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    Madison Avenue’s Biggest Event Returns, to a Whole New World

    In the three years since the television industry’s biggest companies pitched their shows to advertisers in person at the so-called upfronts, the entertainment industry has been flipped on its head.For the first time in three years, the circus is coming back to town.The television industry’s biggest showcase for advertisers, the so-called upfronts, will return to Manhattan landmarks like Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall after the pandemic put the glitzy, in-person galas on hold. Just like in the old days, media executives will make their best pitch to persuade marketers to buy tens of billions of dollars of commercial time in the coming months.But thanks to the vastly changed media industry, many aspects will be radically different. The companies themselves have changed: CBS merged with Viacom and then renamed itself Paramount Global, and WarnerMedia and Discovery completed a megamerger, forming Warner Bros. Discovery. The tech giant YouTube is making its debut on the presentation lineup this week, and there is already intrigue that Netflix could join the fray next year.And instead of unveiling prime-time lineups that will roll out in the fall, media companies are expected to spend a large portion of their time talking up advertising opportunities on streaming services like HBO Max, Peacock, Tubi and Disney+. There’s good reason for that: Advertisers are now allocating closer to 50 percent of their video budgets to streaming, up from around 10 percent before the pandemic, several ad buyers said in interviews. The free ad-supported streaming platforms Tubi and Pluto were highlights for their owners, Fox and Paramount, in the most recent quarter.“The upfronts used to be ‘Here’s 8, 9, 10 p.m. on Monday night’ — I don’t think anybody cares about that anymore,” said Jon Steinlauf, the chief U.S. advertising sales officer for Warner Bros. Discovery. “You’re going to hear more about sports and things like Pluto and less about the new Tuesday night procedural drama.”Stephen Colbert during the 2019 CBS upfront. CBS merged with Viacom and then renamed itself Paramount Global since the last time it was featured on an upfront stage.John P. Filo/CBSThe courtship is no longer one-sided, when reluctant streaming platforms once put a stiff arm to commercials. As subscriber growth starts to slow for many streaming services, advertising — a mainstay of traditional media — is gaining appeal as an alternative source of revenue.Netflix, which resisted ads for years but is aiming to debut an ad-supported tier later this year after a subscriber slump, is expected to play a larger role in future upfronts. Disney+, which has so far continued to increase its subscriber count, said this year that it would also offer a cheaper option buttressed by ads.“Streaming is part of every single conversation that we have — there isn’t an exception based on who your target it is, because whether you’re targeting 18-year-olds or 80-year-olds, they’re all accessing connected TV at this point,” said Dave Sederbaum, the head of video investment at the ad agency Dentsu. Last year, ad buyers spent $5.8 billion on national streaming platforms, an amount dwarfed by the $40 billion allocated to national television, according to the media intelligence firm Magna. But television sales peaked in 2016 and are expected to decline 5 percent this year, compared with a 34 percent surge projected for streaming ad revenue as services offer more preproduced and live content.The rapid changes in viewing habits have caused many marketing executives to shift toward ads placed through automated auctions and “away from legacy models like upfronts” where “advertiser choice is limited,” said Jeff Green, the chief executive of the ad-tech company The Trade Desk.“As advertisers are seeing reach and impact erode from traditional cable television, they are focused on moving to premium streaming content,” he said during his company’s earnings call last week. “Increasingly, this is the most important buy on the media plan.”But streaming will not be the only topic at the upfronts — the events themselves will also be center stage.After two years of upfront pitches recorded from executives’ living rooms, buyers will fly into New York from around the country. They will shuttle among grand venues to watch presentations while seated alongside their competitors. Some venues are asking for proof of vaccination, while masks are a must at some; Disney is requiring a same-day negative Covid test.To many networks, hosting an in-person upfront was nonnegotiable this year.“This show cannot be too big,” Linda Yaccarino, the chairwoman of global advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal, said she told producers of the company’s presentation at Radio City Music Hall on Monday. “Having everyone in the room together, there is no surrogate for that.”“Every single brand and marketer and advertiser comes in for the upfront week,” said Rita Ferro, the president of Disney advertising sales and partnerships. “It’s going to look and feel very different because it is very different — there’s so much more that we’re bringing to the stage.”Many of the week’s showcases will eschew a detailed rundown of nightly prime-time schedules and instead offer a more holistic view of available content platforms.Mr. Steinlauf, the Warner Bros. Discovery advertising chief, who is a veteran of several decades of upfronts, described changes that represent “the biggest shift of my career.” He said streaming was “the future, the new frontier,” and heavily watched athletic events were “the new prime time.” Warner Bros. Discovery will make its upfronts debut on Wednesday in front of 3,500 people at Madison Square Garden.Jo Ann Ross, Paramount’s chief advertising revenue officer, said that its event on Wednesday would “show a broader look.” She described it as a “coming-out party as Paramount” for the company formerly known as ViacomCBS.“It will feel different than what it was in the past,” she said.On Tuesday, Disney will abandon its usual upfront home at Lincoln Center and move to a space in the Lower East Side at Pier 36. The presentation will feature its three streaming platforms — Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+ — sharing a stage for the first time. NBC Universal will highlight its technological capabilities, such as data collection, while also drumming up its Peacock streaming platform, even though the service already made a pitch earlier this month during NewFronts, an event for digital companies courting Madison Avenue.Linda Yaccarino of NBCUniversal said that “having everyone in the room together” this year for the company’s upfront was the only way to go.Tawni Bannister for The New York TimesThe competition could mean more demands from advertisers, like the ability to back out of commitments and lower thresholds for how much buyers must spend.“It’s basic economics — there are now more options available to media buyers and so you’re going to see a lot more willingness to be flexible,” said David Marine, the chief marketing officer of the real estate company Coldwell Banker.Potential headaches for advertisers this year could include Russia’s war in Ukraine, global supply issues and steep inflation, according to Magna. But low unemployment and other signs of strength from the U.S. economy, along with the coming midterm elections, are expected to feed a surge in ad spending.How the upfronts address those concerns, along with deeper movements in the industry, “will be telling,” said Katie Klein, the chief investment officer at the agency PHD.“There’s always going to be room for the upfront, there’s always going to be a need for it,” she said. “But it’s going to evolve as our industry is evolving.” More

