Entertainment Industry

Category: Warner Bros.

Redbox-Warner deal expires, ending 28-day delay

RedboxFamily
Warner Bros.' deal with Redbox has expired with the two companies still at odds over how long consumers should wait to rent DVDs for $1.20 a night.

As a result, kiosk rental company Redbox will have to buy Warner DVDs from retailers like Wal-Mart at a higher price but will no longer make customers wait 28 days after discs go on sale to rent them, as it did under a previous agreement with the studio.

The two sides were clashing earlier this month when Warner Bros. announced it would sell its DVDs and Blu-ray discs only to rental companies that agreed to wait until 56 days after they go on sale. Warner executives believe that the delay encourages consumers to buy DVDs and Blu-rays or rent movies via video-on-demand, both of which are more profitable transactions for the studio at a time when home entertainment revenue has been shrinking for years.

Two years ago, after a similar dispute, Redbox agreed to the 28-day delay in order to buy movies directly from Warner Bros. at a discount. But Redbox has concluded that 56 days is too long to make its consumers -- who often look for new releases in the red kiosks -- wait.

In a statement, Redbox senior vice president of marketing Gary Cohen said the company "will work to provide Warner Bros.' movies through alternate means." That will most likely mean buying the discs in bulk from retailers or other distributors who charge more than the studio when it sells directly.

A Warner Bros. spokesman fired back in a statement: "The consumer is best served by a windowing and pricing structure that ensures a healthy film business continuing to deliver quality movies. We hope to continue discussions with Redbox and reach a mutually agreed upon solution to this situation, but we fully intend to do what is best for our business, our consumers and the industry as a whole."

A person close to the matter but not authorized to speak publicly said the companies had continued talks in hopes of reaching a compromise throughout January. But the two sides could not find common ground and consequently don't currently plan on having more discussions.

Among other major retailers, Netflix agreed to abide by the 56-day delay, but Blockbuster has not, meaning it too will have to buy Warner discs from other sources.

Redbox currently has direct deals with all other Hollywood studios, but its agreement with Universal Pictures expires in April. Universal currently imposes a 28-day delay, and it's not yet known whether it will, like Warner, try to extend it longer.

The first Warner Bros. release that Redbox will have to acquire through "alternate means" is "A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas," which comes out on DVD on Feb. 7.

Separately, Redbox announced Tuesday that it extended a deal to feature its kiosks at 3,700 Wal-Mart stores through January 2015.

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Photo: A family at a Redbox kiosk. Credit: Redbox

Netflix deal with Warner Bros. includes delay in queues

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Under a new deal between the two companies, Netflix users won't just have to wait 56 days to rent Warner Bros. movies on DVD. They'll have to wait 28 days to add the movies to their queues.

As part of the Warner's continuing effort to boost its DVD, Blu-ray, and video-on-demand business, the studio's new deal with Netflix throws up a new roadblock for people willing to wait and get the movie as part of their monthly subscription.

Beginning Feb. 1, when the new agreement goes into effect, Netflix customers won't even be able to add Warner movies to their queues until four weeks after the DVDs go on sale, a knowledgeable person not authorized to speak publicly confirmed. They would then have to wait another four weeks until Netflix starts shipping the discs.

Under the companies' previous agreement, users could add discs to their queues even before they went on sale. Warner executives apparently believed that policy made it easier for consumers to wait, confident that the discs would arrive eventually.

But now when users search for Warner's "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas," which goes on sale Feb. 7, the Netflix website simply says the movie is not available. Consumers will have wait until March 6 to add the film to their queues and until April 3 to get it in the mail.

Warner Bros. has been on the leading edge of a group of movie studios that have taken steps to encourage consumers to buy DVDs and Blu-ray discs or rent movies via video-on-demand, transactions that are far more profitable for the studios than rentals via Netflix or Redbox.

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Photo: A shot of Netflix's web results for "A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas."

Warner Bros. launches photo sharing service Out My Window

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Hollywood's biggest film and television studio is getting into the online photo business with a new service called Out My Window.

