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Borat Sequel to Release in October on Amazon Prime Video Worldwide: Report




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 September 2020

A sequel to the comedy Borat has been purchased by Amazon Prime Video and is expected to hit the streaming platform before November’s US election, a source familiar with the deal told AFP Tuesday following a media report.

The movie will see British comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen reprise his cult favorite role as a bumbling and politically incorrect reporter from Kazakhstan, after nearly 15 years.

The 2006 original, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, grossed more than $260 million (roughly Rs. 1,916 crores), winning over critics and spawning endless catchphrases among devoted fans. It even earned an Oscar screenplay nomination.

A sequel to the comedy Borat has been purchased by Amazon Prime Video and is expected to hit the streaming platform before November’s US election, a source familiar with the deal told AFP Tuesday following a media report.

The movie will see British comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen reprise his cult favorite role as a bumbling and politically incorrect reporter from Kazakhstan, after nearly 15 years.

The 2006 original, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, grossed more than $260 million (roughly Rs. 1,916 crores), winning over critics and spawning endless catchphrases among devoted fans. It even earned an Oscar screenplay nomination.

According to Deadline, the follow-up movie was shot covertly with minimal crew as soon as coronavirus restrictions eased this summer in the US and overseas. It will debut on Amazon Prime Video in late October in 240 countries and territories, the report adds.

The original saw Cohen’s fictional and homophobic journalist blundering across the US in search of cultural enlightenment, with the joke at the expense of Americans, who nevertheless lapped it up at the box office.

The sequel will again see Cohen “going undercover to get people to reveal their true selves and their often unflattering biases, with only the slightest provocation,” the Deadline report said.

The controversial satirist’s anarchic, gonzo-style comedy has spawned multiple celebrated TV and movie characters such as wannabe rapper Ali G and gay Austrian TV presenter Bruno.

Cohen, who also made the 2012 movie The Dictator starring himself as a Moamer Kadhafi-style despot, was recently seen pranking public figures in the TV series “Who is America?”

In one memorable scene from the show, Cohen hoodwinked Republican politicians into endorsing a made-up plan to train preschoolers in how to fire a gun, although the show drew mixed reviews.

Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential nominee and ex-Alaska governor, slammed the comedian’s “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor.'”

Cohen plays a leading role in Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-tipped drama The Trial of the Chicago 7, streaming on Netflix next month.

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Netflix Reports Slowing Subscriber Growth Following Early Pandemic Boom




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 21 October 2020

Netflix shares slid on Tuesday after the US streaming television titan reported that subscriber growth slowed in the recently ended quarter, after booming in the early days of the pandemic.

While Netflix added 28.1 million paying subscribers so far this year, only 2.2 million of them came in the third quarter, the company said in an earnings release letter.

“We think this is primarily due to our record first half results and the pull-forward effect,” Netflix said in the letter.

The streaming television giant, now facing an array of competitors, reported it has slightly more than 195 million subscribers.

Growth was strongest in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the earnings figures.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’re making in this region and, in particular, that we’ve achieved double digit penetration of broadband homes in both South Korea and Japan,” Netflix said.

“While this is encouraging, we still have much work to do and we’re working hard to replicate this success in India and other countries.”

Chief operating officer Greg Peters said in an earnings interview that Netflix is looking to boost growth with promotions such as offering the streaming television service free for a weekend, which it will try out in India.
Prices in play?

The streaming television service expected to add 6 million new subscribers during the current quarter, bringing the total number of members added for this year to a record-setting 34 million.

“As expected, the pace at which Netflix added subscribers during the early portions of the pandemic did not continue,” said eMarketer forecasting analyst Ross Benes, noting that the company has still topped membership growth expectations for this year.

With subscriber growth slowing domestically, revenue growth at Netflix will likely come from price increases, Benes reasoned.

Netflix assesses its line-up of local content, ability to retain members and more in each country before deciding whether to “ask those members to pay a little bit more,” Peters replied when asked about the potential to raise subscription rates.

“We think we are an incredible entertainment value and we very much want to remain an incredible value as we continue to improve and grow,” Peters said, not ruling out the potential for price changes.

Netflix reported a net income of $790 million (roughly Rs. 5,796 crores) on revenue of $6.4 billion (roughly Rs. 46,958 crores), handily topping the same period last year.

Netflix shares were down more than 5 percent in after-market trades following the release of the earnings figures.
Shows taking shape

“Good and careful progress” is being made when it comes to producing original content deemed critical to winning and keeping subscribers, according to Netflix.

Production, derailed in the pandemic, is back on track for hit shows including Stranger Things and The Witcher, as well as on an action film starring Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson, and Ryan Reynolds, the company said.

Netflix expressed confidence it would complete shooting on over 150 productions by year-end, and that the number of Netflix originals launched in 2021 would top the number launched this year.

