Streaming Took Over Hollywood. Will It Take Best Picture, Too?

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.

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Russia, Blocked From the Global Internet, Plunges Into Digital Isolation

“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.

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.

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Anonymity No More? Age Checks Come to the Web.

Richard Errington clicked to stream a science-fiction film from his home in Britain last month when YouTube carded him.

The site said Mr. Errington, who is over 50, needed to prove he was old enough to watch “Space Is the Place,” a 1974 movie starring the jazz musician Sun Ra. He had three options: Enter his credit card information, upload a photo identification like a passport or skip the video.

“I decided that it wasn’t worth the stress,” he said.

In response to mounting pressure from activists, parents and regulators who believe tech companies haven’t done enough to protect children online, businesses and governments around the globe are placing major parts of the internet behind stricter digital age checks.

People in Japan must provide a document proving their age to use the dating app Tinder. The popular game Roblox requires players to upload a form of government identification — and a selfie to prove the ID belongs to them — if they want access to a voice chat feature. Laws in Germany and France require pornography websites to check visitors’ ages.

called for new rules to protect young people after a former Facebook employee said the company knew its products harmed some teenagers. They repeated those calls on Tuesday in a hearing with executives from YouTube, TikTok and the parent company of Snapchat.

Critics of the age checks say that in the name of keeping people safe, they could endanger user privacy, dampen free expression and hurt communities that benefit from anonymity online. Authoritarian governments have used protecting children as an argument for limiting online speech: China barred websites this summer from ranking celebrities by popularity as part of a larger crackdown on what it says are the pernicious effects of celebrity culture on young people.

“Are we going to start seeing more age verification? Of course,” said Hany Farid, a professor of engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, who has called for more child safety measures. “Because there is more pressure, there’s more awareness now, on how these technologies are harming kids.”

But, Mr. Farid said, regulators and companies need to proceed with caution. “We don’t want the solution to be more harmful than the problem,” he said.

say some websites need to take additional steps to verify their users’ ages when the services collect sensitive user data.

An update to the European Union’s rules for video and audio services requires sites to protect minors, which may include checking users’ ages. In response to the change, Google said last year that it would ask some users of YouTube, which it owns, for their identification documents or credit card details before they could watch adults-only videos. A spokeswoman for Google pointed to an August blog post where the company said it was “looking at ways to develop consistent product experiences and user controls for kids and teens globally” as regulators applied new rules in different countries.

in a July blog post that it was developing programs to look for signs that users were lying about their age, like spotting when someone who claims to be 21 gets messages about her quinceañera. But when “we do feel we need more information, we’re developing a menu of options for someone to prove their age,” Pavni Diwanji, the company’s vice president of youth products, said in the post. Facebook later said one of the options would involve providing identification documents.

Many of the new age verification efforts require users to submit government-issued identification or credit cards information. But other companies are using, or considering, other options, like software that scans a user’s face to approximate the person’s age.

Critics of the checks worry that the requirement will force users to give sensitive information to websites with limited resources to prevent hacks. Outside companies that offer age checks would be vulnerable, too.

Roblox, the game company, showed prototypes to 10 teenage players, said Chris Aston Chen, a senior product manager at the company.

One possible method required players to get on a video call, while another checked government databases. Mr. Chen said the players gravitated toward using government IDs, an option they trusted and thought was convenient. (Roblox’s chief product officer is a board member of The New York Times Company.)

The technology will also make it easier for Roblox to keep out players it has barred because of inappropriate conduct in the voice chat feature. If those players log back in using a new account but try to verify their age using the same government document, they’ll be locked out.

one user said. The user noted that he had first bought the track on cassette “when I was about 12, almost 30 years ago.”

“This is a rule applied to video sharing platforms in certain countries,” YouTube’s customer support account responded.

Mr. Errington in Britain said YouTube had asked him for a credit card when he tried to watch “Space Is the Place.” He doesn’t have one. And he said he felt uncomfortable uploading a photo ID.

“I wasn’t prepared to give out this information,” he said. “So the Sun Ra video remains a mystery.”

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Without Box Office or Streaming Numbers, Hollywood Finds It Tough to Plan

“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.

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James Bond, Meet Jeff Bezos: Amazon Makes $8.45 Billion Deal for MGM

“The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of I.P. in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team,” Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, said in a statement.

Amazon’s appetite for movies became ravenous during the pandemic. It paid $125 million for the rights to “Coming 2 America,” $80 million for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” and $200 million for “The Tomorrow War,” a Chris Pratt adventure that will arrive on Prime on July 2. Amazon also has Oscar ambitions, buying the rights to “Sound of Metal,” which was nominated for best picture and other top awards at this year’s ceremony.

When it comes to making its own hit films, Amazon has long struggled. MGM managers could help: Michael De Luca, MGM’s movie chairman, has a track record that includes, at various companies, the “Rush Hour,” “Austin Powers” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchises.

MGM also has a 17,000-episode television library and a TV studio that makes “Vikings,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Fargo” and various “Real Housewives” shows. In 2014, MGM acquired Mark Burnett’s production company, One Three Media, which holds rights to competition series like “The Voice.” Mr. Burnett, a contentious figure in Hollywood because he helped shape Donald J. Trump’s image with “The Apprentice” and remained close to him during his divisive presidential term, serves as MGM’s television chairman.

Anchorage Capital, a New York investment firm, has been the majority owner of MGM for more than a decade. Before that, MGM was tossed between owners and, bitten by falling DVD revenue, eventually ending up in bankruptcy. It was worth about $2 billion in 2010, according to analysts.

