Catchup clicks

Posted in 3D, digital media, media, studios, Variety by Diane on May 8, 2010

Joe Roth, former studio head and erstwhile producer, could not help but stage manage his keynote appearance at Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit on Monday, asking to move his chair up closer to the aud at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica. He then held forth on a number of topics, stressing the benefit of marketing through social media. Before he was done, he also championed the notion that studios once again own theaters in the U.S. This has been a no-no for more than 60 years, but Roth, who got caught in the crossfire between Disney and international exhibitors over “Alice in Wonderland,” argued it no longer makes sense. My Variety story on the confab is here.

Top execs admitted they don’t know the answer to sweeping technological changes but said they can’t wait until the dust settles to figure it out. My report from the Milken Global Conference panel on the outlook for the entertainment industry.

Getty Images, which has been aggressively going after the U.S. entertainment photo biz since at least 2003, scooped up Hollywood stalwart Berliner Studios late last month. I was in charge of Variety’s event coverage when Getty came on the Hollywood scene and can attest to the turf battles between it and rival agencies. Variety, you see, had a deal with Getty, which was determined to get as much access as possible.

Variety also held a day long conference for BritWeek late last month. British reality king Nigel Lythgoe, who helped found the celebration, sounded off on his difficulty getting American networks to take his advice.

Also covered 3D Gaming Conference for Variety, during which I learned why the technology makes me so queasy. “Avatar” was on everyone’s lips at the two-day confab.


What are film libraries worth these days?

Posted in digital media, DVD, movies, VOD by Diane on March 18, 2010

Who really wants MGM, and what are they willing to pay for it? Six years ago, the Sony-led consortium that bought the Lion overpaid for a library that had already been mined exhaustively. Not that many  people were willing to admit it at the time.

Now that the DVD bubble has burst, however, people are taking a closer look at the troubled asset. Drowning in $3.7 billion debt, it is unlikely to draw anywhere near $5 billion it last commanded.

The next round of bids are due tomorrow, with Time Warner apparently still in the hunt. Relativity Media’s hedge fund backer Elliott Associates is apparently out, though it’s not clear to me how interested it was in the buy.

The bigger question is what film libraries are worth these days. The DVD glory days are over, with more people opting to rent rather than buy movies on disc. Video on demand is growing, but still very small.

Will VOD and other movie delivery technologies help make up for DVD declines? The future’s still unclear, the experts admitted at the Film Finance Forum earlier this  month. But they also said that companies overreacted to the DVD decline, slashing valuations of individual film earnings too far.

Which leads me back to my original question: What, then, are film libraries worth?

More on expected MGM bids: Deadline Hollywood, Bloomberg, The Wrap, WSJ

If only Internet stories DID always get right to the point

Posted in digital media, journalism trends by Diane on January 5, 2010

The always provocative Michael Kinsley makes many good points about overcontextualized newspaper stories in the Atlantic but gives online stories a pass on their own failings.

Yes, many newspaper stories are too long and bloated with unnecessary quotes and qualifications, as he argues in the essay, much tweeted about today by fellow journos. But his claim that readers are abandoning newspapers for the Internet because online “news articles get to the point”? Dubious.

First, since when do online news articles get to the point? And who’s producing these online news articles? Kinsley never says: He deconstructs a few articles from the New York Times and  the Washington Post, but never cites examples that meet his brevity standards.

There’s a downside to online writing: Without a news hole to worry about, editors aren’t necessarily compelled to trim copy. And with the ever quickening news cycle, they don’t always have time to shape stories before they’re published even if they wanted to.

So what we get online is a lot of flabby prose and half-digested analysis. In an ideal world writers and/or editors would revisit dashed off stories and polish them. But how often is that done? There’s always more news to process and report.

Another problem with online news articles? Certain sites tease stories about news developments but do not, in fact, reveal what they are, until after the reader has clicked through to another page. Want to know whether the ground hog saw his shadow or your favorite team won? That’ll be another click. So much for getting to the point.

Online sites do have advantages, but they are not immune to the same quality control issues as their traditional counterparts.


Not so fast: Why the iTablet rumors are killing me

Posted in digital media, journalism trends, Kindle by Diane on January 5, 2010

Why am I, sucker for all gadgets Apple, secretly hoping the company will NOT announce its rumored iTablet later this month? Because I just got a Kindle and don’t want it to be immediately upstaged by Apple grooviness.

This has happened before: I got a Creative Nomad Jukebox MP3 player shortly before iPod hit the market in 2001. That first generation iPod may look clunky today, but trust me, it was compact and sleek next to the Jukebox. It was no bigger, as Steve Jobs said in his 2001 media introduction, than a deck of cards. I held out for a little while before succumbing to the iPod.

But back to the Apple tablet rumors, which are flying fast and furious, with a March debut now predicted by the WSJ. I’m dying to see what Apple comes up with and how it matches other tablet prototypes I’ve seen lately. The magazine biz, and heck, the newspaper biz, could use a device that marries potent imagery with text in a way websites have yet to do. The main reason I got the Kindle was to subscribe to periodicals in electronic form.

So far I really like it. I’d just hate for it to become obsolete a month after Santa dropped it down the chimney.


