Monthly Archives: March 2017

Retailers add little entertainment to attract buyers

Just putting a price on a product and sticking it on a shelf is so old school.

And with consumers buying more online each year, bricks-and-mortar retailers are working harder to add entertainment to their mix — from American Girl’s scavenger hunts to the Art of Shaving’s product demonstrations.

These experiences are something consumers can’t get from online shopping.

“You can buy a product just about everywhere. They are trying to add a different element so it is not just about the product,” said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL/Strategic Retail, a retail strategy firm in New York. “They are giving people a reason to play — like Converse, where you can customize your sneaker — making it worth it to go into the store. A sense of place and a place to stay.”

Retailers have been using entertainment to attract shoppers for years, from mall carousels to the Mall of America’s amusement park. But with advances in technology and growing pressure from online competition, more retailers are adding interactive attractions inside their stores.

Savvy retailers engage customers with entertainment options, from watching to fully participating.

Bass Pro Shops’ attractions vary, but some offer free photos in Santa’s Wonderland, aquariums that re-create local wildlife scenes, activity tables for kids and even laser arcade games.

“We’re the Disney World of outdoor stores … a natural history museum of the area they are in, an aquarium, an art gallery with all the beautiful murals, antiques and conservation education. And oh, by the way, we do retail,” said Larry Whiteley, spokesman for Bass Pro Shops.

Outdoor retail rival Cabela’s promotes its museum-quality animal displays and aquariums, along with special events and promotions each weekend.

Build-A-Bear Workshop was an innovator in “experiential” mall retailing 15 years ago, having children choose and name their bears — and later other animals — as the huggable toys were put together and stuffed. Now it is starting to roll out new designs with several new interactive experiences, including putting the stuffed animals at children’s height so they can touch and play with them, and offering digital screens where children can add more personalized sounds and music to their stuffed toys. Five Build-A-Bear stores have been converted to the new concept, and one new store has opened.

American Girl stores also feature interactive experiences.

“In terms of the retail environment, it’s what we’ve come to be known for,” said Stephanie Spanos, spokeswoman for American Girl. “At American Girl, it doesn’t just start and end with just a purchase.”

The American Girl events — some free, others with a fee — are aimed at building brand loyalty with young customers.

On Jan. 1, for instance, it will have interactive events to introduce its 2013 Girl of the Year doll. Girls will get to go on a scavenger hunt through stores, doing free crafts and getting gifts to take home. Past gifts have included a doll poster.

A dozen American Girl stores have cafes where customers can dine with their dolls, which have their own seats.

Some Art of Shaving stores have barber spas for straight-razor shaves and haircuts. The shops’ shaving experts take customers through the process for a “perfect shave.”

“When they can see that shaving brush in action, the rich warm lather, the sensation of the after-shave balm, the aromas of the gloves, the peppers — it lends to the interactive experience as well,” said Cari White, a regional director for the Art of Shaving.

DMG Entertainment will go public on Shenzhen Stock Exchange

DMG Entertainment, the Beijing-based company that co-produced Hollywood films including “Iron Man 3” and “Transcendence,” is in the process of going public on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

The move will see DMG enter the exchange through a reverse takeover with meat-processing company Sichuan Gaojin Foods. The deal still needs regulatory approval.

According to DMG and Sichuan Gaojin, the deal values DMG at $970 million. That’s three times the value of Gaojin at the end of 2013. After the transaction, the company’s largest shareholder will be DMG Chairman Peter Xiao Wenge.

Documents filed by Sichuan Gaojin with the Shenzhen Exchange said DMG’s revenue grew from about $181 million in 2011 to $270 million in 2012 and $271 million in 2013. Film and television revenue saw a large jump between 2012 and 2013, rising from $9.3 million to $48.2 million.

“Iron Man 3,” released in 2013, grossed $121 million at the mainland box office.

Profit at DMG rose to $45.9 million in 2013, up from $25.3 million in 2011, Sichuan Gaojin’s documentation indicated.

DMG began as an advertising and TV commercial production firm but has also invested in domestic film and TV production and distribution and has interests in music and other sectors. Shares of Sichuan Gaojin, which had been suspended for months, resumed trading April 8 and have nearly doubled in the last two and a half weeks.

