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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hunger Games to Chew Up Competition Again. WGN and KTLA back on Direct TV. Yahoo and Facebook to take on Google.

Titanic will be in a close race for No 1 at the box office this weekend
Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star in "Titanic." Credit: Paramount Pictures

The odds are in his favor: There are few better positions in Hollywood than to be a key piece of talent on a blockbuster film without a contract for the sequel. That's where "Hunger Games" director Gary Ross is right now, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Still, the trade publication says Ross, who was paid $3 million to write and direct the movie, will likely strike a deal to come back for follow-up "Catching Fire," rather than be replaced.That's what happened to the original "Twilight" helmer, Catherine Hardwicke.

Still the victor: Speaking of "The Hunger Games," it didn't lose 13-days-and-running No. 1 box office spot yesterday. "Titanic 3D" opened to a solid $4.5 million (give or take) reports Deadline, putting it behind Katniss and her pals from Panem.
Also in the Los Angeles Times: Don Ohlmey

 Hunger Games to Sink Titanic? The '90s may be back at the multiplex this weekend, but that decade's comeback could be thwarted by a more of-the-moment movie event:  "The Hunger Games."
For the third consecutive weekend, the blockbuster based on Suzanne Collins' popular novel is expected to top the box office. The film starring Jennifer Lawrence has already raked in over $260  million domestically and could collect another $30 million this weekend, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

Still, the fantasy epic will face competition from two new entries, the fourth big-screen installment in Universal Pictures' raunchy "American Pie" franchise, and a 3-D version of James Cameron's classic 1997 epic "Titanic."

"American Reunion," which brings the class of 1999 back together for a high school homecoming, will likely start off with around $25 million. Paramount Pictures' revamped "Titanic" release opened on Wednesday and grossed $4.4 million, and will probably collect about $25 million in total by weekend's end.

The first "American Pie" was released in 1999, when the comedy with an infamous scene featuring a teenage boy having sex with an apple pie became a box-office hit. It went on to gross $235 million worldwide and spawned two sequels, which also collected well over $200 million a piece.

After the release of 2003's "American Wedding," however, Universal decided to downscale the franchise. The studio proceeded to release four straight-to-DVD spinoffs, none of which included the original cast — save for father figure Eugene Levy.

The home video sales proved to be impressive enough that Universal decided to bring the gang back together for a reunion film, co-financing it with Relativity Media for around $50 million. The Comcast Corp.-owned studio is notoriously short on franchises, with only its "Fast & Furious" and "Bourne" spy series finding success at the box office in recent years.

This weekend, "American Reunion" — which has earned decent critical reviews —  is expected to appeal largely to young males. The movie will also open overseas in 26 foreign countries, including Russia and Australia.

The 3-D update of "Titanic," meanwhile, is hitting theaters in most major countries. After opening in 1997, the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as star-crossed lovers on the sinking ship broke records when it grossed $1.8 billion globally. At the time, though, theaters were scarce in countries like China and Russia, where moviegoing is now extremely popular.

Twentieth Century Fox, which is releasing the film internationally, is hoping this means the new version will rake in a significant chunk of change abroad this time around. Fox and Paramount co-financed the 3-D conversion for $18 million.

3-D re-releases have had a mixed track record at the box office in recent months. Last September, "The Lion King 3D" ended up doing surprisingly well, grossing $94 million by the end of its run. A 3-D conversion of "Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace," released in February, made a less impressive $43 million.

YahooSignPhoto: Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press.

Time to replace the ! with a :( symbol: Yahoo laid off 2,000 workers Wednesday in the latest effort to finally get the Web portal back on solid footing in the age of search and social media. However, new CEO Scott Thompson has yet to discuss just what his recovery plan actually is. Coverage from AllThingsD, which has been very on top of this story, and the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, at another Web portal that used to be a big deal in the '90s, Arianna Huffington is consolidating power at AOL, reports the New York Times.

 Photo: DirecTV dish. Credit: Associated Press

Peace in our time: 23 Tribune stations including L.A.'s KTLA are back on DirecTV after the two sides resolved their dispute — the latest in a series of spats over carriage fees between cable or satellite companies and channel owners. As the L.A. Times' Joe Flint points out, it may not be a coincidence that the matter was settled on opening day of baseball season — which fans in some Tribune-DirecTV markets might have missed. Ticked off fans of "Supernatural" (the cult favorite CW show that airs on many Tribune-owned affiliates) are one thing, but baseball fans are quite another.

WGN is back on Direct TV. Tribune Co. television stations, including KTLA-TV Los Angeles, are coming back to satellite broadcaster DirecTV.

After a very public feud, DirecTV reached a five-year agreement late Wednesday to pay Tribune to carry its 23 local television stations around the country and its national cable channel WGN America.

With more than 19 million subscribers, DirecTV is the second-largest pay-TV operator behind Comcast Corp. It has a market share of around 20% in Los Angeles.

