This is a weird, but intriguing announcement. AT&T and The Chernin Group say today that they formed a venture “to acquire, invest in and launch over-the-top (OTT) video services.” (Jargon alert: OTT is industry-speak for an online service that can take the place of traditional pay TV.) The two have committed more than $500M, but offer no details about how much each has put up, ownership stakes, etc. — although Chernin’s kicking in his majority stake in subscription VOD service Crunchyroll. They plan to invest in ad and subscription VOD channels as well as streaming services. ”A critical part of The Chernin Group’s strategy has been our significant focus on the online video industry, and joining forces with AT&T only further underscores our strategic commitment in this area as operators, investors and programmers,” Chernin says. He adds that AT&T’s “massive reach on those platforms across mobile and broadband and their commitment to the online video space make them the perfect fit for this venture with us.” Chernin was a major supporter of Hulu back when he was Rupert Murdoch’s No. 2 at News Corp. AT&T Chief Strategy Officer John Stankey says that the combo “creates the opportunity for us to develop a compelling offering in the OTT space.” AT&T will disclose its Q1 earnings, and talk with analysts, after the market closes today.
Back in February, word began to spread that longtime frenemies John Malone and Rupert Murdoch were eyeing a joint acquisition of the UK’s Channel 5. Malone-backed Discovery Communications and BSkyB, majority owned by Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, have now reportedly gone ahead and sewn up a deal. Broadcast reported that Discovery and BskyB are nearing an announcement they have acquired the broadcaster in a deal valued at £350M, which would give the former a 70% stake and the latter 30%. But media entrepreneur Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, owner of Channel 5, has said it received several bids and was still evaluating them, according to Bloomberg. The free-to-air broadcaster was thought to be seeking a buyer with about £700M to spend, but many were skeptical it would fetch such a price; Desmond paid about £103.5M for it in 2010. Other companies that have been said to have shown interest include Viacom, Turner Broadcasting, BT, NBCUniversal and Saban Capital.
Channel 5 is notably the home of Big Brother, although its contract for the show expires in 2015. The net also airs U.S. dramas like Under The Dome, CSI and Person Of Interest; weekly average ratings hover around 4%.
More National Geographic Shakeup: David Lyle Exits, Courteney Monroe Upped To CEO, David Hill Named Chairman
Gary E. Knell, President and CEO of the National Geographic Society, and Peter Rice, Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, today completed the sweeping changes at the top of the National Geographic Channels that started yesterday with the announcement that the channels’ president Howard Owens will be leaving in June. “Today, the worst kept secret is over — I am taking my leave as CEO of National Geographic Channels,” David Lyle, who had served as National Geographic Channels CEO since 2011, wrote in an internal memo (read it in full below the post.). “I am exhilarated but somewhat saddened also.” Lyle will be replaced by a marketing executive, Courteney Monroe, who has served as Chief Marketing Officer for National Geographic Channels’ domestic networks since 2012 and is now being upped to CEO. She will report to the Board of Directors of the National Geographic Channels. Additionally, David Hill, Senior EVP of 21st Century Fox and a member of the National Geographic Channels Board of Directors, will now add the title of Chairman of National Geographic Channels U.S. His role is described as “providing counsel to the executive and programming leadership team.” Coming from marketing, Monroe has no production experience. Hill, who had an oversight of NGC prior to Lyle’s 2011 hire, will remain a member of the NGC Board and also continue to oversee production of American Idol.
The moves continue to expand the domain of Hill, who is one of Rupert Murdoch’s trusted lieutenants. In 2012, the long-time chairman and CEO of Fox Sports was elevated to senior EVP for News Corp. Then last summer, following the departure of Fox alternative chief Mike Darnell, he was put in charge of the network’s The X Factor and American Idol. Since then, X Factor has been cancelled while American Idol is finishing up its lowest-rated season. Meanwhile, the National Geographic Channels have done very well under Lyle and Owens. “I’m exhilarated that NGC and NG WILD are in rude health with EBITDAs (profits) at all-time highs, and with programming featuring the most watched specials, series and year in the channels’ history,” Lyle wrote in his memo. That makes the executive housecleaning puzzling. It follows speculation about a discord between Hill and NGC’s leadership team of Lyle and Owens who turned the network around in the past three years. When Hill gave up direct oversight of NGC in 2011, the move was explained with a clash of cultures between him and the team at National Geographic.
Update, Saturday 10:25 AM: In a Reddit AMA this morning, Avatar director James Cameron expounded on the franchise’s timetable in regards to the screenplays, writing, “The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously. They’re essentially all in preproduction now, because we are designing creatures, settings, and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks. There’s always pressure, whether it’s a new film or whether it’s a sequel, to entertain and amaze an audience. I’ve felt that pressure my entire career, so there’s nothing new there. The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable. There hasn’t been a problem finding new and wonderful things to include in the movie.”
In a Fortune interview earlier this week, Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch reiterated what Deadline reported back in August: That there will be three Avatar sequels released respectively in December 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Rupert Murdoch is all over Twitter. (“My family are horrified that I’m on it,” he says.) But in agreeing to sit down for a broad interview with Fortune, one of the media industry’s most powerful moguls signals that he’s finally ready to return in a serious way to the public stage that he has largely abandoned as he grappled with his UK hacking scandals and a bitter divorce, as well as uncertainty about the prospects for his media empire — which he split into two companies last year — and his succession plans. You should check out the piece by senior editor-at-large Pattie Sellers. Here are a few of the highlights:
Succession: His sons James and Lachlan are first in line to take over although “I’m going to be here for a long time. And so will [Fox COO] Chase Carey and [News Corp CEO] Robert Thomson.” The effort to bring Lachlan back intensified after a private meeting with James at last year’s Allen & Co confab in Sun Valley. “We had two or three hours together. Lachlan was not not going to come back. It was a question of how we would work together.”
Daughter Liz Murdoch’s decision not to join the News Corp board: Rupert says he’d “rather not go into that.” A lot of close families “have good arguments. That doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.” And it’s “more than possible” that she’ll return to the family business.
Who’ll be the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidate: Murdoch says former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is “my number one” calling him “a man of very fine character.” He also has “particular admiration” for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie “could recover” from inquiries into his possible role in manufactured traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. Murdoch agrees with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on “a great number of things” but disagrees on foreign policy “too strongly perhaps to vote for him.”
His view of Hillary Clinton: He left open the possibility of supporting her but “it would depend on the Republican candidate totally.” He adds that he “could live with Hillary as President. We have to live with who we get. We don’t have any choice.”
Avon Pension Fund and others who owned News Corp stock from mid-February to mid-July 2011 charged in the class action suit that Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, former News Of The World editor Rebekah Brooks, and other execs at News Corp (before it split into two companies) committed fraud when the UK hacking scandal was unfolding. They told the public — including in testimony at Parliament — that it was just an isolated problem, and it wasn’t. When the widespread extent of the hacking became known in mid-2011, News Corp shares fell 17%, and it derailed the company’s plan to buy British Sky Broadcasting. But a U.S. District Court in New York dismissed the case today, Reuters reports. The problem? Judge Paul Gardephe said that the News Corp execs couldn’t be held liable for statements made before the period when the plaintiffs said that they lost money.”To hold otherwise would require adopting an ‘endless breach argument,’ which would permit plaintiffs to circumvent the well-settled rule that defendants are liable only for those statements made during the class period,” Gardephe says.
The Quiet Ground Breaker: How ‘How I Met Your Mother’ Pushed The Sitcom Form & Was Saved By Britney Spears
On How I Met Your Mother‘s last day of production a month ago, Dana Walden — chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox TV, which produces the long-running series — was meeting with the big boss, 21st Century Fox chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, in his office. She mentioned HIMYM was wrapping that day and, in the middle of their meeting Murdoch said, “I want to go over and say hallo.” He walked to the set and thanked creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, the cast and the crew “for all of the great work they have done.” “For a show to provoke that kind of response from Rupert, it speaks to how important that show has been to the company,” Walden said.
If such a gesture from the head of a global conglom might come as a surprise, it is probably because HIMYM, which wraps its nine-season run tonight on CBS, has flown largely under the radar. HIMYM hasn’t been a blockbuster ratings hit like The Big Bang Theory, hasn’t made headlines with a record-breaking syndication deal like 2 Broke Girls, and hasn’t been an awards darling like Modern Family, never landing an Emmy in the major categories. But it broke ground, pushing the limits of the traditional multi-camera sitcom with a new production model and heavy serialization that helped it attract younger (18-34) viewers, something very few multi-cam comedies have been able to do in the past decade as young audiences have been largely shunning the format in favor of edgier single-camera fare.
Multi-camera comedies had tried employing shorter scenes before, most notably NBC’s Seinfeld. But Bays and Thomas’ pilot script for How I Met Your Mother called for a pace that had not been achieved before. It included a whopping 59 scenes, plus freeze frames with narration, whip pans, a split screen scene and a montage. That’s not how you normally see in a multi-camera sitcom, which is what CBS had bought in HIMYM. But then, Carter and Bays didn’t quite know normal. The young writers were recent transplants to Los Angeles and primetime after a stint at CBS’ Late Show With David Letterman. They had only worked for a couple of very short-lived comedy series and had never developed before HIMYM. “This was new to them, and they didn’t know the limitations of what they can and cannot do, so they wrote what was in their heads,” Walden said.
Lachlan And James Murdoch Given Big New Roles At News Corp, 21st Century Fox; Fox Nets Group’s Peter Rice Extends Contract
UPDATE: Below the original post is a copy of Rupert Murdoch’s memo to staff at 21st Century Fox regarding today’s appointments. In it, he notes that the evolution of the company’s leadership, “underscores the considerable planning that both the Company and the Board have undertaken to ensure a vibrant future for 21st Century Fox and its shareholders.”
PREVIOUS: In what looks like a clear sign that Rupert Murdoch is putting his succession plans in order, News Corp and 21st Century Fox made big announcements early Wednesday morning outlining changes to their boards and executive structure — and each involving Murdoch’s sons. Lachlan Murdoch has been named Non-Executive Co-Chairman of News Corp and has been given the same title at 21st Century Fox, the media and entertainment company. Also at 21st Century Fox, James Murdoch has been elevated to Co-Chief Operating Officer. Further, Fox Networks Group Chairman and CEO Peter Rice, who has close ties to the Murdoch family, has extended his contract for an unspecified term. “Under Peter Rice’s leadership Fox Networks Group has continued to push creative boundaries across the company, and has grown tremendously with successful channel launches including Fox Sports 1 and FXX, an increased international footprint and enhanced sports offerings across the world,” James Murdoch said.
This is not an unexpected move. 21st Century Fox today announced its stockholders approved the company’s request to remove its foreign listing from the Australian Securities Exchange. This just involves Fox, not News Corp, the entity that includes most of Rupert Murdoch’s publishing and Australian holdings since the operations separated last summer. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said when the plan was announced a few months ago, that the change is part of “our ongoing agenda to simplify the operating and capital structure of our Company.” Fox “has only limited operations in Australia, and we believe that consolidating the trading of our stock in the world’s largest equity market would provide improved liquidity to the Company’s stockholders and greater efficiencies for the Company.” 21st Century Fox said today it expects to file its request for the removal of its full foreign listing with the ASX on March 24. If approved, delisting is expected to occur on or about May 8. Fox said earlier that there would be no changes to its “operations, employees or business” from the delisting. CFO John Nallen also said that Fox will have a plan to help Australian investors who want to continue to hold Fox shares to own ones that trade on NASDAQ.
Jay Leno was inducted last night into the Television Academy’s Hall Of Fame along with Rupert Murdoch, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David E Kelley, Ray Dolby and Brandon Stoddard. Here is Leno’s acceptance speech — if you’re missing his Tonight Show stand-ups, this will do nicely.
Jay Leno Reminds Bill Maher Of Israel As He’s Inducted Into TV Academy Hall Of Fame With Rupert Murdoch, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David E Kelley, Ray Dolby & Brandon Stoddard: Video
Jay Leno, being inducted into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, said he’s glad he left NBC’s Tonight Show when he did because he was the oldest person on the show. Everyone else was 20 to 40 years younger than him and, while you may think you’re holding your own with them, “they’re really just laughing at you,” he explained. “You can’t be hip past a certain age. You have old guy gestures.” And when you make references to The Dick Van Dyke Show they think it’ s “a lesbian joke or something” — and they don’t understand what you’re talking about when you say the time is “Half past 2.”
Leno told the Beverly Wilshire Hotel gathering his favorite book is Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol — a searing indictment of 19th century industrial capitalism — and his favorite character in that classic work of literature, Mr. Fezziwig, who treated a young Ebenezer Scrooge like a son. Leno mentioned this by way of saying how proud he was that his Tonight Show was a place where people came to work hard during the day and, at 6, they went home to be with their family.
Even though he’s now “jobless and penniless” Leno still is a “fantastic stand-up,” said Bill Maher, who inducted Leno into the Hall, and the fact people are wondering what he will do next proves he’s still relevant, the HBO show host said. He described Leno’s more than two decades hosting Tonight as a drive down a highway in “some giant gleaming pristine luxury car with the competition far in the rearview mirror — except one time when NBC,” driving some beat-up clunker, “blindsided him and beat the sh*t out of his beautiful car.” Maher blamed TV critics for rewriting history to make Leno’s predecessor, Johnny Carson, out to be some guy who did a “rebellious, edgy, film noir version” of Tonight Show that by comparison made Jay look like a milquetoast. “That’s all bullsh*t — and I say that as a fan of Carson,” Maher said. Leno is the victim of “some bad publicity over the years” that he did not deserve — most famously how America got it into its head that “Jay Leno stole Conan O’Brien’s dream,” Maher complained, calling it, “the most hysterical thought I’ve ever heard, in a business known for bullsh*t.”
“Jay reminds me a little of Israel,” Maher continued. “He isn’t perfect but he’s held to standard I don’t think anybody in the world is expected to live up to but him,” he said, calling Leno “the most Machiavellian and also the most morally upright person I know in show business. He will hide in a closet but never needs a confessional booth.”
In this week’s audio podcast, Deadline International Editor Nancy Tartaglione and host David Bloom look at the possibility that frenemies John Malone and Rupert Murdoch will combine and snap up the UK’s Channel 5, even as a booming ITV opts out; and Amazon’s new combination platter of Prime services that are challenging Netflix more aggressively in Britain, including through a partnership with the BBC to revive the cancelled period drama Ripper Street. They also preview those other big awards this weekend, France’s Cesars, and take their weekly look at the international box office, as both Frozen and The Hobbit 2: The Desolation Of Smaug continue to rack up huge cumulative grosses.
Are longtime frenemies John Malone and Rupert Murdoch about to partner on a UK venture? That’s the word on the street according to The Financial Times which reports that the Malone-backed Discovery Communications and BSkyB, majority owned by Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, are in talks on a joint bid for Britain’s Channel 5. The free-to-air broadcaster, which media entrepreneur Richard Desmond acquired for £103.5M in 2010, is thought to be seeking a buyer with about £700M to spend. The FTA channel has raised the antennae of several media companies with parties rumored to have shown interest including ITV, Turner Broadcasting, BT, NBCUniversal and Saban Capital. The latter is eyeing the possibility of merging Channel 5 with the UK’s Channel 4, creating the market’s third-largest broadcaster by audience. However, such a deal would require regulatory approval and the privitization of Channel 4. The discussions between Discovery and BSkyB have focused on the latter taking over Channel 5’s advertising sales operation, sources told the FT. Channel 5 is notably the home of Big Brother, although its contract for the show expires in 2015. The net also airs U.S. dramas like Under The Dome, CSI and Person Of Interest, but it’s previously dropped such titles as Once Upon A Time and Justified. Its weekly ratings hover around 4%.
Malone and Discovery, …
Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International (now News UK), took the stand for the first time today in London’s long-running phone-hacking trial. This was Brooks’ first time in the witness box since the criminal trial stemming from the phone-hacking scandal at the now-shuttered News Of The World began in October. After nearly four months, prosecutors rested their case this week and the defense is just beginning. According to local media reports, the presiding judge, John Saunders, instructed jurors that Brooks is to be found not guilty on one of the five counts against her. She was acquitted on the single charge of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office related to payments The Sun allegedly made for a picture of Prince William wearing a bikini at a costume party. “There is no case to answer for Mrs Brooks” on the charge, the judge said. The Guardian reports he told the jury his decision was “a matter of law.” He did not provide further detail, but The Associated Press reports Saunders said there was “considerable uncertainty” about the photo’s provenance. The photo was taken when William, now the Duke of Cambridge, was at Sandhurst Military Academy and Brooks was editor of The Sun.
There are a lot of moving parts in Fox‘s fiscal Q2 report out this morning with the inclusion of Sky Deutschland revenue and a gain on the sale of an ownership stake in Phoenix Satellite Television. But for the most part it looks pretty much as expected, and blah, as the company lowered its cash flow guidance for the current fiscal year. Net income for the last three months of 2013 was cut in half to $1.2B on revenues of $8.2B, +14.9%. That revenue number beat the $7.9B that analysts expected. Adjusted earnings, at 33 cents a share, matched the Street’s consensus forecast. Fox pulls out the old “difficult comparisons” explanation for the profit decline in Filmed Entertainment, where cash flow fell 11% to $218M on revenues of $2.5B, +6.6%. Fox says that it had higher release costs this year for The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and Walking With Dinosaurs, and couldn’t match 2012′s Taken 2 and home videos for Ice Age: Continental Drift. The TV business softened the blow with syndication sales for Modern Family, higher revenues for Homeland, and streaming revenues for The Killing. The Cable Network Programming unit fared a little better with cash flow +2.4% to $1B on revenues of nearly $3B, +14.1%. Payments from pay TV distributors increased 15% while domestic ad sales were +7%, helped by double digit growth at FX — but hurt by Fox News …
Hollywood is honoring the life and legacy of former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak, who died today at 68. Here is a sampling of the reactions:
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy President:
“In the more than 30 years I’ve known Tom, his passionate support of and excitement about the motion picture business, the Academy, his family and friends never wavered. He was truly larger than life, and he will be missed.”
Dawn Hudson, Academy CEO:
“He was my mentor and my friend. I learned from him, I laughed with him, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the time we shared together. He had a huge influence on the direction of our Academy and on me personally. I will miss laughing with him most of all.”
Related: Tom Sherak: “It’s About Love”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti:
“I am devastated to learn of the passing of my close friend and advisor Tom Sherak. Tom was a true Hollywood original, moving up the ladder to promote blockbusters, running the Oscars and having a bulging rolodex filled with not just A-list contacts, but so many close friends who were smitten by his humor, drive, and spirit. In just a few short months, Tom laid a policy foundation that my Administration will stand on for the next four years. Tom’s work will continue through my office and the many charities to which he devoted …
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz may be the main beneficiary of the move — which just involves Fox, not News Corp, the entity that includes most of Rupert Murdoch’s publishing and Australian holdings since the operations separated last summer. Fox, the movie and TV company, currently has four types of stock with Class A and super-voting Class B shares (controlled by the Murdoch family) in Australia and the U.S. But the Saudi prince is also a major owner of the Class B shares. Fox curtailed the voting rights of the non-U.S. stock holders to comply with FCC rules that prohibit a company from owning TV stations here if more than 25% of its shares are controlled by foreigners. The change in stock listings will “likely” reduce foreign ownership of the Class B shares, Fox says. Once below the 25% threshold, it “would enable the Company to …restore full voting rights to the Company’s non-U.S. stockholders.” Murdoch says that the change is part of “our ongoing agenda to simplify the operating and capital structure of our Company.” Fox “has only limited operations in Australia, and we believe that consolidating the trading of our stock in the world’s largest equity market would provide improved liquidity to the Company’s stockholders and greater efficiencies for the Company.” Fox needs Class B shareholders to approve the change. That should come at a special meeting in March or April, with the delisting in Australia to …
Global Showbiz Briefs: China Lifts Video Game Console Ban; Fox Turkey Appointment; News Corp Commits To London; Sports Rights; ‘Downton’
China’s State Council has temporarily repealed a ban on selling foreign video game consoles, Reuters reports this morning. The move had been expected and will open up a path for the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to sell their wares after a 14-year block. Now, “foreign-invested enterprises” will be allowed to make game consoles within Shanghai’s free trade zone and sell them in China after inspection by cultural departments. Consoles were initially banned in 2000 over concern that gaming would harm young people. Reuters says the growing market is worth a potential $14B.
Fox Turkey has appointed Shebnem Askin as EVP of programming. She was previously SVP of international acquisitions and sales at Fox International Productions and will take up her new role immediately. Her mandate will cover building on Fox Turkey’s entertainment offering and commissioning, acquiring and scheduling film, drama, factual, kids and event entertainment programming in addition to working with Fox Turkey’s channel partners in the increasingly hot TV territory. At FIP, Askin was a key player on co-productions and acquisitions including Mexico’s Academy Award entry Miss.BALA; Gaumont’s upcoming Mea Culpa directed by Fred Cavaye; and Sundance prize winner Metro Manila.
While the phone-hacking trials involving a number of its former staff continue in Britain, News Corp Monday signaled its “long term …
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David E. Kelley, Jay Leno, Rupert Murdoch, Ray Dolby, Brandon Stoddard Named To TV Academy’s Hall Of Fame
NoHo Arts District, Calif. – The Television Academy’s Hall of Fame Selection Committee has announced the groundbreaking television legends to be inducted into the 23rd Hall of Fame. The 2014 inductees, announced today by Television Academy Chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum, are highly accomplished individuals from all aspects of the television industry whose careers have made a significant impact on the medium.
The 23rd Hall of Fame class includes four-time Emmy® Award-winning actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, prolific writer-producer David E. Kelley, late night legend Jay Leno, media mogul and FOX Broadcasting Company founder Rupert Murdoch, and iconic ABC Network executive Brandon Stoddard. Additionally, sound pioneer and innovator Ray Dolby will be inducted posthumously. The induction ceremony will take place at the Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel on March 11, 2014.