Photo: Johnny Depp stars in the film "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," among the movies for which Cinesite has done visual effects work. Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / Jerry Bruckheimer Films
From the LA Times Company Town Blog..click here for the latest industry news.
Cinesite, a leading visual effects company in Britain, has changed hands.
Eastman Kodak, which has owned the company since it was established in 1991, sold Cinesite to Endless LLP, an independent British private equity house with holdings in non-entertainment companies. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Kodak, based in Rochester, N.Y., filed for bankruptcy protection in January and recently reported a loss of $366 million following its decision to stop selling digital cameras and focus on other businesses. The bankruptcy filing, however, does not apply to Kodak's British and other foreign subsidiaries.
Cinesite, one of four major visual effects companies in Britain, has worked on movies such as the "Harry Potter" films and "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," and on the TV series "Rome." The studio is currently working on the next James Bond movie, "Skyfall," and Paramount Pictures' zombie epic starring Brad Pitt, "World War Z."
The new deal will give Cinesite the resources and stability to diversify its services and expand its global position in the media and entertainment industry, the company said in a statement.
"This sale will give us the opportunity we need to grow our talented team to ensure we remain at the forefront of the visual effects industry for many years,'' said Antony Hunt, managing director of Cinesite.
The Skinny: Could Wednesday night's "Modern Family" have plugged Disneyland a little more? Funny episode but a little over the top in its promotion of ABC parent Walt Disney's theme park. Thursday's headlines include the addition of Howard Stern to NBC's "America's Got Talent," a look at Time Warner Cable's sports programming strategy, and Harry Potter's move to Japan.
Photo: Howard Stern. Credit: Mark Seliger/NBC.
Daily Dose: Howard Stern may be larger than life (see below) but his new co-judges on "America's Got Talent" -- Howie Mandel and Sharon Osbourne -- prefer him to previous judge Piers Morgan. "He had no respect for my judging," said Mandel, who added that he doesn't miss "so much disdain and hatred." Osbourne too said Stern is a better fit than Morgan.
America's got Howard. Radio's bad boy is coming to prime time. On Monday, Howard Stern, the brash and controversial radio host, starts his stint as a judge on NBC's variety show "America's Got Talent." Stern, who has judged the assets of women for years, joked that there won't be much of a learning curve. “Naked women, singers, jugglers, it’s all the same,” he said. While the Parents Television Council, a TV watchdog group, has been complaining about Stern's hiring, advertisers don't appear too worried that the variety show will get dragged down in the gutter. More about Stern's new gig from the Los Anglees Times, USA Today and New York Times.
Johnny Depp may not be enough to slow "The Avengers." The superhero will take a big bite out of the opening of vampire comedy "Dark Shadows," as the superhero blockbuster is set to dominate the box office for the second consecutive weekend.
After debuting with a record-breaking $207.4 million — the biggest opening weekend ever, not adjusting for inflation — "The Avengers" isn't likely to lose steam at the box office any time soon. In its second weekend, the film featuring beloved comic book characters such as Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk is expected to collect an additional $90 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.
Heading into the weekend, the film has already raked in a phenomenal $775.4 million worldwide and is no doubt headed for the elite $1-billion box office club, which has 11 members.
That means that "Dark Shadows," the vampire comedy directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, will have to settle for the runner-up position with a debut of around $40 million. Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow co-financed the picture for close to $150 million, meaning the film’s projected debut will be good but not great, considering its substantial budget.
While “The Avengers” will be serious competition for “Dark Shadows,” Warner Bros. is hopeful that many young male moviegoers who have already seen the adventure epic will opt for the Depp film instead this weekend. Both pictures will face one fewer rival this weekend because last month, Paramount Pictures decided to move the release date of "The Dictator" to May 16, five days after the debut of "Dark Shadows."
Paramount made the hasty move because the studio felt that the film starring Sacha Baron Cohen as a dictator from a fictional Middle Eastern country and "Dark Shadows" were offbeat comedies that would have to fight for the same audience.
“Dark Shadows” is the eighth collaboration between Depp and Burton, whose most successful partnership came with 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which made over $1 billion worldwide. The director and actor first teamed on 1990's "Edward Scissorhands," and the quirky pair have since made a handful of similarly eccentric, dark comedies together, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — their second-biggest hit ever.
Based on an ABC soap opera that began in the 1960s, “Dark Shadows” was a passion project for Depp and Burton, both of whom rushed home to watch the television program every day as school boys. In the film, Depp plays Barnabas, an 18th century lothario who is transformed into a vampire, imprisoned in an underground crypt, and only set free in 1972. The movie has earned only middling reviews, notching a 51% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of Thursday morning.
