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New Review

New review up, "The Final Destination (3D)" Blu-ray.


NBC's "Tonight"mare

There's an old saying, "you can't have your cake and eat it too."

NBC should have listened to that sage advice when they decided to put Jay Leno on prime time television.  The network announced this weekend that Jay Leno will be moved back into a late night time slot (11:35PM in most markets) when the Winter Olympics conclude at the end of February.

As a result of this, the status of Conan O'Brien remains in limbo, although his contract (worth a reported $28 Million a year) states that he is to have a talk show that wil start no later than 12:05AM.  This means NBCs choices are:

  • give Leno a half hour show, then let Conan on at 12:05AM (presumably as "The Tonight Show").
  • give Leno an hour long show, and see if Conan get's p.o.'d and jumps to a competing network.
  • put two desks on The Tonight Show, one on either end of a sofa, and let Jay and Conan battle it out.  Two hosts enter, one host leaves.

All of this drama is the result of Conan O'Brien's contract negotiations a few years back, when NBC agreed to give him "The Tonight Show" at the end of his current contract term with NBC for "Late Night".  Unfortunately, since that time, Jay Leno had been doing remarkably well in the ratings as host of "Tonight", regularly beating David Letterman's "Late Show" on CBS.  NBC decided that they couldn't afford to risk Leno leaving their network and setting up shop at Fox or ABC, so in order to try and placate everyone, they gave "Tonight" to O'Brien and gave Leno a prime time talk show five nights a week.  MMMmmm...this cake sure is delicious, I'm glad I'm eating it and saving it for later.

In order to make room for Leno's show, the network pulled all their scripted shows out of the 10:00PM time slot, and ratings went into a free-fall (big winner, CBS).

NBC insists that they have been happy with the ratings of Leno's show, as it is so much cheaper to produce than scripted dramas.  Of course, that doesn't take into account the feelings of the network's affiliates, who's nightly newscasts were getting destroyed by competitors with stronger lead-ins.  Thus we have NBC's obviously hasty decision from this weekend.

The fallout from this could get really interesting over the coming weeks, as the late night television landscape will undoubtedly change.  Letterman's Late Show should have lots of fodder for jokes, and I'm sure the media attention will cause a slight bump in both Leno and O'Brien's ratings, but nobody out there seems to be asking the real question...what about poor Jimmy Fallon and "Late Night"?  Is he about to get bumped into Carson Daly's old dead of the night time slot (and what about Carson, is he fired because he now overlaps with early morning newscasts?).

This whole situation could not have played out much worse for NBC.  They've lost viewers, and potentially at least one high profile talk show host.  Even if they haven't, they've eroded viewer and affiliate trust.  NBC as a network needs to get back to basics, program good shows, give them time slots where they can breathe, and make some real bets instead of constantly trying to hedge everything.  Otherwise, they'll be stuck in fourth place until they finally go broke (or worse, get bought out up Comcast - oh wait...too late).

On the plus side, this is easily the best drama NBC has had on their network in years.  Beats the hell out of "Trauma".




Can Avatar Really Take On Titanic?

When James Cameron's Avatar launched into theatres in December, there was little double that it would do well, but I don't think anyone dared to predict that it could take on Cameron's last blockbuster, Titanic, with it's $1.8 Billion dollar worldwide gross.  Now, after only a month in theatres, it appears that Avatar has a shot at sinking the big boat's record box office results.

Avatar and Titanic both had the advantage of being released during the lucrative Christmas season, when people are off work and out of school, and have more time to go to the movies during the week.  This meant that grosses for these films through the weeks of Christmas and New Year's were typically 50-60% higher per day than they would be at a non-holiday time.  This is the same reason that movies released during the summer can do so well.

Avatar has also been buoyed by higher than average ticket prices due to the number of people seeing the film on 3D and IMAX 3D screens. 

The one thing both blockbusters have in common is incredibly small week-over-week drops in attendance.  Typically, movies that have big openings (even during holiday seasons) have large week-over-week drop offs.  Whenever an opening weekend record is set (for example, The Dark Knight, with a massive $158 Million opening weekend) it's followed by a precipitous drop, regardless of how well the movie is received (in The Dark Knight's case, a 52% drop to $75 Million in its second weekend).  Titanic and Avatar have both managed to buck that trend.

