LOS ANGELES -- With barely one movie under its belt, Starbucks is moving aggressively toward expanding its involvement in the entertainment business, seeking movies and books to promote in the hope of duplicating the success it has had with music.
The retail coffee giant -- which used its stores to promote "Akeelah and the Bee," a Lionsgate movie that opened this weekend -- is to announce today that it has signed an agreement with the William Morris Agency to find more movie and book projects to market. The aim is to have one book in Starbucks stores this year, and at least two or three movies to promote and sell on DVD next year, with more projects in years to come.
In the meantime, the company's small entertainment staff will move from Seattle, where Starbucks is based, to Santa Monica, Calif., this year to be closer to the heart of the entertainment industry.
The company has already done this successfully with music, selling 3.5 million CDs in the 2005 fiscal year, promoting artists such as Coldplay and Bob Dylan and introducing the group Antigone Rising and the singer-songwriter Sonya Kitchell. (The company does not break out revenue figures for its CDs.)"Akeelah and the Bee" is an inspirational tale about an African American girl in Los Angeles who competes in a spelling bee. Starbucks is promoting the movie in places such as the sleeves of its coffee cups, and the "Akeelah" soundtrack is on sale at the stores. The DVD of the movie will be on sale at Starbucks this fall.
Howard Schultz, the company's chairman, said that after promoting "Akeelah" Starbucks was deluged with material from film distributors that hope to be its next film partner.
It became clear, he said, that the company needed more expertise in handling that work.
He said it was not Starbucks' goal to become an entertainment-business investor, although the company's promotion of "Akeelah" gave it an undisclosed equity stake in that film.
"We have no intention of financing movies, or being traditional investors in movie projects," he said.
Instead, Schultz said, it will selectively link the Starbucks brand with certain kinds of movies and books in the belief that Starbucks customers trust the company, in essence, to choose their entertainment for them.
"We're looking for quality, and substance," he said. "We want to see our name associated with the kind of music, literature and movies that people will say, 'I'm glad Starbucks brought this to the marketplace.' " He gave "Crash" as an example of the kind of movie that Starbucks might promote. The film, which was about racial tension and also was from Lionsgate, was a sleeper hit at the box office and went on to win an Oscar for best picture this year.
Starbucks had its biggest success with a Ray Charles album in 2004, "Genius Loves Company," which sold 775,000 copies and went on to win eight Grammys.
Hollywood can only hope for this kind of success at a time when new technology is encroaching on traditional film distribution models. While this year's box-office total has so far pulled ahead of last year's disastrous statistics, industry experts are still puzzling over how to adapt to changing consumer habits in a world of Internet, cell phone and iPod entertainment.
In this environment, Starbucks provides a potentially important new point of sale and could have the kind of impact on movies -- narrow, but profound -- that Oprah Winfrey has had on publishing with her book club.
In the case of "Akeelah and the Bee," the box-office revenue from opening weekend did not indicate that the Starbucks promotion, which also included whimsical vocabulary plastered across store windows, had immediately led to a hit.
The movie took in $6.25 million over the weekend at 2,195 theaters, an average of just $2,847 a screen, according to Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box-office sales. It was No. 8 among movies for the weekend, behind offerings such as the Robin Williams comedy "RV"; the teenage drama "Stick It"; and the harrowing Sept. 11 drama "United 93."
"This was an interesting experiment," said Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Exhibitor Relations. "The Starbucks tie-in didn't hurt, but with the movie opening at No. 8, I don't know if it really helped."
He noted that signs at Starbucks stores might have been too subtle in some cases for customers to associate them with the movie. And other industry analysts suggested that the boost from Starbucks could give the movie longer legs at the box office than most releases.
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