Entertainment Industry

Category: Universal

National Amusements boycotts 'Tower Heist' over VOD release

National Amusements Inc., the Norwood, Mass.-based theater chain, has joined other exhibitors in vowing not play Universal Pictures' "Tower Heist."

National Amusements, which operates more than 950 movie screens in the U.S., Britain and Latin America, said in a statement Wednesday that it would not screen the Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy comedy in protest over Universal's controversial plans to make the movie available via video-on-demand three weeks after its release in theaters.

"Under Universal's current plans for the premium video-on-demand release of 'Tower Heist, National Amusements has decided not to play this film in its theatres,'' National Amusements said in a statement.

Universal recently said it would make “Tower Heist,“ which opens in theaters Nov. 4, available to about 500,000 homes in two markets, Atlanta and Portland, Ore., for $59.99 via video-on-demand.

Already, however, several exhibitors, including giant Texas-based Cinemark USA and smaller chains such as Regency Theatres of Calabasas and Sherman Oaks-based Galaxy Theatres have vowed not to play the movie. Theater owners are concerned that showing movies in the home so soon after they debut in theaters will discourage consumers from buying movie tickets.

Based in Norwood, Mass., National Amusements is a closely held company operating under the third generation of leadership by the Redstone family. National Amusements is also an equal partner in the online ticketing service, MovieTickets.com, and is the parent company of Viacom and CBS Corp.


More theaters threaten to hold up Universal movie 'Tower Heist.'

'Tower Heist' to hit video on demand three weeks after theatrical release

Flagship Theatres' Cinemark lawsuit a test for independent chains

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures



Cinemark theater chain to ban 'Tower Heist' over premium VOD plan

Tower Heist
Cinemark, the nation's third-biggest movie theater chain, said Thursday it will not play the upcoming Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy "Tower Heist" in any of its 300 locations if Universal Pictures goes ahead with a plan to release it on premium video-on-demand just three weeks after the film premieres in theaters.

The bold move would deprive Cinemark of a substantial share of what's sure to be tens of millions, and potentially more than $100 million, in box office for "Tower Heist." It also calls into question whether the studio will go ahead with the plan and risk losing millions as well.

On Wednesday, news broke that Universal will make "Tower Heist" available in Atlanta and Portland, Ore., for $59.99 via video-on-demand following its Nov. 4 debut. The test would be the biggest step forward in the controversial premium video-on-demand business that any Hollywood studio has taken.

People close to Universal said that top executives informed Cinemark and other theater chains of its VOD strategy this week after more than a year of discussions on the topic. It appears that Universal chairman Adam Fogelson and his team had hoped that the theater chains would feel included in the process and decide that their business was not threatened due to the limited nature of the "Tower Heist" test, which would be available in about 500,000 homes.

But Cinemark, which operates about 3,800 screens in the U.S.,  is sticking with its fierce opposition to the premium VOD business. It and the two larger exhibitors, AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment, last spring waged a public battle against a premium VOD test by four studios, including Universal, that made movies available -- for $29.99 -- 60 days after their debut in theaters.

Those companies believe that making movies available to watch at home sooner than 90 days after the premiere encourages consumers to not go out and buy tickets.

"Cinemark recognizes and acknowledges the changing technological landscape and related challenges that Universal and the other studios are facing in the in-home window," the company said in a statement. But that recognition apparently was not enough to support the test.

"Cinemark has urged Universal Pictures to reconsider its market test of this product," the statement continued. "If Universal Pictures moves forward with its 'Tower Heist' premium video-on-demand offering as announced, Cinemark has determined, in its best business interests, that it will decline to exhibit this film in its theatres."

A Universal spokeswoman declined to comment. AMC and Regal have yet to disclose their reactions to the "Tower Heist" VOD plan.


'Tower Heist' director Brett Ratner criticized early VOD in April

'Tower Heist' to hit video-on-demand three weeks after theatrical debut

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures

'Tower Heist' to hit video-on-demand three weeks after theatrical debut


In an audacious move that could shake up the way Hollywood has done business for decades, Universal Pictures plans to make its upcoming Eddie Murphy action comedy film "Tower Heist" available through video-on-demand just three weeks after it debuts in theaters Nov. 4.

