Saturday, May 31, 2008

Radio Wavemaker

By: Ann Saphir June 02, 2008
Chicago Business
powered by Crain's

Randy Michaels, the former shock jock charged with jolting Tribune Co. back to life, is grabbing the media giant by its Brooks Bros. lapels and shaking hard.

He yanked the salaries of his ad sales reps and put them on commission. He poked public fun at Trib Tower execs who, he said, would rather call the rotund Mr. Michaels "tall and good-looking" than speak the truth.

He crammed employees of Tribune's WSFL-TV in Miami into the Fort Lauderdale offices of the company's South Florida Sun-Sentinel and made them report to the paper's publisher. And he upbraided the publisher of Allentown, Pa.'s Morning Calldx in front of employees, accusing him of not providing an "honest budget."

In short, Mr. Michaels, 56, is hewing to the script that worked for him during his long career in radio: a brash style that holds nothing sacred.

As a radio programmer in Cincinnati in the early 1980s, Mr. Michaels once used the airwaves to label a programmer at a rival radio station a "spineless, gutless wimp" for refusing to talk to him when he dialed in to the rival's live talk show, recalls Dave Mason, the target of the vitriol and now the morning man at San Diego radio station 105.7 FM, who counts himself an admirer of Mr. Michaels'.

That's a dramatic contrast to the genteel style of the old Tribune regime, where corporate protocol could require a dozen signatures for a routine decision.

"The Tribune has done things the Tribune way for a long time," says Jeff Smulyan, chairman of Emmis Communications Corp. in Indianapolis, who knows both Mr. Michaels and Tribune's former CEO, Dennis FitzSimons. "Somebody like Randy comes in and says, 'These people are great people, but nothing has stopped the decline. How do we reinvent it?' That requires off-the-wall solutions, and the first thing is challenging the culture."


Mr. Michaels — hand-picked last month by Tribune Chairman Sam Zell to be the company's chief operating officer — is not one for small gestures. After turning around a handful of stations from Kansas to Florida, he expanded radio station operator Jacor Communications Inc. to 230 stations from 13 in five years. In 1999, he helped engineer a merger with San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications Inc., becoming CEO of Clear Channel Radio, the nation's biggest radio operator, in the process. By the time he departed in 2002, Clear Channel controlled 1,200 radio stations.

"When Randy was Jacor CEO, he had 25% growth in an industry that was doing 15%," says Jay Meyers, who worked with Mr. Michaels at both Jacor and Clear Channel. Mr. Michael's favorite saying is "Let's go," according to Mr. Meyers. "It's like, get on the speeding bus or get out of the way," he says.

Mr. Michaels' relationship with Mr. Zell goes back to his Jacor days: Mr. Zell took over the company in 1993 and made sure Mr. Michaels stayed on as president. In December, he recruited Mr. Michaels to run Tribune's broadcast and interactive businesses, then last month handed him the keys to the entire organization.

Mr. Michaels was born Benjamin Homel in upstate New York but started going by the name Randy Michaels in his early days as a disc jockey. While introducing Mr. Michaels to staffers in January, Mr. Zell described him as "weird and different," which Mr. Zell seemed to mean as a compliment. And, indeed, the Chicago billionaire seems to share an iconoclastic, frank-talking management style with Mr. Michaels.

Mr. Zell has sounded the alarm with Tribune employees about the company's predicament in no uncertain terms.

"This is a crisis. We've got to save this business. We've got to make this work," he told Chicago Tribune employees in February. "If we keep operating the way we've been operating in the past, there is no future."

Tribune's $12-billion debt doesn't leave room for Mr. Zell's point man, Mr. Michaels, to pursue a consolidation strategy a la his Clear Channel heyday. In fact, Tribune has been in sales mode lately, striking an agreement to unload Newsday, ramping up efforts to sell the Chicago Cubs and considering the sale of Tribune Media Services assets.

Even so, Mr. Michaels is freely taking other pages from his past. Last month, Tribune's national cable TV channel re-branded itself "WGN America" in preparation for an overhaul, taking on a new slogan: "TV you can't ignore." Jacor's slogan under Mr. Michaels was, "The noise you can't ignore."

Detractors worry that Mr. Michaels may repeat other, more controversial moves.

At Clear Channel, he promoted a system called voice-tracking, in which "local" radio shows would be produced by DJs in studios hundreds of miles away. Voice-tracking eliminated jobs, but at a cost to radio's reputation, says John Gorman, a media consultant who remembers hearing a Clear Channel DJ mispronounce the name of the Cleveland suburb from which he was purporting to broadcast.

"If Randy repeats what he's done in radio, we'll see a lot of newsrooms eliminated," Mr. Gorman says, predicting a scenario in which local newscasts are "video-tracked" from other studios to save money. Mr. Michaels himself in April described for investors a relaunch of the Miami TV station this fall in which news "will be done primarily from the Sun-Sentinel Web site using a very high-tech, slick look."

Mr. Gorman also sees the potential for Tribune companies to sacrifice content for the sake of advertising. On May 18, Tribune readers were treated to a taste of one such possible future: a wraparound ad that obscured the two left-most columns of the front page. Such "spadias" were originally tried at smaller Tribune papers, and Mr. Michaels told investors that he hopes to make them a key strategy for these papers going forward.

Mr. Michaels, who declined requests for an interview, has hired a half-dozen former colleagues from his radio days. Under this team, Tribune's self-promotion has taken on an edge that recalls the prankster spirit of the radio background they share.

In May, both the Los Angeles Times and Newsday ran promotional ads claiming the newspapers were "more popular" than the leading local radio stations.

"All they have done is unearth a sleeping giant," says John Caraccilo, president of the Morey Organization, which owns three Long Island stations. He's organized counterattack ads calling out Newsday's "lies."


The newspaper environment is deteriorating at a rate Messrs. Michaels and Zell never expected when they took over.

In a January visit to the Allentown paper, Mr. Michaels assured employees that he wasn't planning newsroom cuts. "I think we have been cutting muscle, and we need to stop it," he said, to loud applause.

A month later, with revenue falling faster than projected, Tribune told its employees it would shed 400 to 500 newspaper jobs company wide, many of those in editorial.

Mr. Michaels has publicly conceded that he has a tough job ahead of him. But he's already shown he's ready to go about tackling that job differently from his predecessors.

"Has he calmed down a bit since when he was an off-the-wall program director in the '80s? Probably," says friend and former employee Mr. Meyers. "But the truth of the matter is that he absolutely believes in fierce competition. For you to have a bigger sandwich, that means you got to take some meat from the other guy."

©2008 by Crain Communications Inc.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

AFTRA Reaches Tentative Agreement with AMPTP on Primetime Television Contract

LOS ANGELES (May 28, 2008)—The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—the nation's second largest performers’ union, representing 70,000 members, including approximately 52,000 working actors—has reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on a new three-year primetime television contract (Exhibit A of the AFTRA Network Television Code). The agreement is subject to approval by AFTRA’s National Board and ratification by the union’s membership.

AFTRA primetime TV dramas and situation comedies include: “Rules of Engagement," "Cashmere Mafia," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Flight of the Conchords," "Dante's Cove," “Til Death," “Reaper,” and new CBS dramatic programs “Project Gary” and “Harper’s Island" and the ABC comedy “Roman’s Empire.” The current contract expires on June 30, 2008.

Details of the new agreement will be submitted to the AFTRA National Board at meetings scheduled for June 6-7 in Los Angeles. If approved by the National Board, the pact will be submitted to AFTRA’s membership for ratification. The new three-year agreement will be effective from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011.

(Exhibit A of the AFTRA Network Code)


MAY 28, 2008

Wage Increases

• Increases minimums by 3.5% effective July 1, 2008, by an additional 3% effective July 1, 2009, and by an additional 3.5% effective July 1, 2010.

• Increases the network primetime ceilings (as incorporated in Exhibit A and in the WB/UPN Supplement for one-hour programs) by 2.5% effective July 1, 2008 and by 2.5% effective July 1, 2010.

New Media

• The New Media provisions follow the pattern already established in the DGA, WGA, and AFTRA Network Code agreements.

• Provides for payment for all non-promotional uses in New Media.

• Confirms jurisdiction for programs produced for initial exhibition on the Internet and other New Media.

• Establishes jurisdiction over derivative New Media programs that are based on current programs.

