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Wondery wants to become Hollywoods podcast dream factory

Charmaine Blake

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When Hernan Lopez, the former chief executive of Fox International, started the podcast network Wondery roughly two years ago with a seed investment from his former bosses at Fox Networks Group, podcasting was still emerging as a media platform.

Now, with voice ascendant, and podcasting proving to be a breeding ground for new narratives that other storytelling mediums can latch onto — the move into the reinvention of radio for the 21st century seems prescient.

It’s not just Fox that is now backing the podcast business; new investors led by storied venture capital and private equity investor Alan Patricof’s Greycroft Partners are coming aboard with a $5 million commitment to expand the scope of Wondery’s wonder factory. Additional investors include Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Advancit Capital — the investment vehicle for Shari Redstone (daughter of billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone).

Previous investors BAM Ventures, Watertower Ventures, Fox Networks Group and BDMI also participated in the round.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wondery intends to add new shows to its stable, including American Innovations, Dr. Death and I, Survivor, and has optioned Sward and Scale and Tides of History as projects for movies and television.

While traditional media companies are being forced to join forces and combine assets to protect their market from new competitors like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix coming from the tech industry, new media platforms like podcasting are opening up opportunities for different kinds of studios to emerge. 

“I believe there’s a huge opportunity in audio,” Lopez says. “There isn’t anywhere close to enough quality audio content being produced.”

On average, the modern consumer listens to four hours of audio per day, according to Lopez. Even though most of that is music, an increasing number of Americans are turning to podcasts as a new form of entertainment. And podcasts are beginning to attract more advertising dollars.

“In the podcast world the ads seem to work. They’re native, they’re integrated into the shows. The listeners are welcoming,” says Wondery’s chief executive. That in itself would be a welcome change for media companies hungry for new ways to maintain their ad-supported business models. 

Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have trained a generation of consumers on subscription models that eschew advertising altogether — but podcasts still hold out promise, says Lopez.

Demographics are another key reason that advertisers are moving to podcasts, he says, and Comscore research (funded by Wondery) seems to back up his assertions.

According to Comscore, nearly one in five Americans aged 18-49 said they’d listened to podcasts at least once a month — a number that increases when it’s restricted to the highly coveted demographic of men between the ages of 18 and 34, while nearly one in three men 18-34 do so. Podcast listeners are also more likely to have a college degree, make more than $100,000 and be early adopters of electronics, consumer goods and entertainment.

Advertisers are beginning to take notice, with $119 million spent on podcast advertising in 2016 and an estimated $220 million spent on podcast ads last year (according to estimated figures in a survey underwritten by major podcast networks).

Some of Wondery’s podcasts have already racked up impressive numbers. Dirty John has been dowloaded more than 20 million times; American History Tellers has been downloaded more than 3 million times; and Business Wars more than 2 million times, says Lopez. 

Wondery is also bucking the media trend of serving up micro-content to audiences.

“We don’t produce much micro-content — if any,” says Lopez. “The stories that we tend to gravitate towards tend to work better in long-form. We have to keep their attention for as long as possible.”

Lopez’s Wondery isn’t the only company to rake in money from institutional investors for building a podcasting empire.

On the other side of the country in the borough of Brooklyn stands Gimlet Media, the $20 million king of the podcast market these days. Gimlet raised from a slew of investors, including WPP, Betaworks, Stripes Group, Lowercase Capital, LionTree Parters, Emerson Collective, Cross Culture Ventures and music manager turned investor Troy Carter.

Success among podcasts is also translating into options in other formats. As The New York Times noted yesterday, podcasts are getting “the Hollywood treatment.”

Wondery’s own “Dirty John” is being turned into a series for two networks — true crime stories on Oxygen and as the basis for a scripted series on Bravo. Meanwhile, “Welcome to Night Vale,” “Alice Isn’t Dead,” “Up and Vanished” and “Crimetown” are all being turned into series by different production companies.

“In the last year or so, podcasts have been the thing,” Matt Tarses, the creator of “Alex, Inc.” (a new ABC show based off of Gimlet Media’s “Startup” podcast) told The New York Times.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/29/wondery-wants-to-become-hollywoods-podcast-dream-factory/

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Someone recut the ‘Bird Box’ trailer using scenes from ‘The Office’ and it’s too perfect

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“Think The Office is all laughs and lighthearted pranks? Guess again. Drew Boatner proved the beloved NBC comedy can be creepy as hell.

