MediaFile

Wednesday media highlights

News about the media industry:

Netflix looks to future but still going strong with DVD rentals (USA Today)
“Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings doesn’t think his 58 distribution centers are in immediate danger of becoming obsolete, but he knows that day will come. He believes DVD rentals have four to nine years to keep growing, despite inroads in Internet delivery of movies to set-top TV boxes and other video-on-demand options,” writes Jefferson Graham.

Is the bell tolling for Clear Channel? (San Antonio Express-News)
David Hendricks writes: “Analysts believe Clear Channel, now with about $22 billion in total debts, will have trouble making scheduled payments later this year. The company, already down to about 800 stations from its peak of about 1,200 stations, either will have to start selling stations itself or go into bankruptcy, where lenders will put stations up for sale.”

Foes No More, Ad Agencies Unite With Internet Firms (NYT)
Eric Pfanner writes: “With consumers spending more and more time online, analysts say Internet companies and ad agencies have no choice but to work together to develop ways to make money from digital media.”

In other news:

Murdoch on newspapers (and other things)

News Corp Chief Executive showed up for his latest interview on the Fox Business Network (which he owns) on Monday. Here is a transcript of some of his remarks. He covered a lot of ground, from tonight’s union concession vote at The Boston Globe to the future of newspapers and the inclusion of software on computers sold in China that will block access to certain websites. We are providing excerpts — we trimmed for length, most notably excising his comments on healthcare and taxes (We know it’s the Internet, but we had to shorten it up a bit. You can see or read the whole thing here.

On FOX Interactive possibly looking at job cuts:

“It’s too early to talk about job cuts. … We’ve put new management in there, they’ve been there three weeks and they’re making a close examination of it and they’ll no doubt set some new directions, strengthen other very strong parts of it, and you know, the advertising is at least double what Facebook has and it’s in pretty good shape. But there will be, I’m sure, changes with the new management.”

On Chase Carey assuming the titles of deputy chairman, president and chief operating officer July 1:
“No, we’re not making any commitments on that [being an heir apparent] at all. Chase is coming in to be my partner and right-hand, he was with us for 17 years before. I think he’s like coming home.”

News Corp shareholder fails to make the cut

Today’s important lesson for shareholders: If you want to try to change the way things work at News Corp, you’d better make sure your paperwork is in order.

News Corp publicized in a government filing on Thursday an effort by investor Kenneth Steiner to force the media conglomerate to change the way it counts shareholder votes. Steiner outlined the proposal in a letter to News Corp that asked that his proposal be included. Here is what he said:

RESOLVED, Shareholders request that our board take the steps necessary so that each shareholder voting requirement in our charter and bylaws that calls for a greater than simple majority vote be changed to a majority of the votes cast for and against related proposals in compliance with applicable laws. This includes each 65% shareholder voting provision in our charter and/or bylaws.

Murdoch says no to U.S. government newspaper bailout

News Corp Chief Executive and newspaper empire builder Rupert Murdoch showed up on the Fox Business Network (which he owns) on Thursday to talk about the future, or lack thereof, of newspapers.

Two key points: News Corp’s papers, which in the United States include The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and the Ottaway chain of local dailies, will not take government money to help them stay afloat; and there is private financing for media companies out there. Here’s what Murdoch said on those topics, and more. (Thanks for FBN for this transcript)

On how newspapers will make money in the future
“Newspapers will make money the way we make it now – from our readers, from our advertisers. Newspapers may look very different. Instead of an analog product printed on paper, you may get it on a panel which will be mobile, which will receive the whole newspaper over the air, and be updated every hour or two. All of these things are possible and some of the greatest electronics companies in the world are working on this right now. I think it’s two or three years away before they get introduced in a big way and then it will probably take ten to fifteen years for the public to swing over.” …

Dow Jones cuts back on benefits

The Wall Street Journal has been making plenty of hay about its rising circulation and the growing number of people online who are using the site, but parent company News Corp is cutting costs as the whole media business suffers from the recession. To that end, here is Dow Jones Chief Executive Les Hinton’s Monday memo on some benefits cutbacks that the company is instituting.

Dear colleagues:

Many companies are resetting their benefits in reaction to the economic challenges of the moment. Dow Jones has felt these same challenges and our business is far from immune to them. Unlike other media companies we have been able to avoid making changes driven by short-term necessity.

What we have done over the past year-and-a-half is to undertake a deep review of our entire benefits program. That review is complete, and today we are announcing a major change in our retirement programs. We are modernizing our approach to retirement savings and aligning our program with the market, News Corp. and our view of the future for Dow Jones.

Murdoch toys with idea of Kindle-like reader

Where will the mogul strike next? Doesn’t seem like he’s yearning right now for The New York Times, which is doing battle with a guild that doesn’t want to give up lifetime job guarantees of 190-odd Boston Globe staffers.