• Establishes coverage of all original programs with budgets of more than $15,000/minute or $300,000/program or $500,000/series, whichever is lowest.

• Establishes coverage of original content below the thresholds when a covered performer is employed.

• Establishes new residual structures for paid Internet downloads (electronic sell-through) that significantly increase current rates and establish residual rates for ad-supported streaming and use of clips on the Internet.

• Gives AFTRA the ability to audit unredacted license, distribution, and other agreements pertaining to New Media.

• Allows both sides to revisit New Media when the agreement expires.
Consent in New Media.

• Preserves performers’ consent for use of non-promotional use in New Media of excerpts from traditional TV shows.

• Provides that the employers and AFTRA develop a mechanism by which performers can provide or withhold consent for non-promotional use of excerpts for New Media from the industry employers’ TV library.

• For programs produced after July 1, 2008, the employer and the performer may bargain for consent for the right to use non-promotional excerpts of traditional TV shows in New Media at the time of original employment.

Gains for Working Performers

• Major Role daily multiplier increases significantly. The Major Role Minimum for a half-hour show, now $4,080, increases to $4,321 effective July 1, 2008, and will reach $4,606 by 2010.

• Overtime money break for 3-day performers increases from $2,700 to $3,000 effective July 1, 2009.

• Money break for trailers increases from $2,500 to $3,000 effective July 1, 2009.

• Schedule breaks for Schedule B and C performers increases from $4,400 to $4,600 effective July 1, 2009.

• Warm-up performers can now receive Health and Retirement credits.

• Increases the number of covered background actors (from 19 to 20) in Los Angeles.

• Secures rest provisions for background performers in Los Angeles.

• Increases penalty payment for a dancer performing hazardous activity and expands the definition for such activities.

• Renews and codifies turnaround provisions for stunt coordinators.

• Improves the terms and conditions for performers who work under the CW contract (formerly WB/UPN supplement).

Health and Retirement

• Health and Retirement contributions increase 0.5% on July 1, 2009, and rise to 15.0%.

Another Tribune unit put on auction block

Tribune Co (NYSE:TXA) is attempting to sell off another business - this time, its Tribune Media Services unit, which distributes news and entertainment listings - to boost its short-term liquidity.

Tribune, the second-largest US newspaper publisher, has roughly $13bn of debt, with $1.85bn due in 2008 and 2009, following its deal last year to be bought by Sam Zell, the real estate investor.

The Chicago-based publisher agreed earlier this month to sell Newsday, the Long Island tabloid, to cable operator Cablevision to pay down some of its shorter-term obligations, but it still faces long-term challenges. Mr Zell had originally pledged not to sell any of the company's 11 newspapers, which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

Tribune, which is also trying to sell the Chicago Cubs baseball team and Chicago's Wrigley Field stadium, has now added its media services business to the list of assets on the auction block, according to people familiar with the situation.

Tribune Media Services, which operates as a Tribune subsidiary, provides television and movie broadcast listings and distributes well-known syndicated columns and comic strips.

Tribune's advisers have distributed information on the unit, which generates about $25m in annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization and could be worth roughly $200m, to a range of potential buyers.

The sale could spark interest both from private equity investors and from corporate buyers within the media industry, such as cable operators or internet-based content providers, who may be interested in the unit's content provision, people familiar with the process said.

Tribune, however, remains in a significant financial quandary. If it continues with its efforts to sell off assets, analysts expect the company will be able to make payments on its debt through to the end of 2009.

However, each time it sells an asset at a valuation of less than nine times cash flow, its leverage ratio rises. Covenants on Tribune's loans require it to generate enough cash flow to cover one-ninth of the value of its guaranteed debt. The company has few, if any, assets in its portfolio that could win that high a price.

"Their leverage goes up every time they sell something," one person familiar with the situation said. "It just makes it all the more likely that the longer-dated maturities and equity will eventually be worth zero."

Tribune's sale of Newsday, for example, will generate roughly $650m to pay down debt. But the valuation awarded to Newsday in its disposal came in below the critical threshold at which it could prevent ratcheting up its leverage.

Tribune is now reviewing many of the assets underneath its corporate umbrella to determine whether they should be sold. The company, for example, owns a stake in both the popular Food Network and Comcast SportsNet.

The ailing company is getting little help, meanwhile, from the broader US economy. Three of its biggest newspapers are based in California and Florida, which have been particularly hard hit by the housing market's slump.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

States Race to Woo TV and Film

Producers Showered With Incentives; Moving 'Ugly Betty'

The Wall Street Journal

An arms race has broken out among states hoping to lure big-budget movie and television productions with financial incentives.

In the past month and a half, at least four states -- Georgia, New York, Mississippi and Michigan -- have increased the scope of tax credits, cash rebates and other incentives to encourage spending money in the state and hiring local workers. They are competing with nearly 40 other states and U.S. territories that have incentive programs on the books, some with established film- and TV-production infrastructure, including New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.

California, Hollywood's home state, offers no incentives to producers despite several efforts in the state legislature. Concerns about "runaway production" cropped up again this spring when the producers of ABC's TV hit "Ugly Betty" decided to move production to New York from Los Angeles. New York recently sweetened incentives so that producers can receive back up to 30% of their production expenses via a tax credit, or 35% of expenses in New York City.

The ABC move prompted the show's Los Angeles crew to take out a full-page advertisement in the trade paper Daily Variety calling on the state to enact incentives. The latest incentives bill, now in the California state legislature, faces long odds. In the wake of "Betty's" departure, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he would like to offer incentives similar to those offered by other states, but it's difficult when the state faces a budget deficit that could hit $20 billion next year.

In recent years, Hollywood producers have flocked to Canada, Eastern Europe and other places chasing the business. But these days, the dollar's fall against foreign currencies has made those places less appealing.

"We're exploring more in the U.S.," says Gary Barber, chief executive of Spyglass Entertainment in Los Angeles. "With the weaker dollar and incentives provided domestically, it's now very attractive to shoot in the States."

Among the U.S. states trying to attract his business is Michigan, which has been hit hard in recent years by a sagging auto industry and other economic woes. Last month, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a law that allows Michigan to offer some of the most generous rebates in the nation. Productions that spend more than $50,000 in-state are eligible for a 40% cash refund of their spending within the state, or 42% if they shoot in one of 103 "core communities."

Georgia last week restructured its tax-credit program and took out a full-page ad in Variety touting it. The program gives producers up to 20% of their expenses back via a tax credit, with a minimum of $500,000 spent in the state. Companies that add a five-second clip of the state film commission's animated Georgia peach logo to their program or film receive an extra 10%.

Michigan officials felt the need for a new law after earlier incarnations failed to attract attention. "Previously, we had a sliding scale of 12% to 20% rebates based on your Michigan spend, with a rebate cap of $2 million per production," says Janet Lockwood, head of the Michigan Film Office. "We were overtaken by other states within half an hour of signing it in January 2007, and it didn't work out because many states had better things to offer."

Since the new law took effect, Ms. Lockwood says she has received more than 100 prospective scripts from television- and movie-production companies. State officials say that 15 projects have since been approved with rebates so far totaling about $39 million. Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. recently relocated a coming Clint Eastwood film, tentatively titled "Gran Torino," to the Detroit area from Minnesota. Portions of a Weinstein Co. film called "Youth in Revolt" will be partly filmed in Ann Arbor, Mich., the company says.

"We're building a whole new industry here in Michigan," says Gov. Granholm. "You have to invest in order to grow and we are investing in a new sector in our economy, because we know we have the greatest need to continue to diversify our economy."

In Holland, a western Michigan city of about 35,000 best known for its annual May tulip festival, native Hopwood DePree recently moved home to start a production company, after years living in Los Angeles.

He is reconfiguring a former Reddi-wip factory in Holland that closed in March as a soundstage. "The wide-open spaces that were used as coolers for the whipped cream make great soundstages," Mr. DePree says.

His company, TicTock Studios, is also taking advantage of state tax incentives to train unemployed factory workers (including as many as 50 people from the closed whipped-cream operation) in the basic skills of movie production.

The lack of skilled workers and production facilities is a problem for Michigan. One studio-production executive says it would be expensive to truck film equipment to Michigan and import much of the crew. He says New Mexico is probably less expensive overall even though its tax credits are smaller.

Others are skeptical of the long-term benefits to the state's economy. "The direct economic impact won't justify any of these benefits," says Don Grimes, an economic researcher at the University of Michigan. "I don't think building a wide infrastructure will ever work out because it's not an industry that will locally employ that many people."