Turns out with a few recuts The Office works perfectly as a Bird Box trailer. Meredith getting hit by a car, Dwight’s fire drill, and Andy punching a hole in the wall can come across as very dark with the right sound effects.

The show also got the Quiet Place treatment back in 2018, which I’m sure made John Krasinski very proud. So maybe instead of a revival fans will entertain the possibility of a Dunder Mifflin horror movie.

There was a once a Scranton Strangler, after all. Who’s to say he can’t strike again?”

Read more: https://mashable.com/video/the-office-bird-box-trailer/

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Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ finds the humanity in awkward teen sex

Charmaine Blake

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‘Sex Education’ is all about the dirty, awkward underbelly of sexuality

Image: Jon Hall/Netflix

“The horrors of teen sex are a universal experience. And Sex Education feels like the extended therapy session we needed to work through all that buried, mortifying trauma.

At first, you might be quick to put the new Netflix series in the same category as other racy teen British shows like The Inbetweeners, Skins, or even Misfits. But while Sex Education mines in a similar brazen youthfulness, it strikes closer to home with a realism more akin to Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade.

Otis starts off as your average, introverted, loser high school “everyboy.” A virgin who’s paralyzingly uncomfortable with his own sexuality, his phobias run counter to the openness of his sex therapist mother, played perfectly by Gillian Flynn. But Otis experiences a spike in relevancy when popular bad girl Maeve capitalizes on his untapped skills as a psychologist’s son and turns him into the school’s sex guru.

But that stereotype-laden summary fails to communicate how Sex Education brilliantly subverts the assumptions made through labels like jock, mean girl, dunce, weirdo, therapist, popular, loser, gay, lesbian, slut (or slag), and virgin.

Boy meets bad girl

Image: Jon Hall/Netflix

Each character’s journey, whether a main plot or side story, is an amalgamation of quietly unexpected revelations. Sex Education knows which trope you expect to play out, and instead delivers a story about real people and the complex mess of contradictions that we are.

Sex Education knows which trope you expect to play out, and instead delivers a story about real people and the complex mess of contradictions that we are.

This largely traces back to how it uses physical intimacy as a way to explore rather than exploit its characters. Despite its title, the sex scenes are decidedly unsexy. The most graphic, like the opening scene with a guy faking an orgasm, are cringe-inducing fiascos of mundane reliability. In another, a lesbian couple tries frantically to……………………………………………………….”

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/sex-education-review-netflix/

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Welcome to ‘Blade Runner’ year, now where’s my damn replicant

Charmaine Blake

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A new life awaits you, but when?

Image: warner brothers

The confetti has been swept up, the hangovers have almost faded, and there is nothing before us now but huge swathes of 2019.

Which is, as any nerd knows, the year in which the 1982 classic Blade Runner officially took place. And whatever else may happen in this likely very insane year, it’s safe to say that we have utterly failed to live up to the future we imagined back then.

Oh, sure, we created a generalized dystopian atmosphere of despair. That part was easy; we were already well on our way to crumbling infrastructure and rising inequality in the 1980s. The fact that the movie (sort of) predicted an out-of-control climate is no big whoop either; anyone working at an oil company or paying attention to scientific literature back then knew global warming was about to be a thing.

But the Ridley Scott movie, and the Philip K. Dick short story on which it was based, both anticipated major leaps and bounds in our adventurousness and our technological prowess that compensated for the gloom.

Here was a future where most people have departed years ago for “off-world colonies.” Hence the giant blimp seen advertising a new life in them to the remaining residents of grimy Los Angeles. Not only that, but we had created lifelike artificial intelligence in the form of replicants to help build those colonies. True, that part didn’t work out too well, at least not for the victims of six dying rogue replicants who fled back to Earth. But still, pretty impressive tech there, Mr. Tyrell!

On the one hand, it’s something of a relief that we are not as smart as we liked to think. Best not to have malfunctioning robots running amuck, giving poignant yet snooty speeches about all the things they’ve seen that we wouldn’t believe. On the other hand, it would be kind of nice if somebody would go far off-world and see things so they could come back and brag like a hipster about it.

Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty: replicant, hipster, dove-lover

Image: sunset boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Rutger Hauer, who wrote that space fantasy death monologue himself, has never explained how attack ships off the shoulder of Orion could actually catch fire in the vacuum of space. (Maybe that’s why we wouldn’t believe it.) Nevertheless, I say we build attack ships, send them to Orion, and test his hypothesis! (Spoiler alert: We won’t be visiting Orion………………………………………………………”

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/blade-runner-2019/

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