“Competition for consumers’ time and engagement remains vibrant,” Netflix said.

“Linear television and other big categories of entertainment, like video games and user generated content from YouTube and TikTok are all vying for consumers’ attention and are strong drivers of screen time usage.”

Apple, Comcast, Disney and others have also taken on Netflix with streaming television services of their own.

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YouTube to Remove Content With COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation




By Reuters | Updated: 15 October 2020

Alphabet’s YouTube said on Wednesday it would remove videos from YouTube containing misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, expanding its current rules against falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the pandemic.

The video platform said it would now ban any content with claims about COVID-19 vaccines that contradict consensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organization.

YouTube said in an email that this would include removing claims that the vaccine will kill people or cause infertility, or that microchips will be implanted in people who receive the vaccine.

A YouTube spokesman told Reuters that general discussions in videos about “broad concerns” over the vaccine would remain on the platform.

YouTube says it already removes content that disputes the existence or transmission of COVID-19, promotes medically unsubstantiated methods of treatment, discourages people from seeking medical care or explicitly disputes health authorities’ guidance on self-isolation or social distancing.

Conspiracy theories and misinformation about the new coronavirus vaccines have proliferated on social media during the pandemic, including through anti-vaccine personalities on YouTube and through viral videos shared across multiple platforms.

Although drugmakers and researchers are working on various treatments, vaccines are at the heart of the long-term fight to stop the new coronavirus, which has killed more than a million people, infected more than 38 million and crippled the global economy.

In its email, YouTube said it had removed over 2,00,000 videos related to dangerous or misleading COVID-19 information since early February.

Andy Pattison, manager of digital solutions at the World Health Organization, told Reuters that the WHO meets weekly with the policy team at YouTube to discuss content trends and potentially problematic videos. Pattison said the WHO was encouraged by YouTube’s announcement on coronavirus vaccine misinformation.

The company also said it was limiting the spread of COVID-19 related misinformation on the site, including certain borderline videos about COVID-19 vaccines. A spokesman declined to provide examples of such borderline content.

YouTube said it would be announcing more steps in the coming weeks to emphasise authoritative information about COVID-19 vaccines on the site.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Disney Restructures Entertainment Businesses to Boost Disney+, Other Streaming Services




By Reuters | Updated: 13 October 2020

Walt Disney said on Monday it had restructured its media and entertainment businesses to accelerate growth of Disney+ and other streaming services as consumers increasingly gravitate to digital viewing.

Under the reorganisation, Disney will separate the development and production of programming from distribution to be more responsive to consumer demands.

The move came days after activist investor Daniel Loeb of hedge fund Third Point urged Disney to forgo a dividend payment and double its programming investment in streaming.

Disney shares rose nearly 5 percent in after-hours trading to $130.76 (roughly Rs. 9,600).

The media and theme parks company launched the Disney+ streaming service in November 2019. It has exceeded its own targets by drawing more than 100 million streaming customers worldwide to Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.

Streaming pioneer Netflix boasts 193 million, but has built that customer base over the 13 years.

Loeb had argued that Disney needed to cut its dividend to increase spending on new TV shows and movies to sign up new customers more quickly.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek, in an interview with CNBC, said the company is planning to increase investments in content but he did not say if it was prepared to cut its dividend to finance the strategy.

“Managing content creation distinct from distribution will allow us to be more effective and nimble in making the content consumers want most, delivered in the way they prefer to consume it,” Chapek, who took the company’s top job in February, said in a separate statement.

In a statement on Monday, Loeb welcomed Disney’s revamp of its media and entertainment structure.

“We are pleased to see that Disney is focused on the same opportunity that makes us such enthusiastic shareholders: investing heavily in the (direct-to-consumer) business, positioning Disney to thrive in the next era of entertainment,” Loeb said.

Under the changes, Disney’s studios, general entertainment and sports business would come under one division while distribution and commercialisation would fall under a separate global unit.

Disney said its creative teams would develop and produce programming for streaming and traditional platforms, and the distribution group would decide where customers would see it.

Chapek told CNBC there would be layoffs as a result of “centralisation” of functions but did not say how many.

Kareem Daniel, formerly president of consumer products, games and publishing, will oversee Disney’s new media and entertainment distribution group, the company said.

Alan Horn and Alan Bergman will continue to head Disney’s studio operations, which will manage programming from big franchises including Marvel, Star Wars, Disney animation, and Pixar. Peter Rice will run general entertainment programming and Jimmy Pitaro will oversee sports.

AT&T, which debuted the HBO Max streaming service in May, reorganised in August to combine its film and TV operations under one studio head to better compete in the streaming media wars.

