Hello and welcome to International Insider, I’m Jake Kanter. In the week in which the White House changed hands, here’s what you need to know from the world of global film and television. Want to get in touch? I’m on email@example.com, or my DMs are open on Twitter. And sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Netflix By Numbers
It was a good week for Netflix, which saw its share price surge to a record high of $593.29 (putting its market cap at $256 billion) on Wednesday following the publication of a very healthy set of fourth-quarter earnings. The streaming giant beat forecasts for subscriber growth and total revenue, adding 8.5 million subscribers to reach a global total of 203.7M. Revenue topped out at $6.6B. In a significant milestone, Netlflix also said it expects to be cash-flow positive from 2021 onward, which in simple terms means it will be less reliant on the debt market to finance its day-to-day operations. Dade Hayes had the details.
But but but: The headline growth in subs masked something International Insider spotted in the detail of Netflix’s shareholder letter. Netflix’s subscriber growth actually slowed in EMEA, despite skyrocketing streaming during lockdown and record levels of investment in the UK, where it spent $1B on shows including The Crown and The Witcher. Europe, Middle East and Africa subs rose 29% to 66.7M in 2020, which was a contraction on the growth rate of 37% the year before, when Netflix first started breaking out territory-specific data. By contrast, the U.S., Canada, and Asia-Pacific all grew at a faster rate than in 2019. It begs the question: Have we hit peak Netflix in some international territories?
Ratings revealed: Netflix continues to give us sporadic insights into how its top shows are performing. We were told this week that French original Lupin is on course to be watched by 70M households in 28 days, making it more popular than the wildly popular Bridgerton, which is projected to be watched by 63M households. While it’s nice to have the transparency, there are two things we’d say on this: 1) Netflix made these forecasts with around 10 days of viewing data. We have no idea how Netflix arrives at these projections, or if shows actually meet them. 2) Don’t compare these projections with bonafide ratings Netflix has disclosed for other international hits, such as The Queen’s Gambit, which had an actual audience of 62M after four weeks.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Netflix revealed today that it paid a record amount of tax in 2019 (£3.2M, or $4.4M) as it comes under growing pressure to increase its returns to Britain’s HM Revenue & Customs. The streamer will start declaring its true UK revenue from this year, which should in theory lead to an even higher tax bill. As questions about its tax resurfaced, the company also announced that it will be spending £350,000 on three programs aimed at boosting diversity. This includes scholarships for students at Femi Oguns’ Identity School Of Acting, which nurtured stars like John Boyega, Michaela Coel, and Letitia Wright.
Cannes Question Marks
Kicking the Cannes to the summer? The Cannes Film Festival is continuing to weigh up a postponement of its traditional May kickoff until a date between late June and late July, organizers told my colleague Andreas Wiseman. With the pandemic still causing havoc across the world and with the vaccine rollout in France not moving as quickly as hoped, a May 11 start date is regarded by the industry as increasingly unlikely. Ad event Cannes Lions is taking place at the end of June, while private capital get-together IPEM is due to be staged in early July, so mid-July is the most logical landing spot right now.
Time is of the essence: Last year, the world’s most important film showcase waited until a month before it was due to start before calling off its May event. Industry insiders are hoping for more notice in 2021. Regarding a timeframe for a decision about its dates, the festival told us one would come “as soon as we can, but probably a few weeks from now.” There is some speculation in the French press that the festival could be elongated to accommodate the backlog of movies. But one step at a time. Let’s just hope there can be a festival first. Even that looks touch-and-go.
Pandemic plunders another film calendar: Industry folk we speak to are desperate to get back on the road again but the pandemic continues to doom the release and festival schedules. Only yesterday, James Bond’s No Time To Die was pushed back for a third time to October. Meanwhile, Sundance starts next week, though you’d barely know it. It’s becoming clearer by the day, there’s no substitute for being there.
Epic Games’ Movie Push
Ambitious crossover: Studies have shown that the video game industry now comfortably generates more revenue than the movie business, so it’s little wonder that we continue to see filmmakers tapping into the intellectual property of gaming companies. Andreas had the scoop on the latest collaboration between two industries that have had wildly different fortunes during the pandemic, revealing that Fortnite developer Epic Games is set to make its first known grant to a movie via its $100M Epic MegaGrants program. The beneficiary is an animated feature called Gilgamesh.
How it will work: Latin American animation studio Hook Up, alongside Argentinian firms DuermeVela and FilmSharks, will use Epic’s funding and Unreal Engine technology to chart the exploits and adventures of the king-turned-deity Gilgamesh who was immortalized in the epic poem that bears his name. The film, which will have English and Spanish versions, will explore Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality.
About that technology: Epic’s Unreal Engine is a real-time 3D suite of tools used for photoreal visuals and immersive experiences. The tech’s ability to create virtual sets was recently employed on The Mandalorian and Westworld. In other words, Epic Games’ fingerprints can already be seen on screen outside of the gaming world. Gilgamesh could be a toe in the water as it looks to make Unreal Engine an increasingly prominent force in the film and TV business.
