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Top U.S. networks wrap ‘upfront’ sales on upswing

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The three leading U.S. television networks said Monday they have concluded the bulk of their prime-time advertising deals for the upcoming 2008-09 season with prices for commercials running unexpectedly higher than last year.

The networks’ “upfront” market — an annual springtime round of negotiations accounting for roughly 80 percent of their advertising business — drew to a close more quickly and robustly than anticipated given the industry’s recent ratings slump and the shaky U.S. economy.

ABC, owned by the Walt Disney Co , said its cost per thousand viewers, the basic pricing unit for TV ads, was up about 9 percent from last year, with about $125 million more in total sales — most of that from ads booked in prime time.

CBS , meanwhile, is reaping price increases of 7 percent to 9 percent, though its overall sales volume in prime time is about the same as last year’s level, according to a source familiar with the network’s negotiations.

Advertising for sports broadcasts was not included in either network’s figures.

News Corp’s Fox Broadcasting Co., newly ranked as the most watched U.S. TV network, issued a terse statement saying it had concluded its prime-time upfront sales “at volume and pricing levels consistent with the No. 1 network.”

No further details were given, but sources last week told Reuters that Fox, flying high from the blockbuster success of “American Idol,” was estimated to have booked year-to-year price increases as high as the low double-digits.

NBC, a General Electric Co unit ranked lowest in ratings among the four major networks, was said to have closed upfront deals ahead of its rivals last week with $1.9 billion in prime-time ads sold, up about $100 million from last year.


Network officials and industry analysts said much of the unexpected price strength was driven by advertisers shifting more of their spending into upfront deals after paying hefty increases last season for leftover ad inventory in the so-called “scatter” market.

Some of the higher scatter-market prices resulted from supply shortages created as networks dipped into ad inventories for “make-goods” used to compensate advertisers when ratings fell below guaranteed levels last year.

Broadcast viewership last season was down 7 percent overall, and 10 percent among the young adults most prized by advertisers, as growing competition from cable TV, the Internet and video games continued to take its toll on the industry.

The TV landscape was made even more rocky by the lack of breakout hits and a 14-week screenwriters strike that halted production on prime-time comedies and dramas, forcing networks to run a glut of reruns and reality shows at midseason.

Contrary to the expectations of many analysts, however, advertisers “still very strongly believe in the power of network television to build brand awareness,” said Shari Anne Brill, a senior vice president for media buying agency Carat. “That’s where you get the mass reach.”

While this year’s upfronts were marked by a greater number of deals tied to Internet advertising, “the vast majority of the business is still done on the broadcast networks with the traditional 30-second announcement,” said Mike Shaw, ABC’s president of sales and marketing.

Although many analysts had predicted that “certain advertisers (would) cut back, they did not,” Shaw added.

Last year, the networks signed roughly $9 billion in ad deals combined during the upfronts, or roughly 80 percent of all prime-time commercial time booked for the season. Total volume this year was reported to be running about the same.

Source: Reuters

Filmmakers drop clues about “X-Files” movie sequel

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Ten years after the last “X-Files” movie hit theaters, the team behind the hit sci-franchise is tossing out some tidbits about the sequel, currently scheduled for release on July 25.

The film, which has not yet been named, will mark the return of David Duchovny as Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Scully, two FBI agents who investigate the paranormal.

It is being directed by Chris Carter, creator of the series that ran on Fox from 1993 to 2002.

“I know what I want it to be, but Fox has ideas of their own,” Carter said of the title. “I know what it should be.”

What he and co-writer Frank Spotnitz did reveal Wednesday during the 25th annual William S. Paley Television Festival, was the trailer. It featured lots of snow, running, a large syringe and a helicopter.

The film will pick up six years after the end of the series. It’s supposed to be a standalone feature removed from the alien mythology of the TV show, a throwback to the show’s “monster of the week” episodes. Still, some lingering aspects from the series, like whether Scully’s child will be a normal tyke, will be addressed.

“It will not be a mythology movie, but it’s true to everything that’s come before,” said Spotnitz.

Source: Reuters

Owen Wilson goes back to work

Owen Wilson is going back to work for the first time since his suicide attempt last summer.

Wilson, 39, and co-star Jennifer Aniston begin shooting March 10 on 20th Century Fox’s “Marley & Me,” the tale of a couple that adopts a dog to give parenthood a trial run then finds the mischievous pooch more than they bargained for.

After he was hospitalized last August, Wilson dropped out of this summer’s comedy “Tropic Thunder,” which already had been in production. He was replaced by Matthew McConaughey.

Due out Christmas Day, “Marley & Me” is directed by David Frankel and based on the book by John Grogan. Alan Arkin co-stars.

Source: Associated Press

Fox Announces Print Agreement With Deluxe

LOS ANGELES, Twentieth Century Fox, a unit of Fox Filmed Entertainment, today announced the signing of a worldwide print services agreement with Deluxe Laboratories a unit of Deluxe Entertainment Services Group. The deal marks the return of international 35mm printing to Fox’s historic roots at Deluxe, which began as the film and camera department of Fox in 1915 until its divestiture in 1989. The agreement includes the duplication of both celluloid and digital prints as well as Digital Cinema delivery and logistics services.

