In what was regarded as a largely symbolic gesture, the Walt Disney Co. on Wednesday said that depictions of smoking would be barred in all films released under the Disney brand and discouraged in those released by its Touchstone and Miramax brands. (Film buffs could only recall one leading character, Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians, ever smoking in a Disney film.) The company also said that anti-smoking pubic service announcements would be included on DVDs of future films in which cigarette smoking is shown. The pledge was included in a letter sent by Disney CEO Robert Iger to Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, chairman of the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, who conducted hearings last month into the effects on children of movie scenes in which the stars smoke. In his response, Markey called Disney's decision "groundbreaking," and added, "Now it's time for other media companies to similarly kick the habit and follow Disney's lead."


Twentieth Century Fox's elaborate marketing campaign for its forthcoming The Simpsons Movie appears to be achieving the desired impact. Hitwise, a research firm that tracks Internet usage, said Wednesday that the Simpsons website was the second-most-visited broadcast TV website for the week ended July 21, accounting for 8.23 percent of the traffic. (No. 1 was NBC's America's Got Talent with 12.52 percent of the traffic.) Furthermore, today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times reported that 7-Eleven stores that were converted into Kwik-E-Marts for the month have been doing land-office business. Swarn Sahni, who owns the 7-Eleven franchise in Burbank, CA that now displays the Kwik-E-Mart signage, told the newspaper, "The Simpsons fans are spending money like crazy. ... I usually sell 800 hot dogs a week. Now I'm selling about 3,000 a week." He also said that the store had sold 57,510 "Sprinklicious" doughnuts since the campaign began. Moreover, an appearance by the Simpsons characters on the Tonightshow Wednesday created a stir as Homer led off by asserting that NBC stands for Never Been Crappier and that owner GE "fill the air with more dangerous hydrocarbon emissions than Rosie O'Donnell." Meanwhile, a website set up by promotional partner Burger King in which users can turn themselves into Simpsons-like characters has drawn so many web surfers that the company is reportedly having to deal with a backlash from angered customers who have been unable to access it.


In what amounts to a reverse product placement, a fictional wine depicted in the animated Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouilleis scheduled to go on sale at Costco stores in 18 states next week. The chardonnay, 2004 Ratatouille, was produced from grapes from the Chateau de Messey in the Burgundy region of France. Reporting on the deal, Bloomberg News commented, "This licensed bottling ushers in what may be a whole new trend for wine and the movies." The wire service observed that the 2004 movie Sidewaysis credited with doubling sales of California pinot noir.


Sony, which once saw retailers shunning its Betamax video recorders, received a welcome surprise Wednesday when Target Stores announced that it will not be selling HD DVD players during the holiday season this year and will focus exclusively on Sony's Blu-ray high-definition DVD players. Target also said that it will expand its inventory of movies available in the Blu-ray format. "I think what you're seeing is that retailers are deciding [between Blu-ray and HD DVD]," Sony home entertainment president David Bishop told Home Mediamagazine. "This is the beginning of a trend." He indicated that carrying both types of high-definition players has confused customers. "We think this is a big step in clarifying the decision to the consumer," he said. But Ken Graffeo of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, which releases high-definition movies exclusively in the HD DVD format, told the trade publication, "The question I ask is, knowing that HD DVD is the most affordable high-definition format, it will be very interesting to see how the Sony player will appeal to Target guests."


Budgetary cutbacks imposed by Thailand's new military regime on the Bangkok Film Festival appear to be having a devastating effect, placing the future of the festival in doubt, according to several festival attendees. Limited in their ability to advertise and promote films screening in and out of competition at the festival, organizers have seen relatively sparse attendance when compared with earlier years, according to the attendees. Moreover, Daily Varietynoted today (Thursday) that the Bangkok Film Market, which is held in conjunction with the festival, also produced disappointing results -- as sellers heavily outnumbered buyers. The BFF has also been hindered by monsoon weather conditions and a violent clash between police and "anti-dictatorship" demonstrators earlier in the week.