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 »
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.” Read More »
UPDATE, 6:28 PM: Talk about deja vu. Fire broke out in a construction area atop the former Technicolor building Thursday afternoon at Universal Studios. Workers were cutting and handling ductwork when sparks ignited insulation material, according to a Universal spokeswoman. The blaze was extinguished quickly and damage was confined to the construction “shed” on the roof of the building near the intersection of Lankershim and Cahuenga. No injuries were reported. The building is unoccupied and undergoing internal demolition prior to eventual re-purposing.
PREVIOUSLY, 5:23 PM: Fire erupted in a three-story building on the Universal Studios backlot Thursday afternoon. CNN reported that 55 firefighters responded and the fire was knocked down by about 1 pm. No injuries were reported. The building was “under demolition,” fire officials said. Cause was unknown. A 2008 fire destroyed several locations over four acres and 13 “blocks” including the New York street sets. Those were restored and reopened in summer 2010.
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 for the Potter addition within a week, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Harry Potter site in Florida includes a Hogwarts Castle, roller coasters, and several Potter-themed restaurants. In the year after it opened, the Harry Potter attraction in Florida drew an additional 1.1 million visitors for a total of 2.8 million and revenue nearly doubled to $309 million, the Journal said. If the Hollywood Harry Potter succeeds, additional attractions could be added to Universal parks in Japan, Singapore and Spain. Universal licensed the Harry Potter theme park rights for the Orlando Resort from Warner Bros. for an undisclosed sum. A similar deal is likely for Universal Studios Hollywood. WB also receives royalties on merchandise. The Hollywood Harry Potter and any others also will require the consent of author J.K. Rowling, as did the park in Florida.
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.”
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UPDATE, 9:40 AM: Hasbro’s in “active discussions” with Paramount, Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg about a fourth Transformers, CEO Brian Goldner told analysts in a conference call today. ”Hopefully I’ll have more news for you next quarter,” he said. The most recent edition, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, will generate revenues for Hasbro between the $482M from the first film in the series in 2007 and $592M from the previous one in 2009. In other movie news, the company is reworking the budget for a film based on its Ouija game in the hope of reviving the project that Universal recently dropped. Battleship is on course to be released worldwide in April and in May in the U.S., with G.I. Joe: 2 following in June. Hasbro is working with J.J. Abrams on Micronaughts. Goldner says Hasbro is “actively developing” scripts for films based on Monopoly, Risk, and Clue as well as “projects yet to be named.” Goldner says, though, that Hasbro won’t produce its own films.
The CEO adds that cable channel The Hub is “making great progress” and is “ahead of plan” overseas where its programming runs in 142 countries. The channel is in 61M homes domestically; talks to increase distribution on cable are “going quite well,” although Goldner wouldn’t be specific. Ratings are up. On the advertising side, the channel has 120 more sponsors than it did last year when it was still Discovery Kids.
Goldner’s presentation impressed investors: Hasbro shares are up about 1% in midday trading. They opened down after the company reported 3Q earnings below expectations. Read More »
Disney And Fox Unveil Plans To Develop ‘Avatar’ Theme Park Attractions
Disney must be hoping that its new plan to build Avatar theme park attractions will be the shot in the arm the business may need. And, unbelievably, the new feature is coming courtesy of Fox Filmed Entertainment and James Cameron.
On paper, all looks well for Disney’s theme park revenues: they were up 9% to $8.7B for the three quarters that ended July 2, while operating income was up 13% to $1.1B. Also attendance has held steady. But most of the growth was due to Disney’s decision to raise prices for tickets, hotels, food, and merchandise. That probably can’t continue if the economy continues to weaken. Meanwhile, some analysts have been alarmed by the high capital expenditures for parks, which more than doubled to $2.1B in the nine-month period. Disney is still working on the $1.1B upgrade it announced in 2007 for its California Adventure park — it struck many visitors as a cheap, generic amusement park when it opened in 2001. Disney’s also investing in its Aluani Resort in Hawaii (it opens Thursday), Shanghai Disney Resort for 2016, expansion of the Hong Kong properties, a re-do of Disneyland’s Fantasyland, new cruise ships — and covering increased pension obligations.
