April, 2009

Disney wins the race to be third on Hulu

In Hollywood, there’s always a race to be the third studio into any new platform, format or distribution channel. No one ever wants to go first, because it usually means pissing off your existing distribution partners, some of which (Wal-Mart) have the leverage to make their displeasure hurt. Going second is okay, but you still take some heat and you look like you’re just me-too-ing the leader. The best place to finish is third. Read More »

Taking the "news" out of newspapers

Eric Gertler has a very smart post up about the future of newspapers over at the Huffington Post. Gertler, the former head of business affairs at the Daily News and the founder of nydailynews.com among other senior positions in publishing, argues correctly in Media Wonk’s view, that when it comes to surviving online, newspapers need to dump the “news” as well as the “paper.” Read More »

Hatch reminds Hollywood it's rich

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on Tuesday reminded a luncheon crowd of studio chiefs and other Hollywood heavyweights here in Washington for the day that they’re rich–and the rich pay taxes. Lot’s of them. And they will soon pay even more taxes under the Obama Administration, which intends to raise the top marginal income tax rate for individuals who earn more than $250,000 a year, a category that included a good portion of Hatch’s audience (although, sadly, not Media Wonk).

Hatch offered his pointed comments on taxes and the administration at the end of otherwise light-hearted remarks at the Business of Show Business event organized by the MPAA to showcase Hollywood’s economic firepower in front of lawmakers and appropriators.

Hatch’s goal, presumably, was to remind the heavily Democratic Hollywood crowd that they’re going to take a hair cut under the guy many of them helped elect, and that it is Republicans (although he didn’t say so directly) who can be counted on to look out for the fortunate. Read More »

Charging for news

Lots of buzz this a.m. over a new project backed by Court TV-founder Steven Brill and former Global Crossing CEO exec Leo Hindery called Journalism Online LLC. Most of the stories have focused the company’s plan to offer newspaper publishers ready-made tools to administer and manage various schemes for charging readers directly for content online, as well as a plan to launch a global subscription tool that would give users access to content from all participating publishers for a single flat monthly fee.

The really interesting news, however, is the company’s third planned initiative, described in the press release as a plan to “negotiate wholesale licensing and royalty fees with intermediaries such as search engines and other websites that currently base much of their business models on referrals of readers to the original content on newspaper, magazine and online news websites.” Read More »

Hey AP, forget Google, think eBay

For a minute there I thought the Associated Press might have a good idea. In an interview with BusinessWeek posted today, AP CEO Tom Curley said the news agency was planning to create its own news portal to compete with Google News, which the AP accuses, along with other aggregators, of “misappropriating” its content. Google News is a far-from perfect tool and there’s certainly room in the market for someone who does news search better.

But then I saw this: Read More »

With streaming, media congloms try to figure out which side they're on

The presidents of six cable network owners shared a panel at the Cable Show in Washington Wednesday and split 3-3 on whether streaming full-length episodes of their original series for free online is a good idea. Rich Battista of Fox Cable Networks Group, Bonnie Hammer of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Van Toffler of MTV Networks came out in favor. Josh Sapan of Rainbow Media, Steve Koonin of Turner and Scripps Networks president John Lansing were all opposed.

One likely reason for the split: Fox and NBC-Uni jointly own Hulu, the site from which most full-length TV episodes are streamed, while MTV’s parent company, Viacom, is in litigation against Hulu’s main rival, YouTube. Turner, Scripps and Rainbow Media, on the other hand, are mostly programmers, with little in the way of platform strategies.

Another reason: Fox and NBC-Uni cable networks share a corporate roof with broadcast networks, which have been far more generous than cable nets in making their programming available online. Scripps, Turner and Rainbow are cable-only. Read More »

Boxee vs. Comcast: An authentic dispute

Marketing VP Marty Roberts of thePlatform, which is owned by Comcast, spoke proudly during the final session of the McGraw Hill Media Summit Thursday of the work his company is doing to find ways to let cable subscribers access the same premium content they get on their TV from the Internet.

“We’re investing a lot of time and money studying things like Open Social, which lets you bring your online identity with you as you go to different Web sites or different networks, to see if there’s a way we could do that for your cable identity, so your cable rights would go with you as you access different Web sites,” he said. “So, you might have HBO rights and could access that content online, someone else might have Showtime rights, or sports.”

The effort is part of a plan by cable operators and networks to protect their core subscription business by restricting online access to premium pay-TV content to paying cable or satellite subscribers using some form of online authentication.

Boxee co-founder and CEO Avner Ronen wasn’t impressed. Read More »

UK ponders a Digital Rights Agency

The British Intellectual Property Office on Friday published a discussion paper asking the public for input on whether their might be a useful role for a new, industry-backed Digital Rights Agency in reducing illegal file-sharing as well as facilitating the development of legal online services. The 29-page paper (PDF) is presented as a “straw man,” meant more as a conversation-starter than as a concrete set of proposals. Yet it’s also of a piece with a separate, formal consultation underway in Britain on proposed legislation to require Internet service providers to warn file-swappers identified by their IP addresses that their activity is illegal.

