WARNER'S NEXT FRANCHISE: WORLD OF WARCRAFT

Warner Bros. is on the verge of launching another fantasy franchise that has the potential of becoming as successful as its Harry Potter and Batman blockbusters. Today's (Wednesday) New York Times says that it will co-finance and distribute Legendary Pictures' film version of World of Warcraft, based on the most heavily played multiplayer online game. (There are more than 11 million monthly subscribers.) Moreover, Legendary has signed director Sam Raimi, who helmed the three Spider-Man movies and is currently working on the fourth -- to direct the first film, which Warner said that it plans to release theatrically in 2012. Production of World of Warcraft is expected to begin after Raimi finishes work on Spider-Man 4.

COMIC-CON "GOES HOLLYWOOD"

Comic-con, once the annual meeting in San Diego of comic-book fans, particularly those interested in science fiction and superheroes, is scheduled to open in San Diego today (Wednesday), with movies and TV shows being spotlighted. "It's been co-opted by Hollywood," director James Cameron (Titanic) told USA Today. Cameron is expected to preview scenes from his $240-million Avatar at the convention, some six months before the movie's scheduled release. He described the Comic-con screening as "mutual exploitation," explaining that fans "get the first look and get to lord over all their friends that they saw [it] before anyone else." The newspaper observed that there is a certain risk connected with such a move, noting that several films that previewed at last year's convention "failed to generate much fanboy blather at the convention" and tanked when they were released. On the other hand, director Jon Favreau credited the convention with triggering a groundswell of anticipation for Iron Man two years ago. "You can't underestimate how powerful this group is," Favreau told USA Today. "It's an unlimited press corps, all of them knowing how to communicate in a digital age. The geeks have inherited the Earth, and that's good news for us."

SONY DELIVERING MOVIES TO PSP'S WITHOUT COMPUTERS

Owners of Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) game devices are now able to download full-length movies via a WiFi connection, without the need of a computer. According to published reports, only about 90 titles are currently available via the PlayStation Network for direct download (and some of these are TV episodes). For the time being, all of the titles represent animated fare, which are available at $5.30 for standard resolution and $6.40 for high definition. The company gave no indication when the WiFi service will come to the U.S. and Europe, although some writers observed that portable downloading may be far more practical in Japan, where downloading speeds are typically 5-10 times faster than they are in the U.S.

U.K. PARLIAMENT LOOKS INTO WIRETAPPING CHARGES

A parliamentary committee has begun looking into allegations that two London tabloids, the News of the World and The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, had used wiretapping to obtain information about actors, sports stars, politicians and other British celebrities -- then paid the victims hush money when their tactics threatened to become revealed. On Tuesday, Colin Myler, editor of News of the World, acknowledged that James Murdoch, the son of Rupert, approved payments totaling $1.1 million to settle phone-tapping allegations. A predecessor, Andy Coulson, who is now the Conservative party's spokesman, told the committee that he had "no recollection" of wiretapping being used when he was editor. However, he acknowledged, "things went badly wrong" during his tenure at the tabloid, particularly when Clive Goodman was jailed for wiretapping. "Mistakes were made, and I have to accept that the system could have been better," he said.

PIRATE BAY DEAL STILL ON, SAYS BUYER

The head of the Swedish company that had said it would acquire The Pirate Bay for $7.8 million and turn it into a legitimate downloading business is denying an Associated Press report that it is backpedaling and may not complete the acquisition. "We are more certain than ever before" of acquiring the BitTorrent tracker, Hans Pandeya, CEO of Global Gaming Factory, told CNET News Tuesday. Pandeya accused the media of "twisting" remarks made by Ricardo Dijkstra, a GGF lawyer, who had told the A.P. that the company would only buy The Pirate Bay if it can be turned into a "legitimate business."