Construction and licensing costs for the Avatar attraction from Fox and James Cameron could run about $400M, and there’ll be some revenue sharing for the merchandise. But the new project isn’t expected to change Disney’s forecast for its capital expenditures to peak … Read More »
I don’t know if there’ll be a formal announcement of this, but Ron Meyer has signed a new contract to continue as President and Chief Operating Officer of Universal Studios. He will remain with the company at least 4 1/2 more years through 2015 and he will continue to report to Steve Burke, chief of NBCUniversal. And so concludes the recent saga of whether Meyer would stay atop the studio after the recent sale to Comcast. First came the inaccurate reports last November that the 66-year-old Meyer was about to get fired by the new owners. Then came more inaccurate reports in May that Meyer was in negotiations to get hired again. Actually, the longest-serving Hollywood mogul began bargaining shortly after that since the perks alone made the job worth the headaches, and Comcast wanted him to stick around.
Meyer’s current contract continues through December 2012 and he’s been running Universal Studios for 16 years in charge of motion pictures, parks and resorts, and studio operations. Since he arrived in 1995, he’s made it through four changes of ownership (Seagram’s, Vivendi, General Electric, and now Comcast) and nine different bosses (Edgar Bronfman Jr, Frank Biondi, Jean-Marie Messier, Pierre Lescure, Barry Diller, Jean-Rene Fourtou, Bob Wright, Jeff Zucker, and now Steve Burke). And each and every time, Hollywood collectively would turn to him with the same worried expression and say, “How are you?” And each and every time, Meyer would reply, “I’m still here.” Once, entertainment super-lawyer Bruce Ramer asked Ron to speak to an industry luncheon: of course, on the topic of surviving. It’s not only a miracle — a word Meyer himself uses from time to time — it’s certainly a footnote in the history books of showbiz. “Fear of failure has taken me a long way,” Meyer once told me on the record. Read More »
UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. Universal has confirmed Egan’s move. Here’s the release, below Deadline’s original break of the story.
EXCLUSIVE: I’m hearing that Universal marketing president Eddie Egan will be moving over to a top post at Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment. I hear he will transition slowly, straddling both jobs for a limited time. It’s the latest growth move for Illumination, the Universal-based family film company, which is 2-for-2 on movies with Despicable Me and Hop. Despicable Me, Meledandri’s first release through Universal, is also spawning a theme park attraction. Developing…
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA, May 25, 2011 – After leading the domestic marketing of back-to-back breakaway hits for Universal Pictures in Fast Five and Bridesmaids, President of Marketing Eddie Egan has chosen to take on a new position as head of marketing for Illumination Entertainment. As Egan assumes the title and duties of Illumination’s President of Marketing, he will also continue to serve as a senior executive at his home studio as Executive Vice President for Universal Pictures, where he has spent 17 years and served for the last three and a half years as its domestic marketing chief. The announcement was made jointly today by Adam Fogelson, Chairman of Universal Pictures and Chris Meledandri, founder of Illumination.
In his newly created position at Illumination, Egan will oversee every aspect of marketing for the company’s slate, working closely with his new team at Illumination and his long-time colleagues at Universal. Illumination is planning to accelerate their output with Universal to two films a year starting in 2013.
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Universal Pictures will distribute six Gold Circle Films between 2012 and 2014, or two each year. The two companies already have partnered on multiple projects in the past decade including White Noise, Because I Said So, The Wedding Date, The Fourth Kind, and Slither. Gold Circle is currently developing Sammy, which will be the first film distributed under the new pact with Universal. Gold Circle Films is best known for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time.
EXCLUSIVE: This is the reason that Universal Studios president/COO Ron Meyer and his team trekked to Arkansas last week for a personal visit to the Wal-Mart headquarters. I’ve just learned that Universal’s first family film/toon unit from Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me made first-day sales on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital downloads of nearly $25 million Tuesday. What made the difference was the exclusive debut of three all-new mini-movies on the DVD Double Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and 3D Combo Pack starring the film’s wildly popular Minions. The mega-hit animated family comedy sold well over one million units to consumers (excluding rentals) in its first 24 hours of release and is poised to become the 2nd biggest-grossing animated home entertainment title of the year. The movie has already grossed $500+M in worldwide box office.
EXCLUSIVE: I can tell you that Focus Features is not for sale — yet anyway — and Universal hasn’t even had one conversation with Comcast about putting the specialty house in play (and can’t until the deal gets regulatory approval). So much for all that Internet chatter tonight about the Gores Brothers wanting to buy Focus. The bros and several other companies like Relativity and MRC have made offers for Focus over the past year — Alec and Tom Gores put in an offer very recently — but Universal hasn’t even gone back to anyone with a counter-offer and I understand won’t for the forseeable future. “People make offers all the time,” an insider tells me. “Nothing is happening now, either.”
UPDATES COMCAST-NBCU: Ted Harbert And Bob Greenblatt To Run NBC, Pat Fili-Krushel Also Coming
UPDATES New Comcast/NBCU Organizational Structure
NBC Universal boss Steve Burke today made the new organizational structure official for NBC broadcasting, NBC Entertainment, NBCU cable, and Universal Studios and Universal Pictures:
For nearly a year, we have worked hard to identify people from NBC Universal, Comcast and outside the two companies to form our new leadership team when the deal closes. Our goal has been to find people who have the skill sets we need to succeed and who reflect the values that will be the hallmark of NBC Universal, including teamwork, integrity, creativity and a commitment to treating people the right way.
We have also been very focused on putting in place the best possible organizational structure. To that end, we have created some new positions, changed the scope of others, and shifted some reporting assignments. We think we’ve developed a structure that organizes the company in the smartest way possible.
We are beginning our leadership announcements now because with the anticipated close of the deal nearing, we want to give everyone enough time to begin to think about the specific opportunities and challenges they will face beginning the day of the close. This is particularly true for areas that have transition work to complete before we close. While new roles won’t be effective until the deal closes, and while there will be more announcements to come, it is important that we are prepared to hit the ground running.
To that end, I am pleased to make the following initial announcements of members of the new NBC Universal senior management team:
Bonnie Hammer will become Chairman, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios. USA, SyFy, E! Entertainment, G4, Chiller, Sleuth, Universal HD and UCP (Universal Cable Productions) will report to Bonnie. Neil Tiles will remain President of G4 and report to Bonnie as will a newly appointed president of E! Entertainment.
Lauren Zalaznick will become Chairman, NBC Universal Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media. Bravo, Oxygen, and iVillage will continue to report to Lauren, as will the Integrated Strategic Marketing Group, which oversees initiatives including Green Is Universal, Healthy at NBC Universal and Women at NBC Universal. Digital properties Daily Candy and
Fandango, Spanish language broadcaster Telemundo, and cable networks mun2, Style, and PBS Sprout will also report to Lauren.
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8TH UPDATE: Comcast is clearing the way for its pending announcement of the new NBC Universal top executive structure. Jeff Gaspin, who had felt more and more as the odd man out in Comcast’s plans for the post-merger NBCU, just sent out a note to NBC Universal employees announcing that he will depart the company following its merger with Comcast after he and new NBCU CEO Steve Burke “could not agree on an appropriate role” for him in the new company. Gaspin had 4 years left on his contract, which was breached by the merger and Burke replacing Jeff Zucker. Gaspin was furious when a report last week claimed he was gone because it wasn’t true: in fact the two men hadn’t made that decision yet even though everyone guessed that’d be the ultimate conclusion because it’s known that Burke wants to decrease the media company’s layers of management. Gaspin has spent a combined 19 years at NBCU, most recently as chairman of NBC Universal TV Entertainment. “I want to thank Jeff for his many significant contributions to NBCU and for his professionalism throughout the integration process,” Burke said in a statement. After sending the memo, Gaspin gathered his senior executive team for an emotional meeting.
