Hollywood Torrent: Bill Simmoons’ TV Mismatch , Snapchat Shows, Prince’s Next Act
Good afternoon from Los Angeles, wherever you may be.
HBO canceled sportswriter Bill Simmons’s “Any Given Wednesday” less than five months after its debut because the weekly talk show failed to pull in enough viewers.
The show, hosted by Simmons, blended sports and pop culture, with high-profile guests like actor Ben Affleck, rapper Vince Staples and basketball star Kevin Durant. Simmons acknowledged the struggles in recent weeks, often remarking on his podcast about how no one would watch his show live because of competition from major sporting events like the World Series.
Simmons, one of the most popular sportswriters in the U.S., signed a deal with the premium cable network in 2015 to host a TV show and embark on a new media venture. HBO had prevailed over several other suitors after Simmons left ESPN, where he turned a popular column into a mini media empire spanning documentaries, podcasts and a website called Grantland.
Simmons has attempted to recreate that business on his own, with a little help from HBO. His new website The Ringer is operated by the Bill Simmons Media Group, as is his podcast network. HBO invested in both, the price of admission for what it really wanted: a Simmons TV show.
The show received poor ratings from the start, and viewership got worse with time, according to the website Sports TV Ratings. Fewer than 200,000 people watched live some weeks, even with more popular movies as a lead-in. Last week, 88,000 people watched live.
The online commentariat quickly offered explanations for what went wrong.
Some suggested this was a new media problem. Many web personalities have struggled with the transition to TV because they can’t convince young viewers from YouTube to watch live TV.
Others said this was an ESPN problem. History is littered with writers and anchors who were suddenly less popular when they left the most-watched sports network in the U.S.
However, neither of these explanations fits Simmons. He is a web personality in that his columns and podcasts gained their largest audience on the Internet, but his average viewer (a diehard sports fan) watches a lot of television. Major League Baseball just convinced 40 million people (many of them young) to watch a World Series game.
Simmons has also proven he can find an audience off ESPN with Grantland. While ESPN gave the site some nice promotion on its home page (and owned the site), Grantland built a loyal following distinct from the identity of ESPN. Many people read Grantland several times a day without going to ESPN’s website.
Simmons used his own popularity to build up several of the writers whose work wasn’t featured as prominently on ESPN. The list of former Grantland employees whose profiles grew significantly while working there is long.
The problem here is much simpler. HBO is in the business of amassing talent, and paying them to do what they do best. John Oliver, Shane Smith and Bill Maher have thrived at HBO. Jon Stewart is working on a project, the fruits of which we have not seen.
HBO took a chance on Simmons, a former TV writer who had little experience hosting his own show. Executives hoped Simmons’ work as a TV analyst and his podcast were signs he would be a good host. It didn’t work.
HBO said it plans to work with Simmons on other media projects in the future, without providing specifics.
When HBO first made the deal with Simmons, then-programming boss Michael Lombardo said he would try making short-form series with Simmons (perhaps like some of the shows Grantland posted to YouTube). They could be fun, quick and for the web. That never happened.
Simmons, who helped create the 30 for 30 documentary series at ESPN, talked about wanting to make documentaries for HBO. He has been developing an Andre the Giant project, but, otherwise, that hasn’t happened either.
Whether he appears on the air again is anyone’s guess.
THE FUTURE IS STREAMING
The Prince Auction Universal Music Publishing Group, which represents songwriters such as Justin Bieber and Adele, acquired the exclusive rights to administer the entire catalog of songs from Prince. That’s a big first step towards making his music available on streaming services. While this deal is for Prince’s songwriting, the artist’s recordings will be administered separately and deals for both are needed to make the music more widely available.
Most of Prince’s biggest hits have been unavailable on streaming services because he felt artists were insufficiently compensated for their work, a battle he waged for much of his career. He famously left his record label and released music on his own, and acquired control of his full catalog late in life. Bloomberg News
Snapchat Shows Jimmy Fallon will produce an original show for Snapchat called … ``Fallon’’. In the show, Fallon and Justin Timberlake will perform songs inspired by titles submitted by Snapchat users. Andy Wallenstein has the latest on what’s ahead for Snapchat shows:
> There will be one or two available each day (eventually)
> Some will roll out daily, others weekly and others monthly
> Some of these shows will be available for 48 hours, a violation of the 24-hour expiration date for everything else on the app
These shows will no doubt appeal to advertisers, whom Snapchat is eagerly courting ahead of its 2017 IPO. Snapchat needs those advertisers to deliver sales growth, and advertisers increasingly need Snapchat to reach young viewers. One problem? The process of making ads for the app is still laborious, says Alexandra Bruell.
