Fox movie studio enjoys hot summer

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Hollywood is hot this summer, with box office receipts likely to set a record at nearly $4 billion. And no studio is hotter than News Corp.'s Fox, which has vaulted to the top of the competitive pile with a potent combination of thrillers, slapstick comedies and action pictures.

The studio has opened six consecutive films at $20 million or more, a feat unequalled in Hollywood history even though some of the films were as beaten up by the critics as the characters were by each other in "Dodgeball."

Fox's marketing executives call it their summer of innovation, in which they've made it a mandate to reach consumers in new ways and places. Among their tactics: aligning with eBay for the only movie advertising on the heavily trafficked site; showing the "I, Robot" trailer to people waiting in line to see competitor Sony's "Spider-Man 2"; weaving a movie theme into the NBA playoffs; and linking with 125 malls for on-site saturation.

"Using alternative media means that we can get a message across that we can't do in a 30-second spot," said Tony Sella, Fox co-president of marketing. "And just being in those places isn't enough. It has to be a creative, engaging campaign. We can't take anything for granted anymore."

Moreover, the movie division has boosted the parent company's bottom line. News Corp. recently reported its profit rose 8% and revenue increased 20% in its fiscal fourth quarter ending in June, with gains across the board.

Fox's streak started in late April, before the traditional summer season kickoff, with the Denzel Washington action picture "Man on Fire," which grossed $78 million. More recently, the Will Smith futuristic thriller "I, Robot," and when-two-franchises-collide "Alien vs. Predator" have been box office monsters.

"The Day After Tomorrow" is the summer's highest-grossing non-sequel. "Garfield: The Movie" pulled in $74 million in the U.S. And "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" was a surprise hit. The low-budget comedy with Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn went toe-to-toe with a formidable competitor in June-Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal"-and trotted off the winner by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. It brought in more than $113 million during its run.

not a typical campaign

Each film had "really strong marketable elements," said Pam Levine, Fox's other co-president of marketing. "But we decided not to do the typical family movie campaign or event movie campaign."

The Internet campaign for "The Day After Tomorrow" started seven months before the movie launched, with exclusive material, and the "Dodgeball" effort reached beyond a young-male demographic with ads on older-skewing sports programming and female-targeted media.

Fox has walked a fine line in keeping movie spending under control without scrimping on its projects, said Peter Sealey, marketing professor at University of California at Berkeley and former president of marketing at Columbia Pictures. He attributes much of Fox's movie success to Peter Chernin, News Corp.'s president-chief operating officer, and right hand man to Rupert Murdoch. "He's the best executive in the motion picture industry."

Mr. Chernin has signed a five-year deal with the company, squelching rumors that had him in line for Michael Eisner's job at Walt Disney Co. Mr. Murdoch recently praised the studio's management team and told reporters in Australia he intends to step up movie releases from about a dozen a year to more than 20.

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