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Friday, April 29, 2016

DreamWorks: A No-Brainer For Comcast

Comcast, the giant cable TV and internet provider, as well as, owner of the NBC networks and Universal Studios is in the market for more Hollywood properties and DreamWorks Animation fits into their strategy.  There is no room for Comcast to grow on the cable/internet business but on the entertainment side things are quite different.

Valued at $3 billion, DreamWorks Animation's price would be pocket change for Comcast which had revenues of $18.8 billion for the first quarter. What it provides Comcast is a way to enhance Universal's theme parks with already made family-friendly products, like: Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar and provides competition to Disney. Universal has poured billions into its theme parks/resorts but they need more ownership of franchiseable character-driven entertainment.

The benefit to Comcast would be immediate.  Additionally, DreamWorks Animation is currently building an animation studio in Shanghai, called Oriental DreamWorks which would provide Comcast a easy path into the Chinese movie market. The deal also gives Comcast a multi-year deal to produce television shows for Netflix (currently a rival to Comcast's cable business).

At $3 billion DreamWorks isn't cheap. Currently its stock shares trade at 25 times earnings but it provides Comcast with the children and family content that has proven to be very valuable in today's fragmented video viewing market.

CGM thinks that Comcast will put a bid in for DreamWorks Animation and that regulatory approval for the purchase will be granted - it will not be a repeat of the $45 billion failed takeover bid by Comcast of Time-Warner.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'TYPE 5' - 2016 Summer Films

In the world of stand-up comedy, when up-and-comers beg for just 5 minutes of stage time to deliver their best jokes - they ask the club owner for a "Type 5".  That seems to be the case for this summer's roster of movies - just give them some of your time and they'll give it their best.

Now, as far as the Hollywood studios are concerned, summer starts in May and ends in August. For this year, there will be approximately 195 summer releases - starting in May with 65 films, the release schedule gets shorter with each succeeding month. There are 50 releases scheduled for June, 46 for July and 34 for August.

May appears to be a really good month for product and there are a number of 'big' releases: 'Captain America: Civil War', 'I Am Wrath', 'Money Monster', 'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rushing', 'Alice Through The Looking Glass', and 'X-Men:Apocalypse'. 

June follows with a movie for everyman: comedies, horror, drama, super-hero, documentaries, and any other genre you can think of, - from 'Mutant Turtles' to 'Warcraft' and an 'Independence Day' sequel.

July has still a shorter release schedule but one packed with solid 'sure-thing' grossers like: 'The Secret Life of Pets', 'Star Trek Beyond', 'Ice Age: Collision Course'. 'Jason Bourne', 'Bad Moms', and the long-awaited 'Ghostbusters' sequel.

August comes in with several films with good potential: 'Sausage Party', 'Ben-Hur', and 'Kubo and the Two Strings'.

My summer 'sleeper' picks include: 'Keanu', 'Finding Dory', 'Pete's Dragon', and 'Nine Lives'.

So, all and all, summer 2016 appears solid - not a huge box office crusher but a steady earner with lots of choices. It's a 'Type 5' - just give it a chance and you won't be disappointed (hopefully).


Monday, April 25, 2016

Viacom's Salvation: The Sale of Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures hasn't been doing that good of late, but as a major studio it still has a lot of value.  Viacom, Paramount's owner, however is in deep trouble.  Plagued by the ill-health of its founder, Sumner Redstone, and the on-going legal battles over management succession, poor financial results, and a general malaise in its programming for children and teens through its MTV and Nickelodeon operations, Viacom is floundering and its only way out may be the sale of its crown jewel - Paramount Pictures.

Last week, Viacom's management announced that it would be amiable to offers for a stake in Paramount or its out-right sale. Paramount, the once proud studio with a history of iconic films which range from 'The Godfather' trilogy to 'The Transformers' films, experienced a 46% drop in operating income in 2015 to a level of only $111 million - reiterating a downward trend in Paramount's performance over the last five years.

Possible bidders for Paramount include Amazon, which wants to enhance its original content offerings on its streaming operation - Amazon Prime.  Also in play are two Chinese conglomerates: e-commerce giant Alibaba and entertainment biggie Dailan Wanda (which recently purchased mini-studio Legendary Entertainment, as well as, the AMC movie theatre chain).

Viacom's management team, led by CEO Philippe Dauman says, and analysts agree, that Paramount is worth about $4 billion.  But, that might not be enough to get Viacom back to a sound financial footing - with a current debt load of $6 billion.

The best bet for Viacom would be the out-right sale of Paramount, as well as, its BET and international TV networks for a combined $8 billion and then forming a new company comprised of its remaining assets: MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central.

Viacom's share price fell 45% last year and the blood-letting continues.  I think we will see a change in ownership of Paramount in the very near future - and it will be for the betterment of the movie industry to have a strong and vibrant Paramount.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Nice Try, But No Cigar, George

As a follow-up to a CMG post entitled, 'Hollywood Cage-Match'  which discussed how H'wood's movers-and-shakers were lining-up in support of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in a bitter battle for the Democratic Party nomination, it appears that the George Cloonie's fund-raisers (there were two at different locations) for Hillary on Saturday were heavily protested by Bernie supporters.

In response, today George (no doubt coached by Hillary's staff) condemned "the system" for the "obscene amounts of money needed to run for election".  Come now George, we all know that trying to deflect the blame for the $350,000 per plate 'dinner with Hillary' on the election system is bogus. And it is bogus for two good reasons:

First, Bernie Sanders is running his election campaign on small donations, averaging only $17 per donation.  Second, like Trump, who is funding his own campaign, Hillary  (who has a net worth of somewhere in the $350-400 million range) could be funding her own campaign as well.  So, there is no need to have fund raisers hosted by Hollywood honchos that provide Hillary PACS with hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It is nothing more than rich folk forking-over, what to them is small change, for a chance to get access to the White House should Hillary get elected President - and Hillary is all too eager to accepted those terms. She has done it with Wall Street and Hollywood alike.

So, George, nice try buddy, but no cigar on this one - we're just not that gullible.

Poor Bernie, I almost feel sorry for him and his Bullies as the odds against him with Hillary and her Hooligans with the aid of Hollywood honchos are too much for him to overcome.

Just saying,

CinemaCon - Anything You Should Know

I attended CinemaCon this past week and can report that the only significant news was that Avatar will have FOUR sequels and not three as originally planned. Other than that, the gathered film makers/distributors and exhibitors united in a resounding NO to the upstart, first-run, in-home movie streaming service 'Screening Room' - which CMG  predicted was DOA when announced last month.
Avatar: Four sequels are planned

On the equipment front, there was a cadre of seating manufacturers totting their wares. I guess they believe very cinema in the world, that hasn't been constructed in the last year, needs to retrofit their seating with big, highly padded, recliners (that is some cases, gyrate, twist, shoot air or water in your face, and spew scents) and, of course, come with a hefty price tag.  It's the current theme of less but bigger and better seating gets more folks into cinemas.  To me, that is a lame and misguided strategy as the static cinema admissions numbers attest to.

On the projection and sound side, laser projection is being pushed - WHY?  Who needs it? It offers really nothing over xenon projection. It appears to be the projector manufacturers' ploy of getting exhibitors to spend money on new, but un-needed technology now that virtually all exhibs. have converted to xenon-based digital projectors.

Sound is another story. I am very big on the new Dolby Atmos sound system and its ability to be phased-in and enhanced as each exhibitor's needs and budget warrants.  Sound makes up one-half the sensory experience offered to moviegoers at their local cinemas - and the one-half that can be enhanced with the greatest bang-for-the-buck.

Now, back to Avatar. Are four sequels necessary? Hmmm, James Cameron thinks so - and how can one argue with the highest grossing film producer of all time.  No doubt, the Avatar franchise films will offer the very best that the cinema sensory experience has to offer. As Cameron stated in his presentation at CinemaCon "my films are made for and must be viewed at a cinema, on a large screen with immersive sound." Now, that's the strategy that sells tickets!

Just saying,

Saturday, April 16, 2016

In Cinema Texting - Yes, No, Maybe?

