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Industry Roundup

Sony's turnaround plan: The electronics giant has initiated an ambitious plan to achieve a 10% profit margin by March 2007, the company stated in a news conference on May 19. Key product lines in the program include flat-panel television sets and DVD recorders. Sony is in possible buyout discussions with US film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., a move that could significantly affect the corporate bottom line for years to come. Rumored price for the studio and its 4000+ library of titles is $5 billion.

Sony Pictures Entertainment has also settled lawsuits brought by Marvel Enterprises over the handling of Spider-Man and Men in Black. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The next Sony/Marvel effort is Spider-Man 2, due to hit theaters in June. Spider-Man has generated $821 in global revenue since its theatrical debut in 2002.

HDNet moves into features: The all-sports high-def venture is expanding into feature films, according to a May 28 announcement from New York. HDNet Films, the production division of Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban's 2929 Entertainment, has contracted for three features to be shot this year: Quid Pro Quo, a comedy to be directed by Carlos Brooks; Over the Mountains a political drama directed by Joseph Castelo; and Black Magic, directed by Alex Gibney, a retelling of the Enron scandal.

HDNet Films is headed by Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente, with former ICM agent Will Battersby as head of development and Gretchen McGowan in charge of production. HDNet hopes to produce as many as eight films per year, all to be shot in high-definition digital format.

Viacom comes out: Logo, a gay-and-lesbian themed cable network, will debut next February, according to announcements made in New York May 25. The new venture will be headed by Tom Freston, chairman of Viacom's MTV Networks. Viacom will offer Logo to cable providers, and expects it to be delivered to between 12 and 14 million homes by the end of 2005. It already has commitments from Time Warner's New York system and Adelphia Communications's Los Angeles system. There are approximately 22 million homes in the US receiving "digital cable."

Disney dinging Pixar? Some financial analysts believe that Disney-produced sequels to Pixar films could have an adverse effect on the Emeryville, CA–based digital animation studio, according to a May 28 Wall Street Journal report by Marla Matzer Rose. Disney has several such projects in the pipeline. "The unproven writing and graphics quality of Disney's work with computer-guided-image animation may have an unintentional 'contagion' impact since consumers may subconsciously associate these films as Pixar product," analyst Jessica Reif Cohen said. Pixar CEO Steve Jobs has made similar comments, including "We feel sick about Disney doing sequels because if you look at the quality of their sequels ... it's been pretty embarrassing." Pixar would reap only 8% in royalties from such sequels, with Disney keeping the remainder.

Ergen goes to Washington: EchoStar Communications CEO Charlie Ergen has appealed to national legislators, urging them to remove a codicil from a satellite TV bill to be considered by House Commerce Committee next week. If included, the provision—part of an extension of the Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVA)—could put an end to end EchoStar's two-dish system within a year of becoming law, or force it to install second dishes on the homes of subscribers who now have only one, to comply with local-into-local requirements in the SHVA. "We are dismayed that our competitors in both the broadcast and satellite TV industries are pushing to eliminate the two-dish solution for more than 3 million satisfied customers within one year," Ergen stated. EchoStar customers often need two dishes because of the position of the company's satellites, he noted.

News Corp. changes satellite plan: News Corporation is re-thinking its plan to use advanced satellites for Internet traffic, according to May 28 reports. The company will likely abandon plans to launch several Spaceway satellites for Internet use and will instead launch one for TV transmissions. The move is a disappointment for rural consumers and businesses that had anticipated the rollout of broadband communications in their areas. DirecTV, recently acquired by News Corp., said it would use Spaceway satellites in "the most productive ways," including delivering more high definition programming to US markets.

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