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HBO Max will release Zack Snyder’s cut of ‘Justice League’

By Anthony Ha

WarnerMedia announced today that director Zack Snyder’s version of “Justice League” will be released on HBO Max in 2021.

Snyder is the only credited director on the 2017 superhero film, but he left the film during post-production, after his daughter’s suicide, with “Avengers” director Joss Whedon stepping in to write and shoot new material.

The resulting film received mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office, leading to corporate shakeups at DC Entertainment and pushing the studio to focus standalone films, rather than big crossovers.

At the same time, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has become a popular hashtag on social media, with many of the movie’s stars joining in, so WarnerMedia is finally responding. It’s also probably happy to find a fresh source of already-filmed content for HBO Max while COVID-19 has forced a pause on film and TV production. (The HBO-and-more streaming service launches next week.)

It’s not clear what form the release will take — according to The Hollywood Reporter, it might be a single film of nearly four hours, or it might be broken up into six chapters. And apparently the estimated cost is somewhere between $20 and $30 million.

“I want to thank HBO Max and Warner Brothers for this brave gesture of supporting artists and allowing their true visions to be realized,” Snyder said in a statement. “Also a special thank you to all of those involved in the SnyderCut movement for making this a reality.”

Personally, I’ve been a bit skeptical of the social media uproar, partly because I liked the existing version of “Justice League” just fine, despite its obvious flaws; partly because Snyder’s previous film “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” was almost unwatchably bad; and partly because it’s become tediously predictable for indignant fans to demand a new version of a movie or TV show they didn’t like.

Still, it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for a director who just wants present his vision, particularly when the work was derailed by tragedy. And I can’t deny that I’m curious. So bring on the Snyder Cut.

With stadiums closed, TV networks turn to live esports broadcasts

By Eric Peckham

The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out the spring seasons for professional sports and associated revenue for TV networks, but esports is filling part of that void.

Gaming companies behind titles licensed by each major league are the winners in this unexpected shift; Electronic Arts (EA) is first among them with FIFA, Madden NFL, NBA Live and NHL in its EA Sports portfolio and more than 100 esports events planned for 2020. The way EA, networks and sports leagues are responding to production challenges in this crisis will reshape the esports market going forward.

Millions of people sheltering in place has created a breakout opportunity for esports broadcasting:

  1. A large portion of the internet-using population is at home 24/7, with screens as their main entertainment outlet;
  2. Sports fans have few competitive live events to watch;
  3. Broadcasters like ESPN, CBS, and Sky lost their most valuable content for attracting live viewers and need alternative content;
  4. Star athletes and non-sports celebrities are stuck at home with wide-open schedules.

In late March, 900,000 viewers tuned into Fox Sports for Nascar’s iRacing series, with 1.1 million watching in early April; the network has also broadcast Madden NFL tournaments with NFL commentators and athletes. ESPN is televising NBA players facing off against each other in NBA 2K (by Take-Two Interactive) and pro drivers (and other pro athletes like Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero) are racing each other in Codemasters’ F1 2019 game. ESPN has broadcast competitive play of non-sports games with League of Legends (by Riot Games) and Apex Legends (by EA) tournaments.

To be clear, ratings for these events have have varied widely, but networks and game companies are rethinking how esports is broadcast, which will advance its pop-culture appeal.

Games adapting pro sports are best bridge to non-gamers

Esports is a massively popular activity with its own large piece of turf in pop culture, but it hasn’t secured a central role. Research firm Newzoo pegs the global audience of “esports enthusiasts” at 223 million. But unlike soccer and basketball, esports is siloed because it caters to viewers who are generally avid gamers. The action is extremely fast, so commentary by a streamer rarely helps outsiders understand what is going on enough to become engaged.

Opera Event closes $5M Series A for its esports-focused influencer platform

By Alex Wilhelm

Today Opera Event, an influencer software service, announced that it closed a $5 million Series A. The Oakland-based startup raised the capital from new lead investor Antera, with prior investors Atlas Ventures, Everblue, and Konvoy Ventures coming along.

According to Crunchbase data, Opera Event had raised at least $1.2 million before this new round.

Opera Event is starting with a focus on influencers in the esports market, a business that founder Brandon Byrne knows well. Byrne previously worked for former esports organization Curse and served as the CFO of Team Liquid; Team Liquid is an active esports organization with players in a number of games, including League of Legends and Starcraft 2.

The startup wants to help esports teams monetize, a likely welcome effort given the industry’s historical issues with revenue generation, and reward micro-influencer fans. How it intends to do that is its core software service, one that Byrne expects will in time work for other verticals and influencer sets. Let’s explore.

Opera Event in practice

It’s perhaps best to explain what Opera Event does with a hypothetical example, built off notes from an interview with Opera Event’s Byrne. Let’s say that Alex Wilhelm Super Awesome Esports (AWSAE) is a small Starcraft 2 team — it’s just big enough to attract some sponsorship, but not as much as the team would like. However, AWSAE’s Starcraft 2 players have dedicated fans, many of whom also stream on Twitch and maintain a presence on Twitter.

By using Opera Event, AWSAE’s fans that stream can join the team’s commercial world, adding its sponsors to their Twitch pages, tweeting out the same campaigns and more. Opera Event sits between the team, its community and capital sources (brands), helping make everything click. It’s a situation that works well for Alex Wilhelm Super Awesome Esports. With its community streaming under its commercial banner, its demonstrable in-market impact (tweet impressions, minutes engaged on Twitch, etc) grows sharply. Its associate small streamers and fans get to take part in in the team’s world, and can be rewarded with things like social follows and other bits of love — all while brands can better deploy capital. (Opera Event calls this “the ability to engage and manage content creators efficiently and at scale.”)

Now AWSAE can get bigger sponsors as it can offer a bigger audience, it can share revenues or provide other succor to its fanbase, and brands can get their whatnot in front of more viewers at once.

One team that Byrne detailed had about 39 members doing around 50 million engaged minutes each month on Twitch. Using his startups software to create two affiliate programs, the same team grew to over 3,000 influencers that generated north of 450 million minutes per month of viewership. The latter set of figures are far more commercially viable.

The aggregation of small streamers is more than adding up views, it turns out. Byrne told TechCrunch that smaller esports streamers have better click through rates than the entertainment categories giants, which could help team fans and other community members that sign up as part of their Opera Event network have outsized impact on sponsor results.

Opera Event takes a material cut of deals it lands through its sales team (25% to 30% per the company) and a small cut for deals that flow through its platform but originated elsewhere (2% to 3%). The model generated around $1.8 million for the startup in 2019, and Opera Event hopes to reach $9 million in revenue this year.

Particularly important in today’s changed market, Byrne told TechCrunch that Opera Event is a quarter away from breaking even. That should keep the company safe during a downturn.

In time, Opera Event wants to add more niches to its stable. Its founder mentioned yoga as an example. Where there are influencers big and small, the startup wants to show up and help facilitate influencer commerce and collaboration.