Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Still More Reality TV on Prime Time Networks. Intel on the Internet? If it works keep doing it. Gays on TV. Sitcom up in the air, literally. Disney turns profits despite set backs.
Photo of Chris Evans, portraying Captain America, left, and Robert Downey Jr., portraying Tony Stark, are shown in a scene from 'The Avengers." Credit: Zade Rosethal / Disney
Sequal City: If it works then do it again, and again, and again. The superhero team that conquered the U.S. box office will be suiting up for a return engagement.
Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said its Marvel Entertainment group is already in development on a sequel to "The Avengers," which shattered the opening weekend box-office record domestically -- and in markets around the world.
The movie, featuring a slew of stars including Robert Downey Jr., raked in $207 million in its first three days of release in the United States, bringing its global box office to around $702 million.
"It's a great illustration of why we like Marvel so much -- great characters, great storytelling and a wonderful ability for them to bring their characters and stories to the big screen so effectively," Iger told analysts Tuesday during the company's quarterly earnings call.
Disney is aggressively mining Marvel's library of comic-book characters, who were the key attraction when the Burbank entertainment giant acquired Marvel for $4 billion in 2009. Disney plans to release "Iron Man 3" and "Thor 2" next year, Iger said, with a sequel to "Captain America: The First Avenger" due out in 2014.
The success of "The Avengers" is propelling merchandise sales. In many cases, products are sold out, Iger said, prompting the global licensing team to work with licensees and retailers to restock shelves as quickly as possible. Even Marvel's big green monster, the Hulk, is getting love from consumers, thanks to Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of Bruce Banner and his powerful alter ego.
"We expect, given the interest in this film, that demand for its product is going continue to be strong pretty much throughout the year," Iger said.
Iger also said that Disney's parks and resorts planning group, known as the "Imagineers," have been working on ways to incorporate Marvel into the company's theme parks, beyond Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where Universal Studios holds the rights to the characters.
"We have a number of other opportunities ... at our other parks, notably California and Europe and in Asia -- I guess that pretty much covers the rest of the world," Iger said. "And our Imagineering group has been working over the last year ... to create more opportunities for Marvel in the parks."
The Skinny: A great season finale for Fox's "New Girl" Tuesday night. Now the network needs to spend the summer figuring out how to get this show, which started out strong and then slipped in the ratings, back in the hearts and minds of viewers. Wednesday's headlines include a look at how Virgin shot an entire movie up in the air, how Disney survived "John Carter" and posted strong earnings, and a preview of upfront week.
Gays on TV: Not that there's anything wrong with that. Remember when Ellen DeGeneres coming out on her old ABC sitcom was a big deal? Nowadays gay characters populate much of prime time and rarely get a second glance either internally or from advertisers. Still, if you're in a mafia drama and your character is going to come out, you might want to start looking for new work. More on the declining controversy over portrayals of gays on television from the New York Times.
Daily Dose: Reality TV on prime time neworks to increase. NBC is boosting its alternative programming unit by signing new development deals with several top reality producers including Jason Ehrlich (“The Bachelor"), David A. Hurwitz (“Fear Factor”), Alex Katz (“The Biggest Loser”) and Lee Metzger (“The Voice”). Probably a smart move since NBC's track record with sitcoms and dramas has been nothing to write home about lately.
Photo: Walt Disney Studios President of Production Sean Bailey; Walt Disney Studios President Alan Bergman, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Walt Disney Co. Bob Iger, then-President of Marketing Walt Disney Studios MT Carney and then-Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios Rich Ross attend "The Muppets" Los Angeles Premiere at the El Capitan Theatre on Nov. 12, 2011, in Hollywood. Credit: Todd Williamson / WireImage
John who? Despite "John Carter" business is good for Disney. Despite a $200-million write-down of the flop film "John Carter," Walt Disney Co. reported a jump in profit of 21% to $1.14 billion. As usual, the theme parks and the cable networks — particularly sports empire ESPN — led the way. The company also said there would be an "Avengers" sequel. There's a shocker. More on the earnings from the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.
