The company that sensationalizes pain seemed to feel a lot of it in Q2: The bold $9.99 a month streaming video venture that World Wrestling Entertainment launched in February only had 700,000 subscribers at the end of June, it says today. That’s half of the 1.4M that the company said in May it needs to offset lost pay-per-view TV sales, much of it from fans watching online. The growth rate is nothing to brag about. WWE Network only added 33,000 subs in Q2. In April the company boasted that it was “well on its way to reaching its goal of 1 million subscribers by the end of 2014.”
Now it’s bracing for the point in a few weeks — after SummerSlam on August 17 — when initial subs’ six-month commitment expires. SummerSlam “will likely be the biggest draw through the remainder of the year,” Benchmark Co’s Mike Hickey observed yesterday. As a result, “We suspect subscribers will wrestle with the decision to immediately renew their six month subscription.”
So why is the stock up 7.9% today? Some investors believe that WWE’s been beat up enough; even with today’s uptick, shares are down 36% over the last three months. And WWE employees are sharing some of the pain. The company says it will slash its staff by 7%, contributing to a $30M improvement in its cash flow outlook for this year.
The Q2 numbers also weren’t as bad as analysts expected. Revenues at $156.3M, +2.6% from last year, came close to projections for $156.8M. The net loss, at 14.5M vs … Read More »
Legendary Hollywood makeup artist Dick Smith has died at the age of 92. His protege and fellow makeup genius Rick Baker tweeted the sad news this morning.
“The master is gone. My friend and mentor Dick Smith is no longer with us. The world will not be the same.”
Smith’s iconic transformations appeared in films such as The Godfather, Taxi Driver and The Exorcist, in which he created the device that allowed Linda Blair to projectile vomit. He also transformed the look of F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus, as he aged in the film from his 40s to his 80s. In 2011, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences presented Smith with an honorary Oscar (Smith’s second, his first was for Amadeus) at the Governors Awards. It was presented by Baker who called Smith “my idol, mentor, and friend for over 40 years, the greatest makeup artist of all time”. On accepting the award, an emotional, tearful Smith said ”When I watch the wonderful films they just showed, I thought, ‘What a wonderful career this fellow has had.’ I have loved being a makeup artist. To have had so much kindness is just too much.”
Earlier in his career, he worked on the vampire soap opera Dark Shadows, a project he credited with being valuable preparation for the 1970 film Little Big Man. In Dark Shadows, vampire Barnabas Collins was undergoing medical treatment to change him into a living human being. … Read More »
In a world … that’s not underwater, the denizens of Bikini Bottom must recover a mysterious book that — oh, forget about the plot. Just go get your kids and behold the first trailer for SpongeBob: Sponge Out Of Water, the second big-screen romp for the Nickelodeon stalwart and his briny chums. The 3D pic from SpongeBob SquarePants vet and rookie feature director Paul Tibbitt follows the CGI adventures of our porous hero along with Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, Mr. Krabs and Plankton, as they venture onto terra firma for the first time. Look for bikini babes and Slash, listen for “Welcome To The Jungle” and Antonio Banderas as Alameda Jack. Paramount opens it February 6:
On the bright side: Time Warner Cable saw strong growth in broadband subs. But Q2 won’t go down as a quarter to remember for the No. 2 cable company, in the process of being acquired by Comcast. It reported net income of $499M, +3.7% vs last year, on revenues of $5.73B, +3.2%. The revenue number came close to the Street’s target of $5.74B. But diluted earnings at $1.89 a share fell short of expectations for $1.91.
Some of the weakness was due to the double whammy of increased programming costs — including for SportsNet LA, launched this year — while the number of residential video subs declined by 152,000 since March to 11.0M. Video revenues fell 4.8% to $2.55B while programming costs increased 3.9% to $1.3B. The declines were somewhat offset by price increases.
The broadband business carried the company. It added 67,000 subscriptions for a total of 11.4M while revenues increased 12.8% to $1.6B. TWC also added 79,000 phone customers, ending the quarter with 4.9M, although revenues slipped 5.2% to $490M. Looked at another way, the number of single and double play customers declined while the number of triple play subs increased for a total of 14.5M customer relationships, down 34,000.
