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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The voice behind "The Night They Dove Old Dixie Down" is now silent. Sony Imageworkers seek union. Sony EMI Merger closer. Media remembers World's Oldest Teenager. Cannes line up. Summer takes its toll on Tuesday night prime time. Is there career life after Hanna Montanna? What do you DVR?

 Levon Helm performs at the Life is Good Festival at the Prowse Farm in Canton, Massachusetts.

The voice behind "Virgil Kane" and many other hits, drummer in The Band, is silent foreever. Levon Helm, singer and drummer for the Band, died on April 19th in New York of throat cancer. He was 71.   In the late Nineties, Helm – whose singing anchored Band classics like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Up on Cripple Creek," "Rag Mama Rag," and "The Weight" – was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent 28 radiation treatments, eventually recovering his voice.
More in the Rollingstone (click here)

The Skinny: I think we can all remember the first time our parents let us stay up to watch Dick Clark count down the New Year and the first girl we kissed after he said "Happy New Year." It was a rite of passage. Rest in peace. Thursday's headlines include appreciations of Clark and a look at the Cannes Film Festival lineup.

Daily Dose: The NFL is doing all it can to boost the stature of its NFL Network cable channel, which is still struggling to get national distribution. Not only will the NFL Network carry 13 games this season on Thursday night, which is up from eight last year, but it's presenting matches of higher profile. The majority of its games feature teams that made the playoffs in 2011. The NFL Network is still trying to get carriage from Time Warner Cable, the nation's second largest cable operator. The question is whether other TV rights holders will start to grumble that the NFL is playing favorites with its own channel.

Photo: Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man in "The Amazing Spider-Man." Credi: Jaimie Trueblood/Sony Pictures.

Sony Pictures Imageworks employees are moving toward a union. A group of visual effects artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks, one of the leading visual effects companies, is mounting a campaign to unionize.

"We are artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks, the first group of visual effects artists that is taking a stand and attempting to organize under a collective  bargaining agreement,'' read a statement from SpiUnion blog, which was set up by workers at Imageworks who are seeking unions benefits, such as health insurance, that are shared by many of their colleagues who work on animated movies at Sony.

On Friday, officials from the Animation Guild Local 839 and its parent, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, will meet with Imageworks employees at the Culver Hotel to answer questions about joining the union. The animation guild already represents animation workers at Sony.
Sony Pictures Imageworks employs about 400 to 500 workers, at least one third of whom must sign petition cards seeking to be represented by a union before federal labor officials will consider holding an election.

IATSE President Matt Loeb said last year that extending union contracts to the visual effects industry was a top priority, but the campaign did not gain much traction. Employers have argued that providing union benefits would drive up costs, making it harder for them to compete in an increasingly global marketplace, where more work is already being handled in cities such as Vancouver, London and Mumbai, India.

An Imageworks spokesman said the company "respects the employees' right to consider union representation," but had no further comment.

Supporters say workers deserve benefits shared by their peers at a time when visual effects have become increasingly important to the commercial success of movies.

"We need health insurance that will carry us through downtimes now more than ever before,'' SpiUnion says on its blog. "We are not second class citizens. We sacrifice, work hard, and make good movies we should all be proud of. We are not a commodity, we have talent, we have value."

Stevie Wonder
 Photo: Stevie Wonder, whose songs' publishing rights are with EMI, at the Hollywood Bowl in 2011. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

EU approves Sony EMI Merger. The European Union's antitrust regulators on Thursday approved Sony Corp.'s $2.2-billion acquisition of EMI's publishing business, which would create the world's largest music publishing group with rights to about 2 million songs including some by David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and others.

In exchange for the EU's blessing, Sony agreed to sell off several European-based assets that together would have accounted for less than 5% of the combined company's overall revenue, said several executives close to the discussions who did not want to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The merger calls for Sony's music publishing subsidiary, Sony/ATV, to administer the EMI catalog on behalf of a consortium of investors, including the Blackstone Group, the Mubadala Development Co., the estate of Michael Jackson, GSO Capital Partners and veteran music and movie mogul David Geffen. Sony itself would be a minority partner.

Geffen's involvement, his first major investment in an entertainment company since co-founding DreamWorks SKG in 1994 -- after a long and successful career in the music industry -- came in the nick of time last fall as Sony struggled to pull together financing for the deal. When Mubadala pulled back some of its investment in the pool weeks leading up to the final bidding for EMI, Geffen jumped into the breach in late October -- days before Sony's offer was due.

Sony still needs to gain the approval of U.S. antitrust regulators who, like the European Commission, must decide whether the deal restricts competition and hurts consumers. The Federal Trade Commission, which has taken the lead in investigating the EMI sale, has not commented on the matter.
Sony, in a statement, said, it "looks forward to successfully concluding the other regulatory review processes that are underway in other regions."

Martin Bandier, chairman and chief executive of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, said: “Having spent over 17 years of my professional life helping to build EMI Music Publishing, today is not only an important milestone on the path to final approval, but a very special day for me, personally.”


Graphic: Advertising and audience trends in prime time.  Credit:  Nielsen

Dramas most recorded shows, and most rewatched as well. In a new study of television audience trends, ratings giant Nielsen found that viewers recorded and watched scripted dramas at a much higher rate than sitcoms, sports and reality shows.

Hourlong dramas accounted for 58% of time-shifted viewing, according to Nielsen's Advertising & Audiences Report released Thursday. Comedies made up 16%, reality shows accounted for 14%, sports represented 8% and news, 4%.

Network executives are closely monitoring audience trends now that more than 40% of all TV households in the U.S. are equipped with digital video recorders.  Many viewers fast-forward through the commercials, which have long generated the dollars that support the high cost of television production.

The Nielsen report found that nearly 43% of people who digitally record shows watch the episode the same day. Nearly 88% of people who recorded a program watched it within three days.
The finding is significant because advertisers currently pay the networks for viewers who record and watch an episode within that three-day window. Some network executives are lobbying advertisers to extend the period to seven days.

Nielsen said that dramas drew 41% of the viewers in prime time and generated 35% of the television advertising dollars. Reality shows, once red-hot, have cooled slightly. In 2011, they attracted 15.5% of the prime-time audience, down from 17.4% in 2009.  Meanwhile, sit-coms have become more popular.
Last year, $72 billion was spent on TV advertising in the U.S., with $14 billion allocated for the five leading prime-time genres: dramas, comedies, sports, news and reality shows.

Advertisers spent $4.1 billion last year in prime-time sports, which accounted for 29% of the total.
And not surprisingly, more than half the product placements on the major networks during prime time occurred in reality shows (4,664 occurrences).
Photo: Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore in "LOL." Credit: Mika Cotellon / Lionsgate.

OMG! Miley Cyrus gets no"LOL" from Lionsgate.  was supposed to represent a big step for Miley Cyrus' movie career as she attempts to mature beyond her saccharine sweet image as Disney's Hannah Montana. Instead, it has turned into a tough lesson about how quickly a Hollywood studio can fall out of love with a movie.

An English-language adaptation of the hit 2008 French film of the same name, "LOL" is about teen romance in the age of texting and social media. The picture's sophisticated tone is set in one of its first scenes when Cyrus takes a shower while her mother, played by Demi Moore, takes a bath in the same room. The two have a frank talk about sexuality after Moore's character notices that her naked daughter has had a Brazilian wax.

"I really thought this movie could be universal," filmmaker Lisa Azuelos, who wrote and directed the American and French versions of the films, said in a telephone interview from Morocco. "Usually teen movies are tender or scary or have vampires in them, but they’re never realistic. This story isn’t too dirty and not too stupid."

The Cyrus movie was made in 2010 and produced by Mandate Pictures for about $11 million, with money raised primarily from sales to foreign distributors. Lionsgate, Mandate's parent company, acquired domestic distribution rights for several million dollars. In a statement released at the time, Lionsgate's then-production president, Allie Shearmur, described it as "the kind of smart, fresh and accessible comedy that ... is a great fit for Lionsgate's release slate."

But executives at the studio soon lost their enthusiasm for the picture, according to people with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly about it. With Lionsgate focused on several higher-profile projects, including last year's flops "Abduction" and "Conan the Barbarian" and March's mega-hit "The Hunger Games," "LOL" never got a spot on the release calendar.

