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‘Sesame Street’ Joins HBO, In Sign Of Children’s Shows’ Value

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Tyrion Lannister, meet Big Bird.

HBO, the network behind decidedly not-kid-friendly shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “True Detective,” says it will now air Sesame Street.

Time Warner Inc.-owned HBO on Thursday announced a deal with the nonprofit Sesame Workshop to make the next five seasons of the long-running educational program available on its cable channels and streaming services.

New episodes will continue to air on PBS, the series’ home of 45 years, nine months after they debut on HBO.

The Sesame-HBO deal comes as digital rivals including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have been ramping up investment in children’s programming to go after crucial young viewers.

Hulu last year expanded its distribution deal with Nickelodeon owner Viacom Inc., adding shows including The Ren & Stimpy Show and Hey Arnold!

Netflix this year has added seasons of classic educational shows such as “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “Reading Rainbow.” The streamer teamed up with DreamWorks Animation in 2013 to make original kids’ shows.

Not to be outdone, Amazon is looking to beef up its own crop of children’s programming. Its Amazon Studios arm ordered six new young-skewing pilots in May.

Financial details were not disclosed, but the new funding from HBO will let Sesame Workshop greatly increase its output. Sesame Street will go from 18 episodes a year to 35, and the nonprofit will produce a new spinoff series for HBO. An additional educational series will also be developed, the companies said.

The deal comes as a welcome relief for Sesame Workshop, which has come under financial pressure from declining DVD sales. The organization has historically funded its operations from product licensing revenue, which has been relatively stable, and its struggling DVD business.

The organization has previously received about 10 percent of its Sesame Street production financing from PBS, which will no longer have to put up that money.

“Over the past decade, both the way in which children are consuming video and the economics of the children’s television production business have changed dramatically,” said Sesame Street co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney, in a statement. “In order to fund our nonprofit mission with a sustainable business model, Sesame Workshop must recognize these changes and adapt to the times.”

HBO is also getting the rights to 150 old “Sesame Street” episodes that will be pulled from rival streaming services. Those episodes will continue to exist on PBS’ kids app and air as reruns on member stations.

Photo: “Sesame Street” characters Abby Cadabby, Grover, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Bird Bird, via Facebook.

Spotify Adds Video, News And Podcasts To Streaming Service

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Spotify is not just for music anymore.

The Swedish streaming music company, which counts 60 million users around the world, confirmed Wednesday that it is adding videos, plus news and podcasts, to its service.

Spotify is trying to take a bigger slice of the fast-growing streaming music industry as competition increases. Digital music subscriptions last year generated $1.6 billion in sales globally, up 39 percent from 2013, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

The company faces new rivals such as rapper and entertainment mogul Jay Z, who recently relaunched the streaming service Tidal that he bought for $56 million. And music industry insiders and analysts expect Apple to enter the fray shortly with a new streaming service following its $3 billion purchase of Beats.

New Spotify content will include short videos from companies such as Vice News, NBC, Comedy Central and Nerdist Industries, the company said at a wide-ranging New York news conference that included an appearance by the stars of Comedy Central’s “Broad City.”

Videos will include clips from popular shows, as well as some original material. Entertainment and news partners also include the Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and Maker Studios, Turner Broadcasting, BBC, CBS Radio and Conde Nast.

The company also announced a variety of new features, including playlists for listeners’ particular tastes, moods and the time of day (Google last year bought Songza, which boasts a similar offering).

It additionally unveiled a feature for runners that will detect the users’ pace through their phones and provide songs to match the tempo.

“It’s all about creating a true soundtrack for your life,” said Daniel Ek, Spotify’s chief executive, at the conference.

Ek said the features will launch Wednesday in the U.S., Sweden, Germany and the U.K. for iPhone users. The running component launched globally.

Spotify offers a free, ad-supported service, plus a premium $10-a-month version that allows unlimited access to its catalog without commercial interruptions. About 15 million people pay for the premium version.

Paul Verna, an analyst for technology research firm eMarketer, said in an email that getting into online video “is a logical extension of the company’s success in digital music streaming.”

It’s not the first tech company to use video to attract users. Social messaging app Snapchat recently added news and short-form video from the likes of ESPN and CNN as part of its Discover feature.

Spotify, which launched in 2008, has been growing swiftly but remains unprofitable despite its popularity. Its revenue hit $1.3 billion last year, but its annual net loss reportedly increased to $197 million.

Spotify is often the subject of speculation over a possible initial public offering or an acquisition by a larger tech company, and has been raising capital at a valuation of more than $8 billion.

Photo: “Broad City” stars Ilana Grazer and Abbi Jacobson, who are set to offer original content to Spotify in a new deal that will bring videos, news and podcasts to consumers. Comedy Central/ YouTube

Stephen Colbert To Host CBS’ ‘Late Show’ After David Letterman Retires

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Comedian Stephen Colbert will be the next host of The Late Show.

