Movies: Universal puts heat on Disney; small studios get notice

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Universal pictures came within a Grinch whisker of unseating perennial champ, Walt Disney Co. as U.S. box office king in 2000. For Universal to get there, it lifted its average media cost per movie to $15.7 million, up 8.3% from the year before.

Many other studios did the same according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, but with not always positive results. Disney increased its marketing efforts per picture, although it lost 2.3 share points. Paramount pushed its average ad cost per movie 3% to $17.1 million and slipped a share point.

While studio executives bristle at the media volumes attributed to them by CMR-most think they are too high although few show alternate data-the stakes are high given one share point is worth $74.6 million. The sheer number of films in circulation is a potent component of studio share, too, although big movies are more critical. Universal, with 15 releases in 2000 versus 19 in 1999, posted the best box office improvement thanks to big hits "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," "Meet the Parents" and "Erin Brockovich." Disney's Buena Vista had fewer successes from 19 new releases, down from 22 in 1999.

Smaller studios in 2000 siphoned off big share points, especially Miramax Films and DreamWorks SKG, the latter growing nearly six points from movies such as "Gladiator," "Chicken Run" and "What Lies Beneath," each posting $100 million-plus at the box office.

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