One thing that’s become evident. It’s hard to kill a Smurf. After a sequel that saw its business nosedive next to the original, Sony Pictures Animation is changing course and planning a new take on its Smurfs franchise, tapping Shrek 2 and Gnomeo & Juliet director Kelly Asbury to helm an all-animated film with new designs and environments that will focus on the origins of the annoying blue creatures. The new take will be closer to creator Peyo’s original artwork, and it has been targeted for the August 2015 release. They originally planned a straight trilogy, but apparently they will take a mulligan on a second film which contributed to all the heat Sony Pictures brass received from the likes of Daniel Loeb on a subpar 2013 returns.
Posting a record loss of $5.7B for the fiscal year ended March 31, Sony today reported a quarterly loss of $3.2B. However, the company also expects a return to profit, predicting that net income for the fiscal year to end March 2013 could be about $376M. Still, that figure lags behind what a group of Bloomberg analysts had estimated. Under new CEO Kazuo Hirai, the company will slash 10,000 jobs as it trims costs to help turn around its flagging TV unit. Sony Pictures Entertainment sales increased 18% benefitting from the sale of a participation interest in Spider-Man merchandising rights and higher pay TV and VOD sales. Operating income at SPE decreased to $416M primarily due to combined gains in the previous fiscal year from the acquisition of a controlling interest in GSN and the sale of SPE’s interest in HBO Latin America. Sony also noted the strong theatrical performance of The Smurfs and Bad Teacher, offset by the underperformance of Arthur Christmas.
‘Final Destination 5′ Is First For UltraViolet In The UK; Will British Users Have Clearer Picture Than In The U.S.?
On December 26, Warner Bros’ Final Destination 5 will become the first UltraViolet-enabled title to be released in the UK via DVD, Blu-ray and Triple Play. From then on, all of the studio’s future home entertainment releases in the UK — including Happy Feet Two, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and The Dark Knight Rises — will fall under the UltraViolet “buy once, play anywhere” scheme. As with its practice in the U.S., Warner will offer the streams via Flixster.
Warner Bros was the first to release UV titles in the U.S. back in October with Horrible Bosses and Green Lantern. Although I was told by a Warner UK spokesman that there is no industry evidence as yet on the impact of the added UltraViolet aspect, the Associated Press today reports that consumers of those earlier films found the system didn’t work as expected. Warner Bros UK spokeswoman Deborah Lincoln, who had not read the AP report but was aware of certain complaints, tells me the confusion was largely related to the fact that those first titles didn’t have download ability to certain devices — which she assured me was not going to be the case in the UK. In part, she said, the confusion may have come from early media reports regarding UltraViolet touting it as an anytime, anywhere technology for all devices including IOS — …
That’s the most interesting part of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s announcement today about its video plans for the movie starring Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane. Yes, it’s noteworthy that people who buy a Blu-ray disc will also be able to access digital streams of Moneyball from the industry’s new UltraViolet initiative. Sony’s a vocal supporter of that, and already offers the same online streaming deal for people who buy Blu-ray discs of Smurfs and Friends With Benefits. But Sony’s stood alone so far in selling digital downloads of movies before they hit the stores. Digital sales of Moneyball begin on December 22 while the discs come out on January 10 (DVDs will go for suggested retail price of $30.99 and Blu-ray for $35.99). That’s a longer window than Sony gave to its first two films that provided early digital downloads: Bad Teacher was sold online about two weeks ahead of discs in October. The second film, 30 Minutes Or Less, had a similar window in November. The studio liked the results. Sony says total digital revenues were 24% higher than comparable films released the same day as discs — and it saw no signs of cannibalization from VOD.
Sony delivered a gloomy report as it reeled from problems that ranged from surprisingly low sales of TV sets to floods in Thailand. For the quarter that ended in September, the fiscal 2Q, Sony had a net loss of $350M on sales of $20.5B. But it also slashed its projection for fiscal-year results to a $1.2B loss from a $769M profit. Sony Pictures delivered operating income of $268M, up from a $61.6M loss in the quarter last year, on revenues of $2.2B, up 17%. But that includes $278M from the sale of Spider-Man merchandising rights, as well as strong results for The Smurfs. Overall, the company says that theatrical was a drag on the higher sales of TV shows and home entertainment. The music unit sang a different tune, with operating income down 21.9% to $82M on sales of $1.3B, down 6.6%. The company attributes that to the appreciation of the yen, and lower album sales outside of the U.S.
UPDATE: The question about whether Apple devices can show UltraViolet films is complicated, it seems. The folks at Warner Bros say that iPhones and iPads can handle them – but not through the traditional channel, the iTunes Store. Users must download an app to also register with Flixster, a site that Time Warner owns. Movies can be streamed, but not downloaded yet. Sony’s likely to have a similar work-around for its Dec. 2 release of UltraViolet-enabled Blu-ray discs for Friends With Benefits and The Smurfs.
PREVIOUS, 10:50 AM: There’s still a fair amount of skepticism about the entertainment industry’s long-awaited UltraViolet program today as it kicks off with Warner Bros’ home video release of Horrible Bosses — to be followed on Friday by The Green Lantern. The DVD and Blu-ray versions of Bosses will be first that make it possible for buyers to watch it on mobile devices from UltraViolet’s Internet cloud. Studios and consumer electronics companies have a lot at stake in promoting the “buy once, play anywhere” concept. It’s part of a process to slow the stomach-churning decline in home video sales. Consumers will spend about $16.9B on home video this year, down from $24.4B in 2004, SNL Kagan says. If UltraViolet catches on, then it also could give studios a lot of flexibility to control the way their films are presented and handled as consumers begin to abandon discs and just rely on digital streams and downloads.
