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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
September 1

Entertainment News September 1 - TOP 3 Stories for Thursday

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HOLLYWOOD FRETS OVER TORONTO TEST

The Toronto Film Festival has evolved through multiple identities: global press junket, paparazzi haven, low-profile acquisitions mart and crowd-pleasing movie-thon.

Each pic has its own unique set of challenges; Toronto has become the laboratory where execs and filmmakers will learn the correct approach to its care and handling.

"Toronto is a shop window, if you like, for a certain group of fall movies," says Miramax topper Daniel Battsek. "For the right movie, it's the perfect opportunity for critical appraisal and, in a non-test-screening way, to see how a paying audience reacts to a movie."

Its main role for many in the film biz remains that of awards-season proving ground. By the end, festgoers usually have a decent sense of whether a film has the potential of "Brokeback Mountain" or the baggage of "Elizabethtown."

This edition, which runs Sept. 6-15, will see indie companies—Mandate, Summit, Capital, First Look (Avi Lerner and crew)—touting upcoming films by showing clips and distributing scripts.

And those behind films from around the world will be looking for international sales.

To some, Toronto is a key step in an awards strategy. Some titles will have already played Cannes, Venice or Telluride, but at Toronto, execs from Hollywood studios and their niche divisions will try to gauge audience reaction and figure out how to beef up—or abandon—their kudos campaign plans.

It's not always easy. Audiences at the unnervingly well-mannered and well-run event will seldom be impolite enough to boo. If they don't care for something, they will simply applaud a bit less.

Along with decoding the decibel levels, studios and their specialty units have to figure out exactly how to present their all-important fall fare.

TELEVISA BUYS BIG STAKES IN BESTEL

Mexican media conglom Televisa is putting down $325 million for a majority stake in telcom Bestel, the Mexico City-based data and long-distance provider with 4,971 miles of fiber across Mexico, Texas and California.

The purchase, announced Friday, is key to Televisa's plans to create a nationwide triple-play network.

Televisa said in a statement that newly formed corporate holding Cablestar had paid $256 million in cash, with additional capital outlays of $69 million, to purchase the privately held Bestel.

Cablestar is 70% controlled by Cablevision, the Mexico City cabler of which Televisa owns 50%, with the remaining shares evenly split between Monterrey-based cabler TVI and Cablemas, what was the nation's second biggest cable company.

Televisa recently acquired major stakes in TVI and Cablemas and is consolidating operations to create what would be the nation's largest triple-play provider. That is until, telco giant Telmex comes online in the coming months.

Televisa is Mexico's dominant media company—controlling four of six national channels, its burgeoning cable operations and the nation's only satcaster—but it will likely receive regulatory approval for the deal. Anti-trust officials see Televisa's expansion as crucial to provide real competition to Telmex, which controls some 90% of the nation's land lines.

Telmex, the foundation of the business empire of the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, is awaiting regulatory approval to add video services to voice and data packages in Mexico. Meanwhile, the company is consolidating its own string of cable company acquisitions, from Colombia to Chile.

GLOBAL WARNING AT THE BOX OFFICE

Just 24 months ago, the sky was falling. With box office down, Hollywood's summer ended in a torrent of lament. Studios rushed to come up with an explanation, and some of the best minds acknowledged their greatest fears—that in an age of iPods and cell-phone videos, there was a fundamental shift going on in the marketplace: Moviegoing, they concluded, was an outmoded form of entertainment.

Cut to this summer, and box office is up 8% domestically, 20% overseas. For the first time, domestic summer B.O. passed the $4 billion mark.

Since there was no shortage of theories about why box office fell, there are just as many hypotheses as to why moviegoing is up.

To start, there is the simplest explanation.

"Box office was up this summer because the movies were good," says Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. He notes that when box office is down, people run around saying "woe is me or woe is that" and look for a diminished appetite for moviegoing. "All the people I talk to say it's really all about the product," Lynton says.

Notes MPAA chairman Dan Glickman, "As Shakespeare said, 'The play is the thing.' As long as we offer good quality stories that people like and a comfortable place to see them, people will go to the movies."

That theory, however, is just part of the picture. After surveying studio execs, producers, marketers and others, the big windfall of the summer of 2007 was about much more than just the movies.

Success begets success.

The success of pics like "300" and "Wild Hogs" in the season's first four months got people into the moviegoing habit. So by the time summer started, there was ample demand to see films, even if the summer saw an unprecedented number of tentpoles. Rather than cannibalize the business, they expanded it.

"The industry just got off to a fast and great start," says Marc Shmuger, chairman of Universal Pictures. "The momentum of moviegoing never let up."

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