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    Mahmood and Blanco’s Eurovision Song Shows Italy’s L.G.B.T.Q. Progress

    The love song, and its video showing the artist Mahmood embracing another man, has been well received in a nation with a spotty history on L.G.B.T.Q. rights.MILAN — In February, the artists Mahmood and Blanco turned to each other onstage at Italy’s national song competition and sang, “I’d like to love you, but I’m always wrong.” It was the refrain of “Brividi” (translated as “Chills”), a song about the vulnerability of love, as experienced by all people — regardless of gender, identity or sexuality.When the song won at that competition, the Sanremo contest, and became Italy’s entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, the unexpected happened: There wasn’t much pushback.The two after winning the Sanremo music contest in Italy in February.Ettore Ferrari/EPA, via ShutterstockThere was some grumbling from a socially conservative politician about what he called L.G.B.T. “domination” at the contest, and disdain that Mahmood performed one evening wearing a garter, but Alessandro Mahmoud, known as Mahmood, had been expecting a bigger response, he said in a recent interview.When the musician — who was born in Italy to an Italian mother and an Egyptian father — won the national song contest in 2019, anti-immigration comments followed. But this year, even those polemics normally trumpeted by conservative politicians did not flare up. The 29-year-old artist saw the muted criticism for “Brividi” as a sign that “something has happened in Italian society.”Italy has long been influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, which for generations considered homosexuality as a taboo topic to be either ignored or shunned. In a 2005 text approved by Benedict XVI, who was pope at the time, homosexuality was described as “not a sin” but essentially “an intrinsic moral evil.”L.G.B.T.Q. rights in Italy have advanced after decades of campaigning, but some legal challenges remain. Same-sex civil unions were legalized in 2016, years after other European countries, but same-sex marriage is not legal, nor can someone in a same-sex civil union legally adopt his or her partner’s biological child.On Being Transgender in AmericaPhalloplasty: The surgery, used to construct a penis, has grown more popular among transgender men. But with a steep rate of complications, it remains a controversial procedure.Elite Sports: The case of the transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has stirred a debate about the nature of athleticism in women’s sports.Transgender Youth: A photographer documented the lives of transgender youth. She shared some thoughts on what she saw.Corporate World: What is it like to transition while working for Wall Street? A Goldman Sachs’ employee shares her experience.So when two men sang a love song, clearly engaging with each other, as part of a cherished national competition, it was a first. The track “normalizes what should have always been normal,” Mahmood said.The song’s video more explicitly shows Mahmood tenderly embracing a man, while Blanco sings to a woman. A video of the song on Mahmood’s official YouTube page has been viewed more than 55 million times.Italian society’s approach to sexuality is changing. “Sexual orientation no longer has any importance, nor is it important to label oneself anymore,” said Aldo Cazzullo, a columnist in the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera. In the 1950s and 1960s, many gay people in Italy were not open about their sexuality, Cazzullo said. This was followed by an era of coming out and empowerment, and “now there’s no longer the need to say anything,” he said. He pointed out that two of Italy’s southern regions had voted to elect gay men as regional presidents.Mahmood said that although his songs speak volumes about who he is, he doesn’t define his sexuality: “It makes no sense to make distinctions anymore.”Blanco, the stage name of Riccardo Fabbriconi, 19, said that his “generation is much more open” and that people his age no longer thought in terms of gender identity. In just two years, he has gone from posting videos “singing in my underwear in my bedroom,” he said, to a multicity Italian summer tour that sold out in 72 hours.And Blanco said he also saw Italy as being “more open in general — I hope.”A recent headline in the newspaper La Stampa in Turin captured this sentiment: “Blanco, son of the fluid century, his generation will save us.”“My generation is much more open,” said Blanco, 19, left. Mahmood, 29, says he doesn’t define his sexuality.Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York TimesOn Tuesday evening, the Italian hosts for the Eurovision Song Contest semifinal broadcast included Cristiano Malgioglio, a songwriter and popular television personality also known for his outlandish couture, who riffed on his love life. Speaking of the five countries that automatically get into the final — Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Britain — he quipped, “I have a boyfriend in every nation.” He was a host last year, too.Eurovision has always “had a large L.G.B.T.Q. element in its fandom,” said Catherine Baker, a historian at the University of Hull who has written about the competition. After significant rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in the late 1990s and the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, which banned discrimination against people on the grounds of sexual orientation, “Europe became associated with the idea of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, and symbolically that had an impact on Eurovision, even if it wasn’t organized by the European Union,” Baker said.The competition has also long been a trailblazer when it comes to L.G.B.T.Q. representation onstage, featuring artists like Iceland’s Paul Oscar, Israel’s Dana International and Finland’s Saara Aalto over the years.L.G.B.T.Q. people face openly hostile environments in several European countries, including Poland, Hungary and Russia. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the powerful head of the Russian Orthodox Church, recently justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by claiming that it was part of a struggle against ideals imposed by liberal foreigners that included gay pride parades.Franco Grillini, a prominent Italian L.G.B.T.Q. rights activist, said a song like “Brividi” would once have been “unimaginable” at a festival that normally has Italians glued to their television screens.In the past, homosexuality could also hurt a musical career in Italy, he said, citing the case of Umberto Bindi, a talented, gay singer-songwriter who caused a scandal in Sanremo in 1961 by wearing a pinkie ring (then a presumed sign of homosexuality). He never got the recognition he deserved because “he was brutally discriminated” against, Grillini said.But democracies have a way of righting wrongs, according to Angelo Pezzana, another L.G.B.T.Q. rights activist. “It’s always been like this. Remember that not a century ago, women went to jail for the right to vote,” he said. In Italy, women only got the right to vote in 1945. The Mahmood-Blanco duet “was a sign that things had changed in a positive way,” he said.The track “normalizes what should have always been normal,” Mahmood said of the Eurovision song.Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York TimesThat said, Italy’s record on equal rights for L.G.B.T.Q. people remains spotty. Apart from not having fair representation when it comes to marriage and adoption, in October, the Senate rejected a bill meant to make violence against L.G.B.T.Q. people a hate crime, a label that would have meant harsher penalties. Critics blamed the lack of consensus both on political bickering as well as on Vatican interference, given that a few months earlier the Vatican had openly opposed the bill, saying it infringed upon guaranteed religious liberties.“Italy is still profoundly linked to the Vatican, which conditions Parliament,” said Grillini, who was a lawmaker for seven years.Even under Pope Francis, the message has been mixed. Shortly after his election in 2013, Francis said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” and he has continued to encourage the church to be more welcoming toward the L.G.B.T.Q. faithful. But since then, the Vatican has rejected the notion that gender identity can be fluid, and it has reaffirmed its opposition to same-sex marriage.But at least at the Sanremo contest, old prejudices didn’t seem to apply.“All my songs speak of my way of experiencing love and sex,” Mahmood said. “The least an artist can do is give an example.” More

