MediaFile

Bonnie and Yonni — Disney dynamic duo, immortalized

Bonnie and Yonni are unlikely to go down in the history books as among the nimblest of partners-in-crime. But they might have earned a prominent place among the most candid.

Accoding to U.S. prosecutors, Bonnie Hoxie — an assistant to Disney’s PR chief — and boyfried Yonni Sebbag hatched a less-than-elaborate scheme in which she gets her hands on confidential and potentially stock market-moving material   –  Disney financial information — and passes it on to Sebbag.  Like the Wall Street equivalent of a pusher, Sebbag set out to construct a network of hedge-fund consumers for that info who could  then profit off of it, according to court documents filed.

Set for life. Easy.

Thing is, on the day of the alleged crime (the release of Disney’s second quarter earnings), Hoxie — according to prosecutors — sent messages to Sebbag from her work email account and from her personal cellphone.  Several of the hedge funds contacted by Sebbag — perhaps spooked by the ever-widening fallout from the Galleon insider trading probe — went straight to the Feds. Sebbag himself got fooled by an undercover FBI agent into a face-to-face meeting in New York during which money allegedly changed hands. He told the agent he’d suspected others that had contacted him of being Feds (he was right there).

According to legal filings, Sebbag in his letter to hedge funds made no bones about what he was trying to do.

“I have access to Disney’s quarterly earnings report before its release on 05/03/10. I am willing to share this information for a fee that we can determine later,” a rather frank Sebbag wrote in his email, according to prosecutors.

Hulu’s rise continues…

Hulu, the video site owned by NBC, News Corp and Disney, is safely ensconced in the No.2 most viewed video site in the U.S. according to latest February data from comScore. And Hulu is making progress not just in the quantity of views but in the quality of views: Users watched a record amount of video per person during the month. The average Hulu users watched 23.3 videos  at 2.4 hours of video per viewer. This compares with the average online video length at 4.3 minutes.

It’s all very promising for the powers at NBC Universal, and its new owners at Comcast, as well as News Corp and Disney, who have been reported to be considering charging to view some of the videos on Hulu. One imagines they’ll probably add more cable content as part of the TV Everywhere initiaitve.

It’ll be more interesting to see how Hulu’s viewer numbers perform in March as it will be the first month after Viacom pulled its Comedy Central videos, including the hugely popular Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Our bet is that Hulu’s continuing growth will offset most of the losses from viewers of Jon Stewart.

Live blog from the Reuters Global Media Summit

Reuters reporters will be sending live updates from interviews with guests including Disney’s Anne Sweeney, IAC’s Barry Diller, WPP’s Martin Sorrell, Sirius XM’s Mel Karmazin and more.

“Iron Man” writer: Disney, Don’t ‘castrate’ Marvel heroes


Comic book artist Bob Layton co-wrote Marvel Entertainment’s iconic Iron Man titles in the 80′s, with partner David Michelinie. The duo recreated Iron Man’s Tony Stark into the alcoholic and playboy businessman that caught on notoriously well with readers.

You have to wonder what the reaction will be in the Disney cafeteria to creative types like Layton. So Reuters reporter Eric Yep asked Layton, who now works freelance, what he thinks about the putting the House of Mouse in charge of the Hulk and the Human Torch.

I would hope that while some of Marvel’s library lends itself naturally to Disney’s sensibilities, they’ll be wise enough not to castrate the entire cast of characters in some blanket policy.

Is Google’s message on YouTube starting to get through?

YouTube executives and spinmeisters have been pushing back more aggressively at the perception that the video site is a great big drain on Google’s bottomline, probably  losing $200 million to $500 million a year by some estimates. These execs say that hundreds of major advertisers are taking spots on YouTube against “hundreds of millions” of video views every week.

The problem with this is the lack of precise details. How much revenue is YouTube generating from these monetized videos exactly (even approximately)? And how much does it cost to stream and store those hundreds of millions of videos every week? Google and YouTube decline to provide any numbers other than to say things are moving in the right direction. Wall Street and investors are yet to be convinced.

Goldman Sachs analyst James Mitchell is the latest to have a shot at a respectable estimate for YouTube. He says it will generate around $300 million in 2009. He also thinks the best is yet to come from YouTube — and that Google will see some benefit.

Is Comcast on the prowl for Big Media ?

Comcast made a bold $54 billion bid for Walt Disney Co. in 2004. It failed — but there are those who wonder today if the cable provider might be considering a play for another media giant.

Reuters’ Yinka Adegoke takes a look at this idea in a story that recounts the speculation about Comcast’s desire to be a major player in Big Media.

