Entertainment Industry

Category: Hasbro

'Ouija' back at Universal, now with low budget

Seven months after dropping a movie project based on the board game "Ouija" over concerns about its proposed budget of about $150 million, Universal Pictures is again planning to make the picture -- but at a much reduced cost.

The studio on Monday announced it was going to target the film for release in 2013, but did not say when it planned to begin production. People familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly said the new "Ouija," which will be produced by Jason Blum ("Paranormal Activity") and Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes, is expected to be made for less than $10 million.

Last August, Universal executives passed on the previous version of "Ouija," which was to be directed by McG and also produced by Bay. The studio was concerned that a supernatural horror movie with such a big budget would struggle to turn a profit.

At the time, Ouija maker Hasbro, which produces films based on its toys and games, planned to pitch the project as developed by McG to other studios. That effort was apparently unsuccessful, resulting in "Ouija" being reconceived by Universal with a much lower budget. The studio plans to hire a new director as well.

In 2008, Universal signed a much-ballyhooed deal to make at least four films based on seven Hasbro game properties. That agreement was later scrapped and, prior to the news about "Ouija," only one other Hasbro movie remained at the studio: the big-budget navel warfare and alien invasion picture "Battleship," which hits theaters in May.

Blum signed a deal last year to produce low-budget movies for Universal. His first, "Vigiliandia," was produced with Bay's Platinum Dunes and recently wrapped shooting. A second film, directed by Joe Johnston ("The Wolfman," "Jurassic Park III"), begins production this week, and a third, to be produced with former Universal executive Marc Platt, goes in front of the cameras in April.


'Battleship' shows a big course change at Universal

'Ouija' latest movie scrapped over budget concerns

Universal-Hasbro deal fizzles with departure of 'Stretch Armstrong'

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Hasbro's Ouija game. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

Universal-Hasbro deal fizzles with departure of 'Stretch Armstrong'


This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

With the departure of "Stretch Armstrong," Universal Pictures has no plans for any more movies based on Hasbro toys beyond this summer's release of "Battleship"--marking an inauspicious end to a much-hyped deal signed four years ago.

In February 2008, Universal struck an agreement with Hasbro to produce at least four films derived from seven games and toys: "Battleship," "Candy Land," "Clue," "Magic: The Gathering," "Monopoly" "Ouija," and "Stretch Armstrong."  The arrangement was touted as a significant one for Universal, which had fewer well-known franchises than rival studios.

At the time, the deal was widely mocked by some in the entertainment press as a sign of Hollywood's desperation to make movies based on games and toys with no story rather than betting on original ideas.

"Hasbro's portfolio of products...offer an exciting opportunity for us to develop tentpole movies with built-in global brand awareness," Universal then-Chairman Marc Shmuger said at the time.

Many of Universal's planned but since scrapped movie projects looked to be high-profile at the time. Ridley Scott was attached to direct "Monopoly," while McG was to helm "Ouija" and "Twilight" star Taylor Lautner was to play the title role in "Stretch Armstrong," with Brian Grazer producing.

But since former marketing and production presidents Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley were named chairman and co-chairman, respectively, of the studio in late 2009 (replacing Shmuger and partner David Linde), the Hasbro projects have slowly fallen by the wayside.

"Battleship" was the notable exception. The approximately $200-million production, which mixes naval warfare with an alien invasion, was directed by Pete Berg ("Hancock" and "Friday Night Lights") and opens in May.

Under the agreement, Hasbro paid all costs to develop the projects. But Universal had to pay the toy company a penalty of $5 million for the properties it did not turn into movies.

All of the remaining six projects are now being developed by Hasbro, which maintains an office on the Universal lot but essentially acts as an independent producer with the ability to set up movies at any studio.

"Our deal with Universal has evolved over time, but there's still a lot of interest in our projects out there," said Wayne Charness, senior vice president of corporate communications for Hasbro.

The toy company announced Monday that it has set up "Stretch Armstrong" with independent studio Relativity Media, which intends to release the movie in April of 2014. Lautner is no longer attached to star.

Hasbro already has two properties at Paramount Pictures that were set up before the Universal pact: "Transformers," which has become one of Hollywood's biggest movie franchises, and "G.I. Joe," for which a sequel will be released this June after the original did decent business in 2009.

[For the Record, 6:40 p.m, Jan. 30: An earlier version of this post incorectly said Universal paid Hasbro a separate penalty for each movie it did not make, including $5 million for "Ouija."]


'Ouija' latest movie scrapped over budget concerns

'Harry Potter' Wizarding World coming to Universal Hollywood

Ron Burkle buys Relativity Media stake from Elliott Management

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from "Battleship." Credit: Universal Pictures

Hub easily tops Discovery Kids numbers but has long climb ahead


The Hub, a new kids cable television channel co-owned by cable programmer Discovery Communications and toy giant Hasbro Inc., launched on Sunday and easily improved on the numbers that Discovery Kids was delivering.

Of course, that wasn't really much of a challenge. Discovery Kids ratings were so small the company never released them to the public.

In its first day, Hub averaged 59,000 viewers in the 6-11 demographic it is targeting. While Discovery Kids averaged 11,000 in that category the previous week, the Hub has a long way to go before its rivals have anything to worry about. According to Nielsen, Walt Disney Co.'s Disney Channel averaged more than 900,000 viewers age 6-11 while Viacom Inc.'s Nickelodeon had 865,000 and Time Warner Inc.'s Cartoon Network had 509,000. Smaller kids channels Disney XD, which targets boys, averaged 109,000 kids 6-11 while Nicktoons had 112,000 viewers that age.

The Hub's brightest spot was its "Family Game Night," an hour-long game show that averaged 116,000 viewers age 6-11 and 267,000 viewers overall. The show managed to beat Nicktoons, Teen Nick and Disney XD.

Given that Discovery Kids was barely a blip, it is no surprise that the Hub, which had a huge promotional push behind its launch Sunday, was easily able to improve the numbers. However, its "Family Game Night" had an impressive showing and the ratings overall were not horrible for day one given how much of a head start its much bigger rivals have. Discovery and Hasbro have the deep pockets to make inroads, but it is not going to happen overnight.

-- Joe Flint


Discovery and Hasbro not toying around with the Hub

Photo: The Hub's "Family Game Night." Credit: Hub


Hasbro and Discovery not toying around with the Hub

There will be another player in the kid-TV biz starting Sunday when the Hub -- a cable channel from Discovery Communications and Hasbro -- flips on the switch.

LOESCH Born out of the ashes of Discovery Kids, a cable network in 60 million homes that never made much of an impression, Discovery and Hasbro are hoping eventually to challenge Viacom's Nickelodeon empire, Time Warner's Cartoon Network and Disney's Disney Channel and Disney XD for a piece of the more than $1 billion in advertising and sponsorship money that is spent trying to reach kids every year.

But the Hub also will be getting a lot of scrutiny from watchdogs. Although the channel has said only about 20% of its programming will be based on toys and games from Hasbro, some activists are griping that the network will end up being nothing more than a shill for the toy giant.

The FCC has regulations about advertising on kids' TV, and the Hub already has said it will carry fewer commercials than its rivals in hopes of convincing parents it's about the content, not about moving toys from shelves into shopping carts. 

Running the channel is Margaret Loesch, the well-regarded kids' TV executive who made Fox Kids a powerhouse 20 years ago. She promises the network will be more than just ads for Hasbro. "There have been many shows created just to try to help move toy lines that have come and gone very quickly," Loesch said.

Read more about the launch of the Hub: "New kids' TV channel raises product-placement concerns."

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Margaret Loesch. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

The Morning Fix: Oscar working on timing. Hasbro and Discovery not toying around. `Superman' has its director.

After the coffee. Before yet another flight to New York.

The Skinny: Discovery's and Hasbro's new kids channel doesn't premiere until Sunday, but the critics are already pouncing. Can't Google everyone with Google TV. "Superman" has its next director. The FCC wants more dirt from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review

Oscars on the move. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences wants to move the annual Oscar Awards telecasts from its current home of the end of February or early March to January or early February. The motivation is to make the Oscars one of the first awards shows instead of the last so there is less chance of awards-show fatigue impacting the telecast's ratings. The challenge is finding a new home that won't get run over by football. Huh? That's right, football. See, the NFL wants to expand its regular season to 18 games (that's a debate for another day) and if (when) that happens, it will mean the Super Bowl and probably some of the playoffs will get pushed well into February. That means the Oscar folks (and host network ABC) have to find a home where they won't bump up against all that football hype on rival networks and still get ahead of other shows. The scoop from the Los Angeles Times.