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    Netflix Tells Employees Ads May Come by the End of 2022

    Netflix could introduce its lower-priced ad-supported tier by the end of the year, a more accelerated timeline than originally indicated, the company told employees in a recent note.In the note, Netflix executives said they were aiming to introduce the ad tier in the final three months of the year, said two people who shared details of the communication on the condition of anonymity to describe internal company discussions. The note also said Netflix planned to begin cracking down on password sharing among its subscriber base around the same time, the people said.Last month, Netflix stunned the media industry and Madison Avenue when it revealed that it would begin offering a lower-priced subscription featuring ads, after years of publicly stating that commercials would never be seen on the streaming platform.But Netflix is facing significant business challenges. In announcing first-quarter earnings last month, Netflix said it lost 200,000 subscribers in the first three months of the year — the first time that has happened in a decade — and expected to lose two million more in the months to come. Since the subscriber announcement, Netflix’s share price has dropped sharply, wiping away roughly $70 billion in the company’s market capitalization.Reed Hastings, Netflix’s co-chief executive, told investors that the company would examine the possibility of introducing an advertising-supported platform and that it would try to “figure it out over the next year or two.”The Race to Rule Streaming TVA New Era: Companies like Netflix, HBO, Hulu and Amazon ushered out the age of “prestige TV” and ushered in an age of anything goes.Netflix’s Woes: The streaming star lost subscribers for the first time in a decade as competitors continue to expand. What explains its poor performance?A Warning Sign?: Netflix’s sudden problems may be an indication that other streaming services are heading toward an unstable future.Commercials: Streaming executives are having a change of heart about ads and offering lower-priced versions in exchange for commercials.The recent note to staff signaled that the timeline has sped up.“Yes, it’s fast and ambitious and it will require some trade-offs,” the note said.A Netflix spokeswoman declined to comment.Netflix offers a variety of payment tiers for streaming access; its most popular plan costs $15.49 a month. The new ad-supported tier will cost less. Other streaming services have similar plans. HBO Max, for instance, offers a commercial-free service for $15 a month, and charges $10 a month for the service with advertising.Indeed, in the note to employees, Netflix executives invoked their competitors, saying HBO and Hulu have been able to “maintain strong brands while offering an ad-supported service.”“Every major streaming company excluding Apple has or has announced an ad-supported service,” the note said. “For good reason, people want lower-priced options.”Netflix has discussed its interest in building out an advertising infrastructure externally as well, including with a company called The Trade Desk, which helps advertisers place ads on various internet-enabled platforms, said a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to describe them. The Trade Desk counts David Wells, the former chief financial officer of Netflix, as a board member, and has been in touch with Netflix for years, this person said, but discussions ramped up recently, after Netflix said publicly that it would create an advertising tier.Last month, Netflix also announced that it intended to begin charging higher prices to subscribers who shared their account with several people.“So if you’ve got a sister, let’s say, that’s living in a different city — you want to share Netflix with her, that’s great,” Greg Peters, Netflix’s chief operating officer, said on the company’s earnings call. “We’re not trying to shut down that sharing, but we’re going to ask you to pay a bit more to be able to share with her.”Mr. Peters said the company would go “through a year or so of iterating” on password sharing before it rolled out a plan.In the note to employees, Netflix executives said the advertising-supported tier would be introduced “in tandem with our broader plans to charge for sharing.”Tiffany Hsu More

