Will Promote ‘Akeelah and the Bee’ in 5,500 Coffee Shops

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CHICAGO ( -- Starbucks Corp. today formalized its long-awaited entry into motion pictures when it announced a deal with Lions Gate to market and distribute the April 28 release of “Akeelah and the Bee.”
Starbucks is pursuing a market strategy aimed at shifting the way films are produced and promoted, much the way it has shaped a new retail format for CD music sales in its shops.

In the works for about a year, the coffee colossus’ partnership with the studio and entrepreneur Mark Cuban’s 2929 Entertainment utilizes Starbucks’ 5,500 locations in the U.S. and Canada to promote the film much the same the way the chain has done with music.

Portion of the box office
Starbucks will receive an undisclosed portion of box-office sales for the drama, which stars Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. The film tells the story of an 11-year-old girl from South Los Angeles named Akeelah Anderson (played by Keke Palmer) who makes the Scripps National Spelling Bee and how her expanding achievement unites those around her.

Starbucks is hoping to shift the way films are produced and promoted, much the way it has shaped music sales. “Over the past year, we viewed countless films and spoke with numerous studios in pursuit of finding the perfect film,” Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz said in a statement. “Our customers ... can look forward to us introducing them to the movie in a fun, experiential way -- not the way movies have traditionally been marketed by other retailers or quick-service restaurants. Just as we have demonstrated with music, we believe that Starbucks can ultimately change the rules of the game for film marketing and distribution.”

'Ideal blend'
“This is the ideal blend of two entrepreneurial companies committed to identifying exciting new ways of doing business,” said Jon Feltheimer, Lions Gate CEO. “Our partnership is a new milestone in Lions Gate’s continuing commitment to reach potential moviegoers in groundbreaking, nontraditional ways and through innovative new distribution alliances.”

In addition to screening the film to coffee-shop baristas ahead of the debut, the chain will run in-store promotions, sneak previews for customers and a Wi-Fi network promotion. The chain also will run programming on its Hear Music Channel on XM Satellite Radio and sell the film soundtrack and DVD releases. The chain, known for its cozy den-like environments, will also feature trivia and words from the film on chalkboards, in pastry cases and on cup sleeves.

The move follows a year that saw Starbucks Entertainment celebrate a Grammy Award for Ray Charles’ final album, “Genius Loves Company,” as well as exclusive recordings from Alanis Morrisette, Herbie Hancock and Bob Dylan. The chain also reconfigured its Hear Music media bars and launched Hear Music Coffeehouses. In its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, Starbuck’s entertainment unit sold 3.5 million CDs.

Logical extension
“Given the success we've experienced with music, this is a logical extension to our entertainment strategy,” said Ken Lombard, president, Starbucks Entertainment. “Our goal is always to bring a sense of discovery to our customers while maintaining and enhancing the trust they have in us.”

Keen to expand the chain’s definition of the Starbucks “experience,” the chain’s executives have promised to build the entertainment unit as it gains experience through projects. It recently hired Nikkole E. Denson as director-business development from president of Magic Johnson Entertainment. Last year, Geoff Cottrill joined the unit as VP-marketing and product management from Coca-Cola Co., where he was group director of entertainment marketing.

Mr. Schultz sits on the board of DreamWorks Animation SKG, and the chain is a sponsor of the Sundance Film Festival. The chain also plans to sell books as early as this year.

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