Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Global Entertainment, Media Industries Experiencing Unparalleled Growth

In the business of global entertainment and digital media, the trend moves in one direction. In its latest industry outlook, accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers says, by 2011, spending on the convergence of home computing, wireless technology and television will exceed 50 percent of total industry spending.

Global managing partner for Price Waterhouse Coopers, Marcel Fenez, says "In summary we're entering an extremely exciting period for the industry. We've got strong growth and that growth is coming in different areas than what we have seen before. Its obviously underlined by broadband and wireless penetration but what it really means for the industry is opportunity, change."

Marcel Fenez
Marcel Fenez
The biggest changes come in four key sectors: the Internet, television distribution, video games and casinos. A quarter of that growth will come from what Fenez calls the "BRIC" countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

"The huge markets of China and India are leading that growth but something that we are seeing this year is the emergence of Latin America as a real power growth as well. Not yet in terms of rates of growth as Asia, but certainly developing very quickly."

Most impressive is the rise in wireless communications. India, for example, sees an average increase of six million mobile phone subscribers per month. And Fenez says by 2011, "People will be spending more on video games than they have been doing on music. And then finally casinos, again, a completely different story, but the emergence again of Asia particularly in terms of Macau which is now bigger than Las Vegas and the integrated resort that we are going to be seeing developed in Singapore."

And there are other challenges too. Among them, protecting intellectual property.

"Obviously in various parts of the world and almost globally we're seeing illegal downloads and other forms of piracy. One of the ways obviously to deal with that is to consider alternative business models which are more advertising focused."

Price Waterhouse Coopers says advertising spending is expected to increase by more than $100 billion in five years, fueled in part by the rapid growth of the World Wide Web.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Free movies offered during Orientation

Most memories of Freshmen Orientation involve, well, not much - confusion, awkward bus rides, boring lectures, more boring lectures and a lot of walking.

However, incoming freshmen of 2007 have a little more to look forward to.

This summer, the Tate Center Theater offers a film series correlating with Orientation dates.

"The movies were chosen by students of University Union. They did their best to choose movies that did well in the theaters and aren't out on DVD yet," said Marc LaMotte, program adviser for the University's Student Activities & Organizations.

Not only will these flicks give students something to do during down time, but they will give their wallets a break, too.

At the great price of free, students both new and old have the opportunity for stress-free fun.

Next Wednesday's movie is "Meet the Robinsons," a Disney adaptation of William Joyce's novel "A Day with Wilbur Robinson."

"There are pretty good movie choices this summer," said incoming freshmen Brandon Pope, a cellular biology major from Dekalb County. "I think they will be good to bring people, especially new students, together."

"Meet the Robinsons" is an animated flick involving memory scanners, time machines, villains and heroes - a Disney staple.

With positive reviews from critics and audiences, Adam West and Angela Bassett's voices prove entertaining.

"Free anything will get my ears perked up, especially free movies since they are so expensive now," said Alexis Catlett, an incoming Pre-Med major from Columbus. "I wanted to see 'Meet the Robinsons.' A lot of my friends saw it and loved it."

Other movies appearing in Tate Center Theater this summer include unique films such as the comedy "Blades of Glory," starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder as male figure skaters, and "Grindhouse,"a collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

"The summer movie list looks great - if I'm in town, I would definitely stop by and bring friends," Catlett said.

The Tate Theater's film series gives students free entertainment while also creating an opening for new freshmen, possibly foreign to Athens, to meet other students.

"I think that the movies would be a great ice breaker, especially since some of them are funny and laughter is sometimes the best ice breaker of all," Catlett said.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New low for Lohan

Lindsay Lohan checked herself into rehab following a wild weekend in which she was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after being involved in an auto accident.

After the accident, Lohan continued to party with friends after she was released by police until she apparently collapsed outside a Hollywood nightclub. The collapse was captured in photos and posted on the X17online.com Web site over the holiday weekend.