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    In Bid to Boost Peacock, Universal Sending 3 Movies Straight to Streaming

    The move is not only an attempt to attract subscribers but an acknowledgment that releasing some films theatrically has become more of a gamble.Donna Langley, the head of Universal’s Motion Picture Entertainment Group, stepped on the stage at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas last week and reaffirmed her commitment to movie theaters.“Theatrical will always be the cornerstone of our business,” she told the crowd of theater owners gathered for the annual CinemaCon industry convention, adding, “Cheers to that.”It was not just lip service. With more than 25 films set for release in 2022, Universal has at least 10 more than any other major Hollywood studio. It will release a combination of blockbusters (“Jurassic World Dominion”), family fare (“Minions: The Rise of Gru”) and original bets (Jordan Peele’s “Nope” and “Beast,” starring Idris Elba), operating on the premise that a movie’s value begins with its debut in theaters.Yet on Monday, as part of a presentation for advertisers, Kelly Campbell, the president of NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock, will announce that three new movies produced by Universal Pictures will head straight to the streaming service when they debut in 2023.They include a biopic about LeBron James based on his memoir, “Shooting Stars”; a remake of John Woo’s 1989 crime drama “The Killer,” starring Omar Sy; and “Praise This,” a music-competition feature set in the world of youth choir.For Peacock, which last week announced that it ended the first quarter of the year with more than 13 million paid subscribers and 28 million monthly active accounts in the United States, representing a growth of 4 million users, the additional film content is crucial to its strategy. It needs to find a way to compete with the bigger services like Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max, at a time when streaming subscriber numbers seem to be plateauing.Ms. Langley greenlit all three pictures, and had to make the calls to tell the filmmakers about the change in distribution strategy.“I think everybody sort of woke up and smelled the coffee during the pandemic and recognized that not all movies are created equal,” Ms. Langley said in an interview, adding that the filmmakers were still interested in partnering with the studio, even if it meant going straight to Peacock. “It’s a big deal for Peacock to have these movies. They are events for them. And we got yeses, so I think it was a satisfying rationale.”“Theatrical will always be the cornerstone of our business,” Donna Langley, the head of Universal’s Motion Picture Entertainment Group, told theater owners last week.Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe three movies also reflect the type of audience Peacock seems to be attracting so far: younger and more diverse than those who gravitate toward the other legacy businesses run by Comcast, Peacock’s parent company.“What you’ll see with these films is that they are broadly appealing, but also track towards that young, diverse audience that represents the streaming audience of today, the generation of consumers who are choosing streaming as their primary source of entertainment,” Ms. Campbell said in an interview.Despite lagging behind some of its streaming competitors, Peacock has experienced success this year. February was a high point, when viewers could see the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Super Bowl, the simultaneous release of the Jennifer Lopez-starring film “Marry Me” in theaters and on the service, and the debut of “Bel-Air,” a dramatic reimagining of the 1990s hit television series “The Prince of Bel-Air” that starred Will Smith. (Season two is in development.)“Retention on our service after airing all of this special content in such a concentrated period of time was well above our expectation,” Brian Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast, said in an earnings call last week. “We have seen a 25 percent increase in hours of engagement year-over-year.”When the pandemic upended the theater business, Universal Pictures experimented with a variety of distribution methods for its movies. There was the purely theatrical like “Fast 9: The Fast Saga,” which earned $173 million when it was released last summer when coronavirus cases were lower. And there was “Sing 2,” which earned over $160 million domestically after being released in December, before going to premium video-on-demand just 17 days after its debut in theaters. The company has also experimented with simultaneous release, debuting “Halloween Kills” and the sequel to “Boss Baby” in theaters and on Peacock during the height of the pandemic. The company will do so again in two weeks with the remake of the Stephen King horror film “Firestarter.”“There’s no one size fits all,” Ms. Langley said. “It really is about looking at the individual movies on the one hand and then also at our growth engine Peacock, and doing what’s best in any given moment, depending on what’s going on in the marketplace. I’m hopeful that this stabilizes over time as the theatrical landscape stabilizes. But until then, we do have this optionality.”Like every other studio executive, Ms. Langley is involved in the complicated calculus of determining what movies fit where in a world where the theatrical box office is down 45 percent from what it was in 2019. It is “a box office that is in decline,” Ms. Langley said, with theatergoing expected to still be down at least 15 percent from its prepandemic level in 2023.In speaking specifically to the three films she chose to put straight on Peacock, she described them as “movies we love that a decade ago would have been no-brainers” to make and release in theaters.But audiences have more choice now about when and where they watch films, and it can be more difficult to convince them that a film is worth seeing in a theater.“We still want to make these movies because we believe in the stories, we believe in the storytellers and we think that these are great pieces of entertainment,” she said. “We have the ability to be able to avail ourselves of our streaming platform. And we think that they are events, actually, to be released into the home, very specifically for the Peacock audience.”Peacock is buying the films from Universal Pictures, a portion of the $3 billion it intends to spend on content in 2022, ramping up to $5 billion in the next couple of years.Ms. Langley says that while 2023 will feature three straight-to-Peacock films, she hopes release seven to 10 films that way in the coming years, films that will all be developed and produced by the same Universal creative team that is behind the “Jurassic Park” and “Fast and Furious” franchises.“Peacock’s future depends on having good content and our future depends on having flexibility in our distribution models,” Ms. Langley said. “So our agendas, ultimately, are aligned. So, yes, there’s debate about any one particular title or something they might want that we can’t deliver or vice versa but that’s the stuff of working inside a big corporation.” More

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    A French Hit on Netflix Changes Its Language and Streaming Service

    “Call My Agent!,” set at a Parisian talent agency, was a cult favorite during the pandemic. But the English-language adaptation will be on Sundance Now and AMC+.Four bumbling talent agents at risk of losing their business because of poor financial planning. A secret daughter interested in a career in the entertainment industry. Cameos by famous actors playing themselves. One spoiled dog. This is the formula that made the French show “Call My Agent!,” about a Parisian talent agency, into a global hit once it began appearing on Netflix in 2016.On Friday, the British version of the show, titled “Ten Percent” and set at a London talent agency, will debut. But instead of airing on Netflix, the eight-episode series will premiere on Sundance Now and AMC+ in the United States, and Amazon U.K. in Britain, Canada and six other English-speaking territories.Basing an English-language TV show on a popular hit from another country is a tried-and-true convention in the U.S. entertainment industry. Think “Homeland” and “Euphoria” — or even “The Office,” which began life with Ricky Gervais in England before being adapted into the long-running American version starring Steve Carell.“Ten Percent” was conceived in much the same way. David Davoli, who heads the television division for Bron Studios, negotiated, along with London’s Headline Pictures, for the English rights to “Call My Agent!” in 2017, after the show debuted on Netflix but before it truly caught on with English-speaking audiences. According to Mr. Davoli, it was already doing “bonkers numbers on French television,” where it debuted in 2015. Yet it was before “the dawn of international television where people were more comfortable ingesting foreign language stuff,” he said.What makes “Ten Percent” unique is that usually the English-language version is adapted from a show not widely seen in the United States. Not so with “Call My Agent!,” which became a cult favorite with American audiences during the pandemic. The show has run for four seasons on Netflix — with talk of a possible fifth to come — and inspired a film and adaptations in India and Turkey. Its star, Camille Cottin, could be seen in the films “House of Gucci” and “Stillwater” last year.“Call My Agent!” became available on Netflix in 2016.Christophe Brachet/NetflixNetflix won’t give details on the show’s viewership numbers, but the company’s co-chief executive Ted Sarandos referred to the series in his January earnings call as proof that Netflix’s investment in international programming was paying off. It, along with “Money Heist” and “Squid Game,” proved to streaming companies that if a show is good enough, subtitles and cultural specificity are not a deterrent for viewers. And if that’s the case, why spend money on an English-language version? The Race to Rule Streaming TVA New Era: Companies like Netflix, HBO, Hulu and Amazon ushered out the age of “prestige TV” and ushered in an age of anything goes.Netflix’s Woes: The streaming star lost subscribers for the first time in a decade as competitors are continuing to expand.A Warning Sign?: Netflix’s sudden problems may be an indication that other streaming services are heading toward an unstable future.Commercials: Streaming executives are having a change of heart about ads and offering lower-priced versions in exchange for commercials.In contrast, “Ten Percent” will appear on a much smaller platform, one with nine million subscribers, just 12 percent of Netflix’s 74.6 million subscribers in the United States and Canada. (It stars Jack Davenport as the de facto head of the agency and will feature cameos from well-known British actors including Helena Bonham Carter, Dominic West and David Oyelowo.)Netflix had the opportunity to buy “Ten Percent,” as did every other streaming service in the United States, but passed. It declined to comment on its decision. Instead, Sundance Now came up with an attractive offer and licensed the show.“We’re very happy to be there,” Mr. Davoli said of his relationship with AMC Networks, which owns Sundance Now. “I like being a bigger fish in a smaller pond. I think we’re going to get way more attention there. Marketing is half the battle, and on some of the bigger streamers they’re up on Friday and gone on Monday.”AMC Networks, which owns a handful of niche streaming options including AMC+, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and AllBlk, will also air the show weekly on its BBC America channel, two days after the episodes become available through streaming.“We jumped at the chance to make Sundance Now the U.S. home of the British remake,” said Shannon Cooper, vice president of programming for Sundance Now. “This is such a fun watch, whether you’ve seen the original or not.”This is a rocky moment for streaming, with Netflix’s stock plummeting after last week’s announcement that it lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of the year and expected to lose two million beyond that in the second. Despite the deluge of content arriving weekly on the various services, consumers are happy to end a subscription if the latest offerings aren’t striking their fancy.Helena Bonham Carter, right, is one of the celebrities playing a version of themselves in “Ten Percent.” Lydia Leonard is one of the show’s stars.Rob Youngson/Sundance NowAccording to a recent survey by Deloitte, 37 percent of consumers in the United States added or canceled a streaming subscription in the last six months, a churn figure that has been consistent since 2020. The primary reasons they cited were price concerns and lack of new content. The return of a favorite show, according to Deloitte’s survey, is a key reason customers would subscribe to a service, or resubscribe to one they recently abandoned. That’s why a show like “Ten Percent,” which has the potential to lure viewers who enjoyed “Call My Agent!,” is an attractive purchase for an upstart streaming service.“It’s an appealing proposition for any of these distributors,” said Dan Erlij, partner at United Talent Agency and co-head of the television literary department. “There’s so much stuff that’s constantly premiering. How do you make sure that people are aware of it? Bus ads and billboards only take you so far. And it’s expensive. So if you know that there’s a word of mouth built in already, I think that can be really helpful.”The executive producer of “Ten Percent” is John Morton, best known for his comedy “W1A,” which satirizes the BBC. In a recent interview, he said he was cognizant of the high stakes he was facing when he took the job of adapting the beloved series. Attracted to the show’s “warm heart” and its ability to connect its audience to its fallible main characters, Mr. Morton said, he was intimidated by the idea of “starting again with something that’s already so good.”His strategy was to go back and rewatch the first season of “Call My Agent!” in its entirety but then never refer to it again. As of the interview, he had yet to finish the third season and hadn’t watched the fourth.The ultimate goal was to take the essence of “Call My Agent!” and make it specifically British, capturing the diversity of London, from its architecture to its people.“London is chaotic — architecturally, logistically, creatively — and that throws up wonderful things and also terrible things,” Mr. Morton said, adding that, as in “Call My Agent!,” the talent agency has a rooftop. But rather than looking out over a pristine Parisian night sky, this roof “looks out over a certain sort of unconnected chimneys.”The cast of the British version is also more diverse, with the secret daughter from the original now played by the British actress Hiftu Quasem, who is of Bengali descent, and the bumbling agent, Dan, portrayed by Prasanna Puwanarajah, a British actor of Sri Lankan descent. Yet the archetypes from the original prevail. For example, Ms. Cottin’s character, a hard-charging lesbian agent, is now played by Lydia Leonard, and her character’s frenetic love life is also complicated by her career ambitions.Mr. Davoli — who since becoming the head of Bron TV has sold three other co-productions to streaming companies, including “The Defeated” to Netflix and “Kin” to AMC — admits that the market for format deals has become more challenged in recent years.“The thing that’s most important that I’ve learned over the last four years is the quality bar cannot be messed with,” he said. “The only way to protect the investment is to ensure that you’re creatively making content that can sell into the U.S., because our audiences are so sophisticated now. They won’t stick around for stuff that’s not rising above a certain bar.” More

