While being honored at the Banff Film Festival in Canada in early June, Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s head of global television, surprised some with what she didn’t say. Despite the recent turmoil at the streaming giant — including a loss of subscribers, hundreds of job cuts and a precipitous stock drop — she said Netflix was charging ahead, with no significant plans to change its programming efforts.
“For me, looking at it, the business works,” Ms. Bajaria said from the stage. “We are not doing some radical shift in our business. We’re not merging. We’re not having a big transitional phase.”
Two weeks later, after Netflix had laid off another 300 people, Reed Hastings, the company’s co-chief executive, doubled down on Ms. Bajaria’s message, reassuring the remaining employees that the future would, in fact, be bright and that in the next 18 months the company would hire 1,500 people.
“Spiderhead” and the series “God’s Favorite Idiot” have been critically derided.) A producer who works with Netflix said the word “quality” was being bandied about much more often in development meetings.
Emily Feingold, a Netflix spokeswoman, disputed the idea that focusing on a show’s quality was somehow a change in strategy, referring to such disparate content as “Squid Game,” the reality television show “Too Hot to Handle,” and movies like “Red Notice” and “The Adam Project.”
“Consumers have very different, diverse tastes,” Ms. Feingold said. “It’s why we invest in such a broad range of stories, always aspiring to make the best version of that title irrespective of the genre. Variety and quality are key to our ongoing success.”
The producer Todd Black said that the process for getting a project into development at Netflix had slowed down but that otherwise it was business as usual.
“They are looking at everything, which I get,” said Mr. Black, who last worked with Netflix when he produced “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 2020. “They are trying to course correct. We have to be patient and let them do that. But they are open for business. They are buying things.”
Indeed, the company still intends to spend some $17 billion on content this year. It paid $50 million last month for a thriller starring Emily Blunt and directed by David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”). And it plans to make “The Electric State,” a $200 million film directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (“Avengers: Endgame” and “The Gray Man”) and starring Millie Bobby Brown and Chris Pratt, after Universal Pictures balked at the price tag. The company also just announced a development deal for a television adaptation of “East of Eden” starring Florence Pugh.
On Tuesday, Whip Media, a research firm, said Netflix had fallen from second to fourth place in the firm’s annual streaming customer satisfaction survey, behind HBO Max, Disney+ and Hulu.
The most significant change coming for Netflix is its advertising tier, which, as it has told employees, it wants to roll out by the end of the year. Netflix’s foray into advertising stoked excitement among media buyers at the industry’s annual conference in Cannes last week.
“It was pretty intense,” said Dave Morgan, who is the chief executive of Simulmedia, a company that works with advertisers, and who attended the conference. “It was one of the top two or three issues everyone was talking about.”
Mr. Hastings said Netflix would work with an outside company to help get its nascent advertising business underway. The Wall Street Journal reported that Google and Comcast were the front-runners to be that partner. Still, advertising executives believe that building out the business at Netflix could take time, and that the company might be able to introduce the new tier only in a handful of international markets by the end of the year.
It could take even longer for advertising to become a significant revenue stream for the company.
“You have a lot of media companies duking it out, and it’ll take quite a while to compete with those companies,” Mr. Morgan said. “I could imagine it will take three or four years to even be a top 10 video ad company.”
In an analyst report this month, Wells Fargo threw cold water on the notion that subscriber growth for an ad-supported tier would be quick. Wells Fargo analysts cautioned that the ad model would offer “modest” financial gains in the next two years because of a natural cannibalization from the higher-paying subscriber base. They predicted that by the end of 2025 nearly a third of the subscriber base would pay for the cheaper ad-supported model, roughly 100 million users.
Bank of America went further last week. “Ad-tiering could serve as a way for consumers across all income brackets to extend their streaming budget by trading down to subscribe to an additional service, benefiting Netflix’s competitors much more than Netflix itself,” it said in an analyst letter.
Netflix has also reached out to the studios that it buys TV shows and movies from in recent weeks, seeking permission to show advertising on licensed content. In negotiations with Paramount Global, Netflix has mentioned paying money on top of its existing licensing fee rather than cutting the company in on revenue from future ad sales, said a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss active talks.
