Rachel Abrams showed her chops often on the financial beat at Deadline’s sister publication. But now she is exiting the showbiz trade after three years (she started as an intern) to cover Wall Street for The New York Times. The move was confirmed today by Penske Media, owner of both Variety and Deadline.
Must be a case of spring fever this weekend after both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter posted head-scratcher stories that prompted extreme reactions. First, Variety, under the guise of something called “Hollywood and Swine,” labels Sharon Stone the prime suspect in the recent rash of jewel thievery that got so much press during the Cannes Film Festival. It was meant to be a silly parody: the report said that Stone reenacted her famous interrogation scene from Basic Instinct, only to be told by authorities that nobody has wanted to see that since in the 1990s. But it was picked up straight-faced by Yahoo and the Chicago Tribune, among other outlets that took Variety’s good name as reason to trust a report that Sharon Stone is a suspect in a robbery. Yikes. (Stone has been a longtime ardent supporter of AMFAR, so there was every legitimate reason she would be at Cannes.) This dispatch wasn’t funny and it’s clear that media around the globe expect Variety to be a seed bed for accurate entertainment news – and not knee-slapping guffaws at the expense of an actress with a good name and a clean record. That’s the danger of combining parody news with legitimate news: people can’t tell the difference.
THR went in an even stranger direction, hiring a former Scientologist named Marc Headley to review the Will …
Somebody’s going around pretending to be Peter Bart, and Variety Media is going after them in the courts, reports Variety. In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, the company says that imposters are claiming to be the magazine columnist. Seems the would-be identity thieves had a peterbartproductions.com website up, but as of right now, it’s gone. The pseudo-Barts supposedly also were buying things on Variety’s dime as the trade mag’s former Editor-in-chief and sending out emails inviting folks to a press conference that never happened. “Defendants’ conduct constituted a credible impersonation in that it actually confused Variety‘s vendors, among others,” the complaint says. While the fake Barts’ real names are not disclosed in the action, Variety Media wants an injunction against their site. Bart himself is named as plaintiff in the suit along with Variety Media, which is owned by Jay Penske, owner of Deadline’s parent company PMC.
UPDATE MAY 8: Variety Media today added Reed Elsevier and Reed Business Information to its kickbacks and fraud case against branding company Beverly Hills Media Group. “Plaintiff has suffered damages in an amount to be proven at trial, which amount includes the principal sum of $10 million,” said the action (read it here) for breach of contract and declaratory relief. Variety Media says in its filing that Reed did not properly inform them of any supposed agreement with BHMG when the company was looking into and eventually did purchase the trade publication last year. The company has included former Daily Variety printers California Offset Printers in the suit too. Variety Media is also seeking a judicial declaration that Reed are obligated to “defend and indemnify” Variety Media from all losses, liabilities and claims that may come from BHMG and the ”Beverly Hills Entertainment Week” operating agreement between them and the trade. The 14-page complaint against the former owners of the Hollywood trade was filed in the Supreme Court of New York on Wednesday.
PREVIOUSLY APRIL 30: Variety Media today submitted a 14-page complaint (read it …
As the saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Variety was up to its old tricks this week even under new ownership. Immediately after the announcement came out that Roger Ebert had died on Thursday, Variety “was calling/emailing around Hollywood for people to take out creepy obit ads for him,” an exec at one studio which was approached tells me. That is Variety’s long-time but in-bad-taste revenue-raising practice that I hoped would have disappeared under Jay Penske (who also owns Deadline) and Third Point, a hedge fund founded by mega-investor Daniel S. Loeb.
UPDATE: Variety debuts its new weekly magazine on Tuesday with a cover story on newly installed Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara after unveiling its new website earlier. By the way, various Deadline staffers including Nikki Finke and Mike Fleming Jr have been asked to write for the revamped publication. Inside the trade Josh Dickey is TMZ‘s Managing Editor after giving his notice at Variety where he was film editor. Variety’s NY business writer Jill Goldsmith was let go March 8th as was Variety’s creative director Paula Taylor more recently. Other editorial changes already announced include Scott Foundas joining Variety as film critic, Stuart Levine leaving Variety to become NBC Entertainment‘s VP of editorial and media relations, and small-fry film writer Jeff Sneider getting fired. Variety is owned by hedge fund Third Point as well as Jay Penske who also owns Deadline.
Related: Deadline And Variety Under One Roof In Westwood Building Deal
Related: Daily Variety Dead: Names 3 Editors-In-Chief And Turns Weekly
Related: Variety Editorial Firings To Come In March
Related: First Variety Staff Reductions Coming
Related: Deadline Parent Penske Media Corp Completes Variety Purchase
Jay Penske’s PMC, the parent company of Deadline Hollywood as well as the new owner of Variety, has finalized a deal to put the two news organizations in one headquarters, securing 50% of the space in the ING Direct building, located at 11175 Santa Monica Blvd in Westwood. PMC’s new corporate headquarters will occupy four floors (including the top three) and will be completely renovated. One floor will include a full video production studio for news, a photo studio, and three green-screen rooms for PMC’s YouTube network ENTV as well as its other channels. What is unclear is an official move-in date for the new building, which is visible from the 405 just east of the freeway on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Blvd. Deadline is now housed at PMC’s corporate headquarters at 9800 S La Cienega Blvd in Los Angeles, where the media company occupies the entire top floor as well as newly installed video facilities on the lobby level. Variety is currently housed in the 31-floor skyscraper at 5900 Wilshire Blvd, atop which it planted its red signage in December 2008.
Daily Variety Dead: Names 3 Editors-In-Chief And Turns Weekly; Claudia Eller Exits LA Times; Can This Failing Trade Be Saved?
UPDATE: Variety announced today that it needs no fewer than 3 editors-in-chief to try to save the beleaguered trade which is moving to a once-a-week print edition instead of a daily. Two of the newly named chiefs are from inside, Cynthia Littleton and Andrew Wallenstein, and one is from outside, Claudia Eller from the Los Angeles Times who used to work at Variety. They’ll oversee coverage of television, digital content, and film respectively. Tim Gray wasn’t fired as expected (and should have been) but instead was demoted to overseeing international coverage and unspecified “other special projects” after presiding over Variety‘s humiliating loss of readership and influence and advertising. (2ND UPDATE: The new owner, Variety Media‘s Chairman/CEO Jay Penske whose Penske Media Corp also owns my Deadline Hollywood, says he’s trying to hire 5 to 6 other editors for Variety to expand its editorial staff.) Additionally, Variety announced that its disastrous paywall is coming down March 1st when a very generic redesign debuts. “Internally, we’ve been referring to the paywall dropping as ‘the end of an error,’” Penske said in Variety‘s announcement. The new print edition of Variety debuts March 26 to be published every Tuesday throughout the year. There also will be an expanded schedule of special editions. The daily print edition of Variety will limp to its final appearance on March 18.
Rumors that Eller was heading to Variety began surfacing in January. As recently as February 9th, I asked Penske and Eller to respond to them as soon as Eller began telling Hollywood openly that she was ”seriously considering” Penske’s job offer. (2ND UPDATE: Penske says he didn’t know if she would take the job. Eller declined to comment.) This is a return ‘home’ of sorts for Eller since she worked as a columnist for Daily Variety until jumping to the LA Times in 1993. But it also is a major humiliation for LAT Assistant Managing Editor and entertainment biz czar John Corrigan who just this December promoted Eller to entertainment news editor and praised in the inhouse memo that “few people care as much about breaking news as Claudia Eller”. In fact, Eller quickly became disenchanted with Corrigan as her boss because he knows very little about Hollywood and never misses a chance to demonstrate it to the staff or the entertainment community at large. That said, Eller had been under pressure by the newspaper for years to write full-time. Many of the LA Times‘ long list of present and former top editors felt Eller did not have the personality to be an editor, and it’s been well known that her relationships with much of her staff have been strained over the years and especially now. In the past, Eller successfully used various job offers to move up the LAT masthead. But the prospect of continuing under Corrigan and watching the newspaper’s sale finally propelled her to make a move.
EXCLUSIVE: Variety Media‘s Chairman/CEO Jay Penske is planning editorial firings at the top-heavy trade in March. He also is overseeing a redesign of Variety’s website for February March. Penske laid off between 20 and 25 employees last November 15th from the circulation, database and conference departments – but not editorial. Variety had about 120 staffers before Penske took over. I hear editorial morale at the struggling entertainment trade is at a low ebb and anxiety is running high. “There is complete editorial disorganization from the top down,” a source complained. “No one knows if Variety is supposed to be a breaking news organization, an analytical publication, or some as yet undetermined hybrid. Tim Gray keeps pontificating to editorial that things are going to change and Variety will go in a new direction. But nobody knows what that means. They’re totally demoralized.” For instance, Penske ‘conceived’ — Variety’s term, not mine — of a special report to replace last Friday’s regular issue. It was an 80-page perfect bound ’Violence & Entertainment’ examination illustrated with a blood-dripping bullet hole on its cover. It arrived to subscribers without fanfare. And it generated no buzz inside Hollywood, indicating that Variety is still not a must read. (A week later, the special report is not even being promoted on Variety.com’s home page.) Penske announced on October 9th that he bought the once $200 million-valued trade, reportedly for the fire-sale price of $25 million after my PMC-owned Deadline Hollywood pretty much put it out of business. Financing for the Variety deal was provided by Third …
The total number of this first round of layoffs is 20-25 people — none in editorial, we’re hearing. According to a memo going out to Variety staff, it’s part of new owner Jay Penske’s broader plan that will include “substantial further investment in editorial and digital”. It’s the latest move from Penske, the owner of Deadline Hollywood who bought Variety on October 9. Soon after, he appointed Michelle Sobrino-Stearns publisher. Here’s the memo:
For the past six months, we have diligently reviewed every aspect of the Variety business. And in more recent weeks, we have outlined to Variety senior management an exciting and also aggressive trajectory for the brand’s resurgence. These steps will include substantial further investment in editorial and digital, but will unfortunately require some immediate eliminations in the following business units: LA411/NY411, Circ, Systems, Conferences, and Admin.
Without a doubt, this is a challenging day, and I particularly wanted to notify and acknowledge those of you who will be saying goodbye to valued colleagues and friends. As we look ahead, Variety’s business holds almost limitless potential and I will remain available to answer any questions you might have regarding today’s changes and our future. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, or see Tammy Chase to arrange an appointment.
Variety associate publisher Michelle Sobrino-Stearns has been appointed publisher, the first major move at the Hollywood trade publication since Deadline parent company Penkse Media Corp acquired it earlier this month. It marks the first time in Variety‘s 107-year history that a woman will hold the top executive position. She replaces Brian Gott, who departed the post earlier this week after three years at the helm. Sobrino-Stearns joined Variety in 1997 and has held posts including sales director, managing director of features and most recently associate publisher. She will work with PMC founder, chairman and CEO Jay Penske to spearhead the trade’s next chapter of digital growth and expansion and continue to be based in LA. “This is a major moment for Variety and Michelle Sobrino, and it is clear to me that she is ready to lead this brand as its publisher”, Penske said. “After experiencing Michelle’s determination, smarts, integrity, and love for the Variety brand, I couldn’t be happier to nominate Michelle to this role — a role no other woman has ever occupied in Variety‘s 107 years.” Penske also praised Gott for being a “steadfast leader of the organization” during challenging times, and said Gott will continue working with PMC and Variety on philanthropic initiatives.
Related: Jay Penske’s Variety Town …
One day after PMC’s acquisition of the venerable showbiz publication was formally announced, new owner Jay Penske visited Variety’s offices on Wilshire Blvd to talk about its future. The town hall started at 4:30 PM in front of about 80 staffers and took place on the building’s vacant 28th floor. Most of Penske’s presentation was about his company Penske Media Corp. He took no questions. According to those present, the gist of what Penske told the assembled group about Variety was that some things were going to stay the same and some things were going to change. His most important announcement was that Variety’s pay wall on the media outlet’s website will be coming down so that more than a small group of subscribers can consume its content. The PMC boss also said that Variety’s print publications are still going to come out for the foreseeable future. And he said he plans to invest more in Variety’s digital platform and expand its editorial reach. No more specifics were provided. The town hall ended around 5:10 PM. A Deadline reporter arriving to cover the Variety town hall wound up escorted from the building by security before it began.
It’s scheduled at 4 PM so don’t be surprised if phones go unanswered.
I’ve thought a lot about the possibility this Variety-PMC deal would close and I’m sure my former colleagues and the newer staff there will be understandably apprehensive. This is a bit jarring for me. I spent 20 years writing columns and covering the film business for Daily and Weekly Variety before moving to Deadline. I am relieved to see the publication get an opportunity to be reinvigorated. I would be surprised, for instance, if Variety continues behind a pay wall, or continues to exist in its current form as a daily and weekly print publication.
I’m sure there will be a significant readjustment period for everyone as Variety is redefined, and some of that will undoubtedly involve creating a leaner, more efficient operation. As I learned quickly when I moved to Deadline, being change-able in the digital age can lead to good things. I still shake my head when I think about how many years I spent gathering information, writing stories and turning them in at day’s end to Variety editors, so that we could tell you tomorrow what we knew today.
Even before Nikki Finke created Deadline and changed the game by telling unvarnished truths quickly and with attitude and savvy, our system had already made it very hard to surprise the industry-reading audience, even after we added a website. I was a print snob who tried to nest on my exclusives …
BREAKING: Penske Media Corporation has completed the acquisition of Variety from Reed Elsevier. The deal that just closed puts a venerable brand in Jay Penske’s digital publication stable that includes Deadline, TVLine, MovieLine, HollywoodLife, BGR and ENTV.
Here’s the official release:
October 9, 2012 – LOS ANGELES – Penske Media Corporation (“PMC”), a leading digital media and publishing company, announced today it had purchased Variety from Reed Business Information, part of Reed Elsevier. Terms of the asset purchase agreement between the parties were not disclosed.
Jay Penske, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PMC, said, “Since 1905, Variety has been the world’s premier entertainment news source, and is today one of the most recognized global media brands. We are thrilled to welcome Variety and its exceptional team into the PMC organization. As part of this significant acquisition, we plan to rapidly build upon Variety’s foundation while extending this invaluable brand’s presence across the web, broadcast, mobile, and international markets.”
“We are enthusiastic that PMC will become the new steward of the great Variety franchise, which Reed Elsevier has built over the past 25 years, and the Silverman family for the 80 years before that,” said Neil Stiles, President of Variety. He added, “PMC is uniquely positioned to preserve and build the market presence of Variety. Their shared values and complementary assets
I don’t want to start any rumors that Deadline Hollywood is going to buy Variety. But I am curious what the square footage is of Variety President Neil Stiles’ office… That Reed Business Information today announced it is beginning a process to sell Variety doesn’t come as a surprise to me. In fact, for the past year, I’ve been predicting it would go on the block in April 2012 based on my sources’ accurate information. (They told me Reed was merely waiting until the end of Oscar season and that “For Your Consideration’ ad revenue.) This follows the divestment by RBI of its other U.S. business magazines over the past three years. The last time Variety was put up for sale was when parent company Reed Elsevier trie to auction its b-to-b publishing unit RBI as a whole in February 2008 but took it off the block late that year citing the down global markets. But the price tag was unrealistically high. And now Variety is worth far less.
Reed can see that Variety’s best days are behind it: that awards advertising has slumped, that its paywall isn’t the panacea now that its print edition is too thin and its online posting not a priority, and that its showbiz reporting is increasingly inaccurate. (Just today, Variety wrongly claimed that The Hunger Games‘ midnight shows grossed $25M when the real number was $19.75M.) Why, just the other month, I was having a conversation with Neil Stiles where he admitted to me that a recent survey conducted by Variety showed that Deadline was the most consumed online trade by the entertainment industry: way more than Variety, and way way more than The Hollywood Reporter. (Stiles also confirmed to me he’s working without a contract but denies rumors that he’s on the way out and about to retire to his new home in Florida.) Meanwhile, other media outlets keep reporting that investor Guggenheim Partners wants to sell The Hollywood Reporter
Is this a trend? First, Dana Harris left Variety for IndieWIRE earlier this week. Now Pam McClintock is departing Variety for The Hollywood Reporter. (But will its women’s magazine still be in business in another 6 months since THR‘s new owners are panicking about all the money going out instead of coming in?)
Leo Wolinsky was brought in after several rounds of layoffs at the trade, and now he was pushed out after less than a year in the job. Before coming to Variety, Wolinsky had spent many years in senior level roles at the Los Angeles Times. But, as I wrote back on December 8th, why in the world would that newspaper’s errand boy be named editor of Daily Variety (both the LA and NY editions) because the guy knew nothing about the entertainment biz. I registered surprise at what a bad choice this is. He was long considered a joke at the LA Times and infamous for secretly helping wrangle billionaire potential local backers like Eli Broad, Ron Burkle, Richard Riordan, and David Geffen when then bigwig editors were fighting with Tribune Co. (Finke/LA Weekly: Baquet’s Billionaire Boys Club). He briefly sat atop the LA Times‘ entertainment and feature sections as a seat-filler until he was let go. Nevertheless, Wolinsky was made responsible for all Variety editorial content for the print edition and began January 2010 reporting to Variety Group editor Tim Gray. Meanwhile, Variety is sending out for an LA Press Club panel about the trades some junior box office reporter who was an intern until recently. Also an article in the Los Angeles Times about show business news coverage barely even mentioned Variety which is now behind a pay wall. Out of sight, out of mind?
Back on July 7th and again on July 8th, I was first to report that the notorious film financier David Bergstein “was being pushed aside” and would have no role in Miramax once it was purchased from Disney by construction magnate Ron Tutor and Santa Monica-based Colony Capital. (I wrote: “As for the notorious film financier David Bergstein, I’ve learned his role is over as soon as the deal is finished. ‘He gets paid for packaging the deal and consulting on the transaction. Then that’s it,’ an insider tells me.”) On Sunday, Tutor confirmed my reporting in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. But I’m bewildered why the trade tried to claim he “unleashed a bombshell” that there will be no role in Miramax for his pal Bergstein. How utterly classless of The Hollywood Reporter — and Alex Ben Block, who knows better – not to give Deadline credit. Then again, THR and Variety, too, steal so much content from Deadline without credit on an almost daily basis, it’s clear the trades have no shame anymore.