Next time you’re on the Universal Studios lot, feel free to take a stroll down memory lane — also known as Jay Leno Lane. A gaggle of NBCUniversal execs were on hand with Jay Leno on Wednesday as the street was dedicated in honor of the longtime Tonight Show host, who bowed out in February. Leno might be tempted to cruise some of his myriad classic cars down the block, but Jaywalking obviously is encouraged.
The Japan branch of Universal Studios Parks & Resorts and Warner Bros’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction was originally unveiled in May 2012 with a target late-2014 opening date. They made it: The opening day will be July 15. The announcement was made today in Osaka during a ceremony that included Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, U.S Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and Harry Potter production designer Stuart Craig, who helped plan and build the themed land. The new attraction will be similar to the one in Florida and will include Hogwarts castle — the first of the new attractions to be unveiled today — Hogsmeade and multiple attractions. This will be the second Wizarding World franchise to get up and running following a lucrative launch at Universal Studios Orlando in June 2010 that revitalized that park. Last April, the LA County Board of Supervisors ended a seven-year process that cleared the way to begin construction on NBCUniversal’s 25-year Evolution Plan, which allowed work to begin on Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood last summer.
Craig Kornblau Out At Universal Studios Home Entertainment As Part Of Restructure; Eddie Cunningham To Oversee Worldwide Ops
Universal was the last of the major studios to not have put its home entertainment operations under a global head. It has done that now, announcing today it has elevated Eddie Cunningham to president of Universal Pictures Worldwide Home Entertainment. He had run the international business the past eight years from London, and he now will relocate to LA to work closely with Universal Pictures president and chief distribution officer Peter Levinsohn, who arrived from Fox last May. The reorg means the departure of Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau, a 16-year Uni veteran. The respected industry pro was given additional duties in September in an initial organizational restructure, when he was given oversight of digital home entertainment sales for Universal Pictures and Focus Features theatrical releases, NBCUniversal TV shows, and direct-to-video content and acquisitions in addition to his duties managing distribution of physical media including DVDs. “Craig has been a tremendous asset to our company, consistently delivering incredible results for our films throughout his 16 years at Universal,” Levinsohn said today in a release announcing the moves. “He’s been a leader in our industry and he’s helped Universal to continually find new and innovative ways to distribute and market our films in the home entertainment space. We are extremely grateful to him for his years of service.”
It was one the Home Entertainment division’s best year’s financially in 2013, with home video sales of Despicable Me 2 outweighing the downturn in Universal Studios‘ box office sales during the most recent fourth quarter. The film unit ended up with cash flow of $192M (+127.4%) on revenues of $1.4B (+4.9%). Universal and Illumination Entertainment‘s Despicable Me 2 took in $80 million in physical and digital sales and sold roughly 4.5 million units in its first week of home entertainment release. It also hit No. 1 as the best first-week digital sales of all time.
Cunningham has been president of Universal Pictures International Entertainment since 2006. Before that he was Managing Director of Polygram’s UK home entertainment business and budget music labels, preceding its acquisition by Universal Pictures in 1999. He then became Chairman of UK Operations and Regional Managing Director for the Nordic countries as well as Australia and New Zealand. “As the home entertainment landscape continues to evolve, we need to ensure that we’re operating as one global team positioning ourselves for the greatest success,” Levinsohn said. “Eddie has had tremendous results as head of our international home entertainment division and he will be a terrific leader for our group as we work to shape the future of Universal’s home entertainment business with an even greater global focus.”
Here’s Levinsohn’s memo on today’s news:
Execs put the Street on notice that Universal‘s movie profits may take a hit this year, but for what they see as a good cause: They expect healthy returns in 2015 from films including Jurassic World (aka Jurassic Park 4), Fast & Furious 7, The Minions (an animated spinoff of the Despicable Me franchise) and Fifty Shades Of Grey. “It’s a little bit of an up-and-down business,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a conference call with analysts to discuss this morning’s Q4 earnings report. NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke assured them, though, that “we have a very strong year” planned for 2015 and “we’re incurring that investment [in 2014] as we gear up.” CFO Michael Angelakis also said that the productions will “absorb some cash,” but he characterized the increased spending as a kind of normalization, noting that last year Comcast went “lighter on the production spend for the 2014 slate.” The company spent $1.16B on capital expenditures for all of NBCU last year — up $397M from 2012 — with much of it going to Harry Potter and Transformers theme park attractions. It expects the level for NBCU to remain “relatively flat” in 2014, with continuing theme park investments.
