NBCU’s Horror Network Will Produce Its First Original Series

May 5, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

Chiller, the NBCUniversal network meant for horror aficionados, is partnering with a Canadian broadcaster for its first original series. Slasher follows a young woman who returns to the small town where she was born, and finds herself the centerpiece in a series of horrifying murders. Slasher will begin production on an eight-episode season this summer in Sudbury, Ontario. The series will also air on Canadian broadcaster Super Channel. "Given Chiller's success in the original film space with Animal and The Boy, we're thrilled to premiere our first-ever original series, Slasher, later this year," said Dave Howe, president of Syfy and Chiller. Slasher is part of a slate of new offerings from the network, which is now available in about 40 million U.S. homes. New original films include: Lifeforce: A reimagining of the 1985 classic film (based on Colin Wilson's novel The Space Vampires), follows a group of astronauts who encounter a derelict alien spacecraft hiding an ancient secret. The explorers discover three perfect humanoids who return to Earth and unleash a terrible plague on the planet. Siren: A bachelor party becomes a savage fight for survival when the groomsmen unwittingly unleash a fabled predator on the festivities.

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AMC’s Plan for Life After Mad Men

May 4, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

As Charlie Collier, president, gm of AMC, makes the rounds during this year's upfronts, one question keeps popping up over and over again: "What do you have for me now?" While it's a typical upfront query, the question has taken on an added urgency as AMC looks ahead to life without Mad Men, the series that put the network on the map—establishing it as a home for quality drama that rivaled anything on premium cable—when it debuted in July 2007. Yet Collier has no concerns about losing momentum after Mad Men airs its series finale on May 17. "It's a welcome question because AMC's never been stronger, both in terms of critical acclaim and ratings," said Collier. "It feels really good." In other words, AMC will avoid the pitfalls that have plagued other networks who lose their signature shows. When The Sopranos signed off in 2007 (a month before Mad Men's debut), HBO flailed for years with mediocre offerings like Tell Me You Love Me and Hung, until Game of Thrones, Girls and Veep finally righted the ship starting in 2011. In contrast, AMC has TV's most popular series in adults 18-49 to fall back on: The Walking Dead, which averaged 9.4 million viewers in that demo this season. Thanks to Walking Dead and its popular postshow, Talking Dead, AMC was the No. 1 cable network in February in adults (and men) 18-49 and 18-34. Even better, as Walking Dead follows the blueprint of Robert Kirkman's comic book series, it already has stories banked for seasons to come. "How many other guys can say, 'Wow, we've got the hottest show in town, and it's already written for the next four years?'" said Maxim Group analyst John Tinker. "That takes away some of those pressures." As does the arrival earlier this year of critically acclaimed Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul , which became the next prestige drama AMC had been searching for. Though Collier says he's "equally proud" of lesser performers Turn (now called Turn: Washington's Spies) and Halt and Catch Fire, which help fulfill AMC's "eclectic by design" mission, Better Call Saul gave AMC some much needed critical cachet that helps cushion Mad Men's loss. Drawing 3.7 million viewers 18-49 in live-plus-3 during Season 1, Saul also enabled AMC to expand its original programming to a third night, Mondays (most of its shows air on Sundays, but western Hell on Wheels has turned into a solid Saturday entry for fans of AMC's western movies). "We'll expand original nights beyond that, that's what we're talking about with advertisers during the upfronts," said Collier. "So you'll see Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Saturday." Collier hopes spinoff lightning will strike twice when AMC's upcoming Walking Dead companion series, Fear the Walking Dead, debuts in late summer. Set in Los Angeles with new characters and storylines, its six-episode first season (the series has already been renewed for Season 2) will lead in to The Walking Dead's return this fall. The network's biggest challenge will be to nurture Fear without damaging its ratings golden goose.

