26 February 2010

Conan Joins Twitter, Asks for Help

Chicago Tribune

Conan O'Brien is keeping himself busy by interviewing animals.

That's the word from the former "Tonight Show" host via his new Twitter account.

"Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me," O'Brien said in his first tweet. His account bio reads: "I had a show. Then I had a different show. Now I have a Twitter account."

O'Brien hosted "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" for 16 years before taking over the "Tonight Show" in June 2009 for Jay Leno, who went on to host a quickly canceled program on NBC at 10 p.m. ET. After conceding that the Leno primetime experiment failed— because it made a poor lead-in for local news—NBC execs decided to move the "Tonight Show" to 12:05 a.m. ET to make room for a half-hour Jay Leno show at 11:35. O'Brien declined to accept the move because to do so would mean participating in the show's "destruction," he said, ending his "Tonight Show" gig after just seven months.

O'Brien's final "Tonight Show" aired On January 22. Guests Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Will Ferrell and Neil Young stopped by to pay tribute to his run as the host of the late-night institution. The normally ebullient host grew serious as his final "Tonight Show" drew to a close. He's been keeping a low-profile ever since.

O'Brien received a $45 million payout for exiting the show; of that sum, $12 million went to his staff as severance pay. Under the terms of the payout, O'Brien isn't allowed to host another TV show until September 1, 2010. Jay Leno returns to host the "Tonight Show" on March 1.

To follow Conan on Twitter, check out twitter.com/ConanOBrien.

25 February 2010

Disney Hopes Kids Will Take Online World of Cars Out for a Spin

LA Times
The company's latest virtual world, based on the Pixar film 'Cars,' is being tested for rollout this summer. The subscription-based online community is modeled after Disney's Club Penguin.

Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Club Penguin, which Disney acquired in 2007, relaxes at the online game's Canadian headquarters in Kelowna, British Columbia. He oversees Disney's virtual worlds.

Walt Disney Co. believes that World of Cars, its new subscription-based online community aimed at boys and based on the Pixar movie "Cars," won't get lost in the traffic of virtual worlds.

Things are already a bit congested. Some 200 virtual worlds target children under 12. Each competes for a slice of the 10 hours and 45 minutes a day the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that kids spend viewing media, simultaneously vying for screen time against a growing number of portable media players and smart phones that offer their own diversions.

That's not deterring Disney, however, which is testing World of Cars for rollout this summer. The game will allow kids to create their own car persona and rub hubcaps with characters from the movie, such as Mater, the bucktoothed tow truck, or play online games such as tractor-tipping.

The launch marks the latest exercise in corporate cross-branding for Disney, which hopes it can leverage the movie's popularity into monthly subscription payments from boys and their NASCAR dads in advance of the release of "Cars 2" in summer 2011 and the Cars Land attraction that opens in 2012 at Disney's California Adventure theme park.

"We look at anything we can do online as a way to deepen and extend [people's] relationships with the characters," said Steve Wadsworth, president of Disney Interactive Media Group. "That only helps elevate the mind-share of that property or franchise with our audience."

World of Cars is modeled after Club Penguin, the online game of scarf-wearing penguins and igloos aimed at the juice-box crowd that Disney acquired in 2007. The site had 12 million active players and 700,000 subscribers when Disney bought it, although over the last year U.S. visitors to Club Penguin have leveled off, according to research firm ComScore Media Metrix.

Its global reach is broader, with Club Penguin attracting visitors from 190 countries as the site has been translated into Portuguese, Spanish and French. Kzero Worldwide, a British consulting firm, estimates that Club Penguin reaches as many as 35 million users globally, ranking it among the top five virtual worlds for children.

Disney will not release updated subscribers figures for Club Penguin -- Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger said in a recent analysts call that it had recorded gains -- but the subscription site is facing growing competition from toy makers seeking to extend their brands online.

Mattel Inc. made a leap online in 2007 with Barbie Girls, a site Kzero Worldwide estimates attracts 22 million players around the world. Hasbro Inc. partnered with video game maker Electronic Arts Inc. to launch Littlest Pet Shop Online in October, and toy giant Lego created Lego Universe, which debuted last month.

Established media companies with powerful children's programming, such as Viacom Inc.'s Nickelodeon, are similarly chasing their young audiences onto the Internet. After acquiring Neopets in 2005, Nickelodeon last May opened a spinoff virtual world, Petpet Park, which has attracted about 1.7 million registered users, according to Steve Youngwood, Nickelodeon's executive vice president for digital. It's in development on another virtual world, Monkey World.

The trick, however, isn't inventing a virtual world, but designing content that keeps children clicking back.

"Kids have notoriously short attention spans," said Steve Prentice at Gartner, a technology information and consulting firm. "They are intrigued by novelty, but unless there's an enduring reason for them to come back, they won't."

That's the challenge for Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Club Penguin, who oversees Disney's virtual worlds.

Pixie Hollow, the virtual world in which players flutter around with Tinker Belland other characters, has grown since its 2008 debut to 1.6 million monthly users in December, up from 1.3 million a year earlier. Toontown Online, one of the first virtual worlds, saw usage spike in the summer -- but the number of visitors in December fell below year-earlier levels, according to ComScore.

Meanwhile, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, the multi-player computer game that was launched in 2007, is taking on water. The number of online visitors fell below 192,000 in December from 500, 000 a year earlier, ComScore estimates.

"It's no secret it had some technical issues. There were some hurdles there," said Merrifield, who has been working to retool the game. "There were big downloads, and a lot of machines couldn't carry it."

Merrifield worked with the development team in North Hollywood to apply some of what he learned with Club Penguin. Players needed to be able to dive quickly into Pirates and play the game as soon as they launched their browser, he said, instead of waiting for a time-consuming download.

More fundamentally, Merrifield encouraged the Pirates team to depart from the game's linear storytelling to adopt Club Penguin's open-ended approach, in which the players have more say in the narrative and provide direction on the types of weapons, battles or quests they experience online.

That represents a fundamental shift in Disney's philosophy. Previously, whenever players sent e-mails suggesting ways to improve online games like Pirates or Toontown, they got an automated response saying the entertainment company did not accept unsolicited ideas.

"We retooled it. The foundation is where it needs to be. . . . We're hearing a lot of stories now about kids playing," Merrifield said.

Allowing players to determine the action on screen, Merrifield said, provides "a limitless supply of new content" and allows kids to become the storytellers. He credits 8-year-olds with some of Club Penguin's most popular ideas -- like the addition of ninjas.

Merrifield is applying the same approach to World of Cars. Players start by designing their own car, picking from among body types (stock car, say, or sleek, aerodynamic Porsche), colors and race-car numbers. As they roll down the main drag of Radiator Springs, they can choose to interact with characters from the movie, or head to Fillmore Fields to race through a hay bale maze with friends playing online.

"My goal is to make sure that Disney, from a virtual world standpoint, has the same tradition that Pixar does in 3-D computer animation," Merrifield said

24 February 2010

Blockbuster Searching for Ways to Claw Back

Blockbuster Inc has hired a law firm and an investment bank to explore how the video rental firm can cut its $1 billion debt load, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges and the bank, Rothschild Inc, will also look at other strategies, such as acquisitions or partnerships, the newspaper said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Bondholders have also begun talking with potential advisers to move towards reworking Blockbuster's capital structure, such as converting debt to equity, the WSJ said.

"We don't contemplate filing for bankruptcy," it quoted Chief Executive Jim Keynes as saying.

Blockbuster is struggling to pare huge debt it inherited a decade ago when it was spun off from Viacom Inc, while trying to handle the increasing challenge from Netflix Inc and Redbox as well as Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Hulu and cable companies that have expanded video-on-demand offerings.

Blockbuster has also been in talks with Hollywood Video rental chain Movie Gallery Inc MVGR.PK, which filed for bankruptcy the second time in three years earlier this month, about acquiring assets, the business daily said.