The web was so cute then

Posted in digital media by Diane on October 10, 2009

LATcybercriticUnearthed my late ’95 L.A. Times story about online message boards devoted to TV shows, and had to smile at how tame “the wild and wooly Internet” was compared to today. Also amusing: References to TV show long since gone and suggestions that David Letterman play Phoebe’s dad on “Friends.” Jeremy Pivens’ character on “Ellen” also drew criticism. And I love that I and/or the LAT felt compelled to spell out World Wide Web. I could go on, but won’t. It’s here, if you’re interested. Adding more of my older stories to my archives, for now accessed here.


Yahoo ramps up originals — no, really

Posted in Variety, Yahoo by Diane on October 5, 2009

I tried to write this story several times when I was at Variety, but it kept getting pushed back due to one exec departure after another. And frankly, at the time Yahoo was more interested in me writing a story about the success of “Primetime in No Time” than a broader one on its originals.

In the meantime, a new CEO has come into the company, a search outsource deal with Microsoft finally struck, and a renewed interest in reinventing itself as a media company. The company has been ramping up its original programming, both in terms of web shows and editorial content.

Rest assured, however, that Yahoo is NOT attempting to revive Lloyd Braun’s ambitions to create TV style programming for the Internet. For more, check out my Variety story here.


Cook ouster: A vote for fan, and company, interaction

Posted in Disney, Google, social media by Diane on September 22, 2009

dickcookDick Cook’s ouster late last week caught many off guard, but apparently boiled down to irreconcilable differences: Cook wasn’t collaborative enough with colleagues and his division was perceived to operating as an island from the rest of the company. This issue came to a head when the movie chief kept the rest of the company in the dark about the big guests he had lined up for the company’s D23 expo.

To Cook this caution was well warranted given the tendency of big stars to back out at moment’s notice. Stunned, he told colleagues he was a square peg in a round hole, the LAT reports.

The Daily Beast’s Kim Masters suggested his ouster was the end of an era. I agree, but not necessarily for the same reasons. At the D23 event, which I covered for The Wrap, Iger talked about the need to nurture fan connection to the Disney brand. The event was designed to give fans a sneak peak at coming attractions in the expectation they would share that info online.

Iger the technologist, and a telling anecdote from “Googled”


Very interesting: Majors talking VOD with YouTube

Posted in DVD, Lionsgate, Netflix, paidContent, Redbox, Sony, VOD, Warner, WSJ, YouTube by Diane on September 2, 2009

The WSJ is reporting, and paidContent confirms, that several studios are in talks with YouTube to stream movie rentals — aka Internet VOD — via the video sharing giant. This is interesting on a number of levels:

1. For starters, it’s a reminder how much studios prefer VOD to traditional disc rentals. The reason is simple: they get a cut from each transaction. According to the WSJ, studios would likely get a guaranteed minimum fee of just under $3 per title viewed. (The transaction fee is expected to mirror Apple’s iTunes rental fee of $3.99 on latest hits.)

2. It’s another way for studios to compete against Redbox. It’s killing studios that Redbox is making a bundle on $1 rental transactions while DVD sales slump. Consumers are clearly eager to rent, not always buy, movies. YouTube would join services such as Apple’s iTunes and Amazon.

3.  The movies themselves would be available according to VOD windows, which vary by studio and sometimes by popularity of title. Warners, for example, is wont to collapse that window to boost VOD. The studio has been a strong proponent of VOD for some time; for a long time it had a vested interest in Time Warner cable; that division was spun off earlier this year.



Ted Kennedy, Internet pioneer

Posted in digital media by Diane on August 26, 2009

kennedysiteWho would you have guessed was the first Congressman to have a website? Al Gore, right? Nope, it was actually fellow Harvard alum, and decidedly old school pol Teddy Kennedy. This is my favorite factoid yet to surface in the wake of Kennedy’s death late last night.

Chris Casey, Kennedy’s system administrator in the early ’90s, explains the backstory on Matthew Yglesias’s site.  Apparently, I am not the only one to marvel at this ancient web artifact. The grayscale background! Early Netscape browser! BBS systems and ftp! Check out the comments if you, too, remember those days.

Casey wrote a book about the efforts to get Congress online, “The Hill on the Net: Congress Enters the Information Age”; he uploaded this 1994 screen grab to Flickr a few years ago.

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We’re fine with clips only, YT says. Oh really?

Posted in digital media, Gossip Girl, TV, Warner, YouTube by Diane on August 20, 2009

gossipgirlBlame it on my head cold if you like, but last night I misread news about YouTube’s deal with Warners to include full-length episodes of “Gossip Girl,” and was simultaneously impressed and pleased. Impressed because the CW has been so stingy with online streaming of “GG” and pleased because, well, I’m ridiculously fond of the show. Heck, maybe I just wanted it to be so.

Further reading today dashed those hopes, alas. But what really got me was YouTube’s insistence that it’s just fine with clips of Warner TV shows or news programs for now. Jordan Hoffner, YouTube’s affable dealmaker, told the NYT that the vid-sharing site is very happy the conglom is starting small, er, short, noting that is, after all, YouTube’s core business. “The important thing is to get them on the platform,” he said.

However, it’s not clear to me how useful those clips tend to be. Sure, they work as promotional devices — and they don’t cannibalize TV on DVD sales or iTunes downloads. This is why studios willing give the Google-owned site access to them. But the site has been beefing up longform video to entice advertisers, who tend to prefer Hulu.

I examined this conundrum a while back for Variety, in a story on Hulu’s rapid rise, and another on Google’s Hollywood charm offensive.

Photo: the CW