Texting in cinemas - not so good.
On Monday, AMC Theatres, the second largest (soon to be largest with the acquisition of Carmike Cinemas) cinema circuit in the U.S. announced that it was going to allow - no, foster - the use of texting in its auditoriums.  The scheme was to allow moviegoers to attend 'text-friendly' movie screenings.

On Friday, AMC management did an about-face and completely rescinded the entire scheme.  The original thought was that by allowing texting, Millennials would be enticed to attend more movies. That scheme was a complete and utter miscalculation that had AMC's CEO, Adam Aron running for the tall grass. "We heard loud and clear from moviegoers that texting was unacceptable to them and they do not want it" stated Aron.  The feedback on permitting texting was almost instantaneous and went viral. Social network announcements and tweets bombarded AMC with a resounding 'NO' to the texting idea.

In their official statement, AMC stated, "There will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future." 
Aron back-peddling on texting

It's clear that AMC is being managed by finance guys with little finesse in understanding moviegoers' needs. Going to the movies is all about having an enjoyable and sensory entertainment experience - that's it!  Cell phone use should not be permitted in a cinema once the feature presentation starts. Pre-show is all about product and service commercials, most of which you've already seen on either TV or during another movie you viewed weeks earlier - so texting is ok, my me, during pre-show.

Millennials, like all other moviegoers, don't want people texting while they are viewing a movie. AMC completely misjudged younger viewers by throwing them into an all-inclusive category where pre-conceived notions and biases exist.


Friday, April 15, 2016

How To Fill Cinema Seats

It's called a Cinetransformer and it is used to test market films by studios across the U.S. and in other countries.

Cinema admissions are static. The record-breaking box-office of last year was due solely to increased ticket pricing.  Steady-state tickets sales are due to a combination of many so-so movies being released, coupled with internet streaming options for consumers. In answer, the studios are trying to discover new ways to get moviegoers back into cinemas and with more frequency.

Both Warner Bros. and Fox Pictures are using mobile marketing (the Cinetransformer) to find out exactly what people want when they go to the cinema.

The Cinetransformer is a 53 foot long expandable trailer that converts into a complete mobile cinema, providing the perfect venue to hold cinema attendance experiments and find out what marketing techniques work best when promoting a film.

Marketing a movie today requires the very smart use of both traditional marketing tools, such as posters, TV ads, in-cinema movie trailers, etc., and on-line social media outlets. It's the social media platforms that are becoming the more important marketing tool as news of a film's quality (or lack thereof) spreads like wild-fire over the internet.
CineTransformer ready to screen movie

Inside view
Using the Cinetransformer, a pre-release movie is screened several times a day to a variety of audiences.  The Cinetransformer can screen a movie in 2D, 3D, or 4D format and then query viewers on the good and bad features of the film. The goal being two-fold: instant feedback from the audiences and the added benefit of audiences ready and willing to 'promote' the film via their Facebook, Twitter, or other social outlet. If the film receives overall bad reviews the studio may cancel its release, or go back and change what the test audiences stated they didn't like about the movie.

The Cinetransformer has been used in the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil, and has, thus far, worked out very well for the studios. The impact of social media platforms in promoting a movie can not be over-stated. It is surpassing traditional marketing techniques and might very well become the preferred platform for marketing movies in the future.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hollywood Cage-match

Its Bernie's Bullies vs. Hillary's Hooligans in a slug-fest for Hollywood dollar-donors. The H'wood glitterati are lining-up in support of either Sanders or Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination and the heat is on.
Clooney - caught in the middle

For example, George Clooney and his wife are hosting a Clinton fund raiser this week at the home of Shervin Pishevar, co- founder of Uber, where 1,500 Bernie Bullies are expected to show up to protest the gala.  Also invited to the party are a number of Silicon Valley biggies. Tickets for the party start at $33,000 and go up to $350.000 for a seat at the Clooney/Clinton table.

