Bloomberg Business News: Disney Stung by ‘John Carter’ Loss Plots ‘Avengers’ Blitz

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From Bloomberg Business News: Walt Disney Co. (DIS) (DIS), after losing $200 million on the sci-fi film “John Carter,” is mounting a superhero-style marketing campaign to ensure its next big-budget movie, “Marvel’s The Avengers,” is a blockbuster.

The company’s interactive unit designed an online game, the parks division covered a Florida monorail in ads and the Disney XD cable network is running an “Avengers” cartoon, all to help boost awareness of the film, which opens May 4 to kick off Hollywood’s summer box-office season.

“It’s quite a contrast to another recent Disney effort,” said Jeff Gomez, founder of Starlight Runner Entertainment, an Internet consultant that works with studios. “There are a number of elements that are unprecedented.”

A lot is riding on “The Avengers,” the first Marvel film Disney has marketed since buying the comic-book company for $4 billion in 2009. Under Rich Ross, the TV executive who became studio chairman in October of that year, Disney has cut its slate in half, betting on fewer films to boost profits. That plan’s risk was underscored by “John Carter,” which will drag the unit to a second-quarter loss of as much as $120 million.

“The Avengers” may generate domestic ticket sales of $155 million its opening weekend and $370 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters, estimates Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com.

Marketing Effort

That would be more than five times the domestic tally of “John Carter” and a bigger opening than Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (LGF) (LGF)’s “The Hunger Games” last month, the third-largest debut of all-time at $152.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

“I don’t think there’s any need to worry about this one,” Contrino said in an e-mail. “It’s a sure thing.”

Disney, based in Burbank, California, fell 2.7 percent to $40.99 yesterday in New York. The shares have advanced 9.3 percent this year.

“The Avengers,” about a team of superheroes battling to save Earth, stars Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, reprising their roles as Iron Man and the Black Widow from 2010’s “Iron Man 2.” That film posted $624 million in worldwide ticket sales for distributor Paramount Pictures on a budget of $200 million, according to IMDB.

Disney spent an estimated $220 million producing “The Avengers,” $30 million less than on “John Carter,” according to the Internet Movie Database, a research website.

‘Huge Failure’

The company is avoiding mistakes it made with “John Carter,” said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures executive who is now a consultant. He cited a “Carter” trailer that didn’t excite viewers, a change in the studio’s top marketing officer two months before the release and the removal of the identifying words “of Mars” from the title.

“It was a huge marketing failure,” Sealey said, adding Disney will “get the train back on the track.”

Disney has been stoking interest in ‘The Avengers’’ since at least July 2010, when the stars and director Joss Whedon appeared at the annual Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The film premieres today at the Disney-run El Capitan theater in Los Angeles, before going into wide release.

The company gave away free screenings in 10 cities where the most Facebook users signaled they liked the film. More than 1 million did so, according to the site. The trailers have broken records for downloads onApple Inc. (AAPL) (AAPL)’s ITunes.

Playdom, acquired by Disney in 2010 and part of the interactive unit, created its first social game for a Disney product. Introduced on Facebook Inc. (FB) (FB)’s site last month, “Marvel: Avengers Alliance” has 640,000 daily users, according to researcher AppData.

‘Avengers’ on Rye

Disney also lined up an estimated $100 million in “Avengers”-related marketing by partners includingHershey Co. (HSY) (HSY), hotelier Wyndham Worldwide Corp. (WYN) (WYN) and Honda Motor Co. (7267)’s Acura, a record for Marvel, according to the trade publication Variety.

David Funk, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Land O’Frost Inc., a Lansing, Illinois-based luncheon meat maker, began discussing sponsorship packages with Marvel a year ago. He declined to put a dollar figure on his company’s effort, which include a sweepstakes for an “Avengers”-themed trip to New York, supermarket displays, trading card giveaways and a TV commercial with a superhero mom making a sandwich.

“They told us this was going to be the biggest movie in their entire portfolio,” Funk said in an interview. “We figure: they’re going all out, we’ll go all out too.”

