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World Cup cuts into tentpole playing time

Summer pics get squeezed in sporting frenzy

For the sports biz, it’s a big, fat “Goal!” But for films, the four week soccer World Cup is more of a foul.Hollywood studios are grappling with how to schedule films internationally during the summer dead zone from June 11 to July 11.

It’s like a Super Bowl weekend that lasts an entire month. And this year World Cup timing has also become part of the controversy over DVD release windows.

“The markets defininitely shrink, so you have to schedule accordingly,” notes Sony exec VP Jay Sands. “And because there’s a different set of films than what you’d normally have, you can’t know if the decline becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Scheduling is always a daunting task and this year’s set of matches are going to create a huge distraction for two reasons — many of the top teams (Brazil, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and the U.K.) are from the top international markets; and even though South Africa’s the host this time, it’s the same time zone as Europe, so many the games will take place during primetime.

Distribution execs, well aware of what they’re up against, have constructed a summer schedule that carefully tiptoes around the matches. The result? A schedule that’s heavily frontloaded with tentpoles in May – — Paramount’s “Iron Man 2,” Uni’s “Robin Hood” and Disney’s “Prince of Persia.”

In fact, Par’s going a week early overseas on the “Iron Man” sequel. Andrew Cripps, Par’s international distribution topper believes that there six-week distance between the opening and the start of the World Cup will mean that there’s no impact from soccer on that title.

Warner’s is making a big counterprogramming move in late May and June with the “Sex and the City” sequel, two years after the original took in a stunning $260 million outside the United States. Fox, on the other hand, is opting to buck the trend and open “The A-Team” day and date with the domestic launch, opening in many markets on June 11, the first day of the World Cup.

Studios aren’t as worried about fare with more female appeal, such as Disney’s “When in Rome” and Uni’s “Get Him to the Greek,” both opening during the soccer frenzy.

“There still will be movies and there’s still room for the right movie,” Cripps says. “It’s not as if every national team is playing every day.”

Sony’s taking a cautious route with “The Karate Kid,” however, which also opens June 11 in the Untied States. It will go day and date in Mexico and Asia (except Japan) but won’t hit most other markets until after the World Cup’s over.

“The impact of soccer that you have to keep in mind is mostly in Europe,” notes Sands.

Sony’s also going to wait in most markets on Adam Sandler’s comedy “Grown Ups,” set to open domestically on June 25. It will go day and date only in Australia — the foreign market that most closely resembles the United States, so much so that execs sometimes call it the 51st state.

Warner’s isn’t even trying to go day and date on its supernatural actioner “Jonah Hex,” which has a June 18 U.S. launch. It will gradually roll out the Josh Brolin starrer in July, August and September — a task that’s complicated by a plethora of titles that are waiting until after July 11 to launch oveseas.

The two summer animation tentpoles are also opting for a staggered appraoch. Par’s “Shrek 4,” which launches May 21 domestically, won’t go out overseas for well over a month.

“It’s set for early July in most markets, so on the last weekend of the World Cup when the matches are limited and in the evening in Europe,” Cripps noted.

Disney’s also holding off on “Toy Story 3,” also set for a June 18 domestic launch and opting for its usual strategy on animation of staggering the schedule in foreign markets. In this case, that means waiting until after the World Cup.

The Mouse House also cited the World Cup as one reason to release Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” early on DVD, though the plan has met with resistance from British and Dutch exhibitors.

Summit’s third “Twilight” film, “Eclipse,” will also wait. It’s launching June 30 in the states but won’t hit its first foreign markets (France and the U.K.) until July 9.

Once the cup has been awarded, there’s the additional problem of a massive collision of tentpoles — particularly with Warner’s Chris Nolan sci-fier “Inception” and Fox’s Angelina Jolie vehicle “Salt” going out in mid-summer in many markets. For example, Par’s holding off on another tentpole, “The Last Airbender,” until August.

Being forced to dance around the World Cup with megabudget tentpoles isn’t the ideal scenario for studios. “There’s a huge compression of attendance, particularly in European markets,” one marketer admits. “It’s hard to promote your film because everyone’s obsessed with the World Cup. So a red carpet event isn’t going to get noticed in the same way it normally would.”

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