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Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Tuesday, September 19th, 2023
There are a lot of different ways to cover a closed-door meeting.
Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Tuesday, September 19th, 2023.
WARNER BROS. DISCOVERY UNVEILS LIVE SPORTS ADD-ON FOR MAX
As has been rumored for months, WBD today announced Bleacher Report Sports Live, a new sports-centric programming tier that will cost Max subscribers an additional $9.99 per month. The service will include all of the live sports that now air on the various WBD-owned cable networks, including MLB, NHL, NBA, NCAA Men’s March Madness, U.S. Soccer and More. There will also be a lot of original content from Bleacher Report, as well as live international sports leagues that already have a deal with Discovery Sports in Europe and the UK.
I'll have more to say about this in the coming days. But I have become convinced that the way to look at this is to think of it as a wholesale play. The MVPDs will be able to sell the Bleacher Reports service directly to its customers and I suspect at a bit of a discount. The pool of people will to pay the $9.99 per month fee on top of Max's $16 monthly charge is likely limited. But this puts the marketing power of the cable TV providers towards selling this sports tier. And they'll have a financial incentive to happily do so. Which will hopefully make it easier for them to swallow promoting a service that is built around what had previously been cable TV sports exclusives.
THERE ARE A LOT OF WAYS TO COVER A CLOSED-DOOR MEETING. THIS IS NOT THE APPROACH I WOULD HAVE CHOSEN
I have written quite a bit about the challenges of writing about WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes. The guild members in general are very skeptical of industry journalists and most AMPTP executives are notoriously press-shy. So getting a clear handle on the behind-the-scenes wranglings is a stressful endeavor, and I wrote about that a bit last week when I provided my take on the current state of negotiations:
So that's where we are today, at least that's where we are from my perspective. In theory, both sides are in a press blackout during negotiations. Lots of details get leaked by various participants, but it's often hard to tell whether or not a source really knows what they're talking about or if you're being spun in some direction.
Modestly speaking, I have broken some news and posted some behind-the-scenes exclusives. But as proud I am of my work, I have discarded many more stories than I have published. In some cases, I just wasn't comfortable with the level of honesty I felt I was getting in some of the interviews. And there were times when I felt as if I had a good story, but it was clear someone was trying to spin me. And if I couldn't get some sort of counterpoint from the other side, I had to let the story go.
I have no idea who the sources were for the piece The Wrap's Sharon Waxman posted a bit earlier tonight. But if it were me, I think I would have went with a different headline than the provocative "WGA Leaders Meet Tearful Showrunners Ahead Of Renewed Strike Talks With Studios."
I'm not going to try and parse out what I think may or may not be factual in the piece. I certainly from people on the WGA side made a point of letting me know the piece after it was posted that it mischaracterized the meeting. Someone who direct knowledge of what was said in the room declined to provide specifics when we spoke a bit ago. But they were clear that while everyone's emotions are frayed at this point in the strike, using the meeting as a way to illustrate some deeper spilt in the guild was “bullshit!”
"Are some people pissed that we don't have a deal yet? You bet," a former WGA board member recently told me. "Are there people who think they could do a better job? Sure, look at the personalities you're dealing with. We're all used to problem solving and this is an existential problem. There are also some subset of SR's who would like us to settle. Some for selfish reasons and in some cases there are legitimately worries about the pain this is causing. But that doesn't mean we're on the verge of splitting the union in half or that a bunch of people are set to go it alone. I don't agree with everything the neg committee says. Hell, I don't agree with everything my wife says. But no one is getting divorced and we'll argue up until the moment when we face the studios. And then we're good."
The piece in the Wrap is problematical for several reasons. For one thing, if you're going to post a story that hints at deep disagreements inside the WGA the night before talks are set to begin again, posting this piece without context or without noting some of what may be going on at the studio side is bad journalism. You are essentially taking a side with that headline and with the way the narrative is presented.
For example, this paragraph, which seems ill-advised:
The WGA is demanding better pay, guarantees around artificial intelligence, streaming residuals and minimum guaranteed levels of staffing in writers’ rooms, among other concessions. The studios have responded but the guild has yet to offer a formal counterproposal.
I said before that I have no intention of getting in the middle of things as negotiations prepare to ramp up again. That story in The Wrap didn't need to be written. And if you have to write it, you can at least frame it in a way that doesn't scream "click on me, I need more people to subscribe to my VIP service!"
