29 April 2010

Viacom Quarterly Profit Jumps 38 Percent

Variety

MTV Recover leads media network growth

 
 
Viacom said Thursday net profit jumped 38% to $245 million last quarter on solid growth in media networks, led by a recovery at MTV – which posted its best-rated quarter in almost two years -- narrowed losses at filmed entertainment, and lower expenses.

Revenue dipped 4% to $2.79 billion as growth in affiliate and advertising sales was more than offset by lower feature film revenue.

"With a boost in ratings at our core networks and the advertising market showing signs of strength, our ad revenues moved into positive territory and are continuing that upward trend," said CEO Philippe Dauman in a statement.

Media Networks saw revenue rise 4% to $1.94 billion for the three months ended in March. Operating income grew 9% to $684 million.

Domestic advertising revenue nosed up 1% and worldwide ad revenue grew 3%. Worldwide affiliate revenue jumped 9%, due mainly to rate increases. Ancillary revenue fell 9% on softer sales of Rock Band music video games worldwide.

Networks include MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, CMT, Logo, Comedy Central, Spike TV, BET and others.

Filmed Entertainment led by Paramount Pictures saw revenue fell 18% to $886 million on a 34% plunge in home entertainment sales. Operating losses for the division narrowed to $86 million from $123 million.

The revenue drop was mostly due to strong sales in the previous year's quarter of "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa." There was no comparable seller this year, although the current quarter did benefit from sales of "Star Trek," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra."

Theatrical revenue fell 6% and television license fees were down 16%.

Paramount opens the summer movie season next weekend with "Iron Man 2," followed by DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek Forever After" in 3D and Nickelodeon's "The Last Airbender" by M. Knight Shyamalan.

28 April 2010

Teaching Young People How to Read Advertisements

NY Times
A federal agency is undertaking an effort to school youngsters in the ways of Madison Avenue.


 
 
The initiative seeks to educate children in grades four through six — tweens, in the parlance of marketing — about how advertising works so they can make better, more informed choices when they shop or when they ask parents to shop on their behalf.

The centerpiece of the effort is a Web site called Admongo (admongo.gov), where visitors can get an “ad-ucation” by playing a game featuring make-believe products closely modeled on real ones, among them Choco Crunch’n Good cereal, Cleanology acne medication, Double Dunk sporting goods and the Smile Meals sold at Fast Chef restaurants.

“Advertising is all around you,” the home page declares in urging youngsters to always ask three questions: “Who is responsible for the ad? What is the ad actually saying? What does the ad want me to do?”

The initiative is being sponsored by the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission, which polices deceptive, fraudulent and unfair marketing and advertising practices. The bureau is enlisting Scholastic, the educational publishing company based in New York, to help distribute materials to teachers and classrooms.

The idea that children need to better understand how commercial speech differs from other forms of communication is not a new one. Many schools have courses in what is called media literacy, intended to help students analyze various methods of persuasion, among them sponsored messages.

The goal is generally “to help kids start to understand the commercial world they live in and to be alert to, and think critically, of advertising,” said David Vladeck, director of the bureau in Washington.

The belief that youngsters ought to be given additional tools to assist them in deciphering sales pitches has been gaining support as the Internet, and social media in particular, are used more for marketing.

“We’ve had some consumer-directed ads, directed to children, on advertising,” Mr. Vladeck said, “but nothing of the scope, depth and complexity” of the new effort.

As for the tone of the materials, they are meant to be “nonjudgmental,” Mr. Vladeck said, rather than presupposing there is nefarious purpose inherent in ads and that marketers continuously try to trick consumers into buying things they do not want or need.

“The vast majority of marketers sell lawful products to people who can lawfully buy them,” Mr. Vladeck said. “The game says advertising is pervasive and it’s good to know what it is, it’s good to think critically and think whether purchasing a product is in your best interest.”

On the other side of the coin, the bureau was also careful in developing the materials, he added, to avoid giving anyone grounds to complain that the effort “promotes commercialism by teaching kids advertising techniques.”

That tack was praised by C. Lee Peeler, president and chief executive of the National Advertising Review Council, which is the ad industry’s voluntary self-regulatory system. The council operates under the aegis of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, where Mr. Peeler is also an executive vice president.

The bureau’s effort will “teach kids how to swim in the ocean of advertising,” Mr. Peeler said, yet takes “a straightforward approach that does not go a step further and demonize advertising.”

“We were pretty impressed by what we saw,” he added, and the council intends to link to Admongo.gov from its own Web site (narcpartners.org).

Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations agency owned by the Omnicom Group, helped the bureau in developing the Admongo Web site, the online game and the teaching materials.

Asked if the participation of Fleishman-Hillard presents a conflict because the agency is part of the Madison Avenue marketing machine, Mr. Vladeck replied that persuasion is “what Fleishman-Hillard does, and they do it well.”

“They also know the tricks of the trade,” he added. “We’re tapping into their expertise.”

Likewise, the division of Scholastic that is handling the distribution of the materials to teachers and students works with corporations as well as government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

For instance, the division, known as Scholastic In School, teamed up with the Lexus unit of Toyota Motor for the Lexus Eco Challenge, a curriculum meant to teach teenagers about the environment.

“We help teachers explain the world around them to the children,” said Ann Amstutz Hayes, vice president at Scholastic In School. For the bureau, “we’re informing the kids about advertising,” she said, “because it’s so important they understand what it is and make informed decisions.”

The reason the curriculum is being aimed at students in the fourth through sixth grades is because that is when “they’re at the stage they’re developing their critical-thinking skills,” Ms. Amstutz Hayes said.

Mr. Vladeck said he hoped that with Scholastic’s assistance the bureau would be able to “get into a couple hundred thousand classrooms” around the country. The effort is being financed by “a little over $2 million,” he added.

The bureau is especially pleased with the online game, Mr. Vladeck said, adding that he has played it himself. “I was not able to get past Level Two,” he said, laughing. “My 12-year-old nephew, in 45 minutes, was already on Level Four.”

The bureau will announce the initiative on Wednesday at a news conference and on the “Today” show.

Perhaps the effort comes not a moment too soon. Adweek devotes this week’s issue to “Kids” and “How the industry is striving to conquer this coveted market.”

Gay Kevin Joins Archie, Pals

The Detroit Free Press

Archie Comics announced Wednesday that it's introducing the strip's first openly gay character. His name is Kevin Keller, and rumor has it that he's a strapping, blond hottie who draws the immediate attention of Veronica and who wrestles with how to gently rebuff her flirtations.

Co-CEO Jon Goldwater says the move is "just about keeping the world of Archie Comics current and inclusive," adding that the new character makes sense because "Riverdale has always been a safe world for everyone."

Kevin is slated to make his first appearance in September.

27 April 2010

DMX Files Suit Claming Stolen Royalties

USA Today

 
NEW YORK — Rapper DMX says he's been ripped off for years by a company hired to collect his song royalties, but he's been behind bars so much that he only recently realized the problem.

The platinum-selling but troubled hip-hop artist — who's currently in an Arizona jail — said in a lawsuit filed Monday that Rich Kid Entertainment 1 and related companies paid him nothing while collecting royalties on some of his most popular work. The company also made deals letting record labels reproduce his work without telling him, the lawsuit claims.

No telephone number could be found for Englewood, N.J.-based Rich Kid. Its president didn't immediately respond to a fax sent to a possible number for him.

DMX, whose real name is Earl Simmons, scored such hits as Get At Me Dog and Party Up in the 1990s. He also appeared in films including 2000's Romeo Must Die and 2003's Cradle 2 the Grave.

But the 39-year-old rapper has repeatedly been arrested and jailed during the last decade. He's currently serving a six-month term in a Phoenix jail for violating probation by failing a drug test, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

He was jailed there for nearly three months last year on animal cruelty, theft and drug-possession charges. Some stemmed from an August 2007 raid in which authorities found three dead dogs, guns, ammunition and drug paraphernalia at his suburban home.

His other run-ins with the law include pleading guilty in 2008 to attempted cocaine and marijuana possession in Miami, being arrested and released in London in 2006 after police said he refused to put on a seat belt and became abusive on an airplane, and pleading guilty in a 2004 incident in which he posed as an undercover federal agent and crashed his sport-utility vehicle through a security gate at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"From 2000 through 2008, (DMX) was in and out of jail and changed representatives numerous times. These were some of the factors contributing to any delay" in bringing the case, the lawsuit notes.

It says Rich Kid has stolen from him for nearly a decade, but he didn't know that until last year.