Set to be unveiled by Warner Bros. at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week and to be available to consumers in the spring, Out My Window stores photos online and allows users to share them with carefully curated lists of friends and family members.

Targeted primarily at young parents, it's designed as a new alternative for people who frequently upload and email pictures but don't want to use social networks or Web photo services that can allow pictures to be seen by outsiders.

It's an unexpected offering from the company better known for "Harry Potter" and "Two and a Half Men," but also an example of how blurry the lines are becoming between technology and entertainment companies.

"Photos are a big part of people's media and entertainment life," said Warner Bros. President of Technical Operations Darcy Antonellis. "We are a studio that makes and creates film and television as a part of that media and entertainment system, so we thought of this as a complementary way to engage with the consumer."

Out My Window will initially launch on the Web, Apple tablets and phones, and Google TV, and will be packaged into digital photo frames from Kodak and Technicolor. Other digital devices will be added in the future, as will the ability to share videos.

Antonellis said a business model has not yet been decided upon, but could include subscriptions or one-time fees.

Users can immediately share pictures taken on a smartphone or upload snapshots saved on a computer. They can then select individuals or previously defined groups of contacts who can see the pictures almost instantly. The studio hopes it will be an appealing alternative to people who don't like to email large attachments but aren't comfortable posting photos on Facebook or photo-specific Websites like Flickr and Picasa.

"Our No. 1 target audience is young women and moms who want to stay connected but keep intimate moments within an intimate environment," said Antonellis.

Out My Window came out of a contest held among teams of Warner Bros. technology-focused employees in June to create a new application focused on photos. Three teams of about 10 people came up with applications that were ultimately merged and built upon to create the new service.

"The point was just to take a basic idea and see where it could go," said Antonellis, who oversees technology strategy for Warner. "I didn't have a preconceived notion that it could become a commercial product."

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Photo: Screenshots from Out My Window. Credit: Warner Bros.

Redbox, Warner Bros. headed to war over new DVD delay

Warner Bros. and Redbox are about to re-ignite a battle over how long consumers have to wait to rent DVDsThis post has been updated. See the note below for details.

Warner Bros. and Redbox are about to re-ignite a battle over how long consumers have to wait to rent DVDs.

The Time Warner Inc.-owned studio is instituting a new policy that all DVD rental outlets must wait 56 days from the time the disc goes on sale at retail outlets Wal-Mart and Best Buy until consumers can rent them, according to people with knowledge of the matter who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. That's double the current 28-day "window."

A spokesman for Warner Bros.' home entertainment division declined to comment. But executives at the studio have previously said they were seeking a longer delay, which they believe will help boost flagging DVD sales and video-on-demand, both of which are more profitable than disc rentals.

Netflix has agreed to abide by the 56-day delay, one of the people close to the situation confirmed. 

However, Redbox will wait no longer than 28 days to rent discs, interim President Gregg Kaplan said in an interview this fall. A spokeswoman confirmed Friday that the company's position has not changed.

That means the $1-per-night kiosk company will no longer be able to get discs directly from Warner Bros. but will have to buy them in bulk from retail stores. Redbox did the same thing in 2010 when the parties were in a similar fight. Illinois-based Redbox ultimately agreed to the 28-day delay.

The new policy, expected to be announced next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is to take effect Feb. 1, the day after Warner Bros.' current deals with Netflix and Redbox expire.

It's also expected to extend to the nation's third-largest rental outlet, Blockbuster.

[Updated, 2:18 p.m., Jan. 6: A person familiar with the thinking of executives at Blockbuster said it too will not accept the 56-day delay and will buy Warner Bros. DVDs through alternative means.]

Previously, Blockbuster was the only major DVD renter that offered discs the same day they went on sale, an advantage studios gave the struggling company as it went through bankruptcy last year and was ultimately bought at auction by Dish.

Warner Bros.' new policy could soon be adopted by Universal Pictures. That studio's agreements with Redbox and Netflix, which include a similar 28-day delay, expire in April.