"Dark Shadows" will debut overseas this weekend in 42 foreign markets, where Depp has traditionally been popular. With the exception of last year's animated "Rango," every big-budget film the actor has appeared in in the last decade has performed better abroad than domestically. "The Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise has been especially popular with international audiences, and the last installment, "On Stranger Tides," made roughly $800 million of its $1-billion global take overseas.
In limited release, Lionsgate is debuting "Girl in Progress" in 322 theaters. The film, starring Eva Mendes as a single mother struggling to maintain balance in her personal and professional lives, is being distributed by Pantelion Films, Lionsgate's co-venture with Mexican media company Televisa.
Vet and families, Hollywood has 'Got Your Six". A coalition of major media companies, talent agencies and unions are teaming up with two dozen nonprofit organizations as part of a campaign to build awareness for veteran issues such as employment, health, housing and education.
The wide-reaching initiative -- dubbed "Got Your Six," which is military speak for "I've got your back" -- will include a celebrity-filled public service campaign as well as greater effort by Hollywood to incorporate positive portrayals of veterans in movies and television shows, giving greater visibility to the challenges they face after returning from active duty.
Companies participating include Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal, Time Warner Inc.'s HBO and Warner Bros., News Corp.'s Fox, Sony, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, as well as talent agencies Creative Artists Agency, United Talent and William Morris Endeavor. Also on board are the Directors Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America, West.
"Together, we are uniting to bring awareness to this incredibly important issue of bringing our country's trained leaders home to be a valued part of our communities across the nation," said Universal Studios President and Marine Corps veteran Ron Meyer.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been active on building awareness for the plight of veterans, said in a statement that by "sharing the stories of strength and resilience that define our military families, we can motivate even more Americans to honor these courageous individuals in new ways."
Last June, Obama met with the Hollywood guilds to encourage the industry to play an active role in enlightening the public on the subject.
Spearheading the effort on behalf of the military is Got Your Six managing director Chris Marvin, a helicopter pilot who was wounded while serving in Afghanistan.
In an interview, Marvin said that Got Your Six isn't looking to dicate content to Hollywood but does want to be available to offer an authentic perspective for the industry when needed.
"Far be it for any of us to tell them how to tell their stories," Marvin said, adding that he is just hoping that the initiative can "shift cultural perceptions closer to what the reality is for veterans."
The Got Your Six campaign follows on the heels of announcements by Comcast and Walt Disney Co. as well as other entertainment companies that they will make a concerted effort to hire more veterans. Both Comcast and Disney have pledged to hire 1,000 veterans.
Below is a PSA for the Got Your Six campaign.
New York New York...look out Silicon Valley. New York city is now the dominant and fastest growing tech city in the nation and one of the top in the world. The Study for an Urban Future released that with venture capital centered in New York, major world corporation, there are more tech start ups in NYC than anywhere else. Google, Facebook and other companies have offices in NYC, sometimes larger than their home offices. Archutecture, media, fashion, Wall Street, Broadway, the film industry all are NYC centric and have appeal to the lifestyles of tech developers.
hoto: Promotional art for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan. Credit: Universal Studios Japan.
I think he's turning Japanese. The movie franchise may have ended, but Warner Bros. is still looking to milk every last cent out of "Harry Potter" that it can. The theme park version is headed to Japan, where it will be an attraction at the Universal Studios park. Details on the importance of keeping the "Potter" brand alive from the Los Angeles Times.
Harry Potter has conquered the world with books and then with movies. Now he’s doing the same with theme parks.
Universal Studios Japan on Thursday will unveil plans to build the first international version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the blockbuster attraction that has drawn millions of fans to Universal’s Orlando resort and is coming to Los Angeles.
The Osaka destination -- expected to begin construction in the next few weeks with a planned opening in late 2014 and an expected cost of about $500 million -- brings Hogwarts Castle and rides including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey to the boy wizard’s biggest market outside of the United States.
The eight Potter movies grossed nearly $900 million in Japan -- more even than in his home country of Britain. Products including magic wand chopsticks have made the Harry Potter brand Japan's most successful movie-based consumer products line of the last decade.
But the book and film series are both complete, and fans who have grown into their 20s and 30s are buying fewer toys. Harry Potter is in need of a business transformation. The answer from Warner Bros. -- which owns the licensing rights to author J.K. Rowling’s books -- is theme parks. Potter has driven a stunning 68% increase in attendance at Universal Orlando and spurred visitors to spend millions on butterbeer during their visits and paraphernalia on their way out.