This mirrors the approach Netflix took with studios when it introduced its “download for you” feature, which allowed users to save movies and TV shows to their devices to watch offline. When Netflix added that feature, executives at the streaming service agreed to pay studios a fee in addition to their licensing agreement.
In the end, though, Netflix’s success will most likely come down to how well it spends its $17 billion content budget.
“Netflix, dollar for dollar, needs to do better, and that falls on Ted Sarandos and his whole team,” Mr. Greenfield said, referring to the company’s co-chief executive. “They haven’t done a good enough job. Yet, they are still, by far, the leader.”
Broadly speaking, earnings reports have shown that profit growth continues, and results from some big firms, like Microsoft and Facebook’s parent, Meta Platforms, did briefly ease the panic on Wall Street. About 80 percent of companies in the S&P 500 to report results through Thursday did better than analysts had expected, data from FactSet shows.
But other companies have only added to the downdraft. Netflix plunged after it said last week that it expected to lose subscribers — 200,000 in the first three months of the year, and an additional two million in the current quarter. The stock dropped more than 49 percent for the month.
On Friday, Amazon slid 14.1 percent after it reported its first quarterly loss since 2015, citing rising fuel and labor costs and warning that sales would slow. Its shares fell 23.8 percent in April.
General Electric warned on Tuesday that the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would weigh on its results. Its shares fell 10 percent that day and about 18.5 percent for the month.
The war, which began in February, brought a new risk to the fragile global supply chain: Western countries’ sanctions on Russia, including a ban on oil imports from the country by the United States, and European promises to limit purchases of Russian oil and gas.
Now, executives are also assessing how the Covid-19 lockdowns in China, which has the world’s second-largest economy, could affect profit margins. Multiple Chinese cities are on lockdown, and although factories remain open, the country’s draconian “zero Covid” policy has led to interruptions in shipments and delays in delivery times.
Texas Instruments Inc. and the machinery maker Caterpillar cautioned investors this week that the lockdowns in China were affecting the company’s manufacturing operations. On Thursday, Apple also warned that the outbreak there would hamper demand and production of iPhones and other products. The company’s shares fell 3.7 percent on Friday, and ended April with a loss of 9.7 percent.
The outlook for the economy, the effects of the Ukraine invasion, the lockdowns in China and exactly how fast the Fed will raise interest rates are still not clear. Markets are likely to stay volatile until they are.
“There are definitely a lot of open-ended and unquantified risks looming,” said Victoria Greene, the chief investment officer at G Squared Private Wealth, an advisory firm. “The U.S. economy lives and dies for the consumer, and as soon as this consumer starts to slow down, I think that will hit the economy hard.”
Many entertainment executives, tired of playing catch-up to a Silicon Valley interloper, have been waiting for the comeuppance of Netflix. But this may not have been the way they hoped it would happen.
Netflix said this week that it lost more subscribers than it signed up in the first three months of the year, reversing a decade of steady growth. The company’s shares nose-dived 35 percent on Wednesday while it shed about $50 billion in market capitalization. The pain was shared across the industry as the stock of companies like Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount also declined.
Netflix blamed a number of issues, ranging from increased competition to its decision to drop all its subscribers in Russia because of the war in Ukraine. To entertainment executives and analysts, the moment felt decisive in the so-called streaming wars. After years of trying, they may see a chance to gain ground on their giant rival.
But Netflix’s stunning reversal also raised a number of questions that will have to be answered in the coming months as more traditional media companies race toward subscription businesses largely modeled after what Netflix created. Is there such a thing as too many streaming options? How many people are really willing to pay for them? And could this business be less profitable and far less reliable than what the industry has been doing for years?
advertising-supported tier in the next year or two. Netflix also said it would crack down on password sharing, a practice that in the past it said it had no problem with.
“We’ve been thinking about that for a couple of years, but when we were growing fast it wasn’t a high priority to work on,” Mr. Hastings said. “And now, we’re working superhard on it.”
Netflix has no advertising sales experience, while rivals like Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount have vast advertising infrastructure. And the password crackdown led some analysts to wonder whether Netflix has already reached market saturation in the United States.
Mr. Hastings tried to reassure everyone that Netflix had been through tough times before and that it would solve its problems. He said the company was now “superfocused” on “getting back into our investors’ good graces.”
The pandemic accelerated the disruption. Traditional studios like Paramount, Universal, Sony, Warner Bros. and Disney rerouted dozens of theatrical films to streaming services or released them simultaneously in theaters and online. For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, citing the coronavirus threat, allowed films to skip a theatrical release entirely and still be eligible for Oscars. The academy had previously required at least a perfunctory theatrical release of at least a week in Los Angeles.
This is about more than Hollywood egotism. The worry is that, as streaming services proliferate — more than 300 now operate in the United States, according to the consulting firm Parks Associates — theaters could become exclusively the land of superheroes, sequels and remakes. The venerable Warner Bros. has slashed annual theatrical output by almost half and built a direct-to-streaming film assembly line. Last week, Amazon boosted its Prime Video service by acquiring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the old-line studio behind “Licorice Pizza,” which is nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture.
In a year when Hollywood largely failed to jump-start theatrical moviegoing, streaming services solidified their hold on viewers. Global ticket sales totaled $21.3 billion in 2021, down from $42.3 billion in 2019, according to the Motion Picture Association. (Theaters were closed for much of 2020.) Some theater companies have gone out of business, others have merged; the world’s biggest theater chain, AMC Entertainment, racked up $6 billion in losses over the past two years and its stock has dropped 66 percent since June. At the same time, the number of subscriptions to online video services around the world grew to 1.3 billion, up from 864 million in 2019, the group said.
One film that struggled at the box office was Mr. Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” which received an exclusive run in theaters (per his wishes) of about three months. It collected about $75 million worldwide (against a production budget of $100 million and global marketing costs of roughly $50 million). “West Side Story” is now available on not one but two streaming services, Disney+ and HBO Max, where it has almost assuredly been viewed more widely than in theaters. But the film was never able to recover — among Oscar voters — from being branded a box office misfire. It received seven nominations, and is poised to win in one category, for Ariana DeBose as best supporting actress.
Mr. Spielberg’s also-ran presence in the current Oscar race makes the ascendance of streaming contenders all the more striking: a lion in the fight to keep the Academy Awards focused on theatrical films is pushed aside.
However unlikely, it is possible that “West Side Story” could come from behind and win the best picture trophy. So could Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” for that matter. Such an outcome would be a bit like 2019, when academy voters, turned off by an over-the-top campaign by Netflix to push “Roma” to best picture glory, instead gave the prize to “Green Book,” a traditional film from Universal Pictures.
“For the moment I do plan to work in Russia,” he said. “How this may change in the future, especially if YouTube will be blocked, I don’t know.”
Unlike China, where domestic internet companies have grown into behemoths over more than a decade, Russia does not have a similarly vibrant domestic internet or tech industry.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to Know
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Protests in Russia. Amid antiwar rallies across Russia, the police said more than 3,000 people were arrested Sunday, the highest nationwide total in any single day of protest in recent memory. An activist group that tracks arrests reported detentions in 49 different Russian cities.
So as it is cordoned off into its own digital ecosystem, the fallout may be severe. In addition to access to independent information, the future reliability of internet and telecommunications networks, as well as the availability of basic software and services used by businesses and government, is at risk.
Already, Russian telecom companies that operate mobile phone networks no longer have access to new equipment and services from companies like Nokia, Ericsson and Cisco. Efforts by Russian companies to develop new microprocessors were in doubt after Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the largest maker of essential semiconductors, halted shipments to the country. Yandex, Russia’s largest internet company, with a search engine more widely used than Google in Russia, warned it might default on its debts because of the crisis.
“The whole IT, hardware and software market that Russia relies on is gravely damaged right now,” said Aliaksandr Herasmenka, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s program on democracy and technology. The Russian authorities could respond by loosening rules that have made it illegal to download pirated software, he said.
The Ukrainian government has also pressured internet service providers to sever access in Russia. Officials from Ukraine have asked ICANN, the nonprofit group that oversees internet domains, to suspend the Russian internet domain “.ru.” The nonprofit has resisted these requests.
Denis Lyashkov, a self-taught web developer with more than 15 years of experience, said Russia’s censorship campaign was “devastating” for those who had grown up with a less restricted internet.
Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, speaks at the Wall Street Journal Digital Conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
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BOSTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Billionaire investor William Ackman has built a new stake in streaming service Netflix Inc worth more than $1 billion since its stock price tumbled starting last Thursday.
Ackman told investors that his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, started buying on Friday and now owns more than 3.1 million shares in Netflix, making Pershing Square a top 20 shareholder.
In a letter to his clients, Ackman praised the company’s “best-in-class management team” and on Twitter the manager said he has long admired Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and the “remarkable company he and his team have built.”
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Netflix shares climbed as much as 5% in after-hours trading. They had tumbled more than 30% in the last five days, a much steeper swoom than the broader market. After the market closed last Thursday, Netflix forecast weak subscriber growth. read more
Ackman, whose firm invests $22.5 billion,wrote that he had been analyzing Netflix at the same time he was investing in Universal Music Group and was ready to buy when Netflix’ “stock price declined sharply last Friday.”
“Now with both UMG and Netflix, we are all-in on streaming as we love the business models, the industry contexts, and the management teams leading these remarkable organizations.”
To raise the cash to make the Netflix purchase, Ackman said the firm unwound a big piece of its interest rate hedge which generated profits of $1.25 billion.
He said that if he had not sold the hedge, his performance would have been better. His Pershing Square Holdings lost 13.8% in the first three weeks January, the worst start to a year for the manager in years.
Last year Ackman posted a gain of 26.9% after the fund surged 70.2% in 2020.
Ackman said Netflix benefits from highly recurring revenues, adding the company has pricing power and delivers industry-leading content.
Pershing Square traditionally holds only a small number of investments which currently include Lowe’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Dominos Pizza Inc.
He said these companies are high quality businesses that can withstand inflationary pressures because they are able price their products to preserve profits.
Netflix’ stock price surged during the pandemic as live performances were shut down and movie theaters were largely off limits.
The company has been a favorite with prominent investors before. Roughly a decade ago Carl Icahn, an activist investor like Ackman, took a 10% position in Netflix and thought the company might need to sell itself to a technology company as its shares were undervalued. Ackman, who has pushed other companies to perform better, appears to be approaching this investment as a friendly investor. “We are delighted that the market has presented us with this opportunity,” he wrote on Twitter.
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Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Leslie Adler, Mark Porter and David Gregorio
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The floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen after the close of trading in New York, U.S., March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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NEW YORK, Nov 26 (Reuters) – COVID-19 has resurfaced as a worry for investors and a potential driver of big market moves after a new variant triggered alarm, long after the threat had receded in Wall Street’s eyes.
Worries about a new strain of the virus, named Omicron and classified by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern, slammed markets worldwide and dealt the S&P 500 index its biggest one-day percentage loss in nine months. The moves came a day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday when thin volume likely exacerbated the moves.
With little known about the new variant, longer term implications for U.S. assets were unclear. At least, investors said signs that the new strain is spreading and questions over its resistance to vaccines could weigh on the so-called reopening trade that has lifted markets at various times this year.
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The new strain may also complicate the outlook for how aggressively the Federal Reserve normalizes monetary policy to fight inflation.
“Markets were celebrating the end of the pandemic. Slam. It isn’t over,” said David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors. “All policy issues, meaning monetary policy, business trajectories, GDP growth estimates, leisure and hospitality recovery, the list goes on, are on hold.”
The S&P 500 fell by a third as pandemic fears mushroomed in early 2020, but has more than doubled in value since then, though the pandemic’s ebb and flow has driven sometimes-violent rotations in the types of stocks investors favor. The index is up more than 22% this year.