CBS said Thursday that the Colbert Report star will take over hosting duties for the long-running late-night talk franchise when David Letterman retires in 2015.

Colbert and the network have reached a five-year agreement, the broadcaster said.

Letterman, who has hosted the show for 21 years, last week announced his retirement on the program.

CBS did not give any details on the creative direction of the show once Colbert takes over, nor did it say where the series will be produced.

“Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television,” CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement.

Colbert has hosted his satirical Comedy Central show since 2005, winning two Peabody Awards and multiple Emmys.

“I’m thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me,” Colbert said in a statement. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth.”

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

‘Noah’ Expected To Sail To Number One At The Box Office

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — An Old Testament epic will storm theaters this weekend with hopes of attracting a boatload of moviegoers.

Director Darren Aronofsky’s $130 million-budgeted “Noah” is expected to generate around $40 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada through Sunday, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys. Paramount Pictures, which is releasing the film, has predicted a softer gross of $30 million to $33 million.

An opening in the projected range for the special effects-heavy, big-budget disaster film — starring Russell Crowe as the biblical boat-builder — will almost certainly make it the No. 1 movie at the domestic box office. If “Noah” is a hit, it will be the latest in a string of religion-inspired successes.

“Son of God,” a less-expensive New Testament retelling culled from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s “Bible” miniseries, opened this year with $25.6 million in revenue, propped up by bulk purchases from Christian groups, and has since gone on to gross $56 million. The modern-day campus drama “God’s Not Dead” opened last weekend with a surprisingly strong $9.2 million from just 780 theaters.

Aronofsky’s dark take on the Book of Genesis story of Noah’s ark, financed by Paramount and Regency Enterprises, marks a departure for a director best known for lower-budget fare such as “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “Requiem for a Dream.”

The PG-13-rated film has faced criticism from the outset, both from religious groups that questioned how faithfully it would treat its source material along with conservatives who decried its emphasis on environmental themes. Reviews by film critics have been generally positive, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

The Scripture-sourced slate won’t end with “Noah.” Upcoming God-themed movies include “Heaven Is For Real,” “Exodus,” “Last Days in the Desert” and “Mary,” all coming at least a decade after the massive success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

“Noah” began its maiden voyage in Mexico and South Korea a week ago with a strong $14 million, and it’s likely to play well overseas. Alongside Crowe, the disaster picture’s stars include Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson.

Last week’s chart-topper “Divergent,” the teen dystopian adventure starring Shailene Woodley, should continue to pull in plenty of box-office cash. Lionsgate is hoping the Summit Entertainment film will kick off another strong young-adult franchise after the massive success of the “Hunger Games” series. Its second weekend could add around $25 million to its domestic total of more than $60 million.

In “Noah’s” wake, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new crime thriller “Sabotage” is not likely to see much action at the multiplex. The movie about a DEA team whose elite agents are targeted by a ruthless drug cartel, is expected to take in less than $10 million in its debut. The $35 million picture was financed and produced by QED International and is getting its U.S. release from Open Road Films.

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” expanding to 970 theaters, should continue to impress with a weekend tally of around $10 million. The quirky director’s latest, distributed domestically by Fox Searchlight Pictures, has amassed more than $14 million in its limited run.

The new “Cesar Chavez” biopic could bring in around $5 million from 660 locations. Michael Pena plays the civil rights activist and labor organizer in the film directed by Diego Luna and produced by Pantelion Films, a joint venture between Lionsgate and the giant Mexican media company Grupo Televisa.

“Bad Words,” an R-rated comedy written and directed by “Arrested Development” star Jason Bateman, is expanding to around 600 theaters and could gross $5 million or less.

Photo: Edinburgh International Film Festival via Flickr

HBO’s ‘True Detective’ Season Finale Locks Up A Ratings High

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — An average of 3.5 million viewers tuned in for Sunday’s season finale of “True Detective,” the HBO crime anthology starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, according to Nielsen.

That’s the biggest audience ever for the 9 p.m. ET cable drama and 50 percent higher than the 2.3 million who watched the show’s premiere.

The show’s big closer faced heavy competition on cable and broadcast networks, including the premieres of ABC’s “Resurrection” and Fox’s “Cosmos,” along with an episode of the AMC hit “Walking Dead.”

McConaughey and Harrelson played investigators hunting for a Louisiana serial killer.

A total of 11 million people have watched the series to date, which marks the highest gross viewership for a first-season HBO series since “Six Feet Under” hooked 11.4 million in 2001.

Photo: JasonParis via Flickr

Lady Gaga To Perform At SXSW For First time

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times

South by Southwest is going Gaga.

Pop music provocateur Lady Gaga will headline snack brand Doritos’ lineup at the music conference and festival in Austin, Texas. Her concert at the restaurant and music venue Stubb’s Bar-B-Q on March 13 will mark the “ARTPOP” singer’s first performance at the annual event.

