PLUNDERING PIRATES SETS SAIL ON DVD

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest went on sale today (Tuesday), with some outlets offering it at midnight sales. (A Wal-Mart ad read: "They're closed. We're open. Be the first on your block to own Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.") Some analysts are predicting that it could become one of the top selling DVDs of all time and may even break the existing record held by Disney's The Lion King of 30 million DVD and VHS copies sold. It has already broken existing records in the U.K., where it was released on Nov. 20. According to Home Media Retailing magazine, Disney has already shipped 20 million copies of the movie to U.S. retailers. It has earned $422 million at the box office.

SHAKEUP AT THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

The editorial director of the Hollywood Reporter told his staff Monday that he had been removed from his job. According to LAObserved.com, Howard Burns told a staff meeting, "If I told you this was voluntary, I'd be lying." Burns's ouster comes days after Matthew King, the Reporter's top editorial executive, announced that he would be leaving the trade paper this week. The report on the LAObserved website was picked up by rival Daily Variety, which commented that the top editorial positions at the Reporter have "been in flux since editor and publisher Robert Dowling left exactly one year ago." Dowling was succeeded as editor by King and by Tony Uphoff as publisher. But in October, Uphoff was replaced by John Kilcullen, publisher of Billboard, which, like the Reporter, is owned by Holland-based VNU.

STIFF SENTENCE FOR DVD PIRATE

In one of the most stringent sentences ever meted out to a DVD pirate, a federal judge on Monday sentenced Johnny Ray Gasca to seven years in prison for camcording a movie inside an L.A. theater. Gasca was arrested in September 2002 after he was caught trying to film The Core at a private screening. Meanwhile, in London, Peter Spencer, convicted of selling more than $100,000 worth of pirated DVDs on eBay, has been ordered to pay the money back within 12 months or face a prison sentence of two years. He was already spent about six months in jail. Spencer was nabbed after the private group Federation Against Copyright Theft monitored his online activities, which included offering 950 bootleg DVDs for sale on eBay on one day in January 2004.

A MEAGER MANGER FOR NEW LINE

New Line executives who may have been hoping for a boost in the box office for The Nativity Story on Sunday, discovered that the religious film took in even less than they had estimated on that day. The movie, which was expected to give the animated Warner Bros. movie Happy Feet a run for the money, wound up instead in fourth place with just $7.8 million. Happy Feet, meanwhile, wound up in first place for the third consecutive week, adding $17.6 million to its gross, which now stands at $122 million. The Sony/MGM 007 movie, meanwhile, took the place position for the third week, earning $15.1 million to boost its gross to $116 million. Two newcomers, Fox's Turistas, and MGM's Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, each tanked with $3.6 million and $2.3 million respectively.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Happy Feet, Warner Bros., $17,545,418, 3 Wks. ($121,501,018); 2. Casino Royale, Sony, $15,112,870, 3 Wks. ($115,876,024); 3. Déjà Vu, Disney, $10,947,752, 2 Wks. ($44,007,448); 4. The Nativity Story, New Line, $7,849,304, (New); 5. Deck The Halls, 20th Century Fox, $6,676,139, 2 Wks. ($25,017,188); 6. Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Disney, $4,893,966, 5 Wks. ($73,039,485); 7. Borat, 20th Century Fox, $4,746,746, 5 Wks. ($116,241,347); 8. Turistas, 20th Century Fox, $3,582,554, (New); 9. Stranger Than Fiction,Sony, $3,356,324, 4 Wks. ($36,911,009); 10. Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, MGM, $2,313,372, (New).

SPLIT-UP VIACOM COMPANIES BECOMING LIKE THEIR OLD SELVES

A CBS executive on Monday reiterated that the company plans to get into the film business, while a Viacom exec said that his company plans to move into television. CBS CFO Fred Reynolds said that the company has no intention of buying an existing film studio but will instead invest about $8-9 million per picture and bring in outside investors to help pay for six to eight films a year costing about about $20-50 million each. At the same time Viacom CEO Philippe Daumon told Daily Variety that the company's Paramount division plans to beef up its TV operations as part of a diversification plan to counter what Variety described as "the intrinsic volatility of the film business."

Brian B.