Showbiz Sandbox 218: Reports of Hollywood’s Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated

December 23, 2013

Beating up on the film business seems to be all the rage lately, as witnessed by the New York Times recently suggesting the industry was in “survival mode”. Yet the worldwide box office is about to break another all-time record and home video revenue actually went up in 2012. With grosses rising in several sectors, including television, why is there still a debate over the health of the business?

Speaking of debates, just about everyone this past week seemed to have an opinion about the controversial comments made by Phil Robertson, the 67-year-old patriarch of the family that runs the Louisiana hunting supply company depicted in the A&E reality series “Duck Dynasty”. Was the network too quick in their response by suspending Robertson?

Amazon and Target also acted quickly this past week when they announced they would not be selling physical copies of Beyoncé’s latest album after, in a surprise move just days before, she released it exclusively on iTunes.

Of course, we also cover the week’s top entertainment news stories including the end of Katie Couric’s daytime talk show, Shia LaBeouf’s plagiarism and how talent agencies are relying on sports to grow their business.

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Showbiz Sandbox 203: Star Trek Blu-Ray Leaves Frustrated Fans Lost In Space

September 2, 2013

In what seems to be an attempt to bolster sagging DVD and Blu-ray sales Hollywood studios have begun offering “retailer exclusives” on releases of their hit titles. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is the latest example of how different versions of a movie are being paired with varying sets of special features based on which store the disc is being sold. Trekkies will have to purchase duplicate copies of the latest installment in the franchise in order to collect all the bonus material.

Singers Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus pulled a stunt of their own which helped twerk record sales. Cyrus set tongues wagging with her racy performance that MTV Video Music Awards, but she may be laughing all the way to the bank since her on-stage gyrations have helped boost sales of her new single.

YouTube is filled with user generated videos featuring hit songs by Thicke and Cyrus. If you use these recordings in the wrong way, you could get a takedown notice for copyright infringement. One music publisher however, may have picked a copyright fight with the wrong legal scholar.

Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment news including the retirement of a legendary animator, Netflix’s foray into stand-up comedy and Hollywood’s big legal victory over a popular file sharing service.

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Showbiz Sandbox 196: Hollywood’s Frivolous Five Year Plan

June 24, 2013

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 195: Hollywood Exploits 9/11 Imagery For Its Implosive Blockbusters

June 19, 2013

As “Man of Steel” sets the worldwide box office aflame, the latest Superman reboot also serves as yet another example of a Hollywood blockbuster exploiting the imagery of 9/11 for apocalyptic purposes. Kyle Buchanan, the Movies Editor at New York Magazine, would like to see filmmakers stop relying on meaningless urban destruction.  He joins us to discuss his recent article calling for an end to the “orgy of gratuitous building-battering” in big budget movies.

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are two filmmakers quite familiar with blockbuster movies.  Now, the directors who helped launch the modern day tentpole release are predicting an “implosion” for Hollywood, along with a handful of other pessimistic prognostications.  We’ll tell you what they had to say in a recent panel discussion.

Last week also saw Apple finally get into the music streaming business with the announcement of iTunes Radio.  Only time will tell whether Apple will be able to compete with Pandora, Spotify and all of the other existing players in the space, though we’re not overly impressed.

Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment news including a legal victory for Hollywood interns, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to “The Terminator” and The Muppets head to Broadway.

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Showbiz Sandbox 194: Tony Awards Prove Broadway Knows How To Put On A Show

June 11, 2013

Once again actor Neil Patrick Harris proved he knows how to host an awards show with a dazzling turn as master of ceremonies at this year’s Tony Awards last Sunday. The ceremony provided its share of surprises and dramatic speeches from the likes of Cicely Tyson and pop-star Cyndi Lauper as “Kinky Boots” walked off with six Tonys including Best Musical. Though the telecast may have been poorly directed, it was filled with a mixed bag of performances from this season’s top Broadway shows.

For Broadway play or musical, a Tony can provide a huge boost at the box office, though it’s no guarantee. There has never been a magic formula for investing in the arts which is something JP Morgan and its partners should have looked into before loaning Paramount Pictures a load of cash to finance movies. Now everyone is suing each other after the bank discovered their Hollywood investments weren’t as risk free as they had initially thought.

That kind of inside news is usually reported by the likes of Nikki Finke over at her Deadline Hollywood blog. However, if a scoop from a competing online news source is correct, Finke’s days at Deadline may be numbered. Has Finke’s conentious reputation finally caught up with her, or will a crosstown rival need to eat some crow?

Of course we also cover the week’s top entertainment news including Amazon’s European tax problems, Disney’s digital distribution plans, and the possibly illegal limitations of Microsoft’s new Xbox.

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Showbiz Sandbox 143: “Mommy Porn” Is Hollywood’s Hot New Trend

April 2, 2012

Hollywood studios spent this past week waging a bidding war for a book derived from fan fiction stories on “Twilight” websites. Universal Pictures wound up paying an estimated $5 million for E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey”, an erotic novel that has become a best selling phenomenon despite only being published as an e-book. Producers now must figure out how to handle the graphic sexual content found in titles the media has dubbed “mommy porn”.

Last week also marked the merger of SAG and AFTRA, the unions representing actors. Members of both groups overwhelmingly voted to join forces to create the largest bargaining group in Hollywood. Only time will tell if presenting a united front will give the thespians more power to negotiate better contracts.

Meanwhile, the popular music streaming service Spotify has decided to allow unlimited free listening indefinitely. While this is good news for music fans, how will Spotify, which has yet to turn a profit, pay increased licensing fees to all the record labels?

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Showbiz Sandbox 122: The Real Story Behind Steve Jobs And Pixar

October 10, 2011

Millions mourned the loss of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs this past week when the innovator behind the Macintosh computer,  the iPod and others died at the age of 56. Though the endless eulogies of Jobs always mention Jobs Pixar tenure, they rarely provided any real detail. Truth is Jobs lost money with Pixar for ten years trying to turn the company into a successful computer hardware business. We’ll dive into the story of how Jobs came to own Pixar and how the company stumbled upon success in computer animation.

Of course, there has never been a Pixar film that didn’t make money. However, we often blithely dismiss one movie as being a box office loser and another as a hit even though they might seem similar in budgets and box office. When we consider a film a hit or a flop, we’re making numerous assumptions on various factors. It’s always a judgment call, but to try and explain what sort of judgments we’re making, we’ve decided to look at several different movies and explain why we consider them a hit or miss.

It’s not as hard to tell when a new television series is a flop, especially after the network cancels it. A number of new shows (“Playboy Club”) got axed this past week, while others (“New Girl”) were picked up for an entire season. One series which nearly didn’t make the cut was “The Simpsons”. After its 23rd season the animated show was nearly canceled over a contract dispute with the cast providing voices for its lovable characters.

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