MediaFile

Sun Valley: Do media companies still need to be conglomerates?

Media moguls and executives at Sun Valley spend a lot of time talking about how to best prepare for the challenges of Web and mobile disruption in the 21st Century.

Companies that once traded and leveraged their huge size and scale of distribution are now considering whether just being bigger might not necessarily be better in the new fragmented media world.

For example, Time Warner Inc is slimming down by spinning off its Time Warner Cable unit and AOL, its Internet division. It may also look to rid itself of its Time Inc publishing unit.

“The notion that there are synergies between content and distribution has been dispelled,” says Tuna Amobi, an equity analyst at Standard & Poor’s. “You’re not going to see a Comcast Corp trying to merge with a Disney anymore.”

Not everyone agrees. Sony Corp remains one of the world’s largest companies with major interests in a global empire that spans music, movies, video games, software, mobile phones and consumer electronics.

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.”

E3: Taking a peek at the games

The E3 video games conference in Los Angeles is in full swing now, and the major console makers and software developers have rolled out the celebrities, teased about cutting edge technologies and pleased hardcore fans with news about Mario and Halo, etc. Now it’s about convincing consumers and retailers that the games on display are going to be must-haves this year.

So we thought you’d like to see what everyone here sees. Here are a few of the games being played on the show floor, each showing off amazing graphics and realism.

God of War III, by Sony, due in 2010:

UFC 2009 Undisputed, by THQ Inc, debuted in May

Red Faction: Guerilla, by THQ Inc, was just released this week.

What do analysts want from E3? How about a PS3 price-cut…

This week marks the kick off the video game industry’s biggest event – Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, which opens on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Usually this is where the best new consoles and multi-level games make their debuts with all the attendant excitement and drama.

But this year the beaten-up economy might have more of a starring role as we note in our preview here.  As the economy splutters along, video game sales are doing okay; they’re up 13 percent in the fiscal year to $28.7 billion, according to Hudson Square Research. However, to keep that going in the year ahead analysts suggest that price cuts on some of game consoles might be in order. Actually that would be just one game console: Sony’s Playstation 3, currently priced around $400. As Billy Pidgeon, analyst at Game Changer Research said:

The thing that would really boost the industry in this traditionally slow period would be a Sony price cut, That would really help right now.

iTunes cuts/raises prices: Teens poised to shrug

With little (or no) fanfare, Apple’s iTunes opened its doors to a new pricing scheme, and song-based packages that the recording industry hopes will jazz up music sales.  Good luck.

Apple unveiled a three-tier price scheme – 69 cents, 99 cents and $1.29. Since opening in 2003 all songs in the iTunes store have been priced at 99 cents.

So what sells at what price? A little scouring this morning yielded this comparison:

My iPod shuffle knows 13 more languages than me

Picture this: An Apple 10-inch touchscreen netbook. And hold that image for at least a little longer.

Rumors have swirled this week that Apple could announce a touchscreen PC, but it instead unveiled early on Wednesday a revamped iPod shuffle. Here are the details from the press release, headlined “Apple Announces Incredible New iPod Shuffle”…

The third generation iPod shuffle is significantly smaller than a AA battery, holds up to 1,000 songs and is easier to use with all of the controls conveniently located on the earphone cord. With the press of a button, you can play, pause, adjust volume, switch playlists and hear the name of the song and artist. iPod shuffle features a gorgeous new aluminum design with a built-in stainless steel clip that makes it ultra-wearable… The third generation 4GB iPod shuffle is now shipping and comes in silver or black for a suggested price of $79

There’s Apple… and there’s Microsoft

It’s a tale of two companies in the technology world on Thursday. There’s Apple, whose quarterly profit beat expectations on strong iPod and Mac computer sales. And then there’s Microsoft, whose dismal earnings sent shockwaves through financial markets.

There should be plenty of interesting questions for CEO Steve Ballmer on the company’s conference call this morning — some of which he likely wouldn’t answer if asked.

Why didn’t Microsoft give investors a warning if the results were going to look so lousy? Why release the results Thursday morning rather than when it was supposed to, later this afternoon? What’s going on with Yahoo? Will 5,000 jobs cuts — the biggest ever by Microsoft — be sufficient? And, seriously, why is Apple doing such so much better?

Dark days in Hollywood

 If that notion of a recession-resistant entertainment industry hasn’t already been debunked, just get in touch with one of your pals out in Hollywood. They’ll tell you how bad it is — how jobs are disappearing.

Warner Brothers Entertainment is the latest to cut staff, announcing 800 jobs would be lost, or 10 percent of its worldwide staff.  NBC Universal and Viacom have already cut jobs, and industry watchers expect more job cuts to be announced by Walt Disney and Sony Pictures.

Perhaps more than other layoffs, the Warner Bros cuts send a signal of just how bad business look, The New York Times points out.

CES: Tom Hanks brings Hollywood glitter to tech show

Tom Hanks and Sony CEO Howard Stringer might just have gained a little street cred with the tech crowd this week.

Onstage at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the pair of old buddies bantered, aimed gentle jibes at each other and got an appreciative audience rolling in their seats.

Hanks — displaying the same comedic flair he showed in “Big” — insisted he was here because it was written into his contract for starring in the upcoming, Sony-distributed “Angels and Demons”.

CES: Palm in spotlight on Day 1

Palm Pre

The official start of the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas saw PDA pioneer Palm unveiling its answer to the popular iPhone smartphone and a new, Web-oriented operating system. Investors pushed the stock up 30 percent for two consecutive days and bloggers affirmed their optimism in early hands-on reviews.

Gizmodo’s Adrian Covert admired the Palm Pre’s intuitive design and “beautiful” screen. And Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky found switching between applications graceful and simple.

Elsewhere in Vegas, Sony continued blazing the organic light-emitting diode trail showing off a bendable OLED video screen that would make it possible to literally wear what you want to display. Actor Tom Hanks demonstrated a pair of prototype Sony eyeglasses with built-in video screens for watching full-length movies.