Before Friday, broader vaccine availability and advances in treatments made markets potentially less sensitive to COVID-19. The virus had dropped to a distant fifth in a list of so-called “tail risks” to the market in a recent survey of fund managers by BofA Global Research, with inflation and central bank hikes taking the top spots.
On Friday, however, technology and growth stocks that had prospered during last year’s so-called stay-at-home trade soared, including Zoom Communications (ZM.O), Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and Peloton (PTON.O).
At the same time, stocks that had rallied this year on bets of economic reopening may suffer if virus fears grow. Energy, financials and other economically sensitive stocks tumbled on Friday, as did those of many travel-related companies such as airlines and hotels.
The new Omicron coronavirus variant spread further around the world on Sunday, with 13 cases found in the Netherlands and two each in Denmark and Australia, even as more countries tried to seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions.
First discovered in South Africa, the new variant has now also been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. read more
Friday’s swings also sent the Cboe Volatility Index (.VIX), known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, soaring and options investors scrambling to hedge their portfolios against further market swings. read more
Andrew Thrasher, portfolio manager for The Financial Enhancement Group, had been concerned that recent gains in a handful of technology stocks with large weightings in the S&P 500, including Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), were masking weakness in the broader market.
“This set the kindling for sellers to push markets lower and the latest COVID news appears to have stoked that bearish flame,” he said.
Some investors said the latest COVID-19 related weakness could be a chance to buy stocks at comparatively lower levels, expecting the market to continue rapidly recovering from dips, a pattern that has marked its march to record highs this year.
“We’ve had numerous days when economic optimism collapses. Each of these optimism collapses were a good buying opportunity,” wrote Bill Smead, founder of Smead Capital Management, in a note to investors. Among the stocks he recommended were Occidental Petroleum (OXY.N) and Macerich Co (MAC.N), down 7.2% and 5.2% respectively on Friday.
One of several wild cards is whether virus-driven economic uncertainty will slow the Federal Reserve’s plans to normalize monetary policy, just as it has started unwinding its $120 billion a month bond buying program.
Futures on the U.S. federal funds rate, which track short-term interest rate expectations, on Friday showed investors rolling back their view of a sooner-than-expected rate increase.
Investors will be watching Fed Chair Jerome Powell and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s appearance before Congress to discuss the government’s COVID response on Nov. 30 as well as U.S. employment numbers, due out next Friday.
Investors held out hope that markets could stabilize. Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital Management, said moves may have been exaggerated by lack of liquidity on Friday, with many participants out for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“My first reaction is anything we are going to see today is overdone,” Ablin said.
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Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak, Megan Davies and Lewis Krauskopf; Writing by Ira Iosebashvili; Editing by Megan Davies, Richard Chang and Alexander Smith
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“The Suicide Squad” should have been a big hit for Warner Bros. last month. It had superheroes, a marquee director (James Gunn), a huge production budget ($185 million) and received terrific reviews. But instead of delivering a box office ka-pow, it went ker-thud: Ticket sales total $156 million (split roughly 50-50 with theaters), compared with $747 million for the first “Suicide Squad” in 2016.
Of course, the latest one had to battle a pandemic. And it was also made available free on HBO Max in lock step with its theatrical debut. On that platform, it was a relative success — at least according to HBO Max, which heralded “The Suicide Squad” as the service’s second-most-viewed movie debut of the year.
But it offered no numbers.
“Paw Patrol: The Movie” (Paramount) was released simultaneously in theaters and on Paramount+ late last month. It took in $13 million over its first weekend, enough for second place behind “Free Guy,” a holdover. But the actual demand for “Paw Patrol” was shrouded. Regal Cinemas, the second-largest multiplex chain in the United States behind AMC Entertainment, refused to play the animated adventure because of its streaming availability. Paramount+ said on Aug. 25 that the movie “ranked as one of the service’s most-watched originals.”
But it offered no numbers.
In contrast, Disney-Marvel released “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” exclusively in theaters on Friday. Disney’s chief executive had called the old-fashioned release an “experiment.” Would the coronavirus keep people at home?
