UPFRONT 1997: Entertainment

Is bigger better? The blockbuster-flick trend continues

The entertainment business is all about

money-not ro-mance. This year, the major Hollywood studios will look to make blockbuster movies even bigger, while limiting middle-of-the-road efforts, especially serious, romantic and comedy films. Financial scrutiny is ruling the day, and that translates into an uneven picture for TV networks counting on entertainment marketing dollars.

Perhaps, this should come as no surprise. Movie studios are still smarting from what was embarrassingly revealed during the Oscars recently: Hollywood favors big-budget, wham-bam, ooh-ahh-effects films, leaving those thinking-persons’ theatrical movies to the smaller studios, which grabbed numerous awards. Who could blame the big production houses? Sure, there were few golden statuettes. But there was lots of cha-ching at the box office from movies such as Twister and Independence Day.

That scenario will only exacerbate itself next year. Spending will increase for big-time event movies, as opening weekend grosses become more critical. At the same time, Hollywood will keep their collective hands in their pockets when it comes to modestly perceived romantic comedies and serious pieces. Overall, media and marketing executives say this means flat-to-slightly-lower spending for the approaching upfront market.

Entertainment and consumer product company alliances have a good deal to do with the new formula. The Walt Disney Company’s 10-year deal with McDonald’s paved the way for a new marketing and media paradigm. Simply put, the studios are looking to cut costs. While merchandising deals do not necessarily mean trimmer ad budgets, those licensing dollars do contribute to the bottom line in terms of consumer awareness and advertising effectiveness.

Look for other long-term consumer product associations. Analysts believe Coca-Cola and Pepsi might ink long-term deals with a major studio-perhaps in the action-adventure vein. Similarly, while some think Burger King is looking to catch up to McDonald’s with a studio partner of its own for a slate of kids or family-fun movies, it is still enjoying its “belle of the ball” status as the most wanted fast-food brand for tie-in activity.

This is not to say there is no growth in this segment for the networks; there will be patches of money coming from less obvious directions. Marketing executives say there will be a significant increase in advertising from home video sales. Additionally, smaller studios, such as New Line and Miramax, are taking their sometimes quirky films and laying out more advertising dollars.

For the fall, potential movie heavyweights include Starship Troopers, a giant insect and space adventure from Sony Entertainment. A remake of Zorro also comes from Sony. Twentieth Century Fox will go for the hat trick with Home Alone 3.

For next year, New Line will rocket into the spring of 1998 with Lost in Space-perhaps a dark-horse candidate for action-adventure flick of the year. New Line is looking to spin off numerous media vehicles from the film based on the ’60s TV show. An animated TV series is in the works for Fall ’98.

-Wayne Friedman


* Romantic films: Media money breaks us up

* Big budgets for box-office blockbusters

* Will smaller studios start shelling out more bucks to promote their quirky films?

OVERALL: Spending flat to slightly down

DARK HORSE: Lost in Space aims for TV time and schedule space

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