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Friday, May 11, 2012

Could this be the end of commercials? 100 Years of Universal Studios Films. "Battleship" floats. Depp not expected to take a bite out of The Avengers. Those who live in glass houses. Network TV turns its back on anyone over 50.Video Sales way down, again.

The Skinny: I was at the "Battleship" premiere last night and although I don't do reviews, I will note two things: The crowd went crazy for Rihanna (more than even star Taylor Kitsch), and "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival is an odd song to play at the end of a pro-military movie. Today we've got a box-office preview that looks kind of like last week's, commercials going away with the click of one button, and more upfronts-mania.

Traffic in Souls
 Photo: A scene from "Traffic in Souls." Credit: UCLA Film and Television Archive

The UCLA Film and Television Archive tribute to the 100th anniversary of Universal Pictures goes into high gear this weekend, with programs changing daily at the Hammer Museum's Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. Top films include the antiwar gem "All Quiet on the Western Front" at 7:30 p.m.

 Friday and "Three Smart Girls Grow Up," starring the irrepressible Deanna Durbin, at 7 p.m. Sunday.

My personal favorites, however, would be split between 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday afternoon. Playing Thursday is an outstanding silent-film double bill of the anti-slavery "Traffic in Souls" and Lois Weber's "Where Are My Children," a pioneering, socially conscious film that was simultaneously pro-birth control and anti-abortion.

More delirious than anything else is the wild and crazy "Cobra Woman," playing at 4 p.m. Saturday. This gaudy Technicolor extravaganza stars Maria Montez as a cheerful bride-to-be whose twin sister just happens to be, no kidding, the evil priestess of the dread cobra cult. You won't believe your eyes.
(by -- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic).

Robert Greenblatt
Robert Greenblatt, who transformed Showtime with such shows as "Weeds" and "Dexter," is president of entertainment at NBC. (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times / April 24, 2009).

TV networks desperately seeking young-adult viewers. As they get set to announce their fall lineups in New York, they look for ways to draw the 18-to-49-year-old demo and reverse troubling ratings trends.

Earlier this week, long-languishing NBC ordered a fall sitcom with an apt title: "Save Me."
As they get ready to roll out their fall lineups next week in New York, rival networks know the feeling. TV executives are scrambling to counter steep drop-offs among young-adult viewers and some record-low series ratings this spring.

Fox's once-dominant singing show"American Idol" has seen ratings tumble by nearly 30% to its lowest totals since summer 2002, according to Nielsen. Of the Top 10 programs this season among total viewers, not a single freshman series makes the cut. And for viewers ages 18 to 49 — the category most advertisers care about — the only first-season shows to attain genuine hit status areCBS' raunchy sitcom"2 Broke Girls" and Fox's over-the-top singing contest"The X Factor" — both barely scraping under the wire at Nos. 9 and 10 respectively.

Despite the troubling signs, the big networks are still projected to fetch a record $9.5 billion with advance ad sales this summer, when up to 85% of the commercials are sold, according to a Barclays estimate. Even though network viewing has been on the wane for years, broadcast TV is still the last bastion of the mass audience, a forum around which millions of Americans can be reached by advertisers.

But experts believe the networks are jeopardizing their futures by failing to deliver programs that appeal to fickle young viewers distracted by tablets, smartphones, social media and other demands on their attention.

"In the 18 to 49 category, there are more and more choices," said Bill Carroll, vice president at Katz Television Group in New York, which helps advise local TV stations. "Younger viewers are watching programs on the Internet or watching on cable."

As Jeffrey McCall, a communications professor at DePauw University, concluded: "Regular broadcast television is just not that essential in the lives of many young adults."

It's hardly all gloom for the old TV networks, of course. Nielsen has for the last few years included time-shifted viewing on DVRs in the ultimate ratings totals and the audience measure giant is beginning to lump in online and video-on-demand services as well. That translates into larger audiences — and larger ad sales — than one might think after a quick glance at the early ratings figures.

"You can't read the next day's [ratings] numbers and take a real meaningful read from them anymore," CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl said in a phone interview. Executives now often wait for data that show how many people watched a program on a DVR up to seven days after the original broadcast.
CBS, No. 1 among all viewers thanks to durable scripted hits such as "NCIS"and "The Big Bang Theory,"predicted earlier this month that it will break financial records in 2012, thanks partly to growing revenue from online distribution of its shows on platforms such as Amazon.comand Netflix. That's true even though CBS has long had the oldest-skewing audience of any broadcaster.

In addition to "2 Broke Girls," the first-year drama "Person of Interest" has delivered encouraging ratings, and Ashton Kutcher successfully replaced Charlie Sheen on"Two and a Half Men," one of the network's biggest hits.

"We feel very good about our future, both creatively and financially," CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves told Wall Street analysts in a conference call.

Indeed, among the five major broadcast networks, CBS actually gained 3% more viewers in 18 to 49 compared with last season. NBC also posted a gain, but without the Super Bowl it would be flat. Meanwhile, the others were all either even or down, with Fox falling off by 9%, and the CW dropping 11%. And since January, many of the ratings results have been even worse.

