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VOL. 127 | NO. 137 | Monday, July 16, 2012

Changes Occurring Backstage At Elvis Presley Enterprises

By Bill Dries

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It was about a month ago when the company that produced a digital hologram of the late Tupac Shakur that showed up to startling effect on stage at the Coachella Music Festival announced it was working on a similar hologram of Elvis Presley.

Graceland is preparing for next month’s Candlelight Vigil and Elvis Week, the annual event that draws thousands to the city.

(Photo Courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises)

The surprise introduction of the Tupac image at the end of a set by rapper Dr. Dre tripped a number of subliminal reactions that led to the late Presley – the surprise nature of the technological debut with no advance word and the effect it had on audiences by now used to all sorts of on-stage wizardry at live shows.

Digital Domain Media Group’s follow-up announcement about Elvis got attention. But there was a new name in the announcement that represented the Elvis Presley Enterprises side of the equation – CORE Media Group.

Welcome to the rebranded CKx company that is a portfolio company of Apollo Global Management LLC, an assets management firm.

It was CKx that rolled out an ambitious and aggressive marketing plan for Graceland in 2005 that included a $250 million transformation of the Whitehaven mansion and the plaza across Elvis Presley Boulevard from it.

The Elvis Week concert Aug. 16 at FedExForum is still scheduled to include Elvis’ likeness on the big screen only, not on stage with the live band of Elvis veterans at least for now.

Show producer Stig Edgren, however, told Elvis Radio, EPE’s Sirius/XM satellite music channel, there will be an “opening surprise” and a rebuilt show that features Elvis in the 1950s and from his 1968 television comeback special.

The live musicians will also include those from both eras as well as musicians from the contemporary Memphis music scene including former members of The Dempseys and the University of Memphis band Sound Fuzion.

The concert was a cutting-edge concept for the first and ultimate rock ‘n’ roll icon who had been dead for 20 years when the show debuted at the Mid-South Coliseum in 1997. The 1998 tour of the show that followed was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the first live tour headlined by a dead performer. The tour was also Elvis’ first overseas show. Except for five concerts in Canada, Presley never performed outside the U.S. during his lifetime.

The show featuring Elvis in his 1970s concert prime, which just finished a U.K. tour including London’s O2 arena and Wembley Stadium, remains on tour going to South America this fall. It should not be confused with a Cirque du Soleil Elvis show that played Las Vegas.

Both enterprises are an indication of a direction CKx founder Robert Sillerman had advocated for the Presley image on a worldwide basis. It also included the first ever remixes of Elvis tunes and a few sonic duets including one with Celine Dion.

Before Sillerman exited from day-to-day management of the company and CKx was sold to Apollo, he outlined a resort-style makeover for the Graceland area that would keep the mansion as it is but build hotels and other attractions on the land around it.

EPE now owns land that once held several apartment complexes in the immediate area that have since been cleared for future development. The acquisitions were the physical indications of grander plans that stalled in the recession that followed.

Then CKx was bought by Apollo, an assets management firm. No one involved has had much to say publicly about any of the plans for the next step in advancing the marketing of the Presley image or a dramatic expansion and new configuration for the area around the Whitehaven mansion.

At the end of May, Apollo announced the CORE rebranding, but it didn’t make many waves here in Memphis. It was news to several city leaders who have been involved in talks with CKx and Apollo earlier this year and last year.

“You mean CKx?” asked council member Harold Collins when asked about CORE Media.

Collins’ district includes Graceland and surrounding Whitehaven.

“We relaunched the company. It’s the same company but under a different name,” said CORE media spokeswoman Allison Gollust. “It does remain a similar structure to what they had with CKx, just a new name.”

A request for further comment from CORE officials as well as Elvis Presley Enterprises didn’t produce any more of an explanation.

But the change appears to be more than a change in brand.

Marc Graboff, a former NBCUniversal Inc. executive, was named to head CORE earlier this year.

Graboff has assembled a team that debuted at the end of May from other parts of the entertainment management world including Martha Stewart Omnimedia, Morey Management Group, Relativity Media and OgilvyEntertainment.

Jack Soden, the president and CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, remains in the position he’s held for more than 30 years. EPE is now described as a division of CORE Media Group Inc. with offices in Memphis, Los Angeles and New York.

The secrecy about backstage moves at Elvis Presley Enterprises has been a constant of the organization even when Presley was alive. So has contradiction.

The June 6 press release from CORE Media and DDMG said, “The companies have already begun work on the virtual Elvis Presley likeness and will announce when and where audiences can expect to see the first virtual Elvis performances.”

Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, told Rolling Stone this month that the plans are much more tentative.

“If we want to do it, we’ve got the rights to do it, is basically all that’s happened,” she told the magazine. “There’s been nothing set, no prototypes. There’s nothing in the works at the moment.”

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