Not toying around. On Sunday, Discovery and Hasbro will launch "The Hub," a new cable channel aimed primarily at kids age 6-11. Not only will it face tough competition from entrenched channels such as Viacom's Nickelodeon and Disney's Disney Channel and Disney XD, it will also be scrutinized by media watchdogs. That's because there are concerns that Hasbro will try to make the network into nothing but ads for its toys. The channel's boss, respected kids TV executive Margaret Loesch, says that won't be the case and that only about 20% of Hub shows are based on Hasbro products. But will that be enough to silence the critics? More on The Hub from the Los Angeles Times.

Google this! Google, the search engine that wants to become the connector between the Internet and the television, unveiled its content partners, but the list was more notable for who wasn't on it. While several cable networks, including CNBC, HBO and Turner Broadcasting are on board, the big broadcast networks are steering clear of Google -- for now anyway. To get Google TV, at least in its early incarnation, you'll need either a Sony high-definition TV set, a Blu-ray player or a special set-top box. In other words, it may take a little while for this thing to take off. More on Google's small-screen dreams from the New York Times.

Peace accord. Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa is shelling out $130 million for a 5% stake in Univision and an additional $1.07 billion in convertible debt that translates into 30% of Univision's shares, according to the Wall Street Journal. Besides giving Univision a much needed infusion, it ends years of acrimony between the two media giants.

And the backlash begins. Although many critics are worshiping "The Social Network" and already talking about how many Oscar nominations it should get, gripes about the portrayal of women in the movie are starting to surface. Missing from the movie, says Rebecca Davis O'Brien in the Daily Beast, are women who aren't "doting groupies, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys." 

He's baaack! Former NBC Enertainment chief Ben Silverman is back to doing what he does best -- making new versions of successful shows. He's near a deal to make a sitcom for ABC based on an old Latin American comedy called "I Hate This Place." Not sure what's more ironic, that ABC -- whose old entertainment chief Steve McPherson loathed Silverman -- will be home for the show or that Deadline Hollywood, which relished in Silverman's downfall at NBC, was where the story was leaked.

Super Director. Zack Snyder, whose credits include "300" and "Watchmen," has been tapped to direct the latest version of "Superman" for Warner Bros. and Legend Pictures. Chris Nolan will produce. Deadline Hollywood on the choice and what Snyder's thoughts are about taking on the franchise.

Where's mine? The Wrap makes the shocking discovery that even in a field as challenged as journalism, there are some people pulling down huge salaries. Next you'll tell me there are hockey players making big bucks too. The hook for the story is that Michael Ausiello, an Entertainment Weekly writer best known for his television casting scoops, is launching his own website, backed by the owners of Deadline Hollywood. Hey, if someone wants to pay top dollar for content, you'll get no complaints from me.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Thomas Tull, the chairman of Legendary Pictures, is buying out his original investors and has new partners in Fortress Investment Group and Fidelity. The Federal Communications Commission wants more inside information from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review of their pending merger. 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter and I'll tweet you something special. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Discovery and Hasbro's Hub kids' channel gears up for launch

The Hub, a new kids' cable channel being launched by Discovery Communications and Hasbro Inc., will spend roughly $20 million to hype its Oct. 10 launch and is setting its sights on younger viewers as other kids' channels aim for teens.

Although the Hub, which will launch in about 60 million homes, is still keeping its schedule close to its vest, the network's Chief Executive Margaret Loesch, a veteran kids' television programmer, thinks there is an opening for the channel to woo kids and the advertisers trying to reach them.

"Our competition is starting to age up," Loesch said at the Television Critics Assn.'s summer press tour  in Los Angeles. The Hub will focus primarily on viewers in the 6-to-12 age range.

Established networks, particularly Disney XD and Cartoon Network, have been going after slightly older teens and often focus their efforts on boys versus girls. Nickelodeon, the reigning kids' channel, and Disney Channel are also becoming more known for shows that appeal to teens and tweens.  

Even if there is an opening to snag younger viewers, the Hub will face an uphill battle. Though 60 million homes is a solid start, it will still trail other kids' channels in reach and it will take several years to find parity in reach.

With Hasbro as a partner, there has been some concern from advocacy groups that the channel will be more interested in promoting toys than enlightening and entertaining kids. Loesch said about 25% of the cable channel's programming will be tied to Hasbro, including "Transformers Prime," a series based on the company's highly successful characters, and a game show version of "Clue."