In surveys in late August of American moviegoers by the National Research Group, a film industry consultant, about 67 percent of respondents said they felt comfortable (“very or somewhat”) sitting in a theater. Disney has cited coronavirus concerns for making films like “Jungle Cruise,” “Cruella” and “Black Widow” available in homes on Disney+ at the same time as in theaters (even though Hollywood has suspected that the real reason — or at least an equally important one — has been helping Disney+).
The crystal-clear result: Audiences flocked to “Shang-Chi,” which was on pace to collect $83.5 million from 4,300 theaters in the United States and Canada from Friday through Monday, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. Overseas, the well-reviewed movie, notable for being Marvel’s first Asian-led superhero spectacle, generated an additional $56.2 million. “Shang-Chi” cost roughly $200 million to make.
LOS ANGELES — For 28 years, ever since “Super Mario Bros.” arrived in cinemas with the tagline “This Ain’t No Game,” Hollywood has been trying and mostly failing — epically, famously — to turn hit video games into hit movies. For every “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), which turned Angelina Jolie into an A-list action star, there has been a nonsensical “Max Payne” (2008), an abominable “Prince of Persia” (2010) and a wince-inducing “Warcraft” (2016).
If video games are the comic books of our time, why can’t Hollywood figure out how to mine them accordingly?
It may finally be happening, powered in part by the proliferation of streaming services and their need for intellectual property to exploit. “The need for established, globally appealing I.P. has naturally led to gaming,” Matthew Ball, a venture investor and the former head of strategy for Amazon Studios, wrote last year in an essay titled “7 Reasons Why Gaming I.P. Is Finally Taking Off in Film/TV.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment and its PlayStation-powered sibling, Sony Interactive, are finally working together to turn PlayStation games into mass-appeal movies and television shows. There are 10 game adaptations in the Sony Pictures pipeline, a big leap from practically none in 2018. They include “Uncharted,” a $120 million adventure based on a 14-year-old PlayStation property (more than 40 million copies sold). “Uncharted” stars Tom Holland, the reigning Spider-Man, as Nathan Drake, the treasure hunter at the center of the game franchise. It is scheduled for release in theaters on Feb. 18.
post-apocalyptic game of the same title. Pedro Pascal, “The Mandalorian” himself, is the star, and Craig Mazin, who created the Emmy-winning mini-series “Chernobyl,” is the showrunner. Executive producers include Carolyn Strauss, one of the forces behind “Game of Thrones,” and Neil Druckmann, who led the creation of the Last of Us game.
Sony games like Twisted Metal and Ghost of Tsushima are also getting the TV and film treatment. (Contrary to speculation, one that is not, at least not anytime soon, according to a Sony spokesman: God of War.)
In the past, Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive operated as fiefs, with creative control — it’s mine; no, it’s mine — impeding adaptation efforts. When he took over as Sony’s chief executive in 2018, Kenichiro Yoshida demanded cooperation. The ultimate goal is to make better use of Sony’s online PlayStation Network to bring Sony movies, shows and music directly to consumers. PlayStation Network, introduced in 2006, has more than 114 million monthly active users.
“I have witnessed a radical shift in the nature of cooperation between different parts of the company,” said Sanford Panitch, Sony’s movie president.
Halo,” a series based on the Xbox franchise about a war between humans and an alliance of aliens (more than 80 million copies sold), will arrive on the Paramount+ streaming service early next year; Steven Spielberg is an executive producer. Lionsgate is adapting the Borderlands games (roughly 60 million sold) into a science fiction film starring Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Buoyed by its success with “The Witcher,” a fantasy series adapted from games and novels, Netflix has shows based on the “Assassin’s Creed,” “Resident Evil,” “Splinter Cell” and “Cuphead” games on the way. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the duo behind HBO’s “Westworld,” are developing a science-fiction show for Amazon that is based on the Fallout video game franchise.
And Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment, the Universal Pictures studio responsible for the “Despicable Me” franchise, have an animated Mario movie headed to theaters next year — another new collaboration between a game publisher and a film company.
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Still, Hollywood’s game adaptation track record is terrible. Why should the coming projects be any different?
