Amazon’s $8.5bn deal to buy MGM, the Hollywood studio behind James Bond, The Handmaid’s Tale and Gone With the Wind, has secured it the rights to a century’s worth of TV and film titles that the streaming giant intends to exploit with a wave of remakes, reimaginings and spin-offs.
The deal to buy the 97-year-old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which has an immense library of 4,000 film titles and 17,000 hours of TV programming, is designed to supercharge Amazon’s content pipeline, which is the lifeblood of any competitor in the global battle for streaming supremacy.
Amazon has not pursued an original-content strategy in the heavyweight way that Netflix has. Just 3% of its 41,000 hours of TV shows and films are originals or owned content, compared with a fifth of the 39,000-hour library at Netflix, according to Ampere Analysis.
“It is getting harder to get library content – they’re not going to get shows like Friends now, they’re locked in elsewhere,” says Michael Pachter, a media analyst at Wedbush. “To create 4,000 movies would take them 200 years. To create 17,000 hours of TV would take an eternity. They couldn’t do it fast enough. They had to buy something. The question is how much Amazon can now exploit.”
Much of the focus has been on MGM’s flagship property: James Bond. At 59 years old, the evergreen screen spy is the world’s second-longest running film franchise after Godzilla, and some analysts have estimated he could be worth half the near-$9bn price tag of the whole library.
Bond is a treasure trove, unexploited beyond the 25 feature films focusing on its star, which Amazon would dearly love to develop into a Marvel- or Star Wars-like “universe”. The only problem is that Bond is partly owned by Eon Productions in the UK, which is run by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, who exercise strict control over how the character is used – even down to choosing the actor who plays him. Following the announcement of the deal, they reiterated that 007’s primary home would remain the big screen, saying: “We are committed to continue making James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience.”
Plans for one potential spin-off in 2002 – a movie based on the character Jinx, played by Halle Berry in Die Another Day – were scrapped the following year, while the highly successful Young Bond series of books for young adults has never made it beyond print.
“I think the greatest opportunity is with the Bond franchise,” says John Mass at Content Partners, a Los Angeles-based investment firm that owns the rights to content including Black Hawk Down, Olympus Has Fallen and part of the CSI television franchise. “I think that ‘universe’ is probably an overused term, but I do think that there is a huge amount of intellectual property that has not been exploited. What Bond has demonstrated is that the asset, the brand, is resilient.”
Still, beyond Bond, MGM – which made $1.5bn (£1bn) last year, mostly from licensing its properties – has an array of valuable assets ripe for further exploitation. Rocky has been given a new lease of life with the Creed series of films starring Michael B Jordan. A second Addams Family animated film is due for release this year, while a TV series is in the works at Netflix. Disney+ has an upcoming series, Willow, based on the 1988 Ron Howard film, and a hybrid animated/live-action reboot of The Pink Panther is in the works.
Meanwhile, the Russo brothers – the directors of one of the biggest-grossing film of all time, Avengers: Endgame – are on board to remake several films, starting with The Thomas Crown Affair; a third instalment of Legally Blonde is due next year; and CBS has psychological crime drama Clarice, a TV spin-off which has its roots in The Silence of the Lambs.
But unlike MGM, which was forced into bankruptcy a decade ago and currently carries about $2bn in debt, Amazon has the financial firepower to supercharge the exploitation of this library. The company, which has $73bn in cash on hand and a market value of $1.6 trillion, spent $11bn on content last year and will lay out $15.5bn this year. It has reportedly spent $465m on its first TV series set in the world of Lord of the Rings, the rights for which were secured after Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, reportedly told executives to “find a Game of Thrones” to take the fight to Netflix, the world’s leading streamer.
Observers and analysts speculate at possibilities including a remake of Thelma and Louise, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, or reviving the late-80s series Thirtysomething. Franchises including Stargate and Tomb Raider appear ripe for a major new investment, while RoboCop is ready for new audiences following 2014’s disappointing remake. TV hits The Handmaid’s Tale and Fargo are currently locked in deals with Hulu and FX, but are also viewed as ripe for future exploitation.
The only content off the table is some 2,000 classic films, including hits such as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain, which MGM sold to Warner Bros in 1986.
“In terms of production there is a lot of intellectual property that is under-exploited from a rights standpoint,” says Mass. “There are loads of potential sequels, remakes and prequels in the MGM library. I’m sure MGM have done a good job with it, but the streaming wars are going on, and a new team of people at Amazon will uncover a lot more opportunities.”
Chinese software developers have crowdsourced a spreadsheet that dishes the dirt on working conditions at hundreds of employers.
Dubbed WorkingTime, the protest aims to offer transparency regarding how many work hours are expected. Many organisations expect 72-hour working weeks – an arrangement dubbed “996” after the 9am to 9pm, six days a week culture in place at many Chinese companies.
The practice has sometimes been promoted by the rich and famous: Alibaba’s Jack Ma publicly stated that employees should actually want to work long hours and a job you love enough to spend that much time doing is a “blessing”.
Chinese courts take a different view. A recent decision found 996-style hours aren’t permissible, as Chinese law caps overtime at 36 hours per month and requires compensation for the extra hours. But China is not a workers’ paradise, and the practice persists because oversight is limited and independent labour unions are illegal in the Middle Kingdom.
The WorkingTime project aims to assist developers looking for work to understand what they’re signing up for.
“The opacity of working hours in some companies, working time is a very important factor in choosing an offer,” wrote a movement founder on Chinese Q&A site Zhihu.
The spreadsheet in which workers record how many hours they work a week, job descriptions, breaks and other remarks strongly suggest that grueling hours remain at some workplaces. Others stick to a 40-ish hour working week and add perks like happy hours and subsidized housing.
The anecdotes, visible on an openly accessible spreadsheet associated with the project, provide a similar service for Chinese tech workers to web pages like Glassdoor – giving tips on company culture and requirements.
Some remarks include:
“I often go on business trips. I have been on business for half of a month. I leave work after 10 o’clock every night at the customer’s site. I have to work overtime on weekends. The entire department has worked for two years except for the leaders.”
“Feel free to ask for leave and lunch time, because it’s the field work, whether you are in the company or not, and you can play games casually, regardless of the leader. If you drink too much, it’s fine if you don’t come.”
“Mandatory to keep people on duty every night, compulsory all staff to work overtime every Saturday, no overtime pay, working hours over 10 hours.”
“When the daily work cannot be completed, it is necessary to work overtime at home.”
“The work pace is fast and the work content is highly saturated. Flexible commute, just do everything.”
The WorkingTime project has gone viral, with the founders reporting over ten million views and thousands of entries as of last Tuesday. While the founders remain anonymous, contributors hail from a diverse subset of companies that includes some of China’s big tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei and Bytedance, as well as multinational companies such as SAP, Dyson, Intel and IBM.
According to the project’s GitHub page, lawyers are currently pitching in to sort out legal issues prior to making the project freely downloadable. However, a summary table of data collated daily is already available in Chinese.
Unsurprisingly, the project has stirred some ire. The founders have asked that participants do not apply for editing permission, explaining that “due to malicious editing” such privileges will not be granted. ®
The move comes following a power purchase agreement between Johnson & Johnson and Ørsted, which has windfarm sites in Clare and Kerry.
Johnson & Johnson has revealed plans to move to 100pc renewable electricity across its Irish operations.
The company has entered into an eight-year corporate power purchase agreement in Ireland with Danish company Ørsted. The agreement will help to ensure that the company’s entire Irish operations will be powered by electricity from 100pc renewable sources from now on.
Ørsted will supply the company with more than 1TWh of renewable energy during this period from two windfarms located in Kerry and Clare. The agreement will also help Ørsted as it invests in its strategy to construct more renewable generation in the future.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, praised the move in the context of Ireland’s climate action plans.
“Johnson & Johnson has embraced its environmental responsibilities globally, but also here in Ireland, and this agreement will help the company to achieve its wider climate goals. We are at a crucial point in the global fight against climate change and initiatives like this should become the benchmark for all companies to aspire to,” he said.
Towards net zero
Last year, Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide VP of environmental health, safety and sustainability, Paulette Frank, spoke at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event about the company’s “bold” climate goals. From her base in the US, Frank told attendees of the virtual event that her colleagues viewed the pandemic as “inspiration to propel” its climate action “further faster.”
Sourcing electricity from 100pc renewable sources is a goal the company set to achieve by 2025. By 2030, it wants to achieve carbon neutrality in its global operations.
John Lynch, plant leader at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Ireland, said the company was proud to have met its targets in its Irish operations.
“Across our 10 sites and workforce of more than 5,000 here in Ireland, we are committed to supporting Johnson & Johnson’s climate action goals. In the last decade we have invested more than €60m in over 80 carbon footprint reduction projects.
“Today is a major landmark on our journey in Ireland to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and underlines our commitment to ensuring a better, healthier world.”
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Australians are the world’s biggest consumers of health and wellness apps, punching well above our per capita weight in our quest for peak physical and mental condition, according to research from telecommunications company Uswitch. In recent years we have also been making them – with everyone from fitness influencers to mental health advocacy groups launching digital products.
I’m partial to a bit of mobile-based movement and mindfulness myself, but I have a complex relationship with wellness. While I love green juices, pilates and my “ness” being “well”, I can’t abide many contemporary uses of the word. In the diet, fitness, fashion and other industries, “wellness” can feel like a barely repackaged “weight loss”, while “healthy” has replaced “slim” as companies respond superficially to the body positivity movement without really changing their ways.
Despite wholesome beginnings in the 1950s, wellness is often framed as a goal for the financially and genetically privileged – and don’t get me started on the pseudoscience.
So I choose cautious cynicism when engaging with wellness and wellbeing products – but I’ve also been alone in my house for the greater part of two years, so I’ll try pretty much anything.
Cost: $19.99 a month
Sweat is a women’s health app co-founded by Australian fitness influencer Kayla Itsines, who boasts a worldwide social media following of more than 40 million. It offers over 30 programs for training at home or the gym, including high-intensity interval training (Hiit), low-intensity training, yoga and barre.
I did sessions from the PWR Zero Equipment program and it was all easy to follow and very doable. Audio and written instructions and onscreen demonstrations are clear, and self-accountability is super easy. It’s perfect for lockdown and for busy people cramming in exercise wherever and whenever they can. Plus, I can report that burpees are still the merciless work of Satan herself.
Itsines has created an app that exists in the wellness space with little of the self-congratulatory, quasi-spiritual hoopla other influencers lean so heavily into. Sweat isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. It’s a workout app, you do workouts on it. Yes, there are recipes and lifestyle tips but they aren’t offered as miracle pathways to a higher plane of being.
Is it my preferred mode of exercise? No. But it’s convenient and flexible and I can see myself using it when I travel. If that’s a thing that ever happens again.
ReachOut’s WorryTime is an anxiety management app from the online youth mental health service that uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to disrupt and manage repetitive thinking.
I am by no definition a youth, but I have mild anxiety and WorryTime’s methodology appealed to me. You nominate a daily time to do all your worrying and when you feel anxious, you note why in the app; every day at the designated time, you worry about what’s still plaguing you and delete what’s not. Easy!
I used WorryTime diligently for a while, noting my fears, my troubles and doubts and reassessing them every 24 hours. All was going well until I got busy with work, stressed about work and scared I’d stop getting work. Where the app had been a welcome task, it became a bugbear.
I was trying not to think about things that made me anxious and knowing the app contained a list of them created a classic avoidance paradigm. I skipped a day. And the next day. And the day after that. Soon the WorryTime alarm was causing me the very anxiety it was engaged to minimise. After a few weeks of this mental chicken-egg dance, I deleted the app. I may have been in the foetal position at the time.
I’m not advocating against WorryTime. It could be a great tool for others. There are no one-size-fits-all mental health salves. It would be nice if there were though.
Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria
My favourite discovery from this whole exercise is bibliotherapy or book therapy, an age-old practice that uses literature to support better mental health and wellbeing. Basically, you read or are read aloud a prescribed text, specifically chosen to raise questions, uncover truths and encourage healing. It’s also fun to say.