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    Do You Skip Intro?

    Elyssa Dudley and Listen and follow Still ProcessingApple Podcasts | Spotify | StitcherWesley worries the “skip intro” button is killing the TV theme song. When we skip, we’re denying “the possibility of having this connection with a show that becomes bigger and more meaningful than the show itself.”He takes his concern to his friend Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet, music critic and MacArthur “genius grant” winner. Together, they explore their childhood memories of “Good Times,” “The Wonder Years” and “The Jeffersons.” Then, producer Hans Buetow unearths a rendition of a theme song that blows their minds — and they vow never to hit “skip intro” on it.Can you help us identify this choir?On today’s episode, Wesley and Hanif are played this video of a choir singing the “Good Times” theme song. Now, we need your help: Can you identify the choir?We have confirmed that the singers are backstage at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif., but who are they? We’d love to find out and get in touch with them.If you have any ideas or information about the choir, please email us at stillprocessing@nytimes.com.Theme songs as beautiful wallpaperHanif shares a story about how a photographer visiting his home was struck by the blue wallpaper in his front entryway. Before the pandemic, Hanif would travel more frequently, so coming home and crossing his entryway was “a real beautiful experience,” he says. But now, he’s so consumed by errands — setting down groceries, making sure his dog doesn’t run out — that he’d forgotten about his wallpaper.“The theme song acts as almost the wallpaper,” Hanif says. “When I do notice it, if it’s something that I can pause and notice and I enjoy it, I’m thrilled. But otherwise, it’s kind of like a border between me and something that I have to do, or something that I feel like I am driven to do. But it is nice to notice it when it comes along if it’s wonderful enough.”Hosted by: Jenna Wortham and Wesley MorrisProduced by: Elyssa Dudley and Hans BuetowEdited by: Sara Sarasohn and Sasha WeissEngineered by: Marion LozanoExecutive Producer, Shows: Wendy DorrAssistant Managing Editor: Sam Dolnick More

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    Streaming Has Won the Hollywood Debate. Is Best Picture Next?

