COFFEE, TEA ... AND FOX?

News Corp, a late-comer to the Internet, apparently is planning to make up for lost time by creating a new unit, Fox Interactive Media (FIM), to coordinate the activities of all its U.S. TV units, published reports said today (Monday). The reports each referred to comments made by News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch during a conference with the company's top executives last April. Murdoch reportedly said at the time: "Our job now is to bring this content profitably into the broadband world - to marry our video to our publishing assets, and to garner our fair share - hopefully more than our fair share -- of the advertising dollars that will come from successfully converging these media." He urged the Fox execs "to create an Internet presence that is compelling enough for users to make us their home page. Just as people traditionally started their day with coffee and the newspaper, in the future, our hope should be that for those who start their day online, it will be with coffee and our website." Ross Levinsohn, a former Fox Sports Interactive Media exec, has reportedly been selected to president over FIM.

NBC UPS ITS UPFRONT FIGURES

NBC said Friday that its upfront ad sales weren't quite so low as it originally figured. It turns out that the network took in $2 billion during the upfront period, up a bit from initial estimates of $1.9 billion. Nevertheless, the figure was down considerably from last year's $2.7 billion. Analysts have speculated that NBC may have deliberately held back a considerable inventory of commercial "avails" for the 2005-06 season in hopes that its new lineup will generate better ratings than last season's shows.

CNN SAYS IT WON'T FIRE NOVAK

CNN President Jon Klein said Sunday that he has no intention of firing journalist Robert Novak for his alleged role in exposing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. Speaking to reporters at the annual summer press tour in Beverly Hills, Klein called Novak "one of the most outstanding political reporters this country has ever known" and added that it would be "awfully presumptuous" for the network to take any action against Novak "based on second-, third-, fourth-hand reporting." CNN News Group President Jim Walton added that Novak originally made his disclosure about Plame in the Chicago Sun-Times. "I was not privy to who is sources were. ... That did not go through the editorial process at CNN." Novak has declined to comment about the controversy that his report about Plame generated.

WWE SAYS TIMING OF ARAB TERRORIST RING ATTACK WAS "TERRIBLE"

A spokesman for World Wrestling Entertainment has acknowledged that airing a match featuring a supposed Arab-American wrestler named Muhammad Hassan on the day of the London subway and bus bombings was "terrible." Gary Davis told Advertising Age that the WWE has received hundreds of complaints, despite a warning crawl that it aired during the broadcast that some people might find the material offensive. In the match, Hassan and his cohorts were seen entering the ring and beating up a popular wrestler called the Undertaker. Davis said, however, that Hassan is actually an angry, disillusioned Arab-American embracing his roots after experiencing racism following the 9/11 attacks. AdAge disclosed that Hassan's real name is Mark Copani and that he is Italian-American.

PERFECTMATCH.COM MATCHES ITSELF UP WITH TV AND MOVIE PRODUCERS

Online dating service PerfectMatch.com's decision to focus its marketing campaign on product placement deals on television and movies have paid off in spades with numerous mentions in the upcoming movie Must Love Dogs. Earlier, a link-up with the syndicated R. Phil show on Valentine's Day netted the online firm 200,000 new members, according to today's (Monday) Advertising Age magazine. Members pay $50 a month for the matchmaking service. The upcoming movie has also netted PerfectMatch.com numerous marketing opportunities, including appearances by its "relationship expert," Dr. Pepper Schwartz, on numerous national TV talk shows. The Lifetime Television channel, a longtime PerfectMatch.com partner, is also heavily promoting the upcoming movie, which stars Diane Lane and John Cusack. It is scheduled for release on July 29.

BRITISH REGULATOR CHASTISES ITV FOR ADS DURING RACE CLIMAX

British TV regulator OFCOM has given commercial broadcaster ITV a slap on the wrist for cutting away to commercials during the exciting finish of the San Marino Grand Prix autorace on April 24. The decision to air the ads generated hundreds of complaints, Britain's Guardian newspaper observed today (Monday). The broadcaster explained that it had been contractually obligated to show five ad breaks but admitted that it probably should have aired an additional one earlier in the race. OFCOM, while acknowledging that ITV had broken rules that require commercials to air during "natural breaks" in live sports coverage, added that it recognized the problems ITV "faced in finding an appropriate point for the final race break due to the way the race developed."

THE CANDYMAN CAN -- AND DID!