CEO Rob Marcus says TWC “delivered the best second quarter subscriber volumes in years” as it “made terrific progress on our strategic and operating initiatives.” The company is “working hard to complete our merger with Comcast.”
As I reported on Monday, the China Film Association has formed the International Communication Committee of the China Film Association. At an event held Tuesday in Beijing, the ICCCFA was unveiled to address critical issues facing the Chinese film industry. DMG Entertainment, whose president Wu Bing was named as VP of ICCCFA, helped organize the event. The ICCCFA’s focus will be to educate and engage the global film community, particularly Hollywood, to enhance the development of the Chinese film industry by establishing best practices for partnering with China’s established and proven film companies to access the market. One of the major questions addressed was whether the Chinese film industry should support Hollywood studios making Chinese films or Chinese studios making Hollywood films. DMG’s Dan Mintz said the industry is “collectively agreeing on the latter as the correct agenda.” Along with the heads of many of China’s most influential state-backed film organizations, DMG escorted former Skydance COO Paul Schwake and screenwriter Evan Daugherty to the forum. Talking about the long-term goal of global film and cultural balance, Schwake said: “Though Hollywood isn’t a perfect system, it is an industry that has benefited from 100-plus years of trial and error and adaptive evolution. It’s important for the governing entities in China to support their own industry leaders so that those entities can catch up to the U.S. studios and perhaps even surpass them some day.” Said Daugherty: “Yes, it takes a great story to make a great film, but to complete that journey takes a system that excels at development, finance, production, marketing, and distribution. Otherwise that great story just lays on a shelf.” Via the ICCCFA, the Chinese government has put an emphasis on building China’s cultural industries. Kang Jianmin, Secretary-General of the China Film Association, noted: “The mission of the Chinese film industry should not only focus on content, even though content is king. It should also nurture a solid foundation of new technology, creativity and talent – in other words, focusing on industry development at-large. This macro-strategy, if successfully implemented, will most rapidly create a world-class film industry.” Read More »
Not even the arrival of fast-selling sequel Mario Kart 8 could rev up sales of the Wii U game console, as one-time video game king Nintendo continued to struggle in its first quarter. Operating losses of 9.47 billion yen ($92.2M) were twice as bad as expected in consensus analyst estimates, while sales dropped more than 8 percent to 74.7 billion yen ($72.7M) despite sales of more than 2.8 million units of Mario Kart in the quarter.
There were modest signs of hope, as Wii U sales spiked more than three times from the same quarter a year ago, hitting 510,000 units. That still leaves the Wii U far behind Sony’s next-generation game console, the PS4, which has racked up 8.7 million units sold since its debut in November 2013, a year after the Wii U. Nintendo has sold fewer than 6.7 million units in 19 months.
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Anna Gunn, an Emmy winner as Skyler White on Breaking Bad and Geffen Playhouse regular, has taken to the boards as her latest show, Gracepoint, heads to its October premiere on Fox. In Laura Eason’s Sex With Strangers, running at the increasingly essential Second Stage, she plays Olivia, a writer who has retreated to a secluded B&B in Michigan to finish her second novel. It’s a dark and snow-stormy night when Ethan comes stomping in from the cold.
Olivia is on the cusp of 40, wispy and comfortably wrapped in an afghan. Ethan is played by Billy Magnussen, for whom the cusp of 40 is still a considerable way off and who — as anyone knows who saw him as Sigourney Weaver’s gifted boy toy in Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike (he was Spike) — has a body to render women weak and set men’s teeth on edge. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Legendary Pictures is in talks with Michael Werwie to script Operation Shakespeare, an adaptation of the John Shiffman book. Title was the code name for an international sting, led by an elite Homeland Security team, to snare foreign arms dealers from acquiring and selling U.S. military technology. The book was published this month by Simon & Schuster. Werwie is scripting Lost Girls for Warner Bros.