However, the Hub will also have other original and acquired content, including "Pound Puppies," a cartoon that features the voices of Betty White and Eric McCormack. It will also have a game show block on Friday nights aimed at families.

In an interview, Loesch said that so far she has not heard grumbling about the concerns of advocacy groups from the media rather than the groups themselves, but she is aware that the channel will be under a microscope when it launches later this year.

"We're being so careful about content, I'm hoping we'll side-step any brouhaha," she said.

Hoping to appeal more to parents and kids, the Hub will not carry a full advertising load in much of its programming. Although federal regulations limit the amount of advertising in programming aimed at kids to 10.5 minutes an hour on weekends and 12 minutes an hour on weekdays, shows on the Hub that are aimed at preschoolers will carry just six minutes of local and national advertising. Shows that are geared to young children will also have fewer commercials than allowed by the Federal Communications Commission.

On the advertising front, Loesch said only one major toy manufacturer has steered clear of the Hub because of its ties to Hasbro. She declined to say which advertiser, but people familiar with the situation say Hasbro rival Mattel has not exactly been rushing out to buy time on the Hub.

Interestingly, the Hub is selling advertising time to other kids' channels, but has not been able to buy commercials on its rivals. Loesch said the network will buy local commercials on cable systems carrying Nickelodeon, Cartoon and other kids' channels to promote itself.

The Hub has also bought a few reruns, including sitcoms "The Wonder Years" and "Doogie Howser, M.D." That  strategy was embraced by Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite, which in its early days featured reruns of classic sitcoms. Loesch said she is not trying to duplicate Nick at Nite but is  looking to find popular reruns that kids and parents can watch together.

-- Joe Flint

Barry Diller and Ben Silverman looking into fitness

Media moguls Barry Diller and Ben Silverman want to get Fit.

DILLERBIKE The two have proposed acquiring a piece of FitTV. They would like to enter into a joint venture with Discovery Communications, which owns the channel, according to one industry source who is knowledgeable about the situation.

None of the companies involved wanted to discuss the talks, which are said to be extremely preliminary.

FitTV is one of Discovery's smallest channels; it was launched in late 2003 and is available in 50 million homes. But the half-pint network has ambitions to tone up, and it bills itself as an interactive channel that "inspires consumers to improve their fitness and well-being -- on their own terms."

Sounds like a good fit for Diller and Silverman, who are looking to bulk up their media holdings. And some would say they like things to be "on their own terms." Discovery, meanwhile, has shown a willingness to enter into joint ventures. It is famously partnering with Oprah Winfrey to launch OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network early next year on what is currently Discovery Health. It also entered into a joint venture with Hasbro Inc. and the two companies plan to rebrand Discovery Kids as "The Hub" later this year. 

BenSilverman Since he left NBC Universal last summer, Silverman has been gearing up his new company, Electus, which is part of Diller's IAC. And Silverman knows a thing or two about positioning fitness. One of the most successful shows produced by his former company, Reveille, is "The Biggest Loser," which continues to be a heavyweight in the ratings for NBC.  

And once, while Silverman was having lunch at the Burbank eatery Mo's, he sent a hapless waiter back to the kitchen when he attempted to serve Silverman and his party gourmet burgers with buns. Silverman said with disdain: "Do we look like people who eat buns?"

-- Meg James

Upper photo: Barry Diller. Credit: Douglas Pizac / Associated Press

Lower photo: Ben Silverman. Credit: Dan Steinberg/ Associated Press

Discovery and Hasbro name new kids channel 'The Hub'

Cable programming giant Discovery Communications and Hasbro Inc., who are teaming up to launch a kids channel later this year, are calling the network "The Hub."

Margaret Loesch, a kids-programming veteran who was tapped last year to become president and chief executive of the channel, said she thought there was a significant opportunity for the network despite the strength of incumbents Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network.

The Hub will target primarily the 6-12 age demographic. Loesch said the other networks were focused either on teens or kids in preschool and that there was a niche for her network to exploit. 

Loesch said the channel will have an eclectic schedule but did not provide details beyond saying it would be a mix of animation and live-action fare.

The Hub is taking over the channel space that was occupied by Discovery Kids and will launch in roughly 60-million homes in the fall.  There has been concern from children's advocacy groups that the connection with Hasbro will mean the channel will be focused more on selling toys than in enlightening children.

-- Joe Flint


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