MediaFile

Comcast, NBC Universal pledge support for local news

Comcast has finally unveiled its formal announcement that it plans to take control of NBC Universal from General Electric. Public interest groups and various U.S. government types have been tutting and clucking over whether this media mega-deal would be against the national interest, and few doubt that Congress and the administration will want to review this plan in loving detail.

To that extent, Comcast released a memo on Thursday outlining its public commitments. There are a bunch in here, but this old-school journalist wants to point out above all else that the company said it’s committed to preserving and enriching “the output of local news, local public affairs and other public interest programming on NBC O&O (“owned and operated”) stations.”

That’s a mighty strong commitment to make. Let’s hope that it doesn’t do what many radio and TV stations have done for years to satisfy their government-mandated public interest requirements and stick all that stuff on the air at 5 a.m. Sunday morning. Also, how much more money will they provide?

Here, meanwhile, are some of the commitments, straight from the memo. Print them out and tape them to your refrigerator so you can hold Comcast’s feet to the fire later if things don’t work out as planned. I marked parts in bold:

    NBC has a proud history in broadcasting with both NBC and Telemundo. Notwithstanding the turbulence in the current media marketplace and the ongoing threats to the business model of a national broadcast network, the combined company remains committed to continuing to provide free over-the-air television through its 0&0 stations and through local broadcast affiliates across the nation. As we negotiate and renew agreements with our broadcast affiliates, we will continue our cooperative dialogue with our affiliates toward a business model to sustain free over-the-air service that can be workable in the evolving economic and technological environment. The NBC owned-and-operated broadcast stations (“0&OS “) have a demonstrated record of quality local programming in major markets around the country. Comcast also has demonstrated its commitment to local programming, including sports and public affairs, and in providing support for public, educational, and government (PEG) access programming. We want to use the combined resources of NBC and Comcast to strengthen localism We intend to preserve and enrich the output of local news, local public affairs, and other public interest programming on NBC 0&0 stations. Since NBCU was acquired by GE in 1986, the owners have abided by a policy (summarized in a filing with the FCC) of ensuring that the content of NBC’s news and public affairs programming would not be influenced by the non-media interests of General Electric. The combined company will continue these policies with respect to the news programming organizations of all NBCU networks and stations, and will extend these policies to the potential influence of each of the owners. To ensure such independence, the combined companies will continue in effect the position and authority of the NBC News ombudsman to address any issues that may arise. Comcast and NBCU have strong track records in children’s programming and children’s issues. The combined company will make an expanded commitment to meeting the viewing needs of children, and the needs of parents to better control their family’s viewing. We reaffirm our commitment to provide clear and understandable on-screen TV Ratings information for all covered programming across all networks (broadcast and cable) of the combined company. We intend to expand the availability of over-the-air programming to the Hispanic community utilizing a portion of the digital broadcast spectrum of the Telemundo O&O’s (as well as offering it to Telemundo affiliates) to enhance the current programming of Tel em undo and Mun2. As a cable operator, Comcast is committed to dealing fairly with all non-affiliated video programmers with whom we do business, and to promoting program diversity. Nearly six out of every seven channels carried by Comcast Cable systems will still be networks unaffiliated with Comcast upon the completion of this transaction. We plan to honor all of NBCU’s collective bargaining agreements. We respect NBCU’s
    existing labor-management relationships and expect them to continue following the
    closing of this transaction.

from Summit Notebook:

A Barry Diller sampler from the Reuters Global Media Summit

Interviewing IAC chief and media mogul Barry Diller nearly always means that you'll get more quotable quotes than you can stuff into one article. He didn't disappoint at this year's Reuters Global Media Summit on Wednesday. Here are thoughts from Diller on a range of subjects from mergers and acquisitions and Comcast to AOL, MGM and marriage.

Q: What are you going to do with the cash on the balance sheet? What's the focus? Are you still being cautious?

A: "I'd say we still are. It's definitely a looming problem. The only thing worse than spending cash stupidly is essentially not to put it down at all, not to do anything."

from Summit Notebook:

Daily Beast staff ‘happy as clams,’ says Barry Diller

The journalists and staff who work at The Daily Beast don't look at life like you other sad-sack scribes out there who are watching your job market wash out to sea with the ebb tide. In fact, they are happy in a particularly mollusk-like way.

"They're as happy as clams," said Barry Diller, chief executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp, which is financing the online news outlet with its editor, Tina Brown. "They wake up every morning filled with possibility."

That's because they are not working at sinking-ship news outlets like most of the rest of their colleagues in mainstream U.S. journalism.

from Summit Notebook:

Electronic Arts CEO straightens mom out at Thanksgiving

Restructuring: You shouldn't be afraid to do it, even more than once if you have to, and even if your own family doesn't understand it. Just ask John Riccitiello, chief executive of videogame publisher Electronic Arts. Here's what he said at the Reuters Global Media Summit on Tuesday:

A company that doesn't restructure in the face of that dramatic transformation, I don't know what they're doing. GM had a great decade in the '70s building large cars... They didn't restructure in the face of what was obvious. The music industry kept telling us they wanted to buy albums, and then they tried to sue us. It didn't serve them well. ... We look at the future and we are aggressively embracing it... .