Instead, New York Post’s Peter Lauria reports, Rupert Murdoch has set his sights on building a Kindle-like device that will deliver content from News Corp publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and the NY Post. The device would also offer content from TV shows and movies that come from the News Corp stable. Murdoch sees it as a way of charging for content on the Web, rather than giving it away free as much of the publishing industry has (which, needless to say, is a big source of current troubles).

The global team assembled for this purpose consists of Murdoch himself, son James, Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton and News Corp’s new chief of digital operations, Jonathan Miller, the paper says.

Dear advertiser, please come home

Nobody likes to be wrong, including the people who run media companies. That’s why you haven’t heard them say things like, “We think the advertising market is recovering!” At a time when every day might bring a fresh descent into financial hell as financial companies and automakers totter, media companies reeling from ad revenue declines are hesitant to say that they’ve hit a bottom.

But consider some of the comments that Viacom executives made during their conference call with Wall Street bean counters this morning to discuss quarterly financial results. Here they are as they appeared in the alerts we sent out on the wire:

    08:12 30Apr2009 RTRS-VIACOM INC’S <VIAb.N> CEO SAYS NOT SEEING ANY FURTHER DETERIORATION IN THE ADVERTISING MARKET 08:33 30Apr2009 RTRS-VIACOM INC’S <VIAb.N> CEO SAYS CUSTOMERS ARE STARTING TO FEEL MORE CONFIDENT ABOUT A RECOVERY EMERGING LATER IN THE YEAR AND GOING INTO NEXT YEAR 08:34 30Apr2009 RTRS-VIACOM INC’S <VIAb.N> CEO SAYS “WE’RE FEELING CONSIDERABLY BETTER” THAN TWO OR THREE MONTHS AGO

That sounds suspiciously like optimism. It also fits in with some of the comments that we’ve heard from newspaper publishers such as USA Today owner Gannett Co Inc. Magazine publisher and local TV station owner Meredith Corp had similar thoughts about the ad outlook.

What does Wall Street think of Yahoo the morning after?

The reaction to Yahoo’s earnings in the stock market this morning was relatively positive. Shares rose 2 percent right off the bat, but we’ll see what happens as the day rolls on. Meanwhile, here are what some Wall Streeters had to say about the quarter in various research reports.

Signal Hill Capital Group: While all of Yahoo’s business segments declined, display was by far the hardest hit.  Display ad sales fell 27% sequentially and 13% YoY to $371 million, as premium inventory is either not selling out, or is selling at very depressed CPM’s.  Yahoo’s search business declined less, but is hardly a bright spot.  Search revenue dropped 9% sequentially, compared with Google’s 4% sequential decline.

Collins Stewart: Given how bad display and search ad trends were during the March quarter, we believe the earning was not bad. CEO Bartz is clearly bringing fresh perspective, sound cost management, and portfolio optimization approach, which we believe will start yielding positive results. We continue to believe that Microsoft-Yahoo search deal is very likely and silence by CEO Bartz during the earnings call suggested to us that something is brewing.

Join MySpace, be a journalist

When News Corp appointed a senior executive last week to oversee a project to share news among its various properties, we didn’t realize that it was including MySpace. Well, maybe “including” is a bit too expansive a word, but check out this announcement that came from the online social network on Monday:

MySpace, the world’s leading online social portal, together with Fox News, today announced an exclusive partnership for the launch of the official MySpace uReport community at http://www.myspace.com/ureport. The partnership, the first between MySpace and Fox News, gives the global MySpace community the ability to share their citizen journalist-produced content with the MySpace community, as well as have the chance to be featured on Fox News.

Members of the MySpace uReport community can become “uReporters” by uploading video and photos tagged by specific news categories including USA, World, Entertainment and Politics. This content could be featured in relevant programming on Fox News Channel and foxnews.com, with Fox News maintaining editorial control of the MySpace page. The community will also feature profiles of Fox News anchors and hosts, allowing members to link to their favorite network personalities.

Comcast CEO Roberts makes the Top 15 on pay

While we were at The Cable Show last week, Comcast filed a documents with securities regulators detailing its 2008 executive compensation. The filing showed that Chief Executive Brian Roberts received $23.7 million in 2008 up from $20.8 million in 2007 but below his 2006 payout of $26 million.

Roberts, as the AP points out, has long been criticized by shareholders for the size of his pay package. His increase comes after Comcast shares fell some 7.6 percent in the calendar year 2008, but this outperformed most of the major market indexes, which fell between 30 to 45 percent last year.

In February Roberts and other executives agreed to forgo a pay rise in 2009 and cut back on personal benefits, including a previous agreement which had guaranteed the payment of his base salary and cash bonus to his heirs for up to five years after his death — a so called ‘golden coffin’ package.