Until recently, China had enacted a moratorium on initial public offerings, and a backlog of listings is now awaiting approval. Among the entertainment-related companies that recently announced plans for IPOs are Wanda Cinema Line, China’s biggest movie theater chain, which plans to raise $321 million, and Shanghai Film Corp., a film producer, distributor and exhibitor that wants to raise $155 million.

Media firms remain a highly regulated, largely government-controlled sector in China, and a reverse takeover could allow DMG — which has several non-Chinese principals — to go public without drawing too much attention to itself. Chinese-language media carried reports of the reverse takeover earlier this month, but DMG had not made a statement until this week, when Variety first reported the news.

A number of Chinese companies — including restaurant chains, fireworks manufacturers, dairy firms and video game makers — have shown interest this year in acquiring media, TV and film production companies.

Restaurant chain Beijing Xiangeqing said in March that it would acquire 51% of China Film & Television Production Co. and 51% of Di Nu Film & Television. The same month, Panda Fireworks Group announced that it would spend $91 million to acquire Dongyang Huahai Shidai Pictures Media.

What makes South Korea’s click entertainment?

The plot of the South Korean television series “My Love From the Star” is farfetched, dealing with an alien who falls in love with a pop star.

But the drama dominated a morning of debate for a Chinese Communist Party committee last month when delegates lamented the inability of homegrown offerings to match the show’s runaway success in China.

“The Korean drama craze … is resulting in a lack of confidence in our own culture,” warned Xu Qinsong, a party official from Guangdong.

The alarm is not limited to China. In recent years Taiwanese regulators have intervened to reduce the screening of South Korean soap operas, while thousands marched in Tokyo against the extensive screening of the shows on Japanese television.

The booming industry behind this regional angst is the subject of “The Korean Wave: Korean Popular Culture in Global Context.” It is a new collection of academic essays, of varying quality, on the South Korean entertainment sector’s rise to prominence in East and Southeast Asia. It was edited by Yasue Kuwahara, a professor at Northern Kentucky University, and published by Palgrave MacMillan.

From Manila to Mongolia, Seoul’s television and music companies have found enthusiastic audiences. Their success reflects the cultural allure of one of the region’s most advanced economies and has opened doors for other South Korean industries, including tourism and cosmetics.

In the collection, there is the obligatory chapter on “Gangnam Style,” the tongue-in-cheek hit by rapper Psy that became the most viewed music video in Internet history.

The authors do well to focus on the new role of music consumers in helping to promote songs by sharing them online — although there is needless hyperbole in their closing statement that “Gangnam Style” “may have been a turning point in global entertainment.”

Likewise, the book gets off to a shaky start by opening with an essay, by the British professor John Walsh, that portrays the phenomenon as a “government construct.”

Walsh lists various government initiatives to support the entertainment industry. But he entirely fails to demonstrate that any of these has been instrumental in the success achieved by the country’s fiercely competitive television and music production sectors.

Where the latter have shown a keen sensitivity to the international marketplace, government interventions have often seemed clumsy. The South Korean government of Lee Myung-bak, for example, spent more than $70 million on “globalizing Korean food” — with results so questionable that the national assembly ordered a special audit.

As contributor Hyejung Ju suggests later in the book, if any government action should be cited, it was the liberalization in 2000 of the television and music sectors, which made it easier for new, small, independent companies to enter the industries and unleashed dynamic market forces.

Yet even that does not explain the enthusiasm felt for South Korean shows and songs by many Asian consumers, often to the exclusion of rival products from their own countries or from the West.

Many critics argue that the secret lies with a winning blend of seductive glamour normally associated with U.S. entertainers, expertly packaged with an underlying strain of traditional Asian family values.

Chuyun Oh puts an interesting spin on this theory with an analysis of Girls’ Generation, the most successful South Korean pop group of recent years. “They have moved beyond any specific race or ethnicity,” she says, attributing to them a “mutant multicultural Koreanness.”

This book ends with a suggestion by its editor Kuwahara that “a majority of the Japanese are not genuinely interested in Korean culture” and watch South Korean shows because they are like “a fun house mirror that shows them what the Japanese and their society are like.”

