Exit Kodak’s name,synonymous with Oscars

The 84th Academy Awards has a guest list to rival any party in the world. Brad Pitt will be there,as will Angelina Jolie,George Clooney,Meryl Streep and all the other stars of the silver screen

Written by The Financial Times | Published:February 27, 2012 2:26 am

Matthew Garrahan

The 84th Academy Awards has a guest list to rival any party in the world. Brad Pitt will be there,as will Angelina Jolie,George Clooney,Meryl Streep and all the other stars of the silver screen — apart from Sacha Baron Cohen,who has been barred for wanting to come as a character from his new film,The Dictator.

One name that has been synonymous with the Oscars for the past decade will also be missing,banned from any mention in the broadcast on the ABC television network or by the presenters handing out awards: Kodak.

The company was,until the past few days,the naming rights sponsor of the Oscars auditorium at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. But since Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection last month after mismanaging its transition from film to digital photography,the 131-year-old company has been trying to sever its 20-year $74m sponsorship – which has eight years left to run. This week a judge ruled in its favour.

Passers-by,however,will see that the sign at the top of the building still reads “Kodak Theatre”. CIM,the real-estate group that owns the venue,objected to the removal of the sign,saying it would be unfair to do so with the Oscars only days away.

Judge Allan Gropper,of the federal court in Manhattan,told CIM’s lawyers that keeping the sign up would probably invite comment from Billy Crystal,the comedian hosting this year’s show. “If you believe it would be better to leave the sign up,I suppose Billy Crystal will make some joke about this being the Kodak Theatre and Kodak being in Chapter 11 [bankruptcy protection,” he said. “I think that damages Kodak more than it affects your client.”

So how will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,and all of those attending the event,refer to the venue? The Academy and ABC could have taken a leaf out of the singer Prince’s book and called it The Venue Formerly Known As The Kodak Theatre. But presumably that would not have got around the problem of free publicity.

Instead,the Academy said this week that it had hit upon a novel solution. “It will be live from the Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood,California,” Tom Sherak,president of the Academy,told ABC. “That’s what [CIM has asked us to do,and we are going to do it.”

The theatre,which opened in 2001,was designed by the Rockwell group and built for £94m. CIM’s website refers to it as “the crown jewel” of its 640,000 sq ft Hollywood & Highland Center,a retail,dining and entertainment complex.

While CIM hunts for a new sponsor,the Academy is weighing a possible move out of Hollywood. In December the organisation opted not to renew its deal with CIM and it is looking at alternative venues: it hasn’t ruled out staying in Hollywood but could clearly be tempted by another location.

The most obvious contender is the Nokia Theatre a few miles away in downtown Los Angeles. As well as having the advantage of a title sponsor that has not filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,it is also bigger: 7,100 seats,compared with 3,401 at The Venue Formerly Known as The Kodak Theatre (sorry: the Hollywood & Highland Center).

Downtown Los Angeles is the city’s commercial hub and the area around the Nokia Theatre was recently redeveloped by Anschutz Entertainment Group,the company that operates the O2 Arena in London.

Los Angelenos based on the city’s west side – which includes most of the senior executives working for the Hollywood studios – tend to take a snobbish view of downtown. And although it is only a few miles away,the maddening traffic congestion makes it a difficult place to visit.

Who knows,however: maybe having the Oscars downtown once a year would encourage them to go more often.

© 2012 The Financial Times Limited

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