The No. 1 cable operator and owner of NBCUniversal says this morning that it will increase its dividend by 15.4% to 90 cents a share annualized beginning in April, and will boost the share repurchase plan to $7.5B, including $3B in 2014. That news, plus some improving metrics from its cable systems, should impress investors looking at the company’s mixed — although mostly robust — report for Q4. Comcast ended up with net income of nearly $2B, +8.9% vs the period in 2012, on revenues of $16.9B, +6.2%. The net income attributable to Comcast (remember: in 2012 GE still owned 49% of NBCU) was $1.9B, +26%. The revenue figure beat the Street’s consensus forecast for $16.6B. But adjusted earnings at 66 cents a share fell short of projections for 68 cents. NBCUniversal was surprisingly strong with $1.3B in operating cash flow (+14.3%) on revenues of $6.5B (+7.5%). Filmed Entertainment may be the biggest shock with home video sales of Despicable Me 2 outweighing the downturn in Universal Studios‘ box office sales. The film unit ended up with cash flow of $192M (+127.4%) on revenues of $1.4B (+4.9%). The NBC Broadcast TV unit also exceeded forecasts with cash flow of $140M (+54.8%) on revnues of $2.2B (+11.5%). Comcast attributes that to the 8.3% increase in ad revenues plus growing retransmission consent fees and revenue from content licensing which it says reflects “the timing of content availability.” But cable networks — usually the standout performer — may disappoint with cash flow of $929M (+3.8%) on revenues of $2.3B (+5.3%). While ad sales rose 4.3% and fees from pay TV distributors increased 7.8%, the operation saw a 4.6% drop in content licensing and reports rising costs for new shows, sports rights, and marketing expenses. Meanwhile theme parks turned in predictably solid numbers with cash flow of $257M (+4.6%) on revenues of $566M (+8.8%). CEO Brian Roberts had earlier flagged the big news at his main business — cable systems. Video subscriptions increased by 43,000 to 21.7M, ending a 26 quarter stretch of downturns. “As we begin 2014, we remain excited about our businesses and intend to continue to prudently invest to enhance our strategic differentiation and to drive growth,” he says.
Here’s how today’s reported results look:
The stock touched a new all-time high and is up 3.7% this afternoon after Brian Roberts said that, after 26 straight quarters of losing video subscribers, “I’m pleased to tell you that we modestly grew customers” in Q4. “It’s a real beginning of an exciting reversal of trends…It’s encouraging.” The Comcast CEO added that the company also is seeing higher buy rates for pay-per-view, and lower churn rates. Electronic movie sales also are going well: Over Thanksgiving weekend, Comcast was the top seller of home videos for Despicable Me 2, Fast & Furious 6, and The Hunger Games. He says the turnaround is mostly due to Comcast’s efforts to improve its service — not to the improving overall economy — especially as the No. 1 cable operator has introduced its X1 and X2 cloud-based, on-screen guides and platforms. Based on the early experience, Comcast will accelerate the rollout of the X1 platform to soon include a majority of its customers. Roberts also reiterated his confidence in the prospects for NBCUniversal as it closes the gap with its TV rivals in affiliate fees, retransmission fees, and ad rates. He warned, though, that in 2014 Universal Studios will have “a slower year as we ramp up for 2015″ when it will offer more sequels for its franchise hits. In a softball interview at a Citibank investor conference that coincides with …
CFO Michael Angelakis didn’t offer details, but he told investors at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference that Comcast expects Jeff Shell to “change some things” at Universal following his surprise appointment this month to run the studio. It made sense to to take advantage of Shell’s experience running NBCUniversal International because “international is a much bigger component now” for film revenues. That’s important as sales of DVDs have plummeted creating what Angelakis referred to as “structural challenges.” Comcast wants to run “a pretty profitable film studio,” which he says swung from a loss of $70M year-to-date loss last year to a $100M gain so far in 2013. One big question: “How do we build a slate that has a modest risk?” Part of the formula, he says, is to load up on animation, with help from Illumination Entertainment, and sequels.
