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“Married to Jonas” will center on the oldest Jonas brother and his wife, while Lythgoe’s “Opening Act” will find unknown acts to open for such heavyweights as Nicki Minaj and Brad Paisley.

E! is delving deeper into the music business with opening acts and a Jonas Brother.
As part of its upfront presentation to advertisers Monday, the cable network will announce new unscripted series from Nigel Lythgoe and Ryan Seacrest, in addition to a robust scripted slate. The former, Opening Act, revolves around finding acts to open for some of music’s biggest names; the latter, Married to Jonas, centers on the oldest of the Jonas Brothers, Kevin Jonas and his wife Danielle.

On Act, Lythgoe will usher the cable network into the competitive music competition market with a series that counts Mary J. Blige and Rock Mafia producer Antonina Armato as part of its artist development team. That team will comb the Internet in search of talented amateurs capable of opening for such acts as Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, Brad Paisley, Gym Class Heroes and Jason Mraz.

Olivia Lee, best known for her hidden camera segments on The Tonight Show, will surprise these unknown acts at their homes to present them with the opportunity. From there, they’re brought to Hollywood for a performance boot camp, mentoring sessions and, finally, a one-night only performance that could make or break their career. The series, which is being produced by Nigel Lythgoe Productions, will bow July 9 at 10 pm. In addition to Lythgoe, Steve Schnur, Simon Lythgoe andKary McHoul will serve as executive producers.

“With this unexpected break and whirlwind journey comes raw emotion, nerves and intense preparation. The question is whether or not the opening acts can truly seize the moment and use this extraordinary opportunity as a stepping stone to the career they never thought possible,” says E! entertainment president Suzanne Kolb.

For its part, Jonas will track the young couple as they attempt to balance love, fame and business, a sometimes challenge as the Jonas Brothers head back into the studio to record new music. The show’s 10 episode season is set to bow August 19, with half-hour installments airing at 10 pm.

To be sure, the cameras are nothing new for Kevin Jonas, whose every move was captured as he and his two brothers rose to fame on and off the Disney stage. Seacrest, too, has plenty of experience with such peek-behind-the-curtain celebrity docu-series including E’s hugely popular Kardashian franchise. In addition to Seacrest, the project will include Stephanie Bloch Chambers and Adam Sher for Ryan Seacrest Productions as EPs.

“The series presents a unique look at a young couple and their families from two entirely different worlds, one small town and one dealing with international fame, coming together as one and starting a whole new life together,” said E!’s entertainment programming chief Lisa Berger.

The French culture clash comedy has sold more than 8 million tickets in Germany, compared to 6.5 million for “Potter 7.2.”

COLOGNE, Germany – French culture clash comedy The Intouchables has proved just that in Germany, where ticket sales from directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano have passed blockbuster Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in the territory.

Intouchables came in at number 5 on the charts this weekend – behind Disney’s The Avengers and fellow new entries American Reunion from Universal and Warner Bros.’ The Lucky One as well as Universal’s holdover Battleship but ahead of Hunger Games from StudioCanal and Fox’s Titanic 3D.

The French dramedy, in which a wealthy white paraplegic (François Cluzet) becomes close friends with his black, ex-con caregiver (Omar Sy) has spent 17 weeks in the German top ten.

Intouchables has sold more than 8 million tickets in Germany, compared to the under 6.5 million German fans who shelled out for Harry Potter 7.2. Potter’s 3D screenings generated a higher take per ticket than Intouchables but preliminary figures suggest the French laffer’s 2D box office take has closed the gap with the €57 million ($78 million) earned by the Warner Bros.’ title in Germany and will likely pass Potter by next weekend.

Intouchables has already blown by all other recent studio tentpoles including Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides, Hangover 2 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

According to Intouchables’ German distributor Senator, the French film has even passed Forrest Gump on the list of all-time greatest hits in the territory. Senator has picked up Omar Sy’s follow-up to Intouchables – the cop comedy De l’autre côté du périph (On the Other Side of the Freeway) – and plans to bow the film in Germany next January.

Worldwide, The Intouchables has earned some $330 million so far. The Weinstein Co. is bowing the film stateside on May 25.

Amazon e-book prices: Good news … for now

Posted by arnon_k On April - 30 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — When the Justice Department filed suit against Apple and five major book publishers alleging e-book price fixing, the government hawked it as a triumph for consumers.

