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Paramount charts franchise course

Studio hopes slate will lead to profitability

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said Wednesday that Paramount’s focus on franchise films and more control over its slate will lead the way to profitability at the studio.

Investors, while impressed by Par’s strong run at the box office — most recently with “Star Trek” — are still fretting at its red ink.

The studio posted a $123 million operating loss in the first quarter of this year.

“We were in a situation where we weren’t fully in control of our release slate. We now have full control of our slate. We won’t be in a position where our big, franchise pictures are offset” by a handful of smaller, less successful films, Dauman told Wall Streeters at a media conference in Gotham. He was referring to Viacom’s split last fall with DreamWorks co-founders Steven Spielberg and David Geffen.

“That’s why ‘Star Trek’ is so important. We greenlit ‘Star Trek 2’ several weeks before the release of ‘1’ because we knew what we had,” he added. He cited upcoming pics “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” as well as a busier release slate from DreamWorks Animation, which will bump up its output from two films a year to three. Viacom distributes DreamWorks Animation pics.

He also noted that Par has cut costs sharply — by about $50 million a year.

He said Paramount’s strong showing in 2008 and 2009 to date has been “a great help” as the company seeks distribution deals for Epix, a new movie channel created by Viacom, Lionsgate and MGM. It’s on track to launch Oct. 1, he said.

Viacom needs to focus more on taking advantage of the studio to reinforce brands like Nickelodeon and MTV, he said.

He shrugged off the recent announcement of plans by Discovery Communications and toymaker Hasbro to launch a kids’ television network and website. “You can’t base a network on one kind of programming,” he said. “We welcome any competition, because we are going to beat them.”

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