' Low Subscription Price Just Got Lower (hollywoodreporter.com) 96

In a move to lure new subscribers, MoviePass has dropped the price of its monthly subscription service from about $10 per month to just under $7. From a report: The company said for $6.95 per month, new subscribers will get one movie ticket per day, a minor catch being that users must pay for a year up-front. There is also a one-time $6.55 processing fee. It's the umpteenth time that MoviePass has changed its price since launching six years ago at $40 per month (before raising it to $50), most significantly eight months ago when it was cut to just $9.95. The change had the desired effect, as subscribers swelled from 20,000 then to nearly 3 million today. Still, MoviePass is not without its critics, as some theater chains -- most notably AMC -- have criticized the service for allegedly cheapening the moviegoing experience. Also, industry executives worry that MoviePass cannot survive (it pays mostly full price for the movie tickets its subscribers use) and wonder if users that are left in the lurch when it folds will ever want to pay $9 (the average price in the U.S.) per ticket again.
Youtube

YouTube To Follow Amazon By Screening Its Movies Inside Theaters (engadget.com) 36

An anonymous reader shares a report: Following YouTube's announcement last month that it intends to spend "hundreds of millions" on original content for Red, it's just unveiled plans for a YouTube-made movie that'll also be released in theaters. And unlike its previous effort, 2016's widely-regarded flop Lazer Team, this project has a serious name attached to it: Susan Sarandon. The film, Vulture Club, is already in post-production. It stars Oscar-winning Susan Sarandon as an emergency room nurse whose son has been kidnapped by terrorists, and after being abandoned by the government, finds help in the unlikeliest of places. The thriller also stars Edie Falco of The Sopranos and Matt Bomer of Magic Mike, and is directed by Iranian-American Maryam Keshavarz, of Circumstance fame. Despite being slated for theatrical release, details on YouTube's plans to actually get the movie into theaters are scarce.

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