Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Friday, June 18th, 2021

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Friday, June 18th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities suburbs, where AllYourScreens HQ is powered by McDonald's coffee and plenty of stuff from the farmer's market.

HOW ROKU DOMINATED STREAMING
CNBC's Alex Sherman has a really solid piece on the rise of Roku as a streaming hub for many customers and it is filled with lots of new details about the company. Among other things, I had forgotten that the streaming device that eventually became Roku was first developed at Netflix:

After first meeting at a conference, Roku CEO and founder Anthony Wood pestered Hastings for months to let his company make a streaming video box for Netflix. Hastings at the time wanted to build the box in-house at Netflix. So the two struck a deal -- Wood took a part-time job at Netflix to make the device while remaining CEO of Roku, which had about 15 employees.

That experiment lasted nine months. Hastings wanted Netflix to be available on all sorts of streaming devices, such as Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony’s PlayStation, and Apple TV. Those companies felt Netflix’s hardware posed a threat to their own businesses. Moreover, people surveyed in focus groups said they wanted a box that could stream more than just Netflix.

So Hastings decided to spin out the division to Roku. Wood received an unfinished device, patents, 20 to 30 Netflix employees (more than doubling the size of Roku) and some cash. In return, Netflix received about 15% of Roku’s equity.

It's tempting to read those paragraphs and say "see, Netflix can make mistakes too!." But truthfully, their instincts were right about the viability of a device that only streamed Netflix. And if you're going to also include other services, it can't be part of Netflix.

Although, Netflix's timing on the sale of its shares was not great:

Netflix would later sell its Roku shares to venture capital firm Menlo Ventures to avoid the perception of being conflicted by favoring one streaming distribution manufacturer over another. When Netflix sold its stock in 2009, it claimed a $1.7 million gain on a $6 million investment.

If Netflix had held, its stake would be worth nearly $7 billion today. Roku has been one of the pandemic’s big winners. Shares have have gained more than 480% from March 17, 2020, as the media world shifted to focus on streaming video. Today, Roku’s market capitalization is more than $45 billion.

I especially Like this explanation of Roku's business model:

“I remember this PowerPoint deck I presented around 2009, 2010 where I kind of laid it all out,” Carolan said in an interview. “We called it our popcorn strategy, because movie theaters don’t make money off movies, they make money off the popcorn. How are we going to continue to incrementally add services revenue?”

And then there is this factoid about Quibi and its content, which was acquired by Roku earlier this year:

In addition to licensed content, Roku has begun dabbling in original programming. Earlier this year, Roku bought more than 75 shows that Quibi created for its short-lived service. It also acquired “This Old House,” which is still making new episodes in its 42nd season. Roku has programming for kids and adults, building offerings for anyone in the family.

There’s some evidence the original programming is finding an audience. The 10 most-watched programs on The Roku Channel from May 20 to June 3 were all Roku originals. Since adding the Quibi library last month, according to Roku’s own data, more Roku users have seen that programming in two weeks than Quibi users in its six-month lifetime.

The strategy at this point looks a lot look like — surprise — Netflix. In Netflix’s early days, it was happy to license whatever content media companies would give it. Former Time Warner Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bewkes famously called it “The Albanian Army,” emphasizing its small stature at the time.

Now, Netflix spends $17 billion on content a year.

Roku plans to spend more than $1 billion on content next year, according to a person familiar with the matter. Wood declined to comment on the exact total, but did admit the budget will grow next year and in years to come.

CRUNCHYROLL ORIGINALS HAVE BEEN A DISASTER
As an overall streaming service, the anime-centric Crunchyroll is generally seen as a success. But when it comes to Crunchyroll Original productions, it's been a very mixed bag and Callum May at AnimeNewsNetwork.com has just posted a brutal takedown of the streamer's past efforts to create original programming:

Even with the streaming service only using five floors, those at the studio still found an abundance of space within the large Hicut Building with some rooms being left half-empty. In a city where most studios consist of small rooms with tightly packed lines of desks, Crunchyroll Studios Tokyo was bizarre and overly expensive. It started in 2018 and shut down in 2020, with most studios going elsewhere. Tsumugi Animation packed their bags and moved all the way to Akita (this move was unrelated to Crunchyroll Studio Japan's closure, only a part of their staff worked there) where they are finishing off work on Meiji Gekken: Sword and Gun, while Yapiko's Japan studio has now closed after having struggled to handle production on two different shows.

If this is the first time you're hearing about it, that's not surprising. Crunchyroll's struggles to maintain their own Japanese production house have been kept tightly under wraps by the streaming service, and the teams behind their shows have never been mentioned in any promotional material. Even some of those working at the company and on these Original shows weren't clear on how the relationship between Crunchyroll and the studios at Hicut Building actually worked.

ANOTHER REASON WHY I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE 'THE BEATLES: GET BACK'
Peter Jackson's epic The Beatles: Get Back documentary focusing on the final days of The Beatles promises to be a treat for rock fans and Vanity Fair has a deep-dive on the production and what viewers can expect. And according to Jackson, one thing they'll discover is that while the conventional wisdom is the recording sessions for the Let It Be album were contentious and not especially productive, the truth is very different:

Far from a period of disintegration, says Jackson, “these three weeks are about the most productive and constructive period in the Beatles’ entire career.” The tracks you hear on Let It Be were recorded during this three-week period. The band also rehearsed three-quarters of the Abbey Road album, about half of Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album, a half dozen songs that would later appear on McCartney’s solo albums, and a couple that would show up on Lennon’s. It was, Jackson marvels, “the Beatles doing these.”