KTLA returned to the air shortly before 6 p.m.

“We are extremely pleased to have reached an agreement with DirecTV and to return our valuable news, entertainment and sports programming to DirecTV subscribers,” said Nils Larsen, Tribune Broadcasting president. “On behalf of Tribune Broadcasting, I want to thank viewers across all of our markets for their support, understanding and patience during the negotiating process — we truly regret the service interruptions of the last several days.”

DirecTV Executive Vice President Derek Chang said the satellite broadcaster was pleased that "Tribune and their creditors now recognize that all DirecTV wanted from day one was to pay fair market rates for their channels .... we are very happy to close the deal and put this behind us.”

Tribune, which is also the parent of the Los Angeles Times, had pulled its stations from DirecTV last weekend. The next few days saw both companies take public shots at each other. DirecTV accused Tribune of reneging on an agreed-upon deal, which Tribune denied. Then DirecTV filed a complaint against Tribune with the Federal Communications Commission, charging that creditors of bankrupt Tribune, not its management, are calling the shots for the stations.

That the fight was resolved on the opening day of the baseball season is probably not a coincidence. Many of Tribune's stations, including WGN-TV Chicago and WPHL-TV Philadelphia, have rights to local teams, and sports fans can be very vocal when denied their home team's games.

Disputes between programmers and distributors over fees have become very common over the past few years, although it is still rare that channels are pulled down. Broadcasters such as Tribune are eager to collect so-called retransmission consent fees from cable and satellite operators.
While distributors initially resisted paying broadcasters to carry their signals, it has become an accepted practice. In this case, DirecTV and Tribune were haggling over price. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Daily Dose: Thomas Tull's Legendary Entertainment has had great luck in the movies it invests in, taking a piece of such blockbuster hits as "The Dark Knight," "300" and "The Hangover." Now it has raised $275 million in equity and debt, slightly more than the $250 million that this very paper (and this very reporter) said it was close to raising just last week. That gives it even more leeway as Tull invests more in his own slate of movies and tries to expand into TV and comics. The ultimate goal? Probably an initial public offering sometime in the next few years.

Viacom's $1-billion infringement suit against YouTube revived
Photo: Former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter joins Stephen Colbert and "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart on "The Colbert Report." Credit: Kristopher Long / Comedy Central 

Viacom goes after YouTube Money. A federal appeals court judge has revived a $1-billion copyright infringement lawsuit by Viacom Inc. against Google Inc.'s YouTube.

Viacom had sued YouTube in 2007, claiming that the online video site allowed users to post segments of its popular TV shows, including Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants" without authorization.

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday sent the matter back to federal district court and instructed the judge to determine whether YouTube knew about the infringing content but turned a blind eye.

Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "safe harbor" provides online sites protection against copyright infringement. The district court ruled in June 2010 that those protections extended to YouTube because they lacked sufficient notice of the individual infringements -- some 79,000 individual clips uploaded from 2005 to 2008.

Cabranes vacated the district court's summary judgment finding "because a reasonable jury could conclude that YouTube had knowledge or awareness ... at least with respect to a handful of specific clips." 

Viacom issued a statement Thursday applauding the decision, noting,  “The court delivered a definitive, common sense message -- intentionally ignoring theft is not protected by the law.”
YouTube lauded the court's interpretation of the protections awarded under the copyright law and sought to minimize the impact of the ruling.

"All that is left of the Viacom lawsuit that began as a wholesale attack on YouTube is a dispute over a tiny percentage of videos long ago removed from YouTube," the company said in a statement. "Nothing in this decision impacts the way YouTube is operating. YouTube will continue to be a vibrant forum for free expression around the world."

We have a plan for a plan: Speaking of companies trying to turn things around, new Sony CEO Kaz Hirai will outline his new business plan on April 12, reports Reuters. Unfortunately for him, though, a key element of his plan was already leaked in the trades, reporting that Taylor Lautner will appear in Sony Pictures' "Grown Ups 2."

HBO Go a go for Comcast: Microsoft's announcement last week that HBO Go is coming to the Xbox 360 game console lost some sizzle when it turned out customers of the two biggest cable companies, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, couldn't access it. Now the New York Times reports that Comcast is on the verge of closing a deal to resolve that. No word on Time Warner Cable, though, the largest cable provider in Southern California. I should note that as a Dish Network customer, I've already got HBO Go on my Xbox and it's pretty sweet.

— Ben Fritz
Follow me on Twitter. I'm slightly less of a curmudgeon than Joe Flint.

Is the world ready for another good 'Titanic' cry?
Another victorious weekend for 'The Hunger Games'
'American Reunion' stars talk pies, sex, kids and rehab
YouTube strikes movie deal with Paramount
Viacom appeals ruling in landmark YouTube lawsuit
Judge rules against Viacom in copyright suit against YouTube

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