In response to the pandemic, a new podcast called Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria was launched. Hosted by bibliotherapy practitioner Dr Susan McLaine, it offers to help people “stay calmer in this fragile time”. In each episode, McLaine reads a short story and a poem and poses questions for listeners. Texts range from emerging and obscure writers to Tolstoy, Donne and Kipling.
I love this podcast. There’s something so intimate and soothing about being read to, no doubt embedded in childhood nostalgia. McLaine’s voice takes some getting used to, though to be fair I find this with most podcast hosts, but her choice of texts is excellent and she reads everything slowly and deliberately, “savouring every word and offering space between words”. It’s the closest thing to a hug I’ve had in months.
The only bad thing about it is that there are only two short seasons. After a brief search for similarly soporific, story-based podcasts and apps, I found the excellent Dreamy podcast, a collection of beautiful sleep stories by First Nations storytellers like Jazz Money and Aurora Liddle-Christie. Bringing tens of thousands of years of oral tradition into the digital world, Dreamy is “helping people of all walks of life to quiet their minds, drift into dreams, and disconnect from their devices”.
I also found Sleep Stories on the Calm app ($14.99 a month). It’s full of grown-up tales and mindful nonsense to soothe or bore you into slumber. There are even equally terrible and amazing celebrity cameos: Matthew McConaughey, Cillian Murphy and the hot duke from Bridgerton will read to you like you’re a child. Last night Harry Styles read me the worst poem I’ve ever heard – for 40 minutes. Five stars. Would listen again.
The Resilience Project
Price: $4.49 one time fee
The Resilience Project app is a “daily wellbeing journal” for all ages from a Melbourne-based organisation of the same name, providing evidence-based mental health strategies and “sharing the benefits of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness” to schools, sports clubs and businesses.
Users are encouraged to log on every day, note how they feel, record who or what they’re grateful for, perform acts of kindness and do a short guided meditation. This nice daily ritual only takes a few minutes but proves a small antidote to the current news cycle.
I don’t see myself using it long-term, because of repetitiveness and the world’s shortest attention span, but during this lockdown I’ve appreciated the nightly reminder to acknowledge my blessings and privilege and to reach out to friends.
Though it can’t do the heavy lifting where mental health is concerned, I’ll put it in my arsenal of chronic depression coping mechanisms, and try to use it in bad times. It won’t soothe what only drugs and Great British Bake Off can, but it might provide a few minutes respite.
Cost: $40 a month
The Class is an American exercise methodology-slash-mindfulness practice with semi-cult vibes, taught by a host of ridiculously hot and relentlessly cool twentysomethings who can pull off white Lycra and blend in on aGirlsset.
In fortuitous timing, founder Taryn Toomey launched online classes in late 2019, taking the Class into locked down homes around the world from 2020. Australians can access a wide selection of on-demand and live online classes, and there’s even an Australian teacher. Timezone differences narrow live options quite a bit, but most live classes become on-demand classes, so it doesn’t really matter.
Frequented by celebrities including Alicia Keys, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone, the Class is a mat-based, music-driven “cathartic workout experience” designed to “strengthen the body and balance the mind”. It’s yoga meets Les Mills meets clubbing. Movements are simple, repetition is key and loud exhales are encouraged. You may do squats for a whole song, free dance for another and star jumps for the next. In between, there’s stillness.
Teachers speak a kind of motivational psychobabble that is at once intolerable and addictive. It verges on the spiritual and flirts with cultural appropriation but remains just secular enough that I don’t turn it off. “Be in your power”; “You are enough”; “Softness is your birthright” and so on. Many teachers end their sessions with “I love you” which I somehow don’t hate.
At first, I struggled to put aside my prejudices against self-indulgent, pseudo-mystical wellness fads and find peace with beautiful women telling me to accept myself while making me do burpees. But the more I did it, the more I was able to just let go and roll with the theatre. Plus, it’s actually a very good workout.
I am now willingly paying for the Class. Let’s never speak of this again. I love you.