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Skype-Based Patent Clears Way For Low-Cost, Caller-Based Talk TV

By | Monday June 30, 2014 @ 9:01pm PDT

Skype-Based Patent Clears Way For Low-Cost, Caller-Based Talk TVInventor Tom Wolzien just received the patent for his Skype-based Video Call Center technology, which means he can roll it out to TV or web providers who want to offer an affordable video version of talk radio. He says this will be “the first new TV content genre since the inception of reality TV two decades ago.” That’s a bold forecast; several readers understandably were skeptical more than a year ago when I first wrote about the idea. I’d join them — except that I also know that Wolzien is a guy who has earned the right to be taken seriously. Before he decided to dedicate himself to inventions (he already has several major patents), advising moguls, and serving as TiVo’s lead independent director, he was one of the smartest media analysts on Wall Street, and had been a top exec at NBC News. Read More »

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CBS And Time Warner Cable Increase Their Share Repurchase Plans

By | Thursday July 25, 2013 @ 3:16pm PDT

Coincidence? Probably, though it sure looks strange as the companies struggle to agree on a carriage deal that would prevent CBS stations from going dark on TWC systems in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas as early as Monday. That didn’t stop CBS from saying this afternoon that it will add $5.1B to its share-epurchase program, bringing it to $6B. And Time Warner Cable announced a $4B authorization, about an hour after it announced that CEO Glenn Britt will step down at year’s end. He called it “yet another signal of our confidence in our business.” The two announcements probably aren’t related, says Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker. She finds TWC’s decision especially “curious,” though. Even though it was about time for the No. 2 cable company to announce a new authorization, “we can’t help but think the timing a little strange” — perhaps as a way to raise the stock price and “thwart a potential takeover attempt” by Charter Communications. Its biggest investor, Liberty Media’s John Malone, is salivating over the prospect of buying TWC, though Britt is cool to the idea.  

Related: Moonves: CBS Faces “Crucial Struggle” In TWC Dispute

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Will Caller-Based Talk Shows Become The Next New TV Genre?

By | Wednesday February 20, 2013 @ 11:03am PST

Tom Wolzien is one of the media business’ smartest financial analysts as well as an inventor — and says he has an idea and technology that could revolutionize television. He’s in advanced testing for “Talk Center America,” a Skype-based television version of talk radio. With the proliferation of cameras on smartphones, tablets, and computers he believes TV channels, and Web services, could fill hours during the day with “talk radio doing show and tell.” He calls this a new genre because today ”you don’t ever see the callers” — except in rare instances where it’s been pre-arranged. The key, though, is that the programming would be cheap; possibly costing a single digit fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that networks often spend for an hour-long TV talk show. The host can handle the basic video switching, so there’s no need for a big control room. The low cost of his system “makes it potentially viable for a lot of places that are currently running re-runs” including second and third tier cable networks at risk of being squeezed by the industry’s fragmenting audiences and revenues.  A former NBC exec and Wall Street analyst who has Read More »

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Michael Grade Shrugs Off Call For Him To Quit As Pinewood Shepperton Boss

Michael_GradeThe former ITV chairman has survived a shareholder rebellion at this morning’s annual general meeting of the company that owns Pinewood and Shepperton film studios.

Crystal Amber, an activist investment fund with 18% of the shares in Pinewood Shepperton has attacked Grade’s “poor stewardship” as chairman of the company. The fund says the board needs fresh leadership.

Grade led the management buyout from Rank in 2000. Profits and return on capital have fallen by more than half since the business was floated in May 2004.

The fund first invested in Pinewood Shepperton 18 months ago because it felt the studio was undervalued. It then put forward its own proposals as to how market perception of the value of the business might be improved. Richard Bernstein, Crystal’s investment adviser, said that although initially well-received, nothing has happened and subsequent meetings with Grade have been “unproductive”.

Pinewood Shepperton says that most shareholders are behind it, which “gives us confidence that they support the board, its stewardship and strategy”.

The group has invited Steven Underwood of investor the Peel Group, which holds 26.6% of the company, to join the board.

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More Sparring Between Carl Icahn And Lionsgate Management

Mike Fleming

Carl Icahn came out swinging again today, and Lionsgate hit back. Icahn released a statement answering the question of why he offered $7 per share when the stock dropped to $4.85 several months ago. Icahn said that the only positives that served to enhance the share value since the stock dropped to $4.85 was his tender offer, and the fact Lionsgate joined the Russell 2000 Index, both of which are short-term gains. Icahn charged that library value has “declined precipitously,” and that adjusted earnings before EBITDA was only $82 million. “I cannot help but wonder who will purchase stock when my tender offer expires on Wednesday,” Icahn wrote. He said there is long term potential for a rebound for Lionsgate in TV and as a distributor–not producer-of feature films, and if the company cleans up its balance sheet by halting the production of big budget films and trying to acquire another film library.

Not surprisingly, Lionsgate–which previously chronicled the drop in share value of other companies Icahn acquired–said Icahn’s statements about its 2010 earnings (EBITDA) “is simply the latest in a series of factual inaccuracies, errors and misleading statements. While Icahn pegged the number at $82 million, Lionsgate reported it as $128 million. The company also said it posted record revenues in library income ($323 million) and TV ($351 million), and that overhead was down 8% from last year, at $112 million. “Continued misstatements and inaccuracies shouldn’t distract our shareholders from the simple truth that our financial performance is strong, our … Read More »

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RHCSE Signs Four More Kids Books

Princess PoppyIt’s all children’s TV and movies today. RHCSE has optioned its next four projects: Fish-Head Steve by Jamie Smart; the Gargoyles series by Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler: the Charlie Small series by Nick Ward; and the Princess Poppy books by Janey Louise Jones. All four are being developed for TV animation or CGI, apart from Charlie Small, which may be developed as a film. The Princess Poppy series has sold over two million copies to date. RHCSE made its first move in February, taking media rights to Monster Republic by Ben Horton. Producer/financier Komixx Media Group says it’s on track to raise $100 million to fund all its programming including RHCSE projects.

The great thing about books in these recessionary, risk-averse times is that they’re brands with audiences already built in. It makes them that bit easier to sell.

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Government Drops UK Film Council Merger

By | Tuesday June 22, 2010 @ 12:01pm PDT

BFI_logo-782327After months of bitching and spinning from both sides, the UK government has abandoned plans to merge the two bodies. Poor British Film Institute. Earlier this week, the government cancelled its cherished National Film Centre. The institute has absorbed 50% of the cuts announced by the culture department in its austerity package. I suspect the UKFC had second thoughts when it realised that the BFI’s charitable Royal Charter status would have meant the tail wagging the dog in any merged body.

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Will Clarke Cashes Out From Optimum

By | Tuesday June 22, 2010 @ 9:51am PDT

Optimum_ReleasingThe founder and CEO of Optimum Releasing is leaving to become a producer with long-time business partner Paul Higgins. It was Higgins who bankrolled Clarke in the first place, setting up Optimum on £13,000 back in 1999. Optimum’s turnover last year was £36 million. I’m told that Clarke personally made £16 million ($24 million) when StudioCanal bought it for £22-25 million in 2006. I suspect that Clarke has always been more of an entrepreneur than a manager. And he has wanted to produce for a long time, steering Optimum towards production with its Brighton Rock remake and comedy Attack the Block.

Danny Perkins, the COO of Optimum who owns 17% of the company, will take over as CEO on September 1, reporting to StudioCanal chairman/CEO Olivier Courson. Optimum has become one of the UK’s most exciting distributors, releasing some of my favourite recent films – A Prophet, Donkey Punch and Eden Lake.

The backbone of the business is that StudioCanal 1,500-title back catalogue, which the distributor repackages into DVDs. Around 500 have been released so far. Optimum is also on board several juicy remakes mined from that catalogue, including Peter Jackson’s 3D The Dambusters. You can imagine how excited we Brits will be sitting in a darkened cinema when the Dambusters March strikes up, with 3D tracer fire zipping past your head.

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Shed Holds Out For $135M From Warner

By | Monday June 21, 2010 @ 5:05am PDT

Shed-Media-300x234Managers of the UK production company hope Time Warner will end up paying £90 million ($135 million) for Shed Media. They own 65% of the company between them. Analysts say that Shed may go for up to £85 million. Time Warner wants Shed, which makes Supernanny for America, because it wants to expand overseas, replicating the success it has had in American with hit shows such as The Wire and Gossip Girl – both of which have exported well. It recently hired ex-Tiger Aspect managing director Andrew Zein to buy independent TV producers and grow Warner Bros’ UK production business.

Apart from cashing out, being bought by Warner Bros would give Shed’s managers access to studio’s vast resources for deficit funding – that percentage of the budget not covered by a British broadcaster. It has been argued that the parochial nature of what most UK broadcasters’ commission makes these shows difficult to sell overseas. Access to Warner Bros’ cash could free up Shed to make more shows for the international market.

Shed has confirmed its managers are in talks with Warner Bros. No offer has yet been made though. Time Warner declined to comment.

The Sunday Times, which broke the story, says that Time Warner will pay £75 million for Shed. The company made a pre-tax profit of £9.8 million last year. Shed shares rose more than 5% after news of the deal broke.

Publicly-listed Shed … Read More »

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UK Producers Scrap Open Letter to Times

By | Friday June 18, 2010 @ 6:51am PDT

Independent producers have cancelled writing an open letter highlighting their plight for fear of upsetting UK broadcasters. Indie producers were about to publish a letter in the Times newspaper this Monday. A minority has intervened, killing the letter for fear of upsetting the BBC and Channel 4.

Pact, the producers’ association, recently called for state film funding to be reformed. Indie producers were about to take the argument to the government and wider general public.

I’ve been told that a handful of top-flight producers thought the letter was too provocative. Pact has spent weeks drafting the wording. Its signatories included pretty much every British film producer of note.

“They didn’t want to rock the boat,” one signatory tells me. “It was absolutely pathetic. They behaved as if their invitations to Chequers [prime minister’s country house] were about to be cancelled or something.”

Anyway, here is an earlier draft of the unsent letter:

Dear Sir

As the recent Palme d’Or success at the Cannes Film Festival show, the UK is home to a wealth of creative film making talent. However, as a group of some of the UK’s most established and successful independent film producers, we are concerned that, despite such creative success, sustainability of our businesses remains an elusive goal.

Over £100m is invested by public bodies into UK film each year, yet, thanks to the current business model where even for very successful films, producers are unable to retain a fair share of the income that the film generates, leaving them dependent on public subsidy with

Read More »

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BLIMEY! New Govt Scraps BFI Film Centre

By | Friday June 18, 2010 @ 3:35am PDT

BFI_logo-782327As Deadline warned, the incoming Conservative government has scrapped the British Film Institute Film Centre, saving £45 million ($68 million). The BFI has put a brave face on it, saying it will push ahead with its £166 million ($271 million) centre even without government support. The culture department – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – is making £73 million of savings in total. The BFI warns that film is bearing over 50% of the department’s cuts.

Creative industries minister Ed Vaizey has ominously announced a fundamental reassessment of how the UK government supports film. Apparently, lottery funding for film is safe, as well as the tax credit, says the Department for Culture Media and Sport. If so, there’s not a lot to reassess then, is there?

“We are facing an unprecedented financial situation in this country, and it is essential that we act now to reduce the country’s debt,” said culture minister Jeremy Hunt. “The cultural and sporting worlds, like everyone else, urgently need the country’s finances to be returned to a sustainable position.”

They’ll be cancelling Christmas next.

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Demi Moore Lands $2 Million For Book

By | Thursday June 17, 2010 @ 11:09am PDT
Mike Fleming

demi-moore-20061202-184839Demi Moore will write her book for HarperCollins. While she hasn’t been burning it up with movie roles like she used to, her reps at Janklow-Nesbit are closing a deal worth $2 million,. The book will be edited by Jennifer Barth, backstopped by publisher Jonathan Burnham. They are still negotiating delivery date and making a deal with a co-writer. The book is not a trip down memory lane for an actress who got her start as a member of the Brat Pack. She met with publishers to personally pitch the book, which isn’t a memoir but rather a specific story about her complex relationship with her mother, and how it impacted her life and career.

Roger Ebert, Demi Moore Ready To Tell Tales In Memoirs

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Time Warner In Frame To Buy UK’s Five

By | Thursday June 17, 2010 @ 8:13am PDT

FiveThe US media group is understood to be one of those mulling a bid for the UK’s smallest terrestrial broadcaster. Endemol, ITV and BSkyB are also kicking the tyres. Would-be buyers have until June 21 to submit bids. Warner Bros declined to comment.

The attraction from Warner Bros’ point of view is that Five would provide a platform for its movies and TV programmes. And, unlike ITV, there wouldn’t be any regulatory problems with Time Warner buying Five. RTL, the European media group which owns Five, already has an output deal with Warner Bros in Germany.

Analysts predict Five could be worth anything between £200-250 million ($300-375 million). This is despite it losing £37 million last year, causing owner RTL to write down its $712 million investment to $137 million.

Dutch Big Brother producer Endemol has instructed media lawyers Wiggin to prepare its Five bid. Like Time Warner, Endemol is looking for a content platform – especially since Channel 4 has cancelled reality show Big Brother and its programmes are not doing so well in the US.

“Anything you can do to get product in front of more eyeballs makes sense,” one senior industry figure tells me.

The sale apparently includes RTL’s UK production/distribution arms Talkback (The X Factor) and Fremantle, which Endemol could then bundle together with its Tiger Aspect (Mr Bean) and docu-maker Darlow Smithson production businesses. Endemol’s famously tough CEO Ynon Kreiz – he used to be an Israeli army soldier – oversaw … Read More »

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Lionsgate Focuses On 68% Of Company Carl Icahn Doesn’t Control, Urges Shareholders Not To Panic

By | Thursday June 17, 2010 @ 7:44am PDT
Mike Fleming

lionsgate-logoIn response to yesterday’s news by Carl Icahn that his $7 per share tender offer resulted in 13.2% of outstanding shares that bring the Icahn Group’s stake to 32%, Lionsgate has focused on the 68% of stock Icahn doesn’t control. There was a high level of anxiety in the industry yesterday over the company’s future and its ability to generate product as a proxy battle looms.  Here is Lionsgate’s just-released statement:

Once again, Lionsgate’s shareholders have spoken in support of the Board and management’s strategy to create value. Holders of over 68% of Lionsgate shares have rejected the Icahn Group’s offer, with only 13.2% of the outstanding shares being tendered into the offer at its expiry.

Four months have passed since the Icahn Group announced its intention to make a tender offer, and after repeated extensions, numerous changes to its tender offer and a barrage of unwarranted attacks on the Company, including personal attacks on the Board and management, the Icahn Group remains a minority shareholder. We at Lionsgate want to take this opportunity to thank our shareholders for their continued support.

The vast majority of our shareholders have yet again demonstrated that they are serious about protecting the value of their investment in Lionsgate.

With respect to the Company’s credit facilities, Lionsgate is in advanced discussions with its lenders regarding finalization of a waiver or amendment that will prevent the potential event of default that could otherwise result from the Icahn

Read More »

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‘Bree Tanner’ Set For Year’s UK Bestseller

By | Thursday June 17, 2010 @ 5:07am PDT

Bree TannerPublisher Little, Brown tells me Stephenie Meyer’s novella “for the fans” has sold 226,589 copies so far in the UK. Waterstones, the largest bookshop chain, expects it to be the biggest-selling book of the year.

The £11:99 ($17.8) Twilight novella is mostly selling at less than half price, mostly due to heavy supermarket discounting. What’s remarkable is that you can read The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner for free on Meyer’s website until midnight on July 5. But then Meyer turns everything she touches into witchy gold, from movies to books to internet traffic. The Twilight Saga has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, translated into nearly 50 languages.

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Bollywood’s Aishwarya Rai Spying ‘Princess’

By | Thursday June 17, 2010 @ 4:10am PDT

Ashwariyah RaiEXCLUSIVE: I’m hearing that the Bollywood goddess is interested in playing a real-life Second World War spy for British producers Mike Downey and Sam Taylor. The $15 million The Spy Princess will be their biggest production yet. I understand that the producers are heading out to India later this year to close financing. Judy Morris (Happy Feet, Babe: Pig In the City) is penning the screenplay. Based on the biography by Shrabani Basu, The Spy Princess tells the true story of Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim Sufi female agent who was awarded both the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre. The project is due to begin shooting before Christmas.

Rai has married into the Bachchan acting dynasty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if her father-in-law, Indian star Amitabh Bachchan, gets involved. Sounds like a good project for some of that Reliance Big Entertainment crossover money too.

Film & Music Entertainment (F&ME), Downey and Taylor’s production company, is currently shooting StreetkidsUnited, a feature docu about a group of British and African street kids competing for the Street World Cup. Stephen Daldry (The Reader, The Hours) is executive producing.

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Icahn Says He’ll Own 31+% Of Lionsgate

By | Wednesday June 16, 2010 @ 1:21pm PDT

icahn lgHis $7-a-share tender offer doesn’t expire until 8 PM ET tonight. But he’ll be Lionsgate’s largest shareholder after stating publicly today he has received 12.5% of the studio’s shares from stockholders presumably including Mark Cuban. That 31% is a big jump from the 19% stake he held in the film company before he put his offer on the table. It’s also a blow to current Lionsgate management which has kept advising shareholders not to deal with Icahn. He offered $7 a share for the remainder. MORE

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Asia Pacific Is Fastest-Growing Market

By | Wednesday June 16, 2010 @ 4:03am PDT

DollarSigns.jpgSpending on movies and home entertainment in Asia Pacific will increase by 7.2% compounded annually to reach $29.3 billion by 2014. So says PricewaterhouseCoopers’ latest global entertainment and media outlook 2010-2014, published today. The pace of spending in Latin America will also outstrip the US, Canada and Europe. Latin American spending on film and TV will increase by 5.2% compound annually over the next 5 years, from $2.4 billion in 2009 to $3.1 billion in 2014, says the accounting giant.Europe, Middle East and Africa will be, however, the third fastest-growing territory. Filmed entertainment spending in Emea countries will increase by 4.2% annually from $24.3 billion to $29.8 billion by 2014. Western Europe will account for 90% of that spending. And the UK remains Western Europe’s largest market, being worth $7.2 billion by 2014 – a 5% growth rate.

North America will grow by 3.7% compounded annually to $45.3 billion in 2014 ($37.8 billion in 2009).

Worldwide global filmed entertainment spending will rise by 4.8% compounded annually, reaching $107.5 billion in 2014.

PwC produces its report each year for clients to buy. The full report covers advertising, internet, TV and music as well as filmed entertainment.

As for individual entertainment sectors, PwC says downloading movies to your TV or PC will be the fastest-growing. Digital downloads – including streaming and download-to-own — will grow by 37.3% between now and 2014, becoming a $2.1 billion global market. The North America digital download market will triple from $364 million … Read More »

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GAME CHANGER? Paramount & Redbox Enter Pact To Release Day And Date In The Sell-Through Market After 10-Month Test

By | Tuesday June 15, 2010 @ 1:25pm PDT

paramountlogoHOLLYWOOD, CA and OAKBROOK TERRACE, IL (June 15, 2010) -Paramount Home Entertainment Inc. (PHE) and Redbox Automated Retail, LLC (redbox), today announced that Paramount exercised its option to extend its revenue sharing license agreement, providing redbox access to PHE DVD and Blu-ray titles to rent at its approximately 22,000 kiosk locations on the same day they are released in the sell-through market. PHE exercised its option following results from a 10-month analysis of DVD sell-through and rental performance.

redbox“After analyzing the data from our test period we have concluded that redbox day-and-date rental activity has had minimal impact on our DVD sales,” said Dennis Maguire, Worldwide President of Paramount Home Entertainment. “By granting redbox day-and-date availability we are allowing the consumer a choice of how to consume our movies while maximizing the profitability of our releases in the home entertainment window. We are looking forward to continuing a productive and mutually beneficial relationship with redbox.”

“We are delighted to continue our relationship with Paramount to provide consumers with convenient, timely and affordable access to their favorite movies,” said Mitch Lowe, president, redbox. “We look forward to supporting Paramount movie releases through joint marketing programs. This arrangement is a win, win and win – for consumers, Paramount and redbox. ”

Redbox and PHE first signed a trial license agreement in August 2009, with redbox agreeing to provide PHE rental data to evaluate the potential benefits

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