This does not bode well for hopes that Korean cultural exports could serve as a bridge between the nations at a time of deteriorating diplomatic relations. It may, however, provide reassurance for the likes of Xu Qinsong, the Chinese Communist Party official from Guangdong.

Marlon Wayans is playing Richard Pryor

When it was announced that Marlon Wayans and not Eddie Murphy would be portraying Richard Pryor in the long-discussed biopic of the comedy giant, the news was greeted with Internet jeering. Wayans wasn’t surprised when he read the disparaging comments — you can’t hang your star on films like “White Chicks” and “Little Man” without consequences.

“Look, I want to be able to make the stupidest movies ever, because they make people laugh and they make money,” Wayans recently said with a smirk. “But that’s not all I want to do. And I think I’ve proven to some people — the ones paying attention — that I can do more. Everybody else, well, they can wait and see and make up their mind.”

Wayans believes he is on the verge of winning over skeptics and just maybe establishing a name for himself that goes beyond his status as “the other Wayans” — or maybe even “the other-other-Wayans.” The 37-year-old is the youngest of 10 children in the show-business brood that came to fame on “In Living Color,” the 1990s television show created and written by Keenen Ivory Wayans and Damon Wayans. His position in the family photo has given Marlon Wayans plenty of opportunity — he and sibling Shawn got their own show, “The Wayans Brothers,” for four seasons on Fox beginning in 1995 — but also an ongoing challenge in establishing anything resembling an individual identity.

“I have no complaints,” Wayans said, “but I do have a plan. I love doing comedy, but I also love to do drama.”

When it comes to laughter and tragedy, it would be hard to think of a figure that bundles them together in more compelling fashion than the late Richard Pryor, a Peoria, Ill., native who grew up in his grandmother’s brothel, was expelled from school at age 14 and went on to become a firebrand force in pop culture as a stand-up comic, movie star, writer. When, in 1998, he became the first recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, he was described by Lawrence Wilker, the president of the Kennedy Center, as a signature voice in the national conversation: “He struck a chord, and a nerve, with America, forcing it to look at large social questions of race and the more tragicomic aspects of the human condition.”

The Murphy factor

The effort to bring Pryor’s story to the screen has been underway for a number of years and Jennifer Lee Pryor, the comedian’s widow, is part of the process. For many months, the conventional assumption was that Murphy would play the lead role. That’s not the case. Instead, Wayans arrived at lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant recently with the smile of a man who had a winning lottery ticket in his pocket.

“You need to be lucky in life, but it’s also what you do with your luck,” said the New York native, who still has sinewy arms from his role in last summer’s action movie “G.I. Joe.” “I’m ready.”

As of now, the defining image of Wayans in the public mind is likely a tiny con man impersonating an infant in the 2006 film “Little Man,” which was made with some unsettling CG-effects. There’s also 2004’s “White Chicks,” another gimmicky farce, where he played a black FBI agent in rubbery pale-face drag. The films were relentlessly crass and made a combined $215 million in worldwide box office. Many film critics, of course, were aghast, among them British writer Mark Kermode, who wrote, “There is no pit deep enough in the world to dispose of every single copy of this film. . . . ‘Little Man’ is bad for the world.”

That may well be true, but Wayans is trying to join a surging number of stars who specialize in coarse comedy and then pull their pants back up, step into a drama and ask the moviegoing world to quit laughing (But, seriously, folks. . .). Wayans doesn’t have to look far from his family history to see role models.

“In Living Color” alumnus Jim Carrey pretended to talk out of his butt (literally) in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” but then won critical acclaim playing Andy Kaufman in “Man on the Moon.” Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx have had similar successes, and Adam Sandler, producer of the Pryor film project, with films such as “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Spanglish” has aspired to be art-house as well as outhouse in his screen times.

For Wayans, “Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?” (which begins shooting in the fall) is the sound of opportunity. “This is like an invitation to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for me, and I’ve never been more excited in my life than when I got the role,” he said last week. “I want to be in dramas, I want to produce, I want to write and I want to prove I can handle a role such as this one.”