Last month, the once mighty U.S. video chain, said it had a weaker-than-expected holiday season, fueling concerns about its viability.

The company, which already has sold off most of its international operations and may shut as many as 20 percent of its U.S. stores this year, said it plans to further reduce costs in 2010 and to remain "conservative" in its spending.

However, the restructuring discussions are in early stages and no major actions appear imminent, the paper said.

Blockbuster could not be immediately reached for comment by Reuters outside of regular U.S. business hours.

22 February 2010

Dalai Lama Offers Advice for . . . 'Tiger who?'

NY Daily News

The Dalai Lama said Saturday that he had - somehow - never heard of Tiger Woods.

When Woods' sex scandal was explained to him, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader emphasized the importance of self-discipline.

All religions have the same idea "when it comes to adultery," he said.

"Whether you call it Buddhism or another religion, self-discipline, that's important. . . . Self-discipline with awareness of consequences."

Woods, in his carefully scripted apology on Friday, struck a similar line.

He said that in recent years he had "drifted away" from the Buddhist values of his upbringing.

"Buddhism," he said, "teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint."

The embattled golf great said he was planning to rededicate himself to the Eastern religion, and that he owes it to those closest to him "to become a better man."

20 February 2010

Does Clampdown = the End for Bikini Baristas?

NY Daily News

The coffee is smoking hot in Seattle, but so are the waitresses.

The city gave us bikini baristas a few years ago by combining delicious hot coffee with scantily-clad waitresses. But now it seems the sexpresso craze could be coming to an end.

Five bikini baristas in the area of Everett, Wash., are accused of charging customers up to $80 for a little something extra on the side of their java.

The baristas allegedly fondled, flashed and took photos for some extra cash at the drive-thru window, sometimes in the view of passing traffic.

Authorities say the baristas will face prostitution charges in court next month.

Neighboring cities have started to crack down on the fad as well.

Last month Snohomish County began requiring all coffee-stand employees to wear at least a bikini, while the city of Lynnwood requires their baristas to wear more than pasties and a G-string.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Yakima city council is proposing similar rules, attempting to regulate their sexpresso stands as adult entertainment.

Burdening these establishments with the adult entertainment designation can lead to new zoning regulations and age minimums for customers.

Could this spell the end for bikini baristas?

"You have a bunch of church groups that got together and decided they just don't like women in bikinis," said Bill Wheeler, who runs four Grab-N-Go espresso stands.

"And in response a lot of these cities have decided to trample on First Amendment rights. It's sad because people are allowing it to happen."

'Family Guy' Actress with Down Syndrome Tells Sarah Palin to 'Lighten Up'

Chicago Tribune

Sarah Palin needs to lighten up? According to Andrea Fay Friedman, the woman who portrayed a character with Down syndrome on the animated comedy "Family Guy," she does. Palin lashed out at the Fox show on her Facebook page, calling last Sunday's episode a disappointment and like "another kick in the gut." Palin's youngest son, Trig, has Down syndrome.

But so does Friedman, who said "I guess former governor Palin does not have a sense of humor." She added that in her house, laughing is considered a good thing, and that the joke was aimed at the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, not Palin's son.

NBC: Hit the Road; Conan: Maybe I Will

NY Daily News

Conan O'Brien, former NBC 'Tonight Show' host, may take show on the road for live tour

Conan O'Brien was told to hit the road by NBC and he might just do that.

The former "Tonight" host, whose exit deal barred him from TV appearances for several months, is weighing a tour that would take him directly to his fans, according to a person familiar with the proposal.

Details are unsettled, the person said, but O'Brien may perform live at U.S. venues, including college campuses, or head to Europe.

An O'Brien spokesman declined comment.

The tour could be a prelude to a new talk show for the comedian, who left "Tonight" last month when NBC tried to bump him to a midnight slot.

Possibilities include Fox, which expressed interest.

Jay Leno reclaims "Tonight" next month.

James Cameron: Fox Didn't Want Avatar's 'Tree-Hugging Crap'

USA Today

Filmmaker James Cameron has spoken before about how his Avatar is a cautionary environmental tale. In a MTV interview this week, he says Fox wanted to remove its "treehugging crap," but environmentalists now want to create a curriculum based on it.

Cameron says he didn't initally pitch Avatar, which depicts a world of stunning beauty that's threatened with destruction, as an ecological warning. So Fox Studio executives were taken aback:
    When they read it, they sort of said, 'Can we take some of this tree-hugging, FernGully crap out of this movie?' And I said, 'No, because that's why I'm making the film.'

Cameron says Avatar doesn't provide facts about the planet's future, but its "eye candy" aims to jostle viewers out of their environmental "denial" and motivate them to work for change.
    Denial is a mental response based on fear... You have to fight an emotional response with an emotional response....

    If you're tuned in to what's happening in Avatar, you start to feel a sense of moral outrage when you see the tree fall [destroying the Na'vi's home], and it's a compassionate response for these people

    Then you feel a sense of uplift at the end as good vanquishes evil. If you put those two things together, it actually creates a ripe emotional matrix for people to want to do something about it.

Cameron says the film's had quite an impact so far:
    We're getting a tremendous amount of feedback from environmental groups, from people with specific causes," Cameron said, "whether it's indigenous people being displaced by companies to do mining or to do oil drilling, or if it's environmental groups saying, 'Let's do some curriculum around Avatar. ' "

Is Simon Dissing Howard?

People Magazine

Simon Cowell may be leaving American Idol after the current season but don’t think he doesn’t care about who his replacement will be. In a conference call Thursday with reporters, Cowell talked about who is right for his job, the rumors that he and Ellen DeGeneres are squabbling and why he thinks Lady Gaga should mentor the latest crop of Idol hopefuls.

There have been rumors that you and Ellen DeGeneres aren’t getting along. Could you address them?
I wouldn’t say that we didn’t get on well. I don’t know Ellen that well. It was a difficult position for her because she started work on the Hollywood week, which is quite a difficult show to do. There was one story I read that [said] I turned up an hour late for something and that she wanted to film. The truth was I think I turned up 15 or 20 minutes late because I did a press conference earlier in the day. And they did start filming, but that wasn’t a particular problem. There was no fall out. I was trying to guide her through the week and that was it really.

What do you miss most about Paula Abdul?
Well Paula is my friend, amazingly, even though we used to argue a lot. She was somebody I got really close to over the years. We’d hang out together after the show. She always made me laugh. I always thought she was funny. It was just like not having your friend on the show anymore, so I do miss her.

What does it feel like to have people say that you’re irreplaceable?
It’s very, very flattering. I really do appreciate it. Like I said before, the show goes on. I’m going to feel sad when it all ends.

What kind of person could replace you?

You have to be good looking. Secondly, you have to know what you’re talking about. I’m starting to realize with these shows that you have to put people on that actually know what they’re talking about. Rather than guessing, they really have to have experience, so that you cannot just criticize — you can offer constructive advice as well.

How much music experience is required for the judging job?
I think it’s really important. When we first started we had a record producer, an artist and an A&R man. So you’ve covered pretty much everything. I would say someone who has had managerial experience is always helpful. But in simplistic terms if you’re going to give a score you generally need to know what you’re talking about. I think over the years judges have been replaced by personalities. That in the long term will create problems because you’ve got to be able to spot a star. So whoever replaces me, my advice has always been find somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about.

How does that apply to Howard Stern?

He doesn’t seem to fit any of the criteria. He’s played records. Maybe that’s a good qualification — that he’s played records and is a DJ. But he obviously wants the job. Good luck to him.

