Activision Blizzard launches movie and TV studio

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Call of Duty’ will be a film franchise. So what does that mean, exactly?.

Video game giant Activision Blizzard Inc. on Friday announced the creation of its own movie and television studio to bring hit titles such as “Call of Duty” and “Skylanders” to screens big and small.

The first effort will be an animated TV series based on the Skylanders game and toys, Santa Monica, California-based Activision said Friday in a statement. The Skylanders brand, which combines video games with collectible action figures, has generated sales of more than $3 billion since its introduction in 2011. On Friday, Activision Blizzard said a newly formed studios unit would develop and produce movies and TV shows based on about 1,000 titles in its company library. Named Activision Blizzard Studios, the division will be run by company CEO Bobby Kotick and co-run by Nick van Dyk, who formerly oversaw corporate strategy and was involved in the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm while an executive at Disney.

The TV and movie studio announcement comes amid an ambitious expansion drive that also includes mobile games and spectator-based video game contests known as eSports. The researcher lists 36 titles that brought in $1.17 billion in domestic revenue. “Warcraft,” a film based on Activision’s series of online strategy games, is scheduled for release in June 2016 from Legendary Pictures and Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, according to

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare remains the number one-selling title on next-generation consoles, and today marks the launch of the highly-anticipated new Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Activision’s intellectual property — which ranges from modern-day blockbusters such as “Destiny” to 1980s classics such as “Kaboom!” — has been highly sought after by Hollywood studios for years but the company always resisted overtures. “What we needed to do was feel like we could deliver content that would be enhancing to the franchises and exceptional to the players and the only way we could do that was by ourselves,” Mr. And if the company’s just-announced $5.9 billion acquisition of King goes through, it will soon own the Candy Crush Saga social mobile gaming brand and other properties as well. Kotick said the new studio would let Activision Blizzard trade on the storytelling potential of its games, while tapping a field of users that he put at about 500 million, including the King Digital players.

There are three distinct timelines at present, each overseen by the three studios — Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games and Treyarch — that currently trade off lead development duties for each year’s new game. Activision Blizzard is counting on its understanding of its fan base, expanding distribution options and leveraging partnerships to make the business work. “Film and TV — they are not simply stand-alone, profitable businesses, but they also amplify and extend the tremendous success of our core business,” Van Dyk told analysts and media Friday morning.

Kotick also hinted that Activision won’t be beholden to the big screen or the small screen in terms of platforms for its programming. “We have the flexibility to decide what’s the best way for the audience to consume that content,” he said. The show is currently in production and will feature a voice cast that includes Justin Long as Spyro, Ashley Tisdale as Stealth Elf, Jonathan Banks as Eruptor and Norm Macdonald as Glumshanks. It seems unlikely that Activision would crown any as the “main” one, since a move like that might devalue the other two, casting them as less legitimate takes on Call of Duty. That could include offering content online in an “over-the-top” streaming-video service similar to World Wrestling Entertainment’s network. “We will look at it on a case-by-case basis,” Mr. The first film could arrive as early as 2018. “As games evolve into true cross-screen and transmedia franchises, we will see more movie and TV-type content appear that are directly or indirectly linked to games,” said Peter Warman, co-founder and chief executive of video game market research firm Newzoo. “The biggest drivers behind this are consumers themselves that stream live game content and create videos or even animation series that are fun to watch.” That said, Warman remains cautious.

Activision is likely to partner with established networks and studios for distribution of its content, even though it has a massive audience through its various gaming channels. Activision Blizzard announced Monday a staggering $5.9-billion deal to buy mobile gamemaker King Digital Entertainment, famous for its “Candy Crush” series, and starting a movie studio at the same time could prove too much to swallow. Mr. van Dyk said the studio would be less interested in volume than in serving the company’s fan base with a small number of films and shows that match their expectations.

The most likely possibility here is Activision borrowing from Marvel’s playbook by establishing a fourth timeline that serves the film/TV side of the series. Activision said it is hiring script writers, editors, directors and other production talent and that it will have full creative control over the content its new studio develops.

Kotick emphasized the company’s deep pockets — “we have a $28 billion balance sheet” — and track record in taking plenty of time and pouring resources into game development. Not only would that preserve the sanctity of the three existing timelines, but it would also create an opportunity to mash the best bits of all of them together. The PC game “World of Warcraft” is already being made into a movie by Legendary Entertainment through a deal Blizzard made prior to Activision acquiring it in 2008.

He’s friends with Dreamworks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and even earned a cameo in the 2011 movie “Moneyball” playing Stephen Schott, the former co-owner of the Oakland Athletics. “Bobby Kotick wants to be a media mogul,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “To be a media mogul, you need an entertainment business, not just a video game business.” Getting into film and TV is fraught with risk. That may matter less and less now that the appetite for video game content has become so large that it can support a digital television platform such as Twitch. At this stage, Activision is not looking to partner on distribution (Kosick said that will be tackled on a franchise-by-franchise basis) nor on co-financing deals.

By his count, the more than 14 billion hours that people spent playing or watching Activision Blizzard games over the last year equaled the hours of movie-viewing in theaters worldwide over the same period. Activision says that, combined with their reach via platforms such as Xbox and now King’s audience, the company’s reach exceeds half a billion people. “We want our audiences to experience our linear content wherever it’s most convenient,” said Kosick. “We’re going to be very open-minded and agnostic to distribution opportunities.” “Our fans spent about 13 billion hours last year with our content, which is a flabbergasting amount,” he said. “That is roughly comparable to every movie seen in very theater around the world, every single ticket combined.” Together, they’ll have 547 million players and 13 game franchises. “It’s an inexhaustible number of storylines, characters and universes, and every bit as rich as Disney’s,” he said. “Every studio clamors for these hugely impassioned fan bases and not many have it.”

We cannot wait to offer our fans new ways to enjoy the beloved characters, universes and stories they enjoy in our franchises.” “Activision Blizzard is home to some of the most successful entertainment franchises in history, across any medium. I’m excited that Nick and his team will be leading this important new growth opportunity for Activision Blizzard.” Kotick added, “We intend to approach film and television development with the same unwavering commitment to excellence we are known for in game development.” Van Dyk is a former a long-time Walt Disney Company senior executive. A couple of weeks ago, Activision Blizzard also announced a new esports division headed by former ESPN CEO Steve Bornstein and Major League Gaming co-founder and president Mike Sepso. The esports division will build on the company’s competitive gaming leadership by creating all-new ways to deliver the best-in-class fan experience across games, platforms and geographies, furthering the development of its world leading esports ecosystem.

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