Write to Peter Sanders at

Justices Say Law Bars Retaliation Over Bias Claims

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about discrimination in the workplace, adopting a broad interpretation of workers’ rights under two federal civil rights laws.

By decisions of 7 to 2 in one case and 6 to 3 in the other, the court found that the two statutes afford protection from retaliation even though Congress did not explicitly say so.

The decisions are significant both as a practical matter and as evidence of a new tone and direction from the court this year, following a term in which there were sharp divisions and an abrupt conservative turn.

The new rulings were in distinct contrast to one of the signature decisions of the last term, a 5-to-4 decision that placed tight time limits on plaintiffs seeking to file pay-discrimination cases. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the majority opinion almost exactly a year ago in that case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, wrote one of the two majority opinions on Tuesday. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the other.

One of the cases began as a lawsuit by a clerk for the United States Postal Service in Puerto Rico. The plaintiff, Myrna Gómez-Pérez, 45 at the time, complained that she had been denied a transfer to a different office because of age discrimination. Her lawsuit alleged that as a result of her complaint, she became the target of retaliatory actions by her supervisors.

The other case was brought by a former assistant manager of a Cracker Barrel restaurant, a black man named Hedrick G. Humphries. Mr. Humphries had complained that a white assistant manager had been motivated by racial discrimination in dismissing a black employee. In his lawsuit, Mr. Humphries claimed that he then lost his own job in retaliation for his complaint.

Retaliation complaints are a growing subset of workplace discrimination cases, because it is often easier for employees to demonstrate that they were retaliated against than that they were victims of discrimination in the first place. Retaliation complaints filed annually with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doubled in the last 15 years to 22,000 from 11,000.

Congress has provided explicit protection against retaliation in two major federal statutes. One is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex. The other is the provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act that applies in the private sector.

However, there is no such explicit protection in the portion of the age-discrimination law that applies to federal government workers. Nor is there explicit language in a post-Civil War-era statute that gives “all persons” the same right “as is enjoyed by white citizens” when it comes to making and enforcing contracts, such as contracts of employment. Those were the two statutes that the court interpreted on Tuesday.

In both decisions, the majority relied heavily on precedent, reasoning by analogy from recent cases that dealt with claims of retaliation under other statutes. The most recent such case was a ruling issued in 2005, before either Justice Alito or Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court. By a vote of 5 to 4, the court held then that a law known as Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in schools and colleges that receive federal money, also prohibits school officials from retaliating against those who bring sex-discrimination complaints. The statute itself does not mention retaliation.

In his opinion on Tuesday in the federal age-discrimination case, Justice Alito said that the provision in question, broadly prohibiting “discrimination based on age,” was “not materially different” from the anti-discrimination language the court had interpreted both in the Title IX case and in an earlier decision from 1969, interpreting a Reconstruction-era statute that bars racial discrimination in property ownership.

“The context in which the statutory language appears is the same in all three cases,” Justice Alito said. “That is, all three cases involve remedial provisions aimed at prohibiting discrimination.”

In the Postal Service case, Gómez-Pérez v. Potter, No. 06-1321, the federal appeals court in Boston, which has jurisdiction over federal cases from Puerto Rico, dismissed the suit on the ground that the age-discrimination provision that applies to federal workers does not cover retaliation claims.

In his opinion, which overturned the appeals court and reinstated the lawsuit, Justice Alito said that understood in the context of its enactment, the provision did cover retaliation. He noted that while the basic age-discrimination law was passed in 1967, it was not extended to federal workers until 1974.

In the interval, the Supreme Court had issued its decision deeming that the 19th-century property-rights law covered retaliation. Congress was “presumably familiar” with that case, Justice Alito said, and “had reason to expect” that the new age-discrimination provision would be interpreted with similar breadth.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Roberts said that, to the contrary, Congress was “well aware” that the Civil Service Commission had issued detailed regulations protecting federal employees against retaliation. The chief justice said that Congress should be understood to have made a judgment that retaliation problems in the federal work force should be dealt with administratively rather than judicially.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined the dissenting opinion.

These two justices were the only dissenters in Mr. Humphries’s case, CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, No. 06-1431, which held that Congress intended to cover retaliation claims brought under the provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that is usually referred to as Section 1981. The court upheld a ruling by the federal appeals court in Chicago, rejecting an appeal brought by the company that operates the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.

The Supreme Court’s decision last September to hear the company’s appeal was a surprise, because all the federal appeals courts that had weighed in on the question interpreted Section 1981 as covering retaliation. Resolving disputes among the lower federal courts is the Supreme Court’s main reason for accepting a case. The decision to grant this case in the absence of such a dispute spread alarm throughout the civil rights community on the assumption that a majority was prepared to shut the door on retaliation claims.

There was ample reason for that assumption, since Chief Justice Roberts had earlier made clear his distaste for precedents in which the court has gone beyond a statute’s text to infer a basis for a lawsuit.

It was especially significant, therefore, that both he and Justice Alito signed on to Justice Breyer’s discussion of the importance of “stare decisis,” the court’s doctrine of adherence to precedent. Even if the court’s approach to statutory interpretation was changing, Justice Breyer wrote, “we could not agree that the existence of such a change would justify re-examination of well-established prior law.”

He added: “Principles of stare decisis, after all, demand respect for precedent whether judicial methods of interpretation change or stay the same. Were that not so, those principles would fail to achieve the legal stability that they seek and upon which the rule of law depends.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, accused the majority of hiding behind “the fig leaf of ersatz stare decisis,” relying on precedents that had been incorrectly decided in the first place.

New Eyes On New WGN America

The rebranding of Superstation WGN—Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co.'s sleepy national channel—as WGN America is likely a sound decision.

It's definitely a radio decision.

Its new slogan "TV You Can't Ignore," introduced in a soft launch at dawn over the federal holiday Monday, echoes Jacor Communications' "The Noise You Can't Ignore" when Tribune Co. chiefs Sam Zell and Randy Michaels ran the radio chain later swallowed by Clear Channel Communications.

WGN America's new "eyes" logo, which resembles the one used for much of the '90s by cable's The Movie Channel, was the inspiration of Tribune Co. Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams. The former radio consultant wanted the channel to look more like an album cover. It resembles the eyes of the woman on Duran Duran's "Rio" album, but Abrams said he was just trying to help the channel break from traditional TV.

Sean Compton, a former Clear Channel exec recruited to tend to Tribune TV programming, meanwhile is repackaging reruns and old movies and giving away prizes via

"Here I am doing contesting and theming, he's doing album covers, and we're putting 'WKRP' on the air," Compton said on what might as well be two-fer Tuesday of the cable and satellite channel that can be seen locally through DirecTV.

Hire enough radio executives and maybe this was bound to happen. But something had to happen.

The national channel, stripped of WGN-Ch. 9's CW fare and most of the Chicago station's syndicated lineup, has underperformed even worse than the famously futile Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs that have been its chief attraction.

While one-time superstation peer TBS in Atlanta has flourished, Superstation WGN foundered.

"[TBS] makes $489 million a year. We make $80 [million], and if we didn't have the Cubs, we'd make $20 [million], and yet the asset is there," Zell said during last month's visit to WGN. "Everybody [sees] the superstation as a giant turkey that could be an enormous asset, but there's never been an effort to develop it. We're going to develop it."

Compton said the new brand, look and approach were introduced without fanfare because it's going to be a while before there's much to shout about, but the changes have begun for what he hopes will be a channel from and for the nation's midsection.

The first major shift will come June 8, when WGN America introduces what will be billed as "Out of Sight Retro Night." It will be a weekly night of reruns a la Weigel Broadcasting's Me-TV and Viacom cable's TV Land. Handling announcing chores will be radio old-timer Casey Kasem.

By the end of the summer, the plan is to introduce an original program. And within 18 months or so, Compton hopes the nation will barely recognize the channel.

"It's kind of like that girl in high school who's just plain. Then she goes off to college, and four years later she's stunning. That's what we hope for," Compton said.

"We're known for the Cubs and some other programming that we've had for some time and moved around. But we want to become that girl you look at after four years and say, 'Damn.' "

Friedman not a free man: Andy Friedman, an Internet exec at the center of a federal lawsuit Clear Channel filed last week alleging he might take company secrets to his new job with Tribune Co., was hit Tuesday with a 10-day restraining order to stop him from helping Tribune with content.