You’ve said people need to be seasoned in the music business to be a judge. Are those comments directed at Ellen?
I was thinking that … people are going to misinterpret what I’m saying. I’ll tell you why I think Ellen is a good choice. She actually is very responsible for the people who perform on her show. I know that for a fact because I’ve dealt with her as a record label. She loves music and she’s been an artist. No it wasn’t meant to dis her credentials. It was specifically talking about my replacement because my role on the show is as someone who has run a successful record label. So that was specifically for my replacement.

Is it important that a woman win this year?

Depends what she’s like. We’ve had a few years now of guys winning the show. I would say that it’s definitely a better chance of a girl winning the show this year.

What would be the right type of woman to win?
You want somebody who represents what’s going on at the moment. I’d love to find a Taylor Swift … somebody who is relevant rather than just a contest winner.

What mentors are you hoping to work with during the season?

We should have Lady Gaga because she is the most relevant pop artist in the world at the moment. She’s very smart. I like her.

19 February 2010

A Restrained Relaunch for Jay Leno on NBC

USA Today

NBC considered depicting the failed Jay Leno Show as a mere dream: Promo spots would feature Leno and Victoria Principal in the shower, an homage to the classic Dallas scene in which Principal dreamed the death of her onscreen husband.

Instead, the network is opting for a low-key echo of the commercials that launched Leno: Last fall, he was shown driving a race car emblazoned with a 10, a reminder of his new slot.

In spots that began airing during the Olympics Wednesday night, he's driving the same car, only the 10 is replaced by 11:35 (or 10:35, depending on your time zone), as the Beatles song urges him to "Get back to where you once belonged."

The approach is in marked contrast to the hype — painted buildings, grocery-aisle ads — that greeted his move to prime time last fall. Back then he was heralded on the cover of Time as the "future of television"; on March 1, NBC tries to relaunch Leno in his late-night perch and repopulates its 10 ET/PT schedule with dramas and reality shows.

The consensus from experts is that, promos aside, the new/old Tonight Show will do better than Conan O'Brien's short-lived version but not as well as it did before Leno left. "The damage to the Leno brand is real," says Sam Armando of ad firm SMGx. Leno sought to repair the brand in a lengthy interview with Oprah Winfrey and a Super Bowl ad for rival David Letterman that was designed to mock Leno.

"Whether true or not, Jay was perceived as doing something that was kind of hurtful to Conan O'Brien," says Brent Poer of Mediavest, though "memory and sympathy can wane very quickly."

Says John Rash of Campbell Mithun: "He was the reigning king of late night. But the negative news on his show, his performance, his guests and his hold on pop culture were questioned loudly and repeatedly for months, which makes it more of a challenge."

Leno will reclaim the desk he abandoned during his five-month prime-time stint, along with most elements of the old Tonight. But longtime bandleader Kevin Eubanks is expected to leave eventually to "pursue touring and recording opportunities," NBC says.

Meanwhile, Letterman's Late Show, which has been the No. 1 late-night talk show since summer, is preparing to defend its newfound success.

Late Show had planned to take off in early March but will go dark next week instead, an unusual move during a ratings sweeps. It has booked A-list guests including Jerry Seinfeld (Leno's first prime-time guest), Tom Hanks and Matt Damon for its first two weeks against Tonight.

18 February 2010

News & Views: NBC Takes the Gold in Advertising Overkill

USA Today

We interrupt this commercial announcement for an Olympic broadcast.

Granted, that's probably an exaggeration. But you can't blame NBC's prime-time viewers for thinking they're spending more time on breaks than they are on skis, skates and snowboards combined.

Yet what can a cash-strapped NBC do? In hindsight, the network clearly bid too much to broadcast these Winter Games, a money-losing mistake for which it, and viewers, are now paying. Still, as long as America puts its Olympic broadcasts in the hands of free enterprise, and as long as the International Olympic Committee insists on getting roughly half its broadcast money from the American bid alone, we're going to find ourselves in this ad-crazed fix — particularly when a bad economy reduces the amount NBC can charge for what it gets.
Economics are also why the major events you do see — like Lindsey Vonn's gold-medal ski run Wednesday — are confined to prime time, even if that requires ditching "live" for tape (as it always does on the West Coast). Ad rates are highest in prime time, which means the network needs as many viewers there as it can possibly gather. It can't afford to diminish that audience by letting you watch, or worse, record, big events in the afternoon.

Breaks and tape, that's the game NBC is stuck playing; no sense trying to change the rules in the middle. But we can ask for a few tweaks:

•Divorce the Ref.  Considering that NBC has already said it's going to lose money on these games, we can't begrudge the network any ads it can sell. What grates are those incessant in-house promos for The Marriage Ref, Parenthood and The Celebrity Apprentice, among others. NBC has run so many of them so often, it's beginning to feel like we've already seen the shows and we're just waiting for the cancellation notices.

•Drop the Dragon.
  Never mind that those animated Viking-Olympic spots aren't funny, or that poor Bob Costas seems to cringe every time he has to introduce one. They're ads. Air them as ads, or don't air them at all.

•A little less Triumph of the Human Spirit
.  When we're back from a break, how about taking us to an event and skipping some of the profiles, particularly as NBC has returned to the sob-sister attitude it had ditched after Sydney. There's no doubt that many of the athletes have had to overcome adversity, but every setback isn't a tragedy — and tragedies are hardly the sole province of star athletes. If we can appreciate the Super Bowl without knowing every problem endured by every player, odds are we can do the same at the Olympics.

17 February 2010

NY Times Investigating Plagiarism Allegations

NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Times is looking into the work of one its reporters following accusations that he plagiarized from The Wall Street Journal and other sources.

The newspaper published an editor's note online Sunday and in papers Monday that said reporter Zachery Kouwe "appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations."

The Times said Journal editors pointed out similarities between a Journal story from Feb. 5 and Times pieces later that day and on Feb. 6. The Times said that a search found similar examples taken from media outlets such as Reuters and that an investigation was ongoing.

Kouwe declined to comment on Tuesday.

The Journal's letter listed six examples from a story about Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff's relatives.

Among the examples was a sentence from Journal reporter Amir Efrati that read, "Mr. Picard said the family received about $141 million in the six months leading up to Mr. Madoff's December 2008 arrest." The letter pointed out that Kouwe's version read, "Mr. Picard said the family received about $141 million in the six months leading up to Mr. Madoff's arrest in December 2008."

The Times said that a search of Kouwe's work didn't turn up any indications that his stories had any inaccuracies. The newspaper declined to comment on any penalties Kouwe could face.

However, the Times reported on its Web site Tuesday night that two people speaking on condition of anonymity said Kouwe resigned at a meeting late Tuesday afternoon with representatives of the Times, The New York Times Co. and the Newspaper Guild of New York to discuss possible disciplinary action.

"The Times has dealt with this, as we said we would in our Editors' Note, consistent with our standards to protect the integrity of our journalism," Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty said.

In 2003, Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned from the paper after it became clear that he had engaged in plagiarism and fabrications in his work.

Opinion: Will People Leave Facebook for Buzz? Fat Chance.


Let's say you'd constituted a drinking game for the aftermath of Tuesday's unveiling of Google Buzz, the odd new mishmash of status messages, geolocation, and social-media aggregation: Take a drink every time some pundit says Google is trying to "kill" Facebook, Twitter, or any number of the "geo" start-ups out there.

You'd have been totally blitzed.

The cries of "It's a Facebook killer!" and "It's going to kill Twitter!" are tedious, but completely understandable considering that this is one of the first big pushes from Google, which has never been able to get a good grip on social networking, to make inroads in the space. And Buzz is indeed a product that's reactionary as opposed to trailblazing. It's Google's biggest acknowledgment of the fact that people dig these short real-time messages and social-media sharing. It aims to take the reasons why people use Facebook, why people use Twitter, and why early adopters have started using "geo" services, and wrap them all up into a product intimately connected to its existing Gmail client.

