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Sony bids US$50 million for Jackson rehearsal film

SONY Corp.'s movie studio has bid US$50 million to acquire the worldwide distribution rights to a film based on rehearsal footage for Michael Jackson's "This Is It" comeback concert series, according to a person familiar with the bid.

The person said yesterday that the bid came after several studios, including Paramount, Universal and 20th Century Fox, were shown footage starting early last week. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the bidding had not been completed. None of the studios would comment on the record.

The winning studio would produce the film with Jackson's concert promoter, AEG Live, and his estate. It would go a long way to helping AEG Live recoup some of the US$30 million to US$32 million it spent producing the concert before Jackson died June 25.

The bidding was reported earlier by the Los Angeles Times and industry blogger Nikki Finke.

Sony Pictures has a leg up on other bidders because Sony Music distributes Jackson's music and is in a 50-50 partnership with his estate in Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Sony's bid is on par with the cost of making a mid-range budget movie, and is offset by the fact that the Sony group of companies would benefit from the music licensing rights attached to the film.

There is also massive interest in Jackson material worldwide. An estimated 31 million viewers in the US alone watched the Jackson memorial service live earlier this month, according to Nielsen Media Research. That's just shy of the 33 million US viewers who watched Princess Diana's funeral.

"This type of a story, if put together right, could be very compelling and draw a very, very wide audience," said Mark Fleischer, an entertainment attorney with Venable LLP and former executive at MGM Studios.

The estate and AEG Live are also negotiating with several television networks and pay-per-view outlets on a TV special that would be a stage show featuring Jackson's music and dancing. It would be directed by "This Is It" director Kenny Ortega.

The selling price being discussed for the rights to show the TV special is also in the tens of millions of dollars.

General Electric Co.'s NBC has been in talks on the TV show, but the concept, air date and cost for the rights has not been finalized, said NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks.

"We have no deal for the rights to the Michael Jackson special," Marks said.

The special administrators of Jackson's estate, attorney John Branca and former music executive John McClain, have been moving quickly to secure Jackson's assets and cut deals to capitalize on the surge in interest in the pop star since he died.

Last week, Branca and McClain received signed court papers authorizing them to act on his estate's behalf until another hearing Aug. 3. McClain has been sorting through unreleased Jackson recordings, while Sony Music is interested in releasing a commemorative album. Music sales have soared.

Jackson's 2002 will named Branca and McClain as executors and directs all of his assets to be placed in a trust that will benefit his mother Katherine Jackson, his three children, and unnamed children's charities. The estate is estimated to be worth more than US$500 million.

But Katherine Jackson's lawyers on Friday sought a judge's ruling on whether she can challenge the authority of the men without triggering a "no contest" clause in the trust that would cause her to be disinherited.


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