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Photo: Anja Murphy returns videos to a Redbox kiosk in an Albertsons supermarket in Santa Monica. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Box Office: 'Mission: Impossible' sequel is No. 1 Christmas pick [Updated]

"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
Moviegoers chose to accept Tom Cruise's "Mission" at the box office this weekend.

"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol," the fourth installment in the action franchise, grossed $46.2 million over the holiday period beginning Friday and ending Monday, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. The movie -- budgeted at about $145 million -- debuted in limited release 11 days ago and has since racked up an impressive total of $78.6 million in ticket sales.

Warner Bros.' "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," which opened last weekend, claimed the No. 2 spot. The $125-million production collected a soft $31.8 million over the long weekend, bringing its overall tally to $90.6 million. Twentieth Century Fox's $80-million "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," which has also been in theaters for two weeks, came in with a disappointing $20 million. Both movies were expected to be big winners over the Christmas holiday, but each is so far lagging significantly behind their franchise predecessors in ticket sales.

David Fincher's highly anticipated "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- based on the first book in a trilogy of novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson -- did decent business. The Sony Pictures movie opened Tuesday night, but grossed $19.4 million over the holiday weekend, raising its overall total to $27.7 million. The R-rated film had a budget of about $100 million, according to an individual close to the production, though a Sony spokesperson said the cost was $90 million.

Two new films directed by Steven Spielberg debuted to mixed results.

"The Adventures of Tintin," a 3-D animated family movie adapted from a popular Belgian comic book, did not prove exceptionally popular with American audiences. Although the film has been a hit overseas, so far collecting over $240 million abroad, it only grossed $16.1 million domestically this long weekend. Since opening on Wednesday, "Tintin," which cost Paramount and Sony between $150 million and $175 million to make, has sold $24.1 million worth of tickets. Paramount, which is releasing the film in the U.S. and Canada, is hopeful that the movie will follow in the footsteps of last Christmas' "Yogi Bear." That family flick ultimately grossed over $100 million domestically.

Meanwhile, Spielberg's epic "War Horse" fared better, debuting on Sunday and grossing $15 million in sales over two days. The film attracted an older audience, 31% of whom were over the age of 50. Those who saw the $70-million DreamWorks production liked it, assigning it an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo" earned an even better grade -- an A -- but moviegoers did not show up in as large numbers to see the family drama. The movie starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, which cost Fox about $50 million to produce, opened on Friday and grossed $15.6 million through Monday. The film also appealed to an older demographic, as 59% of the crowd was age 25 or above, while 58% overall was female.

Of all the movies that opened over Christmas, the horror film "The Darkest Hour" was the least expensive, costing co-financiers Summit Entertainment and New Regency about $30 million to produce. That's good news, because it only grossed a weak $5.5 million over Sunday and Monday, and received a dismal C+ CinemaScore.

[Updated 1:45 p.m., Dec. 26: The "Mission: Impossible" sequel continued to soar overseas, grossing an additional $43 million from 45 foreign countries. The movie performed best in Korea and China, where it was No. 1 for the second weekend in a row. The film has now made about $24 million in each country respectively. Overall, the movie already has an international tally of $140 million. The third film in the franchise raked in over $260 million abroad in 2006, and it seems likely that the new fourth installment will far exceed that figure.

Here are the top 10 movies in the U.S. and Canada, based on their four-day grosses with exceptions as noted. Percentage drops are based on three-day grosses. International grosses are through Sunday only.

Continue reading »

Harry Potter attraction won't arrive in L.A. until at least 2016

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Before Harry Potter establishes a new home base in Los Angeles, Hogwarts Castle will need to pass environmental review.

While young fans dressed in full wizard regalia were already hoisting their butter beer in excitement at the official unveiling of plans to build a Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, they may be teenagers by the time it opens for business.

The 20-acre Wizarding World attraction at Universal Studios Orlando took four-and-a-half years to build and the similar one planned for Universal Hollywood will take about the same amount of time, Universal Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Williams said in an interview.