But things are very different from the days just a few years ago when it seemed like any social-media site was in constant danger of being one-upped by another. The space has matured to a point where the rise of a new player means tens of millions of people voluntarily ditching the last one. Not easy. Facebook has surpassed 400 million active members around the world, and additionally announced Wednesday that it has 100 million of those members using its mobile Web site. That's a significantly deeper influence than Friendster or MySpace ever can claim to have had, and the rise of Twitter does not seem to have curbed its growth.

Facebook is a household name, and it takes a lot for a tech brand to reach that point. Google did it with search and iTunes has done it with music sales--which is why it takes massive companies like Microsoft and Amazon, respectively, to make a dent in that market share, and they've still had an uphill battle (to say the least).

So here's the positive news for Google: It's created a great way for people to actually start using Buzz, assuming they're Gmail users in the first place: The "Buzz" link is right below the "Inbox" link in Gmail, and when there are new messages on Buzz, it shows up just as though they were new e-mail messages. It's like we're already conditioned to check up on it.

But here's the thing. There's a whole lot else that people do on Facebook besides comment on one another's status messages--the biggest of which is the company's groundbreaking third-party app platform. The biggest social game on Facebook, Zynga's Farmville, attracts 75 million people per month. That's nearly a fifth of the social network playing a single game. Then there are the people who engage in other sorts of "games" on Facebook: the social capital that members feel they earn by getting tagged in a lot of photos and having a ton of wall posts from friends should not be sniffed at either, for example.

It's a different story for Twitter, a far smaller company with an active user base that arguably can't be considered fully mainstream. Twitter users with legitimate "social capital" are generally restricted to celebrities, media figures, and those who got on the bandwagon early, meaning that there are millions of casual and passive Twitter users whose allegiance to the service may not be anywhere as strong as their allegiance to Facebook. Buzz, even if it doesn't "kill" Twitter, has a chance to suck up some market share that Twitter's still striving to get.

Remember why Twitter really started to break into the mainstream in the first place? It had a lot less to do with social-networking than you'd think. Celeb-culture freaks wanted to see what funny links Ashton Kutcher was posting, or they'd heard it was the fastest way to get breaking news from across the world. Twitter's surprisingly high attrition rates, in turn, indicate that some of these passive users only experimented with it, and others might be reading the latest from Ellen DeGeneres and Perez Hilton without actually posting tweets themselves.

This is where I can see Google Buzz getting reach: in Twitter-like mass short-form communication, but for the audiences that haven't found the need or desire to dive into the jargon-filled, truncated culture of Twitter. If you use Twitter to read John Mayer's irreverent messages and get JetBlue deals, but don't actually update it yourself, Google Buzz might be a completely different product. For better or for worse, it's forced its way into your Gmail.

But it's a lot harder to force a ubiquitous social network out of people's lives. Importing a contact list is a pain in the butt regardless, and you can bet that Facebook won't make it any easier.

Nor has Google Buzz yet proven that it can offer something better than Facebook. The only thing it does that Facebook doesn't do is enable geotagged status messages; not only will those likely be coming to Facebook eventually, but geolocation is a feature that is far from mainstream acceptance and will likely go unnoticed by the average user. Early uncertainty about the exact privacy specifics of Google Buzz may quash any advantage it may have had in the public eye about being "safer" than Facebook.

There are reasons why people ditch Web services: the experience is bad, they're technologically stagnant, uptake wasn't enough to bring users back, or there are real financial incentives to go elsewhere. AOL's once-unstoppable dial-up service languished because its prices were undercut by faster cable and DSL providers, and its shiny software features were matched by cheaper, slicker technologies on the Web. Friendster's founder has blamed technical difficulties for the social-networking pioneer's plunge in U.S. popularity. MySpace's culture of "meet new people" and predominance of flashy, music-blaring profile pages was a turn-off for many adults.

Right now, Facebook is neither suffering from obsolescent technology nor facing an upstart alternative with some kind of financial perk. And Google Buzz, at least at launch, doesn't offer enough that's new.

Plus, there is absolutely no way to raise a barnyard of virtual pigs. That apparently means something to a lot of people.

15 February 2010

DirecTV Suing Dish Network for Ads Saying it's Cheaper

USA Today

Satellite TV provider DirecTV is suing its rival, Dish Network, for running an advertisement saying that Dish delivers the same programs for less money.

The TV commercial shows three TV sets broadcasting the same programs, with Dish(DISH) costing $39.99 a month, DirecTV (DTV)costing $63.99 and cable TV at $63.83.

DirecTV's lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in New York, accuses Dish of "blatantly false and misleading advertising." DirecTV said the subscription plan used in the commercial offers more than 140 channels while Dish Network's cheaper plan has fewer than 100 channels.

Dish said it stands by its claim. Dish launched its "Why Pay More" ad campaign last summer and since has been reversing a decline in subscribers.

During the Jan. 31 Grammy Awards, Dish unveiled a 30-second TV commercial that said customers are paying more for TV at DirecTV because the company used expensive celebrity endorsements. Dish said it has pulled the ad after getting complaints from some celebrities.

Behind Dish's recent ad campaign is advertising industry veteran Ira Bahr, Dish's chief marketing officer who joined the company in February 2009. He has said that so far, Dish's direct comparisons to DirecTV have been working.

Dish lost 94,000 net subscribers in the first quarter of 2009 and added 26,000 in the second quarter, its first increase in five quarters. By the third quarter, it gained 241,000.

NBC Commits to DeGeneres

LA Times

Warner Bros. has signed a new deal with NBC to keep Ellen DeGeneres' daytime talk show on 10 of the network's television stations, including WNBC-TV Channel 4 in New York and KNBC-TV Channel 4 in Los Angeles.
Holding on to DeGeneres' show is big for NBC's television stations. Walt Disney Co.'s ABC stations have a big hole to fill when Oprah Winfrey quits her syndicated daytime talk show in September 2011, and ABC was expected to make a hard push for DeGeneres to fill that void. The new contract with NBC will run through the 2013-14 television season.

ABC was not the only one interested in DeGeneres. OWN, Winfrey's new cable network in partnership with Discovery Communications also made a play for her, people familiar with the situation said. The Fox TV stations may also have been curious about DeGeneres, particularly since she is now a judge on "American Idol."

Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution sells "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" on a cash-plus-barter basis. In other words, TV stations pay cash and also give up a portion of commercial time in return for the show. Warner Bros. declined to comment on terms of the deal. One industry insider with knowledge of the daytime talk business said NBC paid between $250,000 and $300,000 per-week for the show in its current deal. NBC's price tag was a little less than what other stations in big cities paid.
For NBC, the renewal of DeGeneres is the second big deal it's made in the last few weeks. It recently reached an agreement with Sony for its new daytime talk show featuring Nate Berkus that will start this fall. Berkus is an interior designer who has been a regular on Winfrey's show. NBC's television stations have holes to fill because Martha Stewart quit her daytime show.

"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" does not generally compete head to head with Winfrey. When Winfrey leaves next year, don't be surprised if NBC's television stations move DeGeneres to whatever time slots were occupied by the reigning queen of talk. Her show averages over 3 million viewers, putting it second behind Winfrey's show, which averages just under 7 million viewers.

ABC now has one less option to consider when it decides how to replace Winfrey on its big-city television stations, including WABC-TV Channel 7 in New York and KABC-TV Channel 7 in  Los Angeles. There has been some talk that ABC might look to move its morning chat show "The View" to the afternoons to fill Winfrey's slots.

13 February 2010

Parents Group Petitions Fox to Keep Howard Stern Off 'Idol'

US Magazine

The Parents Television Council is up in arms over rumors that Howard Stern may replace Simon Cowell on American Idol next year.