EXCLUSIVE… 6TH & 7TH UPDATE: Jeff Gaspin is flying on an NBC Universal corporate jet from NYC back to LA right now and is telling fellow passengers that a report he is leaving the company is “not accurate”. As we’ve been saying all along, there are a lot of moving parts to this NBCU organizational restructure, and a lot hasn’t been pinned down yet. Gaspin, who is NBCU Television Group President/COO, falls into that category. We’ve learned that he hasn’t had a “definitive conversation” with Comcast about his future yet. And the fact is that, as of today, his future has not been decided. “It may turn out to be true that he leaves. And he’s preparing for it. But it’s not true right now,” an insider just told us.
EXCLUSIVE… 5TH UPDATE: We’ve confirmed that onetime CBS bigwig and now consultant Nancy Tellem has indeed been in formal talks with Comcast brass about taking a top job at NBC alongside Robert Greenblatt. The idea was that he would be in charge of creative, and she would fill a parallel NYC-based network president-type job. Both would report to new NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke. As we reported Comcast hopes to announce the new NBC Universal organizational structure — one which now may or may not include Jeff Gaspin who got on a plane Monday for NYC Monday to meet with Comcast brass. About Tellem, “Comcast is talking to her. Nothing has been decided yet though because there are still ongoing issues. But people are trying to work through those issues,” one insider told us. ”She wants to do it. She just has to make sure the job is right.” Tellem was among half a dozen top-level broadcast executives (including Fox Network Group Chairman/CEO Tony Vinciquerra) approached by Burke some months ago after the Comcast/NBC deal was announced. Tellem was most recently boss of the bulk of CBS Inc’s entertainment operations until she stepped down in December 2009 to become Senior Advisor To The CEO.
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Good thing the morons at Universal aren’t in charge of Homeland Security. Because I’ve learned that studio bosses Ron Meyer, Jim Waters, and many others only recently discovered a security breach that has existed on the lot for decades — even throughout all the beefed-up security in effect post-9/11. The bigwigs had no idea non-employees have been able to go onto the lot without showing any ID by telling security guards they’re “a friend of Bill’s” and then heading to the 12-step meetings held in a building near the front gate. Meyer personally found out about the situation by accident 3 weeks ago and immediately ordered a stop to a 27-year-old practice. “Ron went ballistic. He was out of his mind. And it was embarrassing beyond belief that this was allowed at the same time people were using mirrors to check under cars,” a source tells me. No one is suggesting the 12-step members themselves were security threats. But the possibilities for abusing the system by anyone intent on doing harm are obvious. Now 12-step meetings on the lot are for employees only. Universal is still trying to find a nearby meeting room off-lot for the non-employees. (The studio has offered to pay for space but most 12-step programs stipulate that each group be fully self-supporting and not dependent on outside contributions.)
The Wall Street Journal reports that Reliance ADA Group is negotiating with Universal Studios to replicate its movie-themed amusement parks in India. The result would be a $1.5 billion new park that covers 400 acres –in either New Delhi or Mumbai–and would combine Universal park attractions with others devoted to Bollywood films. Universal would take a licensing fee for its branded attractions that include themed attractions involving such Marvel Comics characters as Spider-Man, The Hulk and Doctor Doom–deals made well before theme park rival Disney bought Marvel–as well as Dr. Seuss attractions. There are also the venerable rides based on the films of Reliance’s DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg–who gets a cut of theme park receipts–with Jaws, E.T. and Jurassic Park. Universal’s Islands of Adventure just opened an entire wing of the park devoted to the Warner Bros franchise Harry Potter, which recently opened after two years of construction, highlighted by a ridiculously ambitious simulator ride housed within a replica of Hogwarts Academy that has been carved into a faux mountainside setting that is as overwhelming as the $200 million I’m told was spent to build it. WSJ qualifies that the deal is in the talking stage, but it would mark Reliance’s latest foray into Hollywood. Besides its partnership with DreamWorks, Reliance made first look deals with the production companies of Brad Pitt, Chris Columbus, Jay Roach, George Clooney, Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, Nicolas Cage and … Read More »