Activision Blizzard opens movie studio to create films and TV shows based on …

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Call of Duty’ is going to be a film franchise, but what does that mean?.

LOS ANGELES — Activision Blizzard, a gaming company that this week disclosed plans to acquire King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion, said it already has a next step in mind: The creation of an internal film and television studio. Video game giant Activision/Blizzard is launching a studio to create movies and television shows based on its intellectual properties, hoping to jumpstart franchises and cinematic universes, including one based on its best-selling Call of Duty game. 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.

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. The first project from the studio will be an animated television series based on Skylanders, the video game series featuring magic and floating islands that was a pioneer in the toys-to-life category akin to Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions. 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. For its first production, Activision Blizzard will release an animated TV series called Skylanders Academy, based on “Skylanders,” a popular game franchise with a toy tie-in that has generated $3 billion for the company, including the sale of 250 million toys.

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 new shows or films, they said, might be distributed in theaters by existing movie studios, shown on television by conventional networks, or sold directly to Activision Blizzard customers, who already get access to games through digital connections. “Warcraft,” a film based on a Blizzard game, has been working through Hollywood’s development mill for years and is set for release by Universal Pictures in association with Legendary Entertainment and others next June. Next up, the company said: movies based on “Call of Duty,” a long-established military first-person shooter series that has been played by 100 million people. 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 video’s or even animation series that are fun to watch.” That said, Warman remains cautious. The company’s first production is a TV version of its popular children’s “toys-to-life” franchise “Skylanders,” which in May the company said had raked in more than $3 billion in global revenue since it launched in 2011.

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. 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. Ubisoft Motion Pictures’ “Assassin’s Creed,” a co-production with several other studios based on the top game of the same name, is slated for December 2016 release by 20th Century Fox. 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.

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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