MediaFile

Bob Rubin: Wall Street? America needs Sesame Street

Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was so worried about the current state of political discourse that he went to a billionaire buddy to try to get him to bankroll a TV show, but the deep-pocketed friend turned him down.

Rubin told conference-goers at the Aspen Ideas Festival that both he and former deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott had approached a friend Rubin declined to name. Their idea, which he told Reuters after the event was never developed, was to appeal to the public the same way “Sesame Street” appealed to youngsters.

But the friend, busy with other projects, said no.

Rubin still believes the media could do more to explain issues, particularly when it comes to the fiscal crisis.

“There’s been a massive communications failure  by your party” in explaining budget issues, on-stage interviewer and Reuters digital editor Chrystia Freeland said.

“There’s been a massive communications failure by your profession,” Rubin shot right back. The two joshed for a few seconds about whether the blame should be 50-50 or 80-20.

When it comes to NFL, TV executives put on brave face

NFL players association members arrive for negotiations with NFL in Washington Mar 11 2011

Shrewd? Prescient? Delusional? Tough to know, but top TV executives this week all seemed relatively confident — even off the record — when asked about the chances that NFL games would be played this fall.

The background, of course, is that NFL team owners and players are at odds over salary caps and other issues, raising the possibility of a lockout and the cancellation of some or all of the 2011 football season. Very bad news, if you’re a fan or a network executive.

CBS: Get used to growth

CBS put on a big show in yesterday’s quarterly report, blowing out estimates on both profit and revenue. On the call that followed, Sumner Redstone called Les Moonves a “genius,” and Moonves called broadcast TV “the best game in town.”

Here are some notes from last night’s call:

    CBS, which said it would double its dividend, also plans to repurchase $250 million in stock this quarter. A nice bonus for shareholders who have already seen the stock rise by about 35 percent this year.
    Scatter rates, or prices for last-minute commercial buys, are up more than 40 percent in some cases for CBS. That’s a stunning number. Given those sorts of prices, Moonves is talking about “solid” double digit increases in upfront ad market next month.
    CBS is putting together six or seven fewer pilots than normal this year, showing that it’s pretty happy with its schedule right now (So far this season, CBS has declined the least of the big four broadcast networks in total household audience)
    Basically, investors and analysts should get used to these sorts of results, CBS suggested. Moonves said he was “confident” the first quarter’s performance would be “sustainable.”
    Part of that momentum is due to revenue CBS is getting from retransmission deals, which has been a big focus for Moonves. He said CBS would reach its goal of retransmission fees of $250 million by next year.
    What is more, “meaningful” revenue from its streaming deal with Netflix will start in second quarter.
    As for the outdoor division, Moonves said “we have no great intent to sell” it to JCDecaux, the French company that has it would be interested if CBS Outdoor came up for sale.  “Mr. Decaux, who we know very well and we like, makes statements about how he’d like to buy our outdoor company. As you know, our outdoor results as you can see are growing substantially quarter after quarter,” Moonves said on the call. “We are here, he has our phone number. If he wants to make an offer, we will always listen to it. It’s not our intent to aggressively sell.”
    And finally, there was bound to be a question about “Two and a Half Men” on the call. Moonves dodged it. “We don’t know what the resolution is right now. There are obviously a lot of moving pieces,” he said. He then added, “It’s an important show to us, but the good news about the CBS schedule is we are not dependent on a single show on any single night of the week.”

What’s all this about TV cord cutting?

When media bigwigs argue that they haven’t seen any evidence of real cord-cutting — and, believe us, they love to argue this point –  they can back it up with some new statistics from researchers over at SNL Kagan. For those of you who have fallen behind with industry jargon, cord-cutting is the idea that Americans are canceling cable and satellite television subscriptions because so many movies and TV shows can now be found on the Web — for far less than the cost of pay-TV. Huge issue, obviously, since these subscripti0ns are a pillar of today’s TV business. Not only are they the chief source of revenue for cable and satellite companies, but they help line the pockets of media companies such as Time Warner or  Disney who collect fees for the TV shows they create.

Understandably, industry executives often downplay cord-cutting, attributing subscriber losses to factors like a bad housing market and high unemployment. For sure, it’s hard to know exactly why the industry lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers over the second and third quarters of last year. But SNL Kagan’s figures suggest the picture may not be as bleak as many feared.

