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UPDATE: News Corp Execs Defend Fox Business, Question Hulu Sale Plans

UPDATE, 3:40 PM: Although the drama in today’s analyst call involved the News Of The World hacking scandal, News Corp execs made a few interesting points about the company’s less sensational business activities. COO Chase Carey says that the Hulu auction is “progressing largely according to plan.” But he left open the possibility that it won’t result in a sale, rhetorically asking “does it make sense to pursue that path or for us to stay in an ownership position?” He and Rupert Murdoch also said that they support the Fox Business Network, claiming it was just an oversight that they didn’t mention it when listing cable channels that are poised to grow. “The ratings are in fact improving,” Murdoch said, adding that “we need more distribution, it’s true.” Still he says Fox Business is breaking even on a cash flow basis. Carey also says that FX has the potential to become a bigger revenue generator. All told, Murdoch says that News Corp operations were “exceptional” in the last quarter providing the company with the “most robust balance sheet in our history.”

PREVIOUS, 1:19 PM: The media giant says that it did well in its fiscal fourth quarter — as long as you don’t count the $245M earnings hit from the MySpace sale. The company had net profits of $683M, down 22% from the period last year, on revenues of $8.96B, up 10.5%. Net earnings came in at 26 cents a share — but if you factor out MySpace they hit 35 cents. Analysts expected 30 cents. Read More »

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‘The Tourist’ Tanks Despite Johnny Depp & Angelina Jolie; ‘Narnia 3D’ Opens Very Weak #1; ‘The Fighter’ & ‘Black Swan’ Strong

SUNDAY PM/MONDAY AM - 7TH UPDATE: Did the Midwest blizzards depress box office? Well, not a single studio exec mentioned it to me, and usually they’ll hide behind any excuse… Here are the Top 10 North American movie grosses for Friday and Saturday and Sunday. Both Walden/Fox’s The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader and GK Films’ The Tourist really underperformed domestically. The bright spot were specialty films in an otherwise disappointing weekend. Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman easily cracked the Top 10 at #6 despite playing in only 90 locations. That $37,024 per screen gross average momentum should help its Oscar chances along with the $31,141 per screen gross average in 19 theaters for The King’s Speech from The Weinstein Co. Paramount/Relativity’s The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale platformed as a knockout this weekend – a big $320K from only 4 theaters – also helping its Academy Awards stock:

1. Chronicles Of Narnia/Voyage Of Dawn Teader 3D (Walden/Fox) NEW [3,555 Theaters]
Friday $8.2M, Saturday $9.5M, Sunday $5.9M, Weekend $23.6M

Fox management will be glad to see 2010 end. Narnia 3 didn’t get much of a Saturday kids matinee bounce domestically. A weekend opening of $40 million would have been a home run for the studio restarting this fantasy franchise. Instead, Fox has only the low end of what it wanted for a 3D film. But “the real story of this movie’s performance may well be the multiple off its opening and not the opening itself,” a Fox exec … Read More »

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OSCAR: First Academy Screeners Arrived

Pete Hammond

And we’re off…  I received emails and calls from a couple of recently inducted Academy Award voters who reported that the first two screeners of the season arrived in their mailboxes Wednesday from Sony Pictures Classics. The studio beat the competition by sending out  the Australian crime thriller Animal Kingdom and the multi-story drama Mother And Child to all of the nearly 6,000 members. It’s a repeat of a familiar strategy employed by SPC in the past when they were first out in 2008 with Frozen River and in 2005 with Junebug. These small earlier-in-the-year releases clearly benefitted from separating themselves from the glut of November/December arrivals – and in the case of Frozen River landed Best Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Original Screenplay nominations while the little-heralded Junebug pulled off a supporting actress nod for Amy Adams.

With Animal Kingdom trying to stay alive at the box office since its August 13th release, SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard recently told me they plan to aggressively go after a supporting actress nomination for the acclaimed performance of Jacki Weaver, whose dynamic turn in the film would probably be a slam dunk if it could generate any Oscar heat. It’s exactly the kind of gritty character role that actors love to reward. The early screener gambit is a way to start.

As for Rodrigo Garcia’s heartfelt SPC film Mother And Child, which seemed to open and close rather quickly … Read More »

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