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The Fox, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Disney has a lot riding on the success of "The Chronicles of Narnia" but so does News Corp.
December 9, 2005: 10:04 AM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Disney's movie unit could get a nice profit bump if
Disney's movie unit could get a nice profit bump if "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a hit. But News Corp's HarperCollins book division is also hoping for a Narnia boost.
News Corp. didn't release the
News Corp. didn't release the "Lord of the Rings" movies. But HarperCollins owns the rights to the books and the success of the first film helped lead to big sales for the LOTR trilogy in 2002...and record profits for HarperCollins.
Earnings: Fact, not fiction
HarperCollins isa small part of News Corp. but it is holding its own from a profit growth standpoint.
Division1Q Op Profit (mil)*% change from yr. ago
Filmed entertainment$36826.5%
Cable networks$19718.7%
Broadcast TV$160-31.6%
Newspapers$1255.9%
Magazines$7618.8%
Book publishing$7016.7%
* for the quarter that ended in Sept. 2005
Source:News Corp.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Walt Disney is obviously crossing its fingers and rooting for its first Narnia movie, due out Friday, to be a big hit.

If "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" does well, it could help lift sales and profits for the House of Mouse for years to come.

In addition to box office revenue and DVD sales for this particular movie, a Narnia blockbuster would increase the chances that the other six books from the Narnia series are also turned into successful movies as well. Disney (Research) has the film rights to the remaining Narnia books.

"Disney is hoping to have a Harry Potter franchise out of this," said Alan Gould, an analyst with Natexis Bleichroeder, referring to the movies based on the books about the popular boy wizard.

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the fourth movie in the Harry Potter series, came out last month and has so far generated $560.4 million in ticket sales worldwide, according to movie tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

The four Harry Potter movies have grossed more than $3.2 billion in box office sales for movie studio Warner Bros. (Warner Bros. is owned by Time Warner (Research), which also owns CNNMoney.com.)

Narnia book sales worth chronicling

But one of Disney's biggest competitors will also be cheering on the four Pevensie kids and Aslan the lion this Friday. News Corp (Research), the media conglomerate that owns rival movie studio Fox, also stands to profit handsomely from the success of Narnia.

That's because News Corp's HarperCollins book unit owns the publishing rights to all seven of the books in C.S. Lewis' Narnia series.

"The back list of Narnia books, which is extensive, should certainly get a boost from the movie," said Dennis McAlpine, an independent media analyst.

According to HarperCollins, the "Chronicles of Narnia" books have sold more than 95 million copies worldwide since the first book was published in 1950. And it appears that the upcoming movie has already helped to reignite interest in the entire series.

As of the morning of December 5, a box-set version including paperback versions of all seven Narnia books was the best selling title on Amazon.com and the fifth-best seller on Barnesandnoble.com.

"Narnia book sales have been increasing steadily as the movie nears. Our retailers embraced Narnia early on and have been promoting not only 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' but the entire series which are sending people into bookstores to read the books before they see the movie," said Amanda Lipnick, marketing manager with HarperCollins Children's Books in a statement.

Lipnick added that HarperCollins expects Narnia book sales to be more than five times historic levels during this fiscal year. What's more, the company also has released 25 new titles specifically tied to the release of the movie.

Still, Gould said that Narnia book sales won't mean as much to News Corp. as say, the Harry Potter books mean to its U.S. publisher Scholastic Corp (Research), since News Corp. is a much bigger company than Scholastic.

HarperCollins, to be sure, is but a small part of the News Corp. empire. But it's far from being insignificant. Book publishing accounted for 8 percent of News Corp's operating income in its fiscal first quarter, which ended in September.

The unit's profits rose a healthy 17 percent from a year ago and during the company's first quarter report, News Corp. specifically singled out the strong sales of Narnia books as one of the main drivers of the success at HarperCollins.

News Corp. also should be helped by the fact that HarperCollins probably won't have to spend as much to promote the Narnia books as it might otherwise to do for a new release. The heavy advertising burden, naturally, will probably fall more on the shoulders of Disney and that could lead to greater awareness of the books.

"This is pretty crucial for Disney. Expectations are very high and it is considered a tent pole release," said Joseph Bonner, an analyst with Argus Research. "Certainly the Disney marketing machine is going to make a lot of noise about Narnia."

And if Narnia leads to a big jump in sales for HarperCollins, it won't be the first time that the publishing company benefited from a rival movie studio's hit movie either.

HarperCollins also has the publishing rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's works. "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring", the first movie in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was released by New Line Cinema, another unit of Time Warner, in December 2001.

In News Corp's fiscal 2002, which ended in June of that year, HarperCollins reported record profits and the company specifically cited the success of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy for its strong year.

To check out media and entertainment stocks, click here.

For a look at why MONEY's Michael Sivy likes Disney, click here.

Natexis' Gould owns shares of News Corp. but his firm has no investment banking ties with the companies mentioned. Other analysts quoted in this story do not own shares of the companies mentioned and their firms do not have investment banking relationships with them.

The reporter of this story owns shares of Time Warner through his company's 401(k) plan.  Top of page

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