    A few years ago, the entertainment industry was arguing over whether movies on streaming services even counted as a film. Now, one is poised to win the Oscars’ top prize.Three years ago, Hollywood was engaged in a knock-down, drag-out fight over the future of cinema — what, exactly, constitutes a film — with the Oscars as the boxing ring.Netflix and other streaming insurgents insisted that the delivery route was irrelevant, that a film could be primarily viewed on an iPhone and still be a film. Theaters? Ticket sales? It didn’t matter.The Hollywood establishment, or at least most of it, was incensed: Big screens, they argued, are part of the very definition of cinema. “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Steven Spielberg told a reporter at a European press junket at the time. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.”And now?Unless the predictions are wrong and something unexpected awaits inside those gold leaf-embossed envelopes at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday, a streaming service film — in a first — will win the Oscar for best picture. “CODA,” a dramedy from Apple TV+ about the only hearing member of a deaf family, is favored to receive the prize, having already won top honors at the predictive Producers Guild Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Writers Guild Awards.A Netflix film, “The Power of the Dog,” could nudge past “CODA” to win the best picture trophy, awards handicappers say. But most are not predicting a win for nominees from traditional studios, including “Belfast” and “West Side Story.” Apple TV+ and Netflix have both campaigned aggressively, with Apple spending an estimated $20 million to $25 million to promote “CODA” and Netflix’s push for “The Power of the Dog” costing even more.“CODA,” which stars Troy Kostur and Marlee Matlin, has already won top honors from the Screen Actors Guild.Apple TV+For an industry in turmoil, with tech giants like Apple and Amazon upending entertainment-industry business practices and threatening Hollywood power hierarchies, the welcoming of a streaming service into the best picture club would amount to a seismic moment. Television and film have been merging for years, but lines of demarcation remain, with the Oscars as one. (Last year’s winner, “Nomadland,” from Searchlight Pictures, a traditional studio, was mostly seen on Hulu, but only because a lot of theaters were closed; it played in roughly 1,200 theaters in the United States and had an exclusive IMAX run.)Explore the 2022 Academy AwardsThe 94th Academy Awards will be held on March 27 in Los Angeles.The Hosts: Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes plan to keep the show moving and make it funny, though they will acknowledge the war in Ukraine.‘Seen That Before?’: Four of the best picture nominees this year are remakes or reboots of earlier films.Best Actress Race: Who will win? There are cases to be made for and against each contender, and no one has an obvious advantage. Hollywood Legend: Danny Glover will receive an honorary Oscar for his activism. He spoke to The Times about his life in movies and social justice.Return to the Playground: For his Oscar-nominated short film “When We Were Bullies,” Jay Rosenblatt tracked down his fifth-grade classmates.Among this year’s best picture nominees, “I think there’s a lot of the academy that might not even know what is a streaming movie and what isn’t a streaming movie,” said the producer Jason Blum, whose Oscar-nominated films have included “Get Out,” “Whiplash” and “BlacKkKlansman.”The digital forces that have reshaped music and television have been chipping away at cinema for a long time. “If ‘CODA’ and Apple win, which seems pretty likely, it will be in part because of Netflix, which has been banging on the academy door for years, and fighting the good fight — or the bad fight, depending on who you ask — to get streaming movies considered,” Mr. Blum said.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.“The Power of the Dog,” from Netflix, is seen as another strong contender for best picture.Kirsty Griffin/NetflixIn 2019, the Oscars-centered clash between Old Hollywood and New was so heated, particularly on Twitter, that the Justice Department sent an unusual letter to the academy warning that changes to its eligibility rules could raise antitrust concerns. At the time, there was a push inside the 10,000-member academy to come up with a reasonable way to ensure that only films with robust theatrical releases were eligible for Oscars.Flickers of resistance remain.“There are many great companies that are streamers that like to loosely throw around the word ‘cinema’ without supporting it as cinema,” said Tom Quinn, chief executive of Neon, the indie studio behind “Parasite,” which won the 2021 Oscar for best picture, and “The Worst Person in the World,” a screenplay and international film nominee this year. He was referring to the tendency by the majority of the streaming companies to limit a film’s theatrical release, opting instead to release it on their apps.Our Reviews of the 10 Best-Picture Oscar NomineesCard 1 of 10“Belfast.” More

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    Streaming Companies Are Looking to Britain for Studios to Meet Demand