26 April 2010

Voice of Geico Fired over Tea Party Comments

Salon
He tells Salon: "They want anyone who disagrees with them to fear their wrath. To fear being blacklisted"


The now-former narrator for GEICO ads, DC Douglas, just lost his gig with the insurance company after he used his deep, voice-over-quality tones to make fun of the Tea Parties. Salon interviewed Douglas by e-mail.

Was GEICO right to fire you?


I will say it was well within their rights. Whether they made a "right/moral/ethical" decision is not mine to say. Not sure which your question is implying. I hold no animosity towards them. I certainly wouldn't want any outside group telling me how to run my business -- left or right. However, an extreme right-wing attack machine -- FreedomWorks -- decided to do just that with GEICO over a voice-mail message.

Unfortunately, since I went public with the unethical practices of Matt Kibbe, liberal GEICO customers seem to be canceling their policies in response, too. Obviously, I never wanted them to deal with any policy cancellations over this, ever. But Matt Kibbe decided to exploit my GEICO connection for some quick publicity. I decided to extend that publicity to expose their, to borrow a phrase, un-American activities.

The phrase "mentally retarded" is a controversial one. Is it ever OK to use it?

I guess that depends on who is judging your words. It's about political correctness. The clinical term refers to individuals with an IQ below 70. To say someone was mentally retarded is to speak of their IQ. To call someone "retarded" or, say, "you're a retard," are pejoratives. Matt Kibbe, in a series of conflations, insinuated that I called them "retarded killers." That served his cause -- to anger his more radical followers into boycotting GEICO (again) in hopes the media would get his name and FreedomWorks into the news cycle.

Whether someone gets upset when the phrase "mentally retarded" is used or not is purely dependent on how that person perceives the person using it. Some would say, "You wouldn't call up FreedomWorks and ask how many members have MS," etc. But many people do jokingly refer to themselves or others as having Alzheimer's or senility when they can't remember or find things. Had I used that word, would Matt Kibbe have posted about it? Yes. If I hadn't worked for GEICO? I highly doubt it.

In response to your situation, a marketing expert told the Toronto Star that employees "should be very careful if they are making a comment in the virtual world or anywhere that could be misconstrued as being representative of the organization's position." Would you agree with that statement?

If I'm working at McDonald's and I spout off about how FreedomWorks is manipulating the true Tea Party members, etc., while I'm serving an egg McMuffin, then I agree wholeheartedly. But if I'm at home, off the clock, commenting about it on HuffingtonPost or some other message boards, then no.

In the commercial world, if an actor is hired as the spokesman, then what they do publicly can directly impact the sales of that corporation's product, depending on how high-profile both the spokesman and public act are. As a spokesperson (who is compensated nicely) you understand this. It's a trade-off. I don't think anyone considers voice-over people spokespersons. Regardless, if your readers agree, at the time I left my voice-mail message I did not work for GEICO. I hadn't been on any of their spots since 2008.

I was hired in April to voice a new campaign for them and I posted about it on my fan page the day we recorded. Twelve hours later Matt Kibbe posted his inflammatory blog post, merging the GEICO gecko and a Hitler/Obama poster in the post's picture (and posting my phone number with an encouragement to call me and GEICO). If you look at my blog post about it, the timeline reveals Matt Kibbe's true intentions.

Do you fear a blacklisting resulting from this controversy?


Excellent choice of words. If I did, I wouldn't have gone public. That's what Matt Kibbe and FreedomWorks want. They want anyone who disagrees with them to fear their wrath. To fear being blacklisted. It seems the irony of their purported patriotic goals contrasted with their fear tactics is completely lost on the media. That's why I am talking to the press. That's why I'm enduring the most vile e-mails and calls I've ever gotten. And let's not even talk about Fox.

As of now, I have received much support here in Los Angeles and many of my regular clients shrug the whole thing off. They can, though, because they're not on FreedomWorks' boycott list like GEICO is (for pulling their ads from Glenn Beck). They might feel different if Matt Kibbe directed his anger machine towards them.

Would you like to parlay this controversy into a new kind of job?

I am not enjoying this ride. I'm doing it because what FreedomWorks did was so egregious. They are a dangerous, McCarthy-like organization that is perverting the true nature of the original Tea Party movement for their own political ends. More of the media needs to investigate them. And the true Tea Party folks need to distance themselves from FreedomWorks if they wish to really effect positive change in this country.

I could've kept quiet about it all, as some advised, but then I would have to live with a sick feeling in my stomach for quite awhile. So I didn't. Once I think enough people have heard this story and it appears Matt Kibbe, Dick Armey and FreedomWorks are being investigated for their negative impact on our national discourse, I'll stop talking about it and get back into the booth or onto the set.

As a pitchman, do you ever feel morally compromised?

I'm not a pitchman. That would be the person on-screen representing the company. I perform voice-over or act in film and television. Now, if you're asking if I ever feel morally compromised in the kinds of voice-over work I do, the answer would be no. If it really bothers me, I pass on the project. And after all this, I doubt there will be a lot of anti-gay marriage, anti-choice groups asking me to be their voice-over guy. That's fine with me. I sleep well at night. I wonder if Matt Kibbe does.

Man Accused Of Placing Fake Sex Ad Gets New Charge

Hartford Courant

A man accused of placing a fake online ad inviting strangers to a neighbor's house for group sex has been charged with another crime.


Philip Conran, 42, is now charged with risk of injury to a minor, because prosecutors say people could have shown up for sex when children were home.

The new charge was announced at Conran's arraignment in Superior Court Thursday. Conran turned himself in April 9 on more than a half-dozen charges including second-degree reckless endangerment, second-degree harassment, criminal liability for second-degree burglary and criminal liability for fourth-degree sexual assault.

 According to police, Conran posted an ad under Craigslist's "casual encounters section" on the morning of April 5 stating that a "40 married West Hartford soccer mom" was "looking for group sex." The ad gave a neighbor's address.

One of the unwelcome visitors went to the wrong house and later returned, touching the buttocks of a female resident, police said. That man, Richard Zeh, 29, of Newington, was charged with second-degree burglary, fourth-degree sexual assault, first-degree criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.

Both men have posted bail. Conran's next court date is June 10; Zeh's is May 7.

Conran's defense lawyer, Michael Georgetti, said no children were in the house when strangers arrived. Georgetti wouldn't comment on motive.

People familiar with the case say Conran placed the ad because he was involved in an ongoing dispute with the targeted family.

25 April 2010

Grass on the Football Field

The Wall Street Journal
Despite Stiff Penalties, More Incoming Players Cop to Using Marijuana; Some Calls for Medical Use

 
 
As the NFL Draft gets under way, one of the hot topics inside the league is the growing number of top prospects who have admitted smoking pot or have been caught doing so.

Based on information obtained from NFL team executives, agents, scouts and trainers, just under one-third of the 327 players who attended this year's NFL pre-draft scouting camp, or combine, had some incident involving marijuana turn up in interviews or background checks—which NFL teams collect and share before and during the event. This number represents a 30% increase from the season before. The NFL and its players union declined to comment on these totals.

While it's impossible to know how many current NFL players smoke pot, there have been several incidents in recent years involving high-profile NFL players. In 2006, Ricky Williams of the Miami Dolphins, a former Heisman Trophy winner, was suspended for one year by the NFL after testing positive for violating the league's substance-abuse policy for a fourth time. (He's said publicly he has used marijuana.) Last year, according to two people familiar with the situation, Percy Harvin—a wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings—tested positive for marijuana at the draft combine. In 2008, the same season that he was named Super Bowl MVP for the Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Santonio Holmes was charged with marijuana possession, although charges were dropped in 2009. (Messrs. Williams, Harvin and Holmes did not return calls for comment.)

Kyle Turley, a former All-Pro lineman who retired in 2008, says he smoked marijuana at times throughout his 10-year NFL career. NFL players are only tested once for marijuana, between April and August, he says, so he stayed clean before the test and then felt free to smoke afterwards. He says he did so to relax and to help keep up his appetite to maintain his playing weight. "I know half the building of every NFL team smokes pot, or has, but it's so taboo nobody will say it," he says.

Mark Stepnoski, a former five-time Pro Bowl center who once served as president of the Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says he regularly used the drug during his playing career. For him, marijuana wasn't about recreational enjoyment—it was a means of pain management. "It would just make me feel better," he says.