"This type of immersion is what the fans crave more than buying traditional merchandise," said Warner Bros. Consumer Products President Brad Globe. "Our strategy is focused on theme parks because it's a different experience. They’ve read the books and seen the movies, but now they can enter the world."
Despite the sluggish world economy, theme park owners have been investing and expanding in recent years. Market leader Walt Disney Co. is spending $4.5 billion to build a new park in Shanghai, $1 billion to upgrade Anaheim’s California Adventure Park, and $500 million on a new attraction in Orlando based on James Cameron’s hit film "Avatar."
Universal, meanwhile, has a major expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando planned in addition to the version in Los Angeles. And new Universal-branded parks are in the works in South Korea, Dubai and Russia.
"Across the board, theme park developers are doubling down on renovations and expansions," said Nima Samidi, an industry analyst at IbisWorld. "There's particularly a lot of activity in Asia because it's a fast-growing market that has a fascination with Western culture."
Revenue at Disney’s theme park unit grew 10% in the company’s last fiscal year to $11.8 billion, and Universal's was up 24% to $2 billion.
At Universal Studios Japan, which is owned by private investors including investment bank Goldman Sachs but licenses its name from the Hollywood entertainment giant, executives engaged in extensive research to gauge the public's interest in a Harry Potter attraction.
In a country of 127 million, more than 80 million tickets to Potter films have been bought and about 24 million books have been sold, giving the story of the orphan boy turned world-saving magician four spots among Japan’s top 10 all-time bestsellers.
The park also conducted surveys to gauge current levels of enthusiasm and what Japanese audiences like most about the series.
"Magical coming-of-age stories play very well in Japan, particularly when they're about the balance between ordinary life and something fantastical," said Glenn Gumpel, president of Universal Studios Japan.
Similarly themed works like the animated movie "Spirited Away" from director Hayao Miyazaki and video game series The Legend of Zelda from Nintendo are among the nation's most popular works of pop culture.
With its opening expected in under three years, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Japan will open sooner than the one in Los Angeles, despite the fact that the deal, which came out of talks that began last summer, was closed more recently.
That’s because at Universal Studios Hollywood, there's no room for expansion, meaning existing attractions must be demolished or renovated to make room for magic. As a result, it's not expected to debut until 2016.
In Osaka, meanwhile, the Wizarding World will be built alongside existing rides based on Spider-Man, "Jurassic Park" and "Jaws."
"We're already growing and expect we’ll get millions more people once we launch Harry Potter," said Gumpel, whose park drew more than 9 million people last year.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a cash cow for Warner Bros., which gets a substantial upfront free for each Universal attraction and a share of admissions and merchandise sales. In addition, Warner conducts tours of the soundstage in Leavesden, Britain, where the "Potter" films were shot.
And though there are few rival parks, outside of ones owned by rival Disney, that would be natural homes for Potter rides, the studio already has its eye on eventually launching more Wizarding Worlds.
"A lot of work goes into building these parks, so we’re probably at the limit of what we could manage at the moment," said Globe. "But if some other great opportunity for Harry Potter presents itself, we would certainly take a look at it."
In a statement, Rowling gave her stamp of approval to the newest addition to her Harry Potter empire:
"I was delighted to experience and enjoy the attention to detail, creativity and superb craft that went into the first Wizarding World in Orlando,” she said. “I am equally delighted that the same level of expertise and enjoyment will translate to the new park in Japan.”
Photo: News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch at the National Summit on Education Reform in San Francisco. Credit: Noah Berger / Associated Press
Breaking the law has its dividends. News Corp. reported a 47% jump in net income in its third quarter, buoyed by strong performances from its cable and film groups.
The media conglomerate reported net income of $937 million for the quarter ended March 31, compared with $639 million from the same time a year ago. Revenue increased to $8.4 billion, up 2% from a year earlier.
“Once again, News Corporation showed strong operational momentum in the quarter, driven by significant growth at our Cable Network Programming and Filmed Entertainment segments," Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch said in a statement.
The company's cable networks reported operating income of $846 million, a 15% gain over the prior year -- thanks to double-digit growth at Regional Sports Networks, FX Network and Fox News.
The film studio showed an operating income of $272 million, an improvement of nearly 10% from the same period a year ago. Movie results reflected strong box office and home entertainment performances of "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" and "The Descendants."
However, the British phone hacking scandal continues to drag on the company's earnings. News Corp. took a charge of $63 million in costs related to the ongoing investigation of conduct at the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid.
News Corp. has been buffeted by the continuing fall-out from the British phone hacking scandal, which erupted last summer when it was revealed that a detective working for one of News Corp.'s tabloids had hacked into voice mail messages left for a missing schoolgirl who was later found dead.
Earlier this month, a committee of British lawmakers issued a blistering report finding that Murdoch had "exhibited willful blindness" toward the illegal phone hacking at the now-shuttered News of the World and is "not a fit person" to lead a major international company such as News Corp.
News Corp.'s board subsequently issued a unanimous statement affirming the directors' confidence in Murdoch and his ability to run the company he built from a single newspaper in Adelade, Australia.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz, News Corp.'s second largest shareholder, also voiced his continued backing of Murdoch in an interview with the Guardian, but expressed concern that the situation is damaging the reputation of the company beyond its British newspapers.
"I really hope that this is behind us because really it is not helping the name of the company," he told the Guardian. "We hope that this page is folded and put behind us because really it is not something to be proud of."
Murdoch's youngest son, James Murdoch, resigned as chairman of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting in April, ahead of what was expected to be a critical report from the parliamentary committee on his handling of the ethics scandal.
Media regulators in Britain are evaluating whether BSkyB is a "fit and proper" holder of a broadcast license, because of News Corp.'s nearly 40% stake. Some politicians have used the Culture, Media and Sport committee's critical report to call for swift action -- a call the regulators have resisted.
Not taking no for an answer. Although the Federal Communications Commission rejected Liberty Media's application to be declared de facto owner of satellite radio company Sirius XM Radio Inc., the fight's not over. Liberty is gobbling up Sirius stock and now owns more than 46%. More on the fight for Sirius from the Wall Street Journal.
What about Bob? Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger is on the receiving end of a relatively puffy profile from Fortune. In the piece, Iger said recently ousted studio chief Rich Ross was not fired because of the mega flop "John Carter" but because he was the "wrong fit." So does that mean if "John Carter" had been a hit that Ross would still be in his job? Didn't think so.
Photo: Skylanders products courtesy of Activision Blizzard Inc.
World of Warcraft slide reversed. Activision Blizzard Inc. said Wednesday it was able to halt a precipitous slide in the number of subscribers to its massively profitable online game, World of Warcraft, maintaining the number at 10.2 million as of March 31 -- roughly the same as it was on Dec. 31.
The game, developed by Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine, had been steadily losing players since it peaked at 12 million in September 2010. The fact that World of Warcraft, now approaching its eighth year, was able to hold its ground was no small feat, given the stiff competition it faced from the December release of rival online title, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Activision disclosed World of Warcraft subscriber numbers as part of its first-quarter earnings report. The Santa Monica games company posted $1.17 billion in revenue for the quarter ended March 31, a 19% decline from a year earlier. Net income of $384 million, or 33 cents a share, was also down from $503 million, or 42 cents a share a year earlier.
Still, the results, when adjusted for special charges and deferred income, handily beat Wall Street's expectations. Among the titles that bolstered Activision's performance was Skylanders, a hugely popular kids' game that ties into a suite of collectible physical toys. Many stores have reported temporary shortages of Skylanders action figures as Activision struggles to keep up with demand. Activision said it has sold more than 30 million Skylanders toys as of Mrach 31.
Other titles that contributed to Activision's results include its Call of Duty military shooter franchise, which continues to sell well and has garnered more than 2 million players who pay about $50 a year for access to additional online content.
While the company is surfing a wave of bona fide hits, analysts point out that Activision has yet to make a major dent in the growing market for tablet, mobile and social games.
“While Activision to date has chosen the best path to weather the console storms, they are potentially at risk of missing a large and profitable segment of the market without more investment in social and mobile,” said Colin Sebastian, analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co. “When tablets become a core gamer platform, will Call of Duty be there?”
Everyone wants to play scheduler. While there is a lot of debate about how relevant TV schedules are in the era of the DVR and Netflix, in my opinion scheduling is more important than ever. After all, you need to find the right slot to guarantee your show gets sampled and thus becomes something people later record or watch on some other platform. With that in mind, Variety offers up its suggestion to the networks on what to place where. I'll offer one too. CBS needs to move "The Good Wife" off of Sunday night and put it back on Tuesday.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: Time Warner Cable is gearing up to take on Fox Sports. George Clooney's big Obama fund-rasier is an A-list event.
-- Joe Flint
Follow me on Twitter. We'll climb the mountain together. Twitter.com/JBFlint
Photo: Howard Stern. Credit: Mark Seliger/NBC.