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USA’s Ad Campaign for Its Hacker Drama Mr. Robot Doesn’t Mince Words

May 1, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

The marketing department at USA Network must have been worried people would think the lead character of its new hacker drama was pro-establishment—because the posters for the show, Mr. Robot, are anything but subtle. "F*ck Wall St.," "F*ck Social Media, "F*ck Society" and "F*ck the System" reads pretty much the only copy in four blustery ads that can't but evoke FCUK, except that the guy in the images, actor Rami Malek, is wearing the Mark Zuckerberg anti-fashion uniform of a hoodie (even though it turns out Facebook is now, apparently, officially The Man). USA deserves credit for not mincing words, and speaking truth to power, especially about the whole finance thing, given the sorry state of affairs—parent company NBCU's parent company Comcast has a market cap of only $149 billion. But at least in the trailer, there seems to be some grand Robin Hood caper brewing, toward the mass redistribution of wealth. (If the plebes can't have it in real life, they might as well get it in their fiction.) It was probably inevitable that someone would make a TV series about a good-looking, bad-boy hacker with a heart of gold, because everyone knows hacking is about being a revolutionary—not about old rich white men transferring their money to young white men who use it to fund fanciful whims that every once in a while turn out to be viable businesses. But in all seriousness, the show looks like it might actually have some potential—Christian Slater plays some lord of the digital underworld—so long as it doesn't include any mega virus monsters that infiltrate digital air conditioners to release a neuro gas.

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Step Aside Super Bowl: This is 2015’s Craziest Sports Weekend

May 1, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

This weekend, audiences will assemble in record-breaking numbers to cheer on an unprecedented assemblage of larger-than-life champions. And no, we're not talking about Avengers: Age of Ultron. After all, not even Iron Man, Hulk and Thor can match the combined sports powers that have converged for this weekend: a perfect storm for sports fans. There's the 2015 NFL Draft, which kicked off Thursday night and runs through Saturday on ESPN, ESPN 2 and NFL Network. Saturday brings the 141st Kentucky Derby (NBC and NBCSN). The rest of the weekend includes a Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees baseball matchup (MLB Network and ESPN), NBA first and second round playoff games (ESPN, TNT and ABC) NHL Stanley Cup second round playoff games (NBC and NBCSN) and World Golf Championships-Cadillac Match Play (NBC and Golf Channel). And overshadowing them all is one of the biggest sports events of all time : Saturday night's welterweight boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.

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Hulu Lands Exclusive Streaming Rights to Seinfeld Just in Time for NewFronts

April 29, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

For the last six months, Hulu has taken one big swing after another as it tries to close the gap with Netflix and Amazon. At Wednesday's NewFronts presentation, the streaming service revealed the perfect cherry atop its growing pile of huge deals: landing exclusive streaming rights to all nine seasons of Seinfeld. In a multiyear deal worth as much as $180 million , Hulu will begin streaming all 180 episodes of Jerry Seinfeld's iconic comedy "about nothing" in June. While Sony's ad-supported Crackle has long streamed a selection of Seinfeld episodes, this will be the first time the entire series will be available for streaming. And unlike the trimmed, syndicated versions, Hulu will stream the full-length episodes that originally aired on NBC. "This is a pretty mind-blowing moment," said Jerry Seinfeld, who closed Hulu's presentation at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom with the big announcement. "You could have put the DVD in, but I guess nobody really wanted to do that. They want to do this!" He added of streaming services like Hulu, "I know from having kids, it's the only way they're going to watch it." The Seinfeld coup eclipses Hulu's three-year deal with South Park last July to stream all 18 seasons of that show, which was worth a reported $80 million. Seinfeld's Hulu debut this June is likely to revive interest in the series—Mulva! The Contest! Sponge-worthy! Festivus! Soup Nazi!—much like when Netflix started streaming Friends in its entirety in January. But the Seinfeld acquisition was only one of several big announcements Hulu made at its NewFronts presentation, where CEO Mike Hopkins vowed that "2015 is the year that Hulu will break out." It's already well on its way: Hulu Plus subscribers jumped 50 percent in one year, from 6 million to almost 9 million. And in the first quarter of 2015, streams were up 77 percent—700 million hours of premium content—with each Hulu viewer watching an average of 30 percent more content this year than last

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AOL Unveils Massive Slate of New Programming and Partnership With NBCU

