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Sunday, November 29, 2015

What's Up At The Movies

Lawsuits Mount
Walkers during happier times
Over Paul Walker's Death

In September, CMG reported that, Meadow Rain, the daughter of Paul Walker, best known for his starring role in the Fast & Furious movies, had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Porsche (owned by Volkswagen).  The lawsuit alleges Porsche was aware that the 2005 Carrera GT that Walker, and friend, Roger Rodas (who also died in the crash) had stability issues and lacked safety features that would have saved both Walker's and Rodas' lives.

This week, Paul Walker's father also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Porsche.  Seeking unspecified damages, the senior Walker's suit was joined by another lawsuit, this one filed by Rodas' widow.

In response to these lawsuits Porsche issued the following statement. "Mr. Walker knowingly and voluntarily assumed all risks, perils, and dangers in respect to the use of the subject 2005 Carrera GT. That the perils, risks, and dangers were open and obvious and known to him, and that he chose to conduct himself in a manner as to expose himself to such peril, thus assuming all the risks involved in using the vehicle."

It has been documented that the Carrera was traveling at a high-rate of speed when the crash occurred.

Redstone Sued Over 'Mental Vacancy'
Redstone in recent photo

Sumner Redstone was sued last week regarding his mental competence and raised questions about the 92 year old's capability in overseeing the affairs of Viacom and the CBS Corporations.

Court documents describe Redstone as "mentally vacant, unable to speak intelligibly or eat on his own and prone to uncontrollable crying spells."  In response, his attorneys contend that the "litigation is a farce, it is a meritless action, riddled with lies, and a despicable invasion of privacy." Redstone's attorneys further added that "it proves only that the claimants will stop at nothing to peruse their personal financial agenda."

Redstone, who is reported to have a net worth of over $5.5 billion, owns Paramount Pictures. Although he has not managed any of his companies for sometime he has relied on Viacom's management and its Board to run the day-to-day affairs.  Philippe Dauman, Viacom's CEO is currently the person in charge of Redstone's healthcare directive and would make all decisions if Redstone should become totally incapacitated.

CMG only brings up this issue because Redstone's condition will have significant ramifications for the Paramount studio.  Outside of 'Mission Impossible:Rogue Nation', no other Paramount film made it into the top ten this year.  Paramount will only release 16 films this year and through November it had only 6.2% of the total U.S. box-office gross. Only 14 movies are scheduled for release in 2016.

Polanski Exonerated
Polanski exonerated

Roman Polanski will not be be extradited by Poland as the U.S. had requested.  In an almost 40 year-old case, Prosecutors in Krakow, Poland who sought extradition of Polanski said, "the court's refusal of the extradition closes the matter".

Polanski's reaction to the ruling was "great relief and satisfaction". The 82 year old Polanski currently resides in Paris and is now free to travel to Poland, his native country, where he is planning to film his next movie.

In 1977 Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13 year old girl during a photo-shoot in Los Angeles.  He then fled the U.S. fearing imprisonment and the U.S. authorities have been seeking his extradition since that time.

His notable movies include: 'Rosemary's Baby' 1968, 'Chinatown' 1974, 'The Tenent' 1976, 'Tess' 1979, and 'The Pianist' 2002.  Polanski's second wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Charles Mansion family in 1969 while he was in Europe working on a movie.

Jim Lavorato

Monday, November 23, 2015

CinemaBUZZ by Seymore Flix

Hunger Games Poster Ban In Israel
Poster Ban in Israel 

Several cities in Israel, including Jerusalem have ban the use of a poster to advertise the last film in the 'Hunger Games' series.

The poster had to be redesigned so as to exclude any image of Jennifer Lawrence. A source at an Israeli PR firm told CMG "the town of Bnie Brok and others, including sections of Jerusalem, do not allow posters with female images, based upon the fear that the posters may incite the feelings of the city's residents."  I'm not sure what that all means but the views on women seem a tad out-of-touch.

Ironically, there has been nary a word from the Hollywood feminists, including Lawrence, on this subject - which can be seen as very anti-feminist.

'Star Wars' - $50M In Advanced Ticket Sales

Shattering all previous records, 'The Force Awakens' has broken the $50 million mark in advance ticket sales and there is still over 3 weeks until its release.

The seventh film in the outer space saga is by far the biggest pre-seller in history. IMAX screenings are essentially sold out and theatre chains and independent exhibitors are continually adding extra showtimes to keep up with demand.

I believe, 'The Force Awakens' will have the biggest opening in history and have legs to push it's play-dates well into January.  It is expected to open in over 4,000 screens in the U.S. and thousands more globally which could push the film to be the highest grosser yet.  It better live up to all of the hype or Disney will be in a world of hurt for the next two sequels already in the works.

Samsung Intro's VR Headset
Samsung's new GearVR Headset

On Friday, Samsung began selling its version of a virtual reality headset - the GearVR for just $100.

Directed at the consumer, the GearVR works in conjunction with Samsung's most recent smartphones.  Samsung developed the GearVR with Facebook owned VR firm, Oculus (which sells a VR headset for over twice the price of the Samsung).

The GearVR is reported to be easy to use and has installed apps or those that can be purchased through the Oculus store.  Games are the big draw for GearVR with cinema a second as it offers films in 360-degree version.  There is also a Media app which lets you stream from Twitch and there is a Netflix app that puts you into a virtual living room to watch Netflix movies.

On the down side, the GearVR reportedly has focus issues and the fact that you are staring at a smartphone poses resolution issues.

At the moment, my suggestion is to wait before pulling out your wallet for a GearVR or any other VR device - these devices aren't yet ready for prime-time.  Other companies will be entering the fray and the competition will be fierce for the VR user.  Samsung has laid down a $100 device, so the price is right (assuming you have a compatible Samsung smartphone).  I believe the trick will be to offer consumers a low-cost, high-quality, wireless (the Oculus VR has a giant cord) device for connection to a PC or tablet and not a phone.

As it currently stands, VR devices don't present any competition to cinemas as they are used primarily for gaming, but it's worth watching their development nonetheless.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

David vs. Goliath Battle Continues

IPic seating
In the continuing battle of big vs. small the David-sized cinema circuit IPic has sued the Goliath chains AMC and Regal as the legal wrangling over anti-competitive practices by the large circuits shows no let-up.

This past Tuesday, IPic Gold Class Entertainment (a high-end cinema chain with 12 luxury cinemas in various cities throughout the U.S.) sued both Regal Entertainment and AMC Entertainment (the U.S.'s #1 and #2 largest chains) alleging that both of these large circuits are using their "market power" to "squeeze out" IPic's new cinema in Houston and one planned to open in Dallas, Texas.

IPic food offerings
The IPic suit claims that Regal and AMC informed the major studios that any film they licensed to IPic theaters in Texas would not be screened at any of their theaters located in that area. Because of this illegal boycott, IPic's new Houston cinema has been unable to screen first-run movies such as 'The Martian', 'Bridge of spies', or 'Steve Jobs'.

CMG has written about so-called 'clearances' (the practice of shutting out smaller competitors from obtaining first-run films) which stifles competition.  IPic maintains that its cinemas do not compete with  AMC or Regal  because they are so much smaller, sell higher-priced tickets, and offer premium services such as luxury dining and alcohol beverage services.  IPic is seeking an injunction to remove the clearance practice.

In a statement, AMC noted, "Allocated film zones are a long-standing and well established industry practice and has a demonstrated benefit to all stakeholders, moviegoers, studios, and exhibitors."
Hmmm .... How so, AMC?  Regal had no comment regarding the IPic lawsuit.

IPic's lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal actions against the large U.S. chains.  Last year, Cobb Theaters sued AMC accusing it of having "monopoly power" to block Cobb from screening films at its upscale cinema in Atlanta, Ga.  That case is currently proceeding through the courts.

As previously reported in CMG, last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice began an extensive probe of Regal, AMC, and Cinemark (the U.S.'s #3 largest circuit) regarding anti-competitive practices and if they have violated federal antitrust laws - that investigation is now on-going. CMG will keep you informed as to the on-going DOJ probe.

It is fair to say that the large circuits, which don't really offer luxury viewer accommodations like the smaller chains are running scared.  Operating larger multiplexes is no longer the best strategy for cinema operators - it's just too much brick-and-mortar and too staff-heavy to support itself.  The cinema exhibition industry is moving toward fewer screens but of exceptional viewing comfort and quality - in presentation, seating, and concession.  Which leaves the large circuits in a bad position.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cinema BuZZ by Seymore Flix

Cinemas Say "NO" to Political Ads

Ad dollars run rampant during political campaigns, especially for U.S. Presidential elections.  It's estimated that over $5 billion will be spent during the 2016 election cycle for the Presidential run - double what was spent in 2012. Of this, $4 billion will be spent on TV ads split about even between Democratic and Republican candidates.

However, the large cinema advertising giants, National CineMedia and ScreenVision have decided not to participate in this ad spending frenzy - saying that cinemas are 'politics free-zones'. Its not easy to reject the large potential ad revenues that would be generated but the companies have decided to keep cinemas free from the deluge of political ads viewers are inundated with on a daily basis.

Pressure is being put on the cinema advertisers by the political parties given the coveted (and captive) 18-to-49 year old demographic movies draw. But, according to Cliff Marks, NCM's Head of Sales and Marketing, "It is more important to keep the movie-going experience entertaining and maintain a safe haven for NCM's other advertisers.  We want the movie experience to be all positive".

I believe the cinema ad companies are doing the right thing.  Many, including myself, are already tiring of the negative campaign 'drama' and there is over a year to ago!

It is said that all advertising is based on one (or a combination) of three things: sex, fear, or novelty.
Political ads are largely fear based. As in, 'a vote for my opponent will be a vote that will hurt you in someway: personally, financially, or ideologically'.  Cinemas as political ad free-zones will be seen as a welcomed respite from the non-stop, in-your-face political ads we have all come to despise.

50th Oscar Nomination

If nominated for best music score ('Star Wars: The Force Awakens') this year, music composer and conductor John Williams will have been nominated a staggering 50 times for an Oscar. Currently he is the only living person to have five Oscars.  To put this achievement in perspective, Meryl Streep (the actor with the most nominations) has had 19 nominations and three wins.

Williams is only surpassed by Walt Disney who had 59 nominations and amassed a total of 22 Oscars and four additional honorary Academy Awards an achievement that will probably never be equaled.

Hopefully Williams will not only be nominated but win the Award this year. Now 82, he has provided us with great film scores over the last six decades.  From 'Jaws' to the 'Indiana Jones' films to the theme music for 'Sunday Night Football'  and 'Gilligan's Island'.  Good luck John!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Oscar Watch: Pre-Award Parties

Every evening, in and around L.A., cocktail parties are now the norm.  'Friends' of those being considered for an Oscar nomination front these informal affairs, of usually from 40-80 guests, so as to tout the efforts for the award contenders - who mill around the crowd, back-slap, glad-hand, answer questions, and remind Guide and Academy members about how good their 'work' was.

Sometimes (if the hosts is well-heeled enough to have a screening room in their home) the cocktail infused guests are provided a presentation of the 'work' , which they may not have seen as yet.

November brings on a tsunami of these 'get-togethers', which number into the hundreds each week and timed so the Academy and Guild guests can zip from one party to the next.

It's not so much that the blockbusters need this kind of 'pitch', it's the smaller, lesser-known movies that need booze and elbow-rubbing to gin-up support.  A veteran awards consultant (who asked to remain anonymous) told CMG, "Voters are people, and they vote with emotion. Events like these where you screen the movie and then let people meet the talent behind it forms a connection with voters.  It makes it personal. And if it's personal, then maybe they'll remember it when they vote."

Ah .... to just have to worry about which party to attend every night for weeks on end.  To be wined and dined, to hobnob with Hollywood's elite - rubbing elbows with 1-percenters (ok, 10-percenters).
Ah .... the good life of entertainment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Movie Ads on Porn Sites

All of the major and minor film studios advertise their upcoming releases on a variety of media outlets: TV spots, print media, web-based ads, trailers, posters, bill boards, merchandising, promo items. Additionally, the movie's stars appear on an array of TV and radio shows, film festival interviews and panel Q&A, etc. But, one form of movie advertising that you may not be aware of is the use of porn websites - and just about every studio utilizes it.

Porn-site advertising is cheap and efficient, especially for adult, male, R-rated films.  Many studios won't admit to it but when you think about it, it does make a lot of very sly sense.  In fact, for certain films this form of marketing makes a whole lot of sense.

Question: Who is going to notice a movie ad on a porn site? Answer: Everyone watching.  People notice the unexpected.  Most people viewing porn would expect to see ads for more porn not ads for 'regular' movies.  Not only that, but since only certain types of films can be marketed on a porn site, those that show up are without doubt viewed.

So, given its cheap cost relative to other advertising and its impact, porn-site advertising is gaining in popularity with film companies.  Some may think this is a very bad way to market a film but given the right film it makes all the sense in the world.  For example, Tim Palen, Chief Brand Officer and Head of Marketing for Lionsgate Pictures told CMG, "We did it, for example, with 'The Expendables' films and it worked great for us".  Any movie with a lot of action, a raunchy comedy, or even horror works very well.

Like it or not, porn is huge. Estimated revenue from porn related websites and other outlets was over $13 billion in the U.S. alone in 2014 - that's more than the box-office gross from regular cinemas! How does that go, oh yea, 'Sex sells'.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

CMG - Christmas Gift Suggestions

Go Full 'Circle' With Disney
'Circle With Disney'

As I wrote in the last post, Disney has some near term management problems but that doesn't mean I view Disney a poor performer - far from it.  In fact, if (and when) they move to pay-per-view of ESPN sporting events and re-negotiate their cable TV partner payments, the money-making machine will kick-in.

'Circle With Disney' is an example of Disney's forward thinking.  'Circle' is a new product that would make a great gift for anyone wanting to control how their Internet connection is being used.  What 'Circle' does is monitor and provide control of on-line activities.  Employers who want to control how employees use their WiFi while at work, or parents who want to control time and topics of their kids Internet devices.  Before, controlling a private Internet connection was very ineffective - because the control products were device-based ,- whereas 'Circle' provides control of an Internet connection and the content that flows through it, for any device, at the source - the router.

