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Jacko tribute off as DVD deal is done – rumours

By | Published on Monday 27 July 2009

Rumour has it the planned O2 tribute shows to the late Michael Jackson are off, at the insistence of Sony. According to the gossip page on msnbc.com, Sony Pictures insisted the tribute shows not go ahead as part of its $60 million deal to get the rights to release the rehearsal footage of Jackson recorded and owned by AEG Live, the company who were promoting both the cancelled Jacko This Is It residency and the planned tribute shows.

As previously reported, AEG Live have been busy trying to recoup their multi-million dollar investment in the doomed This Is It shows, that should have been running right now at the London arena had Jackson not bitten the dust last month. With insurance pay outs in doubt depending on the coroner’s findings with regards what killed the late king of pop, the live music firm has been flogging This Is It merchandise and running that ticket scam where Jackson fans were encouraged to forego their ticket refund in return for a bit of souvenir cardboard.

The other two grand plans to enable AEG to get back its rumoured $30 million investment into the This Is It residency were the tribute shows, probably featuring other members of the Jackson family and utilising some of the sets and routines already created for the axed Jacko live show, and the release of the footage of Jackson performing at rehearsals that the company had recorded, originally for a behind the scenes documentary for a planned This Is It DVD.

Preparations for the tribute show at The O2 seemingly began pretty much as soon as Jackson died, and while Janet Jackson had reportedly declined to participate, the other four members of the Jackson Five were reportedly on board, despite being previously exclusively contracted to a Jacksons reunion show in the US next year. Various people involved in the preparations for This Is It were reportedly kept on board to help produce the tribute shows. What would have been Jackson’s 51st birthday, 29 Aug had been pencilled in as the date for the first of the tributes.

But in tandem AEG started shopping its recorded content of Jackson, filmed just days before his death, to various Hollywood studios with a view to releasing a DVD, and perhaps staging a cinema release of a “look at Jacko dancing just before he fell down dead” documentary. Sony Pictures were always the favourites to secure a deal, because the involvement of Sony Music will be necessary in order for any of Jackson’s songs to appear on the film. Sony reportedly signed a $60 million deal with AEG last week, and in that deal, msnbc.com’s The Scoop column claims, the movie studio insisted no tribute shows take place. I’m not quite sure why that would be, though, except that perhaps Sony are concerned the tribute would steal the thunder of their planned October release of the Jackson video content.

Anyway, the rumoured cancellation of the tribute shows has rather pissed off some of those who had been held on to help produce them. The Scoop quotes a source as saying: “The show directors, choreographers, dancers, cast, crew all extended their stays in Los Angeles after Michael’s death, worked on his memorial, began planning the tribute shows because we were told time and again that it would happen. Then we get a phone call late [Thursday] saying it was all off, and all work after 26 Jun – the day after Michael died – is considered volunteer work”. Ouch.

And it’s not only the sudden cancellation of the tribute shows that is reportedly pissing off AEG’s This Is It production team. There also concerns all round, The Scoop’s source claims, regarding unpaid expenses. Said source says: “AEG had a budget for the tour, and Michael had a vision. To cover the difference, many of us paid out of our own pockets. We did this with the assurance from Michael that we’d be paid, and collectively we’re out millions, and don’t even know where to turn to get the money back. His estate? Sony? It’s a nightmare”.

A nightmare indeed. I’m sure AEG would pay them in souvenir This Is It tickets if they asked nicely. AEG Live’s financial position regarding This Is It remains unclear. Even if Sony’s $60 million deal on the DVD is true, presumably much of that sum would be spent on producing, distributing and marketing the documentary – whether AEG are getting an upfront advance is not clear. While the promoter did talk to other studios about the doc, as we said, Sony Music’s involvement was required giving Sony Pictures an obvious advantage. That may have helped them cut an extra favourable deal, meaning AEG may be relying on major sales of the DVD in order to see any serious income from it.