Lionsgate executives were not confident that they could successfully sell the picture, which centers on Cyrus' character, named Lola, but features a series of interwoven tales involving teenagers. It lacks the obvious marketing hook of high-profile films like "Hunger Games" and the upcoming adaptation of the bestselling pregnancy book "What to Expect When You're Expecting."

Azuelos said she was told by Lionsgate executives that they couldn't give "LOL" the proper attention until after "Hunger Games." "They couldn’t take care of my movie, and I waited in line," the director said, sounding frustrated.

In fact, "LOL" would likely have gone direct to DVD, the knowledgeable people said, but Mandate's contracts with foreign distributors contained a provision that the movie must be shown domestically in at least 100 theaters. As a result, the studio has very quietly decided to release "LOL" in seven cities on May 4, the same day as the sure-to-be blockbuster "Avengers," which is expected to open to more than $100 million.

Lionsgate set the May 4 date recently without making any formal announcement and has apparently planned to do no publicity.

In a sign of how low a priority "LOL" is at Lionsgate, its marketing is being handled by the studio's home entertainment division, not its theatrical marketing team, which typically oversees any release going to theaters.

A studio spokeswoman said that Cyrus was not available to discuss "LOL" due to her schedule. On her Twitter page, the actress has within the last weeks written about spending her time obsessively watching the television show “Prison Break,” eating walnuts, and walking her dog. This week, she also thanked her fans for promoting "LOL."

"LOL" marks the first PG-13 film for Cyrus, 19, who has previously found some success in more kid-friendly fare. A documentary following the pop star on her Hannah Montana concert tour grossed a solid $65.3 million in 2008, and "Hannah Montana: The Movie" performed even better the next year, collecting $79.6 million. Even 2010's tear-jerker "The Last Song," based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, generated a respectable $63 million.

This summer, Cyrus will appear in The Weinstein Co.’s “So Undercover” as a private eye investigating a college sorority house.

"LOL" is certainly not the first movie to linger on a studio's shelves before getting a less-than-enthusiastic release. Paramount Pictures' Eddie Murphy comedy "A Thousand Words" was shot in 2008 and only hit theaters this past March with a relatively small marketing campaign and very little support from its star.

Despite the lack of attention Lionsgate is giving the movie, the team behind "LOL" reserved hope that it will overcome the odds.

"It's a mother-daughter story that's really fresh and could find an audience," said producer Michael Shamberg.

"Your country is so big, so I’m very flattered the movie is being released," added Azuelos, who with "LOL" makes her American debut. "I wish it would be a national release. And I’m still hopeful that in those seven cities it’s going to be big and grow and grow."

BeatrizNew Latino Network to launch on YouTube. Looking to capitalize on both the growth of the Latino audience and the emergence of new digital platforms, a new bilingual network being fronted by executives from programming company HIP Entertainment Group will launch on YouTube on April 30.

MiTu Network will feature about 30 channels of lifestyle and entertaintment content aimed at both Spanish- and English-speaking Latinos. HIP Entertainment Group President Beatriz Acevedo will also serve as head of MiTu. HIP is one of the investors in MiTu. Doug Greiff, a partner and chief creative officer of HIP and a former MTV and Nickelodeon programming executive, will also serve as chief content officer of MiTu.

"Up until now, there has essentially been an invisible network of Latinos on YouTube, but they haven’t been organized in a way that makes it easy for viewers or advertisers to find them,” Greiff said. "We saw a tremendous opportunity to bring our production expertise and advertising relationships to the Web, to join forces with other Latin content creators who share a similar passion and point-of-view about contemporary Latin/Hispanic culture."

MiTu will pitch itself to advertisers next month in New York during what has been dubbed as the digital upfronts where online platforms will try to woo Madison Avenue.

UFC Undisputed 3

UFC is the ticket in video as well as 'Vegas. THQ Inc.'s shares jumped 33% after the Agoura Hills game publisher disclosed that its fourth-quarter financials would be less bleak than expected.