The cable systems drive the big numbers for Comcast. But the entertainment operations contributed to the strong results in Q2, including an uptick at Universal which benefited from the success of Fast And Furious 6. The media giant reported net income of $1.74B, +28.6% vs the period last year, on revenues of $16.3B, +7%. The revenue number topped expectations for $16.0B. Earnings at 65 cents a share also beat the 63 cents that analysts anticipated. The NBCUniversal operations contributed $6B in revenue, +8.9%, but the filmed entertainment and cable network operations helped to power a 21.3% gain in operating cash flow to $1.2B. The cable nets saw ad sales rise 5.7% while distribution revenues were up 4.4% — leading to a 7.7% increase in revenues to $2.4B and an 8.9% improvement in operating cash flow to $860M. NBC’s broadcast operations also improved with a 13% pickup in ad sales and rising fees from retransmission consent deals. It wound up with $1.7B in revenues, +11.6%, and operating cash flow of $206M, +6.4%. Filmed entertainment joined in with $1.4B in revenues, +12.8%, and operating cash flow of $33M — up from last year’s $83M loss. But the theme parks struggled financially in a quarter without much help from the Easter holiday, which contributed more to Q1 this year, and as the company increased spending to improve attractions. The unit generated $546M in revenue, +1.1%, while operating cash flow fell 1.6% to $231M. Meanwhile, at the core cable business, Comcast ended the quarter with 21.8M video customers, down 176,000 — which compares to the 159,000 sub loss in the quarter last year. With help from rate hikes and high-speed internet services, though, the systems generated $10.5B in revenue, +5.8%, with operating cash flow of $4.3B, +5.7%.
Bigtime lobbying efforts certainly aren’t merely reserved for the halls and haunts of Washington DC. A new report out today from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission outlined issues that lobbying firms spent the most billable hours working on in LA during the first quarter of 2013. Among them was NBCUniversal’s “Evolution Plan,” the proposed $1.6B upgrade of its TV production facilities, office space and infrastructure on the Universal lot and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area at its Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. The report says NBCUniversal paid more than $330,000 to a pair of lobbying outfits to win hearts and votes for its mammoth undertaking. Another big buyer of lobbying services at City Hall was CBS Outdoor, the CBS Corp-owned billboard giant that spent more than $205,000 to back its interests in outdoor advertising legislation, including the local hot-button issue of digital billboards. And LA Live owner AEG paid $130,000-plus for its quarter worth of lobbying efforts. Hollywood.
The heirs of Old Hollywood continue to want today’s studios to pay up. Legendary horror movie actor Lon Chaney Jr’s family today went after Universal in the courts for more than $1 million in damages. In a nine-page breach of contract and other claims complaint (read it here) filed Monday in LA Superior Court, Chaney Entertainment alleges that Universal Studios Licensing uses the Wolf Man and Mummy and Frankenstein actor’s likeness for merchandise and goods and services despite the fact that a representation agreement between the studio and the company expired on December 31, 2008. Although he played Lennie Small in 1939′s Of Mice and Men adaptation alongside Burgess Meredith, Chaney was best known for his performances in a series of Universal monster movies in the 1930s and 1940s. After his death in 1973, his heirs and their corporate entity entered into a number of agreements with Universal over the rights to his image and his film work. Seeking a 5-day jury trial, the complaint filed today also claims that Universal Home Video has not properly paid the Chaneys for the use of the long-deceased actor’s image or voice-over in licensed film clips.