Stockholders, who have watched the value of Comcast shares shrink to historical lows, might not be so thrilled about such a move.

Disney hikes theme park prices — necessity or confidence?

Magic, Disney’s way, just got a little more expensive, as it does every year around this time when Walt Disney World raises its admissions prices.******WIth its prices generally tracking the national economic exuberance or lack thereof, the fact that Disney raised prices this week for, among other things, its “Magic Your Way” multi-day tickets, appears to reflect expectations for some recovery at least in consumer spending somewhere on the horizon.******With the recession still weighing on family vacations, Disney hiked the resort’s most popular multi-day passes by a relatively gentle 2.5 percent to 5.3 percent this week, compared with a rise of more than 16 percent in the boom year of 2006, according to data compiled by Pali Capital analyst Rich Greenfield.******This price hike, whatever its size, may simply be aimed at mitigating a 7 percent lag in hotel bookings at its domestic parks in the current quarter, as well as margin-gouging discounts at its Walt Disney World hotels, which boosted attendance but saw revenue drop by 9 percent last quarter.******Disney CEO Bob Iger himself expressed a glimmer of optimism on a conference call to analysts  last week, saying he say signs of ”economic stabilization”, but would not commit to ending the hotel discounts that have been propping up park attendance since last year’s market crash.******A spokesman for Disney Parks and Resorts said the price increases resulted from the company’s “continuous monitoring” of park prices relative to other forms of entertainment like football games, skiiing or concerts – and by that calculus, a park visit, at $79 for a one-day, one-park adult ticket was still “great value for the money.”******So if having fun is getting pricier again, that’s a good thing. Right?

Sun Valley: When will YouTube make a profit?

That question has got louder and louder from investors and Wall Street analysts concerned that YouTube owner Google is racking huge profit-hindering costs to be the free online video platform for the world. It seems Google’s top guys don’t know the answer either — or if they do, they’re choosing not to share it with reporters on Thursday.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt told a media briefing at Sun Valley that he believes YouTube, which his company spent $1.65 billion to acquire three years ago, will come good thanks to its recent launch of new advertising formats such as pay-to-promote and pre-roll ads. “We’re optimisic that YouTube will be a strong revenue business for us because of these products,” he told reporters.

But the problem is investors are more concerned with the huge costs involved in streaming millions of videos globally everyday with a very small percentage of them covered by advertising. In other words when will YouTube make money from its dominance?

Thursday media highlights

Here are some of the day’s top stories in the media industry:

New York Times Asks Subscribers: Is It Wrong to Charge for Online Content? (Poynter)
Bill Mitchell writes: “The New York Times is testing a price point of $5 a month for access to nytimes.com, with a 50 percent discount for print subscribers. The Times e-mailed a survey to print subscribers Thursday afternoon inviting their reaction to that pricing plan and asking a range of questions about online pricing.”

Murdoch papers paid £1m to gag phone-hacking victims (Guardian)
“The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills,” writes Nick Davies.
UK police won’t reopen Murdoch paper phonetap case (Reuters)

A is for abattoir; Z is for ZULU: All in the Handbook of Journalism (Reuters)
Dean Wright writes: “The handbook is the guidance Reuters journalists live by — and we’re proud of it. Until now, it hasn’t been freely available to the public. In the early 1990s, a printed handbook was published and in 2006 the Reuters Foundation published a relatively short PDF online that gave some basic guidance to reporters. But it’s only now that we’re putting the full handbook online.”

Monday media highlights

Here are some of the day’s stories on the media industry:

‘Tonight Show’ Audience a Decade Younger (NYT)
“In Mr. O’Brien’s first month as host, the median age of “Tonight Show” viewers has fallen by a decade — to 45 from 55, a startling shift in such a short time. This audience composition means advertisers can now address almost exclusively young viewers on “Tonight,” and NBC is already contemplating a shift in how it sells the show,” writes Bill Carter.

Springer’s daily Welt dreams of going international – again (Reuters)

“German publisher Axel Springer plans to launch an international weekly edition of its flagship daily, Die Welt, in a 48-page tabloid format starting February 2010. Springer is still mulling distribution options but the paper will likely be available from airlines,” writes Nicola Leske.

Just the Messenger: Mediaite.com Focuses on Celebrity of Journalism (WP)
On the newly launched website, Howard Kurtz writes: “Mediaite paints with a colorful palette, even if its hues will appeal mainly to journalists and those who obsess over them. By hiring bloggers who worked for Mediabistro and the Huffington Post, Abrams has put together a sassy critique of media missteps and foibles, an overall take not driven mainly by ideology.”