Friday, July 03, 2009

What's going on with "extinct" motion picture studio brands? Branding ought to become the studios' best friend!


With a new story yesterday about the delay or possible cancellation of a movie project (“Moneyball”) by Sony (see my movies blog), there has been increasing attention to the fact that several “boutique brand” film companies owned by major studios have been dissolved or greatly mitigated. Apparently these include Warner Independent Pictures, Picturehouse , and Paramount Vantage.

Well, Warner Independent Pictures gives you a blank web page; Picturehouse has an active web page that mentions old movies; Paramount Vantage as a URL leads back to Paramount, and has a descriptive page that seems obsolete. How sloppy!

Companies consolidate subsidiaries all the time, subject to certain regulations. Companies eliminate redundancies to save money and improve the bottom line, all the more so in recessions. But why don’t the studios keep these operations “virtually” just as brands? Picturehouse (supposedly a venture between New Line and HBO) had a great logo. It used to be used to distribute HBO films and some foreign films, especially from Spain. Why not keep the label for “grown up” content with independent production and development, even if it is not a formal separate company any longer? There is no reason why the same corporate entity can’t have and use and enforce multiple brands for differently flavored products. Food companies do it all the time. Why not movie studios?

“Paramount Vantage” used to be “Paramount Classics” and now we’ve seen it disappear, but it was never marketed as aggressively as a “brand”. But, true, Paramount should keep a “brand” resolved for more “Roger Ebert”-like movies, and give it a different musical signature and look. (“Roger Ebert” has become a brand name, hasn’t he?)

Distribution of a lot of films that WIP and Picturehouse would have handled seems to have fallen into the lap of Sony Pictures Classics, which finally has a musical signature (not as ambitious as Columbia’s).

Lionsgate has probably the best musical signature around: a combination of Saw and Metropolis, with gear-boxes opening into the real Lions Gate in Greece, with an impressive fanfare. Of course, the best known musical fanfare is Alfred Newman’s for 20th Century Fox.

MGM used to be one of the great old brands, but has been allowed to dwindle. United Artists, supposedly the “independent” releasing arm for big pictures of the 50s, became an artsy subsidiary of MGM (just as Seven Arts did once for Warner Brothers), and then Tom Cruise tried to bring the entire UA brand back to prominence. So far, he really hasn’t.

Miramax, that used to be part of the Weinstein Company, has held together pretty well as an “adult” arm of Disney. TWC ought to make up a more “creative sounding” brandname itself.

There were a lot of other studio brands in the past that dissolved: National General, Cinerama Releasing, Embassy.

Trademark law should have a "use it or lose it" policy. Studios will jealousy guard thse marks but now do nothing with them. (Look at WIP's blank web page.) ICANN might even think this is bad faith.

Just don’t try reserving a domain name now based on one of these obsolete brands. You might get a letter from a lawyer.

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