Sanders' supporters are adamant in their disdain for the ridiculous amounts of wealth that this type of fund raiser and its attendees represent.  The Bullies will be gathering with banners and pots and pans for noise making and are expected to block limos and do their utmost to disrupt the festivities. "Let the people gather and march to protest this event and to show Clinton and her supporters that we don't accept her kind of corruption", the Protest invitation read, "This corruption-fest is not just undemocratic, it is immoral and obscene!"  Sanders however has his own H'wood backers, which include: Danny DeVito, Susan Sarandon, Will Farrell, Seth McFarland, Spike Lee, to name several - and they give big as well.

It's Bernie's Bullies vs. Hillary's Hooligans
So, it's not just the Republicans that are at each others throats, but the Dems as well, and Hollywood's hoi polloi are in the thick of it.  The Lala-land folks normally rally around one candidate or issue but this year is different as Sanders' Marxist message has gotten wide support from liberal-mined celebs. The regular donors that can be counted on to back, say Clinton, are torn between a far-lefter and a left-of-center candidate. This Presidential race has Hollywood and Silicon Valley fat-cats in a real cage-match with the bullies and hooligans protesting each other's candidate with visceral, and often, violent actions.

CMG too, is awed by this whole Presidential free-for-all.  It's not only pitting the left against the right but the right against the right and the left against the left - what more could you ask for. All the best to our Elephant and Donkey friends as they continue waging their election battles.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What's UP At The Movies - by Seymour Flix

Batman v. Superman: The End of the Superhero Era

'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice' just might be the dawn of the ending of the superhero pic.  Out of the chute this movie had a $166 million opening but went into free-fall after that. It appears that there is no way Warner Bros. will reach their predicted $1 billion world-wide gross. Batman v. Superman was a bust, as critics and early moviegoers panned it and word spread instantly over social networks.

Baring its flaws, does this film's lackluster box office performance portend the future?  Have moviegoers had enough of the superhero sequel? Are the major studios too reliant on the comic book character franchise?

Warner Bros. has bet the farm on DC Comic character-driven sequels and has green-lit only a handful of original titles.  Certainly the studios have a fetish with franchise films but it could be a bad strategy going forward. Now, at least 25 years in, the superhero fad may be coming to an end. Moviegoers may be tiring of the repeated action scenes and long-in-the-tooth characters in unrealistic story-lines.

To their credit, all of the major studios milked the superhero genre to death, but it may now be oversold and a new product strategy to source revenue may be dawning.  Many more superhero movies are set to be released over the next few years and many more are currently on the production slate - but all of this could backfire as audiences demand fresher characters, better stories, and newer on-screen faces.

I believe we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the superhero blockbuster. Audiences are yearning for  original sci-fi and high-impact action films - the studios need to reassess.

Jungle Book: 'Too Scary For Kids' ?

From original 1967 movie
The MPAA gave the long-awaited remake of 'The Jungle Book' a PG rating. However, the live/animated movie has some critics saying that it is too scary for young children, specially if viewed in the 3D version.

The jungle and animals (who all speak) are very 'life-like' and although virtually every film critic has given the movie 5 stars there is an element of suspense and drama which could be seen as frightening to some children.

According to the MPAA the movie contains "scary action and peril" but it did not reach the level where the more strict PG-12 rating was warranted.
New movie - a bit scary for young children?

I, if at all possible, will be viewing the movie at a Dolby Atmos sound equipped cinema. 3D is OK but I prefer great sound over 3D effect. The 'Jungle Book' is the story of an orphan boy (Mowgli) that is raised in the jungle with the help of a pack of wolves, a bear, and a black panther.

'The Jungle Book' will be a big box-office success bringing in all age groups.  The effects are terrific as is the animation and includes a star-studded cast.

Hollywood Needs To Fatten-up

Calling on the Hollywood studios to embrace a "new normal" for female body types, Jennifer Lawrence says that Hollywood fosters too skinny women in films and that "normal" women are seen as being overweight.

"I think we have gotten so used to underweight that when you are normal weight, it's like: "Oh, my God, she's curvy". Which is crazy. The bare minimum would be to up the ante.  At least so I don't feel like the fattest one." 

The 25 years-old actor says that normal is what women are - they are not skinny and shapeless. Says Lawrence, "A movie star's reality is absolutely fabulous, but it is not the reality of most women in America.  That's what I'm talking about."

