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Fox Has Bold Ideas to Cut Back TV Ads. But They’re Not Easy to Put in Place

Posted: 03 May 2018 07:15 AM PDT

At Fox Broadcasting, cutting a check to star producer Ryan Murphy, the backer of popular series like “9-1-1” and “Glee,” may be an easier task than cutting back on TV commercials.

The 21st Century Fox-owned network has spent several weeks telling top media buyers that it intends to enact a massive 40% reduction in the number of TV ads it runs during its Sunday primetime schedule, the better to engage a generation of fans of “The Simpsons” and “Bob’s Burgers” who don’t have to deal with the same number of commercial interruptions when they interact with Netflix or Hulu. Now, some of those details may be in flux.

Fox still expects to offer a night with a reduced advertising schedule, according to executives and media buyers familiar with the plans, but it may be on a different night of the week. Fox is also discussing a concept called a “Fox Block,” or a long form commercial that might run before or after a Fox show and could last up to six minutes. Media buyers, who have been talking to Fox in preliminary discussions leading up to the industry’s annual “upfront” ad sales negotiations, said executives had pitched the new ad concepts as if they were ready.

Fox isn’t the only TV network giving new consideration to cutting back advertising. NBCUniversal has vowed to reduce ad inventory by 10% in original runs of primetime shows on both its NBC broadcast network and its various cable outlets. They follow Turner’s TruTV, which in 2015 unveiled a plan to run more programming and fewer commercials.

But doing all this isn’t done with a press release and a snap of the fingers. Yanking the bulk of commercials from a rotation represents a reorganization of many long held structures that govern TV. Showrunners might have to tailor the flow of dramas and comedies to accommodate a different number of ad breaks. Transitions between programs could be affected, as could the number of promos a network runs on its air to tout other series and events.

One idea Fox has considered is sure to raise eyebrows. The network has mulled several ways to make use of local ad time, inventory normally allocated to affiliates, so as to reduce ad interruptions in primetime, according to people familiar with the matter. Local time is likely to remain in the broadcasts, one of these people says, and Fox expects to talk to stations about its plans. NBCUniversal, meanwhile, has no plans to cut local ads from its primetime schedule, a person familiar with the matter says, even as it sets about to run fewer commercials.

Local TV executives might blanch at shaking up their allotment of primetime ads, typically some of the most expensive commercial inventory they sell. “The goal was to eliminate local time in those shows,” said one ad buying executive who was briefed on the ideas Fox was considering. Doing so, this buyer suggested, would bolster the presentation of the handful of national ads for which Fox intends to seek higher prices. Under its current plan, Fox would run 11 ad breaks between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. with just a minute of commercials in each, according to buyers and other executives.

Fox declined to comment on its plans for local ads. Fox has made no formal request to stations that run its programming, according to two people familiar with the matter. A spokesman for Meredith Corp., which operates some Fox affiliates, declined to comment. A spokesman for Nexstar Media said the company would not comment on a “rumor.” Two other Fox station owners, Sinclair Broadcasting and Raycom Media, did not respond to queries seeking comment.

Devising new ways to monetize TV advertising in a world where more viewers have found methods to avoid seeing it perhaps even more critical for Fox than for some of its competitors. Fox Broadcasting is expected to place more emphasis in the coming season live sports broadcasts, including the start of a new five-year run of “Thursday Night Football,” for which its parent company is said to be paying more than $650 million per year to air. The company has also been snatching up rights to lesser sports draws, like bowling, that will surface on Fox Broadcasting. 21st Century Fox has agreed to sell the bulk of its assets, including its TV-studio units, to Walt Disney Co., and has indicated a new focus on live sports and news programming.

Fox seems interested in borrowing from its past to build its future.

The new proposal bears similarity to a tactic Fox tested to some acclaim last decade. In 2002 and 2003, Fox broadcast commercial-free season premieres of its hit drama “24.” Ford Motor got to run longer-than-usual ads before and after the episodes. In at least one year, those commercials imitated the storylines of the famous series. But the network recognized repeating the feat would be difficult. Getting a commercial-free broadcast meant convincing affiliates to give up their ad time in the hour, and finding other kinds of inventory to offer them in exchange.

Fox is likely to seek better pricing for ads that run in its new commercial pods. The Sunday programs would seem to offer a natural roost for the experiment, as they are largely animated comedies that play well with younger viewers.