That would suggest a late-2016 opening, but even that date could prove optimistic. The Wizarding World attraction is part of a planned $3-billion overhaul of Universal's theme park and film and television studio lot. Universal is seeking approval from planning officials for the overhaul's effect on the environment and the surrounding community.

Universal can't break ground on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter until that regulatory process is complete.

Williams added that Harry Potter rides and shops will be built in the current confines of the theme park. That will likely mean some existing attractions will need to be torn down or refitted to be more appropriate for muggles.

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Photo: Confetti falls at the end of an event announcing that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is coming to Universal Studios Hollywood. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Harry Potter Wizarding World coming to Universal Hollywood

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This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was trumpeted at Universal Studios Hollywood on Tuesday, as California Gov. Jerry Brown and top officials from Warner Bros. and Universal Studios promised the creation of thousands of new jobs and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars in building the new West Coast attraction.

But don't hold your breath: The new attraction will not open until at least 2016.

"It is a great day when we see investment in California and investment in the imagination," the governor said.

PHOTOS: Top Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions

Universal Studios' President and COO Ron Meyer and Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer said the new park would cost "several hundred million dollars" to construct, and create more than one thousand jobs on the Universal City lot and many more in the surrounding area. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky applauded the "quality jobs" that he said would come with the creation of the new attraction.

Guests at the Tuesday morning press event were served mugs of Harry Potter's signature drink "Butterbeer," and watched a video greeting from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is visiting China on city business. Also on the stage, under a marquee reading, "Hogwarts Is Coming to Hollywood," were "Harry Potter" actors James and Oliver Phelps, who play the mischievous twins Fred and George Weasley in the boy wizard films based on the wildly successful novels by British author J.K. Rowling.

The new attraction will be constructed entirely within the existing Universal Studios property, those making the announcement said. There will be no new real estate purchased for the creation of the multi-acre Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

But the West Coast construction will occur in tandem with an expansion of the Wizarding World at Universal Orlando. That 20-acre attraction, which opened in June 2010, drew more than 7 million visitors in the first year, and led to a 68% increase in attendance for the first three months of 2011.

The Los Angeles Potter park will closely resemble its Florida cousin, said Universal's Meyer.

"When you first see Hogwarts Castle and ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you will find it an unforgettable experience," Meyer said. "This will change the face of tourism in Southern California."

 -- Ben Fritz

[For the Record, 1:40 p.m. Dec. 6: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky is a city councilman and that the Weasley twins are "evil."]

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Photo: James Phelps and Oliver Phelps, who play the Weasley twins in the "Harry Potter" movies, at the unveiling of plans for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.

Harry Potter attraction plans at Universal Hollywood coming Tuesday

HarryPotterWizardingWorld
Harry Potter is making his Los Angeles debut on Tuesday.

Executives from Universal Studios and Warner Bros. will unveil and for the first time publicly discuss their plans to build the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood at a late-morning news conference.

Universal announced the event, stating in an email that it would be "hosting a Butterbeer toast to celebrate a very special announcement." People close to the matter but not authorized to discuss the event beforehand confirmed it would be the unveiling of plans to duplicate the massively successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction from Universal Studios Orlando at the L.A. theme park.

Top executives from Warner Bros., which made the "Potter" films and controls licensing rights to author J.K. Rowling's books about the boy wizard, will be in attendance along with those from Universal. They will include the leaders of both companies: Warner Chairman Barry Meyer and Universal President Ron Meyer (no relation).

In addition, demonstrating the significance of what will likely be a huge investment in building the Potter-themed rides and shops, along with the longer-term boost to tourism, California Gov. Jerry Brown will be in attendance.

The Orlando Wizarding World of Harry Potter has brought in more than 7 million people in its first year and was the main driver in a 36% increase at Universal's park there in the first three months of 2011.

The attraction isn't expected to open at Universal's Los Angeles location — right next to its film and television studio in Universal City — until 2015 at the earliest.

— Ben Fritz

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Photo: A fan in full regalia at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Credit: Scott Audette / Reuters.

Harry Potter attraction coming to Universal Studios Hollywood

HarryPotter
Hogwarts is coming to Hollywood.

