Showbiz Sandbox 263: A Review of the Entertainment Industry’s Annus Horribilis

January 6, 2015

There’s no getting around the fact that 2014 was a financially dismal year for the entertainment business. Movie box office, home video revenue and music sales were all down significantly in most territories. The only bright spot might be television ad sales which grew slightly, albeit at lower level than originally forecast.

Statistically speaking the numbers don’t look good. Movie attendance plummeted to the lowest levels since 1995. Home video returns decreased nearly 2%, despite a rise in digital downloads. Music sales continued their global decline as more consumers turn to streaming services.

Industry-watchers are predicting that, except for box office, 2015 could produce the same mixed results for entertainment companies as digital technologies keep disrupting longstanding business models.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including the most pirated TV shows and movies of 2014, how One Direction became the year’s top concert draw and an update on the Sony Pictures cyber attack.

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Showbiz Sandbox 261: Sony Hack Gives New Meaning To The Term Box Office Bomb

December 16, 2014

As if Sony Pictures didn’t have enough to worry about with all their corporate emails and documents being leaked by hackers, now the perpetrators of the cybercrime have threatened movie theaters showing “The Interview” with terrorist attacks. What started out as a voyeuristic peek at the inner workings of a Hollywood studio has turned into a far more serious international incident. This has left the media questioning their own ethics and culpability for originally publishing portions of Sony’s stolen data.

With Sony’s dilemma getting so much attention, the announcement of this year’s Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations seemed rather subdued and tame by comparison. Maybe that’s because an awards season front runner has yet to emerge, or possibly because everyone is just tired of award shows.

Thanks to a listener email, we also discuss why the difference between screens and theaters matters when tallying up box office. The two words are often improperly used interchangeably.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including David Letterman’s final show, the latest inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and this year’s lack of platinum albums.

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Showbiz Sandbox 256: A Proposal For Fixing Television Ratings

November 3, 2014

Thanks to mobile devices, laptops, streaming video, DVRs and good old fashioned live viewing, it’s never been easier to watch your favorite television shows. However this explosion of viewing options has made it harder to keep track of how many people view each show, precisely when and on what device. Despite the difficulty of getting accurate figures networks still feel the need to report overnight ratings even if they don’t reflect a program’s total viewership.

We propose taking a new approach to television ratings that might fix this problem. For starters stop making a distinction between broadcast and cable networks. Same goes for differentiating ratings based on a show’s specific time slot or which day it airs on. And those are just a few of the suggestions we debate.

Another complicated issue the entertainment industry is grappling with is net neutrality. The FCC is reportedly weighing a “hybrid” solution to open Internet legislation which would classify entities as either wholesale or retail providers. Granted, there is no clear cut way to make such categorizations and consumers could wind up getting stuck with higher broadband fees, but why quibble over details?

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including why Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams may be headed to court to defend their hit song “Blurred Lines”, movie theaters ban the use of wearable devices like Google Glass and Taylor Swift once again dominates album sales.

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Showbiz Sandbox 248: Hollywood Squeezes States For More Tax Breaks

September 9, 2014

California is set to triple their tax subsidies for film and television production to more than $330 million annually in an effort to stem the tide of runaway production to states with larger tax incentives. Richard Verrier of the Los Angeles Times discusses the growing debate over the value of film tax breaks and whether they actually create new jobs, or just shift them to different locations.

There is absolutely no debate over whether this summer’s box office was down from the previous year. However as we explain, comparing year-over-year box office figures is misleading at best and ultimately a fool’s errand.

In an unusual move the rock band U2 will be giving away its new album “Songs of Innocence” to more than 500 million iTunes users for a limited time. Making the release free to download only serves to further underscore where most artists make their money these days; on tour.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including the new head of DreamWorks, why it will take a century for anyone to read author Margaret Atwood’s latest work and “The Simpsons” make their way to China.

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Showbiz Sandbox 238: Movies With Subtitles – Cinéma Internationale est Morte

June 2, 2014

Even though subtitles appear more often in mainstream movies like “Avatar”, “Inglorious Basterds” and “Slumdog Millionaire”, North American audiences aren’t any more comfortable with them than they had been historically. In a detailed piece for Indiewire, Anthony Kaufman reports that foreign language films are struggling at both the U.S. box office and in ancillary distribution channels. Kaufman joins us for an in-depth discussion about the endangered state of world cinema.

We’ve just returned from this year’s Book Expo America, the largest annual book trade show in the U.S. The good news is that the publishing industry is actively engaging in digital instead of being frightened by out. Unfortunately, everyone was concerned that an ongoing contract dispute between publishing giant Hachette and online book retailer Amazon is a sign of a contentious future.

Meanwhile the Tony Awards will be held next weekend honoring the best productions and brightest talent to emerge from Broadway over the past year. Hugh Jackman is hosting the ceremony which will feature performances from Neil Patrick Harris, Idina Menzel and even Sting. The real money however, will be earned by whoever takes home the trophies for Best Musical and Best Musical Revival.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including a movie poster that’s a little too risqué for the MPAA, director James Cameron teams up with Cirque du Soleil and the record price NBC is charging for a 30-second ad during next year’s Super Bowl.

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Showbiz Sandbox 230: It’s Curtains For Celluloid at CinemaCon

March 31, 2014

Every spring movie theater operators from around the world converge on Las Vegas to attend CinemaCon. During the week-long convention cinema owners are bombarded with industry facts, attendance figures, educational seminars and endless footage from upcoming releases. Over the years advances in digital projection have become an increasingly important topic at the show.

It’s no secret that cinemas have been slowly converting their facilities from traditional 35mm projection to digital. There was no better indication that the days of celluloid film prints are definitely over than the number of vendors at CinemaCon demonstrating the next generation of digital technology, including immersive sound and laser projectors.

When it comes to live theater, there is no doubt that New York’s Broadway and London’s West End are the leaders of the pack. Our own Michael Giltz reviews his previous predictions and investment advice by recapping the past year’s biggest money making productions, as well as a few financial losers.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including the fall of “Duck Dynasty”, a decline in paid cable subscribers and Oprah Winfrey’s plans for a national tour.

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Showbiz Sandbox 222: Grammys Spin Positive Message Into Big Ratings

January 28, 2014

Whether it was Hunter Hayes belting out an anti-bullying song or Queen Latifah performing a mass-marriage ceremony for 32 couples to the hip-hop beats of Macklemore & Lewis, this years Grammys’ ceremony was more upbeat than ever. David Wild, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, wrote the telecast that attracted a whopping 28.5 million viewers, as well as the Beatles tribute concert the very next night. He stops by to discuss what it was like helping put both shows together.

Awards were also handed out for movies this past week. The Directors Guild of America shook up the Oscar race by giving its top prize to Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity” and the Sundance Film Festival came to an end by handing out more than two dozen awards to indie movies.

Meanwhile, a number of companies are locked in a heated battle to provide an online alternative to cable and satellite television. The biggest hurdle for the likes of Amazon, Sony and Verizon in helping audiences cut the cord may turn out to be the erosion of net neutrality.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including shorter movie trailers, Quentin Tarantino’s latest screenplay gets leaked and Bill Cosby returns to NBC with a new sit-com.

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Showbiz Sandbox 216: Last Year’s Unknowns May Be Next Year’s Grammy Winners

December 9, 2013

When the Grammy Award nominations for 2014 were announced last week, they were filled with names of artists and musicians who at this time last year few had ever heard of. One hasn’t even graduated from high school yet. Lorde, country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves and the rapper-producer duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis rose to stardom on a wave of self-distribution, YouTube and social media.

Accolades are also being handed out for some of the year’s best movies. There’s only one problem; nobody can agree on which films to award. One critics group was so divided over Best Picture that it led to a tie for two different movies.

Meanwhile, producer Jerry Bruckhiemer’s year will be ending on an up note. Though he might be on the outs with Disney after the disappointing performance of “The Lone Ranger”, the mega-producer announced a new first-look deal with Paramount Pictures.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including Indiana Jones heads to Disney for a reboot, Billy Joel takes up residency at Madison Square Garden and television audiences tune-in en masse for a live performance of “The Sound of Music”.

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Showbiz Sandbox 214: Go Big Or Go Home – Why Big Budget Blockbusters Are The Safest Bet In Entertainment

November 18, 2013

Over the past year filmmakers from Steven Spielberg to Steven Soderbergh have lamented over Hollywood’s love affair with expensive tentpole releases. However, according to Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse the entertainment industry is obsessed with blockbusters because they work. She explains why in a wide ranging interview about her new book on the subject, “Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment”.

Not only are the number of big budget films studios churn out on the rise, apparently so is the level gun violence in hit titles. After studying 945 movies released from 1950 to the present day, researchers discovered gun violence portrayed in movies more than doubled during the time frame.

Meanwhile, in the television world most have forgotten about daytime soap operas. That hasn’t kept companies like Prospect Park from trying to keep shows such as “One Life To Live” and “All My Children” alive online. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be getting any help from the network that originally aired the soaps and are now going to court over the matter.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including a movie for Monster High dolls, a new HBO show for John Oliver, pricy reruns for “The Simpsons” and a new manager for the rock band U2.

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Showbiz Sandbox 210: Record Labels Look To YouTube As The New Radio

October 21, 2013

Instead of promoting new releases through traditional avenues such as radio and television, record labels are beginning to rely on YouTube as the most effective method for reaching younger audiences. As Dawn C. Chmielewski, an entertainment writer for the Los Angeles Times explains, its not just musicians that are getting a boost from this new practice, but also some of the self-made tastemakers who have become YouTube stars.

Television networks are also beginning to love technology, specifically DVRs. Though the industry has long despised the timeshifting devices which allow viewers to skip commercials, executives are once again discovering how they can significantly boost ratings.

Meanwhile, more details are emerging about why the film adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey” lost its male lead. Beyond being uncomfortable with his new found stardom, Charlie Hunnam was also pushing for script revisions according to some reports.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including why the creators of “South Park” missed the deadline for their latest episode, “The Lion King” becomes Broadway’s first billion dollar production and the hit television series “Glee” announces its final season.

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