The average cost of a 30-second ad in “The Simpsons,” long a Sunday staple, came to $121,374 in 2017, according to Variety’s annual chart of primetime ad prices. A 30-second ad in “Family Guy” cost an average of $128,329, while a 30-second spot in “Bob’s Burgers” could be had for an average of $76,412.

Zynga Founder Mark Pincus Cedes Control of Company

Posted: 03 May 2018 07:02 AM PDT

Social game developer Zynga is changing its stock structure in a way that reduces the voting power of its founder, Mark Pincus, it announced Wednesday.

When Zynga went public in December 2011, it had a three-class stock structure. Pincus was the sole owner of all Class C shares, as well as the majority owner of Class B shares. By converting it all to Class A common stock, Pincus is reducing his overall voting rights from approximately 70% to 10%. This allows Zynga to simplify its stock structure and establish voting parity among shareholders.

Pincus will continue to serve on Zynga’s Board of Directors as non-executive chairman. Zynga will also nominate him as a director of the Board in future elections as long as he continues to hold one-half of his current shares.

“Over the past three years, I’ve been working with [CEO Frank Gibeau] and the Board to restore Zynga’s focus on our core live game franchises like ‘Zynga Poker’ and ‘Words With Friends’ — and the players who love them. That work is paying off. Our game teams are delivering quality and value for our players, which is translating into growth and profitability for our company. Given our positive momentum, now is the right time to simplify our stock structure and transition to one share, one vote. I believe it’s in the best interests of our shareholders to establish voting rights parity for all,” said Pincus. “Going forward, I’m excited to continue to play an active role and to partner with Frank and the Board to drive innovation and growth.”

Zynga reported positive financial results for the first quarter of 2018 yesterday. It made an estimated $208 million in revenue, a 7% increase year-over-year. The company is now valued at $3 billion, largely thanks to mobile games like “Words With Friends” and “Zynga Poker.” Mobile revenues rose 13% to $182.6 million in Q1 2018 and account for 88% of Zynga’s total earnings.

‘The Crown’ Officially Casts Helena Bonham Carter, Adds Jason Watkins for Season 3

Posted: 03 May 2018 07:00 AM PDT

Netflix has at long last confirmed that Helena Bonham Carter will join “The Crown” Season 3, with the streaming giant also announcing that Jason Watkins is also joining the critically acclaimed series.

As Variety reported back in January, Bonham Carter will play Princess Margaret, taking over the role played for the first two seasons by Vanessa Kirby.

“I’m not sure which I’m more terrified about — doing justice to the real Princess Margaret or following in the shoes of Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret,” the actress said. “The only thing I can guarantee is that I’ll be shorter [than Vanessa].”

She will next be seen in the film “Ocean’s 8.” Bonham Carter is known for her role as Bellatrix Lestrange in the “Harry Potter” franchise, as well as several collaborations with Tim Burton. She is repped by WME and Conway van Gelder Grant.

Watkins, meanwhile, will play Harold Wilson. Wilson was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1964 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1976.

“I am delighted to become part of this exceptional show,” Watkins said. “And so thrilled to be working once again with Peter Morgan. Harold Wilson is a significant and fascinating character in our history. So looking forward to bringing him to life, through a decade that transformed us culturally and politically. And excited to be working so closely with Olivia; and the whole team.”

Watkins is a BAFTA Award winner known for his work on British television shows like “Being Human,” “Trollied,” and the two-part drama “The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies.” He also recently appeared in the Tom Hardy-led drama series “Taboo” and will also appear in Terry Gilliam’s film “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” He is repped by United Agents.

The pair joins previously announced Season 3 cast members Olivia Colman, who will take over the role of Elizabeth from Claire Foy, and Tobias Menzies, who has been cast as Prince Philip after Matt Smith played the character in Seasons 1 and 2.

The Crown” Season 3 is slated to debut in 2019. The series was created by Morgan and is produced by Left Bank Pictures.

The series recently found itself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons when it was revealed that Foy had been paid less for her work in the show than Smith. Left Bank revealed at a talk in Jerusalem on March 13 that Smith had received a higher pay cut, but added that going forward, “no one gets paid more than the Queen.” The company later issued a formal apology for the pay gap.

Amazon Orders Meek Mill Documentary Series From Jay-Z’s Roc Nation

Posted: 03 May 2018 07:00 AM PDT

Rapper Meek Mill has set a deal with Amazon and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation for a documentary series examining his odyssey through the criminal justice system during the past decade.

The six-part docu series is targeted to premiere in 2019. Philadelphia-based rapper Robert Rihmeek Williams was released from jail last month after serving nearly five months for a probation violation — for popping a wheelie in an Instagram video without wearing a helmet.