"Lindsay admitted herself to an intensive medical rehabilitation facility on Memorial Day," according to a representative for the actress. "Because this is a medical matter, it is our hope that the press will appreciate the seriousness of the situation and respect the privacy of Lindsay as well as the other patients receiving treatment at the facility."

In Touch Weekly said Lohan had reportedly checked into Promises, the Malibu, Calif., rehab center where Britney Spears stayed.

Now family members, fans and detractors alike are wondering: Can Lohan turn her career and her life around?

Not long ago, she was one of a crop of wholesome starlets whose target audience was mainly tweener girls. Now Lohan is joining the ranks of such celebrities as Mel Gibson and the country star Keith Urban, both recently treated for various addictions and behavioral problems. As Lohan, who turns 21 in July, makes her second trip to rehab, she may be facing something much tougher than a quick public-relations pit stop.

TMZ.com reported that Lohan's next role, in the Shirley MacLaine film "Poor Things," will be put on hold.

"A 30-day rehab is not necessarily enough time to make the changes people need to make if there are deeper, underlying issues," said Thomas Demaria, a clinical psychologist and assistant vice president of behavioral health at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside. "The process of figuring out why the person started using those substances can take some time."

Lohan's father, Michael, has admitted to battling alcoholism and recently served time for attempted assault, aggravated unlicensed driving and other charges. Yesterday he said he plans to ask his parole officer for permission to fly to Los Angeles to visit his estranged daughter. "Enough is enough," he said. "This is ridiculous. If it costs me my relationship with Lindsay to help save her life, then so be it. I don't care about anything else. This is far beyond worrying about what people think."

Lindsay Lohan's mother, Dina, did not return calls placed through her publicist.

Lindsay Lohan's career has been uneven since she made her 1998 debut in a dual role as the troublemaking twins in the remake of "The Parent Trap." She shone in the critically acclaimed "Mean Girls" (2004) and held her own with the likes of Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin in last year's "A Prairie Home Companion," director Robert Altman's final film. But her latest, "Georgia Rule," received lukewarm reviews, and her behavior prompted a stern warning letter from the film's production company.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jessica Simpson and John Mayer Split

Mayer and Simpson very recently split up, and sources told PerezHilton.com that is was Mayer who broke up with Simpson.

"They officially called it quits this past weekend," a source told the site. "They'd been having problems for a while now and just decided it'd be better to end things."

Just a few days ago, Simpson's father was praising Mayer in the press.

While Jessica is currently at the Cannes Film Festival — smiling for the cameras — John also appears to be delving back into the single life, according to Perez.

Mayer and pals partied at New York City club Stereo on Thursday night, and the rocker was having a really good time.

"He was way tipsy and was spending a lot of time with an ugly brunette that was not Jessica Simpson," a source told PerezHilton.com.

Why did they break up? As reported in Pop Tarts Thursday, Simpson was said to be furious that Mayer lingered and laughed with the pretty Roberta Armani (Giorgio's niece) at last week's Costume Institute Gala, according to Australian magazine Famous.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Close shave for Britney Spears

TROUBLED pop star Britney Spears has shaved her head bald, with her latest erratic behaviour prompting fears that she is out of control.

Spears arrived unannounced at a Los Angeles hair salon demanding staff shave off her long brunette locks.

When staff refused, the singer grabbed electric shears and shaved her head, declaring she was doing it because she was fed up with being touched by other people.

Emily Wynne-Hughes, a worker at Esther's Salon, said Spears was crying and agitated when she entered after closing time, demanding they shave her head.

"She wasn't making sense at all -- she was very scatterbrained," she said.

"Esther has been in the business for 30 years and said, 'I'm not doing that,' but Britney was set on having her head shaved so she started doing it herself."

Ms Wynne-Hughes said when she asked the upset singer why she was shaving her head, Spears gave a bizarre answer.

"She said 'I don't want anyone touching me -- I'm tired of everybody touching me'," she said.

"After she left the shop we all just looked around and said to each other, 'We just saw a huge celebrity on the verge of a nervous breakdown'."