Broadcasters have likewise been relieved to see a slowdown in the once-torrid growth pace for rival cable networks, which are free of many of the content and language restrictions under which the big networks labor. And the broadcast channels are plumping their balance sheets by squeezing in more commercials — even though that's a potential annoyance that may be driving some viewers to DVRs or elsewhere.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox averaged 11 minutes of ad time per evening hour this season (not including promotions and station IDs), translating into two more 30-second spots each hour than a decade ago, according to ad firm Horizon Media in New York.

But the flight of young viewers has become an object for concern for many TV executives. Nowhere is that more true than at NBC. The network — which during the 1990s towered as a prime-time colossus armed with "Must-See TV" smashes such as "Friends" and "Seinfeld"that enjoyed enormous appeal with affluent young urbanites — has slumped to last place in recent seasons and is heavily dependent on costly NFL games for ratings. Without football this season, NBC's prime-time lineup would have sunk beneath a 2.0 rating among adults ages 18 to 49, which roughly translates into 2.5 million viewers — a once-unthinkable signpost of drought.

Comcast, the cable behemoth that bought the network from GE last year, has undertaken a rebuilding campaign, but the results have been slow in coming. The season premiere of NBC's singing show"The Voice"drew a huge audience of 37 million following the Super Bowl this year. But ratings subsequently drooped and this week's finale logged 11.9 million, only a modest gain over last summer's first-season farewell.

With last fall's lineup tanking (the heavily promoted dramas"Prime Suspect"and"The Playboy Club"were swiftly canceled), NBC got an early start this week on the sweepstakes for September by ordering six comedies plus several new dramas, including "Revolution," a new sci-fi drama from writer-producerJ.J. Abrams, and a drama about Chicago firefighters. The network will need a large arsenal, because it remains weak on Wednesday and Thursday nights — the latter a high-stakes arena where ad spending is particularly high. NBC executives declined requests for comment.

"NBC is still in a tailspin from the old GE years," said Doug Spero, a former news director for NBC and CBS stations who now teaches communications at Meredith College in North Carolina. "The prime-time stuff may take years to develop."

ABC is in better shape, thanks to"Dancing With the Stars"and its sitcom smash"Modern Family."The fantasy"Once Upon a Time,"wrapping up its first season, has also shown promise. But theWalt Disney Co.-owned network has shown zero overall improvement among young adults this season, with "Dancing" much more popular among middle-aged and elderly viewers than the young, and its once-hot medical drama"Grey's Anatomy"continuing to age.

Fox still leads in that all-important 18 to 49 category but has nevertheless slogged through a rocky season. In addition to "Idol's" ratings swoon, "The X Factor" was widely considered a disappointment, even though it helped prop up the network's fall ratings — a longtime trouble spot. Part of the problem is that Simon Cowell, "Factor's" lead judge and executive producer, vowed beforehand to beat "Idol" but fell far short of the mark.

Fox just renewed the Kiefer Sutherland drama "Touch" but has already canceled disappointments such as Abrams' time-travel drama "Alcatraz" and the detective show "The Finder." Coming next season is a passel of new scripted series, including a crime drama starring Kevin Bacon. But Fox's fortunes are likely to remain tied to "Idol" and "X Factor" for a long time — and with "The Voice" adding to a crowded singing format, it may be tough for any single show to stand out.

The broadcasters have spent much of the last 25 years trying to woo young adults, and it's anyone's guess whether the recent declines in their network viewing are permanent. But Spero often asks his students what they watch and why, and says he sees ominous signs.

"Many of them don't like to watch anything by appointment anymore," he said. "They only plug into the networks during various dead periods of their day. They need something special and unusual to catch their attention.

"The networks," he added, "are falling down in the area where they need to be strong: content, content, content."

After the record-busting opening of "The Avengers" last weekend, it's sure to be No. 1 again this weekend, when it will likely drop by 50% or 60% to between $80 million and $100 million
Photo: Jeremy Renner and a digital hulk in "The Avengers." Credit: Marvel

"Avengers" fans to assemble again: Usually when one big budget movie opens right after another in the summer movie season, there's a rapid shuffling in the rankings. But after the record-busting opening of "The Avengers" last weekend, it's sure to be No. 1 again this weekend, when it will likely drop by 50% or 60% to between $80 million and $100 million. Tim Burton's and Johnny Depp's "Dark Shadows," meanwhile, will debut at a distant No. 2 around $40 million. Box-office predictions from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.

The Daily Dose: Opening a movie overseas first means the story of its commercial fate is largely told before it even comes to the U.S. With "The Avengers," we already knew it would be a blockbuster. With "Battleship," which is at a tad over $200 million and will likely end up totaling about $250 million internationally, blockbuster status looks all but impossible. Assuming the film has a decent domestic showing of between $100 million and $200 million, Universal is likely looking to roughly break even on its most expensive film of the year. Not exactly what studio executives were hoping for, but it could be worse.

A skip and a hop: Skipping commercials has become standard practice for most of us who have a DVR and don't watch television live anymore. But at least we have to put a little work into it, pushing the fast forward button and trying to estimate when the commercial break will end (an art I've become quite good at). Now satellite TV provider Dish Network has added an "auto hop" feature to its state-of-the-art Hopper DVR (which I, by the way, have) that allows the viewer to automatically skip all commercials on broadcast network shows without fast forwarding. The networks haven't spoken up yet, but lawsuits may be on the way, say the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

Ahead of upfronts: It's that magical time of the year when a tradition started before DVRs and mass viewing of cable, the network upfronts, turns our eyes to what's coming on TV in the new fall season. Next week, advertisers, networks and journalists will gather in New York for the official announcement of which pilots are getting series orders, which existing programs are coming back, and which have reached their end. A key priority for the networks will be trying to get more 18-49 year-old viewers, after losing ground in that key demographic this past season, reports the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, there was a lot of news Thursday on pickups at NBC, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Image: Screen shot of Kinect Star Wars. Credit: Lucasarts

Video game sales took a nose dive in April, plunging a stomach-churning 42% compared with a year earlier as companies cranked out fewer releases than in April 2011.

Retailers rang up just $292.1 million in game sales last month, down from $503.2 million a year earlier, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.

With fewer new games to drive people into stores, sales of game consoles also took a hit, down 32% to $189.7 million.

"Simply stated, there were notably fewer" new game releases, said NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "I think it’s a simple as that, because when we see compelling content come into the market, the games are still selling as well as ever. We just saw a lot less of this in April as compared to last year.”

Sales of accessories such as extra controllers held steady at $148.6 million in April, while sales of used games, digital game downloads and online game subscriptions contributed an additional $370 million, kicking the industry's monthly total to $1 billion. NPD, which recently began tracking digital game sales, does not have a comparable figure for 2011.

Analysts speculate that the soft sales figures will lead companies to cut the price of games and consoles in order to encourage buyers.

"April industry sales remain soft, and declining ... volumes will likely necessitate price cuts," Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., wrote in a note to investors.

Sebastian said there are bright spots on the horizon as game publishers prepare to unleash some of this year's most anticipated games -- among them Max Payne 3, from Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., and Diablo III, from Activision Blizzard Inc.

"We still expect overall product momentum to improve beginning in May with launches of Diablo III and Max Payne," he said.

For a list of the top 10 games sold in April, click the link below to continue reading.
Top-selling video games in April 2012
  1. Prototype 2 (Activision Blizzard)
  2. Kinect Star Wars (Lucasarts)
  3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Activision Blizzard) 
  4. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 (Electronic Arts) 
  5. NBA 2K12 (Take-Two Interactive) 
  6. The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings (Warner Bros. Interactive) 
  7. Mario Party 9 (Nintendo)
  8. Mass Effect 3 (Electronic Arts)
  9. Just Dance 3 (Ubisoft) 
  10. MLB 12: The Show (Sony)
Source: NPD Group

Those who live in... CBS is suing rival ABC, alleging that the latter's upcoming series "Glass House" is a rip-off of the former's long-running show "Big Brother." The snarky comments about someone in Hollywood accusing someone else of being unoriginal write themselves, but this suit could test if there's a legal line that can't be crossed with reality-show concepts. It doesn't help that many of the "Glass House" producers allegedly used to work on "Big Brother." Details from the New York Times and Bloomberg.

It wasn't just about the traffic: President Obama's much-hyped $15-million fund-raiser at George Clooney's house featured some expert glad-handing by a leader of the free world whose new stance on same-sex marriage has won him even more fans in the entertainment industry. Here's the Los Angeles Times report from the scene. Deadline has the pool report from journalists allowed to hang out and observe, one of whom notes that "As LA/Hollywood fundraisers go, the trappings of this one didn't put it in the top 10."

Sony's struggles: Sony's new CEO, Kaz Hirai, warned us that turning around the company wouldn't be easy, and its most recent financials prove things will get worse before they get better. The Japanese electronics and media giant reported a $5.6-billion loss in its most recent fiscal year as its electronics and television businesses struggled. Things weren't so bad at the movie and TV studio, though. Details from the Los Angeles Times.

Also in the Los Angeles Times: Video game sales plunge in April. Kenneth Turan reviews "Dark Shadows." Silicon Valley types are trying to engineer their own health.

-- Ben Fritz (who's on Twitter)

From the LA Times Company Town here for the latest industry news.


Glubis Valdivieso said...

May is going to be a great month for game as said in the article. Lets we got the high anticipated Diablo 3 and May Payne 3 coming in just three days, not to mention the new Mario Tennis Open for the 3DS. With th finishing of the spring semester most of us have our sights on what were gonna be doing this summer.

Anonymous said...

I love to hear about all the statistics of network television. I'm a huge fan of shows like, NCIS, Modern Family, Once Upon a Time, and Grey's Anatomy. My favorite network by far is ABC.

Erin Penman
Sec. 4080

Anonymous said...

The Avengers was a great movie. I thought it was going to be an over-hyped movie but was very impressed with it. Once Upon a time is a great series and can't wait to see the finale. With online access to episodes like netflix and hulu i dont think TV's should only care about the ratings. There are alot of great shows out there but audience cant schedule their days around them.

Alberto Sayson
Com101 4080