Fifty Shades Franchise Helps Lift Universal Studio Results

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The Universal Studios division of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA), got another lift from the sexually charged Fifty Shades franchise. The third film in the series, titled “Fifty Shades Free,” posted sales of $136 million over the weekend, when domestic and international ticket sales are combined. According to Box Office Mojo, the films topped a worldwide gross of $1 billion. The group of films is climbing the ladder of the most successful franchises of all time.

The success of the Fifty Shades movies is even more impressive because they are rated R, which sharply cuts potential ticket sales. On the other hand, the popularity of the movies is helped by the best-selling Fifty Shades novel trilogy written by E.L. James. Unfortunately, that film franchise now has probably come to an end, since each of the books has been covered.

Universal needs the boost “Fifty Shades Freed” has given it. The studio ranks fourth in ticket market share among studios this year, with domestic ticket sales of $106 million through February 4. That puts its market share at 10% behind 20th Century Fox at 20.9%, Sony/Columbia at 20.3% and Walt Disney’s Buena Vista studio at 11.7%.

The ticket sales numbers matter to the parent companies. Studio sales make up a major portion of their earnings. Each of the top studios is owned by a large public media company. Studio sales sometimes mean enough to affect stock prices.

There are rumors that Comcast may try to buy Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (NASDAQ: FOXA) assets, which include 20th Century Fox. If that happens, it would snatch the assets from Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), which has had the inside track to buy them after cutting a deal with Fox chief Rupert Murdoch. Among the consequences of the sale is which company will have the best chance to rule U.S. box office ticket sales. That makes Universal’s combination with the Fox studio a critical factor in whether Universal’s modest box office share can grow.