Showbiz Sandbox 196: Hollywood’s Frivolous Five Year Plan

Hollywood movie studios have a history of announcing the release date for big tentpole films a year or more in advance. The goal has always been to secure a prime weekend that will force the competition to stear clear. Lately however studios have taken to scheduling releases five years in advance. With some untitled projects yet to start production or even complete a script, it appears that release dates are more important than the movies themselves.

With longstanding geographic monopolies in-place cable companies rarely have to worry about competition, other than from satellite providers. That may be why Time Warner Cable is facing a class-action lawsuit which claims customers, especially non-sports fans, are being forced to pay for the company-owned sports channels to help offset the cost of expensive licensing deals.

Speaking of lawsuits, the government wrapped up its anti-trust case against Apple over the fixing of prices for e-books. While the Justice Department went into the trial looking like a winner, in the end Apple may have proved it was innocent of any illegal activity.

Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment news including Robert Downey Jr.’s deal to play Iron Man in the next two “Avengers” movies, Billboard disses Jay-Z and Warner Bros. shakes up its top executives.

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Showbiz Sandbox 165: Neil Young Sings The Praises Of His New Digital Music Format

Singer-songwriter Neil Young has never been a fan of digital music.  The rock legend despises the inferior audio quality of MP3s and CDs so much that he released an anthology of his of his music on Blu-Ray; the only medium that could hold digital files large enough to offer the quality Young demanded.  Taking his quest for high fidelity one step further, next year Young will launch Pono, a portable music player and audio platform that uses technology to provide studio quality sound.

Time will tell whether high quality digital audio and Young’s notoriety will be enough to attract consumers to Pono, though the Beatles aren’t waiting around to find out.  EMI is releasing the bands entire catalog of albums on vinyl LPs.  Remember those?  Now all we need is a phonograph to play them on.

Meanwhile the movie awards season has begun to heat up leaving pundits speculating whether Disney might have not one, but three, entries in this year’s Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars; “Brave”, “Frankenweenie” and “Wreck It Ralph”.  How ironic that Seth MacFarlane, creator of the hit animated television series “The Family Guy”, has been tapped to host this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.

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Showbiz Sandbox 110: “Transformers” Proves Mediocrity Makes Money

When “Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon” hit theaters over the Fourth of July holiday weekend fans of the franchise were relieved to discover it wasn’t nearly as bad ad the second film. That seems to be a fairly common response to Michael Bay’s latest critic-proof popcorn blockbuster. The highly anticipated movie made nearly $400 million at the worldwide box office in its first week explaining why studios love such formulaic dreck and all but ensuring another sequel.

Last week also saw the sale of MySpace. The once dominant social network Internet site which was once valued at $12 billion was sold by News Corp. at a loss for a mere $35 million. What may be more surprising than anyone actually wanting to buy MySpace is that pop star Justin Timberlake has been tapped to help turn the company’s fortunes around by focusing on music.

Speaking of music, NPR tried to figure out how much it costs to make a hit pop song by examining the finances behind Rihanna’s recent single “Man Down”. Apparently all it takes is $1.1 million in production and promotions costs and 12 minutes to right the lyrics.

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Showbiz Sandbox 98: Why New Distribution Models Terrify Hollywood

Movie studios, television networks and record labels still haven’t updated their business models to account for video and music streaming services like Netflix and Spotify. Now companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple plan on introducing a whole new group of media subscription services. With premium video-on-demand on the horizon it’s no surprise the entertainment industry is concerned about all these disruptive distribution methods.

One of the biggest players in the current content licensing wars has been Netflix. Showtime and Starz began pulling shows from the video rental giant, while Fox and Paramount offered up popular series and hit movies. Cable operators have also entered the fray by allowing viewers to watch live television on mobile device apps.

The creator of “Mad Men” was embroiled in his own fight with AMC and Lionsgate over the future of the series. In the end, Matthew Weiner was able to reach an agreement on a new contract, though new episodes won’t air until 2012.

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Showbiz Sandbox 77: It’s Official – Hollywood To Make Nothing But Sequels

With the seventh installment of the Saw franchise and Paranormal Activity 2 topping this week’s box office, it’s not hard to see why Hollywood studios have been greenlighting sequels and prequels. They range from high profile titles such as “The Hobbit” and “Avatar”, to questionable projects such as “Top Gun 2”. Don’t even get us started on the prequel to Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”.

If big budget Hollywood movies aren’t your thing, you could always stay home and watch television, provided the broadcast networks don’t get into a carriage dispute with your cable provider and black out their signal. Fox did just that to Cablevision subscribers recently and we’ll explain why. Meanwhile, Conan O’Brien prepares for his new late night talk show with a Rolling Stone interview.

During Big Deal or Big Whoop we provide analysis of the week’s top entertainment headlines, including Charlie Sheen’s latest trouble, a new hit for AMC and a film based on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Our Inside Baseball discussion focuses on why consumers prefer to rent digital movies rather than purchase them.

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Showbiz Sandbox 42: Tom Cruise Takes A Pay Cut, And Other Indignities

We only talk about “Avatar” for a couple of seconds in this week’s podcast, thank goodness. Instead, we focus on actors campaigning for their Oscars (and a few who aren’t). We also discuss what we call “the 3D movie brouhaha” which has made Jeffrey Katzenberg irate.

In TV news, co-hosts Karen Woodward and Michael Giltz are passionate about the Olympics and the absurdity of “Lost” (even recaps are confusing!) And, after 28 years, MTV is changing its logo to reflect that the channel is no longer just about “music television”. They may be about 10 years too late.

Co-host J. Sperling Reich jumps into one of his favorite topics – new media – and reminds us that this guy named Steve Jobs sits on the board of Disney and is one of the top shareholders. No wonder Disney CEO Robert Igor called the underwhelming iPad “a really compelling device” that could be a game changer. We’ll hold off our thoughts on the new Apple product until we see if it really will change the way entertainment is distributed.  Continue reading Showbiz Sandbox 42: Tom Cruise Takes A Pay Cut, And Other Indignities

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