The docu series will chronicle Mill’s rise to fame and his 10-year battle with Philadelphia judge Genece Brinkley, as well as the larger issue of high incarceration rates for people of color. Roc Nation is producing the untitled project with the Intellectual Property Group and docu filmmaker Isaac Solotaroff.

“I’m grateful for this unique opportunity to share my story and I look forward to collaborating with Amazon Prime Video, Roc Nation and the Intellectual Property Corporation on this incredible series,” Mill said. “Not only will this documentary give viewers an unprecedented look at my life, but it will also allow me to use my public platform to highlight the need for criminal justice reform.”

Mill, Solotaroff, Shawn Carter, IPC’s Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman and Paul Solotaroff are executive producers of the series, which will feature original music from Mill.

“We’re thrilled to be working with such a talented group of producers to bring Meek’s life story to light,” said Heather Schuster, Amazon’s head of unscripted. “Meek’s story of being incarcerated needs to be told and we will have incredible access that takes Prime members beyond the headlines and into his world.”

Rihanna is no longer friends with Drake

Posted: 03 May 2018 07:00 AM PDT

Rihanna isn’t friends with Drake anymore.

The 30-year-old R&B star has admitted her friendship with the ‘God’s Plan’ hitmaker ended after he declared his undying love for her in front of the whole world while presenting her with the Vanguard prize at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2016.

Speaking in Vogue magazine’s June issue, Rihanna – who had an on/off romance with 31-year-old Drake – said: “The VMAs is such a fan-focused awards show, so having that energy around me, and knowing the people who had received the award in the past, made it feel like a big deal.

“Waiting through that speech was probably the most uncomfortable part. I don’t like too many compliments; I don’t like to be put on blast.”

When asked about the status of her relationship with Drake now, she replied: “We don’t have a friendship now, but we’re not enemies either. It is what it is.”

The ‘Disturbia’ hitmaker has since moved on and found love with Saudi businessman Hassan Jameel and, although she won’t address him by name so as not to confirm their relationship status, she has admitted she’s really “happy” right now.

She explained: “I used to feel guilty about taking personal time, but I also think I never met someone who was worth it before.

“Even mentally, just to be away from my phone, to be in the moment, that has been key for my growth. Now, when I come to work, I’m all in. Because before you know it, the years will go by. I’m glad I’m taking the time. I’m happy.”

And now that she’s reached the third decade of her life, Rihanna is starting to think about what life would be like with a child and how she expects to be as a mother.

She said: “OK, so now that I’m 30, are there things I’m supposed to do? Should I be worried? Should I be freezing my eggs? What do you do at 30?! I’m not gonna be able to take my eyes off my kid. I know that already about myself. They’re going to have to force me to hire a nanny.”

Raye recalls inappropriate incident with male producer

Posted: 03 May 2018 07:00 AM PDT

Raye has claimed a top producer once “tried to put his hand between [her] legs”.

The ‘You Don’t Know Me’ hitmaker jetted out to Los Angeles in 2015, when she was just 17, and on her first day in the studio Raye says the colleague attempted to grope her inappropriately but she was able to fend off his advances and get out of the situation by calling her manager.

The 20-year-old British pop star claims that this type of unacceptable behavior happens all the time in the US.

Recalling the disturbing incident, Raye said: “It started off so weirdly – the energy was off. I remember thinking, ‘There’s something weird about this guy.’ He was quite erratic and started asking my opinion on different artists. I remember saying I preferred Kanye to someone else and he just went off and started screaming at me. Then he went into the studio next door and I could hear him saying, ‘I’ve got this stupid 17-year-old in there who thinks Kanye is better than so-and-so.’ I can feel tears starting to come up in my eyes, and I’m thinking, ‘What the hell have I walked into?’

“Next thing I know he’s back in my studio, trying to apologize, and he tries to put his hands in between my legs. I called my manager and left straight away. Then I cried and cancelled my session the next day. But this happens to girls in studios all the time. All the time.”

Now, the ‘Cigarette’ singer always wears baggy clothes when she’s working and the experience means she always puts her “guard up” when she’s around the opposite sex.

In an interview with The i Paper, she said: “I can remember being in the studio and feeling uncomfortable wearing shorts because the guy [producer] wouldn’t stop looking at my fricking thighs. When I go to a studio now, I wear baggy clothes. Around men I just have my guard up all the time.”

Raye admits the experience has had a long-standing effect on her and made her very guarded when recording with male producers.

