The Oscars won’t change their rules to exclude streaming

It looks like movies produced by Netflix and other streaming services will be able to compete for next year’s Academy Awards without any changes to eligibility.

After the Netflix Original film “Roma” was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s ceremony and ultimately took home the awards for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography, the Academy’s Board of Directors was mulling possible rule changes.

The crux of the debate seems to be Netflix’s theatrical strategy. The company insisted for years that it was willing to release its movies in theaters, but it would not hold those titles back from the streaming service, which meant that most large chains were unwilling to screen them. Netflix finally eased up on this practice last year, with “Roma” (and a handful of other films) opening in theaters before they launched on Netflix, but with a much shorter theatrical window than is traditional.

Director Steven Spielberg was reportedly an advocate for changing the rules in a way that would have made it harder for Netflix movies to compete — perhaps by requiring that films play exclusively in theaters for four weeks.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice weighed in, sending a letter to the Academy stating that if it makes eligibility changes that “eliminate competition without procompetitive justification, such conduct may raise antitrust concerns.”

Now the Academy has put out a press release summarizing rules changes voted on by its Board of Governors (like renaming the Foreign Language Film award to International Feature Film).

The release notes that the board voted not to change Rule Two, Eligibility, which describes the theatrical run needed to be eligible for an Oscar. It says that “a film must have a minimum seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles County commercial theater, with at least three screenings per day for paid admission” in order to be eligible — but the film can also be released on “nontheatrical media” at the same time.

“We support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions,” said Academy President John Bailey in a statement. “Our rules currently require theatrical exhibition, and also allow for a broad selection of films to be submitted for Oscars consideration. We plan to further study the profound changes occurring in our industry and continue discussions with our members about these issues.”

‘Avengers: Endgame’ is a very silly movie, but it ends in exactly the right way

With just a few days until the release of “Avengers: Endgame,” Marvel fans everywhere are probably wondering A) Who dies?? and B) Will this actually resolve the cliffhanger ending of “Infinity War” in a satisfying way?

So, just to get it out of the way: A) I’m not telling, and B) Kind of? Mostly? It depends?

Certainly, if you’re like me and found yourself fatigued by the constant, overcrowded battles of “Infinity War,” the beginning of “Endgame” will come as an enormous relief. There’s a brief flicker of action, then we get plenty of time to deal with the fallout from “Infinity War.” (And if you don’t already know how that movie ends, why are you reading this review?)

We see that half the population of Earth, and the universe, really died after Thanos’ magical finger snap, leaving the original Avengers team and a few other heroes to try to rebuild and move on. There’s plenty about the aftermath that simply gets hand-waved away with a few shots of empty streets and grieving extras — but we get to spend time with characters like Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk to see how they’ve responded and changed in the wake of universal catastrophe.

Avengers: Endgame

Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: ENDGAME ©Marvel Studios 2019

Of course, they’re not sitting around moping for the entire three-hour (!) runtime. Eventually, a plan is hatched to reverse what Thanos has done. And while I’m going to stay as vague as possible about that plan, I think it’s safe to say that the results are textbook fan service.

After all, as its name makes clear, “Endgame” is meant to serve as the culmination of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and as a final act for some of its most famous heroes. The film’s middle stretch feels very much like a farewell tour, working overtime to remind viewers of everything they like about these characters and their stories.

Diehard Marvel fans, I suspect, will eat it up. Casual viewers may not be quite as thrilled.

Personally, I was delighted when I realized what the filmmakers were going to do. But as these sequences went on, and on, and on, my enthusiasm waned. By the time the grand finale began, virtually all the goodwill built up during the film’s beginning had evaporated.

So by the simple metric of whether “Endgame” finds a way to reverse the ending of “Infinity War” in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or cynical, I’m afraid I’d say it’s a failure. And I’m not sure I can claim that the ending is any less cynical or sentimental.

For this viewer, however, that ending absolutely works — so effectively that it not only salvages the movie, not only helps me forgive the draggy bits, but even makes me think of “Infinity War” more warmly.

See, as the MCU has gone on, it’s become increasingly difficult to regard the whole enterprise without skepticism — as something other than an excuse to create one guaranteed blockbuster that inevitably leads into the next big hit. And although some of those blockbusters are very good indeed, Marvel’s weakest moments feel like obvious concessions to this strategy, with stories that can either grind to a halt introducing new characters and subplots, or get dragged out needlessly in sequel after sequel.

But in the closing minutes of “Endgame,” I forgot all that. As our heroes arrived for a final, desperate battle, it felt like the triumphant climax that every single one of these films has been building up to.

And when the end came, it didn’t feel like an excuse to conveniently shuffle certain actors offstage. Instead, Marvel found a natural endpoint for the characters’ stories. And in one case — the film’s final shot — it didn’t just feel natural. It felt perfect.

There will be more Marvel movies. The Avengers will, inevitably, return — at least in some form. But I was thrilled and moved with the way some of them said goodbye here.