Today’s announcement that the Gibson Amphitheatre on the Universal CityWalk is going dark for good puts an end to a 40-year chapter in LA concert history. The former Universal Amphitheatre was rumored to be on the chopping block amid the flurry of redevelopment at Universal Studios that begins in the summer — the venue’s lease agreement is set to expire in September. But the 6,000-plus-seat hall has struggled to consistently book big-name acts amid competition from LA Live’s Nokia Theatre, which opened in 2007, and subscription series partner the Greek Theatre; the Gibson’s 2013 schedule is heavy with international acts including Gloria Trevi, Il Volo, Eros Ramazzotti and Lila Downs. A handful of already booked post-September shows — including the 10th anniversary of the Brian Setzer Orchaestra’s annual Christmas Rocks gala — will be rerouted to other venues. Live Nation said its Southern California office will “assemble a very special lineup of shows as a fitting farewell” to the Gibson.
Universal Studios Upgrade Plan Gets OK; Construction On Wizarding World Of Harry Potter Starting This Summer
The unanimous vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors today ends a seven-year public hearing and environmental approval process that clears the way to begin construction on NBCUniversal‘s 25-year Evolution Plan. Starting in late summer, work will begin on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, as well as on new and upgraded TV production facilities, office space and infrastructure on the Universal Studios lot. The Potter attraction was first announced in 2011 and already has seen success in Universal’s Orlando theme park, which Universal President and COO Ron Meyer has called a game-changer. A Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Japan was announced last year. Originally, the broader Evolution Plan to build 3,000 apartments and condos and retail space on the studio back lot were scrapped in July, after Yaroslovsky and LA City Council member Tom LaBonge red-flagged the potential environmental impact and potential loss of production jobs. (Universal Studios sits on both LA city and county land; the LA City Council approved the city’s portion of the plan in February.)
In total, the plan is expected to create more than 30,000 jobs and generate $2 billion in economic activity, according to NBCU. County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the newly forged agreement calls for NBCU to make $100 million in transit improvements, and commit nearly $14 million to jump-start the effort to revitalize the Los Angeles River by “completing key missing links on the LA River bike path”. That includes building a nearly one-acre trailhead park on the studio’s property abutting the river. Here’s NBCU’s release on the deal:
UNIVERSAL CITY, California, April 23, 2013 – NBCUniversal announced today plans to begin construction of the first projects of its 25-year Evolution Plan. The Evolution Plan represents a $1.6 billion investment in tourism and production. This long-term investment in two industries that are vital to Los Angeles will create more than 30,000 jobs and generate $2 billion of economic activity during operations for the region.
“After nearly a decade of work on the Evolution Plan, today’s vote sets the stage for our next 100 years in Los Angeles,” said Ron Meyer, president and COO of Universal Studios. “We are thankful for the support and leadership we have received from both the County and City of Los Angeles and are ready to get started investing in these important tourism and production projects in the next few months.”
Jaroslav “Jerry” Gebr, longtime head of the Scenic Arts Department at Universal Studios and perhaps best known as the artist who created the paintings featured in the pilot episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, has died. Gebr passed away last month in Tarzana, CA after a long illness, according to his family. He was 86. Gebr worked for some of the biggest names in directing including Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock and George Roy Hill during his career, and also sidelined in painting portraits and copies of artworks for stars’ collections. “They’d put the originals in safe storage and hang Jerry’s versions on the wall. Nobody could ever tell the difference”, his son-in-law Kevin McMahon said.
The bulk of his work was original paintings and fine art copies for movies and TV, typically large assignments such as a full-scale reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes for 1968′s The Shoes Of The Fisherman. His paintings also appeared in films including My Fair Lady, Camelot, The Sound Of Music, Xanadu, Scarface, Batman, Star Trek, and The Princess Diaries, and he created the distinctive chapter title cards for The Sting and Dune. His TV work includes The Wild Wild West, Amazing Stories, Columbo and 24. He remained in demand as a freelancer after retiring from Universal. His commissions included portraits of stars such as Kim Novak, Orson Welles, and Julie Andrews, as well as works for the U.S. military that hang in the Pentagon.