Since the new report raises the question of ISP liability–and a possible role for a new non-governmental agency in enforcing it–it’s bound to spark controversy. But it would be a shame if that were to become the sum total of the discussion around it because the text of the report suggests two key, related insights on the part of its authors that, in Media Wonk’s view, can’t be emphasized enough in trying to figure out how to respond the collision of creative works and digital networks. Read More »

The Iger sanction

Are the major media companies finally starting to embrace the disruption to their business wrought by digital technology? Alas, I wouldn’t go that far. But there are signs that some of them are at least starting to come to grips with it and its implications for their future. A recent case in point was the interview with Disney CEO Bob Iger at the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecommunications conference this week, in which he provided what, for the head of a public company with recession-battered shareholders to consider, was a pretty progressive perspective on the state of the business, particularly with respect to the home entertainment sector.

The essence of his comments was that the gross margins generated by media companies’ traditional transactional business model are gone, probably for good, and that companies like Disney–and their shareholders–are simply going to have to adjust to a life of lower-margin, service-based business models. Read More »

Soak the ISPs

New York–While France, Great Britain, New Zealand and other territories grapple with efforts to make ISPs liable to one degree or another for copyright infringement occurring on their networks, broadband providers in the U.S. may soon find themselves dragged into the center of the debate as well. Speakers at a lively copyright panel here during the Digital Music Forum East Thursday focused on the potential role of ISPs in a system of blanket licenses and revenue collection aimed at turning currently illegal file-trading into a money maker.

“ISPs are the elephant in the room in the discussion of copyright,” attorney Mark Fischer of Fish & Richardson said. “I think you’ll see ISPs dragged more and more into the discussion of payment for copyright and I think it will happen fairly soon.”

Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association, which represents Webcasters, thought that was a terrible idea. Read More »

The Bartleby defense

In Herman Melville’s 1853 classic Bartleby the Scrivener, the narrator, an elderly lawyer, recounts the story of “the strangest man” he has ever met, the clerk (scrivener), Bartleby. Bartleby answers a help-wanted ad and is hired, but grows ever-more inert at work, answering each request from his employer with the passive reply, “I would prefer not to.” Eventually the lawyer discovers Bartleby is living at the office.

Although he will not work he will not leave, yet he exercises some strange power over his employer who cannot bring himself to fire him. Eventually the lawyer moves his office to a new location, hoping to rid himself of Bartleby, only to discover from the new tenants that Bartleby still refuses to leave, haunting the hallways of the old office even after they evict him.

I thought of Bartleby as I was reading Nate Anderson’s lovely write up of the fourth day of the Pirate Bay trial for Ars Technica, which recounts the testimony of two of the four defendants, Fredrik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg: Read More »

Straight from video

In Hollywood, direct-to-video movies, and the folks who make them, have always been second-class citizens. But it’s clear from recent media earnings reports that recent changes in the DVD market are now driving the type of movies the upper crust is making as well. Call it, direct-from-video. In Viacom’s Q4 earnings call earlier today, for instance, CEO Philippe Dauman said slumping DVD sales are weighing heavily on green-light decisions at Paramount Pictures.

The big issue in terms of profitability [in the filmed-entertainment business] was the decline in home entertainment sales, which hit the entire industry,” he said. “As we look at the green-lighting process we will take into account the shift in the landscape. We have to take into account the possibility that the decline in home entertainment revenues will continue at least for a while and when we green-light films we will take that into account.”

What that means in practical terms, Dauman made clear, is more “franchise,” or “tent pole,” movies, like Iron Man, Star Trek and Transformers, which increasingly are the only things that sell on DVD, and less of everything else. Read More »

Copyright reform? See you in court

At the Future of Music Coalition’s Policy Day conference in Washington, even those hoping that the Obama administration will spur a major overhaul of U.S. copyright and telecommunications law acknowledged it would likely be some time before they can get the attention of Congress and the new administration. In the meantime, they said, the major copyright action will be in the courts, where a handful of crucial cases pitting copyright owners against technology providers could produce important new precedents.

“We were very pleased to see that the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees care so much about copyright that they’re elevating it to the full committee level [rather than the usual IP subcommittee path], but the Judiciary committees are going to have pretty full agendas for the next couple of years so I think it will be pretty hard to get their attention on copyright issues,” said David Carson, general counsel at the U.S. Copyright Office.

Carson is not among those hoping to see a major overhaul of U.S. copyright law. But Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn, who definitely is, reluctantly concurred with his assessment. Read More »