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Big Media 3Q Corporate Earnings Roundup: Are CEOs Really Worried About Recession? Or Just Looking For Convenient Excuse?

Three months ago, when Big Media CEOs wrapped up their 2Q earnings, they were still relentlessly upbeat about the business. Any worries about the economy? Not then. But the messages they delivered over the past few weeks, as they discussed 3Q, were different. Although they’re still optimistic — remember, they’re paid to be salesmen — now and then you could hear expressions of concern about where things are headed. It stood out when Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman noted that “ad sales growth will face some headwinds.” Other CEOs who are known for speaking bluntly warned that other shocks may bedevil the business. For example, Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen said that his satellite company — and others in pay TV — have to fight harder against rising programming costs because “there’s a limit to the price increases that could be passed on to consumers.” Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt warned that premium channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz “are clearly impacted by the economy as consumers try to cut back.” Either they’re genuinely worried, or they want a scapegoat to blame for things that are going bad, or may soon do so. Whatever the case, we can expect to hear a lot more about the economy when it’s time for the post-mortem on the all-important 4Q earnings.

As for industry performance matters, parents of movie studios had their usual mixed results to brag about or explain away: Time Warner benefitted from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2. Viacom was up on Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. And News Corp beat its chest about Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and X-Men: First Class. But Disney’s Cars 2 was no match for last year’s Toy Story 3. Comcast’s Universal Pictures had nothing to compare to last year’s Despicable Me. Lionsgate suffered from Conan The Barbarian and Warrior. And DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 didn’t contribute as much in the quarter as Shrek Forever After did in the same period last year.

Over at the TV networks, Comcast’s NBC underperformed the Street’s already modest expectations. Execs at almost all the companies were eager to talk about the cash they expect to collect soon from political ads — as well as their favorite new ATM machines: retransmission consent deals and digital streamers including Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. Speaking of Netflix, CEO Reed Hastings once again tried to reassure investors that he’s focused on “building back our reputation and brand strength” after his decision in July to slap a 60% price increase on customers who wanted to continue to rent DVDs and stream videos. In 3Q Netflix lost 57.7% of its market value and 800,000 subscribers. And since that customer loss was bigger than projected, Netflix shares continued to fall — they’re now down 67.3% since July 1.

Here are some other themes from the latest earnings reports:

Ad sales: They’s good, but for how long? Most television networks report that scatter prices are comfortably above the upfront market from this past summer. CBS chief Les Moonves says prices in 4Q are up by “mid-teens” on a percentage basis, while Discovery says it sees least high single digit percentages. But Disney’s Bob Iger noted that scatter prices have “slowed slightly these last few weeks.” Kurt Hall of National CineMedia — the leading seller of ads in movie theaters — was far more direct when he spoke to analysts after ratcheting down his company’s financial forecasts. “I’m sure that the broadcast and cable guys are sitting there now counting their lucky stars they got their upfront done before August,” he told analysts. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.” Read More »

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UPDATE: News Corp Still Has “Great Confidence” In James Murdoch, But No Plan To Buy The Dodgers

UPDATE, 2:35 PM: The comment about James came from News Corp president Chase Carey, filling in for Rupert Murdoch, who wasn’t on the quarterly conference call with analysts and reporters. Despite growing concerns about James’ role in the News Of The World hacking scandal, the deputy COO “has done a good job and we are not contemplating any changes,” Carey said. He added, in response to a question, that the company is taking “seriously” the strong opposition that several shareholders expressed at the recent annual meeting to many members of the News Corp board — which includes three members of the Murdoch family. “The board will, and is, discussing those votes,” he says. “The board continues to evolve. …. That being said, we’re proud of the board.”

In other matters, Carey says that “we’re not buying the (Los Angeles) Dodgers,” but didn’t elaborate. Sports costs are not a big concern for the company for now because “outside of Los Angeles, most of our contracts are long term,” he says. He’s also unfazed by the NBA strike, saying that “it’s not a significant financial event for us” although “we’d like to see them settle it.” Carey denied that Fox is offering make-goods ads for lower-than-expected initial ratings for The X Factor:  ”We have the No. 1 show and make real money from it,” he says. “It came out a bit below where we targeted … but is building momentum.” Not much detail about the collapse of the auction for Hulu. Carey says that it ”has been a positive for us in terms of creating value” despite its “complicated ownership structure.” Carey also didn’t provide much insight into the new programming deal with DirecTV, although he says it’s “fair for both of us.” Read More »

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James McAvoy Set For ‘Welcome To The Punch’

By | Tuesday April 12, 2011 @ 7:26am PDT

The X-Men: First Class star is in final negotiations to star in Welcome to the Punch, a thriller set in London due to start filming in July. Eran Creevy is the writer-director, and the producers are Rory Aitken, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Ben Pugh of Between the Eyes in London. Creevy has described Welcome to the Punch as being “an epic crime thriller in the mould of Heat or Internal Affairs.” Creevy got a lot of attention over here for his 2008 micro-budget debut Shifty, which he shot for $150,000 and was nominated for a BAFTA. He has also shot music videos for artists including Take That and ad spots for Nike. McAvoy is repped by Ruth Young at United Agents in London and by UTA in the U.S.

