Activision: Beam us our bucks

Company sues Viacom for Star Trek neglect

Vidgame publisher Activision has ventured where few licensees have gone before, suing Viacom’s consumer products division for “millions of dollars in damages” because it says the media giant hasn’t done enough to keep the “Star Trek” franchise strong.

In a statement, Viacom said it was “disappointed” in the suit , which it said appeared to be a gambit to force a renegotiation of the two companies’ Trek licensing agreement.

In 1998, the companies signed a 10-year deal to license “Star Trek” for various vidgames. In the five years since, Activision has published 10 Star Trek titles, all but one of them for computers, the other for the PlayStation game console. It just released a sequel to one of the series’ bestsellers, “Star Trek Elite Force II.”

Activision, one of the vidgame industry’s biggest publishers and a frequent licensee of Hollywood properties, agreed to pay out $20 million over the decade for the license. It also agreed to periodically give Viacom warrants for hundreds of thousands of shares of its stock. So far, Viacom has exercised a portion of those warrants, reaping $10.4 million in profits, on top of $11 million in royalty payments.

In turn, Viacom agreed to “use its commercial best efforts to continue to exploit Star Trek over the 10-year term in a manner consistent with its then-current practice of exploitation,” according to Activision’s suit. At the time the deal was signed, Paramount had released three Star Trek films in four years, and had two TV series on the air.

Fading franchise

In the years since, however, Paramount has released only “Star Trek: Nemesis,” which opened last holiday season to mediocre reviews and the worst box office of the 10 Trek features. Both “Star Trek Next Generation” and “Deep Space 9” left the air, and “Enterprise” debuted on UPN two years ago.

According to the suit, Viacom execs have notified Activision there would be no more Trek movies, and no TV series is planned after “Enterprise” runs its course.

“This is not what we bargained for,” said Maryanne Lataif, Activision’s VP of corporate communications. “We terminated the agreement based on their past failure to support the franchise and because they seem to have no further plans to exploit and support the franchise the way they had promised.”

The suit said Activision wants to recover “millions of dollars of damages” it has suffered, but doesn’t detail exact amounts.

Viacom ‘disappointed’

In a statement, Viacom said it was “disappointed by Activision’s filing of a lawsuit yesterday in light of the fruitful collaboration the parties have enjoyed for the last nearly five years.”

It called the allegations “without merit,” and “manifestly unfounded.” Company insiders said another Trek film is in development, and the franchise remains strong, with hundreds of book titles in circulation and millions of DVDs sold. Older TV series are being shown on several cable channels.

“Activision appears to be trying to use the courts in an effort to renegotiate a deal it made in 1998 to secure the rights to the valued Star Trek franchise for interactive games,” Viacom said, adding that Star Trek remains a strong franchise with worldwide popularity.

Activision also has a 10-year deal with Viacom subsid Nickelodeon to develop vidgames based on the upcoming “Lemony Snicket” movie. The film, produced by Paramount and DreamWorks, is based on the first three books of the children’s franchise, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Neither side said the court fight should affect that deal.

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