"Fox's American Idol is one of the few family-friendly programs left on broadcast TV," the group says in a statement, before slamming the network for "considering filling the show with someone who is known primarily for crude profanity and explicit sex talk."

The Parents Television Council -- which has also protested sexy scenes on Gossip Girl -- is urging parents to sign a petition to keep Stern, 56, off the reality hit.

They point out some of Stern's most controversial comments: "[This is] the same Howard Stern who said of the gunmen at the school massacre in Columbine, ‘Did those kids try to have sex with any of the good-looking girls?...If you're going to kill yourself and kill all the kids, why wouldn't you have some sex?'"

They also quote Stern speaking graphically about Fantasia, the Season 3 winner, before asking parents to "protect America's children and grandchildren from being exposed to this kind of language every week on American Idol, it is absolutely vital that you TELL FOX NOT TO HIRE HOWARD STERN!"

In an UsMagazine.com poll, more than 80 percent of readers voted that Stern wouldn't be a good fit. Judge Kara DioGuardi agreed, telling reporters Wednesday, "I don't know that he has a musical background. I think that if you're gonna replace Simon, you have to have that background."

12 February 2010

Pixar Finance Chief To Join Twitter As CFO

The Wall Street Journal

Twitter Inc. on Wednesday named Pixar Animation Studios' current finance chief to be the micro-blogging service's new chief financial officer, part of the company's drive to develop new sources of revenue.

Ali Rowghani, who has served in several roles at Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) Pixar since 2001, will join Twitter in March.

"Ali will be an important member of a growing team focused on creating value for our users and capturing the financial opportunities that result from it," said Twitter Chief Executive Evan Williams.

The San Francisco-based micro-blogging service, which lets users blast short messages their from computers and mobile phones, has been one of the hottest brands in the technology sector over the past two years or so.

But critics have been quick to point out that while Twitter had more than 60 million unique users in December, it still does not generate significant revenue. Twitter recently struck deals to provide Internet giants like Google Inc. (GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) with real-time access to its stream of tweets. The company does not provide financial details.

Twitter last year secured about $100 million from a group of investors that includes mutual-fund giant T. Rowe Price Group Inc., private-equity firm Insight Venture Partners and venture group Benchmark Capital.

Currently CFO and Senior VP of Strategic Planning at Pixar, Rowghani previous served as director of the company's production finance and strategy group. Prior to joining Pixar, Rowghani was an associate at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

11 February 2010

How Do You Think it Feels?

The Wall Street Journal
Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music' Performed by Fireworks Ensemble

Any concert with the title "Metal Machine Music" is bound to be loud. But when you are handed earplugs at the entrance to the concert hall, you know you are in for a full-out assault. The program notes to Feb. 5's performance at the Miller Theatre of Lou Reed's cult album of the same name, arranged by Ulrich Krieger for amplified chamber orchestra, contained the usual request to turn off cellphones. But once the music began, even a Super Bowl stadium announcer would have had trouble making himself heard.

Anyone familiar with Mr. Reed's album would have expected nothing less. The recording, released in 1975 as a double LP, consists of more than an hour of distorted guitar feedback, which Mr. Reed created by leaning two electric guitars against speakers so that the reverberations triggered a series of overtones bouncing off each other. The music, if it can be called that, was created exclusively by the machines.

Rolling Stone magazine likened the result to the "tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator"; more recently, rock critic William Ham said it "sounds like Marshall stacks being pack-raped by angry kitchen appliances." Some suspected it was just Mr. Reed giving his record company and fans the finger, but others saw in it the birth of punk, heavy metal and industrial music.

For Mr. Krieger, a German composer and conductor, the work is "the missing link between contemporary classical music and advanced rock music." By arranging it for orchestral instruments (including both acoustic and electric string instruments, each hooked up to its own amplifier) and performing it in a concert hall, he sought to bring the machine-made relic to life and give it a social, ritual dimension.

The performance by the New York-based Fireworks Ensemble was made up of four parts, each lasting between 15 and 20 minutes and consisting of a single chord, sustained at a ferocious volume, with all its shrieking, squealing, growling overtones. To imitate the sound of distorted electric guitars, Mr. Krieger drew on unusual techniques. The string players spent much of the concert sawing away at their instruments in furious
tremolo bowing, sometimes holding the bow at the wrong end. At times a cellist would hold the bow with both hands; a violinist might place his instrument on his lap, bowing it like a cello. All the while, overtones were created with the left hand sometimes fluttering, sometimes slapping, at other times limply dragging over the fingerboard. Wind players re-created the painful whistle of microphone feedback with deliberately flat, even notes, some produced with the microphones stuck inside the bells of their instruments.

Those audience members who—out of oversight or misplaced bravado—had forgone the free earplugs were soon jamming their fingers in their ears in sheer self-defense. Ears were far from the only organs being assaulted. Within the sustained, virtually unchanging overall volume—a jackhammer-like 110 decibels—subtle differences in timbre were felt in different parts of the body: The tuba announced itself as a throbbing in the diaphragm; the amplified sound of a bow being dragged over the edge of a cymbal could make your gums contract. Rib cages buzzed as the violinists dug in deep, headbanging with the effort of wrenching an additional sforzando out of their instruments. Broken bow hairs flew in the air.

The frenetic activity on stage was at odds with the static tonality of the individual "movements," each one a single, vast, terrifying chord that bloomed like a nuclear mushroom cloud. And yet somewhere in there lay the possibility for contemplation. The overtones, although machine-generated, had a way of organizing themselves into patterns that evoked different kinds of music. Layered on top of the steady drone of a chord there were echoes of Highland bagpipes and Tibetan prayer chant. Rhythms emerged, sketching the beginning of a recognizable motif before disappearing again in the general anarchy. By amplifying the texture of the sound, the work managed to explode the notion of the purity of a single chord the way a powerful microscope might reveal a seemingly pure drop of water to be teeming with weird organisms.

The audience—a mix of the hip and the gray-haired—earnestly sat through the experience. Only a handful of mostly young members slunk away at the earliest opportunity. In between parts some applauded politely; most held back the way you would in between movements of a symphony in order not to disturb the work's narrative arc. Afterward, when Mr. Krieger and Mr. Reed embraced on stage, the ovation may have been thunderous—though it was hard to tell given the context. There appeared to be a smattering of boos among the whoops and bravos, but with one's ears still ringing it was hard to say. It might have been yet more feedback.

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

The Wall Street Journal
Advertisers use iconic images to attract seniors

BOYNTON BEACH, FLA.—In recent weeks, the Beatles, Gene Kelly and a dog named Lassie have been spotted at Flakowitz, a popular deli here.

There's usually a long line of customers, mostly senior citizens, waiting for tables. And lately, they've been passing time by leafing through a glossy new magazine stacked by the entrance. The free publication, titled Nostalgic America, matches iconic images with local advertisements aimed at seniors.

And so the Beatles' 1964 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" is being used to pitch a long-term-care facility, Gene Kelly's 1952 rendition of "Singin' in the Rain" is paired with a company selling "final-expense insurance," and the 1955 audition of dogs vying for the role of Lassie is being used to bring attention to a home-care agency specializing in "hygiene supervision" and "medication reminders."

It may give us pause that people's memories of the Beatles are now being tapped to bring attention to a facility that offers "memory support" facilities and a locked Alzheimer's wing. But from a marketing standpoint, it makes sense.

As we age and our nostalgic yearnings swell, we become more receptive to advertisers, marketers, politicians and entertainers who make use of what researchers call "a longing for positive memories from the past." The science of nostalgia isn't yet fully understood, but studies have been identifying the nostalgic cues that can be exploited and the ways in which images from the past can yield favorable attitudes about products in the present.

