CBS, Disney, Fox, and Time Warner are the easy answers — and the ones that many financial types believe are eyeing the independent programming network companies following Comcast’s $45.2B agreement to buy Time Warner Cable. But Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger takes the conversation a step further today with an intriguing report that suggests several less obvious potential buyers for AMC Networks, Scripps or Starz. Distributors including DirecTV, Dish Network, Charter, AT&T and Verizon might want to take a page from Comcast’s playbook when it bought NBCUniversal. DirecTV doesn’t offer broadband, so it has “additional motivation to take some action to future-proof the business,” possibly by offering exclusive access to certain networks, Juenger says. Charter and Dish are long shots: Charter probably could only afford AMC. And Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen seems intent on acquiring airwave spectrum, although “nobody really knows Mr. Ergen’s potential plans, and they could change.” AT&T and Verizon’s corporate cultures are “a step (or three) further removed from the content business.” Yet here, too, they might take a leap since “their historical core businesses are not exactly growing, and they could amass the financial resources.”
Related: What A Comcast-TWC Could Mean For Hollywood
Read More »
E! is making a regal entry into scripted programming. The network has picked up one of its first two scripted pilots, The Royals starring Elizabeth Hurley, to series. The one-hour drama, about a fictional British Royal family set in modern London that is informed by the regal opulence of the British monarchy and framed by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, hails from Lionsgate and a trio of One Tree Hill alums. OTH creator Mark Schwahn wrote and directed Royals, which he is executive producing with Brian Robbins and Joe Davola. Getting reality focused E! into the scripted space had been a priority for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment topper Bonnie Hammer. Sibling cable channel Bravo had been put on a similar path and just greenlighted its first scripted series, Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce. E!’s second pilot, musical drama Songbyrd, remains in contention. “The Royals will offer a fictional look behind the very public gilded façade of the palace gates to imagine the private, lush, fun, sexy world of the most-watched celebrity family on the planet,” said E! EVP Original Programming and development Jeff Olde said. Added the network’s scripted executive Kevin Plunkett who spearheads E!’s scripted efforts, “This is a big idea and Mark, Brian, Joe and the Lionsgate team delivered.” Read More »
In a study released today on feature film production in California in 2013, FilmL.A. has added its voice to the chorus wanting an increase to the entertainment industry tax incentives the Golden State offers. While the opinion is nothing new for the nonprofit local-permitting organization, the basis of its latest argument is: We need more blockbusters. According to FilmL.A.’s 6-months-in-the-making report, California is tied for second place with the entire country of Canada for the location where most feature films released last year were made. Introduced in 2009, California’s current $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit program does not allow pics with budgets of more than $75 million to be eligible for its annual lottery. “For a program intended to help reverse runaway production, California’s incentive entirely ignores film projects carrying the greatest economic value with the greatest propensity to run away: big‐budget features,” says the 2013 Feature Film Production Report. Even with an increase in overall feature production in California last year, the only 2014-released pics with budgets of more than $100 million that were partly made in the state are Interstellar and Disney/Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Solder. Removing the cap on blockbusters is one of the elements of new legislation introduced on to expand the state’s program.
Related: California Pols Unveiling Bill Today To Expand Film & TV Tax Credit Program
Read More »
As Secretary of State John Kerry lent support to Ukraine’s fledging government today and took another verbal shot at Russia, NBC News said this afternoon it has added former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael A. McFaul as an analyst. McFaul will contribute across the NBCUniversal News Group — including NBC News, MSNBC, and CNBC — contributing his perspective and expertise to coverage of foreign affairs and national security. McFaul’s post in Russia ended last week. He already appeared Monday night on NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams and this morning on Today and MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss the situation unfolding in Ukraine. Read More »
In his new role as VP Legal, Yakub Hazzard will be handling profit participation litigation and related matters for all of the company’s television businesses, NBCUniversal said today. He will report to Jamie Lichtman, EVP and General Counsel, NBCUniversal Television & Entertainment. Hazzard comes to NBCU from the firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, where he was co-chair of the Entertainment and Media Department. Previously, he was co-chair of the Entertainment and Media Practice at Dreier Stein Kahan Browne Woods & George.
Is this announcement designed to help Comcast polish its image as a good corporate citizen while it lobbies the government to approve its $45.2B acquisition of Time Warner Cable? Of course. But it’s still noteworthy considering how big the company is, and how important the digital divide has become. The cable colossus says that it will expand “indefinitely” its Internet Essentials program that offers those who qualify the opportunity to buy broadband service for about $10 a month, and a computer for less than $150. It also will provide $1M to non-profits that create Internet Essentials Learning Zones. The Essentials program began in 2011 as a three-year commitment to help win FCC approval for Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. Now it serves about 300,000 low income families, or 1.2M people — which EVP David Cohen says is “about the population of Dallas, Texas or the state of Maine.” He couldn’t resist noting that if the TWC deal closes it would “bring the benefits of Internet Essentials to millions of additional families” in 19 of the 20 largest cities. “That’s going to be a tremendous enhancement.” In conjunction with the announcement, Comcast released a report by former FCC National Broadband Plan research head John Horrigan who found, among other things, that 98% of Essentials users signed up because their kids need broadband for school.
The companies got into trouble after they ran ads for FilmDistrict‘s 2013 thriller Olympus Has Fallen that include the distinctive Emergency Alert System warning sounds, the FCC says today as it proposed what it calls the largest ever penalties for its misuse (watch the ad below). Viacom will be hit hardest with a $1.12M fine for airing the ad 108 times over five days on Spike, VH1, MTV, Comedy Central, MTV2, Centric, and BET. NBCUniversal will have to cough up $530,000 for running the ad 38 times over six days on Syfy, USA, and five regional sports networks. And ESPN follows with $280,000 for running the ad 13 times over four days on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNEWS. “The FCC has long prohibited the transmission of actual or simulated EAS Attention Signals or tones in circumstances other than a real alert or an authorized test of the EAS system,” the FCC says. The cable companies said that the rules don’t apply to them because they don’t participate in the EAS program, the FCC notice notes. Read More »
You can bet that government officials and opponents of Comcast’s $45.2B planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable will scrutinize its just-released third annual report describing how it has fulfilled the promises it made in 2011 to win FCC approval for the deal to buy NBCUniversal. Opponents already say the cable giant can’t be trusted. ”To the extent that Comcast has a history of breaching its legal obligations to consumers, such history should be taken into account when evaluating Comcast’s proposal for future market expansion,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said last week in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. But Comcast says the new 90-page report shows that it has “continued to meet and in many cases exceed our obligations.” For example, it says that its Internet Essentials program has provided home broadband service to more than 250,000 low income families, and has exceeded by 64 the requirement to provide courtesy video and broadband to an additional 600 schools, libraries and community institutions in underserved areas. (The company says that tomorrow it will “make an important announcement about the future of the [Internet Essentials] program.”) For online video Comcast says it has “new or renewed agreements with Amazon and Netflix, among others” resulting in a third year in which it has made these deals to provide programming to potentially competitive services without having to go to arbitration.
Read More »
More screen time for Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski at NBCU. The It Couple of NBC’s Sochi Olympics coverage will be part of NBC’s Today Oscar show from LA on Monday. Kathie Lee Gifford and Al Roker are hosting the split Today show from LA, where Weir and Lipinski will join them to announce their red carpet winners and losers.
A couple days ago, NBCU announced Weir and Lipinski would join the company’s syndicated show Access Hollywood on the red carpet at the Oscars to report on the fashion, with Weir saying he hoped “to bring my own special brand of sparkle to the broadcast,” adding that he and Lipinski “hope to entertain America’s pants off.”
The duo got high marks for their ice-skating commentary for the networks of NBC at the Winter Games, but the two — and especially Weir — were Must See TV for their outfits. Weir and Lipinski told NBC’s Today during the Olympics that they came to Sochi with four suitcases apiece, describing the cases as being the same size as Ford Focuses and Audi S4s. They contained, among other things, 22 pair of shoes, 25 blazers, six pair of leather pants, 10 pounds of jewelry and four fur coats.
NBCU‘s not done yet with the It Couple of NBC’s Sochi Olympics coverage — announcing this afternoon that Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski — will join the company’s syndicated show Access Hollywood on the red carpet at the Oscars to report on the fashion. The duo got high marks for their ice-skating commentary for the networks of NBC at the Winter Games, but the two — and especially Weir — were Must See TV for their outfits.
“I am honored and so excited to be a part of the team for Access Hollywood’s Oscar coverage,” Weir said. “There is no time that LA shines brighter than during the Oscars, and I hope to bring my own special brand of sparkle to the broadcast. I am so privileged to work with my great friend, Tara Lipinski and together we hope to entertain America’s pants off.” Read More »
Universal was the last of the major studios to not have put its home entertainment operations under a global head. It has done that now, announcing today it has elevated Eddie Cunningham to president of Universal Pictures Worldwide Home Entertainment. He had run the international business the past eight years from London, and he now will relocate to LA to work closely with Universal Pictures president and chief distribution officer Peter Levinsohn, who arrived from Fox last May. The reorg means the departure of Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau, a 16-year Uni veteran. The respected industry pro was given additional duties in September in an initial organizational restructure, when he was given oversight of digital home entertainment sales for Universal Pictures and Focus Features theatrical releases, NBCUniversal TV shows, and direct-to-video content and acquisitions in addition to his duties managing distribution of physical media including DVDs. “Craig has been a tremendous asset to our company, consistently delivering incredible results for our films throughout his 16 years at Universal,” Levinsohn said today in a release announcing the moves. “He’s been a leader in our industry and he’s helped Universal to continually find new and innovative ways to distribute and market our films in the home entertainment space. We are extremely grateful to him for his years of service.”
It was one the Home Entertainment division’s best year’s financially in 2013, with home video sales of Despicable Me 2 outweighing the downturn in Universal Studios‘ box office sales during the most recent fourth quarter. The film unit ended up with cash flow of $192M (+127.4%) on revenues of $1.4B (+4.9%). Universal and Illumination Entertainment‘s Despicable Me 2 took in $80 million in physical and digital sales and sold roughly 4.5 million units in its first week of home entertainment release. It also hit No. 1 as the best first-week digital sales of all time.
Cunningham has been president of Universal Pictures International Entertainment since 2006. Before that he was Managing Director of Polygram’s UK home entertainment business and budget music labels, preceding its acquisition by Universal Pictures in 1999. He then became Chairman of UK Operations and Regional Managing Director for the Nordic countries as well as Australia and New Zealand. “As the home entertainment landscape continues to evolve, we need to ensure that we’re operating as one global team positioning ourselves for the greatest success,” Levinsohn said. “Eddie has had tremendous results as head of our international home entertainment division and he will be a terrific leader for our group as we work to shape the future of Universal’s home entertainment business with an even greater global focus.”
Here’s Levinsohn’s memo on today’s news: Read More »
Bill McGoldrick continues with executive changes at Syfy, which he took over over as head of programming in November. Tim Krubsack is stepping down as VP alternative programming at the NBCUniversal-owned network. His exit comes on the heels of Syfy Films SVP Production Gregory Noveck and Director of Development leaving in November. “After much consideration, I have decided to step down as Syfy’s head of unscripted development to pursue other opportunities,” Krubsack said in a statement. “I am very proud of what my team and I have accomplished here and now is the time for me to explore all the options that exist in the ever-growing unscripted arena.”
“We would like to thank Tim for his many contributions to Syfy’s unscripted successes including top-rated Face Off, the innovative social experiment Opposite Worlds, the buzz-generating Heroes of Cosplay, and stalwarts such as Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Witness,” McGoldrick said in a statement. “Tim also leaves us with an exceptionally strong development slate that will take Syfy to its next stage of unscripted programming. Tim is an incredibly hard-working executive whose strong production background allowed Syfy to program a wide variety of boundary pushing non-scripted series, and we wish great things for him in the next chapter of his career”.
Studios’ failed effort in 2012 to promote the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) made it clear: Big Media companies had better not mess with Silicon Valley. Too many people love the Internet, and they’ll crush anyone deemed to be a threat to the medium by its biggest service providers including Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, and Netflix. That’s why Comcast needs to make peace with tech companies as the cable giant promotes its planned $42.5B acquisition of Time Warner Cable — and suggests that the new interconnection deal with Netflix is the first of many agreements with tech world Goliaths. If they’re unhappy, then they may embolden Washington regulators reviewing the TWC acquisition to demand a long list of concessions –and under extreme circumstances could even block the deal.
While terms with Netflix weren’t disclosed, the agreement will ensure that Comcast’s broadband customers receive, as the companies put it, “a high-quality Netflix video experience for years to come.” Bernstein Research’s Carlos Kirjner says this morning that he’d be “surprised” if the Comcast-Netflix agreement “was not conditional on a tacit (if not explicit) agreement by Netflix not to lobby regulators” to demand detailed promises to protect Internet access. Others, including Stifel analyst Benjamin Mogil, are waiting to hear about additional terms with Netflix, including a promise to add the service to Comcast’s set top box so subscribers don’t have to switch to a different input when they want to watch the streaming service on their TV sets. Read More »
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, … Read More »
While he hasn’t decided whether to oppose the deal in Washington, DirecTV CEO Mike White says Comcast’s $42.5B pact to buy Time Warner Cable would result in “unprecedented media concentration in one company.” The No. 1 satellite service provider is “still assessing some of the competitive implications” but White wants to “ensure it’s appropriately scrutinized” — especially the “effective broadband monopoly they might have in two-thirds of the country.” The owner of NBCUniversal also would have a lot of power to raise content prices. That “creates some significant changes in the competitive landscape that we have to think hard about.” Couldn’t Comcast use its clout, with 30M subs after a merger, to slow the rate of increase in programming costs? Perhaps, but “it’s a complicated dynamic because that leverage may not flow through to its competitors.”
White says he’ll continue to resist high programming costs.”None of our customers have an income like those of us on the call here.” He wouldn’t comment on the state of the carriage negotiations with The Weather Channel, which went dark on DirecTV in January, but says that his company “may have lost a few thousand customers in the first quarter” due to the dispute. “Fundamentally I continue to believe if your viewership goes down ….that should be reflected in the price.” Read More »
As VP Communications, Nidia Caceros Kilde is responsible for leading strategic communications for the cable entertainment group’s President and Chief Content Officer, Jeff Wachtel, and the studios under his purview — Universal Cable Prods and Wilshire Studios, including USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, E! Entertainment, Oxygen and Esquire Network. Caceros Kilde is responsible for all consumer and trade media relations on behalf of the studios. Additionally, she’ll work with Cory Shields, EVP Communications, NBCU Cable Entertainment, in developing West Coast communications strategy for the cable portfolio including business affairs. She reports to both Wachtel and Shields. Read More »
Looks like GE will be a co-star of sorts in The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the result of what the manufacturing conglom and NBCUniversal refer to as a new “multiplatform, integrated partnership.” The “GE-sponsored in-show integrations” will begin on Wednesday with a segment called “Tonight Show Fallonventions,” where the host will showcase inventions with three kids. There’ll also be a GE-branded “Fallonventions” section on the Tonight Show‘s website with “exclusive digital content tied to each in-show segment.” The companies will replicate the formula for two other segments this year. In addition, GE will be the launch sponsor of the late night show’s app. “Bringing GE into the show in a way that stays true to what Jimmy is developing with the new Tonight Show, is an important part of our innovative thinking here at NBCUniversal,” says Entertainment Advertising Sales Group EVP Dan Lovinger. GE Global Brand Marketing Executive Director Linda Boff says that “this type of first-mover, innovative content is exactly what GE is looking to develop with our media partners.”
Let’s not overthink Brian Roberts‘ rationale for engineering Comcast‘s $45.2B all-stock deal today to buy Time Warner Cable. I don’t think he did it, as some observers say, primarily because he’s concerned about the falling number of cable video subscribers, the threat of competition from phone and satellite companies, or to help resist rising programming costs. Roberts pulled the trigger because he could pick up some of the country’s most important cable systems — including Manhattan and parts of Los Angeles — without having to write a check. The deal will be virtually tax free. And his power will be secure even after TWC shareholders own 23% of Comcast’s Class A shares. Roberts controls the company’s Class B shares which have 15 votes apiece, enabling him to cast a third of all votes. The deal was almost a no-brainer: Roberts keeps Charter Communications and its largest shareholder, Liberty Media’s John Malone, from becoming rival industry powers. And he scores TWC’s 11M subscribers, 52 news and local programming channels (including New York’s NY1), and two regional sports networks in Los Angeles. In addition to NYC and LA, TWC has substantial franchises in large markets including Dallas, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Rochester, Hawaii and most of the Carolinas. They complement Comcast’s holdings in Philadelphia, Northern California, Houston, Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, and Miami.
What A Comcast-TWC Could Mean For Hollywood
Wall Street Sees Mixed Impact From Cable Mega-Merger Plans
Read More »