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‘Angry Birds’ flies with Hollywood

IPhone game eyes TV shows, movies, toys

The “Angry Birds” are flocking to Hollywood.

Rovio, the Finnish creator of the hit iPhone and iPad game, which has sold more than 6.5 million downloads, wants to turn the property into a major franchise that crosses over to other platforms — from TV shows and movies to toys and comicbooks.

The company’s founders have been making the rounds of the studios and tenpercenteries over the last several weeks weighing which ancillary offers to move forward with first.

Any such move would be an unusual one for a mobile gamemaker, considering most publishers are quick to put their resources behind launching a completely new title rather than to continue to pump coin into an existing hit. The primary reason for this, in addition to consumers’ short attention spans, is the still finite revenue stream for even a hit mobile game.

But Rovio feels it’s hard enough to produce one hit on handsets, so it wants to exploit any success as much as it can, beyond the mobile games market, which is expected to reach $11.7 billion by 2014, according to DFC Intelligence.

“It doesn’t make sense (to produce a slate of different games) when you have a hit of any caliber,” Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio Mobile, told Daily Variety. “When you create brand equity, to do that again would be a difficult task rather than nurture and build around what you have.”

Games on mobile differ from those on social networks or consoles, given their more limited game play and graphics. But their simplicity has created a major fan following among cell phone owners who can simply pick up and play a game on the go. The social network games biz is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2014. While many games developed for consoles have spun off films and other projects, that has not been the case for mobile games.

What Rovio has is a game in which players use a slingshot to help a flock of animated birds destroy a group of evil pigs who stole their eggs.

The quirk factor of the game and its addictive game play has helped keep it at the top of the download charts and Hed hopes that fleshing out the characters and their world will make it an “evergreen” franchise for years to come.

Angry Birds” started taking off almost immediately when it bowed in December. But that was largely because the Finnish iPhone market was so small, just encouraging friends and family to download the game propelled it into the top 10, Hed said.

Word of mouth quickly spread, soon making it the top paid downloaded game. Sales then took off in the United Kingdom in February, and later in the U.S. in April and May, after being featured on the App Store. For months now it’s come to dominate Apple’s paid app market in about 60 countries.

The rest of “Angry Birds'” stats are also impressive: The game, which sells for 99 cents in the U.S., and about $1.14 in other markets, hit the 6.5 million sales mark this month. A more limited free version has been downloaded 11 million times. An iPad version, for $4.99, has racked up 200,000 sales.

Rovio has already begun experimenting with telling the “Angry Birds'” story through toons.

An animated trailer that introduces the squawking characters has been viewed more than five million times on YouTube.

Now Rovio has its sights on longer toons that can play on TV or in a megaplex, with Hed preferring an adaptation that resembles the claymation features for which Aardman Animation has become known.

Hed understands that producing a movie could take three years before it bows. “The challenge is to make sure the brand is relevant when the movie comes out,” he said.

To do that, Rovio hopes to take a page from Pixar’s playbook.

“Time and time again, they take an unknown brand and make it big,” Hed added.

Helping Rovio set up entertainment deals are several Hollywood advisors, including Peter Levin, a longtime digital media and video game entrepreneur, and Russell Binder, a marketing vet whose Striker Entertainment sets up licensing deals for Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment and DreamWorks, including the “Twilight” franchise. Rovio also recently opened an office in Silicon Valley.

Until those deals are brokered, Rovio will focus on producing sequels and other versions of the “Angry Birds” game that “expands the universe and the brand.”

First, that requires putting “Angry Birds” in front of more people and “to every possible place,” Hed said, which includes launching versions for phones that run Google’s Android software, as well as smart phones like the Blackberry and Palm, in the coming months. He also intends to expand this to handheld videogame systems like Nintendo’s DS, Sony’s PSP Go and consoles like the PlayStation 3. It’s also already on Nokia’s Ovi Store.

“There will be a huge concentration of games coming to smart phones,” Hed said. “We hope we can be the first major franchise to come from mobile,” Hed said.

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