June 11, 2010 / 7:22 AM / 7 years ago

World Cup poses a challenge for studios

<p>Soccer fans cheer while awaiting the start of the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Cup at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg June 11, 2010.Siphiwe Sibeko</p>

LONDON (Hollywood Reporter) - The greatest show on turf, the World Cup soccer tournament, kicks off Friday in South Africa for a month of sporting highs and lows.

And for recession-dazed Europeans, the event is a welcome dose of free entertainment as government austerity measures sweep across the continent.

The organizers earn more than $3.4 billion from rights fees and sponsorships, while the billions of viewers will boost networks' advertising revenues.

Commercial channel ITV, which is sharing World Cup rights in Britain with the BBC, is forecasting a 25% rise in advertising revenue thanks to the tournament -- more if England's squad does well. The 25% revenue hike could amount to a $100 million windfall.

While small-screen providers are caught up in World Cup fever, the U.S. studios view the event as a monthlong headache. The first two weeks of the tournament are the worst, since there will be matches at lunchtime, the afternoon and in primetime across Europe.

"It's a massive distraction, and if the country in question is playing, the business (in theaters) drops like a stone," said Duncan Clark, Universal Pictures International's executive vp distribution. "Counterprogramming is something we've done in the past because there are four or five other days between the games played. So you can do good business on those days if you're prepared to accept a couple of down days."

Female- and family-focused pictures are in favor as a Cup alternative.

Disney opens the Kristen Bell romantic comedy "When in Rome" in Italy, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands in the first week of the tournament. (The picture earned just $33 million in North America after opening in January.)

Paramount is offering "She's Out Of My League" (released three months ago in North America to $32 million) in the major territories, including the U.K., Italy and France, and penciling in the European rollout of "Shrek Forever After" during the World Cup's quarterfinal stage.

"It's a tough one," said Andrew Cripps, president of the studio's international arm. "We certainly felt there's an opportunity for a family-orientated film to get an audience, but there's no question it's a big challenge."

Fox is the only studio taking the Cup head-on by opening its male-oriented action tentpole "The A-Team" this weekend in 34 territories, including markets with teams in the tournament such as the U.K., Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands and Mexico.

To combat the drought in moviegoing, many theater owners have chosen to embrace the beautiful game and will screen matches in theaters. Countries such as Spain and Italy will offer 3D screenings of the games.

International distributors will face another challenge after the July 11 World Cup final. The pack of top titles crammed into the first post-soccer weeks, including "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" and "Toy Story 3," risk creating a blockbuster bottleneck.

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