She was also inspired her to pen the song ‘You Don’t Know Me’ about fending off a “perv”, on which she sings: “This is money so don’t f*** with me.”

She added: “It’s really difficult because when you’re recording, you’re going to be in a confined space for five to 10 hours with someone you don’t know. You’re supposed to open up and, like, vomit your heart out. And then there’s some guy there trying to perv on you. It’s something I’m writing a lot about in my music.”

Comcast Leads $100 Million Round in Zola, Wedding-Registry Startup, Joined by NBCU

Posted: 03 May 2018 06:39 AM PDT

Wedding-planning and commerce startup Zola has banked $100 million in funding, led by existing investor Comcast Ventures — and Comcast’s NBCUniversal has joined the matrimonial party as an investor and media partner.

With the funding, NBCU will work with Zola on “both promotional and commercial partnership opportunities across the NBCU portfolio that drive mutual value and accelerate growth,” Maggie Suniewick, president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, said in announcing the investment Thursday.

The Peacock has already worked with the startup: In February, Zola sponsored the live TV wedding on NBC’s “Today” show between Jordon Taylor and Kyle Otte — with WWE superstar John Cena acting as the officiant (pictured above). In addition, Zola has a brand-integration deal with NBCU’s E! for the cable network’s coverage of the British royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19.

“NBCUniversal is excited to co-invest with Comcast Ventures to provide Zola with both financial and strategic support,” said Suniewick.

Zola, founded in 2013, has raised a total of $140 million and has about 110 employees. The latest Series D round gives it a valuation of around $600 million, Bloomberg reported. Along with NBCU and Comcast Ventures, which had previously invested in Zola, Goldman Sachs also participated in the funding round.

The New York-based startup says more than 500,000 couples have registered on the website to date to manage gift registries or guest lists. Zola offers a marketplace of about 60,000 products from 600 different brands.

Shan-Lyn Ma, Zola’s founder and CEO, previously served as an exec at two ecommerce companies, Gilt Groupe and Chloe + Isabel, and before that worked as a marketing manager at Yahoo.

Paolo Sorrentino Talks ‘Loro,’ Berlusconi and Not Getting Into Cannes (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted: 03 May 2018 06:26 AM PDT

Oscar-winning Italian director Paolo Sorrentino‘s latest film, “Loro,” which depicts former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi‘s so-called “bunga bunga” antics, has just been released as a two-part film in Italy. “Loro 1” bowed at No. 2, behind “Avengers: Infinity War,” while “Loro 2” will be released next Thursday. The project is being pared down to a single feature-length film for international distribution.

Sorrentino spoke to Variety about the hurdles he faced, his attempt to get to the real Berlusconi, and why it’s only fair that Cannes is a bus to which you can’t have a lifelong pass. (The interview has been edited for concision and clarity.)

Why did you decide to make a movie about Berlusconi and how big was the challenge?

It was not an easy movie to write. You don’t have the same creative freedom as in a totally fictional film. You’re limited by the fact that you have to contend with real characters. You can’t wound, offend, libel.

The idea for a film about Berlusconi came to me and grew during the years when Berlusconi was present among us. For many years, a large portion of Italians loved him while another substantial portion hated him. He sparked very strong, completely contrasting feelings. My ambition was to depict him and also some of the Italians who tried to follow his path and become connected to him any way they could.

Can you explain the title, which translates as “Them”?

The title is exactly that. It’s not saying: “I’m different, and they are like that.” At some level, “Loro” could be all of us, even those who didn’t have the strength to propose something that was a real alternative to the rapid spread of a very strong personality, because it’s undeniable that Berlusconi has a very strong charisma.

You’ve said your tone was one of tenderness, driven by a desire to understand the man.

Yes. He’s always had this narrative about himself as someone driven by uncommon pride, by an iron will, by an indestructible determination. We’ve never understood whether behind this there were some pockets of pain, of failure, of melancholy. So I thought it would be more interesting to look at those feelings rather than do a political narrative, which is past deadline anyway.

There are a lot of naked female bodies in the film, which of course reflects the bunga bunga period. But some Italian critics have said you harped on the titillating aspect a bit much, in a way that could be perceived as exploitation. What’s your response?

I don’t agree. It’s the representation of a certain specific period 10 years ago, a world that had a rather limited intellectual component and relied on bodies as a communication tool. That’s a fact that I didn’t make up. I just put it on screen.

What kind of contact have you had with Berlusconi?

