MediaFile

Throwing an orgy of pessimism? Well, don’t invite Viacom

How bad is the advertising market? Pretty bad, says Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman. And it’s only going to get uglier.

“It is clear that while as cable network owners we are in a more favorable media segment than most, advertising comps are likely to get worse before they get better,” he said on a conference call today.

This comment may seem dry, but we’re totally ready to cut him some slack since it came shortly after this poetic gem: “And despite the orgy of pessimism prevalent of the late, the economic tide in our economy and our industry will rise again.”

Dauman, whose job means he oversees MTV, VH-1, Comedy Central and so on, assessed the situation this way: Advertisers who committed dollars during the upfront for the first quarter are holding solid, but are getting shaky for the second quarter.

Viacom finance whiz Tom Dooley expanded on that. “In terms of second-quarter option exercises, many of the moves have been shifting dollars from quarter-to-quarter. Some advertisers have done so but come back later in the quarter to make smaller buys in the scatter market. It is this activity combined with the overall economic trends which leads us to believe that ad market will get worse before it gets better.”

See you at the job bank

We were talking the other day about job cuts — more specifically about who would be next to feel the axe blade. We’d seen big cuts at Viacom, Omnicom, Warner Brothers and Time Inc, and, you know, it obviously didn’t take a genius to figure more were coming.

The next day: A memo from AOL Chief Executive Randy Falco announces that the Internet unit of Time Warner will cut 700 jobs, or about 10 percent of its workforce;  Reader’s Digest says it will cut 8 percent of its staff.

And now we come to Walt Disney Co, which is cutting about 5 percent of its workforce through a combination of 200 layoffs and a job freeze on another 200 positions.

How much are those front-page Times ads?

Don’t ask The New York Times how much its new front-page display ads cost. The paper won’t say. That didn’t stop the New York Post from asking ad buyers. Here’s the answer based on anonymous sources:

$75,000 on weekdays and $100,000 on Sundays.

Assuming that the Post counts Saturday as a weekday, and assuming no discounts or other special deals (and assuming this blog post is not written by a reporter who nearly failed at least one high school math class), this works out to $28.6 million a year: $23.4 million for 52 weeks of Monday through Saturday and $5.2 million for a year’s worth of Sundays.

Despite the TImes’s silence, the ad cost sounds about right. The Wall Street Journal charges $90,000 for its front-page ads, not counting special discounts. Other details sound similar too. Here’s the Post:

You guessed it: Viacom and Time Warner settle

Who was the big winner in the Time Warner Cable-Viacom dispute? A few newspapers, it seems, since they got a little extra holiday cash when Viacom decided to take out some advertisements and take their fight with the cable operator public.

Otherwise, the outcome is what many expected: the two sides reached a deal and nobody missed a single episode of “The Hills” or “Dora the Explorer.”

Indeed, here’s what Bernstein analyst Michael Nathanson predicted on New Year’s Eve, just when the fight between Viacom and Time Warner over fees was really heating up:  “As has been the norm, we would expect a settlement — terms undisclosed — in a relatively quick manner, as both sides may not want to see if this battle results in mutually assured destruction, as Viacom loses ad dollars and Time Warner loses subscribers.”

Viacom, Time Warner Cable help get people out of the house

Viacom and Time Warner Cable are doing their best to make sure that television addicts around the country get a chance to go outside and stretch their legs come New Year’s Day. Of course, the reason they’re doing their part for physical fitness has little to do with ensuring the health of their viewers.******As Reuters reports, Viacom — the company run by financially challenged media mogul Sumner Redstone — provides programming to cable networks like Time Warner Cable for a fee. Now we’re at a time when Viacom and Time Warner Cable are renegotiating the fee, a regular occurrence. Equally regular are the disputes that arise as the negotiators try to determine what a fair price is.******The ultimate loser turns out to be you, the faithful TV watcher, because the last resort of companies like Viacom is to pull their programs off the air. The idea is that sends watchers into paroxysms of rage, usually directed at the cable company that they give all their money to every month. Eventually, the idea goes, the cable company cries Uncle! and agrees to pay more money to bring you the programming. Yes, your bill goes up too, as it always does.******Here’s a sample of what will stop being broadcast on Jan. 1: Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Hills.******And here’s a sample of the pre-packaged righteous indignation that you hear at times like this from the companies:***

Viacom: Time Warner Cable has dismissed our efforts at a fair compromise… As a result, we are sorry to say that for Time Warner Cable customers our networks will go dark as of 12:01 on January 1st.