For a start, the games themselves have evolved, becoming more intricate and cinematic. “Games have stories that are so much more developed and advanced than they used to be,” Mr. Panitch said.
first major game adaptation in three decades to receive a “fresh” designation on Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site. Since then, two more adaptations, “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount) and “The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Sony) have been critical and commercial successes.
“Quality has definitely been improving,” said Geoff Keighley, creator of the Game Awards, an Oscars-like ceremony for the industry.
The most recent game-to-film entry, “Mortal Kombat” (Warner Bros.), received mixed reviews but has taken in $41.2 million in the United States since its release last month, a surprisingly large total considering it was released simultaneously on HBO Max and theaters were still operating with strict coronavirus safety protocols.
Mr. Panitch acknowledged that “video game movies have a checkered history.” But he added, “Failure is the mother of invention.”
Game adaptations, for instance, have often faltered by trying to rigidly replicate the action and story lines that fans know and love. That approach invites comparison, and movies (even with sophisticated visual effects) almost always fail to measure up. At the same time, such “fan service” turns off nongamers, resulting in films that don’t connect with any particular audience.
“It’s not just about adapting the story,” said Michael Jonathan Smith, who is leading Sony’s effort to turn Twisted Metal, a 1995 vehicular combat game, into a television series. “It’s about adapting how you feel when you play the game. It has to be about characters you care about. And then you can slide in the Easter eggs and story points that get fans absolutely pumped.”
“Uncharted” is a prequel that, for the first time, creates origin stories for the characters in the game. With any luck, such storytelling will satisfy fans by giving them something new — while also inviting nongamers, who may otherwise worry about not knowing what is going on, to buy tickets. (The producers of “Uncharted” include Charles Roven, who is known for the “Dark Knight” trilogy.)
“It’s a question of balance,” said Asad Qizilbash, a senior Sony Interactive executive who also runs PlayStation Productions, an entity started in 2019 and based on Sony’s movie lot in Culver City, Calif.
Unlike in the past, when Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive pledged to work together and ultimately did not, the current collaboration “has weight because there is a win for everyone,” Mr. Qizilbash added. “We have three objectives. Grow audience size for games. Bring product to Sony Pictures. Showcase collaboration.”
The stakes are high. A cinematic flop could hurt the game franchise.
“It’s risky,” Mr. Qizilbash allowed. “But I think we can do it.”
AT&T is painting a rosy picture for the future of its media business, which it will spin off and merge with Discovery. That new streaming giant is a formidable stand-alone competitor to Netflix and Disney. The move leaves AT&T to focus on its telecom business, which looks less bright after being overshadowed by its expensive — and ultimately futile — deal-making binge in media and entertainment under its previous chief, Randall Stephenson.
The DealBook newsletter explains how AT&T got here, in three key deals:
A $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile. After regulatory pushback, in 2011 AT&T walked away from an effort to become the country’s largest wireless company. T-Mobile paired up instead with Sprint, and the two went on to buy huge amounts of spectrum in the high-stakes battle for 5G, leaving AT&T behind as it lobbies regulators to step in. The failed deal hit AT&T with a $3 billion dollar breakup fee, at the time the largest ever.
The $67 billion acquisition of DirectTV. In 2015, AT&T bet on cable TV as a way to amass customers whom it could eventually convert to streaming. But DirectTV bled subscribers as customers cut the cord, and AT&T unloaded a stake in the company last year to TPG that valued DirectTV at about a third of its acquisition price. The deal also cost AT&T about $50 million in advisory fees, according to Refinitiv.
The $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. In 2018, Stephenson called the deal a “perfect match,” but the combined group struggled to invest in its telecom business while also spending enough to compete with the entertainment specialists at Netflix and Disney. Three years later, AT&T is now spinning off the company so it can (re)focus on its quest for 5G market share. AT&T paid $94 million in advisory fees to put the two companies together and an estimated $61 million to split them apart.
buy another independent studio, MGM.
In a sign of the pressure that players face to spend big to bulk up, shares in Comcast, the telecom company that owns NBCUniversal, fell 5.5 percent on Monday.