Studio sez it's decided to convert the pic to 3D

In a last-minute summer shakeup, Paramount pushed back Hasbro sequel “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” from June 29 to March 29, 2013 — all for the sake of 3D, according to the studio. But the drastic deferment could impact more than just the calendar, jolting aspects of the biz from merchandising to market share.

The nine-month delay for “Joe” leaves Par with little else in the way of summer programming, as the studio now has only “Madagascar 3″ on June 8 and “Katy Perry: Part of Me” on July 5.Par said the “Joe” move was motivated by focus groups that questioned why the film wasn’t in stereo, a format that will give it added oomph overseas. According to Paramount, several 3D companies approached the studio to convert the film for a rate not to exceed $10 million (“Titanic” cost $18 million to convert). In return, the 3D outlets will share in a percentage of the 3D upside.

A backend deal for visual effects companies is rare, though not unheard of — Rhythm & Hues had one on “Yogi Bear” and took a producer credit, effectively becoming an equity investor in the movie. It’s not clear that a 3D conversion house has ever shared risk on a film.

Though Paramount has yet to name who will do the job, its go-to company has been StereoD, which did “Thor,” “The Last Airbender” and “Titanic,” which Par distributed domestically.

There are other key reasons why moving “G.I. Joe” makes sense: steering wide both of tentpole competition and of the “Battleship”-Hasbro fiasco — but it also puts considerable strain on Par this year financially. To date, the studio is dead last in domestic market share, having just crossed $300 million. That’s mainly because Paramount has released the fewest films so far in 2012; minus “G.I. Joe,” the studio has nine wide releases left for the calendar year.

“Retaliation” cost a reported $125 million, with MGM and David Ellison’s Skydance Pictures each covering 25% and Par the rest. As such, the cost of maintaining the pic’s financing structure over the nine-month delay should be minimal. Studio also had ponied up around $3.5 million for a 30-second ad that ran during the Super Bowl; with a March release, it could conceivably become the first tentpole to advertise in two consecutive Super Bowls.

Paramount’s similar last-minute calendar shift of “Shutter Island” in 2009 ended up generating the best box office returns ever for a Martin Scorsese film. But in order for the delay to end up profitably for the studio, “Retaliation” will need a better-than-average 3D performance.

“G.I. Joe” was set to bow only a week before “The Amazing Spider-Man” and three weeks before “The Dark Knight Rises.” That said, next March isn’t without strong competition that includes Disney’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and Warner Bros.’ “Jack the Giant Killer.”

The move impacts more than just Par’s calendar: The studio already had lined up multiple promotional partners, including power tool maker Matco Tools. And Hasbro had been promoting a new line of 47 different action figures and vehicles on the “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” website modeled after the characters and actors appearing in the film.

After the poor performance of “Battleship,” which is hurting the sale of ancillary products like toys and other licensed merchandise, Hasbro needs the “G.I. Joe” sequel to perform. The first “Joe” barely made it past the $300 million domestic mark — the threshold that Par needed to reach to greenlight a sequel.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” is said to have generated some $150 million-$180 million in toy sales for Hasbro. Pic had Burger King as a fast food partner, as well as 7-Eleven and Symantec.

Moving dates so close to a release also can prove a major inconvenience for marketers given that campaign materials are designed months before, and toys need to be developed more than a year in advance.

(David S. Cohen contributed to this report.)

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