But that convenience will come with a hefty asking price -- $59.99 -- that many cash-strapped consumers will balk at in the current economic slump.

The proposed test, which will be offered in Atlanta and Portland, Ore., to approximately 500,000 digital cable subscribers of Universal’s corporate parent, Comcast Corp., marks the first time a major studio movie will be available to watch in-home while still playing in thousands of theaters.

A person with knowledge of the "Tower Heist" release strategy who was not authorized to discuss it publicly confirmed the details for The Times. Spokeswomen for Universal and Comcast declined to comment.

If enough people take advantage of Universal's offer without a significant drop in box-office receipts, other studios could adopt similar strategies in the future. Such a development would end the industry's long tradition of imposing a delay of several months between when a movie is shown in theaters and when it is accessible on television screens.

Studios are looking to such experiments as a way to shift their age-old business models and generate additional revenue that can help compensate for plunging DVD sales that have been undermining movie economics over the last several years.

Universal's move is likely to infuriate theater owners, some of whom were informed of the plan this week after more than a year of discussions on the topic. The cinema industry has reacted angrily to any attempt by studios to shrink the traditional "window" of 90 days between the time a movie debuts in theaters and when it's available for home view.

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Donna Langley to remain co-chairman of Universal through 2014

In a final move to lock up top leadership at the studio, Universal Pictures co-chairman Donna Langley's contract has been extended through 2014.

The expected move comes just a week after the contract of Langley's boss, chairman Adam Fogelson, was extended through 2014 as well. Both executives' contracts had been set to end in 2012.

Universal Studios president Ron Meyer, who oversees the film studio and theme parks, in the spring had his contract extended through 2015. The trio's lengthened contracts represent a vote of confidence in their performance and upcoming slate by Comcast Corp., which acquired the studio's parent company NBC Universal early this year.

The pair were named to the top spots at Universal in late 2009 following a dismal run for the studio. Its box office troubles continued through early this year. A slate of movies greenlighted by Fogelson and Langley has seen stronger, if still mixed, results this summer, with hits like "Fast Five" and "Bridesmaids" coming alongside disappointments including "Cowboys and Aliens" and "The Change-Up."

Next year Universal has several big budget bets coming including an adapatation of the board game "Battleship," fairy tale twist "Snow White and the Huntsman," and 3-D action movie "47 Ronin" starring Keanu Reeves.

Langley, Universal's former president of production, oversees production and acquisitions as well as the studio's specialty films unit Focus Features.

-- Ben Fritz


Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson will stay on through 2014

Ron Meyer's contract extended through 2015

Photo: Donna Langley, center, with Jason Bateman left, and Ryan Reynolds at the premiere of "The Change-Up" in August. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images.

Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson will stay on through 2014

NBCUniversal owner Comcast Corp. took another step to retain Universal Pictures’ top leadership, announcing Monday that it has extended the contract of Chairman Adam Fogelson through 2014. Fogelson's deal was set to expire at the end of next year.

The news comes after the company in June extended the contract of Fogelson's boss, Universal Studios President and COO Ron Meyer, through 2015.

While the company is keeping Fogelson in his current position, NBCUniversal is tweaking the reporting structure. The executive will now report both to Meyer, as he had previously, as well as to NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke.

The announcement appears to be further evidence that Comcast has confidence in the film studio's leadership, after having made significant management changes on the television side since acquiring the company.

Comcast is also planning to renew the contract of Fogelson's top lieutenant, Universal Pictures co-Chairwoman Donna Langley, in the coming weeks, said someone close to the matter who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing negotiations.

Fogelson, a one-time screenwriter who was raised in Los Angeles, returned to the Southland from the East Coast in 1997 to work  at the independent entertainment company Trimark. Prior to being promoted to the chairmanship of Universal two years ago, the 44-year-old executive headed the studio's worldwide marketing and distribution operations.

Under Fogelson's chairmanship, Universal has had several hits -- including this spring's “Bridesmaids” and “Fast Five" -- as well as such disappointments as “Cowboys & Aliens” and “The Change-Up," both of which were released this summer.