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THE MAGICAL MATH OF IMPAIRMENT CHARGES
If there has been one constant in the streaming TV industry over the past year, it's been the wave of content purges that have taken place on the various streamers.
A streamer removes a number of titles from the service, then claims what the companies describe as an "impairment charge." Which is an accounting term used to describe a drastic reduction or loss in the recoverable value of an asset. When Disney removed a number of titles earlier this year and claimed a $1.3 billion impairment charge, they were claiming the value of the assets (in this case, TV shows and movies) lost $1.3 billion in value. There have been similar moves (and impairment charges) from Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount as well.
I started making some calls to see how this worked and one thing I quickly learned is that every economist or financial expert I spoke with was extremely skeptical of the massive valuations for this content. Although there is no way for anyone to challenge the valuations. The IRS doesn't dig into the numbers and there is absolutely no way to learn details of the content valuation process that led to the various impairment charges claimed by the media companies.
One source of their skepticism comes from the way in which the production costs of content is handled on a company's financials.
Since the beginning of Hollywood (and this is all generally speaking), TV shows and movies were treated like any other asset at any other company in America. The project was produced and the cost of the series or movie was amortized over a number of years. But thanks to the 2017 tax bill, studios can now take advantage of what is known as "bonus depreciation," which temporarily allows companies to expense the costs of assets up front, rather than requiring them to amortize the costs over time.
That change in the tax law has provided a windfall for big American companies and a study from The Institute of Taxation and Technology estimated Disney saved more than $4 billion by taking advantage of bonus depreciation.
Which makes that $1.3 billion impairment charge a bit perplexing. Most of the costs of the programming should have already been expensed up front, so removing the content would provide a limited financial hit. Foreign-produced programming can't take advantage of the bonus depreciation valuation, so that is certainly some of the total. But even with that caveat, how did Disney get to a $1.3 billion loss?
Several analysts I spoke with about this were equally puzzled, although there was some speculation that there were likely some higher-than-expected theatrical losses buried in the total. And there are a lot of ways to do that. For example, let's say that for accounting purposes, the licensing cost of a film to a streamer is tied in part to its box office. And that's pretty typical, even with titles in which the studio licenses the title to its streamer. A smaller box office means a lower-than-estimated licensing fee. Which can then be booked as a "loss."
I bring all of this up primarily to remind you that when you see this impairment charges being mentioned by the studios, those losses can reflect a lot of different things. Some more legitimate than others.
ODDS AND SODS
* The Australian true-crime documentary Last Stop Larrimah premieres Sunday, October 8th, 2023 on Max. Click here to see the trailer.
* AMC has picked up Dark Winds for a third season. This is one of those shows that is off most people's radar, but it is a show that is worth tracking down.
* Craig Of The Creek preschool spinoff series Jessica's Big Little World premieres October 2nd on Cartoon Network.
* Season two of The Ghost Town Terror premieres Thursday, September 28th on the Travel Channel.
* Vanna White has signed on to remain on Wheel Of Fortune for an additional two years, Sony Pictures Television announced Tuesday. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but White had been seeking a substantial increase over the $3 million per year she is making this season.
WHAT'S NEW TODAY AND TOMORROW:
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19TH:
* Becoming Frida Kahlo (PBS)
* Celebrity Name That Tune Season Premiere (Fox)
* I Can See Your Voice Season Premiere (Fox)
* Kountry Wayne: A Woman's Prayer (Netflix)
* Name That Tune Season Premiere (Fox)
* The Saint Of Second Chances (Netflix)
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH:
* American Horror Story: Delicate Part One (FX)
* Avoidance Series Premiere (Britbox)
* Hard Broken Series Premiere (Netflix)
* Marvel Studios' Assembled: The Making Of Secret Invasion (Disney+)
* Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal Season Two Premiere (Netflix)
* Naked Attraction Series Premiere (Discovery+)
* Skin In The Game With Dr. Ibram X. Kendi Series Premiere (ESPN)
* The D’Amelio Show (Hulu)
* The Super Models (Apple TV+)
Click Here to see the list of all of the upcoming premiere dates for the next few months.
SEE YOU WEDNESDAY!
If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.