The other champ, of course, was Amazon — which called the legal action “a big win for Kindle owners.” The book giant also said it looked forward to lowering prices on more Kindle titles, as a result of settlement deals that two book publishers cut with the DOJ.

If Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) is able to dial back its e-book pricing to $9.99 across the board, rivals who can’t afford to forgo profit will have a tough time competing.

And while that may sound like great news for Kindle readers, some worry that Amazon will become a de facto monopoly that could eventually have enough power to raise prices as it sees fit — or play hardball with publishers who are left with no other options.

Slashing e-book prices would make sense for Amazon. Its long-term business model depends on essentially buying market share — the company often sells key products for less than they’re worth at first, and worries about making money later.
“Cutting book prices has been their strategy all along,” says Colin Gillis, a senior tech analyst at BGC Financial. “Everyone’s hyping this [suit] up as some good move for Amazon. All this means is that they can sell e-books at a loss. And they’ll do it.”

That makes the DOJ’s suit bad for Amazon’s e-book competitors.

“The competitors aren’t able to subsidize sales — they need to make a profit,” said Rob Sullivan, a founder of consulting firm Navint Partners. “How can they compete with Amazon taking a loss? If this were steel from a foreign country being sold for less than it’s worth, we’d call it predatory pricing and slap a tariff on it.”

Amazon is already making life miserable for its rivals. Borders went under in 2011. Barnes & Noble (BKS, Fortune 500) is struggling mightily. The company slashed its fiscal 2012 guidance earlier this year, and is considering spinning off the Nook e-reader business.

Meanwhile Amazon, which reports earnings late Thursday, is expected to post sales of nearly $13 billion for the first quarter of the year. But profits are expected to decline as Amazon expands its operations.
Related story: Who dropped the dime on Apple e-book five?

As the competition struggles to survive, the DOJ’s crackdown on Apple and book publishers may also give Amazon even more clout in the industry. It’s something that terrifies publishers, as Amazon already has a tight grip on the book-publishing supply chain.

If Amazon’s rivals disappear, the company could theoretically hike prices. But Amazon has already proved it’s willing to play a long game on lowball pricing, with everything from tablets to its Amazon Prime shipping service.

So even if Amazon doesn’t hike e-book prices, it could limit choices for authors, publishers and others in the book business. Don’t like Amazon’s contract terms? Then you may not appear on Amazon — and good luck selling anyplace else.

“The DOJ’s suit focuses entirely on helping the consumer in the short-term, but we need to look at authors and retailers,” Sullivan says. “If you fundamentally limit their choices, they may not ever get books published. And that translates to a losing situation for consumers, too.”

Amazon declined to comment on the situation beyond its “big win for Kindle owners” statement. But for now, Amazon shows no signs of changing its low-price strategy. After all, it’s paid off.

Will e-book market follow e-reader market? No rival was able to grab any significant market share away from Apple’s (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPad, which starts at $499, until Amazon launched its Kindle Fire at a jaw-dropping price: $199.

Amazon is willing to get tablets into customers’ hands for cheap. The goal is to make money off of content like apps, videos, digital music and e-books themselves.

In a widely read The New York Times article last week, David Carr likened Amazon’s e-reader business model to that of Apple — “which shrank music to a 99-cent single business to propel the sale of iPods.”

But the difference is: Apple at least made money on its iPods while also selling songs in the iTunes store.

Amazon loses money on each Kindle Fire. Teardown estimates vary slightly, but research firm IHS iSuppli says the cost of producing each Kindle Fire is at least a few dollars more than its $199 price point.

“Amazon’s [overall] profit margins are razor-thin — about 80% lower than its peer group,” Sullivan says. “That just can’t last into infinity.”

But Amazon can afford it for now, and that’s left every tablet maker besides it and Apple in the dust. If the e-book market follows the same pattern, it definitely doesn’t bode well for competitors. And it ultimately may not for consumers either. To top of page

It’s not a BlackBerry World anymore

Posted by arnon_k On April - 30 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

(Reuters) – When Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie were running Research In Motion (RIM.TO), BlackBerry World was a chest-thumping celebration of RIM’s successes and a showcase for the innovations that would assure its continued dominance.

Their successor Thorsten Heins will preside over a very different event.

