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Wondery wants to become Hollywoods podcast dream factory

Charmaine Blake



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.

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A Guide to Finding Your Ideal Movie Ticket Subscription

Charmaine Blake



“A year ago today, MoviePass introduced a radical new business model: Go see a movie a day, every day, for just $10 per month. At the time, it seemed too good to be true. As it turns out, it was.

The company has since burned through cash at an unsustainable rate, aggravating customers with limited screenings, punishing anti-fraud measures, and general uncertainty about the future. Today, in a bid to stay afloat, MoviePass officially abandoned its unlimited buffet. It still costs $10 a month, but that now gets you three tickets instead of 30, and often not to the showtimes you’d prefer.

Plenty has been written already about what went wrong, and what could still go right. But the most important lesson of MoviePass’ wild first year? Movie ticket subscriptions are here to stay. Even if MoviePass eventually goes under—or if you’re just ready to bail—enough similar services have cropped up over the last year that one likely has a combination of cost and convenience that suits you just fine. Here’s what each one offers, and who it might work best for……………”

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The Real Reason The Meg Feasted at the Box Office



“Late last week, it seemed as though the very expensive, very Stathamy underwater thriller The Meg was on its way to becoming a dead shark. Even though the film—an adaptation of the 1997 novel by Steve Alten—had an online fanbase more than 20 years old, most predictions pointed toward a relatively low opening weekend at the box office. For a movie with a megalodon-sized $150 million estimated budget, this was ominous news. So were the The Meg‘s mostly meh reviews.

By Sunday night, however, the movie had become one of the year’s few Hollywood surprise stories, making $45 million in one of the highest debuts of the year. That turnout helped obliterate the weekend’s other long-in-the-works thriller: Slender Man, the adaptation(?) of a nearly 10-year-old meme that originated in the world of web-borne urban legends known as “creepypasta.” Slender Man earned far less than The Meg, making about $10 million. That was better than expected for a barely marketed schlock thriller. But it will likely disappear from theaters soon, considering its damning D– grade on audience-reaction tracker CinemaScore. To get an idea of how uniquely calamitous that is, consider that 2015’s Fantastic Four—a movie that actually ends with this scene—wound up a mere C– score.

Both The Meg and Slender Man are, in their own ways, “internet movies,” a hazy descriptor that can be applied to any film with a uniquely nutty prerelease relationship with the web. Internet movies tend to fall within two categories: The majority are like The Meg, which was embraced online in the weeks or months (or even decades) before its arrival. A film like Slender Man is far rarer, as it works in reverse…………….”

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Robert Redford’s greatest screen roles ranked!



As the actor and Oscar-winning director reveals his plans for retirement, we rank his 10 best performances in front of the camera

10. Brubaker (1980)

“Released in the same year as his clunky but multiple Oscar-winning directorial debut Ordinary People, Brubaker showed a tougher side to Redford than anyone had seen before. As a prison warden who goes undercover as an inmate to clean up the penal system, he had to raise his game among some hardened character actors. The movies I liked making dealt with an America that was a little different from the America that was propagandised, he said. Theres a grey zone that I know, and I want to tell stories about that complex part of America.

9. The Twilight Zone Nothing in the Dark (1962)

None of Redfords early TV appearances were as haunting as his personification of death in this creepy-sad episode of The Twilight Zone. You see? he says, glowing handsomely and gesturing to an old womans dormant body as he leads her spirit into the afterlife. No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end is the beginning.

8. The Great Gatsby (1974)

Before DiCaprio there was Redford: he may never have exuded the pure electricity of the junior actor, and his chemistry with Mia Farrow (as Daisy) was meagre, to say the least, but his permanently distracted air was just right for Jay Gatsby. In the midst of even the most vibrant shindig, he seems uniquely alone. Fame does that to you.

7. Sneakers (1992)

This underrated techno caper-comedy, about a crack team of computer security experts, was led by Redford and features River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier and Dan Aykroyd. Redfords occasional returns to light comedy could be spotty Legal Eagles should be outlawed but hes having a blast here as the slightly bumbling former radical who has become something of a sellout.

Redford in The Great Gatsby (1974). Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex

6. Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Redfords most frequent collaborator was the director Sydney Pollack, with whom he made six films including the 1972 western Jeremiah Johnson and the Oscar-bait drama Out of Africa (1985). Their best, though, was this jittery conspiracy thriller in which Redford, working for a clandestine CIA group, has to be brought in from the cold after his team is massacred. Cherish the justified sense of Watergate-era dread, as well as the opening shot of Redford cycling through traffic in a goofy woolly hat and trainers…………….”

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