The fallen chart star then went to the nearby Body and Soul tattoo parlour where she got two tattoos -- a black, white and pink cross on her lower hip and red and pink lips on her wrist.

About 60 onlookers -- amazed to see the pop star adopting a shocking new look -- and photographers gathered outside, with police having to clear the way for Spears to reach her chauffeur-driven car.

Her bizarre hair appointment on Friday was at a salon in California's San Fernando Valley about 6pm.

Photographers said the 25-year-old wept in her car before going inside, sitting in front of a mirror and shaving her head with a pair of clippers.

Her latest bizarre behaviour came only hours after the mother of two returned to California from a short stay in rehab.

Spears has become a fixture on the nightclub circuit since her split in November from husband Kevin Federline.

She reportedly checked herself out of Eric Clapton's Crossroads Centre rehab clinic in Antigua last week after less than 24 hours.

Her partying could damage her battle with her estranged husband over custody of their two young sons.

Federline has cleaned up his image since parting ways with the former squeaky clean teen queen.

Spears has developed a reputation for a reckless spontaneity after a series of outlandish incidents, beginning a few years ago with her two-day marriage to a childhood friend.

During a spell of heavy partying after her separation from Federline, Spears was repeatedly photographed climbing out of cars without wearing underpants while in the company of celebrity socialite Paris Hilton.

She also collapsed during New Year's Eve celebrations at a Los Vegas club, with her manager saying she fell asleep from exhaustion.

On Tuesday, her close friend Felicia Culotta said the singer was spiralling out of control and loved ones were not having luck trying to get her help.

"There's just so much you can do to help a person," Ms Culotta said.

Last month, her manager, Larry Rudolph, said Spears realised her behaviour had been harming her image.

"She understands what's going on right now, and she calls it her 'rocky moment'," he said.

Stone Cold Steve's Hollywood Toehold

Through the infield swarm at the Texas Motor Speedway, there strides a slab of man with gorilla arms and a shaved head shaped like a battering ram. The crowds of NASCAR fans part and go "aaaaah" and then spring back, begging for autographs, mewling for photos with the honorary grand marshal for the race. Fully grown adults are punching numbers into their cellphones. "Honey, you'll never believe who I'm standing right next to." Giddy. "It's Stone Cold Steve Austin!"

Don't know who Stone Cold Steve Austin is? Then hit yourself over the head with a folding metal chair, because during his long and wild reign, The Texas Rattlesnake (a.k.a. The Bionic Redneck) was King of the Ring, and one of the most popular, most dangerous, most rebellious superstars -- as both hero and heel -- in the world of professional wrestling.

Behold! Three-time winner of the Royal Rumble. (See him drink beer in the ring while fighting!) Four-time topper of the World Tag Team Championship. (See him deliver double whuppings!) Six-time victor of the World Wrestling Entertainment Championship. Three times at Wrestlemania, which is the Oscars for those who specialize in the spine buster, the pile driver and -- watch out!-- the cobra clutch.

And now, prepare yourselves, because Hollywood wants to make Stone Cold Steve a movie star. It just may be his toughest bout yet.

Surprised? The people who run WWE Films (a new division of WWE Inc.) have two words for you: The Rock -- if Dwayne Johnson can carry a movie, so can his former rival Stone Cold. (They also mention a certain monosyllabic Austrian bodybuilder who became a global box office sensation and California governor, so go figure).

"The Condemned" opened nationwide Friday, and the $20 million movie was written, designed and financed by WWE Films as a vehicle for Austin. The premise: A reality TV producer purchases 10 of the worst murderous rapist terrorist scum convicts on Earth, drops them onto a deserted island, where the damned are ordered to fight to the finish, and the lone winner is promised his (or her) freedom and some wonderful prizes, including a passport and cash. Of course, the island is rigged with cameras and the death match will stream live over the Internet for the low, low pay-per-view price of $49.95. So . . . it's a think piece.