The latest Harry Potter novel may have wound up making more money at the bookstores ($117 million in first-day sales alone, according to today's [Monday] New York Times) than the latest Willy Wonka movie did at the theaters over the weekend, but the book did not keep all of its buyers home reading. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened with a cloyingly rich $55.4 million, according to preliminary figures. It was the biggest July opening for a Warner Bros. movie in history, far surpassing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines's $44 million in 2003. It was also the biggest opening for any movie starring Johnny Depp, surpassing his Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which debuted in 2003 with $46.6 million. Combined with an estimated $32.2-million take for the New Line comedy Wedding Crashers, the box office ran ahead of last year's comparable weekend for the second week in a row, this time by about 7.5 percent versus less than 0.5 percent last weekend. (Both Warner Bros. and New Line are divisions of Time Warner.) Moreover, Crashers defied recent industry wisdom that R-rated comedies are unlikely to produce blockbuster numbers. "There's been such a move toward more sanitized movies, so I think the R rating actually helped," New Line marketing chief Russell Schwartz told the Associated Press Sunday. Meanwhile, last week's No. 1 film, 20th Century Fox's Fantastic Four, dropped 60 percent to about $22.7 million. Nevertheless, the film -- just barely -- crossed the $100-million mark. In the fourth spot was the Paramount/DreamWorks hit War of the Worlds, which earned an additional $15 million to bring its gross to $192.2 million. Warner Bros.' Batman Begins rounded out the top five with $5.6 million, bringing its five-week total to $182.7 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, $55.4 million; 2. Wedding Crashers, $32.2 million; 3. Fantastic Four, $22.7 million; 4. War of the Worlds, $15 million; 5. Batman Begins, $5.6 million; 6. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, $5.05 million; 7. Dark Water, $4.4 million; 8. Herbie: Fully Loaded, $3.4 million; 9. Bewitched, $2.4 million; 10. Madagascar, $2.1 million.

RELIGIOUS GROUPS SHOW THEIR MUSCLE IN HOLLYWOOD

The astounding success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ last year has helped make Hollywood studios keenly aware of the power of Christian conservatives and has altered many of the images and dialogue presented in current movies, the New York Times indicated today (Monday). The newspaper noted that in the recent Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a crucifix was hung on a rearview mirror in a chase sequence and the stars at one point wore jackets reading "Jesus Rocks." On the other hand, actor Peter Sarsgaard recently disclosed that the epithet "Jesus" was stricken from his dialogue in the Disney movie Flightplan and replaced with the word "shoot." Sarsgaard remarked, "That [word] isn't as good." The Times reported that several experts on marketing to Christian families have been hired by studios recently, including one to work on Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia and another to work on Sony's The Da Vinci Code (which already has drawn numerous protests from some Catholic groups).

DISNEY, DOLBY BRINGING MORE DIGITAL PROJECTORS TO THEATERS

Digital projection, which has been slow to arrive in the nation's theaters, is getting a big boost from the Walt Disney Co. and Dolby Laboratories. The two companies have announced that they plan to install 100 digital projectors in theaters across the country in time for the debut of Disney's 3-D animated Chicken Little on Nov. 4. Analysts estimate the cost at around $10 million. The installations could give Dolby a headstart in what analysts have long predicted will be a virtually complete conversion of the nation's theaters to digital projection. In an interview with the San Francisco Business Times, Tim Partridge, general manager of Dolby's Professional Division, said, "We're hoping that it is a catalyst to a broader deployment and that it will show not only cost savings, but a quality experience."

CHINA SIGNS ANTI-PIRACY PACT WITH MPAA

Chinese authorities have signed what is being described as a historic anti-piracy agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America under which Hollywood studios will provide China with a schedule of its releases every three months. If any of the films on the list is offered on the Chinese marketplace before its release, China has agreed to confiscate the copies and prosecute the sellers.

FILMMAKERS LOOK BACK IN ANGER AT NEW DON'T LOOK BACK

Plans to change numerous key elements in a remake of the classic 1973 British drama Don't Look Now have touched off an uproar among several of those connected with the original film. The London Sunday Telegraph reported that the producers of the remake intend to eliminate the murderous dwarf who stalks the streets of Venice, set the film in summer rather than winter, and introduce additional love scenes. Viscountess Tessa Montgomery of Alamein, the daughter of Daphne du Maurier, who wrote the short story on which the original movie was based, told the Telegraph that she thought the idea of a remake was pointless and that her mother would have been appalled by the idea of sex scenes being added to the story. Chris Bryant, who co-wrote the original screenplay, told the newspaper. "I don't accept this argument that you have to remake films for a new generation. ... After all, we don't keep repainting the Mona Lisa for every new generation that comes along." But Nicholas Roeg, who directed the first film, indicated that he would be interested in seeing how the story is reinterpreted. "An artist can also paint the same model over and over again and still find something new to say with each picture," he said.

BRITISH NEWSPAPERS GIVING AWAY DVD MOVIES

Increasingly, British newspapers are attaching DVD copies of classic movies to their pages as a promotional ploy to increase circulation, the London Independent reported. The newspaper observed that its rival the Daily Mail gave away a free DVD every day last week and plans to do the same next week as well. The marketing effort appears to be paying off, the Independent observed, noting that when the London Times gave away The African Queen, it saw its circulation increase to more than a million, its highest full-price sale in history. (Under its current owner, News Corp's Rupert Murdoch, the Times and other News Corp papers have occasionally waged price wars against their rivals.)