Related: Comic-Con: Legendary Unveils Glimpse Of New King Kong Pic ‘Skull Island’
Legendary showed at Comic-Con it can mount monster movies with the best of them, but this project follows an equally hot-button premise thriller Blackhat, the Michael Mann-directed pic that stars Chris Hemsworth, as an example the company is growing into topical subject matter. The sting focused on microchips, gyroscopes, radar-cloaking and night-vision technology that were developed and manufactured in the U.S. at extraordinary cost. The tiny weapons capable of guiding missiles, seeing through walls and triggering explosives were falling into the hands of enemies. John Shiffman, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, followed a trail that began with an Iranian arms broker and some U.S. defense contractors who put profit over national security, and the case spanned from Philly to London, Dubai, Beverly Hills and Tbilisi. Complicating matters is the Iranian’s government plot to assassinate him after he’s caught.
The screenwriter’s repped by UTA and Evolution Entertainment … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: The internal moves at Sony continue. Deadline hears that Tommy Gargotta is leaving the studio. The president of Worldwide Creative Advertising, he will be replaced. I’m told this is not related to the recent exit of Jeff Blake, whom the studio is in the process of replacing. More details as they emerge.
It might be unrelated to Blake, but from what I hear, Gargotta is an institution in the Jimmy Stewart building second only to (until last week) Blake. He has long been considered a top creative advertising mind in the business, by studios, networks, vendors. He’s a guy who’d come up with a campaign, and then recut and rescore it over and over, as he did with 007. That process was expensive but the results spoke for themselves, in places like the Key Art Awards, where Gargotta’s work shone.
EXCLUSIVE: Incomparable writer, producer, First Amendment apostle and funny guy Norman Lear will receive this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN Center USA, which works on global issues of freedom of speech and censorship. The non-profit human-rights group also said it is giving its First Amendment Award to journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentary director Laura Poitras for their work disseminating documents relating to NSA surveillance. Journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas will receive the Freedom to Write Award for his work on immigration issues.
Lear, who turned 92 on Sunday, made his name creating groundbreaking TV sitcoms in the 1970s, including All In The Family, Maude, Good Times, One Day At A Time, Sanford And Son and The Jeffersons. The shows couched controversy in humor, dealing with thorny societal issues including racism, bigotry, feminism, divorce, abortion and class. Lear, also the producer of films including Fried Green Tomatoes, was as politically active off-screen as on: He founded the advocacy group People for the American Way in 1981, led a consortium to purchase an original copy of the Constitution and toured it around the country, and remains at the forefront of Hollywood’s most active and influential political progressives.
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UPDATE, 1:35PM: Penelope Cruz has issued a statement to clarify the open letter that she, husband Javier Bardem and director Pedro Almodovar signed yesterday, which called for an end to “the genocide perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army in the Gaza strip against Palestinian civilians.” The comments were bound to be regarded as incendiary and polarizing, taking sides in a most controversial issue. Today, Cruz explains that her reaction was not motivated by politics as much as humanitarian concerns.
“I don’t want to be misunderstood on this important subject,” she said. “I’m not an expert on the situation, and I’m aware of the complexity of it. My only wish and intention in signing that group letter is the hope that there will be peace in both Israel and Gaza. I am hopeful all parties can agree to a cease fire and there are no more innocent victims on either side of the border. I wish for unity, and peace. … I believe in a civilization that can be capable of bringing the courage to have a world where humans can live side by side.”
Related: Fear, Rockets And Anxiety Overshadowed Film At Jerusalem Festival
PREVIOUSLY, July 29: The Gaza conflict touched the film business this month when dealmakers and filmmakers ran for a bomb shelter as shelling got too close at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and when Israeli filmmakers Ronit Elkabetz, Keren Yedaya, and Shlomi Elkabetz urged their government to seek a truce with Hamas. The attention on the world stage spiked today when Spanish Oscar winners Pedro Almodovar, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz put signatures to a statement expressing outrage over “the genocide perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian civilians.” Stars who take political positions on world issues do so at their own peril and at the risk of hurting their business by polarizing potential audiences. Read More »
Tony Award winner Laura Benanti (Gypsy, Into The Woods, Swing) has booked a multi-episode arc on the upcoming third season of ABC‘s country music drama Nashville. Benanti will play Sadie Stone, an up-and-coming country star who befriends Rayna (Connie Britton). Benanti, repped by CAA and Emily Gerson Saines at Brookside Artist Management, most recently appeared in NBC’s The Sound Of Music Live! She has starred in the NBC series Go On and The Playboy Club, as well as FX comedy series Starved. She also has recurred on Nurse Jackie, Royal Pains, The Big C, and Law & Order: SVU.
