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Starbucks stirring interest in Hollywood

Published May 11, 2006

SEATTLE - Any regular Starbucks customers likely have learned how to spell or define "prestidigitation" or some other tricky word they'd probably never heard of before.

Using bright green flash cards and cup sleeves emblazoned with spelling bee words, the coffee retailer has spent the past month promoting the movie Akeelah and the Bee.

Apparently, it hasn't paid off, at least not in the movie's first two box office weekends.

The feel-good movie about an inner city Los Angeles girl who makes it to a national spelling bee debuted in eighth place at the box office April 28-30, grossing about $6-million. It slipped to ninth last weekend, taking in roughly $3.4-million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.'s tally of ticket sales at U.S. and Canadian theaters.

Nevertheless, executives at Starbucks and Lionsgate Entertainment Corp., which distributed Akeelah, say they remain upbeat.

"Although the film's opening was softer than we'd hoped, we're hoping it will play strongly in the weeks to come," said Peter Wilkes, Lionsgate's senior vice president of investor relations.

It's hard to miss Akeelah promotional material at a typical Starbucks. There are stickers on doors and windows, signs posted by the cash register and spelling words on menu boards, coffee cup sleeves, brewing equipment, CD racks and shelves.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, said he doesn't think Akeelah's lukewarm start signaled a failure of Starbucks' campaign.

"The marketing that Starbucks did is very interesting and innovative," he said. "I've got to give them credit for just getting in there and trying to get associated with the film, a film that has great values."

Tie-ins between restaurants and movies aren't new, as any recent visitor to McDonald's or Burger King can attest. And there was the 2004 movie Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.

Starbucks hopes its foray into the movie business can match the success it has had in music. It has co-produced a number of popular CDs, including Ray Charles' Grammy award-winning Genius Loves Company.

Regardless of how Akeelah fares, Starbucks shows no signs of tempering its movie ambitions. Last week it announced an alliance with William Morris Agency, a talent and literary agency that will help Starbucks identify music, film and book projects to consider for marketing and distribution in its stores.

[Last modified May 11, 2006, 07:03:25]

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