Will film spell success for Starbucks? - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Will film spell success for Starbucks?

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Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2006 6:30 am | Updated: 4:22 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

SEATTLE - Any regular Starbucks customers have likely learned how to spell or define "prestidigitation" or some other tricky word they'd probably never heard of before.

Using bright green flash cards and cup sleeves emblazoned with spelling bee words, the coffee retailer has spent the past month promoting the movie "Akeelah and the Bee."

Apparently, it hasn't paid off - at least not in the movie's first two weekends at the box office.

The feel-good movie about an inner city Los Angeles girl who makes it to a national spelling bee debuted in eighth place at the box office April 28-30, grossing about $6 million. It slipped to ninth this past weekend, taking in roughly $3.4 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.'s tally of ticket sales at U.S. and Canadian theaters.

Nevertheless, executives at both Starbucks Corp. and Lionsgate Entertainment Corp., which distributed "Akeelah," say they remain upbeat.

"Although the film's opening was softer than we'd hoped, we're hoping it will play strongly in the weeks to come," said Peter Wilkes, Lionsgate's senior vice president of investor relations.

It's hard to miss "Akeelah" promotional material at a typical Starbucks. There are stickers on doors and windows, signs posted by the cash register, and spelling words on menu boards, coffee cup sleeves, brewing equipment, CD racks and shelves.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, said he doesn't think "Akeelah's" lukewarm start signaled a failure of Starbucks' campaign.

"The marketing that Starbucks did is very interesting and innovative," he said. "I've got to give them credit for just getting in there and trying to get associated with the film, a film that has great values."

In a conference call with financial analysts last week, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz stressed that the company invested no cash in the film's production and has no plans to invest money in future movies.

The deal makes Starbucks an "equity participant" in "Akeelah," which means it'll get a share of Lionsgate's profits from the movie, as well as a cut of soundtrack and DVD revenue.

Tie-ins between restaurants and movies are nothing new, as any recent visitor to McDonald's or Burger King can attest. There was even a film called "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle."

Starbucks is hoping its foray into the movie business can match the success it's had in music. It has co-produced a number of popular CDs, including Ray Charles' Grammy award-winning "Genius Loves Company."

Regardless of how "Akeelah" fares, Starbucks shows no signs of tempering its movie ambitions. Last week, it announced an alliance with William Morris Agency, a talent and literary agency that will help Starbucks identify music, film and book projects to consider for marketing and distribution in its stores.

Harold Vogel, an entertainment industry analyst with Vogel Capital Management, called the Starbucks-Lionsgate partnership "a nice first try" that likely won't hurt Starbucks too much even if it turns out to be a flop.

"For now, it's an experiment," Vogel said. "If they have a string of another three or four or five of these, I don't think they'll be as enthusiastic."

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