‘Swimming With Sharks’ aims to mature Roku, one sex scene at a time

Diane Kruger and Kiernan Shipka star in a new series that is the Hollywood workplace’s satire encounters – “Fatal Attraction”. Roku hopes this is the future.

“Swimming with Sharks” has the characteristics of a breakout streaming series. There are identifiable young stars in Kiernan Shipka and Finn Jones, and a strong performance from Diane Kruger. Then there’s Donald Sutherland in what is perhaps his most repulsive villain role to date: a Hollywood patriarch who, from his literal deathbed, delivers some of the series ’most astonishing moments of sexual exploitation (and there are plenty).

By delivering the thick indulgence of “You”, the palace plot of “House of Cards” and a cock-pictures-per-episode relationship surpassed only by “Minx”, it would be home to many streamers. But – surprise! – When the series’ first season of eight episodes is released on Friday, it will be available exclusively on the Roku Channel, free of charge, for the 60 million people who use the company’s boxes, sticks and smart TVs in a given month.

Rob Holmes, Rokus VP of programming, sat down with IndieWire on SXSW, where the show’s first two episodes premiered. He said original programming is crucial to Rocco’s efforts to remain a major force in the streaming economy as both a content provider and a gateway for users who want access to Netflix and Disney +.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done before. It’s really well made, highly polished, yet very steamy,” Holmes said of the series, which is a gender reassignment adaptation of the 1994 film starring Kevin Spacey and Frank Whalley. – if you crossed it with, for example, “Fatal Attraction.”

“I think it’s really, really a watershed moment for us,” he said. “We have this audience, we are a top-five channel platform in a world-leading AVOD marketplace. How do you get into the next growth phase by giving consumers access to premium content that they can’t get in other ways?”

For Roku, free is the key. It was launched in 2007 as a set-top box and the first device to allow access to Netflix, but Roku entered the content game in 2017 with the Roku Channel. The expansion to originals came last year after the company bought Quibi’s library of more than 75 shows such as “The Andy Cohen Diaries”, Kevin Hart’s action series “Die Hart”, “Reno 911!” revival and “Most Dangerous Game”, starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz. Later that year, Roku acquired the company behind “This Old House”, aptly named This Old House Ventures; it now has the show’s 42-season library and the ability to air spinoffs.

In February, production began on another Roku Original film, “Weird: The ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Story,” starring Daniel Radcliffe; the first look image got people talking. A library of on-demand movies and TV provides Roku users with a base of entertainment, but Holmes said exclusive, busy content is another strategy to ensure regular use. He also hopes it attracts new users.

“You have to have this mix, you need these things that stand out as the reason someone is coming,” Holmes said. “Then they come and see everything else that is free for them.” This is where “Swimming with Sharks” comes into the picture.

Roku could use the traffic a sexy show can bring: Shares in the listed company are currently going to a quarter of the heights they reached last summer. And analysts at MoffettNathanson still believe that the Roku share is overpriced: On Wednesday, the company reiterated its belief that Roku should be valued at $ 100, or almost $ 13 per share less than it is today.

“Swimming with Sharks” has enough stars, sex and just enough IP recognition to pull its weight in an attempt to prove that MoffettNathanson media analysts are wrong. The satire on the abuse of Hollywood’s work culture is produced by Lionsgate and written by showrunner Kathleen Robertson, an actress perhaps best known for playing Clare Arnold on “Beverly Hills, 90210.” It’s directed by Tucker Gates, whose track record includes Netflix’s “House of Cards” and Apple’s “The Morning Show.” (Ironically, one of them had Spacey in the lead role; the other depends on the abuse in Hollywood’s work culture.)

Shipka plays the lead role as an intern working at the studio boss Kruger’s office. The couple navigates a layered nightmare of manipulation known to anyone who has seen the headlines about Harvey Weinstein (or Spacey). One thing that makes “Swimming with Sharks” stand out is its provocative depictions of the sexual exploits of its power-hungry characters and its depiction of a shiny, yet lived, Los Angeles. These elements meet in one scene, where Kruger’s character pulls up to a homeless camp in his $ 90,000 Audi and invites a shirtless skateboarder to some fun in the back seat.

Roku leaders would love it if “swimming” became the next sensation on social media. The red carpet premiere in Austin, which marked Rokus’ entry onto the festival stage, was a first step. “It’s free in front of the payment wall,” Holmes said. “This is something you usually have to subscribe to to access.”

In Holme’s eyes, this is an atypical release – but then it’s everything else about Roku’s entry into the game with the original content. The company’s balancing act of making its hardware essential for big players like Netflix and Disney, even if it competes with them, is a thin string to walk. With the best-selling TV operating system in the US for two years in a row and devices starting at $ 25, Roku is one of the most popular and easiest ways for people to access streaming content. Disney and Netflix pay a lot to get dedicated buttons on Roku remotes. And when they want their latest film or show to make an impact, they’re throwing in even more money to take over the home screen on millions of Roku devices – just as Disney did for the Disney + premiere of “Turning Red” in February. You can count on “Swimming” to receive a similar treatment.

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