The R-rated movie is incredibly violent, including the equal opportunity machine-gunning of attractive young women. Austin plays (relative) good guy Jack Conrad, a U.S. Special Forces black-ops type, who has been abandoned by his own government to rot as an innocent man in a dungeon in El Salvador. Jack is a man of few words. "Let's dance, sweetheart" would be a long speech. Austin's thespian method is more rooted in Ooogg! Gurgle! Neck snap!

"I think he's going to be a huge star," says Scott Wiper, the writer and director of "The Condemned," who bases his opinion in part on the film's reception when it screened recently for 5,000 wrestling fans at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. "They went ballistic."

The WWE has high hopes for Austin, whose acting r?sum? outside the ring includes a turn as a prison guard alongside Adam Sandler in "The Longest Yard" and the recurring character of Detective Jake Cage on the old TV show "Nash Bridges."

"Where are the new action heroes?" asks Joel Simon, president of WWE Films. "Where's the new Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis?"

Austin reminds Simon of "the young Steve McQueen, the young Clint Eastwood, the young Lee Marvin and young Charles Bronson," though not all at once, of course. Austin is actually 42 and his body bears the insults and injuries of 14 years of broncobusters and flying clotheslines. (Austin retired from the fight game in 2003, although he continues to make appearances at events tied to wrestling, which remains highly popular with millions of fans and viewers).

Is the film any good? Nope, according to critics. "A real stinker," writes the Chicago Tribune. "Off-putting and ridiculous," says the Hollywood Reporter. "Austin deserves better material than this. So do we," goes the Philadelphia Inquirer.

But can he act? Well, acting here is a relative term because . . . .

"Tom Cruise has 10 weeks with a script and he gets to do 10 takes," Simon explains, as opposed to a professional wrestler in the ring. "Our guys get a story line, and that's it. There is no script. And they do it live, improvised. And they do their own stunts. One take. In front of 20,000 people. And they do 52 fresh new shows a year."

Simon says of Austin: "He's got that magic, that look, that intensity. He's not a bully, but here's a man you don't want to [ahem] with. And he's as recognizable as any movie star in the world to his core audience."

Ah: The professional wrestling demographic. Will they show up at the multiplex, the critics be hanged? At the Texas Motor Speedway, Stone Cold -- all 6-feet-2 and 252 pounds of him -- is recognized wherever he goes, though he is dressed in his civilian clothes of jeans, polo shirt and sneakers (in the ring he favored black bun huggers). When he does his grand marshal duty -- "gentlemen, start your engines!" he booms -- before 200,000 people at the NASCAR Nextel Cup, Samsung 500, he gets a bigger round of applause than driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. (racing royalty who also drives the Budweiser car).

In the garages before the race start, Austin meets with driver Elliott Sadler, who is impressed. "I'm just the biggest wrestling fan," Sadler tells Austin. "I've had beer poured on me a hundred million times." They talk about the movie business. "All the records I've broken. My box office. My pay-per-view. All the championships and titles. They don't mean nothing in Hollywood," Austin says. "It's a tough racket to get into."

But so is pro wrestling. Many of those unfamiliar with the story lines of characters such as Mr. Perfect, the Undertaker and Deuce & Domino are surprised by the popularity of the entertainment. According to WWE, its five hours of prime time television (on USA, the CW and Sci-Fi channels) reach almost 16 million viewers a week. Its shows are among the highest rated on cable TV (only "The Sopranos" on HBO consistently ranks higher) and they are a dominant draw among men 18 to 34, who are coveted by advertisers. The company, which is the undisputed leader in the wresting sector, stages 346 live events a year before 2 million fans.

"Their audience is surprisingly larger and more diverse than you might anticipate," says Alan Gould, senior media analyst at Natexis Bleichroeder investment bank. Teenage boys are WWE's nuclear fuel, and the overall demographic skews blue-collar, but "I've gone to a few recently, and I was surprised to see that it's more family-oriented than I would have anticipated," Gould says. "You see a couple of people in suits, you see mothers, I mean I was shocked by who you see there."

Says Gould: "This company generates a ton of cash. And one of their issues is, we do wrestling really well, but how do we grow the business?"