Clear Channel seems determined to stem the steady flow of former personnel to Tribune Co.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Abrams brings his act to L.A. — and likes it

The road trip continues with a visit to Los Angeles and a brainstorm session on the future of Superstation WGN. For years I have heard the Industry dirt on the Los Angeles Times. Got a lot of "good'll need it" advice.

With Los Angeles probably being the Popular Culture and Media capital of the Universe, it was one trip I was pretty excited to make. Expecting a beehive of hostility and rage, I found the place to be the exact opposite. I'm sure there's some strange historical things lurking in the hallways, but I found, as with the other papers I've visited so far, that the LA Times is loaded with people that are smart, passionate and ready to fight the war.

We had some great discussions, and while many of the points we talked through wouldn't be appropriate for a widely distributed email, there were some things that I thought warrant mentioning:

*I think we all agree that the way for local newspapers to survive is to completely, totally and passionately tap into the soul of a city. To be connected at the hip with everything the city is. Well, LA is electric with identity. To some it may be everything that is wrong with our culture, but my view is that it is an expansive, pulsating melting pot of cultural energy.

What an incredible opportunity to be the newspaper of record in a city like that! If WSJ reflects the vibe of Wall Street and the Washington Post is Capitol Hill, USA Today is the All Star Game in any city big stadium USA, the LAT can be...Southern California. That, done right, is heady, exciting stuff. That is the MAGIC of newspapers...having the ability to BE the print arm of what a city IS...and aspires to be. Quite honestly, I don't think there's a paper in the Country that REALLY does this least not in 2008 terms. It's not a swipe -- it's an opportunity--A BIG one. BE the 2008. Look forward. Combine Passion with character and muscle. Operate with a sense of swagger that YOU are the city...on today's terms.

*Blowing up Newspapers in the name of change? NO! as with most papers I've talked to, there's a fear of blowing off the existing core in an effort to reach new readers. NO! Firstly, it’s all about accepting what a newspapers "natural" audience is. 50+? Fine. Now, lets own ALL of them. 100% share. Complete and total domination. That's the idea. And...Funny thing, by re-igniting this 'natural' audience, lower demos will follow....but not by TRYING too hard to reach them. I call it cult and fringe.

Cult is your natural reader aka core. For a RedEye it's young, a mainstream paper old. I think RedEye does a fantastic job with its cult. They are new and pure. The fringe is the secondary reader target that follows along even though you aren't targeting them...but because you do such a compelling job with your cult. Take an old guy like me---Here in Chicago, I tend to read the Tribune...but Redeye does such a good job, that there are more than a few times I pick it up and really get into it.

The reverse effect is possible. I see that in LA. A paper that the cult loves MORE than ever, but a paper that is SO tied into 21st Century LA, that there's a younger reader that engages because it's so perfectly in sync with the era and IS the timeless ALL demographic paper of record that is 2008 and not living on the fumes of an expired era. Creating new papers to attract different targets is great, but MAXIMIZING and more completely owning the traditional and 'natural' target is gold.

*The content is there. As with all of our papers, the content is there. It's amazing. In LA they have some star columnists. Now---how do we turn them into print celebrities? How do we re-think the design so they scream out better? LA IS kinda celebrity conscious.

*LA is THE entertainment Mecca of the planet. Maybe they should be THE intelligent source for Entertainment info, much like the WSJ is for business news. There's no shortage of STUPID entertainment news in every grocery store...but imagine if they were known Globally as THE source for compelling, thought provoking nerve touching entertainment info and data.

*Some of their best content is on the web...maybe more of that should migrate to print. (I DO hear a lot of "oh THAT!? It's on the website)...That is shortchanging the luddite who still lives for print. LET THEM EXPERIENCE THE FANTASTIC WEB CONTENT...In print. Drives me nuts when there's great material...but ONLY on the web. point here is that the LAT like most papers DOES this stuff...but it's a mystery due to 1938 navigation and look. Bring out the 2x4. It's WAR out there.

*Being too close to it. LAT has about 20 vans...but they're all Black? Hmmm. Maybe they should be painted in LAT colors. There ARE more than a few commuters driving around down there. They use soy based ink and recycled paper. Hmmm...maybe they should be bragging about that on every page as LA is the home of green.

I walked away from LA with nothing but optimism in a big way. They have everything they need--An unbelievably vibrant locale...some very very strong people. they are in position to do some remarkable things in a remarkable city.

Then we had a meeting of the minds for WGN Superstation. Like the LAT, this thing is ready for supersonic flight. The biggest challenge other than acquiring the shows that work is "de-televisioning" the thinking. TV and Radio are cousins and like radio, there are a lot of TV guys that are really smart but need to liberate themselves from "TV thinking"--I think we are on our way at Superstation. There's one lady named Carrie King who is their creative director. I met her expecting to be bored to tears. She's a fireball of AFDI. She needed to be liberated. Sean Compton and I did that and she is on fire. Charged her with re-thinking the logo and the sound, so there's "magic between the shows" we are totally and completely different in EVERY area that WE control. She came back with some TV looking logos and audio. Sent her a few Pink Floyd albums and asked her to go back to work. She did--and delivered some completely new, cerebral (for the right reasons) and magical looks and sounds.

On the sound guy, we went to {Peter Gabriel's keyboard player and said "what would you do wit TV sound"? He delivered something that is INFINITELY better and cooler than the god awful, clichéd TV sounds that everyone except those in TV actually laughs about. Bottom line: There's going to be some exciting things happening there.

Fear: We revert to "TV thinking"...If we do that, we’re screwed. BUT if we stick with the MISSION of REALLY TRULY and WITHOUT BENDING TO THE "RULES OF TV" THINKING, we will prevail and write the blueprint for 21st Century TV. Just like the LAT and newspapers can reek the vibe of their cities, a station like WGN Superstation can reflect the mood--good, bad and ugly... of AMERICA. That's the key--instead of being a collection of Cubs games and can be more--and a big part of that is the magic between the shows. Like with print, it’s all about a 21st Century:


That defines WHAT a newspaper (or TV station...or website) IS in 2008. An important exercise because it ain't what it WAS.

...and getting in sync with the speed of 2008 with fast, medium and deep options... and STIMULATING THE EYE.

On Eye stimulation, I think some of our greatest assets are our designers. We gotta LIBERATE them. In LA there's a guy who did some redesigns of the Business page. WOW! It was amazing. He also did their front page last Thursday with some inventive graphics. even the LAT staff told me "my neighbor actually BOUGHT the paper last Thursday". I asked did he buy Fridays. Answer: No. The point:

CONSISTENCY. We tend to trickle. Can't trickle! I can imagine that if EVERY day...EVERY page had that Thursday effect. Look out!!! It gets back to "we tried that already". Gotta use the 2x4 or it won’t get noticed. It's a media war...pull out the big guns. The Thursday cover of the LAT is a big gun. Do that EVERY day...every PAGE...24/7/365--and THAT will make things happen...we gotta think that way!

Someone told me before I joined up "Your optimism will wane once you experience the problems in print and TV". Man, are they wrong!


LA Observed
Kevin Roderick • BioEmail

Not new ideas, of course — and without convincing evidence anywhere in the country that his way can lure the masses back to newspapers. But at least this clarification makes more sense than some of Abrams' previous messages. Still to be clarified — and it's crucial because they are in competition — is which "soul" and electric identity should inform the paper's future? The non-white city of upwardly aspiring immigrants that shapes almost everything in L.A. except media coverage? The mostly white Downtown-to-Westside niche that drives the local media today? The relatively few wired yuppies the Times' website and entertainment coverage increasingly target? Or the millions beyond L.A. in the SoCal suburbs who look to Downtown for approximately nothing in the way of culture, lifestyle or soul? I don't know, but if it's the first one they've got a problem because the Times of today doesn't have many, if any, leaders with feet in that Los Angeles.

Lee Abrams Surprised LAT Staffers Didn't Take Him Out Back

Chicago Sun Times

Tribune Co.’s chief innovation officer Lee Abrams, who carries quite possibly the most obnoxious title in newspaper land, and who should generally place a moratorium on delivering sound bites about his company, says the “beehive of hostility and rage” he expected during a visit to the Los Angeles Times was anything but uncomfortable. Instead, he found the place “loaded with people that are smart, passionate and ready to fight the war.” Now, would that be the war in Iraq, the war on newspapers ad revenue, or the war Sam Zell is launching against his own company?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

SPECIAL REPORT: Going Mobile -- The End of the Newsroom As We Know It?


