Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Who Buys CNN?

The rumor mill continues to churn about who could possibly acquire CNN in case Fox's acquisition of Time Warner goes through. Here are the list of contenders from most likely to least likely.

CBS has made a major turn towards hard news as noted by The Pew Research Center in 2013. There's nothing that would help the news division in it's continuing commitment to hard news more than acquiring the profits and manpower that CNN brings to the table. CBS would also be able to broaden it's cable offerings and could potentially boost up TVGN and Smithsonian Channel's subscriber base by tagging it along with CNN. The news network's website would also boost CBS's internet offerings without a doubt and could even help vault CBSSports.com into a top 5 sports website through traffic driven by CNN.com.

CBS News also has a vast array of archival footage from various significant historical events it has covered in the past so I would imagine that a CBS-owned CNN would continue Jeff Zucker's strategy of an unscripted primetime lineup. Maybe CBS uses it's library to create programs similar to "The Sixties" and turns CNN into a mini-History Channel since the actual History Channel doesn't cover history anymore. It's also worth mentioning that Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, two of CNN's biggest faces, already work for CBS through "60 Minutes".

ABC News has always had a cast of thousands on their news team, but they never have enough time to showcase them all. The news operation has already tried to expand their reach through partnerships with Yahoo! News, Conde Nast, MTVU, YouTube and Univision (just to name a few) but the number of viewers watching their programming through any of those outlets is questionable. An acquisition of CNN would give ABC an extra opportunity to expand their programming abilities. 

What would happen under an ABC-owned CNN? Maybe Fusion is merged into CNN? Maybe ABC expands "Good Morning America" after 9am onto CNN? Will some of the online shows launched by ABC correspondents expand into 30-minute telecasts on CNN?

Bloomberg has proven over and over again that they're dedicated to becoming one of the biggest names in the news business. They recently invested in two star political journalists (Halperin and Heilmann), they've acquired BusinessWeek and they attempted to start a political opinion site. Michael Bloomberg wants to hold some influence in the daily conversations Americans have whether it's about culture or politics. Owning CNN combined with his other media properties could make him more influential than he ever would becoming President of the United States. Ask Roger Ailes about his life if you don't believe it's possible to become influential through television screens.

Bloomberg is also one of the few outlets which is actually expanding their workforce. Not to mention, Bloomberg churns out the most digital video compared with their other business news competitors. If they used the same strategy with CNN, the cable news outlet will be more ready than ever for the next television revolution.

Yahoo! faces a similar situation with Bloomberg in terms of having a desire to expand it's stature in the media industry. By acquiring CNN, Yahoo! would have an outlet to showcase some of it's original programming and it would also have content to fill their new web video enterprise which is aiming to compete against YouTube. Katie Couric would also be back on television at a permanent home.

Is there a better way to get back at an employer who forced you out after you served them for 20+ years than to team up with the second richest man in the world to acquire them? The only thing stopping this bid from happening is the fact that Univision is also for sale and may be better suited for Slim's other media assets in Mexico. There's also a rule which states, according to the New York Post, that "foreign nationals are limited to holding 25 percent of US media companies."

Shane Smith hates everything that CNN stands for. So instead of complaining about it, why doesn't Smith gather some investors together and buy the whole network himself? It would help Vice fulfill it's desires of housing their own television network which has carriage on all the major cable operators.

The Huffington Post already has their own online television network. So why not expand to real television? The HuffPo might also provide the type of built-in audience CNN has had trouble building on it's own. It should be noted that HuffPoLive's Marc Lamont Hill is already a major contributor to the network and HuffPoLive has already produced two cable talk hosts in Alicia Menendez (Fusion) and Jacob Soboroff (Pivot, YouTube Nation).

Al Jazeera America is the television network which journalism professors, media critics and news buffs have been waiting for. The problem is that no one watches it. The network has decent distribution but it's nowhere near the amount of homes which CNN is available in. If AJA were to acquire CNN, then Al Jazeera's belief that Americans want to watch REAL fair and balanced news can be put to the test in the best way possible since it would be available in most homes possible. The question is if the emir of Qatar will be willing to spend another $10 billion on a venture which has already proved unsuccessful.

I would also put a billionaire philanthropist, a foreign media company, an internet company or a cable operator on the list of potential buyers. Maybe Ted Turner buys back CNN and brings it back to prominence as his final act?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Is Discovery Channel The Right Choice To Promote Obama's My Brother's Keeper?

Discovery Communications has joined forces with President Obama to produce programming related to The White House's initiative known as "My Brother's Keeper". The initiative seeks to combat stereotypes about men of color and improve their life outcomes through public-private partnerships. Discovery will be investing $1 million to produce programming which promotes the initiative and CEO David Zaslav will be named to the National Convening Council which will help facilitate those public-private partnerships.

This new endeavor will culminate with a one-hour TV special which will broadcast on Father's Day 2015 and will be simulcast on OWN, Discovery Channel as well as Discovery's online websites. Discovery Education, which provides educational television shows to schools nationwide, will also produce townhalls about various issues affecting minority men.

MY TAKE: It's honorable that Discovery is taking a stand in helping minority men succeed and I have no doubts that the programming they produce will successfully portray a positive message which will make a difference. I just wonder why Discovery was chosen as the media partner for this initiative when none of their networks have a target audience of minority males.

Why not a network like ESPN or TNT, both of whom have many different personalities under their stable who can relate to viewers when discussing issues affecting minority men? Both networks have also had forums dealing with these issues in the past and they're partners with the NBA, who'll be playing a role in advancing this initative as well.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Rickey Smiley to Hot 97?

 photo uptowntick2.jpg
Courtesy: Uptown Magazine
The New York Post sprinkled in a tidbit about the future of Hot 97 in an article which discussed why Angie Martinez made the move to Power 105 (SPOILER: her salary doubled).
Last week at a dinner for stand-up comedian Rickey Smiley thrown by Uptown magazine, guests were buzzing that Hot 97 may pick up Smiley’s radio show, which is syndicated in 70 markets. Smiley is considered a protégé of Steve Harvey.
Smiley and his morning show crew are already seen on "Dish Nation" on the local New York City Fox affiliate but having a daily spot puts his show on a different platform. Here a couple of observations:

  • Smiley's show has a very Southern humor feel to it when it comes to the scenarios which are discussed on the show to even the host's accents. Will New Yorkers be able to relate to the show's hosts personally?
  • Even if they're able to relate to New Yorkers, does Hot 97 really expect anyone they put on air to beat "The Breakfast Club"? The show has already solidified it's place as an authentic, vital destination for hip hop heads. Despite the RSMS cast's chemistry, I'm not sure their humor will be enough to stay competitive.
  • I wonder if Hot 97 ceding their morning show slot to syndication would spark a website to start a local NYC hip hop morning show alternative to both Hot 97 and The Breakfast Club since TBC has lost a lot of its local flavor after going national.
  • What happens to Ebro, Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds? Could they continue to work for Hot 97 exclusively online through their "Juan Epstein" podcast and fill-in on the radio whenever a staff member takes off? Could they be in line to replace and compete against Angie Martinez? If they happen to be let go, they could become very useful for TV networks seeking voices to define them like Revolt, Music Choice and Fuse.
  • The two biggest winners in this potential move are Rickey Smiley and Radio One. 
    • Smiley's family-friendly humor is proving to be triumphant and his success is being validated with the addition of a new affiliate in New York. Coming soon, he could make a full crossover to mainstream America in the same way Steve Harvey did (as the NYP mentions). 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ahmad Rashad Gets His Own Television Show

Earlier this year, Ahmad Rashad's old television show "NBA Inside Stuff" returned to television. Now, the former Oregon running back is making a return of his own.

Rashad didn't leave television permanently after ABC cancelled his "NBA Inside Stuff" successor ("NBA Access") and Ernie Johnson replaced him on NBA TV Fan Night. He hosted a couple of interview specials over the years for NBA TV during All-Star Weekend as well as after the Finals were over.

But for the first time since 2009, Rashad will once again become a weekly fixture available on television sets all over America especially if you have DirecTV.

Rashad will be hosting and executive producing his own primetime interview show for a new golf lifestyle TV network launching in September on DirecTV known as Back9Network. The self-titled "Ahmad Rashad Show" will take a behind the scenes look at the world of golf with interviews featuring golfers, newsmakers and everything in between.

The 64-year-old Emmy Award-winning sportscaster, who is expected to continue his duties with NBA TV, had been working diligently before this announcement despite the lack of his own television platform. 

As late as January, he was hosting a "Where Are They Now?" sports podcast and also recently hosted a question and answer session featuring Kevin Durant live from the Newseum in Washington, DC on Nike's YouTube channel. He also did voice overs for "Sprint's The Crossover" segments which aired during ABC's coverage of the NBA Finals.

Rashad has established relationships with Tiger Woods, President Obama and many other celebrities and athletes. Don't be surprised if you see them as guests on the program which will look to be the golf version of "Oprah's Next Chapter."

Weinstein Company Buys Graham Norton Show, Selling It's TV Division

Not too long ago, Harvey Weinstein was shouting praise towards the ever-changing television industry and decided he wanted his company to become more intrinsically involved with the growing medium. Seven months later, according to the New York Times, he's changed his mind.

TWC is exploring spinning off it's television division into a public company or selling the company to a strategic partner who would own the company but keep Weinstein involved.
People who were briefed on the plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was still being developed, said Mr. Weinstein was seeking cash to finance a major expansion that could include one or more new television channels.
What an interesting development. I wonder how TWC would have the ability to start a new television network featuring their content when they just signed a new pay TV window agreement with Netflix which begins in 2016. Maybe Netflix isn't considered real television under the terms of their deal? There's also this little tidbit from Variety about the current television rightsholder of TWC movies:
Showtime said it will continue to carry The Weinstein Co.’s films “well into 2018.” Premium cabler has exclusive output deal with TWC for movies released in theaters through 2015, which means studio’s films will premiere in their premium window on Showtime and The Movie Channel (as well as multiplex channels) through 2017 and will air in their first windows on the networks into 2018.
Back to the NYT article:
At the same time, they said, Mr. Weinstein is considering selling the television unit to a digitally minded corporate giant like Yahoo, Amazon or Google, any of which might use its reach to bolster his company’s presence on the web and elsewhere. 
He is also said to believe that a digital buyer like Google or Amazon might become a partner in supporting his films. “Teaming with one of the giants could become a promotional tool for the movie side,” one person briefed on the proposition said. 
Amazon, Yahoo and Netflix are definitely top contenders for this type of partnership. Netflix already works with TWC as mentioned above while Yahoo has shown recently that it isn't bullish when it comes to spending money for television content. I'm not sure Google would be a viable player in this kind of partnership because they seem more focused on building and molding their own characters instead of relying on the establishment.

Amazon might be the favorite because they have an extensive business besides video which they could use to promote TWC's empire. They also have the most to gain since Prime is still considered second-class compared to Netflix by many observers. TWC's content together with the recent HBO deal they signed could be what it takes to get them over the hump.

Another intriguing portion of the story involved a BBC series:
Weinstein also is betting on dozens of development projects and a handful of foreign series. Recently, for instance, the company acquired North American rights to “The Graham Norton Show,” a BBC talk show, according to the people briefed on its plans.
The show currently airs on BBC America and is scheduled to air over the next two weeks on July 6th and July 12th. Because of BBC America's reach, Norton's show has had wider distribution across the United States than it's ITV rival, "The Jonathan Ross Show," which airs Saturday nights at 11pm on Cinemoi, a French movie channel which is only available on Verizon FiOS.

Norton could lose his reach depending on when and how TWC implements the rights they've acquired. If TWC sells it's television division and is able to begin it's own television network with the money it earns, the show could land there. The problem with that prospect is that it could become extremely difficult for the new network to gain carriage across major cable operators like Comcast (it might be smart for TWC to start a network with a cable operator as a minority owner to guarantee some sort of carriage).

It could also land on Ovation TV, which TWC owns 25% stake in, but that might be a problem for Norton's telecast as well because Ovation has had altercations with cable operators who are dissatisfied with their ratings and have threatened to drop the network. The other option? TWC may also keep the show running on BBC America.

Norton's American counterpart on NBC, Jimmy Fallon, hasn't faced the same ordeal because NBC keeps the show in it's empire through airings on CNBC Europe. There are no plans for NBC to sell the show to another company and there's no word as to why the BBC sold one of it's shows to another company.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Honda Stage Shouldn't Concern Cable Television

Honda Stage logo

Japanese automaker Honda recently announced a new foray into the internet which is pretty monumental and has shocked many media observers. Here are the details from USA Today:
In a move sure to be closely watched, Honda said Wednesday it is committing millions of dollars to create its own YouTube music channel featuring recorded performances from dozens of live events and concerts.
Honda is teaming with concert promotors Live Nation, radio giant Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, Sean "Diddy" Combs Revolt, Vevo and YouTube in the initiative. 
Billboard describes why Honda made this move:
The automaker has found TV a challenging place to reach its biggest growth segment, 20-to-35-year-olds, who are increasingly on the go, on their phones (U.S. smartphone penetration reached a record 65.2% in 2013, per ComScore) and fast-forwarding through ads when they watch linear television at all (DVR penetration reached an all-time high of 49% of TV households in 2013, according to Nielsen). Honda is allocating its entire cable budget -- “and some more,” says the company -- into music this summer. 
According to reports, Honda and their partners will be teaming up together in the following ways:

  • Live Nation events and artists will be featured prominently on the channel.
  • Clear Channel will co-produce concerts featured on the channel once a month. The concerts will held at IHeartRadio Theatre in Los Angeles (whose stage is being renamed Honda Stage) and will be simulcasted on Clear Channel radio stations/IHeartRadio.
  • Revolt's LA studios will also have their stage renamed Honda Stage and Revolt will co-produce concerts which'll be featured on the channel. 
  • Vevo will be distributing all of Honda Stage's concerts throughout their platforms.
This venture is a major win for consumers. Millennials will have another option online to watch some of their favorite artists perform free of charge. It's also a win for the internet. In order for YouTube to eclipse television, they need advertisers to trust in their product and content creators to invest loads of money (they get the best of both worlds in this deal). Despite these benefits, I don't understand how this helps Honda, here's why:
  • YouTube viewership is extremely sporadic. There is no guarantee who will tune in to watch a YouTube clip during a certain time period unlike in television where there is already a precedent set because of trends which have existed for years. Because of this factor, it may take longer for some videos to develop an audience which could make it harder to sell products in a timely manner. For example, a video promoting a 2014 model could pick up steam in 2015 or later.
  • There doesn't seem to be any brand interaction between the products and the artists performing. Placing your brand name in connection with a concert isn't going to create brand affinity unless consumers actually see the product in action hence why commercials still exist. As much as everyone hates commercials, they're still a pretty effective way to get your message out there if produced correctly.
Cable networks shouldn't be concerned with this move because viewers still watch cable.......in the millions. There are many businesses and companies who still value the platform which cable provides which is why they'll never run out of advertisers. Here is a graph courtesy of TVNewser which proves that point. 


Independent cable networks such as Pivot or Fuse may be hurt by this move because it means there is one less established advertiser who is willing to take a risk on a network which doesn't garner high ratings compared to the ESPNs and USA Networks of the world. 

But the dearth in advertisers could help increase competition and creativity in the types of shows which get picked up by these independent networks. It's always great for television when a network owned by a non-media conglomerate is willing to take risks in an industry which has been known for being bland (blandness on TV has ironically helped the internet emerge).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Can Internet Sports Channels Rival ESPN? Part 1

For many years, ESPN has been the most dominant force in sports television. It's online, television and print offerings are high-quality and their throne has never been seriously challenged by anyone. Those who tried to challenge it usually fell short and ceased operations.

In this era where sports are bigger than they've ever been, there are more rivals for ESPN than ever before. Fox and Turner, who both started ESPN rivals in the 90s which failed to put a dent into ESPN's superiority, have come back with a vengeance in an attempt to accomplish this major feat. But, the most interesting rivals who've emerged come from the world wide web.

Internet sports channels have found a new way to connect with fans by providing an exclusive peek into the lifestyle of those who influence the games we watch. They've also provided viewers with videos featuring different stunts and tricks which will probably catch the attention of a younger audience more than two talking heads arguing about a topic. There is also a sense of uncensorship which the likes of ESPN couldn't commit to for various reasons.

The two big determinants to rivaling the likes of ESPN will be advertising and winning sports rights. As of now, none of these channels seem poised to acquire live games because of their dependence on YouTube which distributes their content. This conscious coupling forces the channels to split ad revenue with the video behemoth. If any of these entities were to ever become serious about competing for deals with television networks, they would need their own video player and their own infrastructure to pull it off in order to prevent having to split any profits with YouTube. The likelihood of splitting is slim to none because it's unlikely that any of these channels will be willing to leave the comfort of YouTube, the number one distributor of online video. It's hard to convince online viewers to leave YouTube for a different standalone video website no matter how good the content is. Previous attempts have been unsuccessful.

(On a sidenote - Online video distributor Google is considering a bid for Saturday night NBA games. If they win, it'll be interesting to see if Google produces those games in a traditional television style or if they end up as a free-flow internet style broadcast. I'm also curious as to whether they would import talent from Internet sports channels who aren't traditional journalists)

It's also hard for internet sports channels to garner television-style advertising deals because the Internet doesn't have an established ratings system like television. It is also more likely that advertisers will be exposed to a bigger mass audience on television than they would online because viewing habits and behaviors haven't transformed as much as we think they have....yet. Television still remains the dominant visual medium. 

"Blacktree TV," an entertainment program, recently moved from YouTube to actual television and they told StreamDaily that their profit from television overpowered their internet profit by far even though they're on a new television network (Soul of the South is currently available in 14 U.S. markets) which doesn't have as much reach as the internet.

“Eighty percent of our revenues came from YouTube 2 years ago, and now we’ve flipped it,” says BlackTree TV founder Jamaal Finkley. “We still appreciate what the YouTube ad sales revenue does for us, but traditional [TV] dollars are a better backbone for building a media business.”

This tells you that many traditional advertisers are still more comfortable investing in an obscure television show instead of a YouTube video even if the online video garners more views over time than the show does in it's scheduled timeslot. 

Advertisers want guarantees from television networks in terms of the number of viewers who'll tune in to a certain show during a certain time period. Online video can't provide that luxury to advertisers yet because viewership is so sporadic. Advertisers know what they're paying for with television networks but that same precedent doesn't exist with online channels.

Internet sports channels have a long way to go before they can seriously rival their traditional television counterparts but there's no question that if they continue to build up their fanbases and produce quality programming that they'll put a dent into ESPN and Fox Sports' profit margins sooner rather than later. Internet sports channels are focused on successfully producing something which has rarely translated successfully onto sports television: quality sports lifestyle and entertainment programming.

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