What comes after the professional football careers of NFL players? For some of them it might be Hollywood. Twenty-two current and former NFL players have signed up for the second annual NFL Pro Hollywood Boot Camp. Directed by NFL Player Engagement and New York-based Film Life Inc., the March 11-15 event will provide a wide-ranging crash course on creative disciplines in the film industry including screen writing, directing, producing, and film financing. Session leaders include Legendary Pictures partner-producer and member of the Pittsburgh Steelers ownership group Thomas Tull (The Dark Knight, Inception, We Are Marshall), director-producer Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), and writer-actor-director Robert Townsend (The Five Heartbeats, Hollywood Shuffle). This spring’s group of current and former NFL players will include 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander (Seattle, Washington DC) and four active first-round draft picks – Darrius Heyward-Bey (Raiders), Alex Mack (Browns) Gerald McCoy (Bucs), and Jared Odrick (Dolphins). Participants will have the opportunity to shoot and edit a short film at Universal.
A small fire broke out today at Universal Studios in a building that formerly housed the Terminator 2 attraction. Firefighters got a call around 1:15 PM that there were flames on upper floors of the three-story building. The fire was knocked down about 45 minutes later. LA County fire says one firefighter received minor injuries. The park and Universal City Walk remained open and no damage was reported. The Terminator 2 attraction closed in December and the space was being renovated for a new attraction.
LOS ANGELES – July 27, 2012 — NBCUniversal announced today that Michael Moore will become President and General Manager, Universal Studios Operations beginning September 17, 2012. In this role, Michael will be part of NBCUniversal’s Operations and Technical Services organization and will oversee all the operations of Universal City Studios, including Production Services, Sound Services, Facilities, and Marketing. Michael will report jointly to Ron Meyer, President and Chief Operating Officer, Universal Studios and John Wallace, President, Operations & Technical Services, NBCUniversal. This position is currently held by Dave Beanes who is retiring at the end of the year after 42 years in the industry and 17 years with the company.
Comic-Con: Universal Studios Scares Up ‘Walking Dead’ And ‘Silent Hill’ Themes For Halloween Horror Nights
Universal Studios is planning to announce at Comic-Con today that AMC’s The Walking Dead and the video game Silent Hill that spawned a movie franshise will be two of the featured themed attractions at the 2012 Halloween Horror Nights events. The Silent Hill attraction will mark the first time Universal has chosen a video game as the source intellectual property for one of its horror attractions — and it will promote the release of the next installment of the video game Silent Hill: Book Of Memories as well as the release of Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, which hits theaters October 26 via Open Road.
Halloween Horror Nights is a monthlong event every year at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Orlando — they work with the best in the biz to create entertaining, horrifying Halloween experiences that are wildly popular. The seasonal events feature a series of themed creepy haunted mazes. In the past, themes have included horror movie staples like Scream, The Thing, Saw, Friday The 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Hostel.
LoveFilm raises the stakes this morning in its battle with Netflix to dominate the UK streaming market. The Amazon-owned service says it has an exclusive multiyear license with NBCUniversal International Television Distribution for Universal Studios titles in the second pay window — which typically begins more than a year after a film first appears in theaters. The deal will provide LoveFilm with titles including It’s Complicated, Nanny McPhee Returns, Leap Year, Green Zone, The Wolfman, Fast And Furious 5, Bridesmaids, Snow White and the Huntsman, Bourne Legacy, Dr Seuss’ The Lorax and Safe House. LoveFilm also has rights to films from Disney, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, Entertainment One and STUDIOCANAL. The goal is “to deliver the widest choice of content on as many platforms as possible,” says LoveFilm’s Jim Buckle. Its videos can be streamed to more than 175 devices including PCs, Macs, Playstation3, Xbox 360, iPads, and Internet-connected TV sets and Blu-ray players.
Universal Studios says Global Asylum stole their Battleship, but today the mockbuster producers claimed the studio’s copyright lawsuit over American Battleship is just a scapegoat smokescreen – but they “appreciate the publicity.”
“The Global Asylum has promoted the feature film American Battleship for nearly a year while Universal raised no concerns,” said Global Asylum today. “The timing of Universal’s recently filed lawsuit coincides with mixed reviews of its big-budget film, Battleship — the first movie based on a board game since Clue. Looking for a scapegoat, or more publicity, for its pending box-office disaster, the executives at Universal filed this lawsuit in fear of a repeat of the box office flop, John Carter of Mars. The Universal action is wholly without merit and we will vigorously defend their claims in Court. Nonetheless, we appreciate the publicity.”