NEW YORK When word came down on March 12 that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was going to resign after revelations that he'd paid more than $80,000 for sex, Jeff Blackwell of the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle grabbed his video camera and headed to a nearby diner. As the lunchtime crowd at Jim's Restaurant watched the governor's resignation live on television, Blackwell recorded their reactions and later posted them online, using additional comments for Web and print stories.

"The picture and the sound show the expressions on their faces, the tone in their voices," Blackwell says. "You could tell if they agreed with what he was doing or not."

Such an assignment is typical for Blackwell and other "backpack" or "mobile" journalists, who spend most if not all of their time outside the newsroom recording, shooting, and writing stories without ever sitting at a desk. "It is probably 60% of my time that is spent out; there are days I don't come into the office at all — at least once or twice a week," says Blackwell, 44. He had worked at the D&C for more than a decade when editors approached him two years ago with the idea of outfitting his 2002 dark blue Audi with a laptop, video camera, audio recorder, still camera, and plenty of lenses.

When a snowstorm struck this past February, Blackwell left home at 8 a.m. and went directly to find people to comment on what they liked about the wintry weather. "I just drove around until I found something to shoot," he says, noting that the images he captured were transmitted directly from his laptop.

Blackwell's beat is becoming more and more common as a growing number of newspapers employ these mobile journalists, known as "mojos" in many places. As technology offers easier ways to collect sound and images, editors are finding that equipping reporters with the necessary gadgets to work remotely — and kicking them out the door to do it — is an attractive option. One daily even plans to make all of its reporters and photographers "mobile" this year.

"We are trying to equip more folks with media kits so that everything we could conceivably want, journalistically, can be gathered in the same setting," says Peter Bhatia, executive editor of The Oregonian in Portland — which currently has six mojo kits. "There will be more of that. Some people really take to it."

It simply means that "people are out and about looking for news and covering news, and in a position to file to the Web," says Pam Fine, managing editor of The Indianapolis Star, which has about a dozen mobile reporters. "Most newspapers have the equipment for journalists to report from the scene, but it is a matter of degree."

At the Times Union in Albany, N.Y., Editor Rex Smith is slowly replacing his newsroom's desktop computers with laptops to allow for quick getaways when reporters need to chase a story. "We made a policy decision to do that in 2007," he says.

Some even predict the "mojo" concept could lead to editors and some non-journalistic staffers working outside the office. With most editing, ad placement, layout, and design done on computers anyway, it's conceivable that the newsroom as it exists today could be eliminated, with folks working from home, their car, or even the local Starbucks. "It is easy to imagine a day when that will happen," says Keith Woods, dean of faculty at The Poynter Institute. "We are technologically in a place where we can already do that."

But not every editor is so keen on the idea. Some, like Tim Franklin of The Sun in Baltimore, worry that journalists can lose that exchange of ideas and editorial oversight if they are not in the newsroom enough. "Being in an office where you can collaborate with others can be very beneficial," he says, adding he has no such "mojos" on staff. "Having a place to meet with someone —there is something to be said for that."

Similarly, Editor Anders Gyllenhaal of The Miami Herald says the mojo approach "is not the focus for us."

Still, as demands for more Web content and faster print deadlines grow, technology to work outside the office improves, and cost limits require newspapers to scale back space in many places, it is clear journalists will have to be able to do more remotely. "Obviously, there is going to be more of that," declares Gary Pruitt, CEO of the 30-paper McClatchy chain. "In general, it is thinking best what is the best way to cover a story."

Cutting the 'cord'

If anyone has paved the road for mobile journalists, it is clearly The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla. The 73,097-circulation Gannett daily plans to have all 44 news staffers outfitted with mobile packs containing laptops, digital cameras, audio recorders, and assorted cables by the end of the spring, according to Editor Kate Marymont. She started the mojo effort several years ago, citing a need to get reporters out, have them spend more time in the community, and have the ability to file stories and images more quickly.

"Everyone still has a desk, either here or from a bureau, as an umbilical cord," she notes. "But at least 80% of reporters are just on laptops. It really spiked in 2007." Marymont says part of the mobile push was related to increasing online reporting and reducing newshole, which she says has decreased by about 5% in recent years. "The volume of online material escalated very rapidly," she adds.

While reporters on traditional beats still file for print, their coverage of meetings and other events is more immediate, in many cases providing updates and blog-type reporting from the scene. "It is almost radio-style updating," Marymont says, citing a local council meeting as an example. "We do just about everything that way."

Laura Ruane, who has been at the News-Press off and on since 1979 and covers tourism, works more out of her 2004 Hyundai Sonata than at any desk. She says the mobile technology allows her to cover and file from anywhere, and much faster. She cites a recent meeting of the local tourism board that was choosing an executive director. As the board interviewed candidates at a special meeting, Ruane was able to take each candidate's photo and file Web updates from the meeting room about how they were being questioned.

During high tourism periods, she will go out once a week to a tourist destination, "talk to people, and do a blog about it from there," says Ruane, who has also gotten familiar with the best Wi-Fi spots from which to work the laptop. "Panera Bread is one of my favorites," she says of the soup-and-sandwiches chain of eateries. She also points to nearby Southern Florida International Airport, which has free Wi-Fi throughout its terminals: "A day at the airport, and I can do anything I can do in the office."

Along with traditional beat reporters utilizing the mojo packs, Marymont has assigned several scribes to be "community journalists" who cruise certain areas and file stories of interest. "They are out prowling," she says. "They are responsible for capturing the life of the community that day. Strictly digital."

One such roving reporter is Mark Krzos, a 36-year-old former entertainment writer who joined the mojo ranks two years ago. "I sort of roam around," he says, noting he focuses on issues ranging from new development to crime and accidents. "I'm there sometimes even before the cops are. It is a little bit of everything." During one week in early March, Krzos' work ranged from coverage of a local gated community's trivia night to a motorcycle accident, which included a photo shot and transmitted just steps from the banged-up vehicle. "At first, I thought it was some kind of newspaper fad," he recalls. "But I never looked back, and would never trade it for anything else."

Heading where the energy is

While the News-Press appears to be the pioneer in mobile journalism, it is far from alone. Newspapers from Oregon to New York have signed on, some with only a handful of reporter "backpacks" in use.

"I go out to find things on my own because I like to do it," says Amy Bartner, an Indianapolis Star reporter in the paper's Greenwood bureau, who spends most of her time scouting in her 2007 Toyota Scion. Bartner, who joined the paper in 2006 and has worked the mojo route for six months, also works a police beat. But she files up to five videos per week on various subjects. "I go into a Starbucks and transmit, or from a student union," she adds. "Anywhere I can find a quiet place to sit."

Another rookie on the backpack beat is Monica Guzman of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, whose on-location work is used mostly for the paper's "The Big Blog," a top Web site feature with different scribes posting items on stories of the day. Armed with her Dell laptop, Guzman, 25, blogs at locations ranging from the trendy Moe Bar to the Seattle Seahawks' Qwest Field.

On Oscar night this year, she was camped out in a 28th-floor room of the local Radisson where a viewing party was being held. "It made a difference; there is something about being there," she says of the ability to get immediate reaction to such an event. "You can really say what got the crowd going and ask people what they think, then get it up." A weekly guest on the local KOMO-TV Wednesday afternoon news cast, Guzman has even taken to telling readers where she will be blogging, drawing some occasional recognition at each spot. "It is about going to see the story of the conver-sation," she says. "You talk to people and you feel the energy."

At The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y., Brian Howard is the only mobile journalist in the paper's 12-person Mt. Kisco bureau. "The idea is to get local news on the Web immediately, to get out in the community and get stories you wouldn't otherwise get," he says. "I have filed plenty from my laptop, in my car."

Howard says coverage includes the usual car accidents and other breaking news. But there is also the lighter side, such as the eight-foot wooden Paul Bunyan figure he wrote about after spotting it on a local resident's front lawn. "I was just driving by and it turned into a good story," he recalls.

"There is a fair amount of ribbon-cutting and stuff that would not get into the paper," he adds. "But it keeps me busy. I have had days with five or six stories."