That means taking the big net loss at times, even though as Riccitiello stressed, that was on a "GAAP" basis. That means the bottom line. Still, media businesses tend to look at profit before various charges (often expressed as operating profit or other terms that are comparable to Wall Street analysts' expectations and are said to offer a true picture of a media business's health), and executives sometimes get irritated when you insist on reporting their bottom line performance. Why? Because a massive loss from a writedown or a restructuring shows up in the bottom line, but it is not always a sign of the business's fundamental health.

from Summit Notebook:

ABC: Don’t you know that I’m still in love with news?

I asked ABC TV chief Anne Sweeney at our Global Media Summit on Monday whether the nightly news broadcast will go away someday soon. Everyone who follows the broadcast TV business has wondered this at some time or another, particularly as fewer people tune in.

Here's a bit of that conversation, where I got Sweeney to firmly say... not much. If you're in a rush, the general message appears to be:

    News is changing along with the changing times We believe in our news operation Budgets may change (likely for the worse), but news is worth paying for We're more than our evening news broadcast (where Charles Gibson is ceding the anchor slot to Diane Sawyer), but we're not going to say one way or the other whether we'll keep it going. Me: News operation is often a big cost. Some say that evening news is losing its relevance as people get their news elsewhere. Is it possible that ABC would get rid of its evening newscast?

Sweeney: I think world news is not just about 6:30. I think World News is about being ready to provide the news whenever it happens. It's not just limited to that half hour. It's actually on all day. The ABC broadcast day opens, the network day opens with Good Morning America. ...  So we always have the ability to come in with breaking news. ... And then shows like 20/20 provide us with an opportunity to go a bit broader. And then of course there's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, which gives us the Washington beat, which again can appear in the other shows throughout the week. So it's really a manner of managing the assets rather than focusing on (the 6:30 news)

from Summit Notebook:

ABC TV chief to daughter: You *will* watch television

When I went to college in 1991, I begged my parents to buy me a small television for my dorm room (They wouldn't let me work during my first year of college, so I had no money). How things have changed in 18 years!

I learned how much they changed at the first day of the Reuters Global Media Summit. Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, was talking to us about how quickly the Internet and mobile technology are changing the way that we look at news and entertainment. That led to her divertimento into campus life:

You come to realize very quickly that all these platforms are very different. Sometimes they're being used or accessed by different demographics.

Rupert Murdoch, the smartest man in newspapers?

I wrote an analysis on Monday about the possibility that News Corp might take its news search results away from Google and list them on Microsoft’s Bing search engine instead. My conclusion: This one isn’t such a hot idea. Then I read John Gapper’s Financial Times item about how it *could* be a hot idea.

To recap, here’s how it would work.

    Microsoft would pay News Corp for the privilege of being the only search engine to carry results from papers including the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and Times of London. Microsoft thinks it can get more people to use its search engine, drawing them away from Google. News Corp could punish Google, in essence, for making tons of money from the ads it serves alongside news search results. Why, the thinking goes, should Google make a bunch of money off the news that we produce and our newsrooms go starving and our ad sales tank? Other newspaper publishers, if they see Murdoch making it work, might think the same thing and abandon Google en masse.

I and many others wrote that it would be a gamble at best. What if people don’t care that much about news? If the 70 percent of the search market that uses Google discovers  the news is absent, will they switch search engines? Scientists of misanthropy like me say it’s unlikely. If they don’t find it, they won’t seek it.

Gapper at the FT has another way of looking at it:

In effect, (Murdoch) would be swapping his revenue stream from online advertising with a payment from Microsoft for drawing visitors to Bing. That suggests one of two things: either, as a lot of digital evangelists have suggested, he is getting old and does not “get” the internet, or he has looked at the figures and decided that Google traffic is not worth very much. Personally, I think the latter is more plausible. …

Layoffs hit The Washington Post after BusinessWeek, AP

Several media reporters wrote on Twitter on Thursday that this was one of the worst weeks in journalism, and it’s hard to argue with them. BusinessWeek is canning a third of its staff as Bloomberg gets ready to buy the magazine. The Associated Press is laying off 90 people as part of its effort to cut payroll costs by 10 percent this year.

And now The Washington Post is laying off staff, sources told me on Friday, and a spokeswoman confirmed.

The Post has cut an unknown number of washingtonpost.com workers, the website folks who until now have worked separately at the dot-com headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, across the river from the Post’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. One source told me up to 10 are going. That’s not as big a number as other places you’ve read about lately, but it’s still a painful cut. (Disclosure: I worked for The Washington Post Co. from 1998 to 2005)

Top Rupert Murdoch adviser learns meaning of ‘deadline’

Top Rupert Murdoch adviser Gary Ginsberg is leaving News Corp after 11 years, the company said on Monday.

It must have hit New York Times reporter Tim Arango’s e-mail inbox first (his writeup appeared about five minutes before I got the press release).

Here is what he wrote about Ginsberg, 47, the second senior executive to leave News Corp in recent months, following Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin:

Talking with Thomson Reuters chief about print

Covering Thomson Reuters Corp for almost two years has taught me that people like to cast my company in a recurring role in media deal parlor games. Now that the company’s arch-rival Bloomberg LP will buy BusinessWeek magazine from McGraw-Hill, lots of my pals in the media world are wondering: Will Thomson Reuters buy a mainstream news or business news magazine? Or newspaper? Why not Forbes? Why not the Financial Times?

Keep in mind that Thomson Reuters likes to remind people when they ask these questions that Thomson Corp, before buying Reuters, got out of its Canadian newspaper empire for a reason. (See below)

I asked our chief executive, Tom Glocer, a question along these lines on a Thursday phone call he had with reporters to discuss the company’s third-quarter financial results.