Benjamin Ciaramello is set as a recurring on ABC mystery Secrets & Lies from producer Aaron Kaplan and director Charles McDougall. Based on an Australian series, Secrets & Lies stars Ryan Phillippe as a family man who finds the body of a young boy and quickly becomes the prime murder suspect. Ciaramello, repped by House of Representatives and Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein, will play Paul Murphy, Jess’ husband and Tom’s father who’s currently in the military and about to be deployed for the fifth time. He’s constantly battling inner demons resulting from extended periods in warring countries.
TNT has ordered a 10-episode third season of real-life crime series Cold Justice, set for premiere in early 2015. The renewal comes as Cold Justice nears the middle of its second season, currently airing at 9 PM Fridays. Cold Justice has averaged 2.3 million viewers in Live+7 so far this summer, a 24% increase over the show’s winter episodes. In key demos, it’s averaging 912,000 adults 25-54 (+12% vs. winter) and 676,000 adults 18-49. The show has found a solid fan base in its Friday night slot, growing its Live+Same Day demo deliveries by 13% among adults 18-49 and 4% among adults 25-54 compared with Season 1.
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Just back from Comic-Con, Paramount has released a trailer for its upcoming November 7 Christopher Nolan sci-fi mystery Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey as a haggard, ex-pilot father of two, who has to leave his kids behind while he heads to outer space. Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Cainealso star. It’s no secret that Nolan is making a number of homages to one of his fave films, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The director, who made his first Hall H appearance at the San Diego fanboy confab last week, told the crowd: “I grew up in a time when being an astronaut was the highest ambition of any child. The idea that we’d keep exploring space seemed an inevitability.”
The first trailer has dropped for Fox’s Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb in which security guard Larry (Ben Stiller) heads from New York to work at the British museum. Ben Kingsley plays an Egyptian pharaoh on display in the museum who is revived by a magical tablet. Rebel Wilson, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais all return for the third installment of the Shawn Levy-directed and -produced franchise which has topped $1 billion worldwide. Night At The Museum 3 bows on December 19.
That’s what analysts are debating today after last night’s lower-than-expected Q2 earnings report — and disclosure of an SEC investigation — drove shares -14.9% this morning as they hit 52-week lows. Skeptics say DreamWorks Animation is still too uncertain, especially with the additional news of the government probe into the $13.5M writedown in February for Turbo. “This clearly raises uncertainty in a stock that we think already carries higher risk (both strategic and operational),” Morgan Stanley’s Ryan Fiftal says.
The performance of How To Train Your Dragon 2 — which has generated $166M in domestic box office sales since July 28 — reinforced the bear case, even though DWA says the film will be profitable. Dragon 2 ”should have done better than it did given its high quality, sequel status, and extraordinarily clear sailing in its release window,” Cowen and Co’s Doug Creutz says. Sterne Agee’s Vasily Karasyov adds that the softer-than-expected performance makes it “harder to argue that future sequels will offset soft results from original releases.” Making matters worse, he says, is DWA’s disclosure that its next two films — The Penguins Of Madagascar and Home — will each cost about $10M more than originally planned: $135M not including what DWA calls “incentive-based compensation.” That raises the possibility of a writedown, Karasyov says.
CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said that DWA might reduce its per-film outlays by producing some “on a very different scale altogether, where it’s not incremental changes in the film cost, but the concepts of the movies and the style with which we would make … Read More »
The actress who went from reclining in King Kong’s hand to creeping us out on American Horror Story, picking up a pair of Oscars along the way, will be feted this fall by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Organizers said today that Jessica Lange will receive the ninth annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film during a black-tie gala on November 16 in Santa Barbara. Presenters will be revealed in the coming months. Here’s the release: Read More »