The New Jersey Devils will stream audio broadcasts of every game on iHeart Radio’s mobile app and the team’s mobile app.
Games are currently available via CBS’ WFAN (one of the biggest sports radio stations in the country). The FAN will still broadcast 50 games, but the apps will stream every game.
Vimeo’s Future IAC will create a new subscription video service using the Vimeo name, creating yet another rival to Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Vimeo has a loyal following among filmmakers who use its tools to upload and share videos. It has been trying to establish itself as a video site for consumer for the past few years, with a few successes (like High Maintenance). How much IAC will spend to bring in more quality shows is unclear.
LA LA LAND
Wanda Goes Shopping Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda has acquired Dick Clark Productions, producer of the Golden Globes. Wanda, owned by China’s riched man, now controls one of the largest movie theater chains in the U.S. (AMC), as well as two top producers (Dick Clark and Legendary).
For a deeper dive on Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin’s Hollywood ambitions (hint: they’re big), read this profile by THR’s Patrick Brzeski.
Box Office Records Disney has already registered its best year at the box office, and it’s only November. Three billion-dollar movies — Zootopia, Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory — have propelled Disney to almost $6 billion in grosses. That number will rise this weekend with the release of Doctor Strange, which will gross at least $65 million in the U.S. this weekend.
Universal set the industry record with $6.89 billion last year. Disney could top that with the combination of Doctor Strange, Moana and the new Star Wars film, says Brent Lang.
Dodgers Go to Court The Department of Justice has accused AT&T’s DirecTV for colluding with other pay-TV providers in negotiations over the Dodgers’ cable channel. Millions of people in Los Angeles have been unable to watch the local team because of a dispute between Time Warner Cable (now Charter), which runs the Dodgers’ TV network, and other distributors.
DirecTV led the negotiations for other distributors, and frequently said the price for SportsNet LA was too high. Bloomberg News
Charlie Corwin, the co-CEO of reality TV power house Endemol Shine’s North American division, is leaving for a job with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. He didn’t see eye-to-eye with the CEO of his parent company.
Media Revival Strong quarterly results from Fox, CBS Time Warner lifted media stocks this week, welcome news for executives tired of analysts and reporters questioning their futures. Cable TV divisions at both companies performed particularity well, with sales at Fox’s cable division up 10 percent.
Most analysts were quick to note a couple reasons not to drink too much of the kool-aid. Both Fox and Time Warner lean heavily on sports, and sports costs keep going up. Both companies also benefited significantly from the election, as the owners of the two most-watched cable news networks in the US. We won’t get another presidential election for 4 years. Take a look at ratings for cable networks, and you will see that news networks are up while almost everything else is down.
Media Revival Part 2 Online advertising grew 19 percent in the first half of the year. Great news for publishers like Buzzfeed and the New York iImes, right? Maybe not. Facebook and Google accounted for all of that growth, according to Jason Kint, meaning the rest of the business was flat.
Viacom Travels to Buenos Aires Days after the owner of MTV and Nickelodeon named international boss Bob Bakish CEO, Bakish bought an Argentinian broadcaster for a little less than $400 million, scoops Patty Laya.
Disney has spent more than any individual or group to influence the Anaheim City Council elections.
Roger Ailes routinely made inappropriate sexual remarks to Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor writes in her new book. Kelly is negotiating a new deal at the network months after Ailes left in disgrace.WEEKEND READING
The Final Album of A Tribe Called Quest [Toure, New York Times]
The NFL Was a Sure Thing for TV Networks. Until Now. [Felix Gillette, Businessweek]
Tronc If You Want to Save Journalism [Felix Gillette and Gerry Smith, Businessweek]
Movies Aren’t Dead, But They’ll Never Be the Same, [Sean Fennessey, The Ringer]