31 July 2010

Univision Radio to Pay $1 Million in Payola Inquiry

Bloomberg

Univision Radio Inc., a Spanish- language broadcaster, will pay $1 million to settle claims it secretly accepted payment from a record label for playing songs on the air, the Federal Communications Commission said.

“Payola -- the idea of pay-for-play -- misleads the listening public,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said today in a statement. The agency is committed “to ensuring that broadcasters play it straight with the public,” he said.

The broadcaster, which owns or operates 70 stations in 16 U.S. markets, also entered a plea in a related criminal case filed by the Justice Department at federal court in Los Angeles, the FCC said.

The case “relates to a payola scheme by an isolated group of employees” at Univision Music Group from 2003 to 2006, Univision said in an e-mailed statement. New York-based Univision reported the misconduct to federal prosecutors, and the music group was sold in 2008, the statement said. Universal Music Group bought the unit, according to a company statement.

Univision has agreed to train workers on payola restrictions, the FCC said.

Univision was purchased in 2007 by a group that includes Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, Providence Equity Partners Inc., Saban Capital Group, TPG Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Four radio companies in 2007 agreed to pay $12.5 million to settle U.S. claims their stations took money and gifts to play certain songs, ending a probe of CBS Radio Inc., Clear Channel Communications Inc., Entercom Communications Corp. and Citadel Broadcasting Corp. The four companies agreed to bar stations or employees from accepting payments to play songs.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, record companies paid radio disc jockeys to play rock ‘n roll songs. The practice was made illegal.

30 July 2010

Sharrod Plans to Sue Blogger

Associated Press



Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said Thursday she will sue a conservative blogger who posted a video edited in a way that made her appear racist.

Sherrod was forced to resign last week as director of rural development in Georgia after Andrew Breitbart posted the edited video online. In the full video, Sherrod, who is black, spoke to a local NAACP group about racial reconciliation and overcoming her initial reluctance to help a white farmer.

Speaking Thursday at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, Sherrod said she would definitely sue over the video that took her remarks out of context. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has since offered Sherrod a new job in the department. She has not decided whether to accept.

Sherrod said she had not received an apology from Breitbart and no longer wanted one. "He had to know that he was targeting me," she said.

Breitbart did not immediately respond to a call or e-mails seeking comment. He has said he posted the portion of the speech where she expresses reservations about helping the white farmer to prove that racism exists in the NAACP, which had just demanded that the tea party movement renounce any bigoted elements. Some members of the NAACP audience appeared to approve when Sherrod described her reluctance to help the farmer.

The farmer came forward after Sherrod resigned, saying she ended up helping save his farm.

Vilsack and President Barack Obama later called Sherrod to apologize for her hasty ouster. Obama said Thursday that Sherrod "deserves better than what happened last week."

Addressing the National Urban League, he said the full story Sherrod was trying to tell "is exactly the kind of story we need to hear in America."

Obama has acknowledged that people in his administration overreacted without having full information, and says part of the blame lies with a media culture that seeks conflict but not all the facts.

At the journalists convention, Sherrod was asked what could be done to ensure accurate coverage as conservatives like Breitbart attack the NAACP and other liberal groups.

Sherrod, 62, responded that members of her generation who were in the civil rights movement "tried too much to shield that hurt and pain from younger people. We have to do a better job of helping those individuals who get these positions, in the media, in educational institutions, in the presidency, we have to make sure they understand the history so they can do a better job."

She said Obama is one of those who need a history lesson.

"That's why I invited him to southwest Georgia. I need to take him around and show him some of that history," Sherrod said.

Sherrod said the description of the new job she has been offered in the office of advocacy and outreach was a "draft," and she questioned whether any money had been budgeted for its programs.

"I have many, many questions before I can make a decision," she said.

Despite her experience, Sherrod said she believes the country can heal its racial divisions — if people are willing to confront the issue.

"Young African-Americans, young whites, too, we've done such a job of trying to be mainstream that we push things under the rug that we need to talk about. And then we get to situations like this," she said.

"I truly believe that we can come together in this country. But you don't (come together) by not talking to each other. You don't get there by pushing things under the rug."

Sherrod said her faulty firing should not be blamed on all media.

Before the full video was released, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said Sherrod should be fired, and others called her speech racist. O'Reilly later apologized.

"They had a chance to get the facts out, and they weren't interested," Sherrod said.

She said she declined to give Fox an interview because she believed they were not interested in pursuing the truth. "They would have twisted it," she said.

A Fox News spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

29 July 2010

Icahn Sues Lions Gate, Rachesky Over Debt-Equity Swap

Bloomberg


Carl Icahn sued Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. in Canada and New York to reverse a debt- for-equity swap between the Vancouver-based movie studio and board member Mark Rachesky.

The billionaire investor is seeking an order to prevent Rachesky from selling the shares or exercising voting rights attached to them, according to the lawsuit filed July 23 in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Icahn, 74, is trying to reverse the swap that hinders his hostile bid for the studio by putting more shares in the hands of opponents. The swap boosted Rachesky’s stake, the second- largest after Icahn’s, to 28.9 percent. Icahn has 33 percent.

“I find this scheme reprehensible,” Icahn said in an e- mailed statement today. “I will spare no expense in holding the culpable parties responsible for their behavior.”

A second lawsuit was filed today in New York State Supreme Court. Icahn said his $6.50-a-share tender offer will also continue.

“This case involves an unlawful sham transaction by which an incumbent board of directors, management and their co- conspirators sought to further entrench their own positions and to protect their personal interests in compensation and perks at the sole expense of their company,” according to Icahn’s New York complaint.

Icahn previously offered $7 a share for Lions Gate in a tender that ended June 30. He has criticized the company’s spending on films and said in June that he planned a proxy fight to replace management and the board.

Diluted Holding

Peter Wilkes, a Lions Gate spokesman, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Last week, Lions Gate issued new shares to Rachesky’s MHR Fund Management LLC, putting 12 percent more of the stock in friendly hands and diluting Icahn’s holding. Rachesky, 51, increased his stake through a transaction in which one of his investment funds bought $100 million of convertible notes from Kornitzer Capital Management, then exchanged debt for stock.

Rachesky acquired 16.2 million shares in the exchange at a price of $6.20 each, Icahn said.

The studio, distributor of the “Saw” horror films and producer of the Emmy-winning “Mad Men” TV series, announced the Rachesky deal days after a 10-day truce with Icahn expired.

During the truce, the two sides discussed potential acquisitions and possible board seats for Icahn. The talks didn’t yield results that would merit an extension, Icahn said.

Lions Gate, run from Santa Monica, California, rose 12 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $6.90 at 4:02 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have gained 19 percent this year.

The case is Icahn v. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., 651076/2010, Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

Painter 'finds' lost Ansel Adams negatives

BBC News
Glass negatives bought for just $45 (£34) have been proven to be the work of iconic photographer Ansel Adams and are now worth $200m, it is claimed.



Painter and collector Rick Norsigian says he bought 65 negatives in 2000.

After years of trying to prove their origin, his lawyer now says experts have concluded "beyond reasonable doubt" that they were Adams' work.

The family of the landscape photographer, who died in 1984, have called the matter "unfortunate fraud".

Mr Norsigian said he spent years trying to verify the photos, which were believed to have been destroyed in a 1937 fire at Adams' studio in Yosemite National Park.

In the years after 1937 Ansel Adams became one of the world's best-known photographers, with original prints of his images of the American West, including Yosemite, selling for huge sums.

His images were produced with darkroom techniques that emphasised shadows and contrasts in his black-and-white images.
Lucrative find

Defending his client's intentions, Mr Norsigian's lawyer, Arnold Peter, said the authentication involved experts in photography, handwriting and even meteorology - deployed in an effort to verify the weather conditions in Adams' famous landscape pictures.

Mr Norsigian released the finding on his website and at a press conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday. But some are still not convinced.

"It's very distressing," said Bill Turnage, managing director of Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

Mr Turnage says he is currently consulting lawyers about the possibility of suing Mr Norsigian for using Ansel Adams' name for commercial use, which is copyrighted under law.

Matthew Adams, the grandson of Ansel Adams, also admits he is "sceptical".

"There is no real hard evidence," he said.

Mr Norsigian purchased the negatives from a man who said he bought them from a salvage warehouse in Los Angeles, California in the 1940s.

Mr Norsigian has already created a website, from where he hopes to sell prints made from 17 of the negatives at prices ranging from $45 for a poster to $7,500 for a darkroom print.

A documentary on Mr Norsigian's attempts to have the negatives authenticated is also in the works along with a touring exhibition, which will debut at Fresno State University in California later this year.

28 July 2010

Tour de France Family Top Contador in Money Race

Bloomberg
 
 
The Tour de France’s biggest prize isn’t heading to the likely race-winner, Alberto Contador. It will go to the Amaury family.

Contador, who is leading at the end of yesterday’s 108-mile mountain stage, would earn 50,000 euros ($64,600) after sharing the winner’s 450,000-euro paycheck with his eight teammates, a tradition in cycling, his Astana team general manager Yvon Sanquer said.

That compares with the 136.6 million euros of dividends paid between 2004 and 2008 by the family’s Amaury Sport Organisation, which runs cycling’s biggest event, to its shareholders, the Paris-based company’s latest published accounts show. The payout to riders hasn’t changed since the first of Contador’s three victories in 2007. The ASO blames the stagnant funds on doping in the sport cutting into sponsorship income.

“When you compare it to other sports the prize money is not high,” Sanquer said in an interview. “It should be increased if possible. The riders deserve it.”

This year’s Tour ends in Paris in two days. Even after scandals involving blood doping in recent years, the event remains the biggest asset of the Amaury family, according to Conor O’Shea, a media analyst at Kepler Capital Markets in Paris. The family and Lagardere SCA get dividends from ASO.

Family


Jean-Etienne Amaury is president, and his mother, Marie- Odile, is on the board of the company, which also manages smaller races such as the Dakar rally and the Paris half- marathon. Lagardere, which owns Elle and Paris Match magazines, holds a 25 percent stake in the family’s group of companies.

The family has controlled the race since the 1940s, and it is more profitable than their publishing interests, including Le Parisien newspaper.

“The value of sports rights is strong and the Tour de France is a huge global brand,” O’Shea said. It could be worth 1 billion euros, five times more than Le Parisien, in which the Amaurys may sell a stake, O’Shea said.

The Tour, first run in 1903, attracts millions of spectators and is broadcast in 186 countries. It gets as much as 60 percent of sales from television rights, with about 30 percent coming from sponsorship and much of the rest coming from fees from the towns that host stages of the race, according to ASO marketing director Laurent Lachaux. ASO had sales of 158.6 million euros in 2008. Lachaux declined to say how much came from the Tour. Members of the family weren’t made available for interview.

Prize Money


Overall, the Tour hands out about 3.3 million euros in prize money. Even if 27-year-old Contador was to bank the whole first prize, he would be pulling in less than half the 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) that compatriot Rafael Nadal got from winning the Wimbledon tennis championship earlier this month.

“They could double the prizes without any problem,” said Daniel Malbranque, general secretary of the international union of riders for a decade until March.

To be sure, Contador earns “millions” of euros a year from Kazakhstan-backed Astana, Sanquer said, without being more specific. He gets a salary of 5 million euros, L’Equipe newspaper reported on July 20.

Race organizers froze prize money the last few years after doping by riders threatened sponsorship contracts, ASO director Lachaux said. Floyd Landis was stripped of his 2006 title for doping and one of the 2007 race favorites, Alexandre Vinokourov, was thrown out when tests showed he had two different groups of red blood cells, indicating he’d injected someone else’s blood to boost his stamina.

‘Absurd’ Request

“There wouldn’t have been any basis for them to ask for a 10 percent rise,” Lachaux said of Tour riders. “It would have been absurd.”

No positive doping tests have yet emerged from this year’s three-week race, which covers 2,264 miles. Contador leads Team Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck by 8 seconds with the most difficult mountain stages finished.

Contador gets almost all his earnings from the team, although he has minor deals with fashion brand Hugo Boss AG and Specialized Bicycle Components Inc., his spokesman Jacinto Vidarte said. He said Contador was satisfied with the amount of Tour prize money.

“It’s just a bit of extra money,” Vidarte said.

Pedro Horrillo, a former rider who retired after a crash that left him hospitalized last year, said in an interview that cyclists regard race prize money as a perk and not part of their regular income.

Rewards


“The mentality of the rider is to negotiate with the team” not race organizers, Horrillo said. “You get your reward with extra salary or bonuses.”

The Amaurys have controlled the Tour de France since buying L’Auto magazine, which had set up the race as a promotional stunt. The title became known as L’Equipe, which the family still owns, Lachaux said.

While it plans to keep L’Equipe, an Amaury group executive who declined to be identified confirmed reports last month that it is considering selling a stake in Le Parisien, which it also owned since the 1940s.

“Newspapers are trophy buys that don’t make any money,” O’Shea said. “The value of sports rights is much higher.”

27 July 2010

Ad Bounce Gives Relief to U.S. Newspapers, for Now

Reuters

Advertising sales at newspapers finally rebounded in the second quarter, with banks, luxury retailers and automakers once more spending on print campaigns.

Figures released by the Wall Street Journal on Friday should add to the brightening mood in the publishing business, with the largest U.S. paper posting an 11 percent increase in advertising revenue for April, May and June.

Chief Revenue Officer Michael Rooney said that, thanks to healthier spending by finance and consumer companies, the newspaper's print sales rose 9 percent and its digital sales jumped 19 percent.

"We have just concluded our third consecutive quarter with an increase in ad revenue across both print and digital," Rooney said. News Corp, which owns the newspaper, reports quarterly earnings on Aug. 4.

Several key publishers showed similar trends in earnings reports this week, but the better figures still failed to reverse a month-long slide in stock prices. Gannett Co is down 17 percent, McClatchy Co has dropped 24 percent and the New York Times Inc has slid 9 percent over the past four weeks.

One concern among investors is that advertising gains are coming against deeply depressed numbers from a year ago, making for easy comparisons. Newspapers were pummeled by the economic recession, which exacerbated years of declining readership and advertising revenues caused by competition from the Internet and other media.

The biggest question is how newspapers perform in the third and fourth quarters.

"I think they are bouncing along the bottom," said Ken Doctor an affiliate analyst with Outsell Research. Doctor said that comparables will get more difficult during the third and fourth quarters.

The New York Times said this week that total revenue increased 1 percent, a first in nearly three years. Advertising revenue at the flagship and its sister the International Herald Tribune was positive, too, rising just over 1 percent.

Media General, the publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the operator of several broadcast stations, also said that revenue rose -- also a first in three years.

26 July 2010

Tribune to Leave Bankruptcy, Old Ways Behind

The Wall Street Journal

 
Tribune Co. Chief Executive Randy Michaels wants to remake the 163-year-old media company. But first he has to steer it out of bankruptcy.

Mr. Michaels, a veteran radio executive, was hired by investor Sam Zell to run Tribune's Internet and broadcast divisions when Mr. Zell took the company private in 2007. But the $8.2 billion deal, funded nearly entirely with borrowed money, proved unmanageable, leading to a December 2008 filing for bankruptcy protection.

Now, Mr. Michaels—promoted seven months ago to CEO— is rethinking Tribune's business, which includes eight major newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, and 23 local TV stations. He's reducing duplication in news reporting, so that smaller papers use national and foreign articles from larger siblings rather than writing their own.

He's also looking for revenue boosts in unconventional places, such as renting out part of Tribune's headquarters for the filming of a "Transformers" movie for more than $200,000.

The company is expected to wrap up bankruptcy proceedings later this summer. On Monday, a bankruptcy examiner is slated to weigh in on certain debtholders' claims that the buyout was improper.

As a radio personality before becoming an executive at Clear Channel and elsewhere, Mr. Michaels was known for colorful on-air stunts, including faking a frog being pureed in a blender.

He shared his strategy at Tribune's Chicago headquarters.

Excerpts:

WSJ:As a radio executive, you helped lead industry consolidation by merging local stations. Will Tribune consolidate the newspaper and local-TV industries?

Mr. Michaels: For there to be a printing plant in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach is crazy. There's too much infrastructure.

On the TV side, this is an industry ready to consolidate. I believe my experience in helping people look rationally at opportunities to grow their business by intelligently consolidating regionally will be very helpful.

WSJ: You've centralized the production of foreign and national news across your papers to save money and manpower. What have you done and why?

Mr. Michaels: Stories [are] laid out in modules — standard sizes with collections of headlines, content, images [reducing the need for layout and copy editors]. If you pick up the Allentown [Pa.] Morning Call, the foreign news was written in Los Angeles and the national news was written in either Chicago or Washington. It's probably higher quality journalism than a local paper that size is going to be able to afford.

WSJ: How are you keeping employees motivated?


Mr. Michaels: We recognize people who've had great ideas. A fellow in Florida figured out a way to save us a couple of million dollars [in] the way we buy newsprint. We gave him a $25,000 check, took his picture, sent it around. There were some people who groused about that, but there were a lot more people who sent us ideas.

WSJ: Are companies spending money on advertising again?


Mr. Michaels: We're seeing a substantial rebound in certain sectors. Auto [advertising] is back to a large extent, particularly in broadcast, but I don't believe auto sales are matching ad spend. If that doesn't change it could be a different situation. BP is spending a lot of money [on ads]. There apparently is a bright side to polluting the planet.

WSJ: But the newspaper industry's revenue from selling print ads has been falling for more than four years. Is print media in a death spiral?


Mr. Michaels: We're going to do a couple billion dollars in newspaper advertising this year. It's still the number one place people advertise. It's just [that] costs went up at a time when margins were very high.

WSJ: Mr. Zell got a lot of attention recently when he said print newspaper delivery will be replaced by electronic versions. What do you think?

Mr. Michaels: We will stop printing if and when it's no longer economically viable. Today, at every one of our papers, it's not even close. Our smallest paper makes north of $10 million [a year]. Our largest paper makes north of $100 million.

WSJ: News organizations have been flirting with charging people to read their websites. Will you?

Mr. Michaels: I just don't believe the economics of a paywall are going to work, unless your content is unique, highly differentiated, difficult to duplicate. As good as I believe our content is, if there are reasonable substitutes available for free it's tough to get people to pay.

WSJ: You and your team have said Tribune is going to "blow up" the traditions of local-TV news. What do you mean?


Mr. Michaels: We are about to launch a TV newscast in Houston that has no anchors, that has great pictures and great writing, but doesn't involve a set or a desk or anyone standing in the way of the picture. Now is it going to work? We're going to find out.

WSJ: When are you expecting Tribune will be out of bankruptcy?

Mr. Michaels: I believe we're close to the end of the process. We're working towards the dates that you see [lenders must vote by Aug. 6 on the company's bankruptcy-exit plan] and believe that those will hold.

24 July 2010

Manka Brothers take Media by Storm, Online that is

Associated Press

 
While Disney CEO Bob Iger was chatting with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg at a major media summit in Idaho this month, Khan Manka Jr. was squiring around the lodge bar looking for a drink.

Bumping into Iger, Manka had to "gently" remind him that he wasn't interested in buying broadcast network ABC, because he already owned one of his own, MBS. "I must apologize to Bob. I didn't mean to dress him down so cruelly in front of the other moguls," Manka writes on his blog.

If now you're thinking "Who's Manka?" you're not alone - real coverage of the event never mentions his name. He exists only as the prolific blogger and the fictional chairman of the world's largest media company, Manka Bros. Studios.

This week, Manka blogged that he gave the keynote address to the "geeks, freaks and dorks" at the annual Comic-Con convention in San Diego, dodging a question from a man dressed as Batman about whether a movie will be made of the "Captain Stoppo" comic strip.

Manka is a make-believe media baron, son of Bulgarian immigrants, and the creation of John Perry, a real business development executive at Warner Bros.

Perry, 42, started the website in 1999 with then-co-worker Chris Stengel with a simple but outrageous goal: "Can you start something that's not real, and actually turn it into the world's largest media company?"

Through Manka and his purported employee Jill Kennedy, Perry and his partners skewer media moguls and Hollywood, poking fun at the bad decisions made around the industry with a precision that comes from witnessing them first-hand.

It's reminiscent of a more prominent parody blog, Fake Steve Jobs. Written anonymously until then-Forbes editor Daniel Lyons was outed by the media, the first-person caricature of Apple Inc.'s CEO painted him as caustic and arrogant. The blog became a Silicon Valley sensation in part because it filled a vacuum, as Jobs generally avoids unscripted conversations with the press.

Perry doesn't advertise his position as the site's mastermind, but he didn't shy away from a reporter's questions. He only jokingly keeps up the charade that he moonlights as a Manka Bros. employee.

Through Kennedy, he regularly posts comments about his "boss" on real-world websites belonging to The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post.

Given the replies he's gotten from some living, breathing respondents, Perry is getting closer to realizing his goal of making Manka real.

"I get letters saying, 'I had no idea, why haven't people heard of the Manka Bros.?,'" he says. Online at least, Manka Bros. is slightly bigger than Time Warner Inc., NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Co. and its other media peers. The company has detailed origins back to the early days of Hollywood to boot. "On the Internet, we're all equal," Perry says. "Revenue outside the Internet is a little challenged right now."

The site has real ads that bring in real revenue, at least enough to cover the $75-a-month hosting fee. It gets a steady stream of a few thousand visitors a month, albeit mostly Hollywood insiders.

It details the operations of a company that hews humorously close to how major media companies are structured, with divisions for movies, TV, publishing, music, theater, religion, theme parks and children. The one big difference is that all Manka Bros. projects seem destined for horrible failure, such as "Rampage of the Stegosaur: The Broadway Musical."

"You'd see all sorts of bad decisions being made" around the industry, says Stengel, 41, recalling his days at Warner Bros. in strategic planning. "This was our way to exorcise our demons with whatever was going on during the day."

In real life, Perry helps prepare investor-day presentations for studio parent Time Warner, which is why his version of Manka Bros. is almost believable.

Although Warner Bros. itself is fine with the project, a spokesman declined to comment.

In one video, Perry plays the role of Manka Bros. President and Chief Operating Officer Lloyd Grohl, and pokes fun at the forecasts that are part of many companies' investor materials. Slides showing years of decline are followed by predictions of a hockey-stick-like recovery. "Nice, huh?" Grohl says. "I wouldn't be selling (shares) any time soon if I were you. A reminder these are just projections, though solid. It's not real cash . yet."

Though he's skewered executives from former Yahoo Inc. CEO Terry Semel to IAC/InteractiveCorp CEO Barry Diller, the only executive who's ever responded was Viacom Inc.'s president of programming for MTV, Tony DiSanto.

DiSanto made the mistake of telling a real-world journalist from Entertainment Weekly that "The Hills" was turning into this generation's "A Tale of Two Cities" or "Oliver Twist." Manka Bros. "guest blogger" Cyrus Weinstein describes a fake lunch in which DiSanto compares other populist TV shows to classic novels. ("Project Runway" is described by DiSanto during that lunch as this generation's "The Brothers Karamasov").

Although DiSanto didn't return a message seeking comment, it's clear from his response on the site that he got the joke. "What I meant to say was that The Hills is this generation's Great Expectations. I'm always getting my Dickens mixed up," DiSanto wrote.

"He took it the right way," Perry says.

And like any functioning media conglomerate, Manka Bros.' development pipeline is chock full.

Next year, it is planning to launch an awards show in which Manka productions are expected to secure several wins. The company also is planning to fend off a hostile takeover by a larger rival. It's a good thing Perry has secured the domain name for its nemesis, InternationalGlobalWorldMedia.com.

23 July 2010

Fred Barnes: The Vast Left-Wing Media Conspiracy

The Wall Street Journal
Everyone knew most of the press corps was hoping for Obama in 2008. Newly released emails show that hundreds of them were actively working to promote him.

 
When I'm talking to people from outside Washington, one question inevitably comes up: Why is the media so liberal? The question often reflects a suspicion that members of the press get together and decide on a story line that favors liberals and Democrats and denigrates conservatives and Republicans.

My response has usually been to say, yes, there's liberal bias in the media, but there's no conspiracy. The liberal tilt is an accident of nature. The media disproportionately attracts people from a liberal arts background who tend, quite innocently, to be politically liberal. If they came from West Point or engineering school, this wouldn't be the case.

Now, after learning I'd been targeted for a smear attack by a member of an online clique of liberal journalists, I'm inclined to amend my response. Not to say there's a media conspiracy, but at least to note that hundreds of journalists have gotten together, on an online listserv called JournoList, to promote liberalism and liberal politicians at the expense of traditional journalism.

My guess is that this and other revelations about JournoList will deepen the distrust of the national press. True, participants in the online clubhouse appear to hail chiefly from the media's self-identified left wing. But its founder, Ezra Klein, is a prominent writer for the Washington Post. Mr. Klein shut down JournoList last month—a wise decision.

It's thanks to Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller website that we know something about JournoList, though the emails among the liberal journalists were meant to be private. (Mr. Carlson hasn't revealed how he obtained the emails.) In June, the Daily Caller disclosed a series of JournoList musings by David Weigel, then a Washington Post blogger assigned to cover conservatives. His emails showed he loathes conservatives, and he was subsequently fired.

This week, Mr. Carlson produced a series of JournoList emails from April 2008, when Barack Obama's presidential bid was in serious jeopardy. Videos of the antiwhite, anti-American sermons of his Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had surfaced, first on ABC and then other networks.

JournoList contributors discussed strategies to aid Mr. Obama by deflecting the controversy. They went public with a letter criticizing an ABC interview of Mr. Obama that dwelled on his association with Mr. Wright. Then, Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent proposed attacking Mr. Obama's critics as racists. He wrote:

"If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they've put upon us. Instead, take one of them—Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares—and call them racists. . . . This makes them 'sputter' with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction."

No one on JournoList endorsed the Ackerman plan. But rather than object on ethical grounds, they voiced concern that the strategy would fail or possibly backfire.

Among journalists in general, there's always been a herd instinct. Eugene McCarthy, the Minnesota senator and Democratic presidential candidate, once described political writers as birds on a telephone wire. When one bird flew to the wire across the street, they all did. In Mr. Ackerman's case, I'm glad none of the birds joined him across the street.

We've often seen media groupthink in campaigns. In 1980, most of the media decided that President Jimmy Carter was being mean-spirited in his re-election effort with his harsh denunciations of Ronald Reagan, his Republican opponent. The media turned the meanness issue into major story. In 1992, journalists treated the economy as if it were dead in the water, though a recovery from a mild recession had begun early the previous year. I could go on.

I think JournoList is—or was—fundamentally different, and not simply because one of its members proposed to make palpably false accusations. As best I can tell, those involved in JournoList considered themselves part of a team. And their goal was to make sure the team won. In 2008, this was Mr. Obama's team. More recently, the goal seems to have been to defeat the conservative team.

Until JournoList came along, liberal journalists were rarely part of a team. Neither are conservative journalists today, so far as I know. If there's a team, no one has asked me to join. As a conservative, I normally write more favorably about Republicans than Democrats and I routinely treat conservative ideas as superior to liberal ones. But I've never been part of a discussion with conservative writers about how we could most help the Republican or the conservative team.

My experience with other conservative journalists is that they are loners. One of the most famous conservative columnists of the past half-century, the late Robert Novak, is a good example. I knew him well for 35 years. He didn't tell me what stories he was working on nor ask what I was planning to write. He never mentioned how we might promote Republicans or aid the conservative cause, nor did I.

What was particularly pathetic about the scheme to smear Mr. Obama's critics was labeling them as racists. The accusation has been made so frequently in recent years, without evidence to back it up, that it has little effect. It's now the last refuge of liberal scoundrels.

The first call I got after the Daily Caller unearthed the emails involving me was from Karl Rove. He said he wanted to talk to his "fellow racist." We laughed about this. But the whole episode was also sad. I didn't sputter at the thought of being called a racist. But it was sad to see what journalism, or at least a segment of it, had come to.

22 July 2010

CBS Announces 'View'-Like Talk Show

USA Today

Look out, View ladies!

CBS has just announced a new daytime talk show for fall 2010. And it sounds a lot like yours, but bigger. And louder.

It will be a one-hour series (no name yet) co-hosted by Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Holly Robinson Peete, Leah Remini and Marissa Jaret Winokur.

The co-hosts will do exactly what The Viewsters do, according to the press release. They'll "swap stories, challenge each other on issues and engage the studio audience and viewers at home." They'll also interview stars and feature footage from the field and from home, shot by the co-hosts themselves.

Sara Gilbert (Roseanne) is producing and would be one of the featured panelists; The Early Show's Julie Chen (a new mom and wife of CBS chief Leslie Moonves) is another. (Contrary to Page Six, neither Lisa Rinna nor Real Housewives' Bethenny Frankel is involved). A pilot episode will be shot next month and is being considered, along with game show remake Pyramid, for fall as a replacement for cancelled soap opera As the World Turns.

21 July 2010

Sumner Redstone Voicemail Sparks Controversy

The Wall Street Journal

 
Viacom Inc. attempted to distance itself Tuesday from comments Sumner Redstone, its executive chairman, made to a reporter.

In a nearly three-minute voicemail, Redstone said reporter Peter Lauria would be “well-rewarded and well-protected” if he coughed up the identity of a source for an early June story that he had written for Web publication The Daily Beast.

“We’re not going to hurt this guy. We just want to sit him down and find out why he did [what he did],” Redstone, 87 years old, said in the voicemail, which the Daily Beast posted its Web site Tuesday. Lauria wrote an accompanying story in which he declined to divulge his sources.

Viacom suggested Tuesday that Redstone was acting on his own. “There is no investigation at Viacom,” spokesman Carl Folta said. “We are not trying to find out who the leaker is.”

The story in question had reported, according to “sources with knowledge of the situation,” that Redstone had become “smitten” with a girl-band whose members were alleged to be both skimpy in their clothing and talent. Redstone was said to be pushing Viacom unit MTV to shoot a reality series about them.

MTV has been developing a show about the band, according to people familiar with the matter. It is still unclear, however, whether the MTV will pick up the show to air on the network.

In his voicemail, Redstone suggested that Lauria’s report had been inaccurate because the band, in fact, “is revolutionary.”

“We have to have the name of the person who gave you that story,” Redstone said in the voicemail. “We’re not going to kill him. We just want to talk to him. We’re not going to fire him. We just want to talk to him.”

In an emailed statement, a Daily Beast spokesman said “we hope the show does indeed make it to air so that the viewing public can indeed decide on whether or not the group are ‘revolutionary.’”

20 July 2010

E-Books Outselling Hardcopies on Amazon

NY Times

 
Amazon.com, one of the nation’s largest booksellers, announced Monday that for the last three months, sales of books for its e-reader, the Kindle, outnumbered sales of hardcover books.

In that time, Amazon said, it sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books, including hardcovers for which there is no Kindle edition.

The pace of change is quickening, too, Amazon said. In the last four weeks sales rose to 180 digital books for every 100 hardcover copies. Amazon has 630,000 Kindle books, a small fraction of the millions of books sold on the site.

Book lovers mourning the demise of hardcover books with their heft and their musty smell need a reality check, said Mike Shatzkin, founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, which advises book publishers on digital change. “This was a day that was going to come, a day that had to come,” he said. He predicts that within a decade, fewer than 25 percent of all books sold will be print versions.

The shift at Amazon is “astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months,” the chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, said in a statement.

Still, the hardcover book is far from extinct. Industrywide sales are up 22 percent this year, according to the American Publishers Association.

The figures do not include free Kindle books, of which there are 1.8 million originally published before 1923 (they are in the public domain because their copyright has expired). Amazon does not specify how paperback sales compare with e-book sales, but paperback sales are thought to still outnumber e-books.

The big surprise, Mr. Shatzkin said, was that the day came during the first period that the Kindle faced a serious competitive threat. The Apple iPad, which started sales in April, is marketed as a leisure device for reading, and it has its own e-book store. Yet sales of the Kindle also grew each month during the quarter, Amazon said.

Amazon is being helped by an explosion in e-book sales across the board. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales have quadrupled this year through May.

Amazon said its sales exceeded that growth rate. One reason Kindle book sales have held their own is that owners of iPads and other mobile reading devices buy Kindle books, which they can read on computers, iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys and Android phones. But, except for the free uncopyrighted books, Kindle owners must buy or download content via Amazon. “Every time they sell a Kindle, they lock up a customer,” Mr. Shatzkin said.

Some industry analysts say that many people do not consider the iPad to be a reading device the way the Kindle is, and see a need to own both. Amazon’s latest sales figures are “clearly an indication that the iPad is complementary to the Kindle, not a replacement,” said Youssef H. Squali, managing director at Jefferies & Company in charge of Internet and new media research.

The growth rate of Kindle sales tripled after Amazon lowered the price of the device in late June to $189 from $259, Amazon said. That was moments after Barnes & Noble dropped the price of its Nook e-reader to $199 from $259.

During roughly the same period, Apple sold three million iPads, it said.

Analysts said Amazon’s announcement could assuage investors’ concerns that the iPad threatens Kindle sales. Amazon’s stock price is down about 16 percent in the last three months, in part because of those fears.

“The sentiment’s turned a little more negative on the stock because of iPad issues and concern that Amazon would lose market share in the book segment,” said Aaron Kessler, director of Internet and digital media equity research at ThinkEquity.

MySpace Said to Hold Ad Talks With Microsoft, Yahoo, Google

Bloomberg / Business Week

 
News Corp.’s MySpace, seeking to replace a search advertising contract with Google Inc. that expires in August, has held talks with Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., according to a person familiar with the company’s plans.

Any deal would carry a substantially lower price than the $900 million Google agreed to pay in 2006 to place search ads within the social-networking site, a person with knowledge of the discussions said. MySpace also remains in talks with Google about extending their partnership, the person said.

MySpace has struggled to maintain ad revenue during an exodus of users to Facebook Inc. and the departure of key executives. Bought in 2005 for $580 million in cash, MySpace lost its status as the world’s top social-networking site in 2008. News Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch said last year that the site would fall short of traffic commitments to Google, lowering income on that deal by $100 million in 2009.

“We’re currently talking to multiple providers across the many facets of search to bring our users the best possible search experience in a social environment,” said Tracy Akselrud, a spokeswoman for Beverly Hills, California-based MySpace, who declined to name specific companies.

Microsoft is looking to boost users and ad revenue for its 13-month-old Bing search engine, which claimed 12.1 percent of searches in the U.S., compared with Google’s 63.7 percent, according to data tracker ComScore Inc. Microsoft has forged a separate agreement to handle searches on Yahoo’s site -- a deal that’s scheduled to take effect by December.

Pete Wootton, a spokesman for Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, declined to comment on negotiations with News Corp. May Petry, a spokeswoman for Yahoo in Sunnyvale, California, and Jane Penner, a spokeswoman at Mountain View, California-based Google, also declined to comment.

MySpace Co-President Jason Hirschhorn left in June, becoming the most recent high-level executive to depart the business. He had taken the co-president role in February, after Owen Van Natta stepped down as CEO.

19 July 2010

Lions Gate Said to Woo MGM Studio Creditors; Seeks Terms Icahn Would Back

Bloomberg News

 
Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., the independent film and TV producer, has approached creditors of ailing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. to help shape a plan to acquire the studio, two people with knowledge of the situation said.

Lions Gate Vice Chairman Michael Burns has been meeting in New York with investors who hold some of MGM’s $3.7 billion debt, according to the people, who requested anonymity because the discussions are private.

Any agreement to buy Los Angeles-based MGM, which won another loan reprieve from creditors today, would have to be approved by Carl Icahn, Lions Gate’s largest shareholder. He took a 10-day break from efforts to gain control of Vancouver- based Lions Gate’s board so the company could make a case for certain acquisitions. That standstill agreement expires on July 19. Debt-hobbled MGM is co-owner of the James Bond franchise.

Icahn, 74, who holds almost 38 percent of Lions Gate shares, isn’t a party to the talks, one person with knowledge of Burns’s efforts said yesterday. The billionaire investor threatened a proxy fight to elect his own board at Lions Gate, distributor of the “Saw” movies, after failing to gain a majority of the stock with a $7-a-share takeover bid.

Icahn, who said in March he opposes the purchase of film libraries such as MGM’s, couldn’t be reached. Burns didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Michael Utley, spokesman for Houlihan Lokey, the investment bank advising MGM’s creditor committee, declined to comment, as did Susie Arons, an outside spokeswoman for MGM.

The creditors, who formed a committee that represents MGM’s 100 or so debt holders, haven’t agreed on a unified position, the people said.

Balance Sheet

The creditors’ lack of unity underscores the difficulty Burns faces as he tries to craft a deal that will satisfy MGM’s debt holders and Icahn, who has said he won’t approve a large equity-for-debt swap that dilutes his holdings.

Peter Wilkes, a Lions Gate spokesman, said on July 9 the studio “wouldn’t do a highly leveraged deal that added significant debt to our balance sheet.”

Lions Gate said in February that it hired Morgan Stanley as its financial adviser after receiving a tender offer from Icahn.

Shares of the company, also producer of the Emmy winning “Mad Men” TV series, gained 8 cents to $6.61 at 4:03 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Lions Gate, run from Santa Monica, California, has gained 14 percent this year.

MGM was put up for sale last year after falling behind on its debts. Creditors have granted the studio several waivers on its payments. The studio’s newest forbearance agreement, which was announced in a statement today, expires on Sept. 15, almost one year after the first reprieve was announced.

The studio was taken private for $5 billion in 2005 by buyers including Providence Equity Partners.

16 July 2010

Gannett Experimenting With Online Pay Walls In Three Markets

The Wall Street Journal

Chief Executive Craig Dubow said Friday the publishing company is experimenting with subscription models for online news content in three local markets in the U.S.

Dubow said on a conference call with analysts following its second-quarter earnings results that Gannett has launched experiments with "paid content" on its newspaper sites in Greenville, S.C., Talahassee, Fla. and St. George, Utah.

The tests come as a conviction grows in the newspaper industry that online advertising revenue alone can't support substantial newsgathering operations in the digital age, and several major news publishers are moving towards online subscription models to generate a new revenue stream from online readers, who have grown accustomed to getting news online for free.

The New York Times Co. (NYT) has said it will begin charging readers for access to some articles on its website next year, and News Corp. (NWS, NWSA) Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch has said subscription payments will become a much larger part of the company's digital strategy.

News Corp., which owns this newswire as well as The Wall Street Journal, recently announced two investments that reflect its efforts to wrest consumer payments for its news properties on the Web. It acquired a stake in Journalism Online LLC, a venture that helps publishers set up a payment system and business strategies to charge readers for online news and information.

It also acquired Skiff LLC, an electronic-reading technology firm that handles the behind-the-scenes workings of publishing on mobile devices, such as converting files to digital formats and setting up ways to serve up advertisements.

Many publishers view the proliferation of mobile reading devices as a new opportunity to set up subscription models for electronic distribution of news. Dubow said Friday that USA Today's iPhone application would remain a free, ad-supported service at least through the third quarter.

The Wall Street Journal is one of the few examples of newspapers that have maintained a healthy online subscription business as its business and investment-oriented audience has shown a willingness to pay online for its content. Its rival The Financial Times also has a thriving online subscription business, but more general news sites have struggled with the prospect of getting their readers to begin paying online. The New York Times has twice launched online subscription offerings, only to remove them after their results were disappointing.

Dubow said Gannett's experiments will allow the company to gain insights into the willingness of consumers to pay for local, online news content without disrupting its broader publishing business by launching a larger subscription offering.

Gannett Chief Operating Officer Gracia Martore said the company is beefing up its local content offerings in each test market in areas of particular interest to each community, and it is trying different price points in an effort to see what works.

Martore said in three to six months, Gannett should be "much better informed about what business models are sustainable."

Cablevision Customers hit by E-mail Glitch

The Wall Street Journal

 
Cablevision Systems Corp. said it is having technical problems that are causing some of its customers to have trouble accessing their emails.

"Cablevision is experiencing technical issues that have resulted in email delays and email access issues for some customers," the Bethpage, N.Y., company said in a statement in response to an inquiry from The Wall Street Journal. "We have located the problem and expect to resolve the matter as quickly as possible."

Some Cablevision customers contacted by The Journal said that since Thursday they haven't been able to access their email accounts from Cablevision's Optimum service. These Cablevision customers said their cable-television service and access to the Web appear unaffected.

As of March 31, there were more than 2.6 million customers for Cablevision's Optimum Online high-speed Internet service. It wasn't immediately clear how many of the subscribers were experiencing email problems.

"We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers, and we will update this announcement as more information becomes available," Cablevision said in its statement.

15 July 2010

Nebraska TV Network Ponies Up Six Figures for Stuffed Horse

Yahoo News

 
NEW YORK – Roy Rogers' stuffed and mounted dog, Bullet, fetched $35,000 on the second day of an auction of the movie cowboy's belongings in New York City.

An executive of Nebraska cable TV network RFD-TV says the company bought Bullet to accompany Roger's horse Trigger, which the company snagged Wednesday for more than $266,000. RFD-TV chief financial officer Steve Campione says the network hopes to start a museum one day.

The preserved remains of Rogers' wife's horse, Buttermilk, also were auctioned Thursday. Buttermilk sold for $25,000 — less than a tenth of Trigger's price. Christie's has not yet released information on Buttermilk's new owner.

The Rogers auction included more than 1,000 items from the now-closed Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Mo.

14 July 2010

Court Strikes Down FCC's Indecency Policy

The Wall Street Journal



A federal appeals court threw out the FCC's rules on indecent speech Tuesday, in a big win for broadcasters that could lead to a new Supreme Court test of the government's power to control what is said on television and radio.

A three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said the Federal Communications Commission's indecency policies violate the First Amendment and are "unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here."

The decision doesn't mean broadcast TV and radio shows will now be littered with profanity, because advertisers and viewers would likely complain. But the ruling will likely end, for now, the commission's campaign to cleanse the airwaves of even spontaneous vulgarisms with the threat of hefty fines.

"I think the notion that broadcasters are going to be dropping f-bombs in prime time is ludicrous," said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. "If we wanted to do that we could do that from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.," when FCC indecency standards don't apply.

The judges found that the agency's decision to sanction broadcasters' airing of one-time or "fleeting" expletives is unconstitutional, and suggested the FCC's broader indecency enforcement efforts are unconstitutional as well.

The judges left the door open for the FCC to try to write a new indecency policy that does pass constitutional muster. They indicated such a policy would have to be very specific, and leave little to the discretion of government regulators.

It's also possible the Supreme Court could be asked to revisit rulings that have formed the basis for government curbs on indecent broadcast speech, including a 1978 decision that allowed the FCC to fine a radio station for broadcasting a monologue on dirty words by the late comedian George Carlin.

The appeals court suggested such a review could be overdue, as today's "media landscape," with hundreds of cable and satellite channels and Internet-based video sites and social networks, "would have been almost unrecognizable in 1978."

Broadcasters and free-speech advocates applauded the decision, while Fox Television, which led the case against the FCC along with other broadcast networks, said it "always felt that the government's position on fleeting expletives was unconstitutional."

Fox is a division of News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal.

Broadcasters complained they couldn't figure out when they had run afoul of FCC indecency cops. The rules have always been somewhat subjective. The FCC said ABC's un-bleeped airing of the World War II movie "Saving Private Ryan" was permissible, but later fined a PBS station for airing a documentary on blues musicians that included some of the same profanities.

"We agree with the networks that the indecency policy is impermissibly vague," Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote for the court.

Fox and other broadcasters sued the FCC in 2006 after the agency said the networks had violated indecency rules when airing un-bleeped profanities of celebrities during live televised events. It was part of a broader effort by the Bush-era FCC to crack down on broadcast profanities and racy programming that saw indecency fines skyrocket.

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who led expanded FCC efforts to crack down on raunchy broadcasts during the Bush administration, said he thought the court's decision was inevitable. "I have long believed the constitutional underpinnings of indecency law were weak," he said.

The FCC offered few clues on Tuesday about what it might do now. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski released a statement saying the agency was reviewing the decision.

The ruling could have implications for another high-profile indecency case, involving CBS Corp.'s $500,000 fine for airing a brief exposure of singer Janet Jackson's breast during her performance at the 2004 Super Bowl. Last year the Supreme Court ordered the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, to re-examine its judgment in favor of CBS on technical issues. If CBS loses, however, it could ask to have its Super Bowl case reconsidered on constitutional grounds in light of Tuesday's ruling.

The Second Circuit court had suggested in 2007 that FCC indecency policies violated broadcasters' First Amendment rights. But it struck down the rule on narrower grounds, finding the commission failed to follow proper procedures in adopting it. In April 2009, the Supreme Court reversed the procedural ruling, but sent the case back to the Second Circuit to consider First Amendment questions.

12 July 2010

The LeBron Show: Self-Celebration Becomes Self-Immolation

Chicago Tribune

 
If you're Allstate or Geico, do you run ads in Ohio (and beyond) that take a shot at rival State Farm because the company is among those partnered with basketball star LeBron James? Possible slogan: "Some good neighbor."

Should Burger King point out that it flame broils its sandwiches while McDonald's uses that Heat so many felt burned by? Will Pepsi and Gatorade harp on why Coca-Cola and Vitaminwater might now leave a bad taste?

James bid adieu to his likable image as a 25-year-old homegrown hero when he said goodbye to the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat in a live, nationally televised orgy of misjudgments, miscalculations and missed opportunities Thursday.

Blame James' free-agency decision. Blame "The Decision," the TV show his marketing team engineered to showcase that choice. Mostly, blame the graceless way in which James unapologetically shrugged off the idea that many who felt invested in him and the promise he might bring his city its first title in decades would feel betrayed.

"This is a business," James said when ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon presented him with the reality of a backlash as self-celebration became self-immolation. "I had seven great years in Cleveland. I hope the fans understand, and maybe they won't."

The fans may not get it? You know what those fans also may not get? The Big Macs and Nikes that James endorses.

No one who has bought tickets, or glanced at sports section news of seven-, eight- and sometimes nine-figure deals, fails to grasp the business of big-time sports, and that players come and go.

What defies their comprehension is when a jock fails to grasp the sting of emotion-free abandonment, when the athlete they have supported loyally can't even pretend to be sorry to have hurt the people who supported and placed their faith in him.

That's when the needle swings from disappointment to anger.

Add to it a bloated, self-arranged TV special, in which ESPN's customary mix of hype and glory to stress James' megastar status and his decision's importance only amplified the implicit insult of his announcement: He was leaving Cleveland, one of the rustiest notches in the Rust Belt, to "take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat" because he wants to be a winner.

And what do people in Cleveland want, LBJ?

You don't think that's going to seem like an assault on sensibilities, not just in Ohio but almost anywhere within the sound of ESPN idolater Stuart Scott's purr as he ineffectively tried to help James with spin?

Golfer Tiger Woods, when he finally got on national TV after indiscretions changed his image and made sponsors uneasy, may have gone overboard with the apologies. But at least he said he was sorry and seemed to want to make amends — and all he did sleep with a lot of women who weren't his wife.

If you're a Cavs fan, or just someone who wants to believe pro sports are about more than negotiations, salary caps and young millionaires grabbing all they can get, this wasn't James cheating on someone he lives with. This was James cheating on you.

James didn't just damage himself and, perhaps, the marketing partners who collectively dwarf the payout of his NBA contract. The NBA, too, may have a very deep PR hole from which to dig itself out, especially with a leaguewide labor lockout potentially looming in the not-too-distant future.

It didn't help "The Decision" that Jim Gray, the once-respectable interviewer who famously held disgraced baseball star Pete Rose's feet to the fire on gambling long past the point of comfort on live TV, practically rolled over and played dead as James' hand-picked interviewer for the announcement.

Gray killed more than five minutes with 16 toothless questions before getting to the one that James' titular "Decision" was built around. He made CNN's Larry King, who tends to treat interviewees as if they are Faberge eggs, seem like "24"'s Jack Bauer in terrorist-interrogation mode.

As aggravation built with each additional tease, one imagined Gray's "Hamlet": "To be, or, well, before we get to 'the question,' how have you been sleeping lately? Perchance to dream?"

"The Decision" (or "Not in Cleveland") actually could have helped James if it had ended with him saying he had examined his options only to discover none better than home in Cleveland.

Miami-bound James might have been able to make the best of an uncomfortable situation if he had even tried to make peace with fans back home in Ohio. If he had said he gave his all, but ownership came up short in giving him support, it might have undercut the subsequent screed from Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.

The whole point, after all, presumably was to burnish James' image and manage his message.

Instead, James made it clear he was leaving Cleveland and taking his cavalier attitude to Miami, where his new Heat uniform will be the least of the differences everyone sees.

08 July 2010

Got a book in you? Go ahead, Espresso yourself!

Edmonton Journal

 
You hear it before you see it, faithfully churning out the pages in the middle of the floor, downstairs at the University of Alberta bookstore.

This is the granddaddy of Espresso Book Machines, the first of its kind in Canada, purchased in November 2007 for $144,000. There are six of them now scattered across the country. The high-tech wonder can print, bind and trim on-demand paperback books with a four-colour cover in a matter of minutes. And it does it at a fraction of the cost offered by publishers, which is why the university acquired the gizmo in the first place.

The original idea was to generate big savings for students on their course textbooks, while also sheltering library expenditures.

Three years later, the Espresso's true value has become clear. It is nothing less than the long-sought El Dorado of the vanity press.

Todd Anderson, director of the University of Alberta bookstore, says about 60 per cent of the Espresso business these days is devoted to self-published books brought in by the general public. The demand from would-be authors is such that Anderson is now lobbying U of A bursars to buy a second machine.

"Good lord, the amount of things we put through here now," Anderson marvelled this week. "Novels all the time, and poetry all the time, haiku, graphic novels, family history -- lots of family histories -- memorial books, lots of non-fiction stories by people who were in the First World War or the Second World War ...

"People want 20 of this and 30 of that and 40 of this. It's especially busy around Christmas. People have written a Christmas story and they want to hand it out as a gift."

The situation isn't unique to Edmonton. The McMaster University Bookstore purchased its Espresso in 2008, mainly to compete with online retailer Amazon. At the time, customers could order a book from the store and wait two weeks or order it online and have it mailed out the same day. Now the books have been balanced. The Espresso machines have a database of more than a million books that can be printed on the spot.

"We're really just a bookstore who happen to be able to make the book in our store for you," Mark Lefebvre, operations manager at the McMaster store and also president of the Canadian Booksellers Association, told the National Post.

But once again, what's really surprised Lefebvre is that most of the money generated from Espresso has been from self-publishing. "The demand for people who want to tell their own stories is absolutely phenomenal. Overwhelming, even."

The U of A's Espresso machine paid for itself within the first 11 months and now prints some 22,000 books annually, Anderson said.

"It's been running day in and day out. Since we put this thing in, it's been sitting in the basement here, pumping out books."

And for some of those self-published authors, a book in the hand has proved especially satisfying.

"For people who want something printed, and the validation of a name on a cover, this is a great thing," Anderson said.

"But we had one fellow who did a novel, and printed five or 10 and was quite happy with it, and decided to print some more, and went to New York and got signed by an actual publisher because he had something to show them."

07 July 2010

Murdoch's Money for British Cycling Squad Provokes Envy at Tour de France

Bloomberg

 
Rupert Murdoch’s money is backing a U.K. cycling team at the Tour de France as the British try to end a winless streak that goes back more than a century.

Team Sky’s sponsors, led by British Sky Broadcasting Plc and Murdoch’s News Corp., see a marketing benefit during the current cycling boom for Britain, which won eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games. Its superior financial clout is making the French envious, according to Daniel Malbranque, general secretary of the international riders’ union. A Frenchman hasn’t won the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985.

“There’s a lot of money in the Sky team and there are criticisms and comments” from French teams, Malbranque said from Perpignan, France. “If they were French, it would be different. There is jealousy.”

Team Sky, which wants a Brit to top the podium in Paris within five years, paid 2 million euros ($2.4 million) to hire U.K. rider Bradley Wiggins from the Garmin team in December, according to French newspaper L’Equipe. In promoting a high-tech approach, Manchester, England-based Team Sky is also irking some in France, host of the Tour since 1903.

The July 3-25 Tour crosses into France today after a prologue and two stages in the Netherlands and Belgium. Team Sky has three Britons among its nine competitors, and is in fifth place, 3 minutes, seven seconds behind the Quick Step team from Belgium after two stages.

British riders haven’t had success at the Tour de France, with none finishing in the top three. Wiggins was fourth last year, matching Robert Millar’s best performance by a U.K. rider 25 years earlier.

Last U.K. Team

The last U.K. Tour team was ANC-Halfords, which ran out of money during its 1987 appearance, according to William Fotheringham, author of “Roule Britannia,” a history of British riders at the race.

Team Sky has enough cash to fit mood lighting in its Volvo AB bus and equip its riders with Apple Inc. iPhones, BSkyB officials said. Sky cyclists are better paid on average than counterparts on other teams, according to Malbranque. Murdoch’s son James, News Corp.’s chief executive officer in Europe and Asia and a keen cyclist, is taking a special interest in the team and watched it at the Paris-Roubaix race in April, News Corp. officials said.

Murdoch, 37, declined to comment for this story, News Corp. spokeswoman Alice Macandrew said from London. In April, Murdoch, who’s also non-executive chairman of BSkyB, the U.K.’s biggest pay-television operator, told cyclingnews.com at the race that “we’re trying to push the envelope” with the team.

Takeover Offer

On June 15, BSkyB rejected a 7.8 billion-pound ($11.8 billion) offer from New York-based News Corp. to buy the 61 percent of the company it doesn’t already own.

News Corp. and BSkyB declined to give details of their financing of the team, whose other backers include Marks & Spencer Group Plc and Jaguar Cars Ltd., the luxury automobile maker owned by Tata Motors Ltd.

Tour de France teams’ annual budgets typically range from $10 million to $20 million, Jonathan Vaughters, manager of the Garmin team, said. While not the biggest in cycling, Team Sky’s budget is “healthy,” Robert Tansey, BSkyB’s group brand marketing director, said in a statement.

Team Sky is led by David Brailsford, who oversaw the British Olympic cycling success and who is bringing an approach to road racing that the team and backers call “aggregating marginal gains.” They’re not shy of talking about it: after testing riders’ aerodynamic profile in a wind tunnel, the team puts out a press release, says Marc Madiot, Francaise des Jeux team manager.

‘Media Driven’

“We too have that kind of know-how but we don’t make a fuss about it,” Madiot said from Paris. Sky is “more media- driven” than French teams, Madiot added.

BSkyB, which has shown English Premier League soccer games in the U.K. since 1992 and whose current contract with the league is worth 1.62 billion pounds, is backing the Tour team “not to promote a product” but to inspire millions of Britons to ride bikes, BSkyB’s Tansey said. The company, based in Isleworth, west of London, also supports “grass roots” cycling in the U.K., Tansey added.

The cycling investment is “small beer compare to what they pay for football,” said Nigel Currie, director of Guilford, England-based sports marketing agency BrandRapport. BSkyB “can help the sport develop and will easily get their money back” with the publicity, he added.

Of the Tour teams, Team Sky is not just upsetting the French. The Boulder, Colorado-based Garmin team objected when Sky lured away Wiggins while he had a year left on his contract. While signing under-contract athletes is common in soccer, it’s “not typical” in cycling, Garmin team manager Vaughters said.

Compensation

Wiggins told the Guardian newspaper Feb. 4 he couldn’t turn down the chance to lead a U.K. team, adding Garmin received compensation from Sky. Vaughters declined to comment, saying the accord was confidential.

The British shouldn’t get their hopes up, according to Madiot. Wiggins is fifth favorite at 20-1 with U.K. oddsmaker Blue Square and France’s best hopes are 250-1 chances, meaning a successful $1 bet would yield $250.

Spain’s two-time winner Alberto Contador is 1-2 favorite.

“There’s a possibility a French rider wins the Tour de France but it’s very difficult,” Madiot said. “And the same applies for the English.”

Netflix Adds to Online Movies with Relativity Deal

Associated Press

 
Netflix Inc. is snatching away several movies a year that would have gone to pay TV outlets such as HBO or Showtime, under a deal with film financier Relativity Media LLC announced Tuesday.

The deal, worth more than $100 million per year, highlights Netflix' strategy to migrate customers from ordering DVDs by mail to accessing them online over personal computers, game consoles, Blu-ray players, mobile devices and TVs.

Relativity plans to supply 12 to 15 films per year starting in early 2011, although the deal accommodates up to 30, with Netflix paying per movie. The initial movies include "The Fighter," starring Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams, and "Season of the Witch," starring Nicolas Cage. Both movies are set to hit theaters later this year.

Netflix's online streaming service already offers newer movies from The Walt Disney Co. and Sony Corp. through a 2-year-old deal with Starz Entertainment LLC, a cable channel that has sublicensed some of its movie rights to Netflix.

Netflix's popularity has grown while DVD sales have fallen, so it has had to adjust its relations with Hollywood studios. It recently agreed to delay renting movies from 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures until 28 days after their release on DVD to help the studios protect those DVD sales.

While Relativity's movies do not include major studio blockbusters, streaming newer movies during periods usually reserved for pay TV could put new pressure on premium cable channels such as HBO, whose parent, Time Warner Inc., also owns movie studio Warner Bros.

However, the premium channels have shifted some of their focus away from movies and to original content such as HBO's "True Blood" or Showtime's "Dexter."

HBO, Epix and Starz also have online streaming versions of their product, which they offer to subscribers for free.

In HBO's case, losing one or two Relativity-produced movies a year will put only a small dent in its business, as HBO receives about half of Hollywood's output every year.

Although DVDs by mail remain the largest part of Netflix's business, the company aims to expand its online service to save on postage costs and gain new customers.

The company has 13 million members paying at least $8.99 a month to get DVDs by mail and unlimited access to the streaming catalog. It aims to have 15 million subscribers by the end of the year. Netflix says that 60 million U.S. homes have Netflix-ready devices and a broadband Internet connection needed to stream video to TVs.

"Now we've just got to give them a reason to connect all the wires," said Ted Sarandos, Netflix' chief content officer.

Although Relativity co-finances a wide range of pictures from Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures, only movies that it has financed fully on its own or made through its subsidiary Rogue Pictures are included in the deal.

That would include the romantic drama "Dear John," but exclude some studio-backed films such as "Robin Hood" and "Get Him to the Greek."

Relativity's movies will be made available for streaming on Netflix during the traditional "pay TV" window - starting about a year after a title opens in theaters. That's a few months later than the movies' availability on DVDs and in rental outlets.

Netflix is paying more than pay TV outlets generally do for movies, according to a person familiar with the deal, who was not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity. The person said Relativity also is allowed to sell digital copies of movies through outlets such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes store and Amazon.com Inc. while they are being streamed, activity that is normally prohibited in pay TV deals.

About one-fifth of Netflix's 100,000 movie and TV show titles can now be streamed online.

Supported devices include Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3, Nintendo Co.'s Wii, Roku Inc.'s digital player, Apple's iPad, and a range of Blu-ray players and TVs.

Shares of Netflix, based in Los Gatos, rose 19 cents to close Tuesday at $107.27.

06 July 2010

Saudi Prince to Launch News Network in Partnership with FOX

The Canadian Press

 
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The Kingdom Holding company, headed by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, says it plans to launch a new Arabic television news channel in partnership with the Fox network.

In a statement Tuesday, Prince Alwaleed says the 24-hour broadcast channel "will be an addition and alternative" to Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera.

He named veteran Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi chief of the new network.

He did not say when the network would begin broadcasting.

Alwaleed was ranked last year by Forbes as the world's 19th wealthiest person. He also owns the Arabic media giant Rotana Group.

In February, Fox said it was becoming a partner with Rotana by taking over 9.1 per cent of its shares.

05 July 2010

Advertising Whiz Bogusky takes his Leave

The Globe and Mail

 
Alex Bogusky wanted to ruin things for every other advertising agency.

The wildly influential creative, who helped shape agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky and the rest of the industry, has arguably done just that. On Thursday Mr. Bogusky announced he was leaving advertising.

“I want people to say ‘then CP+B came along and changed things and now nobody does it that old way any more.’ I want to be the agency that ruined it for every other agency in the world,” Mr. Bogusky wrote in an internal e-mail to CP+B employees in 2002. “… I’m afraid to be mediocre.”

Under his creative direction, the team at CP+B created such campaigns as the “Subservient Chicken,” a website that underscored Burger King’s promise to deliver chicken “any way you like it” by showing a man in a chicken suit who would follow any visitor’s commands, typed into a box on the screen. The site generated huge traffic and helped kick off the trend of viral marketing.

Mr. Bogusky relinquished his creative duties at the agency two years ago when he became co-chairman with Chuck Porter. In January, he left CP+B to join its Toronto-based parent company, MDC Partners Inc. as “Chief Creative Insurgent”. On Thursday, MDC announced Mr. Bogusky had chosen to leave after seven months in the position, to work on other projects outside the industry.

“We have enjoyed a long and tremendously productive partnership over the past ten years and have the utmost respect and admiration for Alex,” the company wrote in a statement.

“He’s an immense talent and he leaves a huge legacy,” said Andy Macaulay, chairman of the Toronto-based agency Zig, which is also part of the MDC network.

Under Mr. Bogusky’s creative direction, CP+B was noted for a 2002 Mini Cooper campaign that sought to introduce the European car to the American market – without the aid of a big TV buy. In the bigger-better car era, the agency mounted the tiny cars on top of SUVs and drove them around 22 cities across the U.S. The little car towered above the sport utility, and along with a number of other stunts, raked in publicity for the Mini.

CP+B became known for taking large international brands and giving them bold campaigns, said Andrea Southcott, president of ad agency TBWA\Vancouver. According to the book Hoopla, about CP+B, Mr. Bogusky encouraged his staff to ask the following question: “If there were no TV and no magazines, how would we make this brand famous?” Ms. Southcott said that thinking represents a shift in the industry over the past 10 to 15 years..

The Subservient Chicken website represented another trend CP+B helped to define.

“It shook the industry,” Mr. Macaulay said. “It showed where we were headed digitally before an awful lot of people were there … Their view was always, if the idea is great enough, in a world that is intensely connected through the Internet and social media, the idea will run wild through the population without us having to pay for media.”

On a conference call in February, MDC chief executive officer Miles Nadal told analysts that Mr. Bogusky “really is the Steve Jobs of the advertising business.” Projecting the image of a creative genius was undeniably good for business; as news of Mr. Bogusky’s departure circulated, some observers questioned whether the agency would function as well without him.

But Mr. Macaulay pointed to the talent of other creatives at the agency, many of whom Mr. Bogusky helped to mentor. Last week at the Cannes International Lions Advertising Festival, CP+B was named Interactive Agency of the Year, for work done after Mr. Bogusky handed the creative direction over to Andrew Keller and Rob Reilly.

“The agency he built and the work they created really got people to think about things in bold ways,” Ms. Southcott said. “That’s a place where everyone is going now … You can’t execute in a routine way any more. You have to find a sharp way to engage.”

Home Delivery Cuts Working for Detroit Newspapers

Associated Press


Detroit's two daily newspapers knew they were shoving some readers overboard in an effort to stay afloat when they decided to limit home delivery to just three days a week.

It was only a question of how many subscribers would abandon the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News once their print editions were no longer hitting doorsteps and driveways each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

More than a year later, Detroit newspaper executives are convinced they made the right call. If that holds up, other newspapers could follow as they look for ways to save money to offset a three-year slump in advertising, the industry's main source of revenue. About 100 U.S. newspapers already have reduced the number of days they publish or have shifted exclusively to Web editions, but Detroit is the biggest market to try a version of either move.

The Detroit newspapers won't release detailed financial figures, but they say they have saved millions of dollars by reducing the use of delivery trucks, paper and ink. Yet revenue hasn't fallen as much because the remaining three days — Thursday, Friday and Sunday — had already garnered most of the advertising anyway. Many readers have bailed on the newspapers, as anticipated, but the exodus hasn't been has dramatic as at several other large dailies that alienated subscribers by raising their prices while maintaining daily home delivery.

That suggests many readers are more willing to tolerate limited home delivery than significantly higher prices for newspapers in an era of high unemployment and free news online.

Besides covering the same metropolitan area, the Detroit newspapers are tied together by a business partnership known as a joint operating agreement. The News, which is owned by MediaNews Inc., and the Free Press, owned by Gannett Co., rely on the partnership to handle advertising, distribution and administrative tasks.

The financial benefits from joint-operating agreements haven't been enough to keep two newspapers afloat in other cities, such as Seattle and Denver. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer went online only last year and the Rocky Mountain News shut down entirely. A similar fate likely awaited one of the Detroit dailies if they hadn't sacrificed some of their readership or found some other way to lower their costs. While the newspaper industry has been slumping for the past three years, the Free Press and the News were among the worst off because Detroit's manufacturing-driven economy had been struggling even before the Great Recession began in December 2007.

When Detroit newspaper executives did the math on their plan last year, they said they could have cut their costs about 40 percent by dropping print entirely. But they said that would have erased the more than 85 percent of their revenue that comes from subscriptions, newsstand sales and ads in the printed newspapers. Less than 15 percent of the newspapers' revenue had come from online ads.

Instead, the publications said, cutting back home delivery to three days would reduce the newspapers' joint costs by about 20 percent while giving them the chance to keep most of their revenue.

Executives at the newspapers won't discuss how close they came to meeting those projections. Rather, they say that more than 90 percent of the newspapers' advertisers have stuck with the dailies. The publications won't give detailed revenue figures, other than to say that Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays now account for 93 percent of the newspapers' print ad revenue. Even before the home-delivery cutback, those three days accounted for about 80 percent of the print ad revenue.

And the publications say the savings on newsprint and distribution costs have helped to minimize newsroom layoffs. The two newspapers have retained about 400 reporters, editors and photographers. That's down from roughly 600 newsroom workers five years ago, but still a much larger staff than would have otherwise been possible, said Rich Harshbarger, vice president of marketing for the Detroit Media Partnership.

Avoiding additional layoffs has allowed the remaining reporters to work on more projects, produce more engaging online coverage of Detroit touchstones such as automobile trade shows and provide early morning news reports from the Free Press for a local TV program.

"We have accomplished most of what we set out to do," said Susie Ellwood, CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership, which manages the business side of the two newspapers.

The average combined weekday circulation of the News and Free Press fell 12 percent to 401,889 during the six months ended March 31. That amounted to nearly 56,000 fewer copies than last year and was worse than the industry's total circulation decline of 9 percent. It also marked an acceleration from the decline in the first six months of the reduction in home delivery, when the combined Free Press and News circulation fell 8 percent. (In that same span the overall industry dropped 11 percent.)

However, Detroit's latest decline wasn't as severe as the drop-offs at newspapers in Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas, which all have raised delivery prices during the past 18 months while still delivering daily. Weekday circulation at those big-city newspapers plunged about 15 percent to 25 percent during the October-March measurement period. Getting more money from fewer subscribers has helped some of these newspapers increase their circulation revenue, although the gains have not been nearly enough to offset the declines in their ad revenue.

The Detroit newspapers are still printing on non-delivery days. But those editions generally have about a dozen fewer pages than on other weekdays, and they are sold on the street and in stores. The publications sold more than 122,000 copies on newsstands on non-delivery days during the October-March period, accounting for a little more than one-quarter of the average circulation. That compared to about 99,000 copies on Thursdays and Fridays, when readers can still get the print edition dropped on their doorsteps.

Buying the thinner newspapers on non-delivery days has been less appealing since October, when the Detroit dailies doubled their newsstand price to $1 for weekday editions. Newsstand sales in the latest measurement period were down by an average of more than 51,000 copies, or 30 percent, on non-delivery days compared with the six months before the price increase. The three-day home delivery rate for either of the newspapers has remained unchanged at $12 per month since the cutbacks. That price is $1 to $2 less than what many subscribers had been paying for seven-day delivery.

Going without daily delivery hasn't been easy for some longtime readers.

Bill and Karen Foster are among the loyal Free Press subscribers who have stuck with the newspaper, even though they don't like having to turn to the Web on non-delivery days. Before the home-delivery cutback, the Fosters got a course in Web training from the newspaper in an effort to ease the transition.

"I still would prefer getting the paper on the porch," said Karen Foster, 70. "I find it very difficult to read on the computer. My eyes blur."

Don Nauss, managing editor of The Detroit News, empathizes. He, too, would prefer being able to walk out his front door to pick up the newspaper instead of heading into his den to sit down at his computer.

"It's hard to break a habit that some people have had for 40 or 50 years," Nauss said. "And I don't think anyone likes the idea of not being able to deliver your product to your customers. But we had to do what we had to do to survive."

Unwilling to give up their daily fix, more than 4,000 of the Detroit newspapers' subscribers have been paying an additional $30 per month to have the print editions mailed to their homes on the four days a week that carriers don't deliver, Harshbarger said.

In other instances, independent contractors buy the newspapers at retail outlets on non-delivery days and bring them to subscribers willing to pay an extra $4 to $12 per week to have a newspaper dropped on their porch or driveway. The Detroit newspapers recently began to encourage more of this entrepreneurial system of daily home delivery by offering independent carriers an opportunity to buy the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday newspapers at a discount. It's still up to the independent carriers to negotiate the delivery price with subscribers. About 2,000 subscribers are going this route, Harshbarger said.

Some alienated readers already may have defected to neighboring publications that still provide daily home delivery. For instance, weekday circulation of The Oakland Press in nearby Pontiac rose 3 percent to 68,770 in the October-March period.

But the management of the Detroit newspapers suspects the circulation losses would have been even worse if not for the hard times that their readers have experienced through years of factory closures, home foreclosures and unemployment rates well above most of the country. The adversity made it easier for people to understand why the newspapers took such drastic measures, Nauss said.

And it may be one reason that limited home delivery may not be as well received elsewhere.

"No other market has made such a risky move like this and we would not at all endorse it for everyone," Harshbarger said. "Just because it has worked in Detroit doesn't mean it will work in Des Moines."