Kevin Ulrich, Anchorage’s chief executive and MGM’s chairman, formally put the studio on the block late last year. Anchorage has been under pressure from various stakeholders to exit the investment, with some agitators complaining that Mr. Ulrich was overly enamored with Hollywood and should have sold years ago.

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‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ to Leave YouTube After NFT Sale

The original 2007 video “Charlie Bit My Finger,” a standard-bearer of viral internet fascination, has sold as a nonfungible token for $760,999, and the family who created it will take down the original from YouTube for good.

The original video, which has close to 900 million views, features Charlie Davies-Carr, an infant in England, biting the finger of his big brother, Harry Davies-Carr, and then laughing after Harry yells “OWWWW.”

The owner will also be able to create their own parody of the video featuring Charlie and Harry Davies-Carr.

Many duplicates of the video remain online, including one apparently rebranded by the family itself in anticipation of the auction. But the auction allowed bidders to “own the soon-to-be-deleted YouTube phenomenon” and be the “sole owner of this lovable piece of internet history.”

Disaster Girl,” a meme from a photo of Zoë Roth in 2005 looking at a house on fire in her neighborhood, sold last month in an NFT auction for $500,000. Nyan Cat, an animated flying cat with a Pop-Tart torso that leaves a rainbow trail, sold for roughly $580,000 in February. Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sold as an NFT for more than $2.9 million; a clip of LeBron James blocking a shot in a Lakers basketball game went for $100,000 in January; and an artist sold an NFT of a collage of digital images for $69.3 million, among other headline-grabbing auctions.

During an NFT sale, computers are connected to a cryptocurrency network. They record the transaction on a shared ledger and store it on a blockchain, sealing it as part of a permanent public record and serving as a sort of certification of authenticity that cannot be altered or erased.

There were 11 active bidders in the battle for the NFT that was driven mainly between two bidders named 3fmusic and mememaster. When the bidding ended Sunday, mememaster was outbid by 3fmusic by $45,444. A person with the same name also bought the “Disaster Girl” meme NTF.

years after it was first posted. It was written into a Gerber spot and a “30 Rock” episode and was the subject of countless parody videos. But it’s still well known for setting off a genre of contagiously shareable videos.

Howard Davies-Carr, the father of Charlie and Harry, told The New York Times in 2012 that even though he didn’t think of his sons as celebrities, they had nonetheless become a brand. The family was recognized in random places, like on the subway in London.

In an interview with the brothers in 2017 on The Morning, a British talk show, Howard Davies-Carr said he was filming the brothers growing up “just doing normal things” and that Charlie bit his brother’s finger while watching T.V. after a busy day in the garden.

“The video was funny, so I wanted to share it with the boys’ godfather,” Howard Davies-Carr said, adding that their godfather lived in America and that the video was initially private, but people, including his parents, had asked to see it since it was difficult to share, so he made the video public.

A few months later, when the video had at least 10,000 views, Howard Davies-Carr said he almost deleted it. Profits from the video and other opportunities allowed the family to send Charlie, Harry and their two other brothers to private school, said Shelley Davies-Carr, the boys’ mother.

The video with humble beginnings, which Charlie and Harry decided to sell, helped Shelley Davies-Carr stop working full-time when her fourth child was born.

“I was just watching TV and just decided to bite him,” Charlie Davies-Carr said in the interview. “He put his finger in my mouth, so I just bit.” Harry Davies-Carr couldn’t remember the pain from that bite.

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Max Mosley, Motor Racing Chief and Embattled Privacy Advocate, Dies at 81

Max Mosley, the former president of the International Automobile Federation, who forged a career that helped him emerge from the shadow of his notoriously fascist British parents but who became ensnared in legal battles later in life over a secretly recorded sex video, died on Monday. He was 81.

His death was confirmed by his family, who said in a statement that he had died after a “long battle with cancer.”

Mr. Mosley was president of the F.I.A. from 1993 to 2009. During his tenure, he advocated safety reforms in a sport that was often plagued by safety issues.

Shortly after he became president of the F.I.A., the deaths of two drivers during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix provided urgency to that effort, and in 1996, he led a successful campaign to strengthen crash test standards in the European Union.

told The New York Times in 2015, “I did try to make a life of my own without basing a lot of my interests on my parents.”

As a child, Mr. Mosley was surrounded by wealth and notable figures, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. But he grew close with Bernie Ecclestone, the son of a fisherman who would become chief executive of the Formula One Group, as the two endeavored to bolster the sport of motor racing.

“We came from different sorts of upbringings, but we just got on well together,” Mr. Ecclestone said in an interview on Monday. He noted Mr. Mosley’s advocacy in vehicle safety, adding that “he wanted to make sure the public at large had cars that were built properly, were not dangerous, were not fragile.”

But Mr. Mosley’s legacy as a reformer in the world of motor racing was overshadowed in 2008 when a now-defunct British tabloid, The News of the World, posted a video online of Mr. Mosley involved in what it described as “a depraved Nazi sadomasochistic orgy.”

The video, which was later removed from the internet, showed him counting in German and yelling in German-accented English. He acknowledged participating in the session, but denied that the role-playing was Nazi-themed.

order Google to remove photos and videos of the episode that had continued to circulate on the internet from its search results.

Mr. Ecclestone said he regretted not supporting Mr. Mosley when he “had his bloody problems,” referring to the scandal.

“Max was a very genuine, straightforward guy,” Mr. Ecclestone said. “He was very firm in that way.”

Ian Parkes contributed reporting.

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