Local For Globo
Streaming wars: Brazil’s VoD land grab rages, with Netflix and Amazon having made aggressive plays in the South American market early in their international rollouts, while the likes of Disney+ and HBO Max now eyeing expansion. They are butting heads with established local companies including Globo, the Brazilian TV giant that launched its own multi-faceted service, Globoplay, in 2015.
Online focus: As it enters a new digital-first age, Globo is looking to merge the digital operations across its business and put enhanced focus and investment into its streaming platform. This week, we sat down with the company’s chief digital officer, Erick Bretas, to discuss why Globo believes it can compete with its deep-pocketed American rivals. The interview also covers topics including planned international expansion, the future of content, and how production in Brazil is righting itself after the pandemic shutdowns.
Warning shot: “I don’t think the U.S. companies will be able to produce local content with the same quality and with the same understanding of national markets as the local players do,” asserts Bretas. Read Tom Grater’s full interview here.
Out with a bang? Peaky Blinders’ creators unexpectedly announced this week that we’re going to be saying goodbye to the Shelby clan — for now. Writer Steven Knight and executive producer Caryn Mandabach said filming has commenced on the sixth and final season of BBC One’s gangster saga after the shoot was delayed by nearly a year because of the pesky pandemic. But don’t expect Cillian Murphy’s Thomas Shelby to go quietly into the night. Knight confirmed to my colleague Nancy Tartaglione that there are concrete plans for a much-rumored film. “My plan from the beginning was to end Peaky with a movie. That is what is going to happen,” the writer said. Here’s Nancy’s full piece.
Russian doll strategy: We caught up with Objective Media Group chief executive Layla Smith on Thursday to hear about the mini-production empire she has built within the All3Media group. Her cluster of 10 production units have been busy, with highlights from the past 12 months include Netflix hit Feel Good (pictured), Peacock’s Punky Brewster, HBO Max’s recently-renewed reality format 12 Dates Of Christmas, and the almost simultaneous commission of sports game show The Cube at ITV in the UK and WarnerMedia in the U.S.
Cooking up a storm: Smith’s strategy of empowering creatives by taking away the dirty work of running a company is perhaps best exemplified by Gordon Ramsay. He set up Studio Ramsay in partnership with Objective Media Group in 2016 and it is now graduating as a standalone production entity, which has re-energized the famous chef’s TV career. Lookout for Studio Ramsay’s BBC One game show, Bank Balance, which will be its first solo project.
In other news, Smith revealed that Channel 4 has back-tracked on its decision to commission a second season of Victorian-era comedy crime caper Year Of The Rabbit after the coronavirus pandemic forced the British broadcaster into £150M ($205M) of content cuts. Objective Fiction is now looking for another partner alongside AMC-owned cable network IFC. Year Of The Rabbit star and co-writer Matt Berry is also working on more Toast Of London, according to Smith. Read the full interview.
🌶️ Hot one of the week: Bridgerton is back! Netflix has renewed the Shondaland viral hit for a second season after its stellar first outing. In recent days, we have carried interviews with breakout star Phoebe Dynevor and director Julie Anne Robinson.
🌶️ Another hot one: Game Of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole are leading the cast of Against The Ice, a survival movie being produced by Baltasar Kormákur (Everest) for Netflix. Tom had the scoop.
🍿 International box office: Master debuted in India and a handful of other markets to some success, potentially crossing the $15M mark, which would have made it the top film globally. Nancy has the details.
🏆 Awards news: The 26th annual Critics Choice Awards unveiled its series nominees on Monday, with Netflix’s Ozark and The Crown leading the pack with six nominations each. Dino-Ray Ramos has the details.
🚚 On the move: As WarnerMedia prepares to launch its subscription service HBO Max in more international markets in 2021, the company has confirmed its new-look leadership team for Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Here’s everything you need to know.
📅 Diary date: ViacomCBS’s rebranded streaming service Paramount+ will launch on March 4. Dade has more information.
✍️ New agent: Bollywood mega-star Deepika Padukone, who made her English-language debut as the female lead in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, has signed with ICM for representation in all areas. Go deeper.
🎦 Trailer dash: Take a look at some intense first footage from Prime Time, the Polish feature which is set to debut at Sundance. It stars Bartosz Bielenia, who shot to prominence in Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi, which was Oscar-nominated last year. Tom had the exclusive trailer.
📺 One to watch: Russell T Davies’ sensational AIDS crisis series It’s A Sin premieres in the UK on Channel 4 tonight. It is not to be missed. For our U.S. readers, we hear the HBO Max debut date is not far away.
New dawn: There was really only one story in town this week, and that was the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris. There was little ambiguity about where Hollywood stood on Donald Trump’s departure from office, as the likes of Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga flocked to Washington to burnish the day’s proceedings, while other entertainment royalty celebrated on Twitter. Disney executive chairman Bob Iger enthused: “Today was a great day in our nation, as President Biden & Vice President Harris assumed their roles with dignity, humility, a strong adherence to values & to the weighty responsibility of high office.” The Hulk himself Mark Ruffalo put it this way: “The Golden Toilet Presidency is over. A turd is a turd no matter where it lays.” You can read Deadline’s full inauguration coverage here.
Andreas Wiseman and Tom Grater contributed to International Insider.
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