Elvis and Bob Ross Deepfakes? They May Be Cinedigm’s Future

Look out, Netflix: Here comes fake Bob Ross painting fake happy trees on Cineverse.
Bob Ross and Elvis Presley
Bob Ross and Elvis Presley

After seven years and as many acquisitions, Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk bundled his company’s 30 best streaming assets — including The El Rey Network, Fandor, Documrama, and The Elvis Presley Channel — into free ad-supported network Cineverse, which launched September 15. McGurk believes “if we achieve our loftiest dreams,” Cineverse could eventually compete with the top-tier streamers.

How lofty are those dreams? Your answer may depend on how much faith you’d place in an Elvis Presley deepfake.

Speaking to IndieWire in a phone interview, McGurk said he sees his bundle as being “kind of like Spotify, in a way” — only for TV and independent film. He believes Cineverse represents an opportunity that major streamers have overlooked, to their tremendous detriment; he believes they are “collectively losing $10 billion a year.”

Cineverse is built on Cinedigm’s proprietary Matchpoint technology, which allows its users to “create and manage compelling ad-supported and subscription-based video streaming services at scale across any platform efficiently and cost-effectively.” It’s also available for third-party licensing; McGurk says Matchpoint “would cost somebody $100 million” to build today.

“I like to think we’re a version of AMC Networks with better technology, a bigger library, and a hybrid revenue model,” he said. “We’re way ahead of them on advertising and FAST.” He also views Cineverse as being in a better place than the similarly structured Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, which carries $69 million in debt; Cinedigm has none.

Cineverse launched with 87 million monthly viewers across Cinedigm’s footprint on mobile, connected TVs, and social networks. The service consists of 40,000 library titles (“almost all independent”) that have amassed “billions and billions of minutes” watched, McGurk said.

McGurk also has a big idea to plant a flag in the originals game. “On our Bob Ross Channel and on our Elvis Channel, we’re considering deepfake Bob Ross and deepfake Elvis,” he said. “Bob Ross died in 1992; we have his library. It’s an enormously successful channel. It’s probably our most successful channel. Imagine if we could have Deepfake Bob Ross with A.I. creating new painting and new episodes. A.I. dubbed into 10 different languages overseas.”

Yeah, imagine that for just a moment while staring at the face of the guy who’s just crazy enough to do it.

Chris McGurk
Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurkCinedigm

McGurk said he is in preliminary talks with representatives for the Presley and Ross brands. No one’s talking about new Elvis movies at this point, but the deepfake technology could be used to create digital presenters and channel interstitials.

It’d be “cheap” to pull off, McGurk said, and “there’s a good chance” that Authentic Brands, the brand-management company that controls Elvis’ copyright, will agree. “There are so many deepfake Elvises out there, why not control their own?”

While McGurk is the head honcho at Cinedigm who can make such a move, shareholders are his boss and currently they don’t feel a hunk-a hunk-a burnin’ love. When Cinedigm was in the business of digitizing movie theaters, the NASDAQ-traded CIDM shares were worth as much as $133 each and the company in total had a market capitalization north of $1 billion. Today, the per-share price trends south of 50 cents and the company’s market cap is under $85 million. On the plus side, Cinedigm turned a slight profit of $1.8 million last year.

McGurk, who owns 5 percent of the company, believes Cineverse can turn it around. “I think we’re tremendously undervalued,” he told us. “Everybody got creamed in the streaming and tech sector and no one’s recovered.”

So McGurk will continue to stave off buyers (and yes, there are interested parties, he said) for another year or two. “We want to get a little bit bigger, we want to establish Cineverse,” McGurk. Then maybe they’ll sell, and that’s no fake.

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