Back to basics at Time Warner

time-warner-sign.jpgTime Warner Inc is slimming down, concentrating on the content side of the business (forgive the jargon, it’s just that’s what movies, magazines, TV programming are called these days).

The media giant has just unveiled its much-anticipated plans to spin off Time Warner Cable Inc, resulting in the complete legal and structural separation of the two companies.

Plans call for Time Warner to exchange its 12.4 percent interest in TW NY Cable Holding Inc, a subsidiary of Time Warner Cable, for 80 million newly issued shares of Time Warner Cable’s Class A common stock. Time Warner will pay a one time $10.9 billion dividend.

But financial details aside, what Time Warner has in mind is appeasing shareholders frustrated by the company’s stock price, and those calling for the company to do something with its AOL Internet unit. Presumably, with the cable plans out of the way, there will be more time to talk about AOL around the executive suite.

It’s the first big, splashy decision by Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner’s chief executive, and will have the company getting back to its roots — namely, the business of entertaining consumers on the screen and in pages of magazines. It should be interesting to watch.

Microsoft searching for answers

microsoft.jpgThe secret is out: What Microsoft wants is Yahoo’s search business. Reuters has reported that the deal now under discussion would have…

1). Microsoft buy the search operation.

2). Yahoo sell off its Asian assets.

3). Microsoft buy a chunk of what remains of Yahoo.

Microsoft and Yahoo representatives declined to comment on the Reuters report. But clearly these talks are all about search.

And that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, search is crushing all other types of advertising in terms of growth and Google is threatening to run away with market share, leaving Microsoft and all others in the dust.

At Fox, two new dramas; half as many commercials

peter.jpgTired of all those commercials? Don’t have a DVR? Fox reckons it has something for you. Forget the name (they’re calling it Remote Free TV) and concentrate on the concept: a big tentpole drama with half the normal commercials and promotional time.

Fox will first try out this idea with “Fringe,” an FBI, mystery, science-fiction, thriller, supernatural drama from J.J. Abrams that’s rolling out this fall.  Come midseason, it will do the commercial shrinking thing with ”Dollhouse” from Joss Whedon, who was behind teen supernatural hit “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori — after calling his network scrappy and populist — told advertisers at the upfront that he refused to let things get boring. “We’re the number one network. We’re the rebel innovators.”

Cutting through the clutter at OPA’s Global Forum

The economy might be in trouble but advertisers and publishers at the Online Publisher Association’s Forum for the Future were still upbeat today about the prospects for online advertising.

“The first thing people need to do is to decaffeinate some of those expectations (about the economic outlook),” Rapt CEO Tom Chavez said during a State of Advertising panel discussion at the OPA’s meeting in London.

As more people move online, the market will grow despite economic doldrums. Carline Little, CEO of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive conceded a “recession is going to hit any advertising-supported media but as people move online, we’ll see increases – but not as big as we saw four or five years ago. ”

ABC upfront has a little fun with Kimmel

kimmel.jpgMuch has been made about ABC, Fox, NBC and CBS taking a low-key approach to their upfront presentations this year. Still, ABC brought out Jimmy Kimmel for a few jokes in a reminder of what these events were like in past years.

Here are a few of Kimmel’s better lines for advertisers:

- This year, as you’ve noticed, we scaled back a lot. There’s no party, no food. ABC may be the worst date ever. We expect you to put out and we’re not even buying you a drink.

- We’ve decided to concentrate less on the afterparty and more on shows that aren’t ‘Cavemen.’

The yin and yang of TV ad pricing

shaw.jpgWhy have prime-time network TV advertising prices been so strong in the scatter market — up in the double digits — after a rather lackluster upfront in 2007?

ABC’s head of sales, Mike Shaw, offered a few answers for the discrepancy between the shorter term scatter market and the longer term upfronts.  But he said a lot of it can be blamed on networks selling advertising too cheaply in last year’s upfront.

Shaw said he’d rather see a far smaller gap in prices between the two markets. “I’d like to see less of a swing in the pendulum between the upfront market and the scatter,” he told reporters after ABC unveiled a very modest 2008-09 schedule.

Living the NBCU “Experience”

rock-center.jpgInstead of a big, crazy upfront presentation at Radio City, NBC Universal this year invited advertisers and media to its Experience at 30 Rockefeller Center. Here’s a guided tour:

First off, you’re greeted by a TV screen featuring clips from NBC stars like Tina Fey and Brian Williams, who make some jokes and ham it up and basically tell you to move along, which you were really going to do anyway since you’re just standing there in the hallway.

There really isn’t a lot to see in the first few rooms (promotional videos, etc) except that walking around are a bunch of people dressed in all black with, if you can picture it, video screens on their chests.

Microsoft-Yahoo: Google ‘hearts’ Yahoo’s search ads

schmidt.jpgAs the Microsoft-Yahoo will-they-won’t-they? saga drags on, Google’s role in any future talks becomes more apparent.

On Thursday Google CEO Eric Schmidt said a two-week trial selling search advertisements on rival Yahoo last month had given the companies good reason to discuss cooperation, but there was no deal yet.

That isn’t great news for some in the online advertising world.  As commentators have pointed out, a Google-Yahoo partnership (Yahoogle? Yoogle? Gahoo?) could concentrate too much power with just one team. This has led to some folk to paint Microsoft as the little guy. Yes, the same Microsoft, which is a Monopoly 101 case study for first-year economics college students.

Viacom rocks with Rock Band

Viacom Chairman Redstone holds $20 bill out to photographers as he poses with wife Fortunato at 80th annual Academy Awards in HollywoodYoutube video we wish existed: Sumner Redstone rocking out on “Rock Band” to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” or Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

In the meantime we can assume that Viacom’s octogenarian executive chairman is rockin’ today after the media conglomerate said its first quarter profit rose 33 percent on strong sales of the “Rock Band” video game and higher advertising revenue at MTV Networks. Revenue rose 15 percent to $3.1 billion, beating analysts’ estimate of $3 billion.

It gets even better in the Viacom executive suite, at least for today — its film “Iron Man” kicks off the summer blockbuster season to positive reviews, including that of tough Wall Street Journal reviewer Joe Morgenstern who said it had “exhilarating” action and “scintillating” comedy.

Advertising budgets: What’s the deal there?

scissors.jpgQuarter after quarter, analysts and the financial press keep pressing advertising executives about the economy and spending. For good reason, too, since corporations often take scissors to advertising budgets during downturns.

Thing is, the chief executives of the big ad holding companies so far have given very much the same answer during conference calls and interviews: everyone is worried, nobody is cutting spending.

Interpublic CEO Michael Roth is no exception. Here’s what he said on Wednesday about the economy/spending issue during his company’s earnings call: