Despite the fact that the top executives at Universal Pictures had been responsible for making the studio the No. 2 moneymaker among Hollywood studios this year, a shakeup by owner Comcast on Monday saw the studio chairman, Adam Fogelson, ousted and the president/COO, Ron Meyer, kicked upstairs to what The New York Times called a kind of senior statesman role across the company. His title will be vice chairman of NBCUniversal. Taking over the reins at the film company will be Jeff Shell, a longtime Comcast executive whose previous bailiwick has been television, with a focus on expanding Comcast's operations overseas. He has had virtually no experience in the movie business. In reporting on the shakeup, the Wall Street Journal observed that it signaled that international experience and close ties to the parent company may be more important in a movie studio chief than releasing a string of hit movies. Those hits include the latest Fast and Furious sequel, Identity Thief, Les MisÃ©rables, and Despicable Me 2. In a statement, Steve Burke, Chief Executive of Comcast's NBCUniversal media division, said that Shell is perfectly positioned to lead our film group at a time when global expansion is more important than ever.
There was much tongue wagging after it was reported that Al Jazeera America had gone on the air last week with an average of just 22,000 viewers, spiking to 54,000 with Real Money with Ali Velshi. But on Monday it was disclosed that CNBC, the business channel owned by Comcast, suffered some of its worst ratings since March of 1993. Despite the fact that it's in 2 1/2 times the number of homes as AJAM, it drew just 128,000 total viewers, a ten-year low, while viewers in the all-important 18-49 age group plummeted to 37,000, a 20-year low. Larry Kudlow's program was hit hardest, with just 20,000 viewers, a 53-percent plunge from last year.
Who needs to worry about a struggling TV network like NBC when you've got minions working for you? That question seemed unavoidable as Comcast Corp., which owns both NBC and Universal, the distributor of Despicable Me 2, filed its second-quarter earnings report on Wednesday. The animated film, which reportedly cost $76 million to produce, has earned $666.3 million worldwide since its release on July 3. During a conference call with analysts, NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke remarked that the animated family film is going to end up being the single most profitable film in the 100 year history of Universal Studios. The company already has piled up $741 million from its other blockbuster, Fast & Furious 6, which reportedly cost $160 million to produce, since its May 24 opening. Together those two films alone account for $1.4 billion in revenue. That's nearly as much as the entire NBC broadcast network earned in the quarter -- $1.7 billion, which was up 11.6 percent from the same quarter a year ago. But those figures pale in comparison with Comcast's cable-TV business, which rose 5.8 percent to $10.5 billion.
Time Warner Cable subscribers may see the nation's most-watched network disappear from their screens after 11:59 p.m. on July 24 unless the companies can agree on a new retransmission consent agreement. Time Warner is the second-largest cable-TV operator in the U.S., after Comcast, and is the principal one in such major markets as New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. CBS claimed on Thursday that Time Warner is refusing to negotiate the same sort of deal that all other cable, satellite and telco companies have struck with CBS. For its part, the cable company maintained that CBS's demands for fee increases were unreasonable and unprecedented. In a note to clients BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield observed that in the past the cable companies have been forced to knuckle under to the demands of the networks. However, the more we think through the situation, the more we believe this could be the perfect opportunity for Time Warner Cable to take a hard stand against CBS to change the future of retrans. He notes that the cable company could partner with Aereo to offer Aereo's antenna system to subscribers in New York and Dallas. Moreover, he notes, CBS is in the midst of summer rerun programming, with its only major new scripted show, Under the Dome, available via Amazon four days after broadcast. The first big squawks from subscribers about a loss of CBS programming probably wouldn't occur until football season begins in September. While a CBS blackout would clearly be painful for Time Warner Cable, the first real pain would likely not be felt for at least 60 days, which is a LONG time for CBS to be dark in New York and LA, the two largest advertising markets, Greenfield observed.