Still, the movie team's biggest test will come next year, when the expensive and much-scrutinized films "Battleship," Pete Berg's adaptation of the popular board game, and "Snow White and the Huntsman," a spin on the classic fairy tale starring Kristen Stewart, are set to hit theaters.

--Steven Zeitchik



Ron Meyer's contract extended through 2015

Photo: Adan Fogelson (r.) with Ron Meyer. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

'Ouija' latest movie scrapped over budget concerns

Hollywood's growing budget scrutiny has found another victim: "Ouija."

Universal Pictures has canceled its plans to make a movie based on the classic board game after it became clear that the special-effects-heavy supernatural picture would cost around $150 million to produce, a person close to the situation confirmed.

The news follows on the heels of Walt Disney Studios halting production earlier this month of its planned production of "The Long Ranger" starring Johnny Depp because executives believed the projected $250-million budget was too high. The filmmakers are attempting to lower the cost to get that movie back on track.

Universal also recently killed plans for a series of movies and television shows based on Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" novels with director Ron Howard attached.

"Quija" was to be produced by "Transformers" guru Michael Bay and directed by McG of "Terminator Salvation" and "Charlie's Angels" fame.

McG himself has recent experience with projects moving toward production that got canceled. In late 2009 he was in preproduction on an expensive remake of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" that was killed by Disney's then-new chairman Rich Ross.

Universal will have to pay a $5-million penalty to game maker Hasbro, which controls the movie rights to Ouija and is now shopping the project to other studios. "Ouija" was one of several planned Hasbro movies that Universal has scrapped since signing a long-term deal with the game company in 2008.

The studio previously dropped the idea for films based on Monopoly and Clue that had high-profile directors Ridley Scott and Gore Verbinski attached, respectively, as well as one based on the card game Magic: The Gathering.

Presently, Universal has three other Hasbro projects in the works: next year's $200-million-plus production of "Battleship," as well as scripts based on Candyland and Stretch Armstrong.

The "Ouija" news was first reported by Vulture.

-- Ben Fritz


Lone Ranger may get back in the saddle soon

Disney shuts down production of Lone Ranger

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

Comcast delivers strong quarter; NBCUniversal revenue up 17%

 As with life, when it comes to the purchase of media companies, timing is key.

Comcast Corp. on Wednesday delivered strong-second quarter earnings, led by the company's core businesses of providing cable television and high-speed Internet service to its more than 20 million customers.

But its newly acquired media company, NBCUniversal, also shined as each of its entertainment divisions Fi-nbc4-span turned in double-digit revenue growth. NBCUniversal revenue jumped 17% to $5.2 billion -- a much stronger performance than what the company had been mustering in recent quarters when General Electric Co. was in control.

Comcast completed its acquisition of a 51% interest in NBCUniversal in late January, more than 14 months after it structured its joint-venture deal with GE. At that time, some of NBCUniversal's businesses, primarily its broadcast network, appeared on the ropes.

"Our timing was just right," Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts told analysts in a morning conference call. 

NBCUniversal primarily benefited from a much healthier advertising market as well as the continued success of its cable television channels. GE continues to hold a 49% stake, but it plans to exit the media company completely in the coming years. 

For the quarter ended June 30, NBCUniversal's revenue of $5.2 billion compared with $4.4 billion in the second quarter of 2010. The company's operating cash flow of $1 billion was up 5.2% from the previous-year period. 

NBCUniversal's cable channels, including USA Network, Syfy, E! and Bravo, led the way with $2.2 billion in revenue -- up 12.6% from the previous-year period. The broadcast television division, including the fourth-place NBC network, collected $1.7 billion in revenue, an 18.5% climb from 2010.

The company's Los Angeles-based film studio, Universal Pictures, generated $1.3 billion -- an increase of 21% from the year-earlier period. The Universal theme parks, buoyed by the success of the Harry Potter attraction in its Orlando, Fla., park, took in $147 million -- 22.5% more revenue than in the previous-year period. 

"The bottom line is we are off to a very strong start," said NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke. "We are making investments, and they are starting to work."

