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: Read More »
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.
Related: Comcast Lifts Stock Buyback And Dividend As Q4 Earnings Miss Analyst Expectations Read More »
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.
Related: Comcast: Film Spending Will Rise In 2014 Ahead Of 2015 Sequels
Here’s how today’s reported results look: Read More »
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 … Read More »
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 … Read More »
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%. Read More »
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 … Read More »
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. Read More »
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 … Read More »
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.”
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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. Read More »
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. Read More »
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 … Read More »
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 … Read More »
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 … Read More »
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.” Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Ever since Universal announced its $200M budget buster Battleship, this sci-fi action adaptation of the Hasbro naval strategy board game has been a big question mark around Hollywood. Now, with just two months before the movie opens overseas in April and then a month later in the U.S./Canada, I’ve learned that Universal has hedged its bet. The studio has secured promotional partnerships amounting to $50 million for TV, print, and online advertising as well as the value of in-store packaging. And that doesn’t even count the cross-company synergy effort within Comcast whose home-owned inventory won’t be charged against actual cost. What’s even more important is that these promotional partnerships have come in response to the studio’s pitch to Madison Avenue for Battleship, with director Peter Berg screening 20 to 30 minutes of footage for partners and exhibitors across the globe. And the feeling is that, if the ad people like it and the theatre owners like it, then the moviegoers may not be too far behind. That’s certainly what Universal Studios COO Ron Meyer, Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson, and Universal Pictures Co-Chair Donna Langley are holding their breath for. One moment of relief: I’ve confirmed that Comcast chief Brian Roberts recently saw a rough-cut of the film and emerged “all smiles”. (NBCUniversal bigwig Steve Burke hasn’t screened it in its entirety yet.) Of course this is the fickle movie biz and the film could still flop.
Right now the average Hollywood studio’s marketing spend on a blockbuster is $70+M domestic and at least that for international. Some studios have been known to spend $200+M globally like when Sony Pictures introduced its new Bond, Daniel Craig. So adding another $50M is both a marketing and branding booster. I’ve learned that Battleship‘s promotional partners include Coke Zero which has planned the largest global packaging promotion in its history as well as TV ad campaign. Also Cisco which has made its first-ever film partnership with Battleship. Subway has a large TV campaign and in-store promotion with the movie, and Kraft, Nestle, and Chevron are on board as well. Also both the U.S. Navy (whose actual sailors were used as extras) and the USO are using the movie to promote themselves.
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Universal this month is launching a yearlong 2012 centennial celebration with an ambitious and almost unprecedented film-restoration effort, a new logo, a swarm of special-edition Blu-ray movie packages, theme park celebrations emphasizing their film history, special events, premieres, and a major social media campaign. Like Paramount, which is also embarking on a centennial celebration, the emphasis here is making the old seem new again. Key among Universal’s plans is the complete restoration of 13 films that showcase a large part of the history of the studio — from 1930′s All Quiet On The Western Front to 1993′s Schindler’s List.
When I spoke with Universal president and COO Ron Meyer on Monday morning, his excitement about this opportunity to mark the studio’s storied past and take it into the future was evident. “One hundred years is such a great milestone,” he said. “I am a movie lover. It’s such an important part of the American culture, a part of the heritage of this country. I think we have a responsibility to our employees, to the public to celebrate not just a milestone but celebrate the movie business, and this gives us a reason to do it.” He emphasized the centerpiece of this yearlong effort: the restoration of many Universal classics each uniquely repping their own decades.
Films chosen to get the full restoration treatment — in addition to the aforementioned All’s Quiet and Schindler’s List — are both 1931 versions of Dracula, Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Abbott and Costello’s Buck Privates (1941), Pillow Talk (1959), To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), The Birds (1963), The Sting (1973), Jaws (1975), and Out of Africa (1985). That’s actually 12 titles altogether, but there are 13 films since the studio is restoring both 1931 versions of Dracula — including Bela Lugosi’s famous English-language picture and the Spanish version that was filmed on the same sets at night. Pillow Talk repping the ’50s was one of Universal’s biggest hits ever to that time, earning an Original Screenplay Oscar and Doris Day’s only Oscar nomination. It seems an interesting and inspired choice to me, and to Meyer. “What a great movie,” he said. “I have four children who don’t know these movies. They don’t know a Doris Day movie or Rock Hudson movies. And they are going to enjoy them when they see them. Once they see it they can appreciate it. There’s no way for even 30-year olds to know some of those movies unless they are film buffs.” Read More »