'Circle With Disney' is a small, white box that functions as an Internet gate-keeper and provides complete control over any device using the Internet connection 'Circle' is monitoring.  'Circle With Disney' is installed and managed via an app (free at iTunes).  No software or other app is needed to be installed on any user device.

Limits on time used and information accessed can be controlled and monitored by parents, employers, or anyone else with a need to limit access to their Internet connection.  For example, 'Circle' can tell you if anyone has hacked into or is 'borrowing' your WiFi connection and let you put a stop to it.

At $99, 'Circle With Disney' is a great Christmas gift and is available at meetcircle.com or DisneyStore.com/circle.

Emoji Keyboard
Emoji Keyboard

Yes, it can be used for regular typing but the focus is on emojis. Each key of the Emoji Keyboard contains three emojis which are activated by pressing one of the 'emoji' buttons at the bottom of the keyboard.

EmojiWorks, the manufacturer of the keyboard, says the keyboard speeds up the time when using emojis and the board has the newest emojis, including the Taco emoji.  The keyboard can be used with either Mac, IOS, or Windows on all platforms.

The Emoji keyboard is a great Christmas gift for both adults and children.  

Friday, November 06, 2015

Is The 'Force' With Disney

Not enough to beat the blackhole of sports entertainment
Coming out in December will be the new episode of 'Star Wars' and it will be a box-office bruiser which will easily reach the $1 billion+ mark on its way to being, perhaps, the biggest grosser in film history.  Unfortunately, for Disney, 'The Force Awakens' (no matter how successful) will not have an impact on its share price - which has been tumbling as of late.  Problem: Disney is in a blackhole, and its not in outer space but in the universe of sports entertainment.

Disney's profit breakdown is as follows: Consumer Products - 37%, Broadcasting - 22%, Parks and Resorts - 16%, Studio/Film Entertainment - 11%, Media Networks, Interactive - 5%, all Other - 10%, and Cable TV - (1%).

Disney is the preeminent deliverer of live sports entertainment via ESPN and its cable revenue is tumbling.   Although it has tremendous revenue drivers via intellectual properties, such as 'Star Wars' and 'Marvel' it is losing money in the blackhole of sports entertainment. Disney needs to take ESPN's sports content and move it to an 'over-the-top' pay-per-view model - however  this is proving to be more difficult then exploding a 'death star'. 

Disney has inked contracts in the tens of billions with major sports leagues which necessitates charging high 'view fees' to watch sporting events, problem is Disney has contractual obligations with its cable TV affiliates which are set in stone.

Disney is in the process or re-negotiation with its cable partners but, as one can imagine, this will be slow going. In the meantime, Disney will flounder and 'the Force' will not be with it.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Movie Industry in Flux

'Outliers', like Netflix and Amazon are changing the movie industry - there is no doubt about that.  With very deep pockets, these disruptor's are producing quality content, purchasing the best entries at Festivals, and signing 'A' listers. In the process, these companies are changing the movie industry forcing others, from the major studios to indie film-makers, to readjust or all-out change their modus operendi.
Social Media Has Huge Impact on Movies' Success

In 2006, when I started this CMG blog, I forecasted that the internet would change the movie industry. As predicted, the web evolved and spawned large entities with virtually unlimited monetary resources which gravitated to the world of mass media entertainment -  movies, sports, and TV shows.  At this time, Netflix and Amazon are the big players in the field, but there are others: Apple, Hulu, HBO, Facebook, and yes, even Twitter, just to name several.

Netflix is the most aggressive and backup their attitude with an annual content acquisition/production war-chest of $6 billion.  Amazon is more conservative, which can be expected given all of the other lines of business it is involved in, including being one of the major cloud service providers.  In fact, Netflix is in the process of having Amazon 'serve up' all of its content as Netflix wants out of the back-office operations in providing content to its subscriber base - Amazon will do this.  Netflix has 69 million U.S. subscribers and hasn't scratched the overseas markets, including China and Russia, most of the rest of Europe and Latin America.

A lot of content is needed to satisfy the global entertainment marketplace but will this trend produce a 'bubble of content'.  Too much content chasing too few outlets. We may already be seeing this at cinemas. Movies that normally would be sure box-office bets now flop in the wake of the big franchise films that suck all of the oxygen out of the theatrical playlist.  Only films that generate favorable social media chatter make for good box-office grosses, and this trend will not only continue but get more traction - and it will be felt by cinemas.

The cinema's digital rivals are relentless, and day-and-date release across all entertainment platforms is inevitable.  The movie-going experience must become more, must become better, must become immersive.