The master list of PR DON’Ts (or how not to piss off the writer covering your startup)

When it comes to working with journalists, so many people are, frankly, idiots. I have seen reporters yank stories because founders are assholes, play unfairly, or have PR firms that use ridiculous pressure tactics when they have already committed to a story.

There is so much bad behavior that I thought that it might be time to write up a list of “DON’Ts” on how not to work with journalists.

I compiled this list by polling TechCrunch’s entire writing staff for their pet peeves when it comes to working with PR folks and founders around startup pitches. The result was this list of 16 obnoxious annoyances.

The interesting thread that connects all of them is that these DON’Ts are almost universal across the staff — few of these annoyances seemed to be merely personal preference. Avoiding these behaviors won’t guarantee coverage of your startup, but they certainly will help you avoid killing your news story before it even gets considered for publication.

DON’T change the capitalization of your startup multiple times

SEO is important, and so there are rules about how to capitalize things to maximize your exposure on Google and DDG. That’s important to get right, but for the love of god, figure out what the hell you want your startup’s name to be before you reach out to the press.

How to pitch to a (tech) journalist

Startup growth comes from many places, but one option is through “earned media” — stories and mentions in the press. Earned media is great, because the channel is nominally free, and it often can get many more of the right eyeballs than advertising. Minus some sleazy behavior in the journalism world, you should never have to pay a dime to get a story into print other than the work it takes to manage PR (and yes, of course, that can be very expensive, although it doesn’t have to be).

For these reasons, startups pitch writers a lot on stories about everything from their latest fundraise to new features in their apps. Yet despite that frequency, some founders (and PR folks) are extraordinarily good at pitching and find great success, while others seem to never get the attention of even the most workaholic writers.

The job of writers is to write stories, but writing your story is not their job.

Therefore, learning how to pitch a journalist, how to build a relationship with writers covering your startup and how not to mess up a story already in production is a critical skill for anyone looking to grow their business.

This guide is designed to help bridge the gap by covering relationship building, how to determine newsworthiness and the logistics of exclusives and embargoes. In addition, we’ve published a companion piece that lists and analyzes 16 DON’Ts that can suddenly find your committed story in the trash can.

Building relationships should always take precedent

The single greatest secret of building any venture, actually, the greatest secret of life, is that relationships are everything. We live in a free world, and no one is obligated to do anything for anyone. Venture capitalists aren’t obligated to write a check, partners aren’t obligated to sign a deal and customers never have to buy your product.

Group Nine hires Brian Lee to lead its commerce business

Group Nine Media has hired Brian Lee to as its first executive vice president of commerce.

Lee held a similar role at Maker Studios before its acquisition by Disney, and he also founded the New York-based accelerator SKIG. Group Nine — which was created by the merger of Thrillist, NowThis Media, The Dodo and Discovery-owned Seeker — says Lee’s job will include licensing, merchandising, affiliate advertising and direct-to-consumer products.

“Group Nine has some of the most loved and impactful brands, coupled with the ability to leverage a host of deeply powerful insights,” said Lee said in a statement. “I believe we are uniquely positioned to make huge strides in this space and can’t wait to get started.”

When I met with Group Nine CEO Ben Lerer earlier this year, he laid out his vision for the company moving forward.

“We’re successfully building brands — not to be distributed over a paid TV pipe, not to sit back and watch on your TV passively,” Lerer said. “Instead, we’re building brands for the kind of content consumption that someone who’s grown up with a smartphone in their pocket patronizes. What we’re doing is shows and characters and telling stories that are meant to be delivered via Facebook, via YouTube, via Snapchat, via Twitter.”

That kind of strategy, where a publisher relies on third-party platforms to reach their audience, has been disastrous for other digital media companies, but Lerer sounded pretty confident, particularly as the company gets smarter about which shows to invest in: “We’re making less and less content that is disposable every month than we did the month before.”

That approach seems to tie into Group Nine’s commerce strategy. In today’s announcement, Lerer said, “We have some of the most engaging brands on mobile, built around deeply dedicated communities of loyal fans so it’s imperative that we make the most of the opportunities that presents.”

Citing Nielsen, Group Nine says its content reaches nearly 45 million Americans every day. Business Insider also reported recently that the company is in talks to merge with women’s lifestyle media company Refinery29.

Netflix offers $2 billion more in debt to fund its content spending

Netflix is raising another $2 billion in debt to fund its content spending and other expenses, the company announced this morning. The news comes ahead of the launches of new streaming service competitors from Disney, Apple, and AT&T’s WarnerMedia. It also follows Netflix’s offer of another $2 billion in debt back in October 2018.

The streaming service says it plans to use the debt funding for general purposes, including “content acquisitions, production and development, capital expenditures, investments, working capital and potential acquisitions and strategic transactions.”

The funds will be raised through unsecured notes that will be issued in two series in both U.S. dollars and euros, it says.

Netflix spends a lot of cash to stay ahead of the competition and acquire subscribers. It believes that its investment in original content — shows and movies that users can’t find anywhere else, and that it owns the rights to — will help the company to generate revenues in the years ahead.