"We are very pleased to be working with Deluxe for both 35mm prints and Digital Cinema," said Bruce Snyder, President of Domestic Distribution. "With the complexities inherent in the transition to Digital Cinema and 3D, we are thrilled to be the first studio with an all-purpose worldwide agreement that encompasses not only our current business but positions us for the future."

Cyril Drabinsky, CEO of Deluxe, added: "For over 90 years, the Fox team has treated us like family, and we look forward to continuing to provide them worldwide services across all distribution channels." Ken Biggins, Managing Director of Deluxe Europe, will oversee international delivery.

The deal brings together the worldwide box office success of Twentieth Century Fox’s film slate and the post-production expertise of Deluxe, currently the world’s largest processor of film for the motion picture industry.

"We look forward to working with Ken Biggins and the entire international team at Deluxe in serving our film printing needs as well as developing the servicing infrastructure required to accommodate the digital transition around the world," said Paul Hanneman, Co-President of Twentieth Century Fox International.

The Deluxe Digital Cinema unit has been working behind the scenes for several years to make digital cinema a practical reality. This is the first worldwide contract of its kind signed between a major Hollywood studio and a provider of Digital Cinema distribution services. The Digital Cinema deal was led by Julian Levin, Executive Vice President, Digital Exhibition for Twentieth Century Fox and Steve Bergman, Executive Vice President & GM of Deluxe Digital Media.

Keir Gilchrist debut on ‘The Winner’

TORONTO (CP) _ Just days before the debut of his big role on a new sitcom on a major network, 14-year-old Toronto-based actor Keir Gilchrist was feeling "pretty excited" but completely relaxed.

"It’s a big thing because I don’t think a lot of my friends have ever really seen me on TV," Gilchrist, co-star of "The Winner" that debuts Sunday on Fox, said with an air of maturity, wearing a beat-up biker jacket in an artsy diner.

"But I don’t feel any pressure _ like, there’s nothing really on my back if it, you know . . .," he said before stopping himself. "Whatever happens, happens, right?"

It’s a good attitude to have, given the unpredictability of launching a sitcom.

And given Gilchrist’s background, it’s understandable why he would have such confidence.

Born in London, England, the teen with the shaggy brown hair started studying acting as a young boy and took classes in Boston and New York City before settling in Toronto with his family at age 10. His dad works in marketing at an indie record label in the city, and his 10-year-old brother, Evan, is also acting and has landed a few small roles.

Since then Gilchrist, a self-described "goofball" who has a penchant for Monty Python films and punk music, has made guest appearances on "Queer as Folk," "Missing," "Doc" and "ReGenesis," and had a recurring role on the kids’ TV series "Life With Derek." He’s even voiced a character on the animated comedy "The Family Guy."

This latest role, however, is his biggest yet, as it’s a project of two of his idols _ "Family Guy" creator-writer Seth MacFarlane and writer Ricky Blitt of Montreal.

"I’m a huge ‘Family Guy’ fan _ like, the biggest _ and I can’t go through a conversation with someone without mentioning ‘Family Guy’ at least 15 times," said Gilchrist.

He landed the part of Josh, a 14-year-old hypochondriac, after meeting with "The Winner"’s casting directors and going through a nerve-racking audition process that he thought he’d blown in Los Angeles.

The sitcom, which is filmed in front of a live studio audience, stars Rob Corddry (the bald correspondent on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart") as Glen Abbott, an under-developed 32-year-old virgin who still lives with his parents in Buffalo.

Glen forces himself to embark on his "wonder years," however, when his first love Alison (Erinn Hayes) _ a single mom and the only girl he’s ever kissed _ moves back to Buffalo with her son, played by Gilchrist.

There’s quite a bit of adult content on the show, which Global will air starting March 11.

The premise involves Glen relying on Josh to help him get through the parts of puberty that he somehow missed. In one of the episodes, Glen visits a shady massage parlour to learn some tricks on intimacy while Josh waits outside.

But Gilchrist shrugs at such scenarios, saying he’s grownup enough to handle it.

"I actually kind of find that stuff more fun than playing it safe," says Gilchrist, who gets his schooling by tutors while he’s on set in L.A. and attends a special high school for professional kids while in Toronto.

"My parents didn’t always believe in, like, making sure I never saw any movies with that kind of subject matter or whatever, so by the time I got to it, it was almost just normal and I love doing that kind of stuff."

"The Winner" pilot was filmed last April and the crew didn’t shoot the other five episodes until the following October.

The result? "From the first episode to the second, I’ve grown (several) inches and my voice has changed," laughs Gilchrist.

Despite the travel headaches, Gilchrist says he enjoys living away from L.A. and feels like Toronto is his home, where he can chill out with his "homies," who often react indifferently to his acting roles _ with the exception of this new one.

"(When) I started high school, if I mentioned the show or whatever, they’d be like, ‘Oh, cool, you’ve got a TV show, blah, blah, blah,"’ he said.

"But then if I mentioned I was working with Seth or Rob or whatever, it was like, ‘What?’ … they were really, really surprised. And then if I mentioned ‘Family Guy,’ it was like, you know, it’s kind of a weird look you get _ they think you’re screwing with them, basically."