For instance, people tend to most prefer musical recordings that were released when they were teenagers or young adults, with their interest peaking at about 23½ years of age, according to studies by researchers at Columbia University and Rutgers University. Those who were 23½ on Feb. 9, 1964, when the Beatles appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show," will be turning 70 this year. That places them in the right demographic for Classic Residence by Hyatt at Lakeside Village, the facility that shared Nostalgic America's cover last month with the Beatles.

Beatles photos, along with images of Wilt Chamberlain, Elvis Presley, Johnny Carson and others, are also used in a Classic Residence program called "The American Century," which serves residents in the memory-support and assisted-living facilities. The program takes residents through the decades of their lives, celebrating each era with food, music and pop-culture references popular at the time. Many suffer from dementia and have little short-term memory.

"They might not remember what they had for lunch, but they can sing along with Sinatra and know all the words," says Barbara Kelley, director of sales at the Lakeside Village Classic Residence, which has about 400 residents ages 70 to 100.

The music, cars and movies you identify with when you're young stick with you the rest of your life, say David Sprott and Darrel Muehling, researchers at Washington State University who study the marketing of nostalgia. While women may be slightly more nostalgia-prone than men, both sexes have a tendency to remember the past positively. "Most of us view ourselves as good, moral, competent people," says Dr. Sprott. "Memories of our past go in that direction, too. Negative details fade away."

The two researchers have found that nostalgia becomes especially potent during holidays, when people are more focused on family memories, and in uncertain times, such as wars, recessions or cultural upheaval. Moments of transition—retirement, job loss, graduations—also heighten nostalgic feelings.

For marketers, the key is finding the right music or images. It's not even necessary for a song or cultural reference to directly relate to their products, as long as warm feelings are stirred inside us. "The emotions generated from that good feeling then influences people's evaluation of the products," says Dr. Sprott.

Sandals Resorts is now using the song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" in commercials for its romantic vacation destinations in the Caribbean. The song, recorded by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, was made famous in the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing," and as nostalgia, it does double duty, because the movie itself was set in 1963. So the song conjures up memories of both the 1980s and the 1960s. People who were in their 20s in 1963 are now in their 60s and 70s. Those in their 20s in 1987 are now in their 40s and 50s. Both age groups are key demographics for Sandals.
This month, Chubby Checker was tapped to promote the Social Security Administration. A promotional video begins in black and white, showing him doing the twist with young dancers in early 1960s clothing. As the dancers fade into the background, Mr. Checker's image brightens into color, while he says, "A new twist in the law makes it easier than ever to save on your Medicare prescription drug-plan costs."

Using nostalgia to reach both young and old consumers simultaneously can be difficult, but Coleman Co. is attempting to do just that. The company—which sells tents, lanterns and other camping gear—is now billing "the Coleman Campsite" as "the original social-networking site."

To create the campaign, Coleman asked its customers to send in home movies of their camping adventures from decades ago. The footage was then used in commercials, print ads and online marketing.

Like Facebook, old-style camping is all about "connecting and sharing," the ads explain. "The only difference between a campsite and a social-networking site is one you do online and the other you do when you don't want to shower for a few days."

Such a campaign has its risks. "The more you reinforce nostalgia, the more you risk alienating the younger generation," says Jeff Willard, Coleman's senior vice president of marketing. But his company thought the gamble was worth taking.

"We're in the entertainment business," he says. "Our competition is Xbox and Guitar Hero. We're also in the memory business. We're selling experiences that lead to lasting memories. So we were looking for a way to keep our nostalgic brand and heritage while connecting us with a new generation."

Even when people are fully aware that they're being wooed with nostalgia, they often embrace the effort. Howard Silver, a 79-year-old retired health-care executive who lives in Boynton Beach, picks up Nostalgic America at his local supermarket and saves each issue. He doesn't mind that images from his free-spirited youth are now being paired with ads reminding him that the road ahead may be short.

"The pictures bring a smile to your face and bring back good memories," he says. "The ads underneath the pictures bring you back to reality. But that's OK, because we have to live in reality. I lost three friends suddenly in the last year. I had a six-way heart bypass two years ago."

If Nostalgic America's experiment in South Florida is successful—matching iconic images with local advertising—it plans to publish editions in other key retirement locations, including Arizona and South Carolina. The Florida-based publication, which debuted last November, is available at numerous locations in Palm Beach County.

In its December issue, it featured a photo of the first Little League game, played in 1939, and matched it with a "hearing wellness center." Walter Cronkite's first day as a CBS anchor in 1962 was used beside an ad for a nursing and rehab center. The debut of "I Love Lucy" in 1951 was placed alongside a reverse-mortgage pitch.

"It's bittersweet seeing those pictures," says Mr. Silver. "I look at those days and wish they'd come back, while knowing that they can't. But it's nice for people my age to remember the good times. To tell you the truth, that's what keeps us going."

Super Bowl XLIV Most-Watched Television Broadcast Ever

NEW YORK (AP) - The New Orleans Saints' victory over Indianapolis in the Super Bowl was watched by more than 106 million people, surpassing the 1983 finale of "M-A-S-H" to become the most-watched program in U.S. television history, the Nielsen Co. said Monday.

Compelling story lines involving the city of New Orleans and its ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the attempt at a second Super Bowl ring for Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning propelled the viewership. Football ratings have been strong all season.

"It was one of those magical moments that you don't often see in sports," said Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports.

Nielsen estimated Monday that 106.5 million people watched Sunday's Super Bowl. The "M-A-S-H" record was 105.97 million.

The viewership estimate obliterated the previous record viewership for a Super Bowl - last year's game between Arizona and Pittsburgh. That game was seen by 98.7 million people, Nielsen said.

The "M-A-S-H" record has proven as durable and meaningful in television as Babe Ruth's record of 714 home runs was in baseball until topped by Hank Aaron. Ultimately, it may be hard to tell which program was really watched by more people. There's a margin for error in such numbers, and Nielsen's Monday estimate was preliminary, and could change with a more thorough look at data due Tuesday.

"It's significant for all of the members of the broadcasting community," said Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. CEO. "For anyone who wants to write that broadcasting is dead, 106 million people watched this program. You can't find that anywhere else."

Moonves predicted CBS will earn more in advertising revenue than in any other Super Bowl. The good ratings for the game and football in general also set CBS and other football broadcasters up well when selling advertising for next season, he said.

The Nielsen estimate also drew some congratulations from Alan Alda, the star of "M-A-S-H," and the slugger whose record was beaten.

"If the 'M-A-S-H' audience was eclipsed, it was probably due in large part to the fact that the whole country is rooting for New Orleans to triumph in every way possible," Alda said. "I am, too, and I couldn't be happier for them. I love that city."

There are more American homes with television sets now (114.9 million) than there were in 1983 (83.3 million). An estimated 77 percent of homes with TVs on were watching "M-A-S-H" in 1983, compared with the audience share of 68 for the Super Bowl.

Nielsen also measures only the United States, and it's possible some World Cup soccer games were seen more worldwide. Accurate measurement of television audiences outside the United States is spotty at best.

Alda also wondered whether the numbers were too close to declare a new champion. He thinks Nielsen didn't take into account large numbers of people watching "M-A-S-H" communally, which is often the case for football games, too.

"Not to say I'm competitive, but in part we are talking about sports," he said. "And I actually AM competitive."

McManus didn't want to jinx it, but the abnormally strong viewership for football this year left him hoping for a record. The NFC and AFC championship games both had their biggest audiences since the 1980s. The growth of high-definition television and its appeal to sports fans has also helped.

A competitive game until the final minutes sealed it. McManus acknowledged some nervousness when Indianapolis jumped out to a 10-0 lead - a Super Bowl rout often makes people turn away from the game - but New Orleans roared back.

The Mid-Atlantic blizzard also helped CBS. After New Orleans, the highest-rated market was snowbound Washington, Nielsen said. More people watched the game from their homes in that area instead of going to parties or bars, and Nielsen does a much better job counting viewers in homes than outside of them.

