International Insider: Quibi Throws In The Towel; ‘Leaving Neverland’ Sequel; ‘The Chop’ Controversy

Hello International Insider readers, Tom Grater here with our pick of the news from the world of film and TV this week.

QUIBI QUICK-BITES THE DUST

Quibye: Farewell Quibi, we barely knew ye. The service launched by heavyweights Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman in April this year, which aimed to revolutionize short form content with its 10-minute ‘quick bites’ format, is closing down after just over six months. The app was available in around 30 countries but will go dark on December 1 while its founders look to sell the platform and its assets. Some 200 employees are set to be out of work. Investors in the company included the BBC, ITV and Chinese giant Alibaba. Quibi also produced content on these shores with the likes of the Idris Elba-fronted Elba vs Block from WorkerBee, and dating series The Hot Drop from ITV Studios.

What went wrong? Deadline had the exclusive Q&A this week with Katzenberg and Whitman in which they discussed the problems they encountered. Despite raising a mammoth $1.7B pre-launch, the pair said the cash bleed was too heavy and they had decided to return the maximum amount they could to their investors. We’ll never know if the Quibi model might have been successful in a non-pandemic year, but the lack of commuters didn’t help the business. “Everything about Quibi was designed to be on the go,” commented Katzenberg.

Legal battle: Further complications come from an ongoing legal case with Eko, the interactive video company, which filed a patent infringement claim over its Turnstyle interface. The case is understood not to have played a part in the decision, but Eko says it will continue to pursue legal action.

BACK TO NEVERLAND

The sequel: Leaving Neverland was the documentary that made many question their adoration for the King of Pop — and now director Dan Reed is planning a follow-up for Channel 4. Deadline revealed this week that Reed has been filming as Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the two men who leveled child sex abuse allegations against Jackson in Leaving Neverland, pursue the Billie Jean singer’s companies through the courts.

Putting up barriers: Jackson’s companies, MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, are not making it easy for Reed. They served him and his production outfit, Amos Pictures, with subpoenas demanding that he personally appear for deposition and hand over documents and materials related to Leaving Neverland and the sequel. They are also attempting to ban him from filming in the courtroom. Reed is fighting back with a motion to quash the subpoenas.

What next: A hearing on Reed’s motion to quash the subpoenas is scheduled to take place on April 9 next year. LA County Superior Court Judge Mark A. Young dismissed Safechuck’s lawsuit on Tuesday. Safechuck is ready to appeal. Robson’s case goes to trial on June 14, 2021.

Channel 4 wades in: Head of news and current affairs Louisa Compton summed it up like this: “Understandably, the MJJ companies are not happy with “Leaving Neverland” or the making of the follow-up documentary. It is easy to see why they do not want the subject matter of these films to be reported to the public. However, as much as they may dislike the messages that are being conveyed by these documentaries, we strenuously oppose their efforts to shoot the messenger.”

ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK

 

What went down: On Monday, A+E Networks UK and Sky’s joint-venture network Sky History innocently tweeted a promo clip of its new reality competition series The Chop: Britain’s Top Woodworker. It featured a chirpy Bristolian carpenter named Darren Lumsden, whose defining feature is a heavily tattoed face. Clearly visible among his ink is the number 88, which people soon pointed out is white supremacy code for Heil Hitler. Twitter sleuths went to work and found other potential Nazi symbolism etched on his face. Suddenly, The Chop was going viral for all the wrong reasons. Sky History may have a long line in Nazi shows, but The Chop is certainly not one of them.

The reverse ferret: A+E Networks UK initially stood by its man, releasing a statement saying that the number 88 was actually a reference to the year of Lumsden’s father’s death. But when the other suspicious markings were pointed out, A+E Networks UK performed a screeching volte-face and took the show off-air pending an investigation. Lumsden, Deadline understands, maintains that all the markings are innocent coincidences, but his story has unraveled somewhat in the press glare. Notably, the MailOnline tracked down his Dad, who is, it would seem, alive and well.

What now: A+E Networks UK’s legal counsel is leading the probe into Lumsden and his ink, but insiders are not hopeful that The Chop can survive the controversy. Deadline understands that the carpenter performs well in the woodworking series, which would make it near-impossible to scrub him from the record, should any links to white supremacy be dug up. That could spell the end for the nine-part series that made a promising start in the ratings last week.