While the overall rate of pot smoking among the NFL's draft prospects isn't out of line with the number of U.S. adults (41% by one recent study) who say they've tried the drug, the number of incoming players with marijuana histories is a source of concern for NFL teams. The NFL's penalties for marijuana use are among the most severe in professional team sports, and a player who's likely to test positive can hurt a team's chances. William Thomas, a former Pro Bowl NFL linebacker who works as a scout for the Oakland Raiders, says NFL teams recognize "marijuana is a drug that more people have tried. It happens." What the Raiders have to figure out, he says, is whether it's likely to be an ongoing issue. In any case, Mr. Thomas says, "It's definitely a mark against you."

As debate on this subject continues, however, there is one question that hasn't been widely considered. At a time when 14 states have made cannabis a legal medical option—and more than a dozen more have pending legislation or ballot measures to legalize medical marijuana—is it possible the NFL and its players union could consider allowing some players to take the drug if they can get legal perscriptions?

Given the painful nature of football, the chronic injuries it can produce and the increasing availability of medical cannabis, a growing chorus of former NFL players and physicians who prescribe marijuana says pot should be considered as a treatment for the most common ailments football players face.

Mr. Stepnoski believes marijuana is a better treatment than many prescription painkillers. "If given the choice, I think guys would be much better off taking a cannabis extract," he says. Mr. Turley, the former lineman, says it's "ridiculous that the NFL makes such a big deal out of a plant that has real medicinal values."

Frank Lucido, a primary-care physician in Berkeley, Calif., who has two former NFL players as patients, says he believes marijuana is practically designed for football ailments, which range from headaches to depression to effects of violent contact. "The most common thing I see in NFL players is chronic orthopedic pain," he says. In California, doctors are allowed to prescribe marijuana to any patient whose health they believe would be improved—and Dr. Lucido says football players could qualify for treatment. "I say marijuana should not be a banned substance [in the NFL]. It has too many medical benefits."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello says the league has had "no discussion" with its medical advisors or the players union about changing the league's marijuana policy. "The program supports the health and safety of our players and the integrity of our game," he says. Mr. Aiello added that the league doesn't grant therapeutic use exemptions for medical marijuana. He said the league's medical advisers say it is "extremely unlikely" that a person would have a condition that requires this medication and would also be able to play professional football.

Victor Prisk is a sports-medicine orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who has treated college-football players. He believes cannabis might be helpful for people with the kind of neuropathic pain related to multiple sclerosis—but he's not certain it should be used for the sort of musculoskeletal pain that NFL players endure. Dr. Prisk says it could be argued that cannabis may be a performance-enhancing drug. "It can increase appetite for a lineman who needs to put on weight," he says.

Not all NFL teams view marijuana equally. One college lineman who was projected to be picked in the first round of the draft Thursday identified himself as one of the players from the combine who admitted trying marijuana. When he told the teams, he said their reactions were wildly different. "Some really didn't care, some went crazy over it," the player said. "Honestly, it doesn't help you play better, it just relaxes you after."

One five-year NFL veteran said he would be wary of allowing medical exemptions for marijuana use. "What if it also leads to laziness and lack of responsibility?" he asks. "What if you become so relaxed, you want to stay in that state too often?"

Marijuana isn't without risks. The government classifies it as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high tendency for abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana can impair coordination, and the center cites studies that show marijuana smoke contains carcinogens that can cause some of the same respiratory problems as those suffered by tobacco smokers.

There is one football league where players are not tested for marijuana—the Canadian Football League. Tad Kornegay, a linebacker with the Saskatchewan Roughriders says at least half of his teammates are open about smoking pot. "They say they do it for stress, and because they feel like they don't hurt as bad," he says. "Nobody comes to practice high."

Tony Villani, a trainer who has worked with 70 NFL prospects over the past eight years, says he hasn't seen any difference in the on-field work habits of players who admit to smoking pot. "There's no correlation," he says.

24 April 2010

'Glamour' Named Magazine of the Year

ASME

 
The winners of the 2010 National Magazine Awards were announced tonight at the annual awards gala at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. Glamour won top honors as Magazine of the Year. New York won four awards, including the award for General Excellence, 250,000 to 500,000 Circulation.

Other multiple-award winners were:

    * National Geographic, which won three awards, including General Excellence, Over 2 Million Circulation

    * The New Yorker, which also won three awards, including the award for Public Interest for Atul Gawande’s “The Cost Conundrum”

    * Wired, which won two awards, including the award for Design for the third year in a row

Known as the Ellies, for the Alexander Calder stabile “Elephant” given to each winner, the gala was attended by nearly 700 magazine editors and publishers. The evening was highlighted by the presentation of the Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame Award to Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, by David Remnick, Editor of The New Yorker.

Among the awards presenters were two other member of the Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame: Martha Stewart and Michael Kinsley. Guest presenters included actress Brooke Shields, fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, The Marriage Ref’s Tom Papa, New York Rangers left wing and former Vogue intern Sean Avery, and Lost’s Rebecca Mader.

Sponsored by the American Society of Magazine Editors in association with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the National Magazine Awards were established in 1966 and have long been recognized as the preeminent awards for magazine journalism in the United States.

"This year's Ellie finalists and winners fully display the vitality and power of magazine journalism," said Sid Holt, Chief Executive of American Society of Magazine Editors. "Stunningly diverse in subject and approach, these publications show why readers love magazines—in print, on line or on mobile devices."

More than 300 magazines participated in the National Magazine Awards this year, submitting 1,758 entries; 51 magazines were nominated in 23 categories.

23 April 2010

Pandora and Facebook: So Happy Together

WIRED

The leading online radio service and world’s biggest social network have forged a bond that will solidify both companies’ dominance, while offering music fans a way to share music with each other that appears to lack any significant downside. Pandora pays copyright holders, and integrating your Pandora and Facebook accounts won’t pollute your Facebook stream with endless notifications about what you’re listening to.

The upside for Pandora users is significant, due to the ways in which it broadcasts their taste, helps them discover and enjoy new music through their friends. There are countless ways to do these exact same things elsewhere on the web, and you’ve already been able to share Pandora stations with friends. But Pandora + Facebook = such easy math that even the busy or excessively lazy can integrate it into their lives.

This joint announcement is twofold. One part involves “Like” buttons that Facebook and others will embed on its own site and partner sites around the web using the Open Graph API Facebook announced yesterday. Whenever you click one of these buttons, that information gets added to your Facebook Graph, which Pandora can then tap in order to present you with stations based on what you’ve liked on Facebook and around the web.

It’s too early to call at this point, because the buttons haven’t shown up yet, but if this aspect of Facebook’s initiative takes off it will make the company the de facto storage point for our musical preferences, while boosting Pandora’s utility. Best of all, Pandora won’t blast all your Facebook friends with messages about what you’re listening to, should you integrate your accounts. (If you want Facebook to notify people about what you’re listening to on Pandora, you can still click the share button on the currently playing song, and choose the Facebook option.)

With that out of the way, let’s move on to the aspect of this announcement that you can start using right now. Here’s how to get your Pandora account to make friends with your Facebook account — you only have to do it once, and there doesn’t appear to be a downside unless you don’t want people knowing that you spend most of your Pandora time listening to Menudo. Integrating your accounts widens your listening options within Pandora considerably, and immediately.

To activate Pandora’s optional Facebook integration, go to Pandora then click the Friends’ Music link at the lower right.

If you’ve already used Pandora’s own social networking features to add friends, they will show up here. Click Add Friends to proceed to the part where you integrate Pandora with Facebook.

Then, click the Connect With Facebook button. Nothing appeared to happen, but when we reloaded Pandora, our Facebook friends appeared alongside their Facebook profile pictures, their most recently played station, and the songs they’ve liked most recently. I can now make my own stations from any of that music:

That’s it — you’re connected. We should note that all of these features can exist without using Facebook at all, because you can enter another Pandora user’s e-mail to friend them, although Facebook makes it far, far easier. With your accounts integrated, you can make stations from any song a friend has liked and can copy their artist stations over to your own profile, where they will be shaped by your own musical preferences (for instance, songs in friends’ stations that you’ve banned won’t play).

Making the Pandora listening experience even more social, whenever you encounter a song that one of your friends likes, a tag will appear to let you know. One side effect of this new feature will likely be to encourage Pandora users to add more tracks to their favorites, because now, other people have such an easy way to see them. And the more they sculpt their stations and preferences, the more reason they have to stick with Pandora for their online (and, increasingly, device-based) radio listening. And now that Pandora includes video ads (we saw our first one today), it’s even more prepared to monetize repeat visitors.

Pandora tried this strategy earlier with its own social network, but who wants to create a whole set of friends manually on Pandora? Facebook is the social networking king of the hill right now, so it makes more sense for Pandora to grab peoples’ friends from there.