"Bad weather in the Northeast and good weather in Florida was a good combination for us," McManus said.

The Super Bowl also proved a strong launching pad for the new CBS series "Undercover Boss" that premiered after the game. An estimated 38.6 million people watched the first edition of a series about corporate honchos working secretly as low-level employees in their own companies, Nielsen said. That's third only to a 1996 "Friends" and 2001 "Survivor" as the most-watched program after the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Dorito's was a big winner in a measurement of interest in the commercials played during the Super Bowl. TiVo Inc. said the snack company's ad featuring a boy telling a man to keep his hands off his chips and his mom was stopped and played back in 15 percent of homes with the digital video recorder.

The secretly filmed CBS promo with David Letterman, Jay Leno and Oprah Winfrey came in second, followed by the Snicker's ad with Betty White and Abe Vigoda flattened in a football game.

In general, however, TiVo found less interest in the commercials than it has in previous years, judged by how many people paused live action to see them, said Todd Juenger, general manager of TiVo's research department.

10 February 2010

Google to Add Social Feature to Gmail

The Wall Street Journal

Google Inc. is taking a swipe at Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. with a new feature that makes it easier for users of Gmail to view media and status updates shared online by their friends.

Google could announce the new Gmail feature as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

The change adds a module to the Gmail screen that will display a stream of updates from individuals a user chooses to connect with, said one of these people. It is a format popularized by Facebook and Twitter.

Yahoo Inc. added a similar feature to Yahoo Mail last year, allowing users to see whether friends have uploaded a photo to a site like Flickr, for example.

Google, too, is trying to get users to turn to Gmail as a place they can go to see what's up with their friends. But whether users will want to blend sending email with browsing friends' content is unclear.

Google has been trying to fashion Gmail into more than an email service for years. It currently lets users set an "away message"—which can be a link to a Web site—that their friends see when they message them.

The new stream will eventually include content that a user's connections share through Google's YouTube video site and Picasa photo service, according to one person familiar with the matter. But whether those features will be announced in the coming days remains unclear.

Google's move comes after Facebook last week rolled out a new design with a newmessage inbox that more closely resembles an email inbox like Gmail's. The social-networking company said it had roughly 400 million users. Gmail had 176 million unique visitors in December, according to comScore Inc.

09 February 2010

He's Sirius: Stern Says there's 'No Better Job' than being 'Idol' Judge

NY Post

Shock jock Howard Stern is singing a new tune -- admitting today that he's considering leaving radio to become a judge on “American Idol” next season.

Stern confirmed a Page Six report that Fox is interested in hiring him to replace Simon Cowell on the top-rated show.

“There’s not a better job on the planet than judging that f----ing karaoke contest,” Stern told listeners during his Sirius satellite radio show, according to excerpts published on MTV.com.

“It might be possible. We’ll see,” said Stern, adding that the network would "have to pay me a ton of dough because I already make a ton of dough.”

The Post reported Friday that Fox was interested in hiring Stern.

Stern, who lives in the city, is believed to be reluctant to commit to a show that would require him to tour the country as a judge and spend much of the year in Los Angeles.

Stern’s five-year, $500 million contract with Sirius expires at the end of this year.

When it comes to money, Stern said Fox would have to pay him big bucks to join the show.

"A $100 million to judge a karaoke contest? Yeah, I would do that show for $100 million,” he joked.

As for replacing the acid-tongued Cowell, Stern said, "If I do say so myself, I can't imagine anyone else but me replacing him ... How else are they going to make that show work? Who knows how to broadcast and who knows how to be interesting? And who's not afraid to speak their mind?"

A Fox spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Fox is owned by News Corp., which also owns The Post.

CBS' Controversial Calls

San Francisco Chronicle

The Standards and Practices Department at CBS has had a busy few weeks trying to decide what will and what will not offend us during commercial breaks in today's Super Bowl. This is no small responsibility. The Super Bowl not only draws an audience of 100 million, but it's also the one televised event in which the commercials have become a much-anticipated part of the show. So when CBS decides that Americans can handle a poignant personal appeal against abortion but would be put off by humorous treatments of homosexuality, the broadcast network is offering a commentary on what it sees as the sensibilities of the times.

Censorship can be a dangerous game in this age of the Internet. A quick Google search of "banned Super Bowl ads" will produce links to everything CBS refused to let you see.

The network's two most controversial decisions - to accept the anti-abortion spot with the mother of quarterback Tim Tebow and to reject the ad for the gay dating service Man Crunch - show a curious inconsistency.

Anyone who thinks that sex is out of bounds on CBS Sports has not watched much football this season. Each week brings an onslaught of advertising for erectile dysfunction drugs, often preceded by close-up shots of NFL cheerleaders accentuating their cleavage.

If the CBS concern is about awkwardness with young children, I think most parents would find it easier to deflect - or laugh off - the slapstick Man Crunch ad than explain a narrator's somber warning to seek medical attention "for an erection lasting more than four hours."

In the Man Crunch ad, two jersey-clad guys inadvertently touch hands while reaching into a bowl of chips, then plunge into a comically frenzied make-out session. If history is a guide, commercials featuring women - aimed at heterosexual men - will be far racier. Past Super Bowls have featured ads with a woman flashing her breasts at a congressional hearing and two women tearing each other's clothes off in a mud-bath fight over whether Miller Lite was "great tasting" or "less filling."

At least the Man Crunch stars had the decency to keep their jerseys on.

CBS also refused to air a gay-themed ad titled "Lola," about a retired football player who becomes a lingerie entrepreneur. The network reportedly objected to the "stereotypical tone" in the portrayal of an ex-player with a penchant for pink and frilly outfits.

"Lola" was offered up by GoDaddy, a company that has built its brand identity on Super Bowl Sundays with giggles and jiggles that have nothing to do with its business of selling domain names. GoDaddy's replacement ad reportedly spoofs its push against the boundaries of taste: It plays a mock interview with race-car driver Danica Patrick about the controversy, and ends with a woman ripping off her top to reveal the GoDaddy logo.

So the message from CBS is: Objectification and misogyny are OK; stereotypes are not. Fights and flashes of flesh are fine; madcap makeouts are not.

Most of the pregame controversy has centered on CBS' acceptance of an anti-abortion ad by the conservative group Focus on the Family. The spot features the mother of Heisman Trophy winner Tebow recalling how she was advised by doctors to terminate her pregnancy after contracting dysentery while serving as a missionary in the Philippines in 1987. Pam Tebow ignored that advice, and gave birth to a son who became a star quarterback. He appears in the spot.

Various women's groups have objected to the CBS decision to run the Tebow ad. Planned Parenthood even produced a rebuttal for the Web featuring athletes Sean James and Al Joyner talking about choice and respect for women.

All this furor assures that the chatter will stop in living rooms across the country when "the Tim Tebow ad!" comes on.

I think Americans can handle a little controversy with their football. I don't think Focus on the Family will change many minds for the $3 million it will be paying for each 30 seconds of air time.

However, the most super deal of all was had by Man Crunch, which got a bounty of attention without shelling out a dime to CBS.

08 February 2010

Oprah Acts as Mediator in Letterman's Super Bowl Ad

Google Runs Television Ad During Super Bowl


Google Inc., the world’s most popular search engine, ran a minute-long commercial during the Super Bowl, marking a rare use of TV advertising for the company.

The ad demonstrated features of the company’s search engine, including its translation functions. The commercial, called “Parisian Love,” showed an Internet user relying on Google to court someone in France.

Google hasn’t typically relied on television ads to publicize its products, though it did use TV to promote its Chrome Web browser last year. Those commercials, which were developed by Google’s Japanese employees, first aired on the YouTube video site. The Super Bowl commercial had a similar origin: It was part of a series of videos that ran on YouTube for more than three months.