We met once before I started shooting. He invited me for lunch and half-jokingly asked me if I wanted to use his villas [as locations] and I cordially declined the offer. The role-playing [game] in these cases dictates that you do not enter into relations with the person you are depicting; it would make things confusing for the audience.

Why is the movie in two parts in Italy?

From the outset I wrote a single film that was very long, and I also thought about the possibility of making two films. Then we decided to make it in two parts. But that doesn’t mean I’m not persevering in making a single version. Tomorrow I will be back in the editing room to finish the single version.

What happened with Cannes?

I had a one-picture version of the film that was very much in progress. It was probably not the perfect version you need to go to a festival. I think the answer is the one [Cannes artistic director Thierry] Fremaux gave, which is that [for him] the idea of a film that’s split into two parts and not ready to be seen as a single film made it in some way incomplete.

It’s obvious that everyone wants to go to Cannes. But even though as a director I’m a veteran, Cannes is not a bus that all you need to do is get a [long-term] pass to get on it every time. And that’s the way it should be.

Series Mania: Endemol Shine’s Sophie Turner Laing Announces Season 2 of ‘Harem’

Posted: 03 May 2018 06:22 AM PDT

LILLES, France — In a keynote conversation given by Endemol Shine president Sohpie Turner Laing at Lille’s Series Mania, it was announced that Israeli broadcaster Reshet has commissioned a second season of the hit series “Harem,” to broadcast on Reshet 13.

“Harem” featured at this year’s festival as part of the International Panorama, where Laing announced the renewal. She then explained where the series fits in the company’s big picture outlook.

“We are about supporting our creative visionaries [allowing them] to do the best work they can do around the world. The benefit of being such a strong group is that we are able to make things happen really quickly.”

She went on: “It’s working with the local heads in every country to work out what’s in their development slate, and what stories are going to resonate with audience. Our group is about how we travel shows from one country to another.”

Inspired by cults in Israel and the world around, the series is a fictional tale of a charismatic, mystical healer living in Tel Aviv with 20 wives and more than 40 children.

The series was created by Anat Barzilai, Hadar Galron and Gadi Taub – who co-directs with Marco Carmel (“My Lovely Sister”), and is produced by Endemol Shine Israel. It made its international debut on Reshet 13 in February, where it quickly became the network’s most watched drama of the year.

“‘Harem’ explores the phenomenon of cults and has contemporary themes of family and belonging at its heart,” Amir Ganor, CEO at Endemol Shine Israel said in statement. “It’s a modern, compelling story which left audiences in Israel gripped and we’re thrilled Reshet have given us the opportunity to explore the characters and ideas even further.”

“Harem is a drama with a complex and shocking story inspired by cults in Israel and other countries,” added Reshet 13 VP content Erez Ben Harush. “The creative staff succeeded in shaping an outcry over the situation of women around the world, discussing painful issues that unfortunately still exist in many places. ‘Harem’ has a very compassionate, mostly-feminine and brave cast, full of talent and subtle directing. I have no doubt that ‘Harem’s’ intensity will inspire discussions in every society in the world.”

Season 2 will begin filming in 2019.

Christina Aguilera Drops Kanye West-Produced Song ‘Accelerate,’ Announces New Album (Video)

Posted: 03 May 2018 06:10 AM PDT

This morning Christina Aguilera announced the forthcoming release of her sixth studio album “Liberation,” her first in five years, which will be out on June 15 on RCA Records. She also dropped the first single from the album, “Accelerate,” which features Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz, along with a music video directed by Zoey Grossman.

The song was produced by Kanye West, Che Pope and Mike Dean, a rep for the singer confirmed to Variety, although the production credits are not mentioned in the official announcement.

“Accelerate” has a stripped-down, drum-heavy hip-hop production reminiscent at times of the sound on West’s 2013 album “Yeezy”; the video features lots of sexy posturing from Aguilera and is heavy on tongue, glitter and a honey-like substance.

Aguilera’s last album, “Lotus,” was released in 2012. She has received six Grammys over the course of her career and beginning in 2011 served as a judge on “The Voice.”

The album was executive produced by Aguilera; the full tracklist appears below.

Liberation Track Listing:
1. Liberation
2. Searching For Maria
3. Maria
4. Sick Of Sittin’
5. Dreamers
6. Fall In Line feat. Demi Lovato
7. Right Moves feat. Keida & Shenseea
8. Like I Do
9. Deserve
10. Twice
11. I Don’t Need It Anymore (Interlude)
12. Accelerate feat. Ty Dolla $ign & 2 Chainz
13. Pipe
14. Masochist
15. Unless It’s With You