The film offshoot is the latest in WWE's string of not-especially-successful efforts to expand the wrestling brand. Remember the XFL, the "extreme" version of football? Anyone visit the wrestling-themed restaurant in Times Square? Duds. Both ventures failed, but WWE Films believes movies starring wrestlers have more potential for two reasons: The movies themselves can act as advertising for wrestling events, and the talent is already in the company.

As Simon sees it, the company produces not only hours of TV but has 250,000 subscribers to its monthly magazines, plus 16 million unique hits a month on its Web sites, plus the live shows, including 61 overseas. In every medium, there's a plug for Steve Austin starring in "The Condemned." "That's saturation," Simon says. "If a studio wanted to buy that kind of advertising we estimate it would cost them $18 million."

So there's a lot riding on the former high school linebacker from Edna, Tex., who attended North Texas State on a football scholarship, but left school a semester short of a degree. His real name is Steve Williams and he was working on a loading dock when he heard about a wrestling school run by "Gentleman" Chris Adams at the fabled Sportatorium in Dallas back in 1988. He spent $1,500 to learn some of the tricks of the trade. In his first professional match against the Frog Man a promoter told Austin, "Okay, you two boys are going to wrestle and you're going to win," pointing at him. "So I was glad someone told me how it works," Austin says. He was paid $40.

In person, sitting over a couple of draft beers at his motel, Austin is friendly, eager, and seems as gentle as a bowl of pudding (he lives with his girlfriend in Venice, Calif.). The hard case stuff -- the taunts, the threats -- it's all an act in the ring. He describes the wrestling circuit as a brutal but beautiful life. The constant travel. "Getting dropped on my head night after night." Though wrestlers know the outcome of a bout, the story line, they do not rehearse or choreograph their fights. Instead, they lead and follow, like a pair of dancers. Working the crowds, they learn to play the psychology of the mob. The boos. Austin loved the boos. "I knew my career was taking off because I was really getting hated," he says. In professional wrestling, which adopted a secret language of the carnival hustle, there are baby faces (good guys) and heels (the bad guys). And in his long career, Austin managed to pull off one of the greatest tricks of all: being a heel who somehow won the fans over.

He says he is approaching the movie business the same way he did the wrestling. "You learn. They pound you down. Then you learn some more," he says. "I know I'm not the best actor. . . . I have a three- picture deal. I'll get better. But you know something? I have a lot of new respect for actors. It's not as easy as it looks."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lopez sues over drug allegations

They are seeking "substantial damages" for a story which alleged they were linked to a drug scandal.

Their lawyer, Paul Tweed, said the story was "totally unfounded", and confirmed he had filed a legal case with the Belfast High Court on Monday.

US stars increasingly pursue libel cases in Europe, as laws are considered more advantageous to the plaintiff.

Ms Lopez and her husband are seeking damages over an article published last month with the headline: "Jennifer and Marc Caught Up In Heroin Scandal".

Mr Tweed said the couple took grave exception to the totally false and unfounded inferences that they had been involved in, associated with or had knowledge of a serious drug scandal as alleged.

He confirmed that the case would also be pursued in Dublin, London and other European cities.

Libel laws

Mr Tweed has a record with celebrity libel claims, including actions for Liam Neeson, Whitney Houston, the Corrs and George Best's family.

Last year, he won an apology from the National Enquirer on behalf of Britney Spears, who sued over claims she was to divorce her then-husband Kevin Federline.

"It's virtually impossible to sue for libel in the United States because of First Amendment protections," Tweed told the Reuters news agency.

"But these publications are now appearing in Ireland, the UK and France, and on the internet, and they're now subject to the libel laws of these jurisdictions."

The legal papers filed on behalf of Ms Lopez in Belfast name the National Enquirer's New York-based publishers American Media Inc, along with distributors Eason and Son Ltd in Dublin and John Menzies Plc in Edinburgh.

National Enquirer spokesman Richard Valvo said the company had no comment to make.