A cautionary tale: A+E Networks UK has said that full background checks were carried by producer Big Wheel Film & Television and questions were asked about Lumsden’s tattoos. But the follow-up investigation suggests that producers did not do enough digging. Interestingly, it’s not the first time he’s appeared on television after featuring in Channel 4’s Dumped in 2007, meaning other producers have given him the green light. It all goes to show that when it comes to contestant vetting, you can never be too careful — the warning signs might just be staring you in the face.

BRITISH TV FACES THE FUTURE

 

ITV restructures: ITV announced to staff on Monday that it will increase its focus on streaming by creating a new media and entertainment division, which will house its TV and online output and have its own profit and loss account. There will be job losses as ITV targets a “leaner” operation in which its streamers, ITV Hub and BritBox, grow in prominence. The changes will be made between now and March 2021. Read more here.

Why it matters: You get the sense that this is CEO Carolyn McCall’s legacy-defining move. She is positioning ITV for a world without linear television after the pandemic brought the shifting sands of viewing habits into sharp focus. “Linear channels will be around and be profitable for many years but we also need an on-demand business which will increasingly be the focus of our new investments in content and technology and which will be our growth engine attracting younger and more targeted audiences,” she said.

Contextual point one: ITV’s pivot online, to borrow a tired phrase, coincides with a similar restructure at the BBC. There have been industry whispers that the corporation could do away with TV channel controllers altogether as iPlayer becomes the focal point of commissioning. The BBC is not briefing for or against this idea and says everything is on the table as part of a content strategy review. Director general Tim Davie hinted at what’s to come last month, when he told a committee of MPs: “I don’t want a massive load of resources on iPlayer, alongside a massive load of resources on channels. You have to have a commissioning base that looks at content in the round.”

Contextual point two: Despite the change, there has scarcely been a more stable time at the top of the TV executive tree in the UK. Three of the country’s top controllers have all consolidated their power in recent months. ITV’s restructure will elevate director of television Kevin Lygo (four years in the job) to managing director of media and entertainment. Charlotte Moore last month went from being the BBC’s director of content (four years in the job) to chief content officer. Over at ViacomCBS, Ben Frow was promoted from running Channel 5 (eight years in the job) to overseeing all of the U.S. broadcaster’s UK channel brands, including Comedy Central and MTV.

NETFLIX’S GLOBAL GROWTH

 

Worldview: Netflix is showing no sign of slowing down its aggressive international expansion. The company has long discussed how it expects the international arena to account for the majority of its future growth, and continued investment speaks to that. This week, the company made a key UK hire, appointing Fiona Lamptey as its director of UK features, unveiled a slate of seven new Spanish projects, and signed production deals with four anime producers in Japan and Korea.

THE ESSENTIALS

 

🌶️ Hot one of the week: After establishing herself as one of the highest value comedy actors on the planet, Australian native Rebel Wilson is planning a career departure with The Almond And The Sea Horse, a UK indie drama. Here’s our scoop.

🍿 International box office: The major box office news once again came from Asia this week, where anime adaptation Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train shattered records in Japan, while China is set to surpass North America as the world’s biggest market in 2020. Go deeper.

🏆 Awards news: Reigning International Oscar champion nation South Korea made its selection for the 2021 race this week, putting forward Woo Min-ho’s historical political thriller The Man Standing Next.

🎦 Trailer dash: This week we debuted first trailers for Sophia Loren’s big screen comeback The Life Ahead, Irish thriller Shadows, which is playing at Rome Film Fest, and David Fincher’s hotly anticipated Netflix pic Mank.

📅 Diary date: Running alongside this year’s AFM will be a separate online market set up by 30 key agencies and sales agents, kicking off November 9.

🚚 On the move: eOne is winding down its German operation in the coming weeks, we reported on Thursday.

📺 One to watch: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen’s secretive sequel to his 2006 mockumentary, drops globally on Amazon today. Our reviewer Pete Hammond called it “hilarious” and “un-PC”.

AND FINALLY…

The Pope stokes hope: The leader of the Catholic Church garnered praise across the globe this week for comments he made in new documentary Francesco where he came out in support of same-sex civil unions. “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of god,” he says in the movie. An outpouring of positivity followed the statement, including from LGBT equality org Ozanne Foundation, which said, “This will bring hope to millions of lesbian and gay couples around the world.” Read our story.

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