***

Time Warner Cable, via spokesman Alex Dudley: “It just smacks of desperation from a company that is trying to make up for a failing business model on our subscribers’ backs, and we’re not going to take it.”

******Don’t worry C-SPAN will continue uninterrupted.******Keep an eye on***

    *** Speaking of cable, the 24-hour news channels got record ratings this year, though it looks like they would have made Obama race against McCain for another year, if just to keep them relevant until the financial crisis is expected to ease. (Los Angeles Times)

    *** The Village Voice continues to shed the names that made its name so famous. The latest axe casualty is Nat Hentoff, the influential jazz critic who started there in 1958. Sketches of Pain, anyone? (The New York Times)

    *** Vicki Iseman, intentionally or not, was kind enough to wait until after John McCain lost his 2008 presidential bid to sue The New York Times over its February 2008 article that the lobbyist said suggested that she and the Arizona senator were carrying on inappropriately in more ways than one. (Reuters)

    ***

Jobs cuts hit hard in media, communications

As the U.S. Labor Department reported a 6.7 percent unemployment rate for November and the largest number of job cuts since 1974, the media and telecom industries are definitely not immune.

As Viacom said it planned to lay off 850 people, or 7 percent of its workforce, NBC revealed layoffs of 500 employees including several longtime news correspondents, according to the New York Times.

RealNetworks also announced 130 layoffs, reducing its headcount by 7.5 percent. AT&T, which is trying its hand at competing against cable providers with its own TV service, on Thursday announced layoffs of 12,000, or 4 percent of its workforce, as the company struggles with declining traditional telephone sales and customers switching to wireless.

Redstone’s last picture show

Media mogul Sumner Redstone appears to be sticking with his decision to not sell more shares in Viacom and CBS. Here’s the Financial Times:

Media mogul Sumner Redstone has reached agreement with his daughter, Shari, to put some of National Amusement’s 1,500 cinemas on the block rather than the entire division, as part of debt-restructuring discussions to avoid selling more shares of Viacom and CBS, according to people familiar with the matter.

If lenders agree, the plan would clear the way to sell a part of the US group and 19 theatres in the UK. A prospectus is not expected to be released until early January, one person familiar with the discussions said.

It’s Midway or the highway for Redstone

Sumner Redstone is selling low — way low. Here’s The Wall Street Journal with the news:

In an effort to help resolve his debt problems, Sumner Redstone has sold his controlling stake in videogame company Midway Games Inc to a private investor.

Mr. Redstone’s holding company, National Amusements Inc., is expected to announce Monday that it sold its 87% stake in Midway to investor Mark Thomas, a move that represents a significant loss on the media mogul’s investment but secures a hefty tax benefit as he negotiates other asset sales.

Ouch! A bad day in the market for Redstone

This is shaping up as a bad day for Sumner Redstone — and he’s had a few of those lately — at least where his investments are concerned. Check out share prices of his three major holdings: CBS down 17 percent and Viacom down 11 percent. Midway Games takes first (or last) prize: down 34 percent.

All this wreckage puts more pressure on National Amusements, Redstone’s privately held company and investment vehicle. Recall, last month National Amusements ran into trouble with its banks when it could no longer maintain certain debt-to-asset ratios because the value of its investments in CBS and Viacom had fallen so sharply.

These days, National Amusements is trying to work out new agreements with its banks, and many analysts believe it will have to sell some assets to pay down debt coming due in December. Pali Research’s Rich Greenfield is one of them.

Redstone + Viacom = True Love Always

A couple of things we know about Viacom in the aftermath of its earnings report: Sumner Redstone is madly in love with the media company, and he is still not selling any more shares.

It’s interesting that Redstone has repeatedly insisted that he won’t sell any more shares in Viacom or CBS to take care of the debt problems at his privately-held National Amusements (Recall, he sold about $230 million of stock in Viacom and CBS last month).

Sure, he’s assuaging the immediate concerns of investors, who obviously don’t want to see more shares on the open market. But he’s also backing himself into a corner (of course, he can always do what he wants, even sell shares after he said he wouldn’t, but he does have a reputation to think about).