I can't wait to see this. I'll be honest and admit that I don't regularly listen to the music of The Beatles anymore. I've heard it so much that it's almost too familiar to me. But what sets the band apart from everyone else isn't just their commercial success or the way they defined what it meant to be a rock band. It's the raw talent that was assembled into one band. Whether you love rock, rap, EDM or polkas, there hasn't been another group that included three musicians who could have easily been successful solo artists. Imagine the three most talented people in whatever music genre you love and combine them together into one group along with one of the world's best drummers. That was The Beatles and that is part of the reason why they still matter and why this documentary will be a must-watch for music fans.

And btw, if you enjoy the music of The Beatles but haven't been following the release of the deluxe re-releases of their classic albums, make sure to check out the deluxe edition release of the band's White Album, which includes the so-called "Esher Demos," which are just astounding to hear. They are acoustic, often very casual early versions of songs like "Blackbird," "Julia," "Sexy Sadie" and "Revolution."

The Beatles: Get Back opens in theatres August 27th, 2021 and will also be available on Disney+ later in the year. And to get a sense of what you'll see, check out this extended montage released by Peter Jackson last December.

NETFLIX CANCELS 'GRAND ARMY'
Variety posted what it described as an "exclusive" last night: Netflix has canceled its original drama Grand Army after one season. Reading the piece, you might be perplexed by the decision, since the short post just mentions the generally positive reviews from critics and it includes an excerpt from one of its in-house reviewers.

Well, one explanation for the cancellation might be that Grand Army's showrunner was publicly accused on overt racism and creating "poverty porn" by one of the show's ex-writers. Here's some of what I reported on this last September:

But the sources I spoke with on Thursday described a series of battles over the idea of authenticity and why certain storylines were given to specific characters. Although I've seen all of season one, I am under the terms of an embargo and can't talk much about the specific of the plot points. But early in the process of breaking down the season and the season's beats, disputes reportedly began to take place between Cappiello and several of the show's POC writers. According to descriptions of the conversations, the writers (who often had more experience in television) felt some of Cappiello's creative choices relied too heavily on familiar racial tropes and that some of the language and decisions made by the characters didn't feel as if they were based in the reality of a current high school. And there were complaints that some of the white characters were given stories that should have gone to a non-white character.

One Grand Army staffer who asked not to be identified had sympathy for both sides of the situation. "She (Cappiello) strongly felt that she was telling the stories like teens she had met over the years. When she got pushback, her back went up because she legitimately felt she was doing right by these characters. But she might not have handled things the way someone would have that had more experience running a staff. I didn't agree with all of the arguments, but I think if someone brings up legitimate concerns about whether a character is racially authentic, you should at least listen."

TODAY'S PREMIERES 
1) A Family (Netflix)
Taken in by the yakuza at a young age, Kenji swears allegiance to his old-school boss, pledging to adhere to the family code amid ever-changing times.

2) Elite Season Premiere (Netflix)
A strict principal and four new students arrive at Las Encinas, bringing an onslaught of romantic entanglements, intense rumors and a fresh mystery.

3) Fatherhood (Netflix)
After the sudden death of his wife, a new father (Kevin Hart) takes on the toughest job in the world: parenthood. Based on a true story of loss and love.

4) Friday Night Vibes Series Premiere (TBS)
This essentially "Dinner & A Movie," with new, hipper hosts Tiffany Haddish and Deon Cole.

5) Jagame Thandhiram (Netflix)
When a clever, carefree gangster is recruited to help an overseas crime lord take down a rival, he is caught off guard by the moral dilemmas that follow.

6) Love After Lockup Season Premiere (WE tv)
The wildly addicting series follows couples who meet their felon fiancés at their prison releases and the journey on their road to the altar. With stunning firsts, shocking family drama, secrets & lies, will their love survive after lockup or is it all just a con?

7) Luca (Disney+)
Set on the Italian Riviera, Pixar's 24th feature film is an original story centering on a pair of young sea monsters, voiced by Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer, who seek to learn more about the world beyond the sea. The debut film from director Enrico Casarosa also features the voices of Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan. 

8) Physical Series Premiere (Apple TV+)
Rose Byrne star as the "quietly tortured" San Diego housewife Sheila Rubin, who finds a unique path to empowerment: launching a VHS aerobics-instruction business.

9) Rise Again: Tulsa And The Red Summer (NatGeo)
Award-winning Washington Post journalist and Oklahoma native DeNeen Brown is at the heart of the film, reporting on the search for a mass grave in her native state. Digging into the events that led to one of the worst episodes of racial violence in America's history, Brown reveals insights into racial conflict incidents that erupted in the early 20th century. Between 1917 and 1923, when Jim Crow laws were at their height and the Klu Klux Klan was resurging across the nation, scores of Black homes and businesses were razed, and hundreds of Black people were lynched and massacred with impunity.

10) Sherni (Amazon)
A jaded forest officer (Vidya Balan) leads a team of trackers and locals intending to capture an unsettled tigress, while battling intense obstacles and pressures, both natural and man-made.

11) So Not Worth It (Netflix)
New friends, new loves and new experiences mix together inside a colorful college dormitory in Korea that's home to students from around the world.

12) The Rational Life (Netflix)
Always one to choose reason over emotion, a woman struggles when she’s drawn to two very different men, while also navigating unfairness at work.

13) The World's Most Amazing Vacation Rentals Series Premiere (Netflix)
On a budget, ready to splurge or just need someplace new? Three travelers visit short-term rentals around the globe and share tips for terrific stays.

I'll be back with another one on Monday. If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.