In January, Netflix said its cash burn would peak in 2019, and its free cash flow deficit for 2019 will end up around $3.5 billion, CNBC notes.

This year, its content budget is expected to reach $15 billion, Variety reported earlier.

The additional $2 billion in debt will bring Netflix’s long-term debt to around $12.3 billion, Variety now points out. It also says Netflix hasn’t paid down any significant amount of that debt to date. Instead, its interest on that debt is increasing — $135.5 million in interest expense in Q1 2019, or around 3% of revenue. That’s up 67% from the $81.2 million a year ago, the report adds.

In a letter to shareholders earlier this year, Netflix warned investors it would continue to raise debt.

“As long as we judge our marginal  after-tax cost of debt to be lower than our marginal cost of equity, we’ll continue to finance our working capital needs through the high yield market,” it read.

The additional funds come just ahead of several notable streaming service launches, including Apple TV+ which is smaller on the content side but will tap into Apple’s massive iPhone user base; AT&T’s WarnerMedia service; and perhaps most significantly, Disney+.

The latter could even end up being a low-cost alternative to Netflix for families, who are looking for more kid-friendly content as well as programming that parents and kids can watch together. There’s not as much of that out there today, as so many shows are now either adult-oriented or only for children, with no middle ground. Disney+, however, will include a range of family fare from Star Wars, Marvel, National Geographic, and Pixar, in addition to its Disney animation. And at $6.99 per month, Disney+ is a big step down in price from Netflix’s entry-level plan, $12.99 per month.

 

Chive Media’s out-of-home TV spinoff Atmosphere raises $10M

When Chive Media Group spun out its out-of-home TV business last year, co-founder and CEO Leo Resig said the structure should help the new company, called Atmosphere, raise venture capital.

Looks like those fundraising efforts were successful, with Atmosphere announcing that it has raised $10 million in Series A funding led by S3 Ventures, with participation from Capstar Capital.

“I have yet to meet someone who enjoys watching closed-captioning or talking heads at their favorite establishments,” said S3 Ventures Partner Charlie Plauche in a statement. (Plauche is joining Atmosphere’s board of directors.) “Yet, that is the best option most businesses have to entertain patrons. That all changes with Atmosphere, who offers engaging content to viewers of all ages with no audio needed.”

Chive Media Group is known for its namesake website, theChive, which focuses on funny and viral content. Chive co-founders (and brothers) Leo and John Resig told me that when the company decided to move into video, it didn’t have the money to create a big production arm.

“We stuck to our roots of what we do best: Seek out and curate and package existing content,” John said. As a result, the company was able to license “a pretty large IP library of short form, mostly amateur viral videos,” which it then offered to bars and other out-of-home locations as Chive TV.

Chive TV still exists, but it’s now just one of the channels that Atmosphere offers, with Leo noting that Atmosphere now includes more polished videos from partners like Red Bull and GoPro.

“Everyone’s creating content these days,” John added. “We’re a shiny new distribution vessel for a lot of that content.”

In general, Leo argued that Atmosphere content is better tailored than regular TV to the needs of (say) a restaurant or a doctor’s office.

“It’s ambient TV,” he said. “It’s not episodic, it’s not character-driven, you can pick it up and leave it without missing a touchdown.”

Plus, as Plauche mentioned, it’s designed to be watchable without audio.

The company says Chive TV is already streamed in 4,300 bars, restaurants, gyms and other locations. And it’s adding around 450 venues every month.

At the same time, the Resigs said Atmosphere has been building up a technology backend, with the analytics and ad serving that you get with online video.

Until now, Chive and Atmosphere have been giving the content away for free while monetizing with ads, but Leo said they’ll soon start charging a monthly subscription fee of around $10 or $20, which he suggested is “not a lot of money for what the venues are getting,” particularly compared to their cable bill. There’s an additional product that venues can pay for to insert their own messages and house ads.

The Resigs actually hold the same title at both companies, but Leo (CEO) suggested that he’ll be spending more time on Atmosphere, while John (President) said he’ll be “straddling” the two organizations.

Leo said Atmosphere has around 20 employees — with another 20 who are currently splitting their work between Chive Media and Atmosphere, but will ultimately go work for one of the two organizations.

Twitter shares surge as Trump accuses it of ‘political games’

Social media platform’s revenues up 18% as president criticises its treatment of him

Twitter has reported better-than-expected financial results, sending its shares surging, as Donald Trump accused the social media platform of “playing political games”.

Revenues for the first quarter climbed by 18% to $787m (£605m), beating Wall Street forecasts of $776m. Revenues were boosted by ad sales that also rose 18%, to $679m. Its shares rose more than 8% in trading before the market opened.

“The best thing ever to happen to Twitter is Donald Trump.” @MariaBartiromo So true, but they don’t treat me well as a Republican. Very discriminatory, hard for people to sign on. Constantly taking people off list. Big complaints from many people. Different names-over 100 M…..

…..But should be much higher than that if Twitter wasn’t playing their political games. No wonder Congress wants to get involved – and they should. Must be more, and fairer, companies to get out the WORD!

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