31 October 2010

Phillip Daniels calls NFL's Concussion Crackdown "Crazy"

The Washington Post

Here's a sneak peak of what you can expect from your national Wednesday NFL open locker room coverage: defensive players complaining loudly and eloquently about the league's sudden emphasis on preventing concussions. You will see stories like this from just about every NFL market, with players arguing that a certain level of violence is inevitable, and that legislating it out through fines and/or suspensions is both hypocritical and impossible.

For your sneak peak, I present Phillip Daniels's Tuesday appearance on the LaVar and Dukes show. Daniels actually began his critique of the NFL on Twitter; some of his comments are grouped together here:

    Have we become a cupcake league? We already have better helmets and gear. Wonder how the old school players feel about this. Not in the back of minds when talking about 18 game season so let's play football please....Even guys using shoulders to hit are getting flagged for helmet-to-helmet. Defense is getting sloppy because guys are avoiding fines and will get worse if suspending comes into play....

    There has been a warning sticker on the back of every helmet since pee wee league. When u put that helmet on you know you will hit or be hit. We still choose to play. Parents are asked to sign forms for their kids to play because of the dangers of the sport. Nothing is different.

On the radio, he was perhaps even more pointed when asked about the NFL's response to last week's carnage.

"To me, when I hear guys getting fined that much money for a game in which we're taught to be physical and hit people, I think it's ridiculous," Daniels said. "When this game started, from way back, your dream is to go out there and hit somebody and bring some excitement to the game. You're talking about taking that away. Guys are gonna get hurt. This is football. This ain't no cupcake league.You're gonna go out and play football, you're gonna get hit. Offensive players know they're gonna get hit, and defensive players go out to hit. Nothing's changed. You just go out there and play football and take all this other stuff out of it, this suspension stuff. It's kind of crazy. The fines are crazy too."

Daniels echoed a widespread opinion that the double knockout shot leveled by Dunta Robinson on DeSean Jackson was actually clean, and he said that players are virtually never trying to hurt each other.

"I don't think guys should just go be blatant and go after a head or leave their feet and spear somebody with a helmet, but we're taught to be physical, we're taught to go out and hit people," he said. "And now you get a couple of stars hurt in this league, now they want to talk about suspending guys? I just think this game is going downhill. Defenses right now are sloppy, there's more missed tackles, because guys are trying to avoid the helmet-to-helmet hit. Now you're talking about suspending guys? You definitely gonna get a lot of guys trying to go in the wrong way, missing tackles....You've just got to go out and play football."

Daniels said he uses an "old-school" helmet and is suspicious of the new helmet technology, saying that all three Redskins who have suffered concussions this season were using newer models. He said he's never been on a team that suffered as many concussions as these Redskins, who have already lost Chris Cooley, Rocky McIntosh and Anthony Bryant to head injuries. But he also said that when you go into his profession, you do so with the understanding that your body might be damaged.

"They've done a lot to make this league safer," he said. "It's changed a whole lot already. We protected the quarterback, you've got the horse collar [rule] that happened when T.O. went down. A superstar goes down, the rules change, that's just how it is. I don't get it. We get a couple big name guys go down this weekend, now we're talking about the helmet issue. I just think the NFL, they've done a lot to keep players safe.

"You're gonna get hurt, and if people ever wonder why we get paid so much, this is why. They're talking about this helmet-to-helmet stuff, but it's not coming into play when they're talking about 18 games....How can they argue the 18 game increase? It's crazy. This game is already tough enough with 16 games. To add two more, as physical as this game is, is kind of ridiculous."

TV Commercials shrink to match Attention Spans

USA Today

And now, a word from our sponsors. A very brief word.

TV commercials are shrinking along with attention spans and advertising budgets. The 15-second ad is increasingly common, gradually supplanting the 30-second spot just as it knocked off the full-minute pitch decades ago.

For viewers, it means more commercials in a more rapid-fire format. For advertisers, shorter commercials are a way to save some money, and research shows they hold on to more eyeballs than the longer format.

"It used to be that the most valuable thing on the planet was time, and now the most valuable thing on the planet is attention," says John Greening, associate professor at Northwestern University's journalism school and a former executive vice president at ad agency DDB Chicago.

So instead of seeing a lengthier plot line, viewers are treated to the sight of, say, the popular "Old Spice man" riding backward on a horse through various scenes for just 15 seconds.

Or the "most interesting man in the world," the suave, rugged, Spanish-accented character pitching Dos Equis beer, appearing just long enough to turn his head and weigh in on the topic of rollerblading. (Verdict? A deadpan "No.")

The number of 15-second television commercials has jumped more than 70% in five years to nearly 5.5 million last year, according to Nielsen. They made up 34% of all national ads on the air last year, up from 29% in 2005.

Commercial-skipping digital video recorders and distractions such as laptops and phones have shortened viewers' attention spans, says Deborah Mitchell, executive director of the Center for Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin. Viewers are also watching TV streamed on sites like Hulu, where advertisers have less of a presence.

So companies figure: "Why spend money on anything longer anyway? Plus, if they're going to skip our ads, at least we have a better chance of them seeing something if it's really short," Mitchell said.

Fifteen-second ads cost about the same per second as longer ones. A 15-second ad on network TV cost about $20,000 on average last year, according to Nielsen.

"It becomes a very seductive thing to get your message out there at half the cost," says Mike Sheldon, CEO of advertising agency Deutsch LA, a unit of Interpublic Group.

On average, about 5% of an audience viewing a 15-second commercial will give up on it. The number jumps to about 6% for 30 seconds and 6.5% for 60 seconds, says Jeff Boehme, chief research officer for Kantar Media.

Previously, 15-second ads were mostly edited versions of 30-second spots, but that's changing. Advertisers are making shorter commercials as stand-alones. The length is ideal to remind people of products, stores or prices, but not to introduce them.

More than half of commercials run by packaged-goods companies and 60% of fast-food ads are 15 seconds, according to Kantar. The advertisers simply show a picture of the products, flash a price and the brain knows what the marketer means.

Take the new campaign for Burger King, which is selling its breakfast options. A 15-second ad airing now features a mailman walking down the street carrying a plate of eggs, pancakes and hash browns. There's no verbal description of the product. Instead he sings: "Did you know that breakfast was served at Burger King? The ultimate breakfast platter. That's what I call delivering."

The shorter ads also mean marketers can be on the air more frequently, even within the same commercial break. For example: During a recent episode of CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," viewers were bombarded with five ads in just a minute and a half, including two spots for Dunkin Donuts sandwiched around a more traditional 30-second ad for Aetna.

The quick-hit formula is common in the political ads flooding viewers ahead of Tuesday's elections. Fifteen seconds is plenty of time for an attack ad that can then be repeated, and repeated again.

Such repetition helps beat messages into viewers' heads. That's why Anheuser-Busch would rather air four 15-second ads for Select 55, its 55-calorie beer, than one 60-second ad, says Keith Levy, marketing vice president for the St. Louis subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

"With Select 55, we were trying to establish the notion that this was the lightest beer in the world," he says. Simple commercials featuring a bottle that floats on air don't need long to drive home that message.

Big advertisers are driving the shift. Procter & Gamble, the maker of Crest toothpaste and Tide detergent and the world's biggest advertiser, doubled its number of 15-second ads to more than 299,000 last year from the year before.

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, has increased its use of 15-second ads nearly 30-fold to 148,000 last year from only about 5,700 in 2005. The retailer plans even more this holiday season.

Shorter ads can be just as effective as longer ones. Viewers can form new associations — say, knowing about a discount — in a few seconds and then recall that information in just one second, Mitchell says. People can't help soaking up the message.

"When things are working that fast, you can't tell yourself, 'No, I'm not going to think about that,'" she says. "Your brain lights up so you don't have a choice."

28 October 2010

Cablevision Makes New Offer to Fox

The Wall Street Journal

Cablevision Systems Corp., attempting to end a TV-station blackout over a contract dispute, proposed paying News Corp. the same rate that Time Warner Cable Inc. pays the media giant for local Fox affiliates in New York and Philadelphia.

News Corp., which owns Fox television networks, rejected the offer, calling it "yet another in a long line of publicity stunts" by Cablevision.

The programming blackout, now in its 12th day, is threatening to deprive 3 million households in the New York Metropolitan region of the World Series Wednesday night—a prospect that would lead to more public outcry against both companies.

In a news release, Cablevision said that for one year it would pay the rate Fox charges Time Warner Cable for carrying the local affiliates in New York and Philadelphia.

"This is higher than the rate we pay any other New York broadcast station," Cablevision said. "This solution is in the best interest of not only baseball fans but of all Cablevision customers and Fox viewers."

News Corp. said it remains committed to negotiating a fair deal, but Cablevision's "incomplete proposal is not acceptable." The media giant added that "Cablevision is seeking a discounted 'package rate' without buying the entire package."

News Corp. said it is willing to negotiate a deal "based on an entire suite of channels" under the terms it reached with Time Warner Cable and other providers, or a stand-alone agreement for three local broadcast Fox affiliates.

The blackout for Cablevision customers included the main Fox station in the New York area, as well as a smaller station, the Fox station in Philadelphia and other cable networks owned by News Corp., such as Nat Geo Wild and Fox Deportes, a Spanish-language sports service. Fox News is unaffected because it is part of a separate contract.

Cablevision responded to Fox's rejection by renewing its plea for intervention by the Federal Communications Commission.

"It is now clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that News Corp. is operating in bad faith," Cablevision spokesman Charles Schueler said. "We call on the FCC to intervene immediately to restore the Fox signals to Cablevision's 3 million homes and order News Corp. to agree to binding arbitration to resolve this conflict."

Cablevision has said it already pays News Corp. more than $70 million a year for its channels and that News Corp. is demanding more than $150 million a year for the same programming--a claim that News Corp. said is "simply not true."

Cablevision also has said it has agreements with every other major broadcast station, including CBS, NBC, ABC and Univision, but News Corp. is asking for more in fees for the two New York stations—FOX 5 and My9—than Cablevision pays for all of the other broadcast stations combined.

By offering to match the rate paid by Time Warner Cable, which reached a multiyear agreement with News Corp. early this year in a dispute that avoided programming blackouts, Cablevision appears to be moving off its previous negotiating stance. Still, the extent of any concessions is unclear, because most major distribution deals between media companies and distributors like this run for several years and include guaranteed fee increases over time among other provisions.

A Time Warner Cable spokesman declined to comment on that company's deal with News Corp. and the value of Cablevision's offer.

News Corp. is believed to be under pressure to reach a deal with Cablevision on at least the same terms as the one with Time Warner Cable. If it is unable to do so, News Corp. likely would have to make concessions to Time Warner Cable, based on that deal's terms.

Last year, Cablevision delayed by one year a contract negotiation with News Corp. for its Fox stations that could have affected broadcasts of a World Series eventually won the New York Yankees, a home team in Cablevision's main market. The delay allowed Time Warner Cable to negotiate its deal with News Corp. first, setting a new standard for payments for its broadcast signals. This year, the Yankees didn't make the World Series, taking some pressure off Cablevision.

The resulting dispute has left about 3 million homes, largely in the New York area, without access to their local Fox affiliate and major sports events, such as National Football League games and Major League Baseball's National League Championship Series last week. Fox is broadcasting the first game of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.

27 October 2010

BBC World Service considers hosting Ads on some foreign-language Websites

Guardian UK

The BBC's director of global news, Peter Horrocks, has revealed the corporation is looking at introducing advertising on some of the World Service's 31 foreign-language websites as part of a "seismic shift" for the whole organisation.

Hosting advertising on some of the World Service's language sites could provide new revenue for the BBC, Horrocks told staff today. The idea is being considered as BBC executives work out the practical implications of this week's licence fee settlement, which will see £140m-a-year cut from the corporation's annual £3.6bn budget, plus additional funding commitments including the World Service.

George Osborne confirmed on Wednesday that the BBC will see its budget cut by 16%, as well as take on responsibility for funding the World Service and BBC Monitoring by 2015, and provide most of S4C's budget. In addition the BBC licence fee will be used to help meet the cost of rolling out broadband internet access to rural areas and establish local TV and online news services.

The World Service budget will also fall by 16% over four years, Osborne said. Its annual foreign office grant currently stands at £272m.

"With commercial and the World Service there are some possibilities," Horrocks told a gathering of global news staff. "Fundamentally, public money to support journalism is likely to be in places where the media is not free or [in] a proper market – but in some areas and more advanced markets, there could be potential for blending things together and that could be a sensible thing.

"Dot com [the international news site run by BBC Worldwide] already has adverts so the logical step could be an income stream for World Service language sites. That's just an idea, not a policy."

A BBC World Service spokesman confirmed that opportunities to increase the World Service's commercial income were being considered.

Addressing staff concerns in an internal session lasting more than an hour, Horrocks conceded that there would have to be job losses to meet the scale of the savings required in what is "clearly a seismic shift and will have huge implications for the whole of the organisation".

"Until just a few days ago we were working on the assumption that the settlement was just about the World Service," he said. "It is now clear that this is a fundamental change for the whole of the BBC, not just global services."

Horrocks confirmed that the BBC executive board were looking at possible closures of World Service operations "where the need [for a World Service presence] is least and the impact [of closure] is lowest – all of these things can be assessed".

"For international language services the consideration of need is the most legitimate thing to take into account," he added.

The World Service will announce where the majority of the savings will be made in late November, though there will be a series of announcements in the coming weeks. "The board are now looking carefully at the funding settlement and at where we can revise plans and obtain approvals," Horrocks said.

He added that he received assurances on Wednesday morning from William Hague, the foreign secretary, that the government still "buys the argument that [the World Service is] a huge asset for the UK".

From April 2011, the World Service will need to deliver cumulative savings of around £67m over four years. "That equates to more than 25% of the current costs. It is a very steep task indeed," Horrocks said.

The coalition government's comprehensive spending review, published yesterday , advised that the BBC World Service and the British Council should "find savings by finding greater efficiencies and enhancing the commercialisation of their operations".

Some World Service insiders are anticipating certain foreign-language websites could take advertising as early as the first quarter of next year. It is understood that work combining these sites with World News TV Online, which already has ads, is "well advanced".

An update to the content production system used by staff across BBC Online, and launched just before the summer, introduced the ability to select an advertising campaign to sit alongside articles, MediaGuardian.co.uk has learned. Previous versions did not have this capability.

Asked to comment on the proposals, a spokesman for BBC Global News said: "BBC World Service already makes £4m in commercial revenues which are ploughed back into our services for audiences. The government are encouraging us, in the settlement, to exploit opportunties to increase this figure further. We will be looking at all possibilities but this will be a very small part of the huge challenge ahead for BBC World Service.

"The priority for BBC World Service is to manage a real-terms cut in our grant of 16% over the next four financial years; plus extra costs like pensions which we estimate will take that figure closer to 28% of our income – we estimate some £67m over the period.

The BBC launched advertising on its BBC.com international news site in November 2007, and moved to stave off criticism by appointing an "editorial guardian" to ensure that ads did not compromise the corporation's journalism.

What Earnings Reports have revealed about Ads

Associated Press

Here are highlights of recent quarterly earnings reports from selected Internet, media and advertising companies and what they say about the state of spending on advertising:

Oct. 14: Google Inc. says its average cost per click rose 3 percent from a year ago, meaning companies paid more to place ads. People clicked on ads 16 percent more than they did in the same period last year. Executives also indicate that display advertising accounted for nearly 10 percent of ad revenue in the quarter, and mobile advertising was almost 4 percent. Those figures helped justify two of Google's biggest acquisitions - of DoubleClick Inc. and AdMob.

Oct. 15: Gannett Co. reports a 37 percent rise in third-quarter earnings on Friday, helped by a jump in broadcasting revenue. A recovering auto industry and political campaigns heading into midterm elections poured money into Gannett's 23 television stations. That, plus an increase in advertising on the company's websites, helped the biggest U.S. newspaper publisher halt declining revenue for the first time since 2006.

Tuesday: The New York Times Co. and McClatchy Co. both report that print advertising fell compared with a year ago, when ad sales had already taken a big plunge from 2008 levels. And neither company was able to draw enough new business from its digital operations to make up for the losses in print.

Yahoo Inc. says search advertising revenue fell 7 percent from last year to $331 million. But Yahoo generated slightly more revenue from each search in the third quarter, the first time that has happened in two years. The company fared much better in its stronghold, the "display" advertising category that covers banner and full-screen ads, sometimes featuring video. Revenue in this segment climbed 17 percent to $465 million.

26 October 2010

Tribune CEO resigns, Bankruptcy Filed

Traverse City Record-Eagle

Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels resigned Friday amid tales of raunchy behavior as the company looked to shift attention back to its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy protection. Hours later, the company filed its latest reorganization plan in court.

Michaels' departure comes at a pivotal time for the troubled media company. After nearly two years operating under bankruptcy protection, Tribune Co. is drawing up a reorganization plan that it hopes a federal judge will approve before the end of the year.

Michaels, 58, joined Tribune Co. three years ago following an ill-fated $8.2 billion buyout engineered by real estate mogul Sam Zell in 2007. Michaels became Tribune Co.'s CEO late last year. Michaels, a former radio disc jockey, won Zell's trust as CEO of a radio broadcast company that Zell owned, Jacor Communications.

It seemed likely Michaels' reign was nearing an end anyway. Lenders in line to become the company's new owners will probably want to install their own management team once a bankruptcy reorganization plan gains approval.

Tribune Co., whose holdings include the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and more than 20 television and radio stations, offered its latest plan just before a midnight deadline Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington.

It came nearly two years after the company filed for Chapter 11 protection, dogged by an industrywide decline in newspaper advertising revenue and debt totaling nearly $13 billion, mainly associated with the Zell-led buyout just a year earlier.

In line with a previously announced settlement with major creditors, Friday's plan promised to increase how much Tribune Co.'s bondholders would get compared with a previous proposal. Tribune is hoping that would be enough to win approval of the much-debated reorganization plan.

The earlier plan got derailed after an independent report found evidence of fraud in the leveraged buyout that led to Tribune Co.'s bankruptcy filing.

Friday's plan proposes a trust, financed by a $20 million loan from the company, that could pursue legal claims arising from the buyout. Earlier in the day, the judge overseeing the case gave the official committee of junior creditors permission to file lawsuits against some parties involved in the 2007 buyout. He gave them until Nov. 1 to file the complaints.

An independent investigator concluded this summer that some aspects of the deal had bordered on fraud. The lawsuits could allege that Tribune Co. wouldn't have had to file for bankruptcy protection if not for fraudulent conduct by Tribune's board members, including Zell, and by some of the company's financial advisers and lenders. Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman declined comment on the possibility of lawsuits.

In exchange for relinquishing more money to Tribune Co.'s bondholders, senior lenders would be shielded from any legal claims tied to early stages of the Zell-led buyout.

The reorganization plan could still be derailed by other Tribune Co. creditors. The proposal has the support of major creditors — JPMorgan Chase & Co., distressed debt specialist Angelo, Gordon & Co. and hedge fund Oaktree Capital Management — as well as the committee of junior lenders. Tribune Co. has not said where some of the company's other lenders stand.

Messages left with attorneys for Aurelius Capital Management, which holds some of Tribune's senior bonds, and for Tribune's junior bondholders were not immediately returned Friday evening.

Once Tribune Co.'s bankruptcy plan is approved, the company is expected to be controlled by creditors who are getting ownership stakes in exchange for forgiving most of the debt incurred in Zell's buyout, which took Tribune Co. private. The debt holders in line to become Tribune Co.'s owners include JPMorgan Chase, Oaktree and Angelo, Gordon.

With new owners likely to appoint new leadership, a four-man executive committee will fill the void created by Michaels' departure in the meantime. The new bosses are Don Liebentritt, Tribune Co.'s chief restructuring officer; Nils Larsen, chief investment officer; Tony Hunter, publisher of the Chicago Tribune; and Eddy Hartenstein, publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

Michaels' exit apparently was accelerated by an unflattering portrait drawn of his management style in a front-page story published by The New York Times two weeks ago.

The story, based on interviews with more than 20 current and former Tribune Co. employees, likened Michaels to the ringleader of a college fraternity house. The newspaper asserted that Michaels helped cultivate a culture filled with sexual innuendo, profanity, poker parties and other bawdy behavior.

Tribune Co.'s board of directors issued statements supporting Michaels in that article, but he quickly found himself under fire again last week when a top lieutenant sent an internal memo with an Internet link featuring a racy video that included a bare-breasted woman pouring booze down her chest. The executive, Lee Abrams, resigned as Tribune Co.'s chief innovation officer.

"During the last few weeks the company has drawn a lot of media attention, much of it negative," the board wrote in an e-mail sent Friday to Tribune Co. employees. "That coverage has diverted attention from the things that matter most: The quality of our media products, the talent and dedication of our people, and the very real progress that we've made over the last two-and-a-half years." Michaels was Tribune Co.'s executive vice president in charge of its broadcasting and interactive divisions before his promotion to CEO. When he was hired, Michaels also brought in many of his former colleagues from his days in radio.

By the time he was named Tribune Co.'s CEO, Michaels already had gained a reputation for using language and engaging in conduct more befitting of the "shock jock" that he once was. Michaels and Zell said they were trying to loosen up a traditionally staid company and usher in fresh thinking at a time of upheaval in the media business. Zell remains Tribune Co.'s chairman.

While Michaels was CEO, Tribune Co.'s financial performance improved, helped by cost cutting that has become common at newspaper publishers throughout the country as they try to offset a steep downturn in advertising sales that has depleted their main source of revenue.

Tribune Co. already has projected its newspapers' revenue will continue to drop for at least two more years while its broadcasting division rebounds. The company's other major newspapers include The (Baltimore) Sun, Hartford (Conn.) Courant and the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel.

25 October 2010

NPR CEO apologizes for Handling of Williams Firing


Vivian Schiller, the NPR CEO who has gotten criticism from all sides about NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams, apologized to her colleagues Sunday evening for the way the firing was handled.

Among the most problematic aspects of the firing was the NPR’s initial statement suggesting that Williams's statements on “The O’Reilly Factor” were to blame. Schiller later said that Williams had long been in hot water at NPR, and the recent statements were simply the last straw, but the timing of his firing undermined this argument.

In her latest statement, Schiller acknowledges that “reasonable people can disagree about timing” and apologizes for firing Williams over the phone, but doesn’t back down from the decision itself.

The letter:

    Dear Program Colleagues,

    I want to apologize for not doing a better job of handling the termination of our relationship with news analyst Juan Williams. While we stand firmly behind that decision, I regret that we did not take the time to prepare our program partners and provide you with the tools to cope with the fallout from this episode. I know you all felt the reverberations and are on the front lines every day responding to your listeners and talking to the public

    This was a decision of principle, made to protect NPR’s integrity and values as a news organization. Juan Williams’ comments on Fox News last Monday were the latest in a series of deeply troubling incidents over several years. In each of those instances, he was contacted and the incident was discussed with him. He was explicitly and repeatedly asked to respect NPR's standards and to avoid expressing strong personal opinions on controversial subjects in public settings, as that is inconsistent with his role as an NPR news analyst. After this latest incident, we felt compelled to act. I acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree about timing: whether NPR should have ended its relationship with Juan Williams earlier, on the occasion of other incidents; or whether this final episode warranted immediate termination of his contract.

    In any event, the process that followed the decision was unfortunate – including not meeting with Juan Williams in person – and I take full responsibility for that. We have already begun a thorough review of all aspects of our performance in this instance, a process that will continue in the coming days and weeks. We will also review and re-articulate our written ethics guidelines to make them as clear and relevant as possible for our acquired show partners, our staff, Member stations and the public.

    The news and media world is changing swiftly and radically; traditional standards and practices are under siege. This requires us to redouble our attention to how we interpret and live up to our values and standards. We are confident that NPR’s integrity and dedication to the highest values in journalism and our commitment to serving as a national forum for the respectful discussion of diverse ideas will continue to earn the support of a growing audience.

    I stand by my decision to end NPR’s relationship with Juan Williams, but deeply regret the way I handled and explained it. You have my pledge that the NPR team and I will reflect on all aspects of our actions, and strive to improve them in the future.

    Please feel free to share your concerns and suggestions.


    Vivian Schiller

Do Hello Kitty graphics on Smart Cars go too far?

USA Today

Is Smart USA getting too smart for its own good?

You've got to wonder when you see the new, pink Hello Kitty wrap for the Smart car. No doubt about it, it's cute. But is it so cute that it might alienate Smart's more macho fans?

As Suzanne Ashe at CNET's Cartech blog sees it, "It's like driving your elementary school lunch box--without the sour-milk smell." At least Sanrio, who owns the Hello Kitty brand, couldn't be more delighted.

"Our collaboration with Smart USA allows fans to truly embrace the Hello Kitty lifestyle," said Janet Hsu, president of Sanrio, Inc. "This is the first time that Sanrio will offer a Hello Kitty car in the United States.

If any of you are living a "Hello Kitty lifestyle" out there, please message us hear at Drive On to tell us about it.

Smart teamed with Hello Kitty creator Sanrio for the wraps available through the car's brand's "Smart Expressions" program that it started over the summer.

Before you think that Smart has gone kitten crazy, consider that they might be smart -- like a fox:

"We are expanding the highly successful Smart program by adding licensed brands as part of our wrap offerings," said Kim McGill, Smart USA's vice president of marketing. "Both Hello Kitty and Smart are expressive with a passionate following, and this is a special opportunity to bring the two fan bases together."

The smart Expressions program offers Hello Kitty wraps in three different full body designs, each with a selection of color schemes, in addition to a series of partial wrap designs and colors.

The Hello Kitty-wrapped cars will appear at many Sanrio 50th Anniversary events this fall.

24 October 2010

Networks Block Web Programs From Being Viewed on Google TV

The Wall Street Journal

ABC, CBS and NBC are blocking TV programming on their websites from being viewable on Google Inc.'s new Web-TV service, exposing the rift that remains between the technology giant and some of the media companies it wants to supply content for its new products.

Full-length episodes of shows like NBC's "The Office," CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," and ABC's "Modern Family" can't be viewed on Google TV, a service that allows people to access the Internet and search for Web videos on their television screens, as well as to search live TV listings. Logitech International S.A. and Sony Corp. began selling devices running the software this month.

Spokespeople for the three networks confirmed that they are blocking the episodes on their websites from playing on Google TV, although both ABC and NBC allow promotional clips to work using the service. ABC is owned by Walt Disney Co., CBS is part of CBS Corp., and NBC is a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.

"Google TV enables access to all the Web content you already get today on your phone and PC, but it is ultimately the content owners' choice to restrict their fans from accessing their content on the platform," a Google spokeswoman said in a statement.

The move marks an escalation in ongoing disputes between Google and some media companies, which are skeptical that Google can provide a business model that would compensate them for potentially cannibalizing existing broadcast businesses.

Over the summer, Google pressed major media companies to optimize their websites and videos to work more seamlessly with Google TV. Some outlets, including Time Warner Inc.'s HBO and Turner Broadcasting networks, did so. Even NBC Universal's CNBC embraced the service, optimizing some content to work specifically on Google TV.

But many other companies declined to specifically optimize their websites, and some held out the possibility that they could block their content from the service, as the three networks are now doing. Some TV executives said they were worried their shows would be lost in the larger Internet. Some, including Disney and NBC, were also concerned about Google's stance on websites that offer pirated content, according to people familiar with their thinking.

Disney executives, for example, asked that Google filter out results from pirate sites when users search for Disney content, like "Desperate Housewives." But they were unsatisfied with Google's response, according to people familiar with the conversations.

News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting and Viacom Inc.'s MTV aren't blocking Google TV from playing episodes on their websites, according to a spot check Thursday. Spokespeople for Fox and MTV confirmed they are not currently blocking Google TV, but the Fox spokeswoman said "a firm decision has not yet been reached." News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.

For its part, Google has tried to assure broadcasters and content owners such as Disney that Google TV's search feature is optimized to promote their TV broadcasts and own websites' video content rather than pirated content, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In addition, Google has also told broadcasters and content owners they can submit requests to Google to delete unauthorized results from the Google TV search feature, just like they do for results in Google's traditional Web search engine, this person said.

Some shows—from siblings of the networks that are blocking their content—were working on Google TV on Thursday. Shows from the CW network, which is jointly owned by CBS and Time Warner, appear to play on Google TV, as do some from Lifetime, a cable channel jointly owned by Walt Disney Co., Hearst Inc., and NBC Universal.

Google won't directly make money from the sale of the Google TV software, but the software's use will benefit Google's ad-supported Web search engine and is expected to increase viewership of the ad-supported YouTube site, which is owned by Google. The company also has been in talks with Madison Avenue's media-buying firms to discuss how to sell ads on the Google TV interface without interfering with TV commercials, people familiar with the matter have said.

But the three networks are also not alone in blocking their content. Video site Hulu, whose owners include Disney, NBC Universal and News Corp., also blocks its video from being played through the Google TV interface. Spokeswomen for both Hulu and Google said the companies are in talks to bring the Hulu Plus subscription service to Google TV.

22 October 2010

Williams' Firing from NPR renews Debate over Muslims

USA Today

When National Public Radio fired news analyst Juan Williams over remarks he made on Fox News, it renewed the debate over attitudes toward Muslims in post-9/11 America.

The spokesman for a leading Islamic organization said Williams was in effect legitimizing the racial profiling of Muslims.

"You have a sizeable minority of Americans who think it is legitimate to single out Muslims for special scrutiny and deny them rights all other Americans hold dear," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "That viewpoint expresses intolerance and bigotry."

Williams said in a statement posted on the Fox News website Thursday, "NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims."

In the original comments with Fox's Bill O'Reilly on Monday, Williams expressed unease about seeing Muslims on airplanes but added that not everyone in a religious group should be lumped together with terrorists.

Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, said the network's reporters and news analysts should not express opinions. Speaking Thursday at the Atlanta Press Club, she said Williams had veered from journalistic ethics several times.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News that Congress should investigate NPR for censorship and consider cutting off its public funding.

In a statement via Twitter, former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said, "NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it."

Diane Winston, a professor of media and religion at the University of Southern California said Williams went beyond his NPR journalist's role by voicing his own opinions. "He spoke sloppily," Winston said. "It seemed as if he was making a racist comment."

Geneva Overholser, director of USC's school of journalism, said NPR's ethics guidelines say news analysts should not express personal views on any outlets.

"Juan Williams has two very different roles" as a journalist at NPR and a pundit at Fox, she said. "It's always complex for Williams to perform these two roles."

His firing followed recent dismissals of CNN journalists Rick Sanchez and Octavia Nasr for voicing personal views in other forums.

"I hope we'll find other solutions," Overholser said. "Is firing people going to be the way that we have the discussions that we need to have about these very complex issues?"

Salam Al-Marayti, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said the controversy shows that "Islamophobia is a major danger in America" and called on NPR to help conduct a "national conversation" on the issue.

"We are not saying the firing was justifiable," he said. "We don't want to suppress these apprehensions or misapprehensions and prejudices. They exist. We know they exist."

21 October 2010

NPR Ends Williams' Contract After Muslim Remarks


NPR News has terminated the contract of longtime news analyst Juan Williams after remarks he made on the Fox News Channel about Muslims.

Williams appeared Monday on The O'Reilly Factor, and host Bill O'Reilly asked him to comment on the idea that the U.S. is facing a dilemma with Muslims.

O'Reilly has been looking for support for his own remarks on a recent episode of ABC's The View in which he directly blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Co-hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set in the middle of his appearance.

Williams responded: "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

Williams also warned O'Reilly against blaming all Muslims for "extremists," saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

But strong criticism followed Williams' comments.

Late Wednesday night, NPR issued a statement praising Williams as a valuable contributor but saying it had given him notice that it is severing his contract. "His remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR," the statement read.

Williams' presence on the largely conservative and often contentious prime-time talk shows of Fox News has long been a sore point with NPR News executives.

His status was earlier shifted from staff correspondent to analyst after he took clear-cut positions about public policy on television and in newspaper opinion pieces.

Reached late Wednesday night, Williams said he wasn't ready to comment and was conferring with his wife about the episode.

Much of the reader feedback on NPR's site has been highly critical of NPR's decision.

20 October 2010

Sirius XM Explores Alternatives for Life Without Howard Stern


Sirius XM Radio Inc. is exploring programming alternatives in case the satellite broadcaster and talk-show host Howard Stern aren’t able to agree on a new contract, Chief Executive Officer Mel Karmazin said.

Stern, whose five-year, $500 million contract expires in December, is continuing to negotiate with the New York-based company and a resolution will come before the end of the year, Karmazin, 67, said in an interview yesterday. Sirius XM stations, such as Raw Dog Comedy and Playboy Radio, would help retain many of Stern’s listeners if he left, he said.

“There’s no deal,” Karmazin said. “The only announcement will be when there is a deal, or there’s not a deal. And I’m hopeful there will be a deal.”

Stern is responsible for adding about 2 million subscribers to Sirius XM since he moved to satellite radio from terrestrial in January 2006, according to Tuna Amobi, an analyst at Standard & Poor’s in New York. Total subscribers may surpass 20 million before the end of the year, Sirius XM said this month.

Karmazin declined to give an estimate of how many subscribers would cancel the service if Stern leaves. Without Stern, Sirius XM would “save $100 million a year” and use the money to fill the programming gap with various types of shows, he said.

“You don’t try to replace Howard,” Karmazin said. “I don’t think there’s a radio personality that’s out there that we would bring in and say to the Howard Stern fans ‘let us introduce you to this new talent.’”

Budget Savings

Karmazin said he would use the budget savings to “go and try to get different people who might appeal to different audiences.” Sirius XM, the only satellite radio provider in the U.S., might “expand our classical music, or maybe we would do a little more in the opera area, or maybe we would do something that we’re not doing today.”

Don Buchwald, Stern’s agent, didn’t immediately return telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

“Howard has a great deal of options, many options available to him,” said Karmazin, referring to reports that Stern may introduce his own online service.

Sirius XM will receive about 2 percent of its $2.8 billion in revenue this year from advertising, Karmazin said. While ads during Stern’s programs are capped to 6 minutes per hour, Sirius XM’s ad sales department insists they could sell more, he said.

“I want that subscriber to be very happy,” Karmazin said.

Karmazin said he doesn’t see any potential acquisitions for Sirius XM, which had $258.9 million in cash at the end of the second quarter.

“There’s nothing out there that fits our core competencies,” he said.

Buybacks, Dividends

The company might return cash to shareholders through buybacks or dividends, Karmazin said. Such a move will become increasingly likely as Sirius XM continues to lower its debt and build cash flow, though there’s no target date for such action, he said.

Sirius XM projects adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to reach $575 million for 2010, compared with $463 million last year, Karmazin said at investor conference this month.

Last week, Sirius XM sold $700 million of eight-year senior notes in a boosted offering, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The 7.625 percent notes were unsecured, and used to pay off 11.25 notes, Karmazin said.

Sirius XM was unchanged at $1.38 yesterday in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares have more than doubled this year.

Tribune Said to Want Chief to Resign

NY Times

The board of the Tribune Company agreed on Tuesday that Randy Michaels, the beleaguered chief executive, should resign soon but stopped short of immediately asking for his resignation, according to a person directly involved in the discussions.

The board met on Tuesday to discuss the future management of the bankrupt company, which owns The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and many other media properties, and will continue deliberating in the coming days, said this person, who spoke only on a condition of anonymity.

The company issued a statement Tuesday saying, “Tribune’s board of directors is focused on filing the company’s plan of reorganization this Friday and has no comment on any other issue.” As he was heading to lunch after the meeting, Mr. Michaels told a Chicago Tribune reporter, "I work here today and I’m still working."

Mr. Michaels, a veteran of the radio industry, was hired by Sam Zell, the Chicago real estate mogul who bought the company for $8.2 billion in 2007, to run Tribune’s broadcasting and interactive businesses, along with six of the company’s midmarket newspapers. Mr. Michaels became chief executive and was elected to Tribune’s board in December 2009.

Mr. Michaels came in for increased scrutiny when Lee Abrams, the company’s chief innovation officer, sent out an offensive e-mail, was suspended and then resigned last week.

The e-mail and resignation came after reports in The New York Times that management, led by Mr. Michaels, had received millions in bonuses even as 4,200 employees lost their jobs, hired associates from his days in the radio business for jobs they had little relevant experience for and created a coarse and hostile work culture that offended many employees.

19 October 2010

Major League Baseball hires Boston's Hill Holliday for Ads

Boston Globe

Major League Baseball has drafted a local team to handle its advertising lineup.

The league hired Boston-based Hill Holliday as its official ad agency for the 2011 season to handle all of its creative and media duties. The account is a huge win for the agency: An estimate by Nielsen Co. found that major media spending by the league was about $20 million last year, and a league official said that figure was close but did not include online spending.

Hill Holliday officials would not discuss the specifics of their upcoming marketing strategies for the league, but said that social media would play a prominent role in reaching out both to fans and to those who don’t consider themselves fans of the sport.

“The approach is based on sharing stories, the lore, the drama of baseball, and more than just among the avid crowd of enthusiasts, but among a broader population,’’ said Baba Shetty, chief media officer at Hill Holliday. “In the era of social media and modern entertainment, we see a huge upside for baseball.’’

The account will be the only one for Hill Holliday that is sports-related, which helps diversify the agency’s roster. Its big-name clients include Dunkin’ Donuts, Bank of America, and Liberty Mutual Group.

“Major League Baseball is a worldwide brand with a strong national presence,’’ said Geoff Klapisch, an advertising professor at Boston University. “It’s a unique advertiser for Hill Holliday. With MLB, they are not a product, and they are not a service. It gives Hill Holliday the opportunity to offer very innovative work, both creative and media-wise.’’

Chris Cakebread, another advertising professor at Boston University, agreed. “It’s a prestigious account in terms of visibility,’’ he said. “It’s good for the region because it brings more attention to the agency.’’

Hill Holliday replaces the ad agency McCann Erickson, which handled the account for eight years. The New York firm, which like Hill Holliday is owned by Interpublic Group of Cos., worked on the league’s recent campaign, “Beyond Expectations,’’ focusing on players’ athleticism. One spot from earlier this year, called “Beyond Perseverance,’’ featured Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

League officials said the advertising account had come up for review this summer, and McCann Erickson declined to defend it.

“It was time to put the account up for review and test the waters to see what fresh thinking was outside,’’ said Jacqueline Parkes, chief marketing officer for Major League Baseball.

League executives spoke with a dozen firms before whittling the list down to six shops that competed in the review. The league said that it chose Hill Holliday because of the way the agency pitched the sport as a social concept and how it could be integrated into various social-media platforms.

“They were very precise on how they outlined today’s media landscape, and then showcased how Major League Baseball could thrive in that landscape,’’ Parkes said.

NBC Universal Drops Ad Partnership with Google

LA Times

The media titan stops turning over excess commercial time from some of its cable channels to the Internet giant to sell.

Google Inc.'s ambitions to broaden its advertising reach beyond the Internet have been dealt a blow by the loss of its marquee media partner — NBC Universal.

NBC said Wednesday that it had stopped providing unsold commercial time from several of its cable channels to Google. Two years ago, Google's efforts to ramp up its television ad sales brokerage system received a substantial boost when NBC Universal became the first major TV programmer to sign on. NBC had been contributing time from its Syfy, Oxygen, MSNBC, Sleuth and Chiller channels.

"We're not currently contributing inventory into the Google marketplace, but we continue to work with Google on multiple projects involving advanced advertising," NBC Universal spokeswoman Liz Fischer said in a statement.

A few months ago, NBC determined that, while the Google service helped fill advertising space on small channels that were not included in Nielsen Co. ratings surveys, it was less effective for more established networks, according to a person familiar with the company's decision. NBC Universal never included its most popular channels — the NBC network, USA and Bravo — in the initiative.

Analysts said that the end of the partnership between the media and Internet giants underscores Google's struggles to get a toehold in advertising sales of traditional media.

"Any marginal benefit that NBC might have seen was not sufficient to outweigh the much larger benefit of maintaining a relationship with their advertisers," said Greg Sterling, an Internet analyst and the founder of Sterling Market Intelligence.

Media companies continue to evaluate whether Google is friend or foe.

"Google's point of view is that they bring more to the table than they take way — whether it be more eyeballs or more revenue. But not everybody sees it that way," Sterling said. "Google has become this force sitting between companies like NBC and their customers. These media companies want to have a direct relationship with their readers, TV viewers and advertisers."

In a statement, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said it was continuing to work with NBC Universal and its properties. It said that financial news channel " CNBC is an important partner in the launch of Google TV and we are working together on research studies."

Google still counts satellite television providers DirecTV and Dish Network among its partners, along with the Bloomberg, Outdoor, CBS College Sports and Hallmark channels and two Santa Monica cable channels: Ovation and the Tennis channel.

"Google has found it much more challenging than anticipated to sell a TV ad opportunity to big marketers, even those they have delighted and formed relationships with online," said Jacquie Corbelli, chief executive of Brightline TV, a competing advertising agency that specializes in on-demand and interactive TV advertising. "TV, unlike the Web, continues to be — and will be for the foreseeable future — a highly fragmented marketplace of many platforms, with little resemblance to the Web from a pure advertising standpoint."

18 October 2010

Frontier Airlines Chief Bryan Bedford goes incognito as Flight Attendant for 'Undercover Boss'

LA Times

How much would you pay to have an airline's chief executive hoist your carry-on into an overhead bin or fetch you a cold Diet Coke? Frontier Airlines top dog Bryan Bedford did just that working incognito as a flight attendant during his star turn on the TV reality show "Undercover Boss."

In his high-altitude role on sold-out flights between Denver and San Diego, he got to schmooze with passengers ("I was happy to be in the air, happy to be helpful") and suffer their frustration when the flight was late ("I suspect I may have been the reason for the delay").

"When you’re doing a job you’ve never done before, you make a lot of mistakes,” says Bedford, whose job performance will be featured in an episode airing Sunday (9 p.m. PST/8 p.m. CST on CBS).

For the uninitiated, "Undercover Boss" each week features top executives who receive training and work side-by-side incognito with their employees. Recent episodes have featured other captains of industry from the travel world: Stephen Joyce of Choice Hotels and Kim Schaefer of Great Wolf Resorts water parks.

In addition to playing flight attendant, Bedford cleaned planes, emptied jets of waste and served as an all-purpose customer service agent who had to cover baggage claim areas as well as the ticket counter.

Bedford, who says he hadn't seen the TV show prior to being contacted about appearing on it, said his time in the trenches provided an opportunity to meet some of the 6,000 employees that were added after a three-way merger of Frontier, Republic and Midwest airlines earlier this year. (His airline is branded under Frontier, though the parent company he heads is Republic Airways).

Among the lessons that Bedford says he learned from his TV stint:

-- Airlines put a big emphasis on courting "high-value" business customers. But for the 70% of customers who are leisure travelers, flying is indelibly linked to whether they're having a good or bad vacation.

"Those leisure customers, we tend to take for granted," Bedford said. "We can’t do that."

-- He has a better appreciation for his front-line workers. After his TV experience, he instituted "town hall"-type meetings each week to better communicate with employees.

Despite his goofs and gaffes, Bedford says he enjoyed learning about his company from beyond the boardroom.

"The in-flight job was my favorite ... when I can sit with customers and have quality one-on-one time with them. It's rare," he says.

16 October 2010

Fox-Cablevision Dispute threatens MLB Broadcasts

The Associated Press

News Corp.'s Fox pulled its channels off Cablevision early Saturday after the companies' programming deal expired and negotiations for a new one stalled, threatening broadcasts of baseball playoffs for some 3 million Cablevision subscribers in New York and Philadelphia.

The blackout affects Fox 5 and My9 in New York and Fox29 in Philadelphia. Subscribers also lose access to cable channels Fox Business Network, NatGeo Wild and Fox Deportes.

The channels went dark when the programming deal expired just after midnight Friday. Such deals spell out how much a cable TV system pays the broadcaster to carry its signals over the cable lineup.

The impasse means the subscribers, mostly in the New York area but also in Philadelphia, could lose access to Game 1 of Major League Baseball's National League Championship Series, when the Phillies take the field against the Giants on Saturday night.

Cablevision called on News Corp. to put Fox5 and My9 back on Cablevision immediately and submit to binding arbitration under a neutral third party.

"News Corp.'s decision to remove Fox programming from 3 million Cablevision households is a black eye for broadcast television in America," Cablevision spokesman Charles Schueler said.

Fox released a statement blaming Cablevision for the impasse.

"In an effort to avoid this very situation, we started this process in May and made numerous reasonable proposals to Cablevision," said Mike Hopkins, president of Fox Networks Affiliate Sales and Marketing. "However, we remain far apart and Cablevision has made it clear that they do not share our view regarding the value of Fox's networks."

In separate fee disputes this year, Cablevision customers have experienced brief blackouts of The Walt Disney Co.'s ABC broadcast signal and Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.'s Food Network and HGTV. Subscribers missed the first 15 minutes of the Oscars in the ABC dispute.

Cablevision Systems Corp. has said News Corp.'s Fox is making "outrageous fee demands" for the right to carry the signals of the three cable channels and three TV stations.

Cablevision says it pays $70 million a year for access to 12 Fox channels, including those in dispute, and that News Corp. is now asking for more than $150 million a year for the same programming. It said Thursday that it is willing to submit to binding arbitration and called on Fox not to pull the plug.

Fox rejected the call for arbitration, saying the process would "reward Cablevision for refusing to negotiate fairly."

"Direct business-to-business negotiation is the only way to resolve this issue," it said in a statement.

While Fox didn't dispute Cablevision's claims, it called Cablevision "hypocritical" because it pays more for two of its sister company channels, MSG and MSG Plus, than it does for all 12 Fox channels. MSG and MSG Plus are owned by Madison Square Garden Inc., which like Cablevision is controlled by the Dolan family.

Lawmakers have begun to speak up on the issue, including Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who called for arbitration so viewers wouldn't have their TV programming disrupted.

Israel said in a statement Friday that he had asked the Federal Communications Commission to intervene in the dispute.

The FCC encouraged the two parties to agree to binding arbitration without suspending service and did not specify a mediator, according to Jack Pratt, a spokesman for the Long Island congressman.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., had urged both sides to extend negotiations.

"New Jersey consumers do not deserve to be treated as pawns in this dispute," he said in a statement.

Rebecca Arbogast, a managing director at brokerage Stifel Nicolaus, said News Corp. and other broadcast company owners risk political intervention if they keep pushing carriage deals to the brink.

"The more that programming disputes escalate and signals get pulled ... the more pressure we believe there will be on the (Federal Communications Commission) and Congress to do something to prevent such consumer disruptions," she wrote in a research note Thursday.

In a separate dispute with satellite TV company Dish Network Corp., Fox cut access on Oct. 1 to 19 regional sports networks, FX and the National Geographic Channel for some 14.3 million Dish subscribers. That fight foreshadows more tough negotiations, as the deal for Fox broadcast signals on Dish expires Oct. 31.

13 October 2010

Gap Revives Blue-Box Logo as Customers Pan Redesign


Gap Inc. abandoned a new logo after consumer criticism and will revert to the blue-square emblem that has been featured in its marketing for more than 20 years.

The clothing retailer released a redesigned logo on its website Oct. 4 and had planned to roll it out in marketing campaigns starting next month. More than a thousand people left comments on Gap’s Facebook page, a majority of them disparaging.

“We’ve learned a lot in this process,” Marka Hansen, the Gap brand president in North America, said yesterday in an e- mailed statement. “We are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing.”

The new logo set the Gap name against a white backdrop, with a blue square in the upper-right corner. Gap, which owns Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta, has been updating its clothing lines and stores to appeal to so-called Millennials -- consumers in their 20s and early 30s. The logo change was part of that evolution of the brand from “classic, American design, to modern, sexy, cool” Louise Callagy, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Gap, said last week.

Two days after the logo release, Gap responded to the outcry on its Facebook page, welcoming design suggestions and calling it a crowd-sourcing project.

‘Different Way’

“We’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand, and after much thought, we’ve decided to go back to our iconic blue box logo,” Callagy said yesterday in an interview. The change will take place starting today, she said.

Chief Executive Officer Glenn Murphy has focused on the Gap brand since he joined the company three years ago, part of a bid to revive growth. Sales at Gap stores in North America open at least a year have declined six straight months, including a 1 percent drop in September, while Old Navy and Banana Republic have made gains this year. The parent company hasn’t increased annual sales since fiscal 2005.

“There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way,” Hansen said.

Gap rose 44 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $18.71 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have dropped 11 percent this year.

Television Blackouts in U.S. Reach Decade High Over Fee Fights


TV blackouts in the U.S. have reached the highest level in a decade and may climb as pay-TV operators fight higher fees sought by content providers.

Disputes over fees have caused five blackouts this year, the most since 2000. They have affected about 19 million pay-TV subscribers, leaving some viewers without access to the Oscars and New York Knicks games. Dish Network Corp., Cablevision Systems Corp. and AT&T Inc. all lost programming while haggling over costs.

Feuds will escalate as pay-TV companies resist the increased fees they typically try to pass on to subscribers in the form of higher cable bills, said Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG LLC in New York.

“There is increasing pressure for distributors to push back on rate hikes in a tough economy where the consumer is struggling,” Greenfield said in an interview. “As programming costs continue to rise, these battles are becoming bigger and higher profile.”

Content expenses, which total about half of pay-TV companies’ operating costs, have increased about 10 percent in the past year, putting pressure on profit margins. Cable bills climbed about 8 percent on average for the year ended in June, according to researcher SNL Kagan.

‘American Idol’

Cablevision and Dish are currently negotiating with News Corp. over fees for Fox, the home of shows such as “Glee” and “American Idol.” Cablevision’s contract with News Corp. ends on Oct. 15, and Dish’s expires on Nov. 1. If agreements can’t be made by then, Fox could go dark on both carriers.

“It would be terrible business practice to allow any distributor to secure a signal without a valid contract,” Fox said in a statement. “If a provider were to decide to pass on a reasonable offer -- one that was consistent with our other distribution agreements -- then legally they could not re-sell our signal to their subscribers.”

High unemployment and stagnating wages are threatening the consumer’s willingness to pay steeper prices for television services, especially when there’s cheaper alternatives such as Web video and movie-rental provider Netflix Inc., said Chris Marangi, an analyst at Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York.

“Cable and satellite operators are losing their pricing power,” Marangi said in an interview. “To the extent that there are cheaper alternatives and the economy remains weak, it gets harder and harder to pass along these price increases.”

Premium Prices

Content providers, including Burbank, California-based Walt Disney Co., are further aggravating pay-TV companies by offering shows for free on competitive platforms such as Hulu.com, while making distributors pay premium prices for the same programming.

“The idea that the programmers, who are charging more for their programming, are then taking that programming and making it free on the Internet -- that really pushes the envelope,” Jim Dolan, chief executive officer of Bethpage, New York-based Cablevision, said at an investor conference Sept. 16.

This month, News Corp.’s Fox cut its broadcast signal of 19 local sports channels, FX and National Geographic, to Dish subscribers because of a dispute over rate increases. Disney’s WABC-TV pulled its signal to Cablevision customers in March, leaving 3 million homes in the New York without access to the first 13 minutes of the Academy Awards telecast.

“In tough economic times we need to take a tougher stance against programmers to be able to provide the best prices out there for our customers,” Dave Shull, senior vice president of programming for Englewood, Colorado-based Dish, said in an interview. “The DNA of our company is low prices -- we can’t let these costs continue to escalate.”

A La Carte Pricing

The public, high-profile disputes don’t serve the industry well because they can backfire and prompt discussions in Washington about potential a la carte pricing, according to David Joyce, an analyst at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York.

A la carte pricing is a concept that allows consumers to pay for channels individually. Studies show that such a model would limit choices and raise prices, not benefiting the television operator, content provider, or consumer, Joyce said in an interview.

Still, cable companies and satellite distributors are trying to push programmers to allow them to cobble together smaller, cheaper options for their customers. Time Warner Cable Inc., the second-largest cable operator, has been championing the idea to sell less costly packages of fewer channels to lure economically strapped consumers.

Broad Distribution

“We’ve expressed an interest in having smaller packages,” Rob Marcus, Time Warner Cable’s chief financial officer, said at an investor conference on Sept. 16. “The reality is that our programming vendors have a different interest, which is having the broadest possible carriers they can.”

Less popular channels are often carried by a distributor because they have been tied-in as part of deal with a more popular network. That way, both channels can get broad distribution and produce higher advertising revenue for the programmer. The distributor must carry the less-watched channel in order to get the popular station and can’t strip it out of their packages without losing both.

In addition to raising prices on cable channels, content owners are now also asking distributors to pay for broadcast channels that were previously free. Companies such as News Corp. used to provide their broadcast channels for free in order to gain distribution for new cable channels, like FX.

Lobbying Group

Chase Carey, the president and chief operating officer at New York-based News Corp., said this year that he thinks Fox is worth $5 a month given its sports programming and prime-time hits like “American Idol.” That would top the most expensive channel on the dial, Disney’s ESPN, which brings in $4.08 for each subscriber, according to SNL Kagan.

The dispute has made its way to Washington. Many of the country’s biggest pay-TV operators, including Time Warner Cable, have signed a petition to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for the government to require, among other things, stations to keep sending a signal as long as the negotiations continue in good faith. They have also formed a lobbying group called the American Television Alliance to push for Congressional action.

Broadcasters say Washington shouldn’t intervene.

Nearly all carriage negotiations conclude without service disruptions, “and despite the overheated rhetoric coming from pay TV providers, there is no reason to believe that won’t be the case going forward,” Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said in an e-mail.

“Pay-TV operators will have less incentive to engage in meaningful talks for carriage of broadcast TV stations if government regulators inject themselves into these marketplace discussions,” Wharton said.

KFC pastes its Double Down Ad on More Students' Butts

USA Today

KFC is doubling down on its promo across college coeds' backsides. The world's largest chicken chain is putting yet more college women — at three more universities — into sweatpants with "Double Down" emblazoned across their rear ends.

Double Down is KFC's new male-targeted sandwich that uses chicken patties as buns.

KFC's newest Double Down "ambassadors," found through a competition on its Facebook page, will be paid $500 each to wear the pants and hand out $5 KFC coupons for a day at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.; Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.; and James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.

The move follows stinging criticism last month after KFC first rolled out the provocative promo at Spalding University in Louisville. Even before it begins later this week, the expansion of the promo is drumming up additional criticism.

"It's hideous," says Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. "This is 12-year-old boy humor."

Brand guru Steven Addis says the promo may be reprehensible, but it's not necessarily stupid. "Whether intended or not, KFC is becoming the Hooters of fast food."

KFC received 600 applications for the new jobs on its Facebook page, spokeswoman Laurie Schalow says. The women were picked for their experience, not their looks, she says. Two of the women have done beer company promos.

One is Sara Coleman, a 21-year-old senior at Colorado State, who majors in criminal justice. She says she already does promos for Anheuser-Busch and heard about the KFC promo from her mom.

Coleman has no problems with the outfit. "There are worse things that sweatpants could say," says Coleman, who hopes to use the money to go to Las Vegas.

She and two friends will pass out the coupons at CSU's homecoming football game Saturday. "There will be girls in a lot less clothing at the game. We're just wearing something we'd wear to bed."

Her school's officials are OK with the promo. "We support the right of local and national businesses to distribute information about their products and services to our campus community," says Mike Ellis, assistant vice president for student affairs.

Chris Muller, Boston University hospitality school dean, thinks the promo will be a hit, but doesn't like it. "In college life, women are supposed to be highly sexed and men are supposed to be very hungry. Someone said: 'Let's put them together.' "

12 October 2010

AdKeeper Wants You to Store Ads, Not Block Them

PC Mag

Some users use ad-blocking tools to eliminate ads from their Web browser. But a new startup, AdKeeper hopes that you'll bookmark them.

AdKeeper, a new online advertising service run by the former chief executive of About.com, Scott Kurnit, hopes that by storing the ads into a small online repository, users will go back to the ads, interact with them, and ultimately, buy.

The service is in beta and will formally launch in 2011. But AdKeeper said its group of "charter advertisers" included Allstate, Ally Bank, AT&T, Best Buy, CBS, Ford, Gap, General Mills, InterContinental Hotels Group, JetBlue, Kmart, Kraft Foods, Macy's, McDonald's, Pepsi, Sara Lee, Sears, Showtime, The Advertising Council, Unilever and Warner Bros.

The service supplies interactive ads, as others do. The difference is that ads designed by the AdKeeper service contain a small "K" on them. When the a user clicks on the "K" (for "keep") the ad goes into a Keeper application for the user to interact with later. The Keeper is actually the AdKeeper Web page, where users don't even have to log in; the service "tracks you with very anonymous cookies," a company spokeswoman said.

"Internet advertising was modeled after TV advertising – where the consumer views content, then interruptive ads, then more content. But the web is a totally dynamic environment that places consumers in the driver's seat," said Scott Kurnit, the company's founder and the former founder of About.com. "It's time for the advertising experience to catch up with the rest of the web experience. AdKeeper affords consumers the opportunity to engage with the advertising that interests them most, at the time and place of their choosing. It's 'on my time advertising.' It's invitational, not interruptive. It's for brands that respect their consumers. And it's for consumers who want to take charge."

AdKeeper representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Online advertising generates $300 billion of economic activity in the U.S., according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which tracks online advertising. But site operators are making less on them. Although cost-per-million estimates are difficult to acquire, online ad network Adify released data last year that found that ad impressions on automotive Web sites fell from $17.26 to $12.47.

While Web site operators make money from ads, installing FlashBlock or plug-ins like AdBlock have become more of a common practice for users; note the comments in our list of recommended add-ons for Firefox; Mozilla itself also recommends the plug-ins.

An IAB representative said that the group does not have any estimates for the amount of revenue lost via ad-blocking software.

To compensate, advertisers have become increasingly focused on serving targeted ads to specific users, attempting to determine their online habits through a variety of methods, including identifying their location and browsing habits. AdKeeper represents another avenue to boost CPMs.

The IAB will release its semi-annual report on the online advertising industry on Tuesday, in conjunction with PWC. Internet advertising revenues in the U.S. hit $5.9 billion for the first quarter of 2010, a 7.5 percent increase over the same period in 2009, the IAB reported in May.

In March, Conde Nast-owned Ars Technica served users with a blank page each time the site detected ad-blocking software was in effect, canceling the experiment after 12 hours.

"Technologically, it was a success in that it worked. Ad blockers, and only ad blockers, couldn't see our content," editor-in-chief Ken Fisher wrote in a response. "We tested just one way of doing this, but have devised a way to keep it rotating were we to want to permanently implement it. But we don't. Socially, the experiment was a mixed bag. A bunch of people whitelisted Ars, and even a few subscribed. And while others showed up to support our actions, there was a healthy mob of people criticizing us for daring to take any kind of action against those who would deny us revenue even though they knew they were doing so. Others rightly criticized the lack of a warning or notification as to what was going on."

AdKeeper's board includes Jeremy Allaire, founder and chief executive of Brightcove; John Battelle, founder and chief executive of Federated Media; Peggy Conlon, president and chief executive of the The Advertising Council; Janet Robinson, president and chief executive of The New York Times; and George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group.

11 October 2010

Comcast's iTV Making a Big Impression with Advertisers

Kansas City Star
More than 160 Advertisers Have Put iTV to work to Reach, Engage & Connect with Consumers
With businesses of all sizes looking for more accountability and efficiency from their marketing efforts, Comcast Spotlight is leading the way: its interactive television (iTV) advertising platform is now available to advertisers in more than 30 U.S. markets, reaching more than 10 million homes.

Comcast Spotlight’s request for information (RFI) technology enables advertisers to place an overlay, or banner, on a 30- or 60-second commercial, prompting viewers to press a button on their remote controls to receive materials from the advertiser or to be contacted by the advertiser about the product or service featured in the ad.

“The message from clients couldn’t be clearer: more than ever, their focus is on the return on their marketing investment,” said Kevin Smith, Group Vice President, Spotlight Integrated Media Sales. “Combining qualified leads and accountability with cable television’s reach and ability to efficiently segment audiences makes spot advertising an even more powerful tool.”

To date, more than 160 advertisers have run a total of more than 340 RFI-enabled advertising campaigns with Comcast Spotlight, delivering nearly 280 million impressions.

Clients using RFI to connect with customers include Idelle Management Company. Marc Broccoli, Marketing Director, Hair Care, for Idelle said, “It’s important that we engage our customers with product trial and sampling. Comcast Spotlight’s RFI platform is an innovative technology that enabled us to connect quickly and cost-effectively with our audience, distributing more than 20,000 samples to targeted Chicago consumers in less than one month. We’re looking forward to expanding the campaign to additional markets.”

Regional advertisers also have found great success with RFI. Rebecca Barker, Media and Communications Manager for the city of Joliet, IL, explains how the technology has helped the city boost its tourism marketing efforts: “Joliet began using RFI in our 2010 television campaign and continues to be overwhelmed at the amount of response and logistical information our campaign has been able to generate with this unique and easy-to-use method. RFI works perfectly for our campaign, as one of the main goals is to get viewers to request a free visitor magazine. With RFI, one click is all it takes for our goals to be fulfilled.”

Chicago Rockford International Airport used Comcast’s RFI technology to offer discounted tickets to consumers. Acting Marketing, PR and Communications Manager Geoffrey A. Oman says, “RFD was excited to be a part of this new technology and we put a lot of effort into making sure that the program accomplished its goals. We were able to get both exposure and measurable action from a medium that typically has been all about exposure.”

Proving itself as a powerful new tool for political advertisers, RFI also has the potential to connect with prospective voters. California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has used RFI offer viewers the opportunity to receive a bumper sticker or to be contacted by phone about volunteering for the campaign.

“We believe in cable as a valuable targeted medium on its own, but when we added video on demand and interactive TV to the campaign, our targeting had increased impact,” said Kyle Roberts of Smart Media Group. “RFI overlays generated over 2,000 requests for a free bumper sticker and over 8,000 volunteer leads for the Whitman campaign. Given that this is new technology, we were excited about the level of engagement and conversion. We are continuing to utilize RFI and looking to extend to all Comcast Spotlight platforms for the general election.”

RFI technology also has been used to make a difference in the lives of children looking for a permanent home. In July, Comcast Spotlight, the Ad Council and AdoptUsKids began airing public service announcements in Chicago with an interactive overlay offering viewers the opportunity to request that information about adopting children currently living in foster care be mailed to their homes. Following a successful Chicago pilot, the RFI-enabled campaign is in the process of rolling out to nearly 20 additional markets over the remainder of the year including San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Nashville and others.

“Leveraging Comcast Spotlight’s iTV platform is a wonderful opportunity to further engage our audiences,” said Peggy Conlon, President and CEO of the Ad Council. “After seeing the response from Comcast’s support of our Adoption campaign in Chicago this summer, we’re looking forward to bringing the campaign to more cities in the upcoming months.”

In addition to RFI, Comcast Spotlight’s expanding iTV advertising product lineup includes remind record and telescoping. Remind record is an overlay on a commercial that provides information about an upcoming television program. By clicking their remotes while the overlay appears on-screen, viewers can quickly and easily program their digital video recorders (DVRs) to record a program or all episodes of a series. For digital cable customers without DVRs, an on-screen reminder can be programmed to appear shortly before the scheduled program airs.

Comcast Spotlight also is beginning a companywide rollout of its video-on-demand (VOD) telescoping application, enabling viewers to click a button on their remote to either immediately begin watching a VOD program related to the content of advertised in the traditional TV commercial, or to “bookmark” that VOD program to watch at their convenience later.