Disney said it would hold an investor day on December 10 to provide more information about its strategy.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Netflix Indicted by Texas Grand Jury Over French Film Cuties




By Reuters | Updated: 7 October 2020

Netflix is facing a criminal charge in a Texas county for promoting lewd visuals of a child in the French film “Cuties”, according to a statement from Tyler county’s district attorney’s office on Tuesday.

The document, filed on September 23, said Netflix promoted material in the film that depicts lewd exhibition of the pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age which appeals to the prurient interest in sex.

Netflix did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

The plot of Cuties centers around an 11-year-old Muslim girl who “starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew,” according to Netflix.

Texas representative Matt Schaefer tweeted a picture of the indictment document and NBC News reported the matter earlier on Tuesday.

Cuties was previously criticised internationally for allegedly sexualising 11-year-old girls in its promotional poster. Netflix later apologised for the “inappropriate artwork”, saying it was not representative of the film.

Last month, Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog said it would order Netflix to block access locally to the film on grounds that it contains images of child exploitation.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Netflix Confronted by US Republican Senators Over Chinese Sci-Fi Show Three-Body Problem




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 26 September 2020

Five Republican US senators have confronted Netflix over the streaming giant’s plan to adapt a Chinese sci-fi book trilogy, expressing concern over the original author’s comments about claims of forced labor in Xinjiang.

Liu Cixin’s bestselling “The Three-Body Problem,” which tells the story of humanity’s first contact with aliens, is set to become a major Netflix series co-written by the creators of Game of Thrones.

In a letter to content boss Ted Sarandos, the senators accused Liu of “parroting dangerous [Communist Party] propaganda” and suggested Netflix was “providing a platform to Mr Liu in producing this project.”

They highlighted a New Yorker article from last year in which Liu is quoted defending mass internment in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, where activists say more than one million Uighurs and other Muslim Turkic-speaking people have been incarcerated in camps.

“Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks?” Liu told the magazine. “If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty.”

According to the senators’ letter, adapting Liu’s work would represent “the normalisation of, or apologism for, these crimes.”

“We ask Netflix to seriously reconsider the implications of providing a platform to Mr Liu in producing this project,” it concluded.

Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up pressure on China on a wide range of issues, imposing sanctions over policies in Xinjiang.

With Trump’s reelection bid looming closer, Republicans recently pulled Netflix into the US election fray with a separate row over French film “Cuties,” accused of sexualizing little girls.

Conservative activists say the drama is a by-product of an overly liberal culture often associated with Hollywood — and that it promotes pedophilia.

Its director denied the charges and said the movie is a critique of the over-sexualisation of young girls.

Republicans have also pointed out that Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings is a significant Democratic donor.

Liu’s father joined the Communists during China’s civil war, but was later sent to work in coal mines in the country’s north, while the author himself is described as “no dissident” in the New Yorker profile.

The trilogy by Liu — whose famous fans include former president Barack Obama — imagines an alternate history in which a female Chinese astrophysicist makes contact with an alien civilisation, prompting global fears of an invasion.

Netflix announced its adaptation earlier this month, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson serving as an executive producer, along with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment company.

Game of Thrones duo David Benioff and DB Weiss will co-write the series.

In an official statement at the time, Liu said the apocalyptic series “transcends time and the confines of nations, cultures and races.”

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Apple Buys Cherry From Avengers: Endgame Directors, the Russo Brothers




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 26 September 2020

Apple has purchased Cherry, the first film directed by the Russo brothers since their all-time record grossing Avengers: Endgame, in a major deal expected to boost the new streaming service’s Oscar hopes.

The opioid crisis drama from Anthony and Joe Russo, starring Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, will debut on Apple TV+ early next year. It is also expected to have a limited run in theatres.

Based on Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel, Cherry follows a former Army medic who falls into addiction and crime after returning from Iraq with extreme undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Apple purchased the completed film from the Russos’ production company in a deal reportedly worth more than $40 million (roughly Rs. 294.79 crores). Neither party has publicly confirmed that figure.

Speaking at last year’s Comic-Con fan convention, the filmmaking brothers described the project as a “mature” and “complicated” look at the US opioid crisis set in their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

“It’s touched our families, the crisis, so it’s a deeply personal movie for us,” said Anthony at the time.

“Joe and I are now in a position now where we can get those movies made, and we want to use that sort of capital that we built up,” he added.

The brothers directed four Marvel superhero movies, three of which grossed more than $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,369 crores). Their fourth, Avengers: Endgame, last year surpassed Avatar to seize the all-time box office record of $2.798 billion (roughly Rs. 20,621 crores).

The deal puts Apple TV+, which launched last November, in the race for an unusual awards season.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen major productions delayed, and theatrical releases postponed by a year or more, potentially benefiting streaming platforms.

Hollywood’s motion picture academy pushed back the Oscars by two months to allow more films to compete.

It eased some eligibility rules, allowing movies that skip the big screen and appear on streaming platforms to contend this time around.

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