MediaFile

Sun Valley: Jane Goodall and the primary primates

John MaloneIt’s day three of the Sun Valley media conference and the event has started to feel like a Jane Goodall documentary, in which we’re Jane and the moguls are the apes who have become comfortable letting us observe and record their movements. Several media executives groggily making their way to the morning’s first session (scheduled to kick off at 7:30), stopped to chat with the throng of press waiting to greet them.

Liberty Media Chairman John Malone voiced concerns about the economy for nearly 10 minutes while NBC’s Jeff Zucker, who once warned of the risks to media companies of trading analog dollars for digital pennies and later upped the exchange rate to dimes, posited the idea that the media industry was now within reach of collecting digital quarters. It’s change we can believe in.

Later on Thursday, Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt (who for reasons unknown has been toting a camera with a beefy zoom lens throughout the event, even after-hours at the bar on Wednesday evening) will hold his traditional Sun Valley press roundtable, possibly with co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who are here.

As for Steve Jobs, it appears that he is a no-show.

And while hoops superstar Lebron James mingled with the executives at Sun Valley last year, he will probably end up overshadowing the gathering of media bigwigs from afar this year when he announces his choice of a new home team on Thursday night.

(John Malone does his media thing at Sun Valley. Photo: Reuters)

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.

from Shop Talk:

Auto show-Super Bowl TV ads don’t score for Mazda

nfl1Advertising during the Super Bowl doesn't score for Mazda.

While the Japanese automaker plans to boost its marketing budget this year as it launches the Mazda 2 small car, running TV ads during the National Football League's championship game in February won't happen.

"You're never going to see us on Super Bowl," Mazda North American chief Jim O'Sullivan said at the Detroit auto show. "We're not going to spend that kind of money on that kind of property because, yeah, you get a lot of impressions and stuff out there, but the fact of the matter is, do you really get to the target you really wanted? That's more of a feel-good ad for a lot of people."

O'Sullivan said it was a "given" that Mazda's media budget will be up in the first quarter, as well as for the year, although he didn't say by how much. He said Mazda, which expects its U.S. sales to possibly rise faster than the overall market this year, will spend more on social media and digital advertising this year as it tries to reach younger buyers for its late summer launch of the new 2 model.

from DealZone:

Comcast the Barbarian?

Conan O'Brien could well be headed to Fox after making it clear to NBC that he will not go graciously into the later night. But a channel-changing question that is making the rounds has more to do with what the drama unfolding between O'Brien and former Tonight Show host Jay Leno says about NBC and its agreed joint venture with Comcast. If nothing else, the lack of replacement programming for the slot Leno is vacating, and the purported profitability NBC still enjoyed by having a cheaper, single-star variety show in a traditionally pricey prime-time slot, raise an obvious question -- why the rush?

John Hudson at the AtlanticWire does a nice job of collecting some thoughts on pressure that was probably building from Comcast, from angry affiliates who wanted Leno and his show's crummy ratings out of that vital pre-news slot, to improving PR.

"Though NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Gaspin said the Comcast deal has nothing to do with the decision, pundits say Gaspin has 'every incentive to show improvement' before his new bosses at Comcast takeover," Hudson says.

from DealZone:

Comcast: the antitrust sequel and the M&A trilogy

If you were all twitchy with anticipation about Comcast's NBC Universal deal, just wait for parts two and three! The gathering storm over the merger in Washington and other political power points not only promises to be more riveting, but the rights to part three are already being sold to a wave of media mergers hanging on the outcome.

As Anupreeta Das reports, media dealmaking could pick up if regulators impose minimal conditions on the NBC Universal transaction. But U.S. regulatory scrutiny is expected to be heavy, and the deal could take more than a year to be cleared. The LegalTimes blog notes that even the beauty contest among regulators hoping to oversee the process promises to have many twists and turns.

That might sound like a long wait, but it's not likely to stop M&A lawyers from booking lunches and logging hours to get the balls in place to roll if the deal goes through. That kind or pressure could also work its way behind the scenes in Washington, where lobbyists will be armed with the argument that the merger will save capitalism as we know it by reigniting the dealmaking powderkeg of the early part of this century.

from DealZone:

No longer just a dumb pipe

Comcast's deal to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric should put to rest fears at the cable operator that King Content will kill its business. But even if it becomes a thoroughfare of programming genius, the new venture will still have to convince a skeptical marketplace. The train wreck of Time Warner-AOL threw the idea of new media into financial purgatory.

Just how the venture will wring savings from its disparate businesses and avoid suffocating regulatory scrutiny are issues that could also create Comcastic headaches.  Robert MacMillan points out on our Mediafile blog, with a sensible dose of skepticism, that the new venture is affirming its commitment to local news, in effect, promising to keep the garden hoses pumping even as it primes for a media gusher with big-ticket programming.

Still, while making a new media juggernaut could still turn out to be a pipe dream, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts (pictured above) cannot be faulted for allowing his company to get stuck in a dumb pipe nightmare.

The fall TV season, beyond Jay Leno

What’s that? Jay Leno is moving to prime-time? You don’t say!

Frankly, it’s hard to remember the last time there was such hubbub about a TV show. It was, after all, the cover story in Time magazine. Not to be outdone, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, AP, and probably every local news outlet between New York and Hollywood had a story about the talk show host — more often than not raising the question of whether he’s going to save network TV.

(You’ve got to give it to the public-relations machine on this one. They really worked the story. Of course, their spinning was augmented by a huge marketing effort. Stuart Elliott of the New York Times today estimated that NBC put out more than $10 million in promoting the show).

But there is more to the fall TV season than Jay Leno. The media buyers and planners over at  RPA offer a useful road map to the season in a recent report.

Tribune: Slow train coming

Bankrupt publisher and TV broadcaster Tribune Co filed for bankruptcy last December, and it’s looking increasingly like next December might be the first time we see what the new company will look like. Here is what the company’s Chicago Tribune newspaper reported Tuesday morning:

The parent company of the Chicago Tribune is scheduled to deliver a plan Aug. 4 but wants to extend that deadline to Nov. 30.

Citing the complex nature of the case, Tribune said in a filing it needs more time to build consensus around a plan. It also said the outcome of the pending sale of the Chicago Cubs could have a “material impact” on the plan.

Good days for cable TV

A year ago, the big story around Emmy nominations was the acclaim showered on cable programs like “Mad Men” and “Damages.” A quick glance at today’s nominations indicates little has changed.

Just look at the best drama category, where Fox’s “House” and ABC’s “Lost” will face stiff competition from cable’s “Big Love” (HBO), “Mad Men” (AMC), “Damages” (FX), and “Breaking Bad” (AMC).

While the Emmy awards aren’t everything — ratings are still the holy grail — they certainly don’t hurt. Particularly when it comes to cable networks, which have built a reputation for developing more sophisticated, bolder programs than the broadcast counterparts.