    Netflix, Amazon Prime and other studios are snapping up soundstages in Britain and building more, drawn by an experienced labor pool and alluring tax incentives.LIVERPOOL, England — For two decades, the Littlewoods building in Liverpool, a long, low-slung and cavernous space built to house a betting and mail-order company in the 1930s, sat abandoned. No one wanted to take on this crumbling hulk looming on the outskirts of the city.Until Lynn Saunders. She is the driving force to make it the center of Liverpool’s first film and TV studio complex.“It’s a beast of a site,” said Ms. Saunders, the head of the Liverpool Film Office. It had been too intimidating for most prospective buyers. But amid a boom in TV and film production in Britain, Littlewoods Studios is now one of at least two dozen major plans to build or expand studio space across Britain.Streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video are racing to meet insatiable demand for content and have chosen Britain as their location to make it, countering the malaise of overall investment in the nation since it voted to leave the European Union. In 2021, a record 5.6 billion pounds ($7.4 billion) was spent on film and high-end TV productions in Britain, nearly 30 percent more than the previous high in 2019, according to the British Film Institute. More than 80 percent of that money was coming ashore from American studios or other foreign productions.Lynn Saunders, the head of the Liverpool Film Office, hopes that adding studios will keep productions in town and stimulate the local economy.Francesca Jones for The New York TimesAssured that there is no imminent end to the desire for binge-worthy shows and movies, studios, property developers and local authorities are rushing to build more production space. Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity company, and Hudson Pacific Properties, the owner of Sunset Studios, which include the former homes of Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. off Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, have said they will invest £700 million to build the first Sunset Studios facility outside Los Angeles, just north of London. With 21 soundstages, it will be larger than any of its Hollywood studios.“There is just such a massive need to produce content in markets that already have infrastructure,” said Victor Coleman, the chairman and chief executive of Hudson Pacific Properties. “And the infrastructure is not necessarily just the facilities but it’s also the talent both in front and behind the camera.”The once-abandoned Littlewoods building in Liverpool. The site is now one of about a dozen major plans to build or expand studio space across Britain.Francesca Jones for The New York TimesThe early “Star Wars” films and 10 years’ worth of Harry Potter movies helped Britain get here. Film productions were attracted by experienced labor and visual effects companies and, critically, generous tax breaks. In 2013, the incentives were extended to TV productions that cost more than £1 million per broadcast hour — so-called high-end TV series, like “The Crown” and “Game of Thrones.” In recent years, productions were offered a 25 percent cash rebate on qualifying expenditures, such as visual effects done in Britain. In the 2020-21 fiscal year, tax breaks for film, TV, video games, children’s television and animation exceeded £1.2 billion.In Britain, film gets a level of government attention that other creative industries, such as live theater, can only dream of.“I would not like to contemplate the loss of the tax incentive,” said Ben Roberts, the chief executive of the British Film Institute. Without it, Britain would become immediately uncompetitive, he added.Most of the growth in production in Britain comes from big-budget TV shows, a staple of streaming channels. Last year, 211 high-end TV productions filmed in Britain, such as “Ted Lasso” and “Good Omens,” and fewer than half of them were produced solely by British companies, according to the British Film Institute. Compared with 2019, the amount spent jumped by 85 percent to £4.1 billion.Buildings and streets in Liverpool were transformed into Gotham City for the filming of “The Batman.”Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros.St. George’s Hall in Liverpool was used in “The Batman.”Francesca Jones for The New York TimesA scene shows Batman jumping off the Liver building, in front of its clock.Francesca Jones for The New York TimesLiverpool already claims to be the second-most-filmed-in city in Britain after London. For a few weeks in late 2020, its streets became Gotham City for “The Batman,” and for years shows, including “Peaky Blinders,” have been shot there. The local authority is courting more TV shows by building four smaller studios.Property developers announced the plan for Littlewoods Studios in early 2018, but the grand ambitions were pushed off course a few months later by a fire in the building. Not wanting to miss out on the rising demand, Ms. Saunders convinced the City Council to spend £3 million building two soundstages adjacent to the site. They opened in October.And then at the end of last year, £8 million in public funding was approved for remedial work on the Littlewoods building to create two more sound stages. Ms. Saunders hopes that adding studios will keep productions in town for longer — occupying hotel rooms, ordering from restaurants and employing local people. The film office has also started investing in productions — so far to the tune of £2 million in six TV shows.Britain is already the largest production location for Netflix outside the United States and Canada. While plenty is filmed on location — such as “Bridgerton,” in Bath, and “Sex Education,” in Wales — Netflix committed to a permanent home in 2019 at the Pinewood Group’s Shepperton Studios in Surrey, just southwest of London, where “Dr. Strangelove” and “Oliver!” were made decades ago. Shepperton is now expanding, aiming to double the number of its soundstages to 31 by 2023, and Netflix plans to occupy much of that new space.“Ted Lasso” was one of 211 high-end TV productions filmed in Britain last year.Colin Hutton/Apple TV+, via Associated PressBut the descent of American streamers on British shores has brought its challenges, too. The industry is rife with stories of production crews leaving jobs for higher-paying gigs, long waits for studios and production costs that outpace inflation.Anna Mallett, Netflix’s vice president of physical production for the U.K., Europe, Middle East and Africa, resists the idea that the streamer’s voracious expansion is squeezing others out of studio space.“I do think there is enough for everyone,” she said. “There’s over six million square feet of production space coming onto the market in the next couple of years.”Amazon plans to move in next door. Last month, Prime Video agreed to lease 450,000 square feet in the new development at Shepperton Studios, including nine soundstages. The streaming service sent a ripple of excitement through Britain last year when it announced that it would film the second season of its “Lord of the Rings” series, “The Rings of Power,” in the country. It will move from New Zealand to the dismay of that country’s officials, who over two decades have offered hundreds of millions of dollars in financial incentives to the franchise.By 2023, Warner Bros. hopes to be underway with its plans to add 50 percent more soundstage space to its studios northwest of London.Warner Bros. was the first major Hollywood studio to set up a permanent location in Britain when it bought in 2010 the Leavesden studios, where it made Harry Potter.“It was a pretty huge leap for Warners to make that investment,” said Emily Stillman, the head of studio operations at Leavesden. After years of piecemeal expansion, the new development, if it gets planning approval, will be the studio’s biggest investment at the site.Away from more renowned studios surrounding London, there is hope that the production boom can bring job opportunities and investment to overlooked areas in Britain. New studios are being constructed out of an old industrial space in Dagenham, in east London, an area once synonymous with the manufacture of Ford cars in the 20th century. In Bristol, the local authority is investing £12 million to add three more soundstages to Bottle Yard Studios in an area that is economically struggling, said Laura Aviles, the head of the Bristol Film Office.A guide leading a tour of filiming areas in Liverpool, which are rapidly expanding as the industry invests in Britain.Francesca Jones for The New York Times“It’s been a struggle” to regenerate the area, she said, “and there are a lot of young people there who could be third-generation unemployed who have struggled to get into work.” The expansion will hopefully entice other businesses to the area.There is a risk that all this demand for studio space could become a blessing and a curse. Despite the skilled work force in the field, there are real concerns about whether Britain can train enough production crew and fill the associated roles to populate all this new studio space. The industry has committed millions of pounds to rapid training programs. Industry leaders hope to bring more people into the field and break the stereotype that the work — most of it freelance — is exclusively for the well off and well connected. This month, Prime Video said it would spend £10 million to fund courses in Britain focused on increasing diversity in the industry and positions in Prime Video-commissioned productions.And there is the fear that smaller independent productions by British filmmakers, who can’t as readily use debt to finance an expansion, will be left behind in this boom. Just 16 percent of the money spent on high-end TV shows in Britain last year went to solely domestic productions.The level of foreign investment “does run the risk of challenging the indigenous, independent sector in terms of its ability to retain talent, crew up, get finance, hire space, use locations,” Mr. Roberts of the British Film Institute said. “We are really alert to that not feeling like a squeeze too far.” More