Universal Studios is planning to build a replica of its successful Florida Harry Potter theme park in Los Angeles, said people familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

A contract between Comcast Corp.-owned Universal and Warner Bros., which made the "Harry Potter" movies and controls licensing rights to author J.K. Rowling's books about the boy wizard, is being finalized and should be done within the next few weeks, the people said.

The new attraction is expected to open at Universal Studios Hollywood no earlier than 2015.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando has drawn more than 7 million people and was a primary driver in a 36% boost in attendance at the theme park in the first three months of 2011.

Families have flocked to the park to go on Potter-themed rides, like the Flight of the Hippogriff, visit replicas of Potter locations like the Three Broomsticks Inn, and even drink a re-creation of the story's  famous butterbeer.

Universal was not the only entertainment company seeking to replicate The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Southern California. Walt Disney Co. also held discussions with Warner to secure the rights for Disneyland in Anaheim. Recently, Disney signed a partnership to create attractions based on 20th Century Fox's "Avatar," the first of which will begin construction in Orlando in 2013.

A remaining question is where the Potter rides and shops would be placed at the land-strapped Universal Hollywood. In order to make room, the park would likely have to remove or retrofit existing rides.

News of the deal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

— Ben Fritz

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Times staff writer Brady MacDonald contributed to this report.

Photo: Fans snapping pictures of the cast of the "Harry Potter" movies at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Credit: Scott Audette / Reuters.

Hugh Grant raises profile of hacking hearings in London

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The British tabloids' dirty laundry is getting a full airing this week as actor Hugh Grant and the parents of a slain London schoolgirl provide gripping testimony before a British judge.

Grant appeared Monday before Lord Justice Leveson, who is examining media ethics in Britain.

The actor, whose long list of screen credits include "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "About a Boy," suggested that his cellphone was hacked by the Mail on Sunday newspaper, which is not part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. stable of tabloids. Grant has previously said he believes that operatives of News Corp.'s now-defunct News of the World tabloid also hacked into his cellphone.

The Leveson legal inquiry was set up in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that exploded this past summer after a story in the Guardian newspaper exposed that the cellphone of a missing 13-year-old schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, was hacked by the News Corp.-owned tabloid News of the World. 

In his testimony, Grant referenced a February 2007 article in the Mail on Sunday, published by Associated Newspapers Ltd., which claimed that his relationship with then-girlfriend Jemima Khan was in tatters because of his persistent, late-night calls with a "plummy-voiced" studio executive from Warner Bros. Grant said he sued for libel in the case and won damages.

"It was a bizarre story and completely untrue," Grant told Leveson Monday. "Thinking about how they could possibly come up with such a bizarre, left-field story, I realized that although there was no plummy-voiced studio executive from Warner Bros. with whom I had any kind of relationship ... but there was a great friend of mine in Los Angeles who runs a production company, which is associated with Warner Bros., and whose assistant is a charming, married, middle-aged lady, English, who as [it] happens in Hollywood is the person who rings you.

"The executive never rings you, it's always the assistant," Grant said. " 'Hi, we have Jack Bailey on the phone for you.' "  So the duty of calling fell to this executive's assistant, whom Grant described as a "nice English girl living in L.A."

"She would leave charming, jokey messages, saying please call this studio executive back," Grant told the inquiry.  "And she has a voice that can only be described as plummy. ... I cannot for the life of me think of any conceivable source for this story in the Mail on Sunday except those voicemails on my mobile telephone."

Dowler's parents testified Monday that their grief was exploited when someone from the now-defunct News of the World tabloid hacked into the girl's cellphone and deleted messages. The action led the family to believe that Milly must still be alive when she was, in fact, dead. News Corp. last summer paid the family nearly $5 million in damages.

Actress Sienna Miller and "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling are also scheduled to testify this week.

For our dispatches from London, please go to our World Now news blog.

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Photo: Hugh Grant testifying Monday before Lord Justice Leveson. Credit: Reuters / Pool Photo

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