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%.
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 …
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
It’s hard to imagine what the video business will look like in one year, let alone 10. Yet Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis says that was an incentive for his company to pursue the decade-long deal with Disney, announced yesterday, that gives the cable company broad rights to about 70 channels and services. ”I look at that anxiety (about video’s future) as an opportunity,” he told bankers and analysts at the Citigroup Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference. ”Having long-term deals provides consistency.” He calls the agreement “a building block” — along with investments in live sports and VOD — for Comcast’s plan to compete with tech companies including Google and Apple as they move into the video business. “Our goal is to provide our customers with the best experience so they have no desire to go anywhere else.” Although Comcast and Disney didn’t disclose financial terms for their deal, the CFO acknowledges that it will increase Comcast’s programming costs. That’s “a challenge and we’re working through that.”
Harry Potter will materialize sometime in the future in Universal City with his own special section of the theme park much like “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Orlando Resort. NBC Universal is expected to announce plans …
I regularly scoff whenever out-of-town media aim their powder puffs at Big Media moguls. So it is with Philadelphia Magazine’s new profile of NBC Universal boss Steve Burke which compares him to Superman and Jason Bourne among other fictional heroes. The article is a big wet smooch to Philly-based Comcast, and among other hilarity suggests that, if Burke succeeds, he could lift Comcast “into the lofty ranks of Apple and Google”. Huh? There’s no doubt that Burke is still very much in his honeymoon period with the media. He won’t talk to the media — yet. But the article says Burke himself will “do a round of media interviews” timed to Smash, the Stephen Spielberg-produced TV drama about the creation of a musical debuting on NBC mid-season with Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston. Burke will be ”touting the new NBCUni and its downright Comcastic marketing strength”. Here’s more from this long article which focuses almost exclusively on TV and mentions the movie studio only once:
– One of Steve Burke’s first acts when he took over as CEO of NBCUniversal last winter was to redecorate the walls. He dispatched a staff member into the bowels of NBC’s headquarters to select 50 or 60 photos and then Burke went through them personally, choosing Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Johnny Carson, Groucho Marx, the Seinfeld cast, and NBC’s leaders like David Sarnoff and Brandon Tartikoff. The significance of the photos, according to Comcast’s CEO Brian Roberts, was that “Steve believes as a manager and human being, that people need to have some sense of greater meaning in everything they do.”