April 29, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

For those who thought AOL might be shifting away from big content plays and heading into pure ad tech, the media company proved this week it still has plenty in store for digitally savvy audiences. Announcing a licensing distribution deal with NBCUniversal and a hefty slate of original and co-produced programming, the media company reiterated its commitment to creating original content at its Digital Content NewFront at New York's 4 World Trade Center Tuesday evening. "There was a perception that we were overinvested in (ad tech) compared to other places," AOL chief marketing officer Allie Kline said ahead of the event. "I don't think that's been the case. Huffington Post is still the largest investment and acquisition we've made. We have 20-plus O&O brands, 2,000 premium content publishers we maintain relationships with, and about 26 shows we're releasing." To drive that point home, AOL president Bob Lord and NBCU ad sales and client partnerships chairman Linda Yaccarino announced a new partnership on stage, which will also extend into co-produced content. AOL On will get the rights to stream NBCU content from its broadcast networks, cable channels and digital networks on mobile, desktop and 16 over-the-top platforms. (Yes, this means clips and segments from Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Watch What Happens are headed to AOL.) The move to add NBCU content demonstrated AOL's Content 365 strategy, which AOL head of video Dermot McCormack explained as the company's tactic to make content of all shapes and sizes. AOL said its AOL On streaming video platform averages 1 billion multi-platform video views a month and houses more than one million premium AOL original and partner videos

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Scandal’s Guillermo Diaz Is Obsessed With Horror Movies, and Lena Dunham

April 28, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

Specs Age 40 Claim to fame Stars as Huck on ABC's Scandal (season finale airs May 7) Base Los Angeles Twitter @guillermodiazyo What's the first information you consume in the morning? I hit Instagram and Twitter as soon as I wake up. And then I check my texts and emails. It's funny that I check social media before I check my email. Were you into social media before you started doing it for Scandal? Not at all. Kerry Washington is the one who's behind all of us being on social media , so I have to give her props. Who do you follow on Instagram? I follow Madonna, I follow Norman Reedus [from The Walking Dead] and, of course, I follow [Scandal co-stars] Kerry Washington and Katie Lowes. I also follow a bunch of horror people that post a lot of Halloween stuff and really cool art. So you're a big horror movie fan? Absolutely

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ESPN Sues Verizon Over FiOS’ New Custom TV bundle

April 27, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

ESPN isn't wasting any time in challenging Verizon's new, slimmer cable bundles as part of its FiOS service. The sports network behemoth filed suit Monday in New York Supreme Court, alleging breach of contract and seeking damages related to FiOS' new Custom TV package, while claiming it seeks to stop Verizon from "unfairly depriving" it of "the benefits of its bargain." "ESPN is at the forefront of embracing innovative ways to deliver high-quality content and value to consumers on multiple platforms, but that must be done in compliance with our agreements," ESPN said in a statement. "We simply ask that Verizon abide by the terms of our contracts." Verizon, however, isn't backing down. "Consumers have spoken loud and clear that they want choice, and the industry should be focused on giving consumers what they want," Verizon spokesman Alberto Canal said. "We are well within our rights under our agreements to offer our customers these choices." Verizon has maintained that argument since announcing its Custom TV bundles on April 17. Starting at $55 per month, Custom TV allows customers to pay for a basic channel package of more than 35 networks, including CNN, AMC, HGTV and QVC. Bundles of other channels, comprised of at least 10 channels each, are offered in seven themed tiers: Lifestyle (including Lifetime, TLC, Bravo), Entertainment (TBS, FX, USA), Pop Culture (Comedy Central, E!, MTV), Sports (ESPN, ESPN2), Kids (Nickelodeon, Disney), News & Info (Fox News, MSNBC) and Sports Plus (ESPN News, NFL Network, MLB Network). Customers can choose two channel packs for no additional costs; other packs will be $10 each. ESPN immediately objected to Verizon's packages, claiming it "would not be authorized by our existing agreements. Among other issues, our contracts clearly provide that neither ESPN nor ESPN2 may be distributed in a separate sports package." Verizon said that its new configurations are in line with its existing contracts with ESPN and other networks. With both companies firmly entrenched, ESPN's lawsuit appears to be the first salvo fired in what will be a bloody battle for slimmer cable packages as pay TV providers fight to keep consumers from cutting the cord.

