SELECTED NEWS AUGUST 2021


August 2021


CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Due to the pandemic affecting new theatrical releases, the 2021 edition of the Cannes Film Festival promised to be different and it was on many levels. 2021 saw the first African American President in the history of the festival. Spike Lee who had a couple of his "joints" competing in the past, was invited to preside the 2021 edition. The diversity in contents, stories, actors and directors has projected the festival in the future, making it more humble and less elitist. The festival this year seemed to be open to a larger audience which is probably a big part of its success this year. It was a real challenge though, as the last edition was a phenomenal success with the film "Parasite", universally acclaimed by both critics and moviegoers.


Under Spike Lee, the festival has enlarged its horizon, giving a chance to productions from Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Europe. The "Palme d'Or" has been attributed to the film "Titane", directed by Julia Ducourneau from France. Tied for the grand prix are "Ghahreman" from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and "Hytti Nro 6" from Finish director Juho Kuosmanen.


NETFLIX AND VIDEO GAMES

Netflix is opening a new front on the streaming war. A few weeks ago, the streaming giant confirmed its decision to be part of the mobile gaming industry. While the announcement was low key and did not provoke a surge of Netfix shares, it could be what Netflix needs to overcome the recent disappointments with new subscriber numbers.

To lead the project, Netflix hired Mike Verdu, a former EA and Facebook executive.

Mike Verdu will be the VP of Game Development reporting to the COO. The objective is to offer gaming as a part of the Netflix offering at no extra charge to the subscriber. Recognizing gaming as a growing piece of the entertainment industry, video games are no longer reserved to kids and the potential to attract existing and new subscribers to gaming is very high. Whilst there is no indication on how successful this move will be, Netflix competitors will not likely stay on the sideline, but they might not jump into gaming right away.


KEVIN HART'S VISION

Hartbeat, the production company of actor comedian Kevin Hart is growing. It has hired 3 Senior Executives to oversee the development of its Film & TV division. Multiple projects for global audience are in the works with the objective of driving revenue expansion with strategic partnerships.

Hartbeat Productions will continue producing stories from culturally diverse sources with international appeal. "Fatherhood" was the first feature produced by Hartbeat for Netflix and has been watched by 74 million viewers within its first month. Hartbeat's ambition is to cover every format including live shows and stand-up on all platforms, theatrical, television and digital.


ITV AND REVENUES

In the UK, ITV has seen a 27% increase in external revenues for the first half of 2021, with a 29% jump in advertising. Advertising revenues have turned the corner since April 2021 and June has been ITV’s best month ever. ITV executives credit the easing of restrictions as the main reason for this performance and advertisers are betting on viewers taking advantage of post-lockdown to spend their money again.

On top of the network results, "BritBox", ITS’s UK streaming arm has passed the 550,000 subscribers mark. CEO Carolyn McCall says that ITV strategy is working, as it is a more efficient, more flexible, and more digital. ITV’s ambition is to become a digitally led media and entertainment company.


TOKYO 2020

The Coronavirus plaguing most of the world has delayed the Tokyo Olympic games by one year. Despite a substantial case increase in most countries participating and Japan being way behind on the fighting front with most Japanese wanting to cancel the games, the opening ceremony took place before an empty stadium.

For those of us watching the ceremony on television, the show was entertaining, but the overall atmosphere was affected by this awkward situation, as athletes normally greeted with screams and applauds from the crowd found themselves parading inside an empty stadium. Nonetheless, despite strong opposition from the host country population, the games began with the organizers hoping that success in the competitions would overcome anger and disbelief. Following strict protocols for testing, the athletes with signs of virus in their body have been immediately sidelined. Frustration is a common feeling in Tokyo, but the games are taking place as scheduled and are followed by many worldwide.


ZZ TOP

The mythic Southern Blues/Rock band has lost its bass player Dusty Hill on July 27. Dusty was 72 and had to leave the band while on tour to undergo hip surgery. It is unclear if his death is related to the procedure. Guitarist Billy Gibbons said that Dusty made him promise to keep the band going in the event of his death and have guitar technician Elwood Francis replace him.


Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard vowed to keep going with Elwood on bass. ZZ TOP was formed in 1969 in Texas. It is in the late 1970s that the trio reinvented itself with a look that became their trademark. They had been playing and touring together for 50 years, something very rare in the music industry. In their 70s, at a time where most would enjoy retirement, ZZ TOP keeps performing on stage for the pleasure of fans of all ages.


JOHANSSON vs. DISNEY

The Marvel superhero film "Black Widow" produced by Disney was released early July.

Disney used the pandemic to justify a simultaneous release in theaters as well as on its streaming platform Disney+, following the WB/HBO model. This is a smart business move for Disney, as even with more moviegoers returning to the theaters, we know that the time to substantially profit from a new release is somewhat short. An exclusive theater release will not generate as much revenue today than it would have 2 years ago but the most important factor for Disney is to use the official theater release and offer the same exclusivity to its streaming platform subscribers, hoping to attract more subscriptions.

Here is the point of contention: Scarlett Johansson who is starring in "Black Widow" had negotiated her contract before the pandemic with an important percentage of her compensation coming from theater ticket sales. Her lawyer argues that a simultaneous release on Disney+ is affecting the revenue Scarlett Johansson would have made from theater ticket sales, where bonuses would kick-in when thresholds in sales are reached. Some other high-profile actors are following the development of this case with attention. The pandemic is accelerating a trend where major productions are shortcutting the movie theaters to be exclusively exploited by platforms. 4K and 8K TVs in a large size room with good surround sound systems are allowing a somewhat similar experience at home, so the industry is closely watching this trend.


BROADWAY

The early summer was promising despite the pandemic uncertainty, then the Covid Delta variant definitively tempered the optimism.

Musical theaters have been closed for more than a year and the industry from actors, technicians to theater owners are ready to resume their activities following a set of rules created by the Broadway League. The 41 theaters operators have agreed that all actors and staff members will have to be vaccinated to work within the theaters. Moreover, the audience too will need to show proof of vaccination and commit to wear a mask during the shows except for eating and drinking. These rules come to reassure both the industry and the audiences that Broadway wants a sustainable return to normal activities. The Broadway League thinks it is better to start slow and ruffle a few feathers rather than open wide and have to close again. The Broadway season is about to start and there is no doubt "The Broadway League" and theater operators are taking these new rules very seriously.