As of this week, the Sony Movie Channel is no more. A staple of the Freeview era of television, the SMC and its spin-offs have allowed viewers to enjoy half-decent cinema, in their own home, free, for years. But now the channel has come to an end. Instead, the future is Great!
Great! Movies is the name of the new channel that is to replace the old channel but will show the same films in the same place. There will be similarly rebranded siblings too – Great! Movies Action and Great! Movies Classic but not Great! Movies Asshole! Thanks to its agenda-setting break with syntax and the attendant suggestion of a complete critical lobotomy, Great! Movies has all the hallmarks of a swift right hook from modernity.
The immediate question, with or without the addition of several exclamation marks, would be: why? Why would you ditch a name synonymous with cinema for something that could be anything from a brand of dog food to a type of scouring pad? What Great! strategy is at work?
It’s not like the channel is struggling. “It’s one of those things that if you don’t watch them you assume no one else does, but actually the audience for the Sony Movie Channel is quite big,” says Tom Harrington, a TV expert at the research company Enders Analysis. On average, just under a million people in the UK watch at least three minutes of the channel a day, which is more than Comedy Central or Cartoon Network and about half the audience of Dave. Over the past year, its most popular films have been Die Hard with a Vengeance, a Jason Statham vehicle called Homefront in which James Franco plays a Louisiana meth baron, and Pretty Woman.
“I’d say about 70% of their audience is over 55,” Harrington says. “That’s pretty old. But the audience has been stable over the past few years. And one thing about an older audience is that they’re less likely to be recording, watching it later and fast-forwarding the ads.” As a free-to-air channel SMC is dependent on ads and, like many similar channels, it runs short news bulletins in the middle of its films to allow it to get around OfCom rules limiting the amount you can show an hour.
Sony Movie Channel appears to be doing a fair job of channelling Sony movies to the public and making money off the back of it. As far as the TV audience is concerned, a new name is unlikely to do much more, according to Harrington. “Maybe it will catch people’s eyes on the EPG,” he says, “but most viewers are going to look up what is actually on rather than the name of the channel.”
Brand consultant Cara Bendon isn’t exactly persuaded by Great! either. She describes the name as “fairly generic” and says it “doesn’t feel like a considered, consumer-focused choice” but more like a decision driven by business concerns. “If you want your name to make people believe you’re great, it needs to sound aspirational,” she says. “The word ‘Great’ and the exclamation mark have a more dated, nostalgic feel, reminiscent of top 10 lists of films.”
So what is going on? At this stage it should be pointed out that Great! is under new ownership. Earlier this month Sony sold its UK TV channels to a US investment firm called Narrative Capital. A company which invests in “the entire life cycle and global distribution of intellectual property”, Narrative has bought the channels and licensed the same content – everything from the Sony movie library, plus a load of TV shows – but decided to give it a new name.
Narrative Entertainment’s chief executive, Daniel Levin, suggests the name is a “wink, a nod to an old friend”. “If you asked me what Rambo or Blade Runner 2049 or The Graduate have in common,’” he says, “I’d say: they’re great!”
Levin explains Great! values in other, similarly difficult to quite get on board with formulations, but he also acknowledges that, yes, the Great! channels are likely to be relaunched as an advertising-funded video on demand service and that, yes, those services will probably be made available to more countries than just the UK. With that in mind, there are only so many names that work on TV, on an app, with old and young people, in Sweden as well as Swindon. And superlatives work harder than most.
“Over one in two adults aged 16 or over watched this portfolio in 2020,” Levin says, eventually explaining his investment. “We’ve zeroed on in on this [business] because we think it’s a terrific springboard and a wonderful way to connect with lovers of film and entertainment. It’s not for a lack of seeing what’s out there. We’re very excited by the opportunity.”
It comes to something when you’re pining for the days of channels being named after a good, old-fashioned Japanese electronics conglomerates, but at least the Sony Movie Channel meant something. As Bendon observes: “Sony’s name is synonymous with high quality technology.” (She also notes that Sony has a reputation for changing the names of its channels, and the previous name for the Sony Movie Channel was Movies4Men.) Now, the price of embracing a global digital future appears to be a name that is less a guarantee of quality and more a vague anaesthetised sentiment equivalent to the feeling you get when you find 50p down the back of the sofa. Such are the side-effects of progress.
The UK capital was the only European city to make the top ten in Startup Genome’s ranking, tying with New York in second place for the second year in a row.
London is Europe’s number one start-up city, according to a recent report by Startup Genome. The research and advisory body which specialises in start-ups released its ‘Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021’ report today (22 September).
The report identified London and New York as joint second-best cities in the world for start-ups. London was the only European location to make it into the top ten. The city is attractive to founders thanks to its educated workforce and tax incentives, the report found.
Silicon Valley in California took the top spot, unsurprisingly. This year’s global rankings were dominated by the US, with half of the top 30 ecosystems coming from this region, followed by Asia with 27pc and Europe with 17pc of the top performing ecosystems globally.
Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles alone contributed more than 70pc to the US’s total ecosystem value.
Paris made the top 20, coming in at number 12. The Amsterdam-Delta region followed in thirteenth place. Dublin improved its rank from the previous year’s report, coming in at number 36 this time.
Beijing, Boston, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Seattle and Stockholm also made the top ten best start-up cities.
The global start-up economy is currently worth more than $3.8trn in ecosystem value. There are 79 ecosystems generating over $4bn in value, which is more than double the number identified in 2017. This time last year, 91 ecosystems had achieved unicorn status.
“Entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders in Europe have been working hard to build inclusive innovation ecosystems that are engines of economic growth and job creation for all,” commented JF Gauthier, founder and CEO of Startup Genome on the report’s release.
“The Global Startup Ecosystem Report is the foundation of knowledge where we, as a global network, come together to identify what policies actually produce economic impact and in what context,” Gauthier added.
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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck” system, an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules.
The decision follows an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians and journalists are steered into the separate system.
Under the program, some users are “whitelisted”, or not subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook rules pending content reviews that often do not take place. The Xcheck system, for example, allowed Brazilian footballer Neymar to post nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape, according to the report.
Users were identified for additional scrutiny based on criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”, the Wall Street Journal found. By 2020 there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, according to the newspaper.
The oversight board said Tuesday that it expects to have a briefing with Facebook on the system and “will be reporting what we hear from this” as part of a report it will publish in October.
The board may also make other recommendations, although Facebook is not bound to follow these.
The Journal’s report, the board said, has drawn “renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matters so much for users”.
Facebook told the Journal in response to its investigation that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding”. The company added that criticism of it was “fair” and that it was working to fix it.
A representative for Facebook declined to comment to the Associated Press on the oversight board’s decision.
The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.
Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.
The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.
“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.
Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.
“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.
However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.
Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.
But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.