Go figure. Despite the fact that some analysts were predicting that Disney might have to take a $150-190 million write-off on The Lone Ranger following a disastrous start over the Independence Day holiday, the company's stock continued to trade near its 52-week high, even inching up nearly 2 percent by today to about $65 in midday trading on the NYSE. Some analysts attributed the Wall Street indifference to the fact that the film had already been regarded as a probable flop and such a consideration had been on the minds of investors for months. Said Lazard Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett in a note to clients: Many investors had been skeptical about Disney's Lone Ranger reboot. They were right. Crockett still rates Disney a buy, as do many other financial analysts. Meanwhile, shares of Comcast, which owns Universal Studios, which produced the weekend hit Despicable Me 2, were up nearly four percent from Friday as Universal seemed to be on a roll following last month's Fast and Furious 6. Despicable Me 2 earned $83.52 million over the three-day weekend domestically and $88.80 million overseas. The film, which opened in a handful of international locations two weeks ago, has now earned $294.2 million worldwide. In midday trading, Comcast shares were trading at about $43, a tad off their 52-week high of $43.74.
NBC's Tonight show, which once contributed $100 million annually to NBC's bottom line, is now "barely breaking even," the Los Angeles Times reported today (Tuesday), citing people familiar with the matter. That plunge in revenue triggered this month's layoffs of about 20 staff members of the show and host Jay Leno's offer to take a 10-percent salary cut to save additional jobs, the Times said. Leno, the newspaper reported, even offered to work for free to save more jobs, but executives rejected the offer because, they said, it would set a bad precedent. (Last week, Leno opened his monologue by remarking, "Welcome to the Tonight show, or as Comcast [NBC's controlling owner] calls us, The Expendables. ") The Times attributed the show's difficulties to falling ratings that resulted from the Leno/Conan O'Brien debacle in 2009, increased competition from late-night cable hosts like O'Brien and Jon Stewart who attract younger viewers, and "the instability afflicting the TV business in general." Unmentioned in the article is the increasing use of digital video recorders by viewers who tape shows during primetime and view them late at night. Meanwhile, Howard Stern, a judge on NBC's America's Got Talent , has told the Hollywood Reporter that an NBC executive threatened him after he called Leno "a spineless maggot" on his radio talk show for failing to stand up to the network over the cuts. Stern said that he replied, "Do not tell me to not talk about Jay Leno. I will f***ing talk about Jay Leno for four hours if you tell me not to."
Continue reading: Report Leno's Tonight Is Barely Breaking Even
Hit the delete key on the "MS" in MSNBC.com. Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, has acquired from Microsoft the 50 percent of the news website that it didn't already own and has renamed it NBCNews.com. The entertainment conglomerate agreed to pay $300 million to gain full ownership of the site, The New York Times reported on Sunday, citing unnamed sources. Users of MSNBC.com are now automatically being redirected to NBCNews.com where they are greeted by a notice assuring them that "while you'll notice some changes to our logos and navigation," nothing else is changing. MSNBC.com will return as an altogether separate entity next year, the notice continued, "creating in-depth content and a community for the passionate audiences of MSNBC programs." With 55.7 million monthly visitors, the current website ranks fourth among all general news sites behind Yahoo/ABC News with 89.1 million; AOL/Huffington Post with 59.4 million; and CNN with 57.4 million, according to comScore. Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that Microsoft intends to launch its own news website in The Fall.
Continue reading: Microsoft Drops Out Of Msnbc.com
The motion picture industry fired back at websites that decided to go dark or otherwise interrupt services today (Wednesday) to protest against anti-piracy bills that are due to be voted on in the House and Senate before the end of the month. In a statement posted on the MPAA's website, Christopher Dodd, the organization's CEO, charged that "some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns." He called the protests, which included the blackout of the much-accessed website Wikipedia, "an irresponsible response and a disservice." But News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, a staunch backer of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate, suggested that the protests were having an effect. "Seems blogosphere has succeeded in terrorizing many senators and congressmen who previously committed. Politicians [are] all the same," he tweeted. On the other hand Google, which placed a black bar over its logo (only a tiny trace of the middle "g" is visible) linked to a statement saying that "80 members of Congress are in [the] sway" of media companies like News Corp, Sony, Comcast, and the movie and recording industry associations, while only 30 are against and the remainder undecided or undeclared." On the other hand, Mozilla, the nonprofit cooperative that created the Firefox web browser, emailed a statement to its users warning that the legislation "could fundamentally alter the Internet we know and love."
Continue reading: Mpaa Denounces Websites Protesting Against Sopa
Veteran investigative journalist Wayne Barrett, now with TