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Friday, January 13, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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It's showtime for Starbucks

The Associated Press

Starbucks is getting into the movie-promotion business, partnering with the film studio Lions Gate Entertainment to market the upcoming film "Akeelah and the Bee."

The agreement marks the first film deal for Starbucks, which has been moving into the entertainment industry by distributing music at many of its more than 10,000 coffee shops worldwide.

Beginning in early April, Starbucks baristas who get a sneak peek at the film will wear lanyards with "Akeelah" buzzwords in hopes of sparking conversations about the movie. The film is the story of an 11-year-old girl from inner-city Los Angeles who makes it to a national spelling bee.

There will also be trivia questions on the shops' chalkboards and previews offered through the wireless Internet service available in many stores.

Seattle-based Starbucks will sell the movie's soundtrack beginning April 4 and the DVD when it is released later this year. Executives, however, say the idea is less about hawking movie products than boosting sales at the box office.

Neither company disclosed financial terms of the deal.

Starbucks executives spoke with virtually every movie studio in Hollywood, eventually picking Lions Gate and "Akeelah" as the right fit for its customers, said Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks' entertainment division.

"This can be a potential shot in the arm for not only Lions Gate, but other independent studios that just have not been able to reach the movie consumer in ways that they would expect," said Lombard, former head of Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Johnson Development.

Harold Vogel, a media analyst with Vogel Capital Management in New York, said businesses that do cross-promotions for big motion pictures probably rake in $40 million to $50 million per film.

"In this case, I'd doubt it's that much," he said. "I'm guessing $10 million."

He said it's a low-risk move for Starbucks, noting that McDonald's, Burger King and the movies they've helped promote have typically done well.

"Akeelah," which stars Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett and young Keke Palmer, opens in more than 2,000 theaters April 28.

Steve Beeks, president of Los Angeles-based Lions Gate, said Starbucks is being careful not to have the promotion seem overly commercial. He has high hopes it will be a success.

"I feel confident saying it's definitely going to be effective," Beeks said. "We estimate that it will allow us to pretty much double our reach."

Lions Gate, which spends $15 million to $20 million to market its films and even less to produce or acquire them, had recent box-office hits with "Crash," the "Saw" horror films and the just-released "Hostel."

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz already has ties to the movie industry, sitting on the board of DreamWorks Animation SKG.

"Just as we have demonstrated with music, we believe Starbucks can ultimately change the rules of the game for film marketing and distribution," Schultz said Thursday in a statement.

Starbucks, which was co-producer of Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company" album, sold nearly 3.5 million CDs in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

Spokeswoman Sanja Gould said Starbucks won't have more than 20 CD and DVD titles at any one time in its stores so that customers don't get overwhelmed.

Starbucks has been expanding its music business. In 1999 it bought Hear Music, a chain of music stores with locations in Seattle and Austin, Texas.

The company has since created larger Hear Music stores attached to Starbucks coffee shops where customers can choose from more than 1 million song titles and burn CDs while sipping lattes.

Gould said Starbucks also plans to begin selling books later this year.

Information from Bloomberg News and Reuters is included in this report.

Restroom "bomb"

reportedly dud

A device discovered in a Starbucks bathroom in San Francisco that police initially thought was a bomb appears to be a dud, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the investigation.

Preliminary reports from an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives indicate there was no explosive material, the people told the Chronicle. Police had rendered the device useless by hitting it with a water cannon, the newspaper said.

The device, originally described by police as a quarter-stick of dynamite in a flashlight casing, was found Monday, the newspaper said.

San Francisco police said a man who had been arrested on an unrelated drug charge told them he had found the device on the street and took it to use for self-defense, the newspaper said. No charges were filed in the Starbucks case, the Chronicle reported.

Bloomberg News

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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