Five months after replacing the longstanding co-CEOs, Heins desperately needs more time to right the now-struggling company and he likely has next to nothing concrete to offer his restless audience in terms of new products and services.

In late March, Heins embarked on a strategic review of the Canadian smartphone maker’s direction in an effort to reverse the growing power of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Google Inc’s (GOOG.O) Android, and to thwart a budding Microsoft/Nokia resurgence.

The company is working furiously to get a next-generation lineup of smartphones on sale, while also seeking licensing deals, partnerships and cost savings of $1 billion this year.

Unless Heins has a big surprise up his sleeve at this year’s BlackBerry World, held next week in Orlando, Florida, analysts expect him to focus on products and services already in market. Most of them have so far failed to capture the imagination of investors or consumers.

“It’s too early in RIM’s strategic review process to announce one particular strategy,” IDC analyst Kevin Restivo said. “However, Heins would be wise to provide any kind of news to help staunch the bleeding.”

Restivo expects RIM to tout any progress it’s made in attracting developers and possibly announce a PlayBook that connects to cellular networks. That would make the 7-inch tablet more portable and give carriers an incentive to promote the device.

PRESENTATION DELAYED

BlackBerry World – which brings together several thousand RIM partners and customers – was once a must for financial analysts. But this year few are making the trip, in part because RIM has broken with tradition by cancelling a specific presentation for them. Instead it delayed the briefing until the next-generation BlackBerry 10s are on sale, sometime later this year.

In the year since RIM’s last Orlando conference, the company has issued a string of disappointing financial results, suffered an embarrassing global network outage and watched its share price tumble by 75 percent.

Lazaridis and Balsillie quit under pressure in late January, replaced by Heins, a former Siemens AG executive who ran RIM’s hardware business for several years.

“Expectations are so low I don’t think it’s possible to disappoint investors,” said National Bank Financial analyst Kris Thompson. “The conference isn’t for investors anyway; it’s for customers, developers and partners.”

Thompson said RIM may use the event to introduce a marketing chief, which he said was long overdue. RIM is also seeking a chief operating officer.

“The company needs to display confidence and staying power at the show to keep this constituency loyal until the BlackBerry 10 smartphones are launched,” he said.

Other RIM watchers privately pointed to subdued comments from a major investor and new board member last week as a hint not to expect much. Prem Watsa, who joined RIM’s board in January’s reshuffle, said that a turnaround could take three to five years.

LOOKING AHEAD

The BlackBerry 10 devices will be RIM’s first smartphones to make use of a hardy operating platform from QNX Software, an Ottawa, Ontario-based company that RIM acquired in 2010.

RIM’s first test of QNX was its PlayBook tablet, which has languished on store shelves since its launch a year ago. The company is eager to get software developers to build PlayBook applications that could then populate an app store for the new phones.

On the sidelines of BlackBerry World, the company will hand out a prototype BlackBerry 10 device for developers to test their software applications. RIM has stressed that the device’s hardware bears no relation to the finished product.

The BlackBerry was once seen as an indispensable business tool but has been eclipsed by more consumer-focused iPhones and Android devices which boast large, vivid touchscreens and hundreds of thousands more applications and games.

RIM had an 8.8 percent slice of the global smartphone market in the fourth quarter, according to research firm Gartner, down from 14.6 percent a year ago. Apple and Android smartphones accounted for almost three-quarters of the market, up from less than half a year earlier.

Meanwhile, a partnership between Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Nokia Oyj (NOK1V.HE) threatens both RIM’s corporate heartland and its recent growth markets internationally.

By the time RIM launches its first BlackBerry 10s, its global share could slip to 6 percent, analysts at Canaccord Genuity said in February. They said the small base would make it difficult for RIM to create an ecosystem of applications and content for its new platform.

Recognizing it is powerless to stop iPhones and Android devices from invading its once-impenetrable corporate and government business, RIM launched its Mobile Fusion software to enable IT managers to control those devices through RIM’s servers. But it has so far failed to go further.

Sources told Reuters last month that former co-chief executive Balsillie had worked for months on a radical shift in RIM’s strategy that would have offered use of its proprietary network, including its popular BlackBerry Messenger chat program, for rival devices such as the iPhone.

Heins has since said he believes in RIM’s integrated model – in which it runs its own software on its own devices connected exclusively to its global peer-to-peer network – but that he would consider offering that via partnership.

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