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Hot Trailer: ‘X-Men: First Class’

By | Thursday February 10, 2011 @ 3:18pm PST

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Vaughn Pitches UK-Hollywood Film Fund

Details Of Matthew Vaughn’s UK-Hollywood Film Plan

Hollywood studios have a long history of shooting blockbusters in England. For instance, Britain’s Pinewood Shepperton has been the location of choice for big Hollywood blockbusters like the Harry Potter, James Bond and Batman franchises. But for all intents and purposes the U.S. majors have viewed the 20% UK tax credit they receive for making films here as free money. Now Matthew Vaughn, director of X Men: First Class which is just about to start shooting here, is floating an interesting suggestion. He is proposing that Hollywood majors who take advantage of the 20% British tax credit then repay the money in the event of a hit — and plough that portion of the profits into a UK film fund backing British-produced pics.

“The thing I’m annoyed about,” Vaughn tells me, “is how many movies are made in Britain without any British money in them. It’s tragic how we’ve handled things. Most British producers think it’s an achievement even getting a film made. My goal is that we won’t even need Hollywood money in 10 years’ time.”

Vaughn tells me that the UK needs to monetize that 20% studio tax credit. Since Hollywood needs investor equity now that Wall Street money has dried up, the studios could count on UK plc as a firm partner that takes a secondary equity position. “In today’s cash-strapped world, ‘soft equity’ is a valuable commodity for studios and producers alike,” Vaugh insists. “Looking at the UK’s position … Read More »

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Oliver Platt Joins ‘X-Men: First Class’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Add Oliver Platt to the cast of X-Men: First Class, the Matthew Vaughn-directed spinoff that 20th Century Fox puts into production next month in London. I’m told that Platt will play a role called The Man in Black, who is not a mutant. The film stars James McAvoy as Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Alice Eve as Emma Frost, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee, Lucas Till as Havoc, and Edi Gathegi as Darwin. Kevin Bacon is playing the villain and Rose Byrne will play McAvoy’s love interest Moira MacTaggert. Read More »

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Kevin Bacon In Talks For ‘X-Men: First Class’ Baddie

Mike Fleming

kevin_baconI’m told that Kevin Bacon has the offer and is negotiating to play the villain role in X-Men: First Class. Not sure of his character, and they have to make his deal, but Bacon would line up nicely alongside James McAvoy (Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Alice Eve (Emma Frost), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), Caleb Landry Jones (Banshee), and Lucas Till (Havoc). Director Matthew Vaughn is casting up a storm as the picture nears the start line.

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Another Mutant Cast As Caleb Landry Jones Plays Banshee

Mike Fleming

get-attachment.aspxBanshee_005Newcomer Caleb Landry Jones has landed the role of Banshee in X-Men: First Class. He has been seen in No Country For Old Men (the kid who sold his shirt that Javier Bardem’s assassin character used to splint his fractured arm), as well as Friday Night Lights and the upcoming The Social Network. He’ll next be seen in Lionsgate’s The Last Exorcism. Banshee, aka Sean Cassidy, can issue a sonic scream that allows him to fly, and is paralyzing to enemies. Paradigm and Untitled made his deal.

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‘X-Men: First Class’ Finds A Beast In Nicholas Hoult

Mike Fleming

get-attachment.aspxEXCLUSIVE: 20th Century Fox is setting Nicholas Hoult for the role of Beast in the Matthew Vaughn-directed X-Men: First Class. Hoult made his first screen impression playing the bullied school kid reluctantly adopted by Hugh Grant in About a Boy. But he has grown into manhood in recent roles that included A Single Man and Clash of the Titans, and he is also booked for the cast of the George Miller-directed Mad Max: Fury Road for Warner Bros. Latter film was pushed back, and so Hoult will first make X-Men: First Class. Hoult joins James McAvoy (Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and Alice Eve (Emma Frost). Fox will cast up quickly as a production start is imminent. Hoult is repped by UTA and UK-based Independent Talent Group.  Fox hasn’t yet confirmed his deal.

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Alice Eve, Tommy Lee Jones Take Marvel Superhero Turns

Mike Fleming

Alice Eve262px-Emma_Frost_in_current_costumeAlice Eve is now in negotiations to play Emma Frost in X-Men: First Class, the 20th Century Fox prequel that Matthew Vaughn will direct. Her power in the mutant universe is telepathy, and she was voted Hottest Comic Book Babe of 2005 in one poll. She started out as an X-Men nemesis and became an ally. Eve joins James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, previously set as lead mutants Xavier and Magneto. Also in the Marvel pantheon, Tommy Lee Jones has been confirmed to play Colonel Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger, the Joe Johnston-directed Marvel Studios film that Paramount will distribute.

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