Slowing economy, or something, hits studios

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The slowing economy appears to be hitting Hollywood where it hurts: at the box office and in DVD sales.

Or maybe it’s just that the movies weren’t good enough to get people into the theaters.

Either way, several of the major Hollywood studios in recent days have been reporting lower revenues and income.

Time Warner Inc. today said revenue for its Warner Bros. movie division fell 9%, despite the blockbuster Batman sequel ‘The Dark Knight.’ Although the movie has grossed $528 million since its July release, even that performance unfavorably compares with a year ago, when ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,’ ‘Rush Hour 3,’ and ‘Hairspray’ were in theaters and ‘300' was out on DVD.


Nonetheless, filmed entertainment was able to squeeze out a 3% increase in operating income, partly owing, however, to cost cuts associated with consolidating its New Line Cinema unit into the larger Warner Bros. studio.

News Corp., meanwhile, reported a 30% drop to $251 million in fiscal first-quarter operating income for its filmed entertainment group, which includes 20th Century Fox. The movies ‘X-Files: I Want to Believe’ and ‘The Rocker’ drew in fewer theatergoers than the previous year’s box-office hits ‘The Simpsons Movie’ and ‘Live Free or Die Hard.’

‘The film division admittedly got off to a slow start,’ said News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch in a call Wednesday with press and analysts. He touted strong holiday offerings, which include ‘Australia,’ starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ staring Keanu Reeves, and ‘Marley and Me’ with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.

Media conglomerate Viacom Inc. started off the earnings season’s economic malaise with its release Monday announcing that Paramount Pictures contributed to the film unit’s $19-million loss for the quarter ended Sept. 30. Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said the studio planned to cut back the number of movies it releases each year to no more than 20 to save on marketing costs.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Heath Ledger, as the Joker, with Christian Bale, as Batman, in ‘The Dark Knight.’ Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros. Pictures