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Disney Interactive slashed about 700 jobs on Thursday, more than one-quarter of its entire staff, as part of entertainment giant’s continuing battle to make its video game and Internet division profitable. Although the cuts had been anticipated for some time, few expected them to run that deep.
The Playdom group, which produces social-media games, is believed to be hit hardest. Disney purchased that company in 2010 for $563 million, an investment that clearly didn’t pay off.
Disney also plans to dramatically scale back in-house development of games, relying instead on outside licensing, which The New York Times characterizes as “a major shift in strategy.” The newspaper reports the company, which last year released about two dozen games, will reduce its output by 50 percent, and merge Playdom with the more successful mobile games unit.
VentureBeat reports that Jon Goldman, previously chairman and CEO of Foundation 9 Entertainment, will focus on emerging and new business, overseeing “the strategic direction for the company and [operating] businesses around games and live events.”
“Our collective goal is to build major enterprises surrounding the remarkable worlds that Robert creates within his comics all while remaining true to fans,” Goldman is quoted as saying.
The news comes just a week after Skybound announced that its “Walking Dead Escape” obstacle course, already popular at Comic-Con International and New York Comic Con, will launch a cross-country tour in April. The bestselling Walking Dead comic series has, of course, already spawned a hit television drama (with a spinoff in development), video games and numerous collectibles.
Launched in 2010, Skybound is an Image Comics imprint that serves as home to Kirkman’s titles, like The Walking Dead, Invincible, Thief of Thieves and the upcoming Outcast, as well as books from other creators — among them, Witch Doctor, Manifest Destiny and Dead Body Road.
Time Inc. confirmed this morning that long-expected layoffs, which widespread reports place at as high as 500 employees, will begin immediately as parent company Time Warner prepares to spin off its low-performing publishing division. Time Inc., which publishes more than 20 magazines, employees about 7,800 people worldwide.
DC Entertainment, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment, won’t be affected by either the layoffs or the spinoff.
The New York Post contends the newly acquired American Express Publishing (Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Departures), with about 400 employees, is expected to be hit hard by the cuts; its Executive Travel magazine could be shuttered immediately.
Bitstrips, the Toronto-based startup behind those inescapable do-it-yourself avatars and comic strips on Facebook, has secured $3 million in funding from Hong Kong venture capital firm Horizons Ventures. The news was announced this morning, appropriately enough, with a comic strip.
Time Warner filed documents last week to spin off Time Inc. — the media giant’s worst-performing division — into what Bloomberg calls “the world’s largest publicly traded magazine company.” The move, as ICv2.com notes, would effectively rid Time Warner of all of its remaining print assets except for DC Comics, which remains part of the Warner Bros. Entertainment subsidiary.
Time Inc., whose sales have fallen in five of the past seven years, publishes more than 20 magazines, including its namesake Time, Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and People. It added Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Departures in September when it acquired American Express Co.’s publishing unit.
Talk of the spinoff, planned for sometime in 2014, began in March after a failed attempt to forge a new venture with Ladies’ Home Journal publisher Meredith Corporation. “A complete spinoff of Time Inc. provides strategic clarity for Time Warner Inc.,” Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said at the time, “enabling us to focus entirely on our television networks and film and TV production businesses, and improves our growth profile.”
Word of the investment first trickled out in late September, but documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday offer the first details. The figure was confirmed by GigaOm. Autodesk is now deviantARTt’s largest investor.
DeviantART entered into a partnership in April with Madefire, allowing the community’s members to make their own motion comics using Madefire’s tools, and then distribute them through deviantART and the Madefire’s app. What will come from the Autodesk investment is unknown.
“Sometimes what you get out of an investment or a partnership doesn’t have to be very tangible,” Autodesk’s Samir Hanna, who will join the deviantART board, told Techcrunch in September. “If that happens, well, we have all sorts of tools that artists use. If they choose to use our tools, that’s great, but that is not something that we would be pushing for.”
DeviantART claims 27.8 million users and 2.5 billion page views per month.
Disney, which has long fought against the expansion of casinos in Florida, is bringing to an end some licensing deals that have been viewed as hypocritical to that anti-gambling stance: slot machines, online slots and lottery tickets featuring Marvel and Star Wars characters.
The New York Times reports the announcement, made over the weekend, comes as the Florida legislature again prepares to address whether Las Vegas-style casino resorts should be permitted to open in the state. The Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista attracts 52.5 million visitors annually; the entertainment giant argues that gambling hurts the state’s family-friendly brand.