The numbers show that while the pay-TV industry — including cable, satellite and telecommunications companies — lost about 335,000 subscribers in the middle of 2010, the losses subsided by the final months of the year. In fact, the industry added 65,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, the data suggests. In all, the industry ended the quarter with 100.1 million subscribers, up slightly from both the third quarter and the fourth quarter of 2009.

Super Bowl ads: What’s $600 million between friends?

It’s almost time again for the Super Bowl, which means this is when all the talk starts about those famous, and famously expensive, commercials. Just how expensive? Kantar Media came out with a study today that shows Anheuser-Busch InBev, Pepsi, Walt Disney, General Motors, Coca-Cola have combined to spend nearly $600 million on Super Bowl ads over the last 10 years. For those of you bad with numbers, that’s more than half-a-billion dollars. Keep in mind, General Motors wasn’t even part of the game for 2009 or 2010.

This year, however, General Motors is back in a big way – leading a pack of auto makers who, as we pointed out in a story last week, will dominate this year’s game. Up to nine different auto manufacturers are expected to run spots this year. Kantar points out that five years ago only four car companies ran spots. Ten years ago only one car company bought time.

Kantar digs ups a few other interesting tidbits as well. Of course, everyone knows that prices have climbed over the last decade. But the amount of commercials running during the broadcast is also rising. Last year, the CBS broadcast contained a record 47 minutes 50 seconds of commercial time. A total of 104 individual messages aired. Who has time for a football game with all those advertisements?

Time Warner says no advanced degree needed for device management

jeff bewkesTime Warner Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes stopped in at the Reuters Global Media Summit and shared his vision for a future where people will get all their entertainment needs on every device, like smart phones, tablets and computers– but said it must be easy for consumers.

“We don’t want in the future for people to have to have  a Phd in device management,” Bewkes told Reuters journalists, but stressed  that the future of the media business clearly lies on “more and more devices not less,” he said.

Bewkes noted Time Warner was the first company to come up with the idea of putting its network and programming out on demand on all platforms at no extra cost, referring to his TV Everywhere initiative that will offer streaming content free to customers who subscribe to cable.

GlobalMedia-China’s shouts of “You suck!” music to executives’ ears

Big splashy action movies from the U.S. usually play well abroad. It should come then as no surprise that World Wrestling Entertainment, known for hulky dudes and toned ladies who act out soap opera scenarios both in and out of the ring,  manages to find fans well beyond these borders.

So, naturally, international expansion is something on the mind of Donna Goldsmith, the chief operating officer of WWE, who ticked off countries including Russia, India and Brazil where it’s seeking to introduce characters like Sheamus, Triple H and John Cena.

As a way to illustrate the global appeal of wrestling, Goldsmith relayed how talent is perceived in China, a country where WWE is available in 90 million households.

GlobalMedia-iPad cautionary tale: What not to watch, up close

SINGAPORE/Media executives love to go on about their love of the Apple’s iPad. But the tablet isn’t suited for everything. Walt Disney’s Anne Sweeney relayed her recent experience catching up on an ABC  TV show using the  popular tablet.

Sweeney missed the season finale Grey’s Anatomy and, while traveling, decided to watch the show in her hotel room. The episode was particularly gory — several characters were picked off by a aggrieved man who held the hospital at gunpoint.

“It was a massacre,” Sweeney said at the Reuters Global Media Summit. “There’s nothing like seeing that on your pillow. There are some things you might not want to watch that close on your iPad.”

GlobalMedia-ABC News in talks with Bloomberg

MEDIA-SUMMIT/DISNEYThe news divisions at the big networks have been in a world of hurt lately as advertisers seek out younger consumers and viewers. This has lead to big cutbacks in staffing and resources over the years as the networks strive to keep profit margins from deteroirating even further.

ABC is certainly no expectation and has experienced managment upheaval when ABC News president David Westin announced in September his departure partly due to the financial situation and the pressure to increase profit margins.  

Speculation has persisted that ABC News parent company, Walt Disney, has been seeking to untie itself from the division– rumors that similary dog CBS.

Laugh graph: Conan and the ratings race

The debut of Conan on TBS won its time slot against more established late-night comedy shows. But can the former Tonight Show host keep up the momentum? Reuters is keeping daily track of how O’Brien performs against his rivals; tune in every day for an update.

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