When we look at Titanic's record setting gross, it was achieved by having a good (but not great) opening weekend, followed by week-after-week of minimal drops in box office returns.  Titanic opened with a $28.6 Million opening weekend, which then jump up 23% in its second weekend (Christmas) and was down only 3% over New Year's.  After that, grosses held steady for weeks, moving up a few percentage points in some cases, and never down more than 30% weekend-over-weekend.

Avatar is following a pattern which seems to be similar to Titanic's.  Avatar had a much bigger opening weekend than Titanic, obviously, $77 Million, and that opening was hampered somewhat by snow storms along the Eastern seaboard that prevented moviegoers from getting to the multiplex.  In its second weekend (also Christmas), Avatar was down 1.8% to $75.6 Million, and New Year's was down a further 9% to $68.5 Million.  In its fourth weekend, Avatar was down 29.2% to $48.5 Million (Titanic was down 13.8% to $28.7 Million in the same time frame).

While Avatar's week-over-week grosses are dropping at a faster rate than Titanic's, its grosses are also much higher each week, so it has further to fall before it matches Titanic's numbers.  As you'd expect, Avatar is well ahead of Titanic in terms of week-over-week comparisons.  Avatar has earned $429 Million compared to Titanic's $198 Million at the same point.

The question is, can Avatar keep up the pace and take out Titanic's record box office (both domestically and internationally)?

If we assume that Avatar's grosses will reduce by 30% week-over-week going forward, then Avatar will overtake Titanic's domestic grosses sometime in March or April.  If the reduction week-over-week is 20%, Avatar will pass Titanic sometime in early February.  If, however, the weekly decline is 35%, Avatar will never get there, as it'll likely be pushed out of the lucrative 3D screens by new films before it can achieve Titanic's massive grosses.

Films in the all time top grosses internationally tend to have one major thing in common (The Dark Knight being the exception).  International grosses represent about two thirds of the overall revenue.   Avatar is no different, with international grosses equalling 67.2% of the revenue to date.  Based on this, Avatar should have very little difficult passing Titanic as the all time box office champ.  Avatar has $1.3 Billion to date, whereas Titanic took months to get to its total of $1.8 Billion.  Another $500 Million does not seem unlikely at this point.

Avatar's word of mouth has been nothing short of fantastic, and many people are seeing the film multiple times.  This is having the effect of keeping Avatar's reduction of grosses up, so I suspect we are looking at the film that will take down Titanic both domestically and internationally.  The question is, how long will it take to do it? 

One quick side note:  All of this analysis does not take into account inflation.  If we take ticket prices into account, Titanic absolutely stomps Avatar, coming in at 6th on the all-time list as compared to Avatar's current standing of 58th place (Gone with Wind is #1, with an estimated adjusted gross of $1.4 Billion domestically).


And Into Second Place

Avatar took second place at the global box office on Wednesday, earning $1.13 Billion in 20 days of release.  That's an average of $56.5M per day.  It'll take another $700 Million to pass Titanic, so the boat still has some distance on James Cameron's latest epic.

Avatar's earnings are coming at quite a bit faster pace than Titanic.  Box Office Mojo shows Titanic at $166 Million on day 20, whereas Avatar has doubled that pace with $374M in domestic grosses over the same period of time.  Titanic's $600 Million domestic gross was earned over a staggering 287 days in theatres.  It's unlikely that Avatar will still be playing on the big screen in October, but at this point, anything is possible.

The Dark Knight, which earned $533 Million during its domestic run, had done $410 Million (77% of total gross) in business by day 20.  TDK started bigger, with the largest opening weekend of all time, but did not hold over as well week-over-week as Avatar has thus far.

3-D continues to be the big playing factor, with approximately 80% of the gross coming from digital 3D and IMAX 3-D screens.  This helps the grosses, obviously, due to the premium price of the tickets. 

Avatar receives some competition this weekend with Daybreakers and Youth In Revolt, but shouldn't have any difficulty retaining the top spot from the two upstarts.  Daybreakers is the wild card, with a premise that appeals to a young audience and would typically result in a big opening weekend.  The R rating will likely keep the grosses well behind Avatar, though, which is a more friendly PG-13 and is appealing to a broader spectrum of movie patrons.



Avatar Takes Third

As of Tuesday, January 7th, Avatar is the 3rd highest grossing film of all time (worldwide - not adjusted for inflation) with $1.098 billion in ticket sales. 

At its current run rate, it will pass Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in the number two spot on Wednesday or Thursday.  After that, it's a long $700 million climb to make a run at Titanic's top spot.