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Inside Streaming (Jan 20th, 2017)

Today, we're looking at Amazon's offer to Sundance filmmakers, the new Ozflix service, Acorn TV's breakout year, plus IFC's "Maron" and other streaming shows based on podcasts PLUS my review of Netflix's "Series of Unfortunate Events." Hit us up with any streaming recommendations or newsletter feedback by replying to this email! – @lons

Nintendo has confirmed that its new hybrid portable and home video game console, Switch, won't support any video streaming apps at launch. This means unlike competitors such as the XBox One or PS4, Nintendo Switch will not allow users to stream services like Netflix or Hulu on the device. The company said it focused instead of making an "amazing dedicated video game platform," though added that it's considering video streaming as part of a future update. – VERGE

As part of Amazon's new Film Festival Stars program, the company has offered to purchase exclusive streaming rights for any official US narrative Sundance selections for $100,000 each. Under the terms of the deal, filmmakers would have to sign over exclusive worldwide VOD rights for 12 months, and agree to allow Amazon to stream the film for an additional 12 months without exclusivity. (Amazon is throwing in a one-time cash bonus and enhanced royalty rates.) The company is also offering $75,000 for any US documentary films and $25,000 for international movies. Typically, sought after or higher-profile Sundance films would bring in significantly more cash: Amazon paid $10 million for "Manchester by the Sea" last year at Sundance. – VARIETY

Netflix announced the release of "House of Cards" Season 5 with a new teaser, tweeted about one hour before Donald Trump's inauguration as US President. The 30-second spot was posted with the tagline "We make the terror," and features the show's trademark upside-down flag flying in front of the US Capitol building. The political drama's fifth season arrives on May 30. – ADWEEK

The new streaming service Ozflix aims to include "Every. Aussie Movie. Ever." in its collection. When it launches January 26, the Australian film library will include around 250 films, which can be rented for between US$3 (for titles from the archive) and US$5 (for new releases). Unlike most streaming rental platforms, however, 50% of the earnings go back to the filmmakers and distributors. – MASHABLE

In a wide-ranging discussion with AdWeek, Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins dropped hints about the company's soon-to-launch streaming bundle. Hopkins confirmed that Hulu's service will launch with a cloud DVR, a feature that DirecTV Now has also promised to add. As well, Hulu will also make the creation of multiple user profiles available on both the streaming bundle and Hulu's traditional SVOD platform. He also discussed the importance of gaining access to TV's "The Golden Girls," previewed the forthcoming series adaptation of "The Handmaid's Tale" and gave insight into how Hulu chooses what TV shows to save from cancellation. – ADWEEK

Netflix added nearly 2 million US subscribers, and 5 million international subscribers, in the fourth quarter of 2016. That far exceeded Wall Street expectations for the same time period, which were pegged at 1.38 million and 3.78 million, respectively. Though the company is still investing heavily in original content for US audiences, it has expanded the strategy internationally, recently releasing Brazilian series "3%," the first Portuguese-language television show to develop a global following. Also noteworthy: In December, Netflix became the top-grossing iPhone app for the first time ever. – TECHCRUNCH

Acorn TV, which features largely British, Canadian and Australian films and TV shows, more than doubled its subscriber base in 2016. The $4.99/month offering is available directly through parent company RLJ Entertainment, or through Amazon Channels. Along with a mix of classic and vintage TV content - from '80s sketch comedy series "Alfresco" to Season 10 of Canada's "Murdoch Mysteries" - the service this year debuted the original film "Witness for the Prosecution," starring Toby Jones and Kim Cattrall. In October, AMC Networks loaned the company $65 million and now has the option to purchase up to half of RLJ Entertainment. – VARIETY

RECOMMENDED ON NETFLIX: "MARON"



On his massively popular podcast "WTF" back in July, Marc Maron announced that the fourth season of his self-titled IFC series would also be the last. It just arrived this week on Netflix, so now you can catch up with the entire show's run.

And it's worth doing, too. Solely going from the premise, "Maron" doesn't really sound terribly exciting. Based on the comedian's real life, it finds him hanging out in Highland Park with fellow cynical comics (including Dave Anthony, who plays himself and also writes on the show) and producing podcasts with his famous friends from his garage.

But there's a bracing honesty, and bluntness, to Maron's whole approach that salvages it from seeming too self-serving or navel-gazing (though it's nice to take a little breather between seasons to kind of refresh). He seems to not only invite, but revel in the show's warts-and-all approach to his personality, dissecting his flaws episode-to-episode in a way that suggests not only the CHARACTER understands self-loathing. (If you're thinking this also sounds a bit like Louis CK's show, Marc has also noticed, and calls attention to it repeatedly.)

It all comes to head in the show's daring Season 4, where Marc (a real-life recovering addict) falls off the wagon and gets hooked on oxycontin, wrecking his entire life in the process. It's strange to watch someone realistically portray their own downfall, a downfall they have not actually experienced. Though he may just be doing it for comedy, and to tell a good story, it FEELS like he's really working through some demons, which gives the episodes themselves real power and weight.

"Maron" isn't always a comfortable or easy show, and sometimes in Season 4, it's not particularly funny at all. But it has a lot to say about getting older, and trying to truly come to an understanding about who you are and how you got that way. It's, in an odd way, exactly what you'd from a show based on a podcast where a comedian asks other comedians about their deepest fears and childhood traumas. He's bringing that same curiosity and inquisitiveness to his own life.

THE BASICS

TITLE: "Maron"
WHERE TO WATCH: Netflix
EPISODES AVAILABLE: 49 (4 seasons)
RUNTIME: 22 minutes each
GENRE: Comedy

MORE PODCASTS TURNED SHOWS

Counter-intuitive though it may seem, a number of series now available to stream started life as podcasts.



COMEDY BANG BANG: Scott Aukerman's absurdist, semi-improvised talk show recently ended its own IFC run after 5 years. You can catch up on the first four seasons on Netflix now.

THE NERDIST: Unlike "Maron," which re-contextualizes an audio interview podcast into a sitcom format, the BBC's take on Chris Hardwick's "Nerdist" podcast keeps essentially all the parts in place. Just on video! Hardwick, panelists and celebrity guests discuss the big news in pop culture, tech and trends. Hulu's got 18 episodes from the first 2 seasons.

THIS AMERICAN LIFE: OK, technically, this 2-season Showtime non-fiction series was based on Ira Glass's public radio show, but it's frequently listened to as a podcast so I say it counts. Both seasons are up on Amazon Video.

This trend is JUST GETTING STARTED. More shows based on podcasts are on the horizon, including a sitcom based on the documentary podcast "StartUp," a cable series inspired by the This American Life offshoot "Serial" and Amazon's forthcoming adaptation of the nonfiction horror podcast "Lore."

SOME THOUGHTS ON NETFLIX'S "UNFORTUNATE EVENTS"

I try to only talk about shows and films that I really enjoyed here in the newsletter, to make it more about recommendations than just reviews. But I feel compelled to share a few thoughts about Netflix's new adaptation of the popular book series "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," if only because it's so high profile.

There is a lot of funny writing and wordplay in the show (clearly most of it adapted from the books), and the sets and designs are beautiful. It all looks like it cost a fortune. As well, star/producer Neil Patrick Harris is really giving it his all as the cartoonishly flamboyant, gleefully villainous master of disguise Count Olaf. It's hard to HATE the show, necessarily.



But there's also a real sameness to every beat and every episode. Writer Daniel Handler (who also wrote the books under the nom de plume "Lemony Snicket") is clearly very enamored of the same basic comic set-up, and returns to it repeatedly, in each episode.

The 3 Baudelaire orphans are dazzlingly brilliant and wise, but are surrounded by idiotic, oafish adults who regrettably control their destiny. So each scene finds the kids rolling their eye or looking quizzically at a grown person who is acting ridiculous and making no sense. Count Olaf makes up an insane, obvious lie, dumb adults completely buy it and refuse to listen to reason, the kids are saved through pluck and cleverness at the last moment, rinse, repeat.

We hit this beat over and over and over again, episode after episode. The whole show is just constrained under the weight of having to repeat this formula constantly. There are no surprises, and it's honestly hard to feel any concern for the characters and their well-being, because they rarely get to actually make choices or have real, human reactions. 

The show also has a lot of mythology and an overarching mystery about what happened to the Baudelaire parents and what connection they have to Count Olaf, but there aren't really any clues and there's no investigation. The show's too cartoonish to genuinely invest in a mystery, too fixated on the goofy cat-and-mouse games and the silly costumes to spend time worldbuilding.

It's a shame because it's such a lavish production, but I genuinely can't recommend the show.

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