MediaFile

50 shades of like

We are losing our faith in TV news as fast as those high-speed chases it’s so happy to show us. At the same time, we’re driving like maniacs on the social-media highway, letting it all hang out with the top down.

What do they have to do with each other? Both are advertiser-supported media. One prints money, the other not so much, at least not yet. And yet one is on the downswing, the other ascendant. What does this say about human nature and tapping into elusive and guilty pleasures?

In its annual poll, Gallup Politics found that only 21 percent of respondents expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in TV news – less than half what it was when the poll was first conducted in 1993, but down only a point from last year.

But then this report, from RTDNA and Hofstra: TV news hiring is up – way up:

The survey found that TV news added 1,131 jobs in 2011 to reach a total full-time employment tally of 27,653, representing a 4.3% gain over the previous year. (The highest level of TV news staffing occurred in 2000).

42.9% of stations reported that they increased staff in 2011 and 46.2% said that staff size stayed the same. Fox-affiliates were more likely than any other group to increase staff size, and stations in the South were more likely to have added employees than stations in other regions.

Intel’s facial-recognition freaks out potential customers

Mine and Yinka Adegoke’s story today on Intel’s proposal to use facial-recognition technology with a virtual TV service and set-top box has raised legitimate concerns about allowing Big Brother into consumers’ living rooms.

People’s reluctance to have a camera keep tabs on who is sitting in front of their TV may be a hurdle that Intel has underestimated as it struggles to convince media content providers to hand over their shows.

When I bought a Kinect for my Xbox last year, I felt paranoid for at least a couple of weeks every time I sat down on my sofa in front of my TV. Each time I turn on my Xbox, a camera — connected to Microsoft and the Internet — sees everything I do.

TV 2012: A tale of two sets

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the era of big, it was the hour of small. It was the age of complexity, it was the era of simplicity. It was an epoch of freedom, it was a time of tyranny. It was the season of two dimensions, it was the moment of 3D. Everything was before us — and we have seen it all.

With apologies to Dickens, there’s a whole lot going on in the world of television, the medium that has dominated the world’s attention for three generations and was supposed to — at the very least — become an also-ran to the Internet. Convergence (in the 1990s’ sense of the word) is happening, but with no clear winner: Computers became TVs, and TVs are becoming internet-connected computers.

Likewise, TV programming has been in something of a renaissance for a decade — yeah, sure, for every Mad Men there’s a Work It (or 20 of them) — and even the experimentation in programs has something to do with technology, which has made it possible to watch on demand, and in places and at times of our choosing, and enabled new competition that entertains us with things that aren’t on TV at all.

Who wants a college sports TV network? Who doesn’t?

YouTube Preview ImageSure it was obvious, but I applaud the decision by whoever organized the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum to pipe The Cars “Shake It Up” through the loudspeakers of a bland room in New York’s Marriott Marquis as the conference wrapped up.

College sports — and here I’m the one being obvious — are going through a serious transition. Conferences are realigning, TV deals are being struck, and feelings are getting hurt.

“This has been a painful, stinging two years,” said Chris Plonsky, Women’s Athletic Director at University of Texas, which this year launched its own regional sports network, The Longhorn Network.  The battling “belongs on the field”, she said. “When it comes to business, let’s play nicely in the sandbox.”

Are kids wringing out SpongeBob?

Back in September, right before the quarter ended, Viacom trimmed  its advertising revenue outlook to high single digit growth from double digit growth. One of only a few media conglomerates to take that step–News Corp, Time Warner, and CBS were much more upbeat–the move prompted some concern among media watchers that advertisers were beginning to slash their budgets on macro-economic concerns.

But that wasn’t the case. It turns out the problem was Viacom specific. As the Sumner Redstone-controlled company disclosed during its fiscal fourth quarter results Thursday, domestic advertising revenue growth slowed in part because of a mid-September ratings plunge kids network Nickelodeon. Total domestic ad revenue across Viacom’s cable networks, which also includes MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central, for FQ4 was up 7 percent versus the third quarter’s climb of 12 percent.

What’s more is that Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman threw audience measurement company Nielsen Co under the bus on Thursday’s earnings call, saying the  ratings drop at Nickelodeon was “inexplicable.” He said Nielsen’s data did not match Viacom’s own set top box data for viewers. The company is currently in discussions with Nielsen– the dominant company that tracks TV ratings that determine ad rates — and the watchdog organization Media Ratings Council to resolve the situation.

AT&T’s ad spending outpaces Verizon’s — by a long stretch

Anybody who wondered how AT&T managed to stand up against the Verizon Wireless  February iPhone launch wasn’t paying much attention to their TV set.

AT&T had been assuring investors for much of 2010 that its numbers wouldn’t fall off a cliff  if  arch-rival Verizon Wireless got its hands on iPhone, ending its exclusivity.  The logic was that customers wouldn’t want to break their two-year contracts.  Most customers were also tied to AT&T via family plans, making it even more tricky for them to leave.

Still, AT&T wasn’t about to leave it to chance. So it went about things the old-fashioned way: it threw money into advertising.

Hearst board additions feel… papery

You have to give Hearst some credit for sticking to what it knows. Check the short biographies of the four company executives who are joining the publisher (and broadcaster’s) board:

    George R. Hearst III, publisher of the Albany Times Union. Newspapers. Papery. Richard P. Malloch, president of Hearst Business Media and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation. He used to run Hearst’s consumer books business before selling it to HarperCollins. Papery. Scott M. Sassa, president of Hearst Entertainment & Syndication and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation. OK — a former Internet startup and venture capital guy, not to mention his career at NBC — maybe not so papery. Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation. He also ran the yellow pages business, though he seems less papery when you find out that he helped start the newspaper consortium with Yahoo. That has been a well meaning if not game-changing attempt to get newspapers and Yahoo to the point where they both feed each other big advertising profits.

Now, Hearst might be experiencing some tough times in the newspaper business, having closed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and having thought publicly about dropping the San Francisco Chronicle. At the same time, it’s not trying to save itself by changing everything it does and acting like a new media company.

One bit of possible wisdom that I hear people saying these days is: Why not manage your media business to deal with what it knows? The print business might be declining but, if managed properly, there might be a graceful way to run things that doesn’t erode what cash the business is making with no clear way of replacing it. Maybe these print guys know something after all.

Here comes Windows Unicorn

Thousands of Microsofties yucked it up at the expense of rival Apple at their annual get-together at Seattle’s Safeco field on Thursday.

Saturday Night Live star Seth Meyers set about the old foe, which had its own festival of self-congratulation yesterday.

“Who at Apple let an 8-year-old girl name their new operating system Snow Leopard?,” Meyers asked, according to one employee spreading the good word on Facebook. “What, was Unicorn taken? Was Pony not available?”

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.

Friday media highlights

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

TV Networks Fight Drug-Ad Measure (WSJ)
“Advertising costs are deductible to any company as a business expense. The plan being considered by Rep. Rangel’s Ways and Means committee would eliminate the deduction with respect to prescription drug advertising,” writes Martin Vaughan.

Big media seek 21st century business models (Reuters)
“Media moguls at this week’s Sun Valley conference have spent as much time discussing how to reconfigure business models disrupted by the Web as they have worrying about the weak economy,” reports Yinka Adegoke.

Zucker Says Marketplace Has Reached Bottom (B&C)
Ben Grossman writes: “NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker said Thursday that while the overall marketplace is still challenged, he thinks it may have bottomed out. ‘It’s still quite uncertain and we don’t really see the full recovery we are all hoping for,’ he said.  ’It’s still tough out there, but I think we have seen a bottom.’”