America’s highest-paid CEO, Viacom’s Philippe Dauman, has made good on his promise to share some more of the company’s wealth with investors. The company announced that it will increase its quarterly dividend by 67% to 25 cents a share. The change, along with Viacom’s stock buybacks, reflect “the confidence we have in our ability to generate ample free cash flow,” Dauman said. True, investors can be thankful for the performance of shows such as MTV’s Jersey Shore and movies such as Paramount’s Jackass 3D. But lots of traditional media companies are rewarding shareholders: Many see it as a necessary tactic to keep investors from shifting their attention and cash to other stocks — especially in tech — that appear more likely to grow.
A revived ad market boosted the media networks division, but the movie unit faltered. The result was a 3rd quarter net revenue of $3.33 billion, a 5% increase compared to $3.17 billion same quarter last year and in line with Wall Street expectations. But profit-wise, Viacom’s net income fell to $189 million from $463 million same quarter last year due to several one-time charges and dropping profits at the Harmonix gaming unit, which the company announced it will be selling. Harmonix is responsible for the Rock Band video game series. MTV Networks bought Harmonix in 2006 for $175 million. Of the film division, Philippe Dauman decided to focus on the future, saying, “Our motion picture business continues on its trajectory of controlling overhead expenses as it pursues a film strategy focused on franchises and brands. The studio is off to a great start in fiscal 2011 with the box office success of Jackass 3D and Paranormal Activity 2.” And Sumner Redstone said, “We continue to benefit from the improving economy and look forward to even brighter days ahead.”
UPDATE: #1 ‘Megamind’, #2 ‘Due Date’, #3 ‘For Colored Girls’ All Meet Expectations; Long Lines And Sell-Outs For ’127 Hours’
SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM WRITETHRU: It’s the start of the Holiday Moviegoing Season, so celebrate! The box office sure is, because this wound up a record first weekend in November for North America with the $155+ million total of all the movies (not corrected for inflation or ticket prices) passing the Industry record of $153M set in 2003. But with all 3 big newcomers meeting their opening weekend expectations, where’s the fun for cynical me? Meanwhile, Sony Pictures had a great summer, Warner Bros led with a successful early fall, and now Paramount Pictures is showing strength: In the last 4 weeks, the studio has released 3 different films all at #1 and all opening over $40 million in 3 different genres. Here are what my sources say are Friday’s and Saturday’s Top Ten grosses with weekend and cume numbers:
1. Megamind (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) NEW [3,944 Runs]
Friday $12.5M, Saturday $20.6M, Weekend $47.6M
DreamWorks Animation toons, like Pixar’s, do reliably strong box office, even on Date Night, with a big Saturday kiddie matinee bounce. So there was considerable surprise among rival studios starting midday Friday when newcomer Megamind 3D‘s grosses looked underperforming despite its “A-” CinemaScore, usually successful formula of hip pop culture references, a typically aggressive marketing push, and a giant release into 3,944 theaters with 2,634 of them 3D-equipped. It was as if life were imitating art, since Megamind is the most brilliant supervillain the world has ever known — and the least successful. But the problem, it turned out, wasn’t the movie. Instead, I learned that AMC theaters was experiencing computing problems and had no grosses in the system, according to distributor Paramount. The studio knew the actual number would go higher: “There are no kids out of school. Looks like mid- to high-40′s, right where everyone expected,” a Paramount exec reassured me. And it has. It opened just ahead of the first 3-day weekend of the original Madagascar ($47.2M) which was only 2D and therefore had lower ticket prices, but also ahead of How to Train Your Dragon 3D which was regarded as weak because of its summer weekend gross of $43.7M. Megamind starring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Brad Pitt turns the superhero genre on its head so, naturally, the promotional campaign kicked off with a giant superhero event at LA Live where the record was set for the most superheroes ever gathered in one location. There also was a big tie-in with the World Series that featured Ferrell disguised as a character that looked remarkably like Marlon Brando’s Jor-El from 1978′s Superman. There also was an outreach on MTV for under age 25 moviegoers with Megamind auto tunes.
2. Due Date (Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros) NEW [3,355 Runs]
Friday $12.2M, Saturday $13M, Estimated Weekend $33.5M
Warner Bros’ Due Date, an unofficial reboot of John Hughes’ Planes Trains & Automobiles, opened this weekend almost exactly on target with what Hollywood expected from its wide release into 3,355 theaters. Audiences gave it a “B-” CinemaScore. The comedy starring Robert Downer Jr and Zach Galifianakis, who reteamed with his The Hangover director Todd Phillips, had been tracking on the high side of what an “R”-rated buddy comedy will do, and indeed Due Date fared almost exactly the same as The Other Guys starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg did in this genre over the summer. As usual, Warner Bros’ marketing czarina Sue Kroll promo’ed the heck out of the pic, with three different trailers and TV ads. The teaser trailer was launched with Inception in July, and the studio had a main trailer playing from September through release. WB capitalized on early opportunities with TV season premieres in September, and longer format media stunts (Downey singing “Looks Like We Made It”) that included heavy network, cable, NFL, Baseball/World Series, etc. There also was a strong WOM program that included military bases, college campuses, traditional radio, and national talk shows. As a result, Due Date generated well-balanced male and female support, capturing strong date crowd business, with its primary audience 17 and older. It also was one of those few R-rated comedy marketing that didn’t try to insult or gross out women. “The campaign sought to always capture the humor, but also ensure the tone was warm, likeable, even sweet at times — but always with outrageous comedy,’ a WB exec tells me. In the online/social media world, the studio used its existing Facebook Hangover fan page (8 million followers) to push Due Date content “giving us a much wider reach than we otherwise would have had to a perfectly targeted audience for the material,” the exec noted.
