ShowBiz (02/08/19)

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Mattel turns eye toward TV

TOYMAKER Mattel Inc. continued its pivot toward entertainment, hiring a Walt Disney Co. veteran to run its burgeoning television unit. Adam Bonnett, who left Disney last year after two decades, will lead development of series and other content as executive producer of Mattel Television, the company said. He’s filling a newly created position, part of the company’s push to build more entertainment around its toy brands. For years, Mattel had been criticized by investors for not shifting more toward entertainment, like rival toy companies Hasbro Inc. and Lego A/S. But Mattel Chief Executive Officer Ynon Kreiz has been working to change that during his first year on the job. A former entertainment executive who became CEO last spring, Mr. Kreiz has already started a film unit and inked deals for movies based off Barbie and Hot Wheels — its largest properties. The hire of Mr. Bonnett, 50, also comes at a time of exploding demand for kids content, thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix. Mr. Kreiz is no doubt betting that Mr. Bonnett — who oversaw programming development for Disney Channel, including hits like Hannah Montana — will help speed up the company’s makeover after four years of slumping sales. — Bloomberg

Cirque du Soleil bags Illusionists

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL Entertainment Group is acquiring a troupe of magicians called the Illusionists, building on a global live-performance empire that already includes the Blue Man Group and theatrical shows. The company is paying about $40 million for Works Entertainment, which owns the Illusionists franchise, according to a person familiar with the terms, which aren’t public. Cirque du Soleil is drawing on a $120 million credit line to finance the transaction. The purchase is the third recent deal by the circus-show giant, which aims to leverage its global operations to help popularize newer acts. The Illusionists is a revue show that has featured a range of magicians, including America’s Got Talent champion Shin Lim. — Bloomberg

1970s-era musicians sue Sony, UMG

NEW YORK — David Johansen, John Waite and other prominent 1970s musicians filed lawsuits on Tuesday accusing Sony Music Entertainment Inc. and UMG Recordings Inc. of improperly refusing to let them reclaim rights to songs they had long ago signed away. The proposed class actions filed in Manhattan federal court said US copyright law gives songwriters who bargained away their works on unfavorable terms a “second chance” to reclaim their rights by filing termination notices after 35 years. But they said Sony and UMG have “routinely and systematically” ignored hundreds of notices, mainly because they deemed the songs “works made for hire” under their recording contracts and therefore not subject to being reclaimed. The named plaintiffs in the Sony case are Mr. Johansen, formerly of the New York Dolls and who as Buster Poindexter recorded “Hot Hot Hot”; John Lyon, who performs as Southside Johnny; and Paul Collins, known for the Paul Collins Beat. Plaintiffs suing UMG, a unit of France’s Vivendi SA, include Waite, formerly of The Babys and later known for his 1984 hit “Missing You”; and Joe Ely, a guitarist who has performed with The Clash, Bruce Springsteen and others. Sony and UMG did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The plaintiffs are represented by the law firm Blank Rome and by Evan Cohen, a Los Angeles lawyer. “We represent well over 100 artists from the late ’70s and early ’80s who want to own their US copyrights, but are being stonewalled by Sony and Universal after sending notices,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview. “In many cases, we are talking about artists who have never received royalties from the recordings.” Both lawsuits cover recording artists who served termination notices effective Jan. 1, 2013 or later. They seek injunctions requiring that the notices be honored, monetary damages and other remedies. — Reuters

Disney TV eases shift to streaming

WALT DISNEY CO. is embarking on a mission to become a streaming-TV company, challenging Netflix Inc. head-on. But for now, it’s traditional TV that’s holding up better than expected. Soaring sales and profit at the ABC network and local TV stations helped Disney beat analysts’ forecasts for the first quarter — and overcome another tough stretch for the ESPN sports network. The entertainment giant credited higher fees from pay-TV services, rising ad revenue and more sales of programs to other companies. Disney has warned that fiscal 2019 will be a tough year as the company takes over most of 21st Century Fox Inc. and develops programs for three online video services: ESPN+, Disney+ and Hulu. But its diverse business groups, from parks and hotels to movies and home entertainment, are softening the blow for investors. “This is a bet on the future of our business,’’ Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said on a conference call. The question now is how painful the streaming shift will be. Disney will have to pull shows and movies from platforms like Netflix as it works to build its own offerings. Already, that’s having an impact. Company executives said film and TV profit from selling shows to competitors like Netflix will drop by $150 million this year. Another cloud: A shift in the Easter holiday and changes in how Disney recognizes revenue will cut theme-park profit in the current quarter by $125 million. Disney said it now has more than 2 million subscribers to ESPN+, the $5-a-month sports streaming service launched last April. Nearly 600,000 of those came last month as a result of the company’s first big UFC fight, signed under a five-year-deal with the mixed martial arts league. Mr. Iger said the rollout of the service has proven that the company’s BamTech streaming platform is reliable, even during major events, and the ESPN network itself has helped promote the product. The company plans to launch Disney+, a service featuring films and TV shows from its Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars brands, later this year. Over the next few months, Disney will complete the $71 billion acquisition of Fox assets, a deal that will give the company majority control of the Hulu streaming service, as well as many other channels and film franchises. — Reuters