For Joe Rose of The Oregonian in Portland, backpack reporting often means literally carrying the gear on his back. An avid cyclist, Rose regularly rides his bike to work and often slings a special bag carrying his Macbook, digital cameras, and iPhone on his back while covering his beat — which often includes local protests and what he calls "alternative fringe" stories.

"There have been a couple of times when I have had to stop and take pictures on my way to or from work," says Rose, 38, who uses a company Jeep Cherokee for other assignments. "I have been on my bike and I get to a protest and file from there, and within minutes I have stuff up on the site." His iPhone also comes in handy for quick mapping details. "We are the first line of information for any breaking news in the northwest," he says of the paper's multimedia journalists.

Then there's Peyton Whitely, the grand-father of mobile journalism. The Seattle Times reporter has been doing the out-and-about thing since 1988. Whitely, 63, says his first mobile phone weighed more than 12 pounds and his initial computer was a Radio Shack model that he converted to power through his car's lighter socket. Today, as a crime and suburban reporter, he has a laptop and two cell phones for use in his car.

His mode of transportation also has changed. Gone is the 1977 Datsun 280-Z he started with; now, he pursues news in a 2003 Subaru wagon.

"I have written stories on railroad tracks and in coffee shops, libraries, and park benches," he says. "I got into it writing about transportation in the past, and actually had an assignment to write about traffic in Seattle. That made me think about working from the car all the time." One of his recent mobile stories was his part in the massive December 2006 storm and subsequent massive power outage that crippled the city. "I wrote the whole thing in my car in a flooded parking lot about 200 feet from an apartment building with 50 flooded apartments," he recalls.

Potential drawbacks

But the practice is not drawing all raves and success. And the cost can be somewhat daunting. A "backpack" kit with video camera, audio recorder, laptop, cell phone, and other gadgets runs about $14,800 each for the Democrat & Chronicle, according to Editor Karen Magnuson. She notes, "There are a lot of pieces that go into those packs."

Others admit concerns about having so many journalists working outside the newsroom and thus limiting face-to-face discussions with editors and, at times, each other. "It is a lot of freedom, but it is kind of scary," says Bartner of the Indianapolis Star. "I don't have the ability yet where I don't need an editor above me. I sometimes wish I had someone over my shoulder more." Guzman at the Seattle Times agrees: "Some times, I feel like I need an editor to look at this."

Editor Marymont in Fort Myers recalls that the paper became a bit overwhelmed in the beginning when too many mobile journalists were posting online at once. "That is a lesson we had to learn the hard way," she says. "We first had everyone file directly to the Web, and we went through a phase of disorganized presentation of information."

Other editors, including Leonard Downie Jr. of The Washington Post, say more of their reporters have gone mobile, even if they aren't loaded up with kits. But they warn such an idea could go too far, diminishing the pluses of the newsroom atmosphere. "There are times when fads sweep the newspaper industry," says Downie, whose career spans some 40 years. "We've always been wary here of changing all in one direction, along new organizational lines."

Some also offer caution to the idea of making editors and other non-journalists more mobile, which could be an evolution of the approach. "One set of crystal balls may say the more you can do from a laptop, the less you need to get together," says managing editor Fine in Indianapolis. "But communication can get missed and muddled."

Adds Stephen Gray, managing director of the American Press Institute's Newspaper Next Project: "I offer a caution on this. There is no advantage to doing more than most consumers want."

AFTRA and AMPTP Update

AFTRA has been in ongoing negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on the contract covering primetime network dramatic programs. AFTRA’s current primetime television contract expires June 30, 2008.

There are several significant issues in the area of New Media—including, most notably, how AFTRA members will participate in original New Media productions, and under what circumstances employers can exploit excerpts from traditional TV programs in New Media.

AFTRA has already delivered a strong message to AMPTP that performers will not relinquish consent for excerpts in New Media, which would compromise the integrity of members’ work, their reputations, or their employability in scripted programming.

Detail on the AMPTP's Clips Proposal
  • The primary dispute is over the re-use of film and television clips in new media for non-promotional uses. The use of clips for promotional purposes is already permitted.
  • AMPTP is proposing a new structure tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities of new media; SAG wants to carry over 50-year-old union rules.
  • A significant black market for clips already exists. Clips are already available on black market Web sites and video sharing services as a result of Internet piracy. These clips will be out there with or without our industry. That means that actors have already lost control over their images without receiving any compensation whatsoever.
  • There is the potential to create a significant legal market for clips, which would generate new revenue for actors. Given the public demand that already exists in the black market, there is a high likelihood that a "clips iTunes" would be a success.
  • Film and television libraries are essential to the creation of the new, legal market. Existing rules would require the Producer to bargain hundreds or thousands of times with an individual performer over clips from a single series or feature.
  • Under 50-year-old SAG and AFTRA rules, clips from the library, even those lasting only a few seconds, can only be used if the Producer "bargains" separately with every performer in the clip and reaches an agreement to pay each performer at least the day player minimum of $759. This administrative burden will prevent the industry from developing a lawful clips market and allow black market to flourish on its own.
  • AMPTP has never proposed to sell clips without paying actors. Indeed, a legitimate market would generate brand new sources of income for Guild members.
  • Producers also have no incentive to producers to devalue their own product by allowing clips to be used for unauthorized purposes. AMPTP has proposed various safeguards – including continued consent for scenes involving nudity – to help protect actors from what is now occurring on the black market.
Negotiations continue......

Last month (April 30) AFTRA members ratified the Network Television Code by an overwhelming 93.35% approval.

The AFTRA Network Code agreement covers actors and all on-camera and off-camera talent on all forms of television programming: reality shows, syndicated dramas, daytime serials, game shows, talk shows, variety and musical programs, news, sports, and promotional announcements. Programs covered by the Code include “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “Late Show with David Letterman,” “Good Morning America,” “20/20,” “The View,” “The Tonight Show,” “Oprah,” “The Price is Right,” “Deal or No Deal,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “Days of Our Lives,” “All My Children,” “Cake,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Entertainment Tonight,” and “Survivor,” among others.

“The membership vote overwhelmingly affirms the hard work of the AFTRA members who served on the Negotiating Committee that achieved gains for all performers,” said AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon. “The new Code provides increased wages, improved working conditions, and stronger protections for AFTRA members working across all program formats, as well as new provisions to cover reuse and production of content in new media as it evolves.”

Improvements in the new Network Code include:

Increases in program fees in all categories of performers and program formats

Starting November 2008, initial rates for principals on non-prime time dramatic programs will track prime time one-day, three-day and weekly rates

New day rates for dancers have been negotiated for certain program formats

New terms for reuse of programming in new media, and the production of material made directly for new media, with improved disclosure in information to be provided to the union during the next two years

Increased contributions to the Health and Retirement Plans

Retroactive pay increases of up to 3.5% for most performers from November 16, 2007

Negotiations between members of AFTRA’s 35-person Negotiating Committee and the networks and producers began February 19 in Los Angeles, and were concluded on the evening of Saturday, March 8 in New York. The agreement received unanimous approval by the AFTRA National Board approval on March 29. The new three-year pact is effective from November 16, 2007 to November 15, 2010.


The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO, is a national labor union of over 70,000 actors, singers and recording artists, dancers, announcers and other broadcast talent performers, journalists, and other artists working in the entertainment and news media. With more than 30 local chapters across the country, AFTRA promotes the success and welfare of members in a variety of ways, including contract negotiation and enforcement, advocating on legislative and public policy issues, supporting equal employment opportunities, and sponsoring or supporting health and retirement benefits and programs. For more information, visit

Changes Coming To Zell's KTLA

Kevin Roderick • BioEmail
LA Observed

I'm told that staffers at Channel 5 were gathered together for two all-hands meetings yesterday and told that News Director Rich Goldner would exit today for that new job in San Diego we reported over the weekend.

Allison Hunter was introduced as the interim news director at KTLA, but my source says "it was clear to everyone there that Steve Charlier would be running the place." Charlier left a Sacramento station in February, blamed (or credited, if you prefer) for overseeing "a complete overhaul...of the on-air talent and changing the tenor of the newscasts from sleepy to tabloidy." It won't be Hal Fishman's KTLA anymore — more like Sam Zell's or Lee Abrams'. Source:

He said they were going to tear down the glass partition between the assignment desk and the rest of the news room. The acting General Manager told the assembled mass that 'some people will lose their jobs" in this transition. Certainly a morale booster to an already demoralized staff.