After Gaga’s performance at Stubb’s, the brand will host the next two nights of music at its 52-foot-tall, 500-person venue made to resemble a giant vending machine. The city of Austin denied a permit for Gaga to play the vending machine stage, citing safety concerns.

Those who want to attend won’t need to buy tickets. Instead, Doritos, a brand of PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay, is inviting consumers to compete in challenges to win admission.

Entrance to the 2,000-capacity show will require an act of Gaga-esque unconventional behavior on social media in the days leading up to the concert.

With the tasks, which the company is calling “bold missions,” Doritos is once again turning to the public to assist in its marketing efforts. For the first challenge, the company is calling on Gaga fans to upload photos and videos of themselves expressing their individuality through a “bold action.”

“I believe being an individual and speaking your mind is one of the boldest things you can do,” Gaga said in a video announcing the contest.

Doritos has a history of using advertisements made by fans and has invited people to submit their own Super Bowl commercials for the last eight years. The most recent “Crash the Super Bowl” contest drew about 5,400 submissions.

This is the third year Doritos has hosted a stage for musical performances at SXSW, and Gaga is the company’s biggest headliner yet, said Ram Krishnan, vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay.

“We’ve never done anything with this scale,” Krishnan said.

A portion of the money paid to Gaga for the SXSW performance will go to her non-profit organization, the Born This Way Foundation, which aims to combat bullying and promote acceptance of differences.

The company’s past lineups have included artists such as LL Cool J and Ice Cube.

Photo: Alan Picard via Flickr

Oscars 2014 Draws 43 Million Viewers, Biggest Audience In 10 Years

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, featuring host Ellen DeGeneres, got its biggest audience in 10 years.

The 86th Academy Awards, telecast on ABC, drew 43 million viewers on average, according to Nielsen, up about 6 percent from last year’s show, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, which ended up with 40.4 million viewers.

The viewership record for the Oscars was set in 1998, when the gala drew 55.3 million people. That was the year the blockbuster “Titanic” won 11 Oscars, including the award for best picture.

This marks the third year in a row the awards gala’s total audience has grown.

The broadcast was virtually flat with last year among advertiser-desired 18-to-49-year-olds.

The three-hour, 11-minute telecast notched a rating of 12.9 in the key 18-49 demographic, in which a ratings point equals about 1.3 million viewers. Last year’s Oscars nabbed a rating of 13.

“Gravity” led the night with seven awards, including the prize for best director for Alfonso Cuaron, and “Dallas Buyers Club” scored three, including best supporting actor for Jared Leto and best actor for Matthew McConaughey. “12 Years a Slave” won the award for best picture.

DeGeneres’ performance featured a much tweeted-about “selfie” photo taken with a cluster of stars, and at one point she brought in pizza for audience members. The comedian last hosted in 2007.
According to Nielsen’s Social Guide, the telecast drew 11.2 million tweets from 2.8 users of the social media site.

AFP Photo/Robyn Beck

Seth Meyers Posts Solid Ratings In ‘Late Night’ Bow

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times

Seth Meyers is off to a solid start as the new host of NBC’s “Late Night” talk show, following a strong first week from Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.”

According to early numbers from Nielsen, Monday’s premiere of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” delivered an average of 3.42 million viewers, the franchise’s biggest audience for a Monday telecast in nine years.

Among key 18-49-year-old viewers, Meyers drew a rating of 1.4, also the best Monday since 2005. Guests included Amy Poehler, Vice President Joe Biden and musical group A Great Big World.

The last time a Monday “Late Night” had a bigger audience was in 2005, when a repeat got a big boost from a highly rated “Tonight Show” tribute to Johnny Carson.

Monday’s numbers are higher than the premiere of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in March 2009, which nabbed 2.87 million viewers and a rating of 1.3 in 18-49.

Fallon left “Late Night” with a bang earlier this month. His final episode behind the desk averaged 6.6 million viewers.

Earlier this season, Fallon was averaging 1.99 million viewers overall and a rating of 0.6 in the key 18-49 demographic.

Fallon has posted a robust sampling so far from on the “Tonight Show,” which he took over from longtime host Jay Leno.

In his first week, he averaged 8.5 million viewers, the biggest numbers that program has seen in 20 years — surely benefiting from NBC’s Olympics coverage as its lead-in.

Monday night’s “Tonight Show,” the first Fallon episode to not follow an Olympics telecast, drew 6.26 million viewers and a rating of 2.1 in 18-49.

The next weeks and months of ratings will provide a better idea of how Meyers and Fallon are faring in their new jobs, but the early numbers are a positive sign for NBC.

Fallon and Meyers have both been important personalities at NBC for a long time, and have followed similar paths on the network, both moving to “Late Night” after stints at ”Saturday Night Live.” Meyers was best known for anchoring the “Weekend Update” segments on “SNL.”

Previous “Late Night” hosts Conan O’Brien and David Letterman jumped to earlier time slots after their tenures. Letterman has hosted “The Late Show” on CBS for more than two decades. “Conan” airs on TBS.

Photo via Wikimedia