Harley-Davidson Inc. (HOG) (HOG), the largest U.S.-based motorcycle maker, produced a website where fans can design cartoon characters and virtual motorcycles. In July, Harley and Marvel will pick their five favorites, publishing them in online comic books and giving the winners custom-made Harleys, according to Dino Bernacchi, director of North American marketing communications at the Milwaukee-based company.

“This is experiential marketing and that’s what we’re looking to do more of,” Bernacchi said in an interview. “Who doesn’t want to be a part of comic history and what cooler way to do it than riding in on a Harley?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at cpalmeri1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

14 comments

  • I don’t know what happen or why the box office returns were so bad as stated by Disney, all I do know is the movie was really good and I am one of those people that thought the trailer was terrible and didn’t capture my interest in going to see it in the theater but after seeing it on DVD I would have gladly seen it. It was a great movie and I hope there is a sequel, I will be one of the first in line!

  • One thing we can do is boycott Disney. I know it won’t do any good, but I feel much better saying D_O_A to anything with that name on it. Disney who? And every little bit helps.

    If they can’t use the damn license right they should let it pass to a different company. At this point I’m not sure I would go see a sequel done by them anyway.

    Happy thought, maybe the Burroughs estate can sue the jerks.

  • ‘Walt Disney Co. (DIS) (DIS), after losing $200 million on the sci-fi film “John Carter,” is mounting a superhero-style marketing campaign to ensure its next big-budget movie, “Marvel’s The Avengers,’

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot…I wonder how that happened

    It was a huge marketing failure,” Sealey said, ‘

    Ya think?

  • Hopefully one day the truth on how John Carter was handled will be revealed. Until it happens keep on fighting people! Show Disney and the entire film industry that you cared about this film. If the worldwide box office results and potential DVD sales are any indication, then it’s clear that John Carter will not go down without a fight!

  • I just learned that even Battleship is a licence of Lego! It’s your only chance to own a Taylor Kitsch figure it seems… Also for a PG13 movie… This is so disheartening.

  • I noticed that this article also used the same tired $200 loss statement that Disney released 10 days after “John Carter” opened. In other words, the author of this article did not bother to research the true figures. Makes me wonder at the level of what passes for journalism these days.

  • Has Andrew Stanton made any public comments recently? I know he’d never throw Disney under the bus, but it would be interesting to hear his post-John Carter comments.

    And what’s the new estimate on the final world-wide box-office take for “John Carter”?

    After Japan, could it not be around $350 million? Add to that the DVD sales and I’m optimistic a sequel could eventually get made.

  • More Disney BS pretending they made such marketing mistakes and failures on John Carter by accident.

  • More pitiful press nonsense! Avengers is a shoe in! Disney hides behind this “gotta do better with Avengers after JC’s failure” crap to try and hide the painfully obvious fact that they didn’t care one iota bout JC since before any marketing began. And not only that, but their efforts to drown it, not even letting it up for air or offering a helping hand when everything was going against it.

    Yea, head pounding is definitely in order here! But I’d rather pound Disney heads than my own.

    I WISH the reality of this was as apparent to the general public.

  • It’s quite apparent that Disney had no interst in John Carter from the beginning, promoting this Avengers movie while JC was still in production is an example of this.The very idea that the “family based” Disney Company would rather spend its money on has been comicbook characters instead of classic literary novels is the Disney theme here. I guess they will do anything to make a buck. With that said..John Carter is a true classic and will stand the test of time…the Avengers? Colorful birdcage liners…..BARSOOM!

  • I am having to wrap a bandage around my head to staunch the blood flow from banging my head against a wall after reading this. Not that it’s surprising…..but it just makes me crazy. I will spend the remainder of the night in a padded cell.

  • Avengers is a Marvel Studios production, so Disney did not spent on it 30M less than on John Carter, Disney only distributes the movie.

    “It’s quite a contrast to another recent Disney effort,” Indeed. Proof that Disney didn’t even try. Sad.

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