Antonovich mourns 'loss' of KTLA News

L.A. County Supervisor Mike D. Antonovich adjourned the Supes meeting with a motion to mourn the reduction of live news coverage at Channel 5.

"When we lost Hal Fishman, Channel 5 lost its leadership and its owner, the L.A. Times has failed to fill the void. Channel 5 used to be an institution that we really relied on and Stan Chambers was the number one news gatherer along with his colleagues from the other stations. People are watching the other channels to find out what’s happening --because KTLA is showing sitcom repeats and third-rate soap operas."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Studios slip on AFTRA clip trip

AFTRA leaders want consent for online video use

By Dave McNary VARIETY

In a surprise development, AFTRA has joined the Screen Actors Guild in declaring that actors must still be asked for their consent for clips of their work to be used online.

With both performers unions putting their feet down on the clips issue, Monday's announcement probably means the town's ongoing uncertainty over labor will linger for the foreseeable future.

"A resolution may not be quick or easy," warned AFTRA president Roberta Reardon in a message to members.

The move by the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists came as its prime time negotiations with the majors were in their ninth day amid a news blackout. Talks will resume this morning.

With the AFTRA contract covering only seven shows and the union perceived as being far more pragmatic than SAG, many had expected AFTRA to have wrapped a deal by now. Instead, Reardon disclosed that her union won't budge on the consent issue -- a stance mirroring SAG's position at its feature-prime time talks, even though the two performers unions have been at war with each other and are negotiating separately for the first time in three decades on this contract.

Notably, she also praised SAG for its "respect and courtesy" in sharing details with AFTRA from the guild's 18 days of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The AMPTP had no immediate response.

Reardon characterized AFTRA's talks with the AMPTP as professional and businesslike before diving into detail about the clip issue.

"We've already delivered a strong message that performers will not relinquish consent for excerpts in new media, which would compromise the integrity of members' work, their reputations or their employability in scripted programming," Reardon said. "The negotiating committee is also mindful of the hard realities affecting the television business today -- including audience fragmentation, piracy and the other complexities arising out of the fast-evolving new-media landscape -- and the impact this has on the wages and job opportunities for working performers."

Studios and broadcast networks can use clips for promotional purposes but are required to negotiate with the performers when the clips are used for entertainment. The companies are seeking to develop a market for clips to compete with pirated footage on the Web but assert that being required to seek individual approval from thesps would be so cumbersome as to preclude the feasibility of the business model.

Essentially, the congloms are telling the performers unions that the only way that actors can retain any control -- and make any money -- over reuse of clips online is by removing the consent requirement.

But Reardon contended that, with safeguards, the industry can "satisfy and profit" from consumers' desire to access content legitimately rather than through piracy. And she hinted that AFTRA's open to new approaches on the clips issue.

"There are no easy solutions, which means that our negotiating committee must be both innovative and pragmatic, and the industry must also embrace a realistic approach," Reardon added. "Given the rapid changes around us, we cannot afford to waste any time chasing rainbows. Our obligations to AFTRA members requires us to be focused, firm and solutions-minded in order to effectively ensure that working performers have a fair and realistic chance to participate in the future of the television industry."

Both AFTRA's and SAG's deals expire June 30.

In a recent SAG website video posting, national exec director Doug Allen stressed that actors have had the right of refusal on clip reuse in traditional media for 50 years. He called it "one of the real boulders in the road" that the two sides need to traverse in order to reach a deal.

SAG's contract talks recessed May 6 despite objections from the guild that a deal was within reach. The congloms disagreed with that assessment and insisted they were obliged to launch the twice-delayed negotiations with AFTRA, which opened the next day.

SAG's scheduled to be back at negotiations no later than May 28.

Netflix to Sell a Device for Instantly Watching Movies on TV Sets

Published: May 20, 2008

Netflix, which pioneered the business of offering DVD movie rentals by mail, is now offering its 8.2 million subscribers an option to watch movies easily on their televisions without involving the post office.

Netflix owns a stake in the company Roku, which makes a $99 paperback-size box for viewing films on television.

Working with a small Silicon Valley company, Netflix will begin marketing a $99 device on Tuesday that will allow customers to play thousands of movies and shows on their televisions instantly, for no charge beyond their normal subscription fee.

The size of a paperback book, the set-top box is made by Roku, a Saratoga, Calif., start-up known for its Internet music players. Netflix, based in nearby Los Gatos, owns a small stake in the company.

The device’s $99 price — less than half of the cost of an Apple TV — will most likely jolt the emerging market for equipment that brings Internet video to TVs.

But Roku still faces many of the hurdles that have stunted the appeal of previous boxes, including a limited selection of programming and competition from ever-more-sophisticated offerings from cable and satellite companies. In addition, larger companies, including Hewlett-Packard, are expected to offer their own devices in the near future.

Still, some analysts suggest that Roku has broken new ground in technology and value.

“It is the most impressive product we’ve seen attached to a TV this decade,” said Richard Doherty, the director of the Envisioneering Group, a consumer electronics consulting firm.

He said that the device is easier to use, with better picture and sound, than competing devices. And it costs much less. “There is nothing like this,” he said.

The biggest drawback to the Roku device is the selection available. Right now, Netflix offers instant Internet viewing of 10,000 movies and television episodes, compared with its inventory of 100,000 DVD titles.

Because of the way Hollywood sells rights to its products, most of the Internet titles are more than five years old, although there are some newer independent films and TV shows.

Netflix has allowed its subscribers to watch these films on their computers for about a year by streaming them over an Internet connection. Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, said that the company’s experience with its existing service gives it confidence that there is a market for a set-top box.

“Subscribers already use Netflix on the PC now, and this gives us a way to get to their television,” he said.

Netflix customers who have plans that cost at least $8.99 a month will have access to an unlimited number of movies over the Internet.

Netflix has agreed to license similar technology to other set-top box makers, including LG Electronics.

The $229 Apple TV, the leading rival for Roku’s box, mainly offers movies and TV shows for purchase or pay-per-view rental, although it also offers free podcasts and YouTube videos. Apple gets access to movies when they are released as DVDs and typically offers movies for purchase at $14.99 and as rentals for $3.99 a day. Apple TV also offers other features that the Roku box does not have, including access to music and photos. offers similar rental and purchase options service through TiVo video recorders.

Roku’s box is simple to use. The most difficult part of the user experience for a set-top box — sorting through the videos available — is done on the user’s computer, not on the television set.

Unlike the Apple TV or TiVo devices, the Roku box does not have a hard drive. It plays video directly from the Internet by way of an Ethernet cable or home wireless network. That means that the picture could freeze on slow Internet connections. Roku recommends that users have a connection speed of 1.5 megabits a second or faster.

With cable and satellite companies trying to expand the capacity of their video-on-demand services and consumer electronics makers looking to add Internet video capabilities to DVD players, game consoles and televisions, analysts say consumers will get many more viewing choices over the next year.

“A $99 price tag is very attractive,” said Michael McGuire, an analyst with the Gartner Group. But “in the end, it all comes down to content.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

Thomson Reuters axes 140 journalist jobs

News and information company Thomson Reuters has confirmed that it is cutting 140 journalist jobs by the end of the year.

Katie Allen

In an internal email to staff, the editor-in-chief of Reuters News, David Schlesinger, said having looked into areas of "natural overlap and duplication in coverage" between Thomson and Reuters the newly merged company had decided more than half of the cuts would be in Europe.

"After looking at both the unique content that each news operation produces as well as news that is duplicated, I believe that the combined size of the new Reuters News at the end of the year should be around 2,500 - significantly more than the 2,380 the old Reuters editorial ended 2007 with," he told staff in the memo, seen by

"Unfortunately, the overlap we've found and our need to run the operation efficiently means that we will have to eliminate around 140 jobs worldwide by the end of the year," he added.

"More than half the cuts will occur in Europe, the area of most duplication; the rest will be scattered. Thomson Financial News will be totally absorbed into Reuters News by end of 2008, and sooner if possible.

Schlesinger said cuts in the news department would be offset by "hiring into new projects".

"I anticipate that over the coming months we will add some 50 new jobs in key areas that are central to my strategy of making us the best news service for the 21st century," he added.

Thomson Reuters told staff last week that it would be creating new web video roles and offering its readers more commentary and analysis.

Schlesinger said the company, which combines the London-based Reuters with Canada's Thomson, will begin consultation with affected unions, works councils and staff "immediately". He did not make clear whether any redundancies would be on a voluntary or compulsory basis.

At the news wire operations of both Thomson and Reuters, union members said they are ready to take industrial action over the way managers are expected to go about the job cuts.

Staff added that the tone from management briefings so far suggests employees will be forced out of their jobs because Thomson Reuters is expected to opt for compulsory redundancies to cut out overlap.

National Union of Journalists officials said managers have so far refused to commit to using voluntary redundancies and as a result staff have already voted to hold a strike ballot.

The journalist job losses follow last week's news of cuts elsewhere within Thomson Reuters, with up to 700 posts to be axed across sales and technical support.

Staff at the company were told last week that up to 650 posts will go from its content, technology and operations division, with around 250 redundancies.

In addition, 45 jobs will go from sales teams in its central Europe, Middle East and Africa division out of a total of 1,305 posts.

Employees have been nervously awaiting job losses ever since Thomson's takeover of Reuters was agreed a year ago, with both groups flagging up opportunities to cut costs in the various parts of the two businesses that overlap.

A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

· To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email or phone 020 7239 9857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 7278 2332.

Investors Target Web Video

Internet the Link for Venture Capitalists Aspiring to Showbiz

This time, will it be different for investors who come to Hollywood seeking riches by creating content?

Venture capitalists with long, successful records are pouring money into content, betting that the Web video economy will change the rules that for decades have made show business an effective mechanism for separating outsiders from their money.

With a checkered history of investment failures, Hollywood and the venture capitalists who rule Silicon Valley, Boston and New York have never been the best of friends. Investors historically have been reluctant to pour money into a hit-driven entertainment business.

Internet video has become the bridge between the two worlds. Venture capitalists poured $461 million into online video services and software companies last year in 68 deals in the United States. In the first three months of this year, they’ve already funneled $217 million into such ventures, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.

The new guard of investors at firms like Velocity Interactive, Spark Capital, Greylock Partners and others say the current go-go investing will avoid the pitfalls of the millennial dot-com boom and bust. They insist the Internet video revolution has altered the fundamentals of investing in content. They say the advertising potential for Internet video is well documented, that targeted content on the Web can yield high ad prices and that the Web mirrors the cable world of 20 years ago, when niche channels were being built.

“ESPN, History Channel, CNN, Discovery, Lifetime, MTV … were created when cost and the stranglehold on distribution was reduced by cable,” said David Sze, partner with Greylock Ventures, which is invested in online TV network Revision3. “All were thought to be nichey. All ended up being huge franchises, arguably more valuable than the networks in sum.”

Shifting Behaviors

Their willingness to pony up for content is a change. Venture capitalists have traditionally preferred to wager on technology. But consumer behavior and ad dollars both are shifting in a major way, said Jonathan Miller, partner with Velocity Interactive Group and the former AOL CEO. Velocity has invested in online Web studio Next New Networks as well as online video ad network Broadband Enterprises, which has achieved profitability.

“You follow the consumer and then you follow the money,” Mr. Miller said. “You have advertisers who have moved online and are moving online, and the infrastructure to deliver video and rich media and advertising is in place now.”

The question remains whether there will be enough digital video ad dollars to go around. EMarketer predicts advertisers will spend $1.4 billion on online video ads this year; that’s forecast to jump to $4.3 billion in 2011. That enticing growth rate outstrips any other ad medium, Mr. Miller said.

The Internet also has changed the cost model for content, said Brent Weinstein, CEO of 60 Frames, which distributes and finances Web video productions.

“If you can get people to tune in and target those people, the economics on the Internet are so much better,” Mr. Weinstein said.

Some venture capitalists are backing that argument with cash.

“One of the things that is causing folks to think about it differently is people are investing in content that has a demographic against it, and we see ad models existing on the Web for this,” Mr. Sze said. “The video programs are consistent with the demographics already on the Web.”

But doesn’t niche content yield niche returns? Not so, investors say.

Look at cable, said Ross Levinsohn, also a partner with Velocity.

“Most cable channels are niche. The Web is starting to mirror that, but in an even more targeted way. The advantage the Web has is all analytical. You actually know how many people are watching, in some cases who they are, what their likes and dislikes are. Thus, the CPM [cost per thousand advertising impressions] you can charge should be higher.”

Revision3, which produces about a dozen Web shows that generate about 4 million views per month, has said it charges CPMs ranging from $60 to $80. Online video service Blip.TV has sold sponsorships with CPMs ranging from $30 to $100. With improved metrics, CPMs may rise further.

Besides, programming and technology are almost inseparable on the Web, said Todd Dagres, partner with Spark Capital, which has invested in Veoh Networks and EQAL, the new online video studio established by the creators of “LonelyGirl15.”

Investors know you can’t bat 1.000 —not even close. They also know that big broadcasters are watching them and could try to duplicate their model. But some established media companies have tried already and flopped. NBC’s failed experiment with flipping Web series “Quarterlife” to TV is a case in point. Also, earlier this month Turner Broadcasting folded Web video site into its Adult Swim site because failed to take off on its own.

“I am not sure that the Hollywood and broadcast machine is going to be good at creating the authenticity the Web video segment has…. The edginess, grittiness, lack of high-polish realness help this at the margin,” Mr. Sze said. “Over time there will be incumbents that make some hits. And I think many of the early startups won’t survive. But some will and they will do very well.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

Senate Votes to Block FCC's Cross-Ownership Rule Change

No Debate on Vote to Invalidate Federal Communications Commission's Dec. 18 Order

By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/15/2008 8:43:00 PM

The Senate Thursday night voted, without debate, to invalidate the Federal Communications Commission's Dec. 18 decision to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) has been pushing hard for the resolution of disapproval, which passed the Senate Commerce Committee last month. He argued that media consolidation has already led to a lack of localism and diveristy, so any more loosening of rules is uncalled for.

The measure passed on a voice vote, with Dorgan saying the vote sent the signal to the FCC to "get things right." He decried what he said were three of the five FCC commissioners becoming cheerleaders for more consolidation.

Also standing up for the resolution was Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who said the rule had been rushed through despite dissenting views. While there was virtually no discussion of the bill before passage, she took some time afterward to talk about the history of the FCC's media-ownership-rule review, which she said was not sufficiently vetted by the public.

Adding his vote of approval was FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who has been critical of the process that resulted in the FCC decision. "The Senate spoke for a huge majority of Americans tonight by voting to overturn the flawed FCC decision gutting our long-standing ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership," he said. "With courageous leaders like Sen. Byron Dorgan, the Senate has struck a blow for localism and diversity in a media environment crying out for more of both."

Dorgan got a similar resolution passed in 2003 -- the last time the FCC tried to revise its media-ownership rules -- but that effort got stuck in the House and was ultimately mooted when a federal court remanded the rules back to the FCC for changes or better justification.

The Dec. 18 vote, which FCC chairman Kevin Martin called a modest change, was part of the FCC's attempt to wrap up that review, though the rule has also been taken to court by anti-consolidation activists as too much deregulation and broadcasters as not enough.

Martin told reporters recently that he was sensitive to the input of Congress on the issue, but he thought it was "important to update our rules to reflect a changing media marketplace, and particularly the fact that the newspaper rule had not been changed since it was put in place in 1978 and the newspaper industry was in significant financial distress. But, obviously, the commission will follow the law as it is ultimately enacted," he added.

The FCC voted Dec. 18 to lift the ban on the co-ownership of newspapers and TV and radio stations in the top 20 markets, subject to certain conditions, which Martin called modest reform. But Dorgan -- joined by other Senate Democrats, including Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) -- said even that was too much deregulation and launched the effort to block it.

In addition to the threatened veto, the rule was taken to court by broadcasters and activists alike, so broadcasters don't look to get any regulatory certainty on the issue anytime soon.

Among the co-sponsors of the resolution are senators and presidentiali candidates Clinton and Obama. After the subcmmittee passed the bill, Obama e-mailed a response to B&C: “We must ensure that we have an open media market that represents diverse voices throughout the country," Obama said. "The rules promoting the public interest and diversity in media ownership are too important for the FCC to accept an agenda supported by the Washington special interests I have fought against for more than one year.”

The resolution now must be voted on by the House. The Bush administration reiterated Thursday that it supported the FCC's move, opposed the resolution, and would likely veto it.

Late Thursday, it had been looking like bills and debate on other matters would push the media-ownership debate into Friday or Monday, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stepped in to clear the way for the resolution's passage Thursday night.