Just saying, 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The 'F' Rated Movie

As one would expect, women are more often seen in movies nude than men.  If fact, women are 3 times more likely to be seen nude or partially nude in movies. It's not surprising to see more female nudism in movies - both women and men view the female body as more sexy and attractive.  For example, no one is interested in men walking the red carpet.
Have Movie Ratings Gone To Far

In a recent study entitled 'The Status of Women in Films' it was reported that 26% of female characters in U.S. films appear nude or partially nude, but only 12% of movies feature females in lead roles. Movies continue to lag TV in incorporating gender equality.  In movies, 30% of speaking characters were female, while on TV the figure is 43%.  These figures seem reasonable but the issue is: would having more females in lead roles bring in the same or higher grosses.

Regarding race, 74% of characters, in both movies and TV, are played by white actors, 15% by black actors (which is appropriate given the black population is about 14%), but only 4% played by Latino and Asian actors which make up 20% and 8% of the greater population and are under-represented in both movies and TV shows.

The 'A' and 'F' Rating

It is true that female actors have a very different status in movies than their male counterparts. Female actors do earn less than male actors, and normally, have much shorter careers.

To correct the gender issue, some in the cinema industry have put forth the notion of initiating a new movie rating - the 'F', for films made by or with major roles for women. I'm unsure if this would have any positive marketing value. Would moviegoers choose to view a movie with an 'F' rating over one that doesn't?  The 'F' rating has been used at a few European film festivals with mixed results and in Sweden an 'A' rating has been added to confuse even more. The 'A' rating is for movies that contain at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. I'm not making this up!

Do these ratings mean anything to moviegoers?  You tell me. Is this the way for the cinema to move forward?  Does the cinema even need to be equal in all ways?  The cinema is a reflection of what moviegoers want to view.  Hollywood mostly copies what is 'hot'. Right now, it's the high-impact, action, super-hero films that generate big numbers at the box-office; therefore, all of the studios follow suit.  An 'F', 'A' or other 'quality' type movie rating is not value-added to the film itself.  As a result, the studios and most exhibitors see no need for quality ratings other than to confuse and, worse still, annoy moviegoers -  and this can't be a good thing.

Just saying,

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Fox Eliminates Practice of Exhibitors' 'Clearances'

As the U.S. Department of Justice continues to investigate the legality of clearance booking by major cinema chains and studios, 20th Century Fox announced yesterday that it would no longer grant requests from large cinema circuits for exclusive screening rights to certain movies, ie. clearances.

Fox notified theater owners that they would no longer entertain requests for 'clearances', which allows theaters to show a movie exclusively in markets where a competitor is located nearby.  Fox told exhibitors that the policy change would go into effect with the release of  'X-Men:Apocalypse' to be released on May 27th.

CMG has previously reported on this issue and has been following the actions of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division investigation (which is on-going) into the practice of clearances. On Fox's move to eliminate the practice the Justice Department declined CMG's request for comment.

The Clearance Culprits
In addition to the Justice Department's investigation, several small exhibitors have sued larger chains over the practice saying they are being denied certain movies which greatly impairs their operations' profitability. iPIC Cinemas. a small, upscale cinema circuit, is suing AMC Entertainment, and Regal Cinemas (the two largest U.S. theater chains) over the practice. "The concepts of clearances are antiquated and don't apply to modern day society" Hamid Hashemi, CEO of iPic told CMG.  AMC and Regal have, in the past, opted not to screen movies in markets where their clearance requests were denied, putting pressure on the studios to honor their requests.

In its new policy, Fox runs the risk that the biggest theater chains will decide not to screen the studio's movies in some markets. But, Chris Aronson, Fox's President of domestic distribution told CMG, "That's their prerogative. It's hard to have revenue if you don't have product. We question whether they would really forego playing the big titles."

Fox's new policy could lead to a moment of reckoning on the issue. If other studios follow suit it will spell the end to the long held booking practice of allowing exclusive clearance for screening films.

CMG agrees with Fox, the practice of clearances is anti-competitive and theaters should be viewed as equals in screening films. Let moviegoers decide which theater they want to patronize and may the best theaters win.