3. For Colored Girls (Lionsgate) NEW [2,127 Runs]
Friday $7.4M, Saturday $7.9M, Weekend $20.1M
Lionsgate’s For Colored Girls at first looked like the R-rated drama was wildly overperforming Friday for an estimated $28M from 2,127 theaters when the Tyler Perry-directed film was only expected to gross $20M, the equivalent of its budget. Then again, it receiced an “A” CinemaScore from audiences. ”It’s performing more on a par with Tyler’s other films,” an excited Lionsgate exec prematurely gushed to me that afternoon. But the weekend grosses were not the phenom first thought. Still, they met expectations and, ”between Tyler’s loyal female following and the cross cultural and multi generational appeal of the work, the opening weekend is feeling like we made this an event, going beyond the core African-American audience,” an insider tells me. With actresses including Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose, and Kerry Washington, Perry gave each the poetic monologues dealing with love, abandonment, rape,
SATURDAY PM: Sources are giving me these early North American grosses for Friday and Saturday and weekend and cume. Numbers which will be refined tonight and/or in the morning. Analysis coming:
1. Saw VII 3D (Lionsgate) NEW [2,808 Theaters]
Friday $10.7M, Saturday $7.9M, Weekend $24.2M)
A scary Halloween to one and all. You know what frightens me? More Saw pics. This is supposed to be the final chapter of the franchise that has made $763 million in global box office and $1+ billion in DVD sales. Just as the previous installment was supposed to be the last gasp. And so on. Granted 7 films in 7 years is unprecedented for a franchise, and the Guinness Book Of World Records presented a plaque at Comic-Connaming it the most successful horror series in history. But, please, let it die. This torture porn disgrace needs to end. Friday’s anemic number includes $1.7 million from Saw 3D‘s midnight screenings, which were Lionsgate’s largest even though unimpressive. At first the opening weekend take was pegged at $28M. But when the drop from Friday to Saturday was -25%, the opening weekend figure fell to $24.2M. That’s underwhelming because of 3D’s higher ticket prices (3D screens represented 93% of the total gross). The predicted total puts it only 5th among the seven 2D installments.
I heard that Saw 3D was tracking solidly, especially in the important categories: young male/young female and Hispanics, while gaining traction in the African-American market. Produced in association with Twisted Pictures for a budget of under $20 million, Hollywood thought …
SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM UPDATE: Two movies roundly rejected by Hollywood, one for being too moronic and the other too moldy, led the North American box office weekend with a big $125M weekend overall:
1. Jackass 3D (Paramount) NEW [3,081 Theaters]
Friday $21.8M, Saturday $17M, Weekend $50M
As a studio exec joked to me Friday, “The Oscar race has been turned on its head”. That’s because Paramount’s Jackass 3D aimed at the youth market not only earned twice the gross of Sony’s Academy Awards-touted Facebook origins film starting its 3rd week Friday, but knocked it out of #1. Producers Johnny Knoxville’s and Spike Jonze’s stupid stunt pic directed by Jeff Tremaine earned a “B+” CinemaScore. Still the headline is that, despite the restriction of an “R” rating, it opened to a whopping Friday for the biggest single day ever in October because of the higher 3D ticket prices. That included $2.5M from midnight shows, also the most ever for October. Plus a healthy Saturday after the “first to see” subsided. Its $50M weekend take was the record for the biggest opening in the month of October (besting Scary Movie 3 which did $48.1M in October 2003 but was only 2D). Guess this shows Hollywood that movies don’t need a script and a plot, right? With a budget of only $20M, the studio would have been more than happy with the $30M weekend it expected from the higher ticket prices from the 2,452 3D-equipped locations. (The first 2D Jackass opened with a $22.8M weekend and the 2D sequel to $29M.) Believe it or not, I’m told the filmmakers debated whether or not shooting a film in 3D would mess up their comedic timing.
Exit polling showed the audience was 60% male, and 67% under age 25. Two of the biggest components of the Jackass 3D marketing campaign were premiering 10 minutes of 3D footage at Comic-Con via a mobile 3D screening room and the public spectacle of letting MTV’s Jersey Shore cast been seen watching and talking about the new film. There’s been relentless promotion by the Viacom sister company which first gave birth to the Jackass TV and movie franchise and even product licensing program (now featuring apparel, sunglasses, skateboards, even a Converse shoe, and hardbound book. As if Jackass fans read.) Last weekend, MTV marked the 10th anniversary of Jackass with 2 TV specials leading up to the film’s release: Jackass: The Beginning and The Making Of Jackass 3D featuring never-before-seen content from the gang: Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Ryan Dynn, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Preston Lacy, Dave England, and Ehren McGhehey. MTV also showed the franchise’s humble TV origins back in 2000 before it became a pop culture phenom. (P.S. The Making of Jackass 3D contains a visual of Deadline Hollywood. I couldn’t be more proud)
2. Red (Summit) NEW [3,255 Theaters]
Friday $7.3M, Saturday $9.2M, Weekend $22.5M
Every studio passed on making the stylish PG-13 comedy Red aimed at the adult audience except for Summit Entertainment: now the Robert Schwentke-directed pic features Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Bruce Willis — some of them as past-their-expiration-date assassins. That’s surprisingly strong considering the over-the-hill stars and subject matter. But the pic received an “A-” Cinemascore and 73% definite recommend. Exit polling showed the audience was 53% male, and 58% over age 35. In pre-release screenings, I’m told the film played as a crowd pleaser by mixing the right amount of action with humor based on witty lines and deft timing. It was tracking across all quadrants with the strongest being male moviegoers over age 30. But that cast was the #1 reason people went to see the film based on the cult DC Comics graphic novels by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.
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