Analysts, however, expressed concern that the advertising market might take another hit as the economy appears to be flat-lining -- again. Burke said the company saw ad revenue increases in the second quarter, but "we are obviously concerned about the economy, as you would expect us to be."

Comcast, as a whole, posted revenue of $14.3 billion, an increase of 50% over the year-earlier period. The higher revenue was attributed to the consolidation of NBCUniversal as well as strong operating results.  

Comcast's operating income was up 41% to $2.9 billion or 37 cents a share. That compared with $2.1 billion, or 31 cents a share, for the second quarter of 2010.


Digital streams boost CBS profit in second quarter

On Location: Filming activity stalls in the second quarter

No cable? You'll have to wait eight days to see Fox shows on Hulu


-- Meg James 

Photo: Associated Press

Amazon.com adds Universal Pictures movies, takes aim at Netflix

Amazon.com adds Universal Pictures movies, takes aim at Netflix

Amazon.com has added Universal Pictures movies to Amazon Prime as it amps up the online streaming service to better compete with rivals Netflix Inc. and Hulu.

The licensing deal with NBCUniversal brings to 9,000 the number of movies and TV shows that customers can watch instantly, at no additional charge, through the Amazon Prime membership program, which also gives subscribers a shipping discount for an annual fee of $79.

Among the movies to be offered through Amazon's service are "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Babe" and "Being John Malkovich."

The Amazon.com announcement is another sign of intensifying competition in the digital marketplace, reflecting changes in how consumers are entertained. Earlier this week, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it would begin offering 20,000 movies and TV shows to rent or purchase through its Walmart.com website.

"We are very excited to offer Prime members popular Universal films at no additional cost," Cameron Janes, director of Amazon Instant Video, said in a statement.

The online retailer still has a long way to go to catch up with services like Netflix, which makes about 20,000 movies and TV shows available online to subscribers.


CBS Corp. licenses older shows to Amazon.com

CBS, Netflix extend partnership to Canada and Latin America

Amazon's deal with NBCUniversal could open doors for new tablet

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet star in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

NBCUniversal completes takeover of Universal Orlando theme parks

Harrypotter It's now all part of the Wizarding World of Comcast.

NBCUniversal said Friday that it had finalized its $1-billion purchase of private investor Blackstone Group's 50% ownership stake in the Universal Orlando theme parks in Florida.

Comcast Corp., which controls NBCUniversal, said in a statement that the acquisition was financed with "cash on hand, borrowings under NBCUniversal's existing credit facility and a one-year $250 million note to NBCUniversal from a Comcast Corp. affiliate."  The deal was announced in June.

NBCUniversal and affiliates now own 100% of the Universal Orlando Resort, which includes Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure -- which has seen attendance soar during the last year due to the popularity of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction -- as well as Universal CityWalk.


NBCUniversal to buy Blackstone's theme park stake

-- Meg James

Depiction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. Credit:  Max Toporsky / Universal Orlando Resort

Ron Meyer's contract as Universal Studios president extended through 2015

RonMeyer Universal Studios President Ron Meyer's contract has been extended through 2015.

The new agreement, which replaces a previous one that would have expired in 2012, is a vote of confidence in the studio chief by Comcast Corp., which acquired parent company NBCUniversal earlier this year.

It comes as Universal is beginning to recover from two years of weak box-office performance. Its first two releases of the summer season, "Fast Five" and "Bridesmaids," have been hits.

Meyer was in talks with Comcast brass, including NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke, earlier this year over how long his new contract would last. Comcast had been offering a shorter extension than the executive wanted, according to a person familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because of the confidentiality of the talks.

The 66-year-old Meyer has been in his post since 1995. He was previously a top talent agent and cofounded the powerful Creative Artists Agency.

The new agreement keeps Meyer in charge of the Universal Pictures film studio and the Universal Studios theme parks. He continues to report to Burke.

-- Ben Fritz


Ron Meyer offered extension as head of Universal Studios

Universal Studios chief will be in hot seat as Comcast takes over

Photo: Ron Meyer. Credit: David Livingston / Getty Images


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