“We didn’t set out to do a Super Bowl ad, or even a TV ad for search,” Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said in a blog posting yesterday. “Our goal was simply to create a series of short online videos about our products and our users, and how they interact. But we liked this video so much, and it’s had such a positive reaction on YouTube, that we decided to share it with a wider audience.”

Schmidt signaled that the Super Bowl commercial was coming last week, saying in a Twitter update that he couldn’t wait to watch the game. “Be sure to watch the ads in the third quarter,” he said.

The Super Bowl, held at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami, pitted the Indianapolis Colts against the New Orleans Saints for the National Football League championship. The Saints won 31-17.

CBS Corp., which broadcast the game, said the cost of some of the Super Bowl ads exceeded $3 million for a 30-second spot. The game drew an estimated 106.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in U.S. television history, according to Nielsen Co.

Google rose $2.18 to $533.47 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The shares have fallen 14 percent this year.

Pepsi Chooses Social Media Over Super Bowl Ads

San Francisco Chronicle

The rise of social media has helped end one of the longest streaks in Super Bowl history - Pepsi won't have a televised commercial during the big game for the first time in 23 years.

Instead of paying millions of dollars for 30 seconds of airtime, the soft drink giant is pouring resources into an online social-networking campaign designed to engage and interact with customers for months.

It's a move that raised eyebrows among traditional media watchers, but social media experts say Pepsi has called the right play for a rapidly changing advertising game in which consumers are becoming the mass media that carry the message.

And relying on standard TV, print or online banner ads may no longer be enough.

"People are expecting the same interactivity, the same engagement that they're finding when they use Facebook or when they are Twittering," said social-media marketing consultant Carnet Williams, founder of Sprout Inc. of San Francisco.

The Super Bowl telecast is considered the top advertising opportunity of the year on American television. For Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, CBS-TV was reportedly asking as much as $3 million for a 30-second spot.
Joining conversation

Yet the growing prominence of social networks like Facebook and Twitter is causing advertisers to look beyond broadcasting its brand once or twice to 100 million people to joining the conversation stream emanating from the audience itself.

Several Super Bowl advertisers are incorporating social media into their commercials. Budweiser, for example, asked voters on its Facebook page to vote for which commercials to air during the game, while Monster.com's Facebook page featured video of a fiddling beaver that is scheduled to star in the online job company's Super Bowl ad.
Coke's donation

And Pepsi's archrival, Coca-Cola, is donating $1 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America for every virtual Coke gift that Facebook fans send to their friends.

But PepsiCo Inc., which reportedly spent $254 million on Super Bowl commercials over the past two decades, decided not to run any soft drink spots during the game, although the company will continue to pitch its Doritos snack food brand.
Online campaign

Instead, it launched an online campaign on Monday called the Pepsi Refresh Project, pledging to donate more than $1 million in February alone to social causes and community projects nominated and selected in a vote by fans. Pepsi is committing about $20 million in donations through the end of this year, with a new round of voting each month.

"The project is about creating a movement, not just a moment," said Bonin Bough, PepsiCo's global director of digital and social media.

A key component is a Facebook page that by Friday had more than 342,000 fans. Pepsi is also using Twitter, live Ustream video and an iPhone application.

Pepsi hopes those fans will vote, post comments and passionately promote their favorite causes - and along the way, the Pepsi brand - within their own networks of friends.

"They allow us to build deeper relationships and deeper dialogue with our customers," Bough said. With digital media, he said, "consumers are using it in totally different ways than advertisers ever expected them to."

Among the early top vote-getters was an organization hoping to ship 5,000 Girl Scout Cookies to military troops and another offering to send a care package to needy expectant parents. Movie stars Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon posted videos promoting their own favorite causes, which stand to win a $250,000 Pepsi grant.

Bough said more than 1,000 causes for February were nominated in the campaign's first 72 hours and Pepsi has already reached the maximum number of submissions for March.
Praising decision

Jessica Ong, director of online media and search for the Internet traffic measurement company Compete Inc., said Pepsi made the right decision to shift ad dollars away from the Super Bowl and to social media.

"It's really a good example of content that gives consumers incentives to come back and interact with the site," Ong said. "It is going to open the eyes and ears of those working at other brands to consider online channels."

Ong said she examined the response to Pepsi's sponsorship of NFL.com's Rookie of the Week voting during the regular season. People exposed to the sponsored site were far more likely to visit a Pepsi site, including RefreshEverything.com.

And more than 83 percent visited Pepsi sites instead of those of rival Coke, she said.

05 February 2010

Facebook Replacing Blogging for Teens

San Francisco Chronicle

Blogging is becoming a thing of the past for teens and young adults, who are now far more likely to keep in touch with friends on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, according to a new study.

"Since 2006, blogging has dropped among teens and young adults while simultaneously rising among older adults," states a Pew Internet & American Life Project report on social media and mobile Internet use among young people. "As the tools and technology embedded in social networking sites change, and use of the sites continues to grow, youth may be exchanging 'macro-blogging' for microblogging with status updates."

In 2006, 28% of teen Internet users were blogging, and now only 14% do so. Adult blog use is steadily increasing, with one in 10 online adults now maintaining a blog.

Social networking sites are becoming more popular among both teens and adults. Nearly half of adults who use the Web belong to a social networking site, but the trend is even more pronounced among youth.

"[Seventy-three percent] of wired American teens now use social networking websites, a significant increase from previous surveys," Pew reports. "Just over half of online teens (55%) used social networking sites in November 2006 and 65% did so in February 2008."

Young adults ages 18 to 29 have similar habits to teens when it comes to social networking, with 72% of Web users in that age group using the social Web sites. Facebook is the most popular social network for both young adults and adults 30 and older.

Most social networking users are embracing multiple sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.

Among young adults, 71% of people with a social network profile use Facebook, 66% use MySpace and 7% use LinkedIn.

Among the 30-plus crowd, 75% use Facebook, 36% use MySpace and 19% are on LinkedIn.

Twitter is most popular among young adults ages 18-29, with one-third using such services. Just 8% of kids age 12 to 17 use Twitter.

The study also found that "wireless internet use rates are especially high among young adults, and the laptop has replaced the desktop as the computer of choice among those under thirty."

The Pew Survey included 800 teens ages 12 to 17 and their parents; and 2,253 adults ages 18 and older.

Monster Pays Yahoo $225 Million for HotJobs

The Washington Post

Yahoo has ben trying to unload HotJobs for a while, and it finally came to a deal with Monster, which will take the site off of Yahoo's hands for $225 million in cash. As part of the deal, Monster will continue to power Yahoo's job listings for three years.

Both Hotjobs and Monster have been lagging newer job search sites such as Indeed, which searches the entire Web for job listings. According to comScore, Indeed's jog search reached 8.4 million individuals in the U.S. in December, 2009, compared to only 5.4 million for HotJobs and 6.1 million for Monster. Maybe with the acquisition, Monster can take the top spot again, although there is a lot of overlap in those numbers.

For Yahoo, it gets rid of a declining property, boosts to its cash position, and can focus on growth areas in Yahoo seo. Yahoo has been selling off or shutting dow non-core assets, including recently selling Zimbra to VMWare for $350 million, shutting down its Shopping API, and of course the long-awaited deal with Microsoft to hand over its search to Bing.

Monster recently launched its 6Sense semantic search technology across different products including resume and candidate search. 6Sense is aimed at bringing up more relevant results even when there is no exact keyword match by using semantic analysis and understanding the different ays that the same job or job requirements can be described. Monster needs all the help it can get. Today it announced fourth quarter revenues of $213 million, down 27 percent, and a net loss of $2.1 million. For the year, revenues were down 32 percent to $905 million. Full year net income was $19 million, compared to $125 million in 2008.