The Walt Disney Co. reported a 21% jump in net income for the quarter, as the strong performance of the television business and at the theme parks more than offset losses at the film studio.
Revenues rose to $9.6 billion for the three months ending March 31, up 6% from the same time a year ago. Net income exceeded $1.1 billion, compared with $942 million a year earlier. Disney reported earnings per share of 58 cents, excluding one-time items, an increase of 18% from a year ago.
Photo: "John Carter." Credit: Walt Disney Co.
Verticle integration: when a loss is a gain. Disney's film studio reported an operating loss of $84 million for the quarter, reflecting the write-down associated with the sci-fi adventure film "John Carter." The big-budget film, released in early March, brought in just $70 million in domestic box-office receipts, well shy of breaking even.
Disney's box-office dud was followed, two months later, by the record-setting performance of "The Avengers." The superhero movie, released by Disney's Marvel Entertainment group, smashed the domestic record for best opening weekend.
"The Avengers," a film packed with action and A-list performers, brought in more than $207 million in its first three days of release in the U.S., and grossed a total of $702 million worldwide in its first two weeks. The results will be reflected in Disney's third quarter.
“We’re incredibly optimistic about our future, given the strength of our core brands,
Disney, Pixar, Marvel, ESPN and ABC," Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said in a statement. "And our extraordinary ability to grow franchises across our businesses, such as 'The Avengers,' which shattered domestic box-office records."
Disney's Media Networks television group remains the company's cash cow, reporting operating income of $1.7 billion for the quarter -- up 13% from a year ago.
Parks and resorts showed the most substantial gains. Operating income rose 53% to $222 million in the quarter, reflecting increased attendance and spending at Disney's domestic parks, and improved results from the Tokyo Disney Resort, which was closed a year ago because of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Photo: SiriusXM Chief Executive Mel Karmazin, left; Liberty Media Chairman John Malone, right. Credits: SiriusXM and Liberty Media.
Not giving up on taking over Sirus XM Radio. Having been stymied by the Federal Communications Commission last week in its gambit to take over Sirius XM Radio Inc., Liberty Media revealed its next move on Tuesday — bumping up its stake in the company to 45.2% from 40%.
Liberty's chief executive, Greg Maffei, told analysts in a conference call that his company had a contract in place to buy 302 million shares of SiriusXM for $650 million at $2.15 a share from undisclosed sellers.
The price represents a discount to SiriusXM's $2.17 closing price on Monday, prior to Liberty's announcement. SiriusXM lost 3 cents to $2.14 Tuesday after Maffei unveiled his move.
The two companies have been locked in a struggle for control since March, when Liberty started the high-stakes corporate chess match with a request to the FCC for control of the operating licenses SiriusXM needed to broadcast its satellite radio service. Liberty argued that its 40% ownership, along with five out of 13 seats on the board, meant it had "de facto" control of SiriusXM.
SiriusXM's chief executive, Mel Karmazin, strenuously objected, deriding Liberty's attempt as trying to convince regulators that "40 is the new 50." His point was that shareholders needed to have more than 50% of a company to call the shots.
It seems that Liberty's chairman, John Malone, heard the message loud and clear and is moving toward that magic 51% mark. More in the Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Philip Baker Hall and Kat Coiro work on a scene aboard a Virgin America flight. Credit: Jessica Stout / Virgin America.
Location: 35,000 Feet as Virgin flies hight with 'Departure Date'. In what appears to be a first, Virgin Group shot a film completely up in the air on its flights. The half-hour romance, starring Janeane Garofalo, Ben Feldman and Luis Guzman, was shot over nine days on flights from Los Angeles to London, Dallas, Fort Worth and Sydney, Australia. It will be screened on Virgin flights and is part of a marketing campaign for the airline. Wonder if there will be complimentary popcorn. Details on the 35,000-foot production from the Los Angeles Times.
British tycoon Sir Richard Branson has made a career out of bucking conventions — opening a recording studio in a country estate, building an affordable, premium airline service with soft violet mood lighting and seat-back entertainment screens, and even launching a space tourism company.