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Why Showtime’s Happyish Defiled the Keebler Elves

April 27, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

For close to five decades, the Keebler Elves have been a genial, wholesome presence in Keebler advertising as they sang the praises of the brand's cookies and crackers. But Sunday's premiere of the new Showtime comedy Happyish quickly changed the Elves' slogan from "Uncommonly Good" to "uncommonly disturbing." In a hallucination by the show's disillusioned ad exec Thom Payne (Steve Coogan), the animated Ernie Keebler, stunned to be fired as Keebler's pitchman after 46 years, drops f-bombs and starts shooting his fellow elves, including Fast Eddie, before turning the gun on himself. Then a stunned Ma Keebler proceeds to disrobe and have sex with Payne.The now-defiled Keebler Elves are just the first of several beloved advertising icons that Happyish skewers during its 10-episode debut season. Created by author Shalom Auslander, who begrudgingly worked in advertising for more than two decades to supplement his writing career, the show routinely takes aim at the business that Auslander loves to hate. "I ended up having this fantastic deal that I got fired from," Auslander said. "I was working for McCann Erickson, living in Woodstock [, N.Y.] and coming in once a month, and sending in ideas and not really caring what happened to them.

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Is Hulu Ready to Take on Netflix and Amazon?

April 27, 2015  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

When Hulu launched in 2008, the ad-supported streaming service wasn't a big priority for owners Fox, Disney and NBC. "It was like, if the ship is going to blow, at least we have an escape pod, but we don't want to equip this escape pod so well that everyone would prefer it to being on the ship with us," Forrester analyst James McQuivey put it. While Hulu attracts 30 million monthly uniques and 6 million consumers signed on for subscription service Hulu Plus, the company has been surpassed in buzz, breakout content and critical acclaim by competitors including Netflix, Amazon and HBO Go/HBO Now. "Suddenly for Hulu," said McQuivey, "it's either put up or shut up time." As Hulu prepares for its April 29 NewFronts presentation, it is squarely in the "put up" column, celebrating major coups in terms of both original series (including 11/22/63, a limited series from J.J. Abrams and Stephen King) and acquisitions (exclusive SVOD rights to all 18 seasons of South Park). "We have a mandate to swing for the fences," said Craig Erwich, svp, head of content for Hulu. "There has definitely been a mandate to get in business with the best talent that's available, support them creatively and financially, and be ambitious in terms of talent and creative vision." To that end, Hulu has spent much of the past six months making one major content announcement after another. The biggest by far was 11/22/63, based on King's best-selling novel from 2011 about an English teacher (James Franco) who finds a time portal and tries to prevent President John F. Kennedy's assassination. There's also Difficult People, a sitcom executive produced by Amy Poehler and starring Billy Eichner; Casual, a comedy exec produced by Jason Reitman; and The Way, a drama exec produced by Friday Night Lights and Parenthood showrunner Jason Katims. "On the acquisition side, we are acquiring the best of the best," said Erwich, referencing "landmark" SVOD deals for South Park, several present and future FX series (including Fargo and The Strain) and Empire, this season's biggest new series. "So anything we do on the originals side has to measure up." In the process, Hulu hopes to finally land the signature series that has long eluded it. "These new shows stand to really crystallize the Hulu brand in the hearts and minds of not only viewers but also advertisers, in a way that Mad Men may have crystallized AMC or what House of Cards did for Netflix," said Peter Naylor, svp, advertising sales at Hulu. "So I couldn't be given a better slate of programming to bring to market, especially in a crowded upfront/NewFronts season where everyone's trying to turn people's heads." Hulu knows it needs more than marquee names to keep pace with Netflix and Amazon. "Deservedly so, J.J. Abrams and Amy Poehler get you sampled and noticed," said Erwich. "But the shows have to stand on their own." Of course, when you take big swings, there's the potential for big misses. "Hulu has to be committed to a good couple of big swings in a row," said McQuivey. "And if all of them miss, then you fall back on a distribution strategy." Not gonna happen, insists Hulu, which just pulled off yet another huge deal last Thursday with Turner, acquiring exclusive SVOD rights to a variety of TNT, TBS, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network series, including The Last Ship, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Robot Chicken. "We have a lot of momentum," said Erwich, "and we plan on continuing to capitalize on it."

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