Bolstered by stronger sales of Saints Row: The Third and UFC: Undisputed 3, THQ estimated that revenue for the quarter ended March 31 will likely come in between $160 million and $170 million, up from the company's previous outlook of $130 million to $150 million.

In addition, the company expected smaller losses, between 10 cents and 20 cents a share, compared with earlier expectations for 35 cents to 50 cents.

The news sent THQ's shares rocketing 46% to 66 cents immediately following the announcement before leveling off at 60 cents, up 33% by mid-afternoon in New York.

Analysts noted that the stronger results help give THQ a longer lifeline by fortifying its cash pool. The company now expects to have $76 million in cash, three times higher than previously expected, said Edward Williams, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets.

"While the company still has many hurdles to clear before it is out of the dark, it's clearly beginning the ... year in a better position than we had anticipated," Williams wrote in a note to investors.

Wednesday's news was a rare spot of sunshine for an otherwise dark chapter in THQ's 23-year history.
THQ hit a particularly rough patch last year after several big bets failed to pan out, including uDraw, Red Faction and several licensed kids games. As the company's cash reserves drained to dangerously low levels, THQ has laid off more than 550 people — about a third of its workforce — since August.

The company has also canceled multiple projects and shuttered six of its 11 development studios to conserve money, according to Gaming Business Review.

THQ credited the recent uptick to Saints Row: The Third, a mobster shooter franchise which shipped 4 million copies and raked in higher-than-expected revenue from sales of additional digital game content. It also said UFC: Undisputed 3, released in February, is selling better than expected, although it did not disclose sales figures for the title.

It's expected to do so on May 15, when the company has scheduled its fourth-quarter earnings announcement.

Dick Clark
Photo: Dick Clark. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press. 

RIP. The "world's oldest teenager", Dick Clark, who rose from a radio disc jockey to host of his own groundbreaking television music show and later built an entertainment empire, died Wednesday at 82. Known for his perpetually youthful looks and familiarly known as "America's oldest teenager," Clark also celebrated New Year's Eve with America for almost four decades as host of "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve." As friendly and cheerful as Clark was on-camera, off-camera he could be a very demanding boss. He also was tainted in the late 1950s radio payola scandals. Obituaries and appreciations of Clark from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Associated Press.

May Day. A much-anticipated report on the ethics scandal at News Corp.'s British tabloids from Parliament is expected to be released on May 1, according to Reuters. The report, which comes after several hearings and an investigation into phone hacking and illegal payoffs by staffers of News Corp.'s News of the World and Sun newspapers, is expected to be critical of James Murdoch, son of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and the executive who had oversight over the papers.

Starting lineup. The Cannes Film Festival unveiled its lineup and the United States has a very visible presence. Variety said among U.S. titles that made the cut are Brad Pitt's "Killing Them Softly," DreamWorks Animation's  "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" and Nicole Kidman's "The Paperboy."

Where'd everybody go? Tuesday night saw many top TV shows, including CBS's "NCIS," reach season lows. TV ratings always drop a little in the spring as days get longer and the weather gets warmer. I know it takes me awhile to adjust to the longer days. I'll be at work, look outside and see daylight, and not realize its already 7 p.m. In Michigan, it can stay light out until 10 p.m. in the summer. More on the numbers from the New York Times.

The case that won't go away. The Department of Justice has asked the Supreme Court to overrule a lower court ruling that had thrown out the Federal Communications Commission $550,000 fine of CBS for the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" that took place during the halftime show of the 2004 Super Bowl. By now, the legal fees of the government and CBS have easily topped the fine, but there is a principle at stake here, I suppose. Details from Multichannel News.

Ouch. As if Oprah Winfrey hasn't had a tough enough run lately given the struggles of OWN, the cable network she started with Discovery Communications, now Time magazine doesn't consider her one of the most influential people in the country anymore. The magazine's latest list leaves Winfrey off for the first time since it launched in 1999, according to the New York Post.

Inside the Los Angeles TImes: James Rainey on public TV station KCET as it enters its second year without a PBS affiliation. Lionsgatge isn't showing much love for Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore.

-- Joe Flint and others

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Photo: Dick Clark. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press.

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