Although Disney is so opposed to gambling that it doesn’t even casinos on its cruise ships — that’s an oddity in the industry — Marvel continued to sign slot machine agreements after it was purchased by the corporation in 2009 for $4.6 billion. But a Marvel spokeswoman told The Times the last deal was made two years ago, and the company has “discontinued plans to initiate or renew slot machine licensing arrangements as part of its integration with Disney.” Those that remain will be allowed to expire.
Marvel heroes like Iron Man and the Avengers have appeared on scratch-off lottery tickets in several states, but the company said there are no active licensing deals.
A spokeswoman for Walt Disney World attributed the lag to the complexities of aligning corporate policies following a merger.
Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles products have grossed more than $475 million in retail sales since the latest animated series premiered in September 2013. The announcement, made this week at the Brand Licensing Europe show in London, comes just four years after the cable network’s parent company Viacom bought the property for a reported $60 million.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, about $250 million of those sales come from the United States, with the remainder coming from overseas markets, where the Turtles are just as huge. They’re the top action figures in Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and, yes, the United States (where Nickelodeon says they make up 15 percent of the action-figure market).
“Nothing’s bigger,” Pam Kauffman, the network’s president of consumer products, told the trade paper. “We are beating Iron Man, Batman, WWE.”
King Features Syndicate apparently has decided the best way to reinvigorate the 83-year-0ld Betty Boop is to kill her, and then resurrect her as a zombie.
At the Licensing Expo, held this week in Las Vegas, the company signaled it would like a little of that Walking Dead/Warm Bodies money by announcing it willtake the iconic cartoon and comic-strip character into “unexplored territory” with Betty Boop Zombie Love – which, as Topless Robot notes, does bring to mind necrophilia, which doesn’t seem like a recipe for merchandising bonanza.
“With a new style guide and art treatments, the wide-eyed beauty is clearly a victim of the zombie craze currently infecting the world,” the King Features press release states. So, yeah, expect the undead flapper to appear on clothing soon.
Warner Bros. Consumer Products and DC Entertainment have partnered with Sanrio for a new Hello Kitty line, which features the international marketing phenomenon dressed as her favorite DC Comics superheroes, such as “Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman” (although it’s obvious in the image above that those are classic Supergirl and Batgirl).
Debuting next year, the costume-clad Hello Kitty will appear on apparel, accessories and footwear, stationery, publishing, personal care, promotional products and food products. Continue Reading »
As Licensing Expo 2013 gets under way today in Las Vegas, Variety reports that with first Marvel and now Lucasfilm beneath its umbrella, Disney is poised to expand its domination of the entertainment licensing market. Last year, the media conglomerate generated $39.4 billion in retail licensing, and claimed a staggering 80 percent market share.
Once again the world’s largest licensor, Disney now boasts six of the Top 10 franchises, according to the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association: Disney Princess (No. 1), Star Wars (No. 2), Winnie the Pooh (No. 3), Cars (No. 4), Mickey & Friends (No. 6) and Toy Story (No. 8). Disney Fairies comes in at No. 11, trailed at No. 16 by Spider-Man.
The Boston Phoenix, the groundbreaking alternative weekly that in recent years had carried the work of cartoonists ranging from Matt Bors and David Sipress to Karl Stevens and Brian McFadden, has closed after nearly five decades.
The announcement was accompanied Thursday afternoon by a tweet saying, “Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck.” The current issue, dated March 15, will be the last; a final online edition will appear March 22. Executive Editor Peter Kadzis told The Boston Globe that about 40 employees will be let go within the week with another 10 following soon afterward. There will be no severance pay.
In a statement circulated Thursday to staff members and reposted on the Phoenix’s website, Publisher Stephen M. Mindich attributed the closing to a combination of the economic crisis, changes in the media industry and a decline in advertising. Just six months ago the company changed to a magazine format in an effort to attract more advertisers.
“We are a textbook example of sweeping marketplace change,” Kadzis said in a statement. “Our recent switch to a magazine format met with applause from readers and local advertisers. Not so — with a few exceptions — national advertisers. It was the long-term decline of national advertising dollars that made the Boston Phoenix economically unviable.”
Its sister publications The Portland Phoenix in Maine and The Providence Phoenix in Rhode Island, will remain open.