Ultimately, Facebook’s bold attempt to become the central repository for peoples’ musical taste, among other socially identifying elements, could help the company avoid the fates of its ancestors, Friendster and MySpace.

Judging from the smoothness and power of this Pandora part of the equation, it just might work.

22 April 2010

South Park Creators Warned over Muhammad Depiction

BBC News

 
Islamists have warned the creators of TV show South Park they could face violent retribution for depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.

A posting on the website of the US-based group, Revolution Muslim, told Matt Stone and Trey Parker they would "probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh".

The Dutch film-maker was shot and stabbed to death in 2004 by an Islamist angered by his film about Muslim women.

A subsequent episode of the cartoon bleeped out references to Muhammad.

Drug-snorting Buddha

The posting gave details about a home Stone and Parker reportedly co-own.

It also listed the addresses of their production office in California and the New York office of South Park's broadcaster, Comedy Central.

"We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show," warned the posting, written in the name of Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee.

"This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them," it added.

Mr al-Amrikee later told the Associated Press the posting was not an incitement to violence. It had been published to raise awareness of the issue and to see that it did not happen again, he added.

A Comedy Central spokesman said the network had no comment.

In the 200th episode of South Park, broadcast in the US and UK last week, Muhammad appeared several times inside a bear suit. Figures from other religions were also depicted, including a drug-snorting Buddha.

Wednesday's 201st episode saw any spoken references to Muhammad bleeped out, while a prominent banner stating "censored" was used in the programme.

Speaking in an interview with the Boing Boing website before the 200th show aired, the South Park team defended the scenes.

"We'd be so hypocritical against our own message, our own thoughts, if we said, 'okay, well let's not make fun of them because they won't hurt us,'" said Parker.

"It matters to me when we talk about Muhammad that I can say we did this... and I can stand behind that," Stone added.

"I don't think it's going to change the world, but this is how it's got to be for our show."

In 2006, Comedy Central banned Stone and Parker from showing an image of Muhammad in an episode that was intended to be part of a comment on the controversy caused by the publication of caricatures of the prophet by a Danish newspaper.

An earlier episode, Super-Best Friends (2001), contained an image of Muhammad but passed without comment.

"It was before the Danish cartoon controversy, so it somehow is fine," Stone told Boing Boing.

"Then, after that, now that's the new normal. We lost. Something that was okay is now not okay."

Muslims consider any physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. The caricatures published in Denmark sparked mass protests worldwide.

21 April 2010

7-Eleven Beer: 'Premium Brew At Budget Price'

Associated Press

 
BERKELEY, Calif. — Quick, what's the third-largest beer retailer in the U.S.? Chances are you didn't know it's 7-Eleven. Now, the convenience chain is getting a step closer to the suds it sells, rolling out a store-brand beer billed as a premium brew at a budget price.

The launch, happening this month at stores nationwide, aims to take advantage of the current economic downturn – a long, cold one for beer sales.

"We're really working back from the customers' needs," said Dan Skinner, 7-Eleven category manager for alcoholic beverages. "They're looking for exceptional quality at a value price."

Game Day beer follows the introduction of the Yosemite Road private-label wines in 7-Elevens last year. The idea of the home of Slim Jims and Slurpees turning sommelier had some scoffing. But Skinner said the launch has gone well, with the wines holding the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the chain's wine sales.

Whether people are ready for 7-Eleven suds remains to be seen.

Al Everett, a web developer in the Washington, D.C., area who blogs about beer at hop-talk.com, is a craft beer enthusiast who wasn't sure what to make of Game Day.

"If I was tailgating before a game, I'd certainly consider it," he said. "It's probably not something that I would have regularly." Still, he was curious. "I'll certainly keep an eye out for it."

Game Day comes in two varieties. Game Day Light is 3.9 percent alcohol by volume and 110 calories per 12 ounces. Game Day Ice is 5.5 percent alcohol and 155 calories. The price is between $6.99 and $8.99 for a 12-pack, depending on local taxes and distribution costs, and 24-ounce singles are available for between $1.49 and $1.89.

The beer is being made by the 150-year-old City Brewery in La Crosse, Wis., one of the country's largest contract brewers.

The move comes as beer sales have softened – it turns out beer may be recession resistant, but it is not recession proof.

What happened is that customers have been buying more below-premium and budget beers. Premium beers still dominate, with volume at 1.5 billion cases in 2009, or about half of all beer sold domestically, according to data cited by 7-Eleven from The Nielsen Company and other sources, but sales were down compared to 2008.

Or, as TV's lager-loving Homer Simpson might put it, "D'oh!"

The plan at 7-Eleven is to capitalize on market conditions.

"We can give premium beers a run for their money," said Skinner, adding that Game Day performed well in taste tests, including among suppliers of premium beers.

This is 7-Eleven's second attempt at beer. In 2003, they introduced Santiago, meant to compete with imports like Corona, but ultimately unable to gain much of a foothold.

This time around, chain officials expect their focus on high value in a down economy will work.

Beverage analyst Benj Steinman was intrigued by 7-Eleven's plans, but not convinced they'll work.

"My attitude to it basically is – show me," he said. "Private label hasn't worked in beer so far." Steinman, editor of New York-based Beverage Business Insights, notes that Game Day "is a new wrinkle and 7-Eleven is very serious about its effort." But he says store-brand beers have to overcome brand loyalty as well as the fact there already are a number of different price points for beer.

"I'm not ruling it out. I just say, 'Show me'," he said.

20 April 2010

Stewart, Colbert Extend Contracts through 2012 Election

NY Times

 
With Conan O’Brien about to change the calculus of late-night cable programming, the Comedy Central channel has made a move to lock up its two dominant stars, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

The network has signed the two hosts – who both attract more young viewers than even the late-night shows on the broadcast networks – to new contracts that will keep them in the 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. weeknight slots through the next presidential election in 2012.

“That’s a big deal for us,” said Doug Herzog, the president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group, which includes Comedy Central. “For us, election years are like Olympic years.” The two politically oriented comedy shows hosted by the two stars – “The Daily Show” with Mr. Stewart and “The Colbert Report” with Mr. Colbert – have both seen big ratings bumps in presidential election years, Mr. Herzog said, “and some of that carries over each time, so we keep going up.”

The timing of the new deal was not directly related to the impending arrival next November of Mr. O’Brien, the former NBC late-night star, on the cable channel TBS; but Mr. Herzog noted that his comedy channel could hardly be unaware of it.

“We’re big admirers of Conan here,” he said. And the network did have some preliminary talks with Mr. O’Brien’s representatives when he settled his NBC contract – but not about a late-night slot, Mr. Herzog said. “We’ve got Jon and Stephen. Our late-night is filled already.”

He added, “Jon and Stephen do something different from what Conan does” and what Jay Leno does on NBC and David Letterman on CBS. “We think there’s room for everybody,” he said.

“We feel very good about where we are,” Mr. Herzog said. “Jon and Stephen have established themselves not only on the cable landscape but also on the cultural landscape. I think of myself as the manager of the ’61 Yankees. I just wanted to keep writing Mantle and Maris into the lineup as many seasons as I can.”

To that end, Mr. Herzog said he would have liked to sign up his two biggest stars for even longer terms. Under the new deals – financial terms were not disclosed – Mr. Colbert is locked into Comedy Central until December 31, 2012, and Mr. Stewart a half-year longer.

“Of course we’d like to sign them for more years,” Mr. Herzog said. “They are still growing. They are still fresh and relevant and sharp.”

But he said he was confident the relationship would continue for many years to come. For one thing, he said, being on Comedy Central has proved no impediment to building a successful and prominent career for either Mr. Stewart or Mr. Colbert.

“I think Jon and Stephen have made cable safe for somebody like Conan,” he said. “I think it’s O.K. now for Conan to leave network television for cable because that’s where Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert live. And guess what? They’re doing pretty well.”

Though he would not discuss salaries, Mr. Herzog said, “They are paid handsomely and there isn’t anything they haven’t accomplished, or can’t accomplish, from behind the desks at Comedy Central, from being on every magazine cover imaginable, to – in Jon’s case – hosting the Oscars.”

He added, “I’m not sure what else is left? Well, beating Conan.”

18 April 2010

Gannett's Posts 51% Profit Leap

USA Today

NEW YORK (AP) — Gannett, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher and publisher of USA TODAY, said Friday its first-quarter profit jumped 51%.

Cost cutting and a less severe drop in advertising revenue boosted the results.

Gannett (GCI) earned $117.2 million, or 49 cents a share, compared with $77.4 million, or 34 cents a share, a year earlier.

Taking out a $2.2 million tax charge related to the recent U.S. health care overhaul, the company said it would have earned 50 cents a share. Analysts, who typically exclude such one-time items, expected 41 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Gannett, which is based in McLean, Via., publishes more than 80 daily newspapers. It is the first major publisher to report earnings for the January-March period and could offer a preview of what will come next week from McClatchy, Lee Enterprises and The New York Times Co.

As expected, Gannett reported its smallest ad revenue decline in more than a year, although the comparison is being made against a period in 2009 when advertising spending was plunging in the recession.

Gannett's overall revenue fell 4% from the same period of 2009 to $1.3 billion, matching forecasts. Ad revenue in its publishing division — which accounts for most of the company's income — fell 8%. That was a significant improvement from the decline of 18% that Gannett had in the last quarter of 2009 from the same period a year earlier.

The continued decline in newspaper ads was offset by a 15% rise in TV broadcasting revenue from the prior year. Gannett benefited from advertising tied to the Winter Olympics.

Its stock hit a a 52-week high.

13 April 2010

New Media Recognized in Pulitzer Competition


NEW YORK (AP) - When the Pulitzer board handed out the most important prizes in journalism, The New York Times and The Washington Post topped the list of winners- and finalists - as usual.

But they were joined for the first time by a trio of new media publications that scored unprecedented recognition in a competition long dominated by newspapers.

On Monday, judges awarded the nonprofit ProPublica, in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine, a Pulitzer in investigative reporting for a 13,000-word story on the life-and-death decisions made by New Orleans doctors during Hurricane Katrina.

"It is a validation," said Stephen Engelberg, managing editor for the more than two-year-old ProPublica that's based in Manhattan and has only 32 employees. "To be recognized by your peers is an honor and it sort of says to the rest of the group: "Yes, they're here. They're real. They are doing very serious journalism.'"

ProPublica is bankrolled by charitable foundations, staffed by veteran journalists, and devoted to doing the kind of investigative journalism projects many newspapers have found too expensive. It offers many of its stories to traditional news organizations, free of charge.

Also representing a new model was the prize for editorial cartooning, which was won by the self-syndicated Mark Fiore. His work appears on the San Francisco Chronicle Web site SFGate.com. Matt Wuerker of Politico was a finalist for the cartooning award.

Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Poynter Institute, a journalism school, said those organizations don't need a Pulitzer to somehow feel that their work is more validated.

"But it's a neat thing to have," he said.

The Pulitzers are regarded as the most prestigious awards in U.S. journalism and are given out annually by Columbia University on the recommendation of a board of distinguished journalists and others. Each Pulitzer carries a $10,000 prize, except for the public service award, which is a gold medal.

The Bristol Herald Courier, a small paper in the coalfields of Appalachia, beat out journalism's powerhouses to win the Pulitzer Prize for public service for uncovering a scandal in which Virginia landowners were deprived of millions in natural gas royalties.

The Washington Post received four Pulitzers - for international reporting on Iraq, feature writing, commentary and criticism. The New York Times won three - for national reporting, for explanatory reporting and for investigative reporting. The paper collaborated with ProPublica on the Hurricane Katrina story which was published in the magazine.

The Pulitzer Board also recognized the way newspapers are branching out with new media. The Seattle Times employed Twitter and e-mail alerts to help inform readers about a deadly shooting, and used the social media tool Google Wave to encourage reader participation.

A prize for investigative reporting also went to the Philadelphia Daily News for exposing a rogue police narcotics squad. The reporting led to an FBI investigation and the re-examination of hundreds of criminal cases.

The Seattle Times staff was honored in the breaking news category for its coverage of the shooting deaths of four police officers in a coffee shop.

The Pulitzer for local reporting went to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a series of stories on fraud and abuse in a child-care program for poor working parents.

The Dallas Morning News won for editorial writing.

The Des Moines Register won for breaking-news photography for capturing a rescuer trying to save a woman trapped beneath a dam, and the Denver Post was honored for feature photography for a portrait of a teenager who joined the Army at the height of insurgent violence in Iraq.

"Next to Normal," a musical about the complexity and heartbreak of a woman's mental illness and its effect on her family, has won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Paul Harding's "Tinkers," a debut novel released by the tiny Bellevue Literary Press, was the surprise fiction winner.

A narrative about a 19th-century financial lord, T.J. Stiles' "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt," was the biography winner.

Another timely book, "The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy," by David E. Hoffman, won for general nonfiction.

A book about the financial crisis, Liaquat Ahamed's "Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World," won for history.

A posthumous Special Citation was given to Hank Williams for his "craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life."

Other winners announced by Columbia University on Monday were: "Versed," by Rae Armantrout, for poetry, and Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon, for music.

Vatican Finally Pardons John Lennon

USA Today

Amid Charges involving Child-Molestation, Holy See Endorses the Beatles

 
The Vatican has finally made peace with the Beatles, saying their drug use, "dissolute" lives and even the claim that the band was bigger than Jesus are all in the past — while their music lives on.

Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano paid tribute to the Fab Four in its weekend editions, with two articles and a front-page cartoon reproducing the crosswalk immortalized on the cover of the band's album Abbey Road.

The tribute marked the 40th anniversary of the band's breakup.

"It's true, they took drugs; swept up by their success, they lived dissolute and uninhibited lives," said the paper. "They even said they were more famous than Jesus," it said, recalling John Lennon's 1966 comment that outraged many Catholics and others.

"But, listening to their songs, all of this seems distant and meaningless," L'Osservatore said. "Their beautiful melodies, which changed forever pop music and still give us emotions, live on like precious jewels."

It is not the first time the Vatican has praised the legendary band from Liverpool.

Two years ago, Vatican media hailed the Beatles' musical legacy on the 40th anniversary of the White Album. And last month the Vatican paper included Revolver in its semiserious list of top-10 albums.

Now, L'Osservatore says that the Beatles' songs have stood the test of time, and that the band remains "the longest-lasting, most consistent and representative phenomenon in the history of pop music."

Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor in chief of L'Osservatore Romano, said Monday that he loves the Beatles.

He said that at the time of Lennon's sensational statement, Osservatore "commented that in reality it wasn't that scandalous, because the fascination with Jesus was so great that it attracted these new heroes of the time."

FCC Chief Julius Genachowski faces Broadband Dilemma


USA Today

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski will soon have to make a wonky but controversial decision that could have a profound impact on how much consumers pay for broadband, how fast their services will be — and possibly whether millions of people will be able to get it at all.

He can ensure that the FCC has the power to set rules for high-speed Internet service if he asks his fellow regulators to define it, in legal terms, as a highly regulated common carrier service like telephones. Or he can let cable and phone companies call the shots by allowing it to remain a lightly regulated information service.

There's no deadline for a decision. But if Genachowski waits too long, he may have to abandon dozens of policy changes that he has proposed to close the digital divide and protect broadband subscribers.

That would mean Genachowski "will have no legacy," says Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, an activist group that favors more broadband oversight.

But if he does act, cable and phone companies likely would "launch an all-out attack" on the FCC leading into this year's congressional elections, "with charges of lost jobs, lost investment, lost (broadband) deployment and more Democratic meddling in industry," says analyst Rebecca Arbogast of Stifel Nicolaus, a financial services firm.



Genachowski ran into this dilemma last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned a commission decision from 2008 that involved Comcast's management of Internet traffic. Justices said the FCC lacked an explicit mandate to regulate broadband. The agency tied its own hands in 2005 when it defined phone DSL broadband as an information service, similar to a decision it made in 2002 about cable modems.

The court tossed aside the FCC's view that it could infer some power over Internet services from its authority to set rules for cable TV and phone services. The ruling hit just weeks after the FCC unveiled a sweeping proposal, called the National Broadband Plan, designed to make high-speed Internet a staple of everyday life.

Separately, Genachowski and President Obama have said that they want to require Internet providers to treat all Web services equally, a policy known as net neutrality.

Without a change in the law that defines broadband, many of these proposals would have to be scuttled or might end up being "litigated before a skeptical court," Arbogast says.

The FCC won't say whether Genachowski is inclined to reassert regulatory power over broadband by reclassifying it as a common carrier service. But whatever decision he makes will create shock waves.

Rules are 'badly out of date'

If the FCC changes the way it treats high-speed Internet, then "everybody in the industry would sue," says Scott Cleland, chairman of NetCompetition.org, an Internet forum supported by cable and phone companies.

"It would be like an 8.0 earthquake under the sector," he adds. "Hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested (in broadband) in the belief that there'd be a market rate of return, not a regulated rate."

The FCC's two Republican commissioners have said they'd fight a move to reclassify broadband.

Verizon and AT&T have said that they'd prefer to see Congress clarify the FCC's role and what rules should apply to new players including Google. Laws are "badly out of date," Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke said in a recent speech.

But consumer advocates and others say that Genachowski can't afford to wait. "It would surely take a year or two" to get a major law through Congress, says Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm.

And if an FCC decision to reclassify broadband draws a lawsuit, it makes more sense to have "one big court case instead of a dozen small cases," Schwartzman says.

Genachowski's fellow Democrats on the commission also are eager to act. Michael Copps called reclassification the "only way the commission can make lemonade out of (the Appeals Court's) lemon of a decision."

If Genachowski wants to defuse the issue, he could try to engineer a compromise. For example, he could agree to take broadband reclassification off the table as long as providers make legally binding promises to offer consumer protections called for in the National Broadband Plan and to agree to treat all Web services equally. But it will be hard to please everybody as advocates gear up for a fight.

While reclassification isn't a sexy issue, as the Internet becomes the main pipeline for media and communications and phone DSL broadband, the FCC's rules "will shape everything that people use to interact with the world," Silver says.

Coco Inks new Deal with TBS

NY Times

 
In a move that qualifies as a shocker, Conan O’Brien has made a deal to return to television in a new late-night show on cable — not network — television.

The former “Tonight Show” host has agreed to start a new show on TBS, the comedy-oriented cable channel in the Turner network lineup. The show will start in November and play at 11 p.m. four nights a week (Monday through Thursday), teamed with that network’s other late-night show, hosted by George Lopez. That show, now at 11, will slide to midnight.

The news comes as a stunner because Mr. O’Brien was known to be in talks with the Fox network, and most predictions had him moving there in September or January.

TBS was not known to be in the picture. But Mr. O’Brien’s representatives had been quietly talking with that cable network as issues continued to arise with the potential Fox deal.

The move will surely be closely examined for its implications for the future of broadcast vs. cable television, with one of the biggest stars of recent years in network television abandoning that side for cable.

In a release accompanying the announcement Mr. O’Brien said: “In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.”

Mr. O’Brien begins his live concert tour in Eugene, Ore.,  Monday night.

In the statement, Steve Koonin, the president of Turner Entertainment Networks, emphasized the change from network to cable.

“For decades, late-night TV has been dominated by broadcast television,” Mr. Koonin said.  “Now, with a young audience and a growing late-night lineup, TBS is set to be the choice of comedy fans for years to come.”

12 April 2010

Activision Ex-Developers Set Up Own Shop

The Wall Street Journal

 
Activision Blizzard Inc. saw the key developers of its blockbuster "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" franchise set up their own development studio Monday under a publishing deal with archrival Electronic Arts Inc.

The move is the latest in an escalating dispute between Activision and the former heads of its Infinity Ward studio, who left the company last month in a dispute over bonuses and ownership rights related to "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2"—one of the videogame industry's top-selling titles last year and the latest for the highly rated Activision franchise.

On Monday, Jason West and Vince Zampella announced the formation of a studio called Respawn Entertainment. The studio will retain ownership of the games it creates, which will be published and distributed by EA.

"Now that the team is in control of the games and brands, we can ensure that the fans are treated as well as they deserve," Mr. West said in a statement.

Activision fired Messrs. West and Zampella from Infinity Ward on March 1. Two days later, the pair filed a lawsuit against the game publisher, accusing the company of withholding "substantial royalty payments" they were owned for "Modern Warfare 2."

In a counter-suit filed Friday, Activision accused the pair of delaying the development of games and negotiating with EA while still employed with the company. It also charged the two with intentionally preventing Activision from paying bonuses to other staffers at the studio in an effort to make those employees "easier to poach" for the new studio.

"West's and Zampella's misdeeds formed an unlawful pattern and practice of conduct that was designed to steal the IW studio, which is one of Activision's most valuable assets, at the expense of Activision and its shareholders and for their own personal financial gain," the company claimed in its lawsuit.

Robert Schwartz, an attorney for Messrs. West and Zampella, called Activision's charges "false and outrageous" in a statement Friday.

Analysts say Activision faces little risk in the near term. The next "Call of Duty" game slated for release later this year is being developed by another studio and not is using the "Modern Warfare" brand.

Over the longer term, the company could be challenged if Respawn develops a similar combat-shooter game that takes share from the "Call of Duty" fan base.

"Activision faces two risks. One is that they don't have these guys anymore, and two is that they make a new game somewhere else," said Michael Pachter, an analyst for Wedbush Morgan. "The risk is that 'Modern Warfare' will face competition from its creators. They could split the market."

Coin Sebastian of Lazard Capital Markets said it will likely be two or three years before anyone sees the first game from Respawn, given that the code will have to be developed from scratch. But he noted that Messrs. West and Zampella have a compelling history. The two were key developers behind "Medal of Honor," another combat shooter owned by EA that ended up losing share to "Call of Duty."

Kitty Kelley's New Oprah Bio has Plenty to Talk About

USA Today

 
Celebrity chronicler Kitty Kelley is doing what she often does when one of her unauthorized blockbuster biographies is about to come out.

She's at her Georgetown office showing a visitor a wall of file cabinets filled with four years' worth of research on her latest subject (some might say "victim"): Oprah Winfrey.

Included are transcripts of 2,732 interviews Winfrey has given. Add to that the 850 interviews Kelley did on the billionaire TV talk show host and you have Oprah: A Biography (Crown, $30). It arrives Tuesday, all 525 footnoted pages of it.

"Oprah was the very best source for this book," says Kelley, who did not interview the TV mogul. "She was fabulous."

As is the way with Kelley bios, the subject rarely thinks it's all so fabulous. Kelley has made millions from her gossipy behind-the-scenes tell-alls on everyone from Jackie Kennedy to Liz Taylor and Frank Sinatra to Nancy Reagan and the Bush clan.

Now it's Oprah's turn to be in the biographer's spotlight. Kelley says she approached her newest subject "with great respect," but Winfrey remains mum about the project.

"Oprah hasn't participated in or read Kitty Kelley's book, so she is unable to comment," says Oprah's spokeswoman, Lisa Halliday. It is the same quote that has been issued the last few months whenever Winfrey is asked about Kelley's book.

'Relax, people'


Kelley, 68, is well aware she is not the face most celebrities want to see at their door. One suspects she might even relish the fact.

Her favorite cartoon in her Georgetown mansion's powder room shows Saddam Hussein in a Baghdad bunker, Kelley parachuting from the sky. "Run for your lives!" he's yelling. "It's Kitty Kelley!"

Over the years, Kelley has claimed that Nancy Reagan and Sinatra had long private "lunches" in the White House — read between the quote marks — and that George W. Bush snorted cocaine at Camp David when his father was president.

In her newest opus, Kelley takes on Winfrey, perhaps one of the most overexposed celebrities in America, following her from her poor childhood and promiscuous youth to her life as one of the most wealthy, powerful and secretive businesswomen in the world.

One question readers will expect Kelley to answer: Are Winfrey and best friend Gayle King really lovers?

"I know people are expecting me to 'out' her. But I think she's just asexual," Kelley says. "She's poured all of her energies into her career. And if she is, she is never ever, ever going to come out. So relax, people."

High-def Oprah


As for Stedman Graham, Winfrey's longtime companion, one Kelley source in the book calls him "nice enough but boring as hell. So boring." Those who say they have spent time with the two told Kelley they're rarely demonstrative.

What Kelley discovered while investigating Winfrey was, not surprisingly, her need to be in control, plus what Kelley calls Winfrey's "world of secrets."

Winfrey makes all employees sign confidentiality agreements — and if she is spoken about in public, they have to refer to her as Mary, not Oprah, just in case someone is eavesdropping.

"And now she's made me keep secrets," says Kelley, who claims she knows who Winfrey's real father is but won't divulge it until Winfrey's mother tells her daughter, something she has been unwilling to do for decades.

Kelley spent three days in Winfrey's hometown, Kosciusko, Miss., chatting up Katharine Esters, Winfrey's cousin who goes by "Aunt" Katharine, then talked to Vernon Winfrey in his Nashville barbershop. (He raised Oprah early on but says he's not her father.)

Neither believes Winfrey's stories about sexual abuse in her youth. (Winfrey says she was "continually molested" from age 9 until 14, and she did give birth to a baby boy at 15 — her uncle was suspected of being the father.)

"I don't believe a bit of it," Esters told Kelley. "No one in the family believes her stories (of sexual abuse) but now that she's so rich and powerful everyone is afraid to contradict her."

Kelley says she found that many of the stories Winfrey has told over the years may be "elaborated."

"I tried to give both sides," Kelley says. "Oprah's stories are colorful and a bit over the top. Maybe they're just little exaggerations."

Kelley, who likes to say "the truth is as important to me as it is to my subjects," — the quote "Tell the truth but ride a fast horse" hangs over her desk — says readers will get to see a "clearer" Oprah in her book. "It's like watching high-definition TV. It's more detailed. You're going to see her better."

That includes a woman who can go from being amazingly petty to astonishingly magnanimous. (Winfrey, at 56, is worth at least $2.4 billion and has given away millions over the years.)

"You think she's warm, but she's really quite aloof," Kelley says. "She gives it all to the camera."

One problem facing Kelley this week is promoting her new biography. Many of Winfrey's pals have circled their wagons. The View's Barbara Walters, CNN's Larry King, CBS' David Letterman and PBS' Charlie Rose have all refused to have Kelley on their shows.

"All said very openly that it was because of Oprah," she says. "And they haven't even had a chance to look at the book yet." She is booked on the Today show today and Bill O'Reilly's show Tuesday.

She also says about 30% of the people she and her researchers approached while researching the book turned her down.

Oprah's good friend, author Maya Angelou, never responded to an interview request, Kelley says. Kelley understands. "Why would she get into it?" Longtime pal Maria Shriver also declined.

Those who agreed include hundreds of acquaintances, co-workers from her early days in Baltimore and family members who weren't intimidated, Kelley says. "But I really don't think (Winfrey) will be upset with this book," Kelley says. "She's not going to be pleased with what some people have said, but ..."

(Winfrey, who is ending her iconic daytime talk show on Sept. 9, 2011, has announced that she will appear in a new series called Oprah's Next Chapter on her own cable network in late 2011.)

Despite a reputation for playing loose with the facts, Kelley has never been successfully sued over any of her books.

"I'm very proud of that. And I write about people who are very powerful when they're alive. It's all documented. It's all solid stuff."

Some critics say that's just not true. In fact, her books have been famously dubbed "Kitty Litter."

Who's next?


After her last book, 2004's The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, journalist/commentator and New Republic senior editor Michael Crowley analyzed Kelley's work in Slate. The piece is titled "Kitty Kelley: Colonoscopist to the Stars."

"Kelley's ostentatious display of reportorial overkill is clearly just a ritual effort to pre-empt the questions that inevitably arise about her accuracy," he wrote. "After close to 30 years and five breathless tell-alls, it's clear Kelley is no meticulous historian who nails down her facts with airtight precision. To the contrary, she's the consummate gossip monger, a vehicle for all the rumor and innuendo surrounding her illustrious subjects."

Time magazine columnist Joe Klein has described her as a "professional sensationalist."

Kelley has heard it all before and admits "it's a killer" to defend herself at times. "I'd like them to say (the accusations) right to me and show me where (I made a mistake)," she says.

Crowley conceded that Kelley usually gets more right than wrong. "Her methods may often be unsound ... but in the end, she usually reveals something true about her subjects — which is more than you can say about a lot of celebrity biographers."

Kelley says she doesn't worry about her physical safety. But she says she probably should have after her 1986 tell-all on Sinatra, which did not portray him in a flattering light. After the Nancy Reagan book was released in 1991, she discovered that her publisher had provided a bodyguard at a book event at the National Press Club. "I did get death threats after the Reagan book," Kelley says. "Anonymous phone messages."

As for the upcoming reaction to the Oprah book, Kelley just shrugs. "I don't know what I'm braced for," she says.

Kelley, who has served guests ice water in crystal glasses on napkins that say Buy The Book, says she's also not sure what's next on her agenda.

"I'm not the kind who can go from one project to the next. It's a little like going on a bender. You have to recuperate," she says.

"But I can't imagine doing another book on anyone as fascinating as Oprah. I love Oprah. She gave me a gift."

What she is writing is an article for The American Scholar, the quarterly magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

Its title: "In Defense of the Unauthorized Biography."

WHAT KELLEY DISHES ON

Highlights from biographer Kitty Kelley's newest book, Oprah: A Biography:

Celebrities comment on whether Winfrey and best friend Gayle King are lesbian partners:


• "I think they are the emotional equivalent of a gay couple," says Rosie O'Donnell, who is gay. "When they did that road trip together that's as gay as it gets and I don't mean it to be an insult either. I'm just saying listen, if you ask me, that's a gay couple." (The quote comes from O'Donnell's appearance on The Howard Stern Show in October 2009.)
• Winfrey confidant and author Erica Jong, adds: "I would not be surprised if Oprah is gay. If she is, she is. It certainly fits."

Names Winfrey and King affectionately call each other, revealed on a Valentine's Day segment titled 'Girlfriends':


• "Oprah was 'Negro,' Gayle was 'Blackie,' " Kelley writes.

Is boyfriend Stedman Graham just a front, 'camouflage'?

• "Her close friends argued otherwise, saying he was the grounding force of her life. Others did not care one way or the other," Kelley writes.
• "Stedman is probably gay or neutral, but they have a bond. Her being gay would be the right reaction to the sexual abuse she says she's suffered and the mistrust she's always had of men," Winfrey's longtime friend Jong says.

Winfrey had a baby boy at 15, who died one month and 8 days later:


• "Oprah never talked about her lost baby," said her sister, Patricia, a drug addict who died in 2003 of an overdose. "It was a deep family secret that was almost never discussed within the family."
• "Everybody in the family sort of shoved it under a rock," Winfrey told Ebony. "Because I had already been involved in sexual promiscuity they thought if anything happened it had to be my fault and because I couldn't definitely say that he (her uncle Trent) was the father, the issue became 'Is he the father?' Not the abuse."

Winfrey's falling-outs with friends on the set of The Color Purple:

• "She forged strong friendships on the set, but few survived the passage of time," Kelley writes. She "fell out" with Whoopi Goldberg, "tangled" with screenwriter Akosua Busia, "pulled away" from Alice Walker and "offended" Steven Spielberg.

09 April 2010

Conan O'Brien's Work in Progress

Business Week
The former Tonight Show host is in play, but prospective TV and cable networks are struggling to find him the right time slot

Illustration by Jim Cooke


The last time America saw Conan O'Brien, the red-haired, late-night talk show host was riffing on an electric guitar as comedian Will Ferrell donned a shoulder-length blond wig to screech his way through the Lynyrd Skynyrd song Freebird. As final shows go it was an appropriately wacky end to NBC's high-profile firing of O'Brien from The Tonight Show. Celebrities denounced NBC. Pro "Coco" fans demonstrated outside the studio.

So you'd think landing another major TV gig would be a snap, right? Actually, no. Since leaving the air on Jan. 22, O'Brien has been flitting from one potential deal to another as network and cable executives struggle to find the right programming slot for his show. Fox wants him for its 11 p.m. slot but hasn't yet convinced its TV affiliates—or even the stations owned by corporate parent News Corp. (NWS)—they should carry it. A 7 p.m. syndicated show against the likes of Jeopardy! or Entertainment Tonight is possible, as is a show on cable, but both face big challenges.

"Getting Conan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a well-known talent with a following," says Bill Carroll, director of programming for Katz Television Group, which advises TV stations on licensing shows. "But the timing couldn't be worse. Every scenario for him has more risks than upside."

Late-Night Crowd

O'Brien's most daunting problem is breaking into a late-night lineup that has grown overcrowded in the last five years. A new show would have to compete against NBC's Jay Leno, CBS's (CBS) David Letterman, and ABC's Nightline. And younger viewers who might flock to O'Brien are instead watching shows like Comedy Central's The Colbert Report or Family Guy on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, says Brad Adgate, head of research for the TV ad-buying company Horizon Media. Some of Fox's larger stations meanwhile are airing The Office reruns and have signed expensive deals for reruns of NBC's hit show 30 Rock in some of those late-night time slots.

Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly enjoys a strong relationship with O'Brien, with whom he worked while both were at NBC. But Fox first needs to persuade its affiliates to take a chance. "It's been a very challenging environment for the station business coming off a recession," Reilly says. And he acknowledges that if he can strike a deal with affiliates it could take several years to stitch together a single time slot because some stations will continue to run sitcoms after their news programs. One strategy might be to start the show at 11 p.m. in some markets and later in others, according to TV executives with knowledge of Fox's options. News Corp. could also air O'Brien on some of its less watched affiliate group MyNetworkTV's stations in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere. With shows like Glee and The Cleveland Show, Reilly has boosted Fox's ratings by 3% this year and leads in the sought-after 18-to-49-year-old age group. O'Brien would help extend Fox's edgier brand to late night as well, says Horizon's Adgate.

Not everyone at News Corp. agrees. Fox's syndication arm, which sells reruns of The Simpsons and other shows, could lose a late-night market to O'Brien. And Fox-owned stations would likely be forced to swallow losses for reruns they've already licensed. "We're giving it a lot of thought," CEO Rupert Murdoch said in a February conference call. "If the program people can show us that we could do it and be fairly confident of making a profit on it, we'd do it in a flash."

Starz, Showtime Talks

Fox is unlikely to spend the $50 million a year that NBC spent to produce The Tonight Show, say two sources with knowledge of the talks, or to pay its host's $12.5 million salary. O'Brien, who together with his staff left NBC with $45 million in network severance, has been looking for places other than Fox to yuk it up. Team Conan, which includes manager Gavin Polone and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment agent Rick Rosen, has chatted up pay cable channels Starz and Showtime on deals similar to the show Bill Maher hosts on HBO, three sources with knowledge of the talks say.

O'Brien is also considering taking his shtick to an earlier hour. CBS's syndication unit, which distributes Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, has talked with him. So has Debmar-Mercury, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF) that syndicates the game show Family Feud and sitcom Tyler Perry's House of Payne, which wants him for 7 p.m. That hour might appeal to O'Brien, who wouldn't face the prospect of coming in fourth in the late-night wars. But a comedy-style talk show has never worked in that time slot, according to Katz Television's Carroll. That's why Sony (SNE) considered, then passed, on the idea.

Leno says he expects O'Brien to return to late night. "He'll come back, and he'll be strong," he told The View co-host Joy Behar in a video interview she posted on the Web. On Apr. 12 a newly bearded O'Brien will begin his 30-city The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. For now, says Polone, the comedian is "not thinking of anything except opening the tour with the strongest show possible."

Everyone Loves a Snitch. Right?

The New York Observer

 
Go ahead. Forget fancypants high-tech "social media" schemes; what news companies need now are some good old fashioned middle-school-girl style social tactics.

Prior to a newsroom summit, news director Steve Hyvonen of WKMG Orlando sent out a memo requesting that employees make lists of the "battery charger" coworkers who energized the office. And, as a counterpart, a list of the "battery drainers" who everyone actually hates:

Who in the newsroom is often a negative influence on what we do? Who has a poor work ethic? Who makes little positive contribution to the newsroom and our news product. Same drill. Write/type three names on a piece of paper and drop it into the "battery drainers" box in my office. Everyone must vote. Your votes are anonymous. I also need to ask that everyone use the honor system and put real names of real people in our newsroom. No "Porky Pig" or "Howard Stern".

If there is one thing seventh grade taught us it is that these things ALWAYS END WELL.

08 April 2010

Oprah to Announce New Evening Show

The Wall Street Journal
The Queen of Daytime Is Becoming Nocturnal; A Big Bet for Her Network


America's daytime talk-show queen is heading out at night.

Oprah Winfrey plans to announce Thursday that she will host an evening show on her new cable network. The aptly named "Oprah's Next Chapter," an hourlong show, will probably debut late next year.

Ms. Winfrey's new show, which could air as many as two or three times a week, will take Ms. Winfrey out of the studio setting that has been her home for nearly 25 years and follow her around the globe for conversations in places such as Egypt and China. "I'm going to take viewers with me, going to take celebrities I want to interview with me" around the world, Ms. Winfrey said in an interview.

The larger task will be taking advertisers and viewers along to the new Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN. Ms. Winfrey right now has a vast audience, many women at home during the day, who follow by the millions her every tip on what to read, eat, wear, and buy. But the new network will be programming 24 hours a day. And Ms. Winfrey herself will face a formidable lineup of evening reality shows. Some, like NBC's "The Biggest Loser," CBS's "Undercover Boss," or Fox's "American Idol," include the inspirational and instructional tales that Ms. Winfrey excels at.

The new show is one of more than a dozen programs that OWN has lined up as it moves toward its scheduled debut on Jan. 1. A 50-50 joint venture between Ms. Winfrey's Harpo Inc. and cable programmer Discovery Communications Inc., the new network plans to give a detailed look at its shows in a presentation to advertisers Thursday.

"Oprah's Next Chapter" is a crucial ingredient for the new network. Ms. Winfrey, 56 years old, has until now said little publicly about her on-air role at OWN after "The Oprah Winfrey Show" ends in 2011. "Having Oprah on the network in a meaningful way is important," said David Zaslav, Discovery's chief executive.



Ms. Winfrey said she also may appear in other OWN shows including a possible book-club show. "My name's going to show up on that grid a lot," she said.

The new slate of shows is part of OWN executives' efforts to translate Ms. Winfrey's popular brand of personal uplift into the mold of a 24-hour television network. A reality series about country singer Shania Twain will follow her recovery from a broken marriage. A competition series from "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett will search for a new TV-show star among Ms. Winfrey's legions of fans.

Ms. Winfrey's embrace of cable reflects a broader shift in the television business. Buoyed by billions of dollars from satellite and cable subscribers' monthly bills, cable networks have become profit engines of the business. Meanwhile, local television stations, which long paid handsomely for programs like "The Oprah Winfrey Show," have seen their business decline.

Ms. Winfrey has one of the most powerful brands in media. Her magazine, "O, The Oprah Magazine," published with Hearst Corp., is one of the most popular in the U.S., and her book club has minted dozens of best-sellers. But as broadcast TV has sagged, so has her audience. Her weekday show averaged about 6.7 million viewers so far this TV season, according to Nielsen Co., down from more than 10 million in the early 1990s.

Ms. Winfrey has been closely involved in strategy and planning for OWN and its shows, according to people familiar with the matter. "I am hands on, digging in there, looking through every tape," Ms. Winfrey said. "I'm not just up to my knees. I'm up to my thighs."

Her longtime producer is the network's new chief creative officer. Last week, Ms. Winfrey spent two days working at OWN's Los Angeles headquarters, where green and orange walls are adorned with inspirational phrases including, "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."

OWN began taking shape more than two years ago in conversations between Ms. Winfrey and Discovery's Mr. Zaslav. She was looking for her next step. He was looking for something compelling to do with the little-watched Discovery Health network, which is in about 74 million U.S. homes, according to media researcher SNL Kagan.

OWN's launch has been pushed back since the venture was announced in January 2008. One person familiar with the matter attributed the delays, in part, to waiting for Ms. Winfrey to decide the extent of her on-air role. Ms. Winfrey said that wasn't the case, and said assembling the right staff and programming tone has taken time.

"It has been more difficult building a team from scratch than I realized it would be," Ms. Winfrey said.

"Start-ups are hard, for sure," said Christina Norman, the former MTV president who was named OWN's chief executive in January 2009. "I think it's always a challenge to find the right groove," she said.

Discovery is wagering $100 million on OWN. The Silver Spring, Md., company has promised to lend that much in start-up costs through September 2011 and has sunk in $35 million through Dec. 31, according to securities filings. Discovery will also contribute Discovery Health, replacing it with OWN when the new network goes live on Jan. 1. Ms. Winfrey, for her part, is contributing her Oprah.com site to the venture.

Ms. Winfrey's public role in OWN could help it begin nailing down advertising deals. Buyers say that OWN is looking to sign on several major advertisers for multiyear partnerships that would include both advertising and product integrations in shows. The network is asking between $10 million and $15 million for those packages, a person familiar with the matter said.

For several months, OWN has been working to finalize an elaborate advertising and sponsorship pact with Procter & Gamble Co., but talks have bogged down in part over price, according to people familiar with the matter. One person familiar with the talks pegged the value of the package at well over $20 million.

The network is using Ms. Winfrey's ability to attract high-profile talent. One OWN series, "Visionaries: Inside the Creative Mind," will highlight pop musician Lady Gaga and movie director James Cameron, among others. Another show, "Master Class," will feature people like former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and musician Jay-Z relaying life stories and lessons directly into the camera.

Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, said Ms. Winfrey asked him to participate during a phone call. "I didn't even think about it," Mr. Carter said last month. "I just said 'yes.'"

OWN's Ms. Norman has been working with her staff to assemble about 1,200 hours of original and acquired programming for the first year on the air. One focus has been keeping the right tone, she said. "The hard thing for us internally as we talk about these themes has been that they're not spinach," she said. "The job is to crack open these great ideas and make them accessible to everyone, and make them entertaining."

Ms. Winfrey echoed that idea, saying, "If it's going to be spinach, it needs a little truffle salt."