The problem? UltraViolet movies won’t play on Apple gadgets such as the iPhone and iPad. The initiative also won’t include movies from Disney, which is preparing its own cloud-based system called Disney Studio All Access. “Not only is the ecosystem not fully launched, with a common downloadable file format a ways off, but there has been no consumer education on the technological transition from a pre-UV world to the new UV ecosystem,” BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield says.
His movie may have ultimately been successful in edging The Smurfs for the weekend box-office crown, but Cowboys & Aliens star Harrison Ford still has a lot of rage towards the blue gnomes bottled up and let some of it out on Conan tonight.
MONDAY 12 PM: It’s now official. According to today’s actuals, DreamWorks/Universal’s Cowboys & Aliens narrowly beat Sony Pictures’ Smurfs for the weekend win $36,431,290 vs $35,611,637.
EXCLUSIVE UPDATE: The deal is for these three movies: The Smurfs (Sony Pictures, which opens Friday), Men In Black 3 (Sony Pictures), and The Adventures Of Tintin (Paramount Pictures). I’ve learned that Jeff Sagansky of Winchester Capital closed financing for $150 million today. [Mea Culpa: I initially thought this was a deal with Harry Sloan and Jeff Sagansky because the pair recently announced Global Eagle Acquisition Corp. But this is unrelated.] Sagansky, the former CBS and Sony Pictures and Paxson and RHI exec, has come back to the movie biz in a big way with Winchester Capital Management co-founder Jean-Luc De Fanti. Movies that Sagansky and De Fanti co-financed through Winchester include The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. Winchester also financed the third season of TNT TV drama Leverage and arranged a multi-picture financing deal for Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.
Can the guy who gave Saturday Night Live hammy characters including Opera Man and Cajun Man do a credible Dracula? Looks like we’ll find out next year when Sony Pictures Animation releases Hotel Transylvania. The studio that gave us Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and is about to release The Smurfs has hired Adam Sandler to voice the lead role in the family comedy. Kevin James, Fran Drescher, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, Cee Lo Green and Andy Samberg also have been cast. Here’s the announcement:
CULVER CITY, Calif. (July 5, 2011) – Adam Sandler will voice the lead role of Dracula in Sony Pictures Animation’s 3D family comedy Hotel Transylvania, it was announced today by Bob Osher, president, Sony Pictures Digital Productions, and Michelle Raimo-Kouyate, president of production, Sony Pictures Animation. The film will be released on September 21, 2012, by Columbia Pictures.
The film will be directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, a star in the animation community, well-known for his work on Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and “Dexter’s Laboratory”; he recently conceptualized and storyboarded the final action sequence for Iron Man 2 and provided the stylish and memorable prologue for the film Priest. The film is produced by Michelle Murdocca (Open Season, Stuart Little 1 & 2) and the animation is by Sony Pictures Imageworks.
Just as I hit the ground at the Nice airport today I ran smack into Jude Law, one of the main competition jury members of the 64th edition of the Cannes Film Festival (under President Robert De Niro), and he looked rarin’ to go as he arrived for all the hoopla and non-stop filmgoing over the next 11 days. We’ll see what he feels like after plowing through the 20 competition films as well as those out of competition such as Wednesday night’s opener, Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, and the closer, on May 22, Christophe Honore’s 2-hour and 25-minute Les Bien-Aimes (Beloved), the longest of any film in the official competition — competing or not.
Workers were busily attaching huge billboards up on the big Croisette hotels when I cruised the tony neighborhood earlier today, but the world’s second-most-famous red carpet won’t be laid out until midday tomorrow just before Woody, Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson and the cast of the director’s first French-set film make their way up those famous Palais steps for his love letter to Paree. It was hoped that co-star Carla Bruni, aka Mrs. Nicolas Sarkozy, First Lady of France, would be coming too, but I heard she’s not making the trip after all and neither is her husband. C’est La Vie.
Up and down the Croisette you are bombarded as usual by Hollywood product being hyped on any available space. The new Transformers film from that auteur (NOT) Michael Bay got the hot spot at the Carlton entrance right next to a display for Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2 on one side and Cowboys and Aliens on the other. Lording over them, though, are The Smurfs and all of those Pirates of the Caribbean, which plans to make a huge splash here Saturday as the prime-time film on one of the key nights of the fest. Star power will be in force, of course, with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz driving the paparazzi wild, which is just what Disney wants for its global launch of the film that premiered last week at Disneyland and makes another stop in Moscow before hitting the Cote d’Azur. Cannes, though a serious-minded haven for cineastes, doesn’t mind the attention either.
The Sony Pictures Animation 3D toon had been set for wide release on Wednesday, Aug. 3, but the studio today shifted it up in the calendar to the Friday before. The moves comes after Fox on Tuesday moved its prequel Rise of the Apes to Aug. 5, where it would have competed directly with the little blue dudes at multiplexes.
The latest trailer for Sony’s 3D movie, which premieres Aug. 3