PREVIOUSLY, WEDNESDAY AM: Time Warner Cable, the country’s No. 2 cable service and a second unidentified pay-TV entity are considering taking a piece of the ad-supported streaming-video service, The Wall Street Journal reports. Slower growth in the pay-TV sector has the NY-based Time Warner Cable paying more attention to its broadband operations lately. Disney, News Corp and Comcast own about a third each of the 6-year-old service, which recently topped the 4 million-subscriber mark. Other groups mulling a stake in Hulu include Yahoo and the Chernin Group, run by ex-News Corp. exec Peter Chernin.
After a year without an agency representation in television, Peter Chernin’s production company has landed at UTA. Chernin Entertainment was signed by UTA Managing Director Jay Sures and partner/head of the TV department Matt Rice who will represent it. Chernin Entertainment, which is behind Fox’s flagship comedy New Girl, is a very lucrative client, in part because of its very rich deal at 20th Century Fox TV. The pact, which has two more years on it, has big on-air commitments from Fox built into it as part of Chernin’s exit package from News Corp. Four-year-old Chernin Entertainment got off to a flying start in television and was previously repped by WME until the two sides parted ways last June. While there, Chernin had multiple shows on the air, most recently New Girl, Touch and Ben & Kate this past season. This year, the company has no new series picked up for next season but New Girl just landed the coveted post-Super Bowl slot. Chernin Entertainment’s TV division is run by Katherine Pope.
Tom Mockridge, the former CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, has been named successor to Virgin Media‘s outgoing CEO Neil Berkett. The UK’s Virgin Media is in the process of being acquired by John Malone’s Liberty Global in a $23.3B deal, setting the stage for a battle of the billionaires in the UK pay-TV sector where Murdoch’s Sky is the number one operator and Virgin is number two. Mockridge resigned as the News International head in December 2012 after assuming the reins in July 2011 amid the phone hacking scandal. He spent more than two decades at News International owner News Corp. where he also held the posts of chief executive of European television operations and chief executive of Sky Italia. Liberty’s takeover of Virgin will be voted on by shareholders in June with the acquisition to close shortly thereafter. Berkett will leave Virgin when the deal is finalized.
BSkyB revenues were up 6% to £5.38B ($8.37B) with operating profit beating forecasts by jumping 9% to £994M ($1.55B). The News Corp.-controlled company announced its third-quarter results this morning with CEO Jeremy Darroch noting that it would add 550 jobs to meet demand and serve a growing customer base. He added that the number of Internet- connected Sky+HD boxes grew by almost 45,000 each week during the quarter, leading to a five-fold increase in On Demand downloads and a 37% growth in movie rentals against last year. Britain’s largest pay-TV operator said it had over 30M paid-for subscription products across TV, broadband and telephony the first time in its history. Its customer base is now at 10.7M in the UK and Ireland. The churn rate was up, however, to 10.8% versus 10.1% in the comparable quarter last year. BSkyB competes most notably with BT and Virgin Media in the UK and is likely to see that competition heat up with John Malone’s Liberty Global recently getting the go-ahead from European authorities to acquire Virgin in a $23.3B takeover.
The News Corp. Chairman and CEO today Tweeted a defense of the New York Post’s controversial Thursday front-pager blasting two innocent men as “Bag Men” sought by the FBI: @rupertmurdoch: “All NYPost pics were those distributed by FBI. And instantly withdrawn when FBI changed directions.” CNN’s Jeff Zucker similarly praised his network’s coverage despite its glaring errors covering the Boston bombers. But Washington was watching. In his Friday address President Obama tsk-tsked unnamed media outlets for risking public safety with bad reporting. “In this age of instant reporting and tweets and blogs, there’s a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes to jump to conclusions. But when a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it’s important that we do this right”.
James Harding resigned as editor of Rupert Murdoch’s The Times neswspaper in December saying, “It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times.” Reports suggested that Harding’s departure was the result of upset at The Times’ parent company over the paper’s somewhat critical stance during the phone-hacking scandal that had engulfed News Corp.’s UK press arm, News International. When Harding starts his new job as director of news and current affairs at the BBC on August 12, he’ll be joining another company that has seen its share of recent crises.
The BBC’s news division has been plagued by troubles in the past six months including the Jimmy Savile scandal, botched reporting at the flagship Newsnight program and walkouts by journalists. Its Panorama program is drawing fire this week over allegations that London School of Economics students were put in harm’s way during the filming of a documentary in North Korea.
Liberty Global chairman John Malone is a step closer to facing off in the British cable biz with long-time frenemy Rupert Murdoch. European authorities today cleared Liberty’s $23.3B takeover of UK cable operator Virgin Media. The European Commission said its investigation “confirmed that the transaction would not raise competition concerns, in particular because the parties operate cable networks in different Member States and because of the merged entity’s limited market position in the wholesale of TV channels in the UK and Ireland.” Liberty already operates in 10 European Union states, including Ireland, but not the UK. Virgin is the second largest pay-TV operator in the UK where it competes, notably, with the News Corp.-controlled Sky. The Commission said the combined group “would still face sufficient competitive constraint from other players.” The deal was originally announced in February. In March, we reported that Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett will exit with $86.8M in severance, options and rewards once the transaction is completed.
Global Showbiz Briefs: New BBC Chief Takes Reins, HBO & Canal Plus, China’s TV Docu Market, Bona Film Group
New BBC Chief Says “Best Days Lie Ahead”
Today was the first day on the job for the BBC’s new director general, Tony Hall. The broadcaster’s former head of news returned to the Beeb after more than a decade as CEO of the Royal Opera House. The organization he confronted today is in far different shape than it was when he left. After going into crisis mode last October when the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal broke open, the BBC was rocked by the mishandling of a Newsnight report that mistakenly identified a senior politician as an alleged pedophile. Those events led to the resignation of former director general George Entwistle after only 54 days on the job. Mark Thompson, Entwistle’s predecessor, left in September to become CEO of The New York Times Company and under his watch austerity measures were put in place after the license fee that was frozen until 2017. Two major unions went out on strike at the BBC last Thursday in protest over what was referred to as “a modern-day BBC sweatshop” along with bullying claims at the company. Hall made a handful of appointments prior to starting at the BBC, but has yet to name a head of news or head of television. In an email to staff today, he said, “With imagination and hard work, the BBC’s best days lie ahead of us.”
Intel is reportedly making headway on its plan to offer live and 7-day catch-up viewing over the net to people who buy its set-top streaming device. The chipmaker’s planned online pay-TV service was outlined by Intel Media corporate VP Erik Huggers in February, who said “We can bring an incredible television experience via the Internet to consumers” where live and catch-up TV “all live in the same paradigm” created by the networks themselves. There’s still no word on what channels will be available, how much they’ll cost, the name of the service or precisely when it will be available, but Bloomberg sources say that progress has been made on deals for TV shows in talks with Time Warner, NBC Universal and Viacom. The company is also about to start financial negotiations with News Corp., Bloomberg said. Intel is betting its service, provided via customers’ broadband accounts, will give subscribers more choice. Huggers said last month, “It is a quality play. We will create a superior experience.” RBC Capital analyst David Bank told Bloomberg that the new service would be “great” for media companies. “Intel will have to pay a premium as the new kid on the block.”
Fox has added two more projects to its event series development slate: The Run Of His Life: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson (working title), from Nina Jacobson (The Hunger Games franchise) and Brad Simpson (World War Z) and based on legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin’s best-selling book of the same name about the Simpson trial, and Shōgun, from producers Michael De Luca (The Social Network) and Nigel Williams (Elizabeth I) based on the best-selling novel by James Clavell. Both hail from FX Prods. The network plans to launch its first limited/event series next year. “These are both epic stories — one fiction, one fact — that have captivated millions of people worldwide,” said Fox’s Shana C. Waterman, SVP Event Series & Multi-Platform Programming. “They’re riveting and emotional, with unique historic backdrops that lend themselves to the high-quality, dramatic event series we’re looking to make.”
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (The People vs. Larry Flint), The Run Of His Life takes viewers behind the scenes of The Trial of the Century, which culminated with Simpson’s shocking acquittal of the murders of wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. This is not Fox’s first crack at Simpson: In 2006, network was set to air during the November sweep an interview with Simpson based on his proposed book If I Did It, which was going to be published by ReganBooks, an imprint owned by Fox owner News Corp. The book would have offered up Simpson’s hypothetical take on how he would have murdered Simpson and Goldman. Both it and the interview were eventually scrapped amid swift public outcry.
Australian Government Prepares For Fight Over Media Reforms
News Corp warns that media reforms introduced to Parliament on Thursday local time could harm the company’s new publishing spinoff and may be challenged in the High Court. Kim Williams, CEO of Australia’s News Limited, attacked the proposal to create a public interest media advocate, which would have the power to approve or reject mergers and takeovers and oversee self-regulatory bodies such as the Australian Press Council. He described the legislation as an attempt by the Labor Government to “constrain and harness News Limited” and said the reforms may hurt the asset values of the new News Corp. The government also proposes creating a parliamentary committee to examine abolition of the rule prohibiting a broadcaster from reaching more than 75% of the country. The Liberal/National Party Coalition, which is heavily favored to win the federal election in September, has vowed to block or repeal the legislation. - Don Groves
Former BBC Daytime controller Liam Keelan was originally named dirctor of BSkyB‘s flagship Sky 1 HD back in December, but he later pulled out to move to BBC Worldwide. After opening up the search again, Sky has now named Adam MacDonald to oversee the channel. MacDonald joins from A+E Networks UK – a joint venture of A+E Networks and News Corp.-controlled BskyB – where he’s VP of programming. Former Sky 1 director Stuart Murphy has been bumped up to oversee Sky’s entertainment portfolio Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts, Challenge and Pick TV. Sky 1 was named Channel of the Year at the Broadcast Awards in 2012 and overall, Sky has commited £600M ($975M) for UK content and production across all of its channels by 2014. Among upcoming projects, Sky Atlantic is co-producing The Tunnel and biopic Fleming; Sky Arts has the Playhouse Presents series in the pipeline with talent that includes Anna Friel, Matt Smith, Idris Elba and Vanessa Redgrave and Sky Living is co-producing NBC series Dracula.
News Corp. has been raising the profile of deputy COO James Murdoch of late with the exec making two appearances before investors last month. Is News Corp. also looking to rebuild his coterie of board seats? Germany’s Sky Deutschland plans to appoint Murdoch as a member of its supervisory board, according to Reuters. The pay-TV group, a source told the news agency, expects to benefit from Murdoch’s international market and new technology savvy. Amid the phone-hakcing and bribery scandals at News Corp.’s UK press division last year, Murdoch left chairmanships at News International and at pay-TV group BSkyB, which News Corp. controls via its 39% stake. He also ankled the boards of Sotheby’s, GlaxoSmithKline and News Corp.’s UK print operations. But, he retained his board seat at BSkyB. News Corp. owns 54.8% of Sky Deutschland and if Murdoch does join the company board, he would be surrounded by News Corp. execs. COO Chase Carey, 20th Century Fox Television Distribution president Mark Kaner, News International CEO Thomas Mockridge and Europe & Asia COO Jan Koeppen are all members.
Former Rupert Murdoch lieutenant Rebekah Brooks and former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson appeared in a London court today on charges of allegedly conspiring to bribe public officials. While both of their cases were adjourned to another date, according to BBC News, four others pleaded guilty to selling information to the News Corp.-owned Sun tabloid. Two former police officers, an ex-prison officer and a public official (who was not named for legal reasons) are the first to plead guilty to misconduct in a public office under Scotland Yard’s three linked investigations into illegal acts by journalists. Brooks, formerly chief of News Corp. press arm News International, and Coulson, also both face charges in the phone-hacking investigation. The provisional trial date is September 9 this year.
Meanwhile, in a bit of good news for News International, The Times and Sunday Times were awarded nine UK Press Awards on Thursday night, including Newspaper of the Year and Scoop of the Year for The Times and Sports Team of the Year for the Sunday Times. Occasional Twitter user Murdoch sent out a few missives about politics yesterday, but there was no shout out for the wins.
Once John Malone’s Liberty Global finalizes its $23.3B acquisition of the UK’s Virgin Media, Virgin CEO Neil Berkett will leave with $19.6M in severance and $67.2M in other options and rewards, a company spokesman confirms. Berkett joined Virgin as COO in 2005 and was named CEO in March of 2008. The native New Zealander said he would exit after the merger closes, which Liberty Global expects will be in the second quarter of this year. Under Berkett’s stewardship, Virgin Media’s share price has tripled as it competes in the pay-TV, telephone and broadband space that is also inhabited by the News Corp.-controlled BSkyB and by BT, among others. The UK’s second largest pay-TV operator, Virgin Media has 4.9M subscribers. A search is currently underway for Berkett’s replacement and the exec is unsure of his future plans. “I haven’t thought much ahead about what I’d like to do,” he said at last week’s Cable Congress in London.
After attempts to stake a big claim in the digital arena via also-ran MySpace and the now-defunct The Daily newspaper, News Corp. is headed into the classroom. Its new Amplify Tablet computer designed specifically for schools is being unveiled at SWSWedu in Austin today. Geared towards the K-12 market, the tablet is aimed at transforming “the way teachers teach and students learn,” Joel Klein, CEO of News Corp.’s education division, Amplify, said. Klein has experience in the field: he headed the New York public school system before joining Rupert Murdoch’s company two years ago. Interest in digital learning is at a high and News Corp. is looking to tap into the dollars being spent on technology by U.S. schools. Tablets will come loaded with features that allow teachers to plan lessons, prepare quizzes, send assignments, share multimedia resources and manage their students’ devices. They’ll cost $299 per year per student for a WiFi-enabled device, when purchased with a two-year subscription at $99 per year. There’s also a 4G model for $349 with a $179/year annual subscription. (By comparison, the iPad2 costs $399.) Amplify execs expect a $180M operating loss for the first year, The New York Times reported.
News Corp. is forging ahead with the Amplify tablet as it continues to try and distance itself from its troubles in the UK. In 2010, News Corp. acquired a 90% stake in Wireless Generation, but later lost a contract to build a student data system for New York when the comptroller
Global Showbiz Briefs: Rupert Murdoch Ally Severs Ties With Forbes Rich List; Oz Media Shake-Up; ‘Dyatlov Pass’ In Russia
Rupert Murdoch Ally At Odds With Forbes’ Billionaires List
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, an ally of Rupert Murdoch whose Kingdom Holding Company shares business interests with News Corp., is in dispute with Forbes over his placement on its annual billionaires list. The magazine placed him at number 26 on its list with an estimated worth of $20B. But the prince’s office thinks that’s several billion too low. According to The Financial Times, the prince severed ties on Monday with the list, citing a “flawed” valuation method. Forbes responded that it “has been investigating the prince’s finances for several years, and will detail its findings in a feature story in the magazine” that will appear online. Kingdom Holding will continue to collaborate with the Bloomberg Billionaires index, however, which measures the prince’s wealth at $28B, which he considers more accurate. Among his holdings, the Saudi investor owns about 7% of News Corp. which in turn owns 9.09% of the Rotana media group. He’s also got a stake in Twitter and owns Paris’ George V hotel.
The Fox Sports Media Group has an upfront presentation scheduled for this afternoon and is expected to use that platform to announce the launch of its first national cable sports network, Fox Sports 1. The all-sports network will go live in August, timed to the start of college football season and David Hill, the former head of the Fox Sports Media Group, has been brought in to oversee the creation and launch. Plans for the channel have been brewing for some time – News Corp. COO Chase Carey last month called it the “world’s worst kept secret” – but up to now details were scant including what sports the network would carry. According to The New York Times, Fox Sports 1 will have Nascar, Major League Baseball, college basketball and football, soccer (including the 2018 and 2022 World Cups) and UFC fights. Also, an in-studio show will be hosted by Regis Philbin who last week hinted at the prospect.
Jackie Chan Ridiculed In Hong Kong For Pro-China Stance
Hong Kong action icon Jackie Chan faces a backlash in his hometown for joining China’s top political advisory body. Hong Kong remains suspicious of the mainland and many believe Chan was selected to appear at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference because of his visibility. Professor Sonny Ho, co-director at the Centre for Greater China Studies, describes the conference’s “united front” strategy as a campaign to promote a strong and peaceful homeland, unified with Taiwan. China’s growing clout has seen actors from Hong Kong and Macau drafted into patriotic movies that glorify the country’s past including the early Communist Party era. Chan’s appointment to the conference met derision online for his pro-Beijing stances such as calling for limits on the right to protest.