Now Branson’s Virgin Group is breaking the mold in the movie business. Virgin’s America, Atlantic and Australian airlines have teamed up with the company’s new film and TV company to shoot a half-hour movie filmed and edited entirely aboard regularly scheduled commercial flights — believed to be a first.
Titled “Departure Date,” the airborne romance between two people who meet on a plane was shot over nine days and three continents last week during flights from Los Angeles to London, Dallas, Fort Worth and Sydney, Australia.
The project involved a crew and cast of 20, including actors Janeane Garofalo, Ben Feldman and Luis Guzman.
“Virgin airlines have swept all the awards for having the best entertainment systems in the skies, but a movie about falling in love with a stranger onboard a Virgin plane: now that’s in-flight entertainment!” said Branson, the founder of Virgin Group.
Directed by Kat Coiro, the film is part of a marketing campaign to promote Virgin’s services to Los Angeles. It will be featured as in-flight entertainment and will debut in June at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Virgin is also negotiating to land a TV deal for the film.
“We really wanted to [do] something that would convey the unique Virgin experience in a way that was meaningful and relevant to Los Angeles,” said Simon Bradley, vice president of marketing for North America for Virgin Atlantic. “That’s where the idea of a movie came in because of L.A.’s strong connection to the movie industry.”
Commercial airlines have long played a major role in scores of movies, including the 1980 screwball comedy “Airplane!”; the 2005 thriller “Flightplan,” starring Jodie Foster; and Paul Greengrass’ 2006 film “United 93,” based on an account of one of the planes that was hijacked and crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. But those movies took place mainly on soundstages, making the Virgin production particularly unusual.
“We pride ourselves on doing things that are a little bit different, and this is certainly an example of that,” said Jason Felts, chief executive of Virgin Produced, which released its first movie last year: “Limitless,” a sci-fi thriller with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. “As far as we know, nobody has made an entire movie at 35,000 feet.”
Filmmakers went out of their way to not turn the work into a blatant commercial for Virgin. The airline is a “character” in the film in much the same way that the hotel is a character in director Sofia Coppola’s 2003 independent film “Lost in Translation,” starring Bill Murray, and how the FedEx and Wilson brands had costarring roles in the 2000 Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away.”
“At the end of the day, the film stands on its own,” Felts said. “We’re telling a real narrative story. We’re not overtly trying to promote Virgin.”
The picture, which cost less than $1 million to produce, tells the story of a young man who meets the girl of his dreams on a plane, lets her slip away and then takes the journey of his life on three airlines to win her back. Along the way, he encounters a future version of himself.
Of course, filming at 35,000 feet poses certain logistical challenges that ground crews don’t ever encounter. Turbulence forced the crew to take a break from filming during one especially bumpy section over Iceland.
Producers also had to take pains to comply with Federal Aviation Administration rules limiting the size of liquid bottles used by the hair and makeup department. They enlisted lightweight hand-held digital cameras without the use of a dolly to film scenes that were shot mainly in first-class or business-class lounges and other discrete areas to minimize inconvenience to passengers. Some passengers volunteered to be extras in the production.
“I would never rule out doing a sequel,” Bradley said. “But we see this as pretty much a one-off.”
Unhappy prince. News Corp.'s second-biggest shareholder, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has expressed concern about the ongoing ethics scandal and government probe that has followed at the media giant's British newspapers. The Guardian quotes the prince as saying it is not "helping the name of the company."
Intel to go into the 'broadcast' programming business. Former veteran network executive Garth Ancier, whose résumé includes stints at Fox, NBC and the WB, is advising tech company Intel Corp. which is hoping to lead the way on creating a broadband programming service that would distribute channels over the Internet much the same way cable distributes through a wire. More on Ancier's role from Variety.
Start packing. Next week, the broadcast networks unveil their fall schedules to advertisers in advance of selling commercial inventory for the next television season. The Hollywood Reporter looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the networks as well as what new programs are in the pipeline.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: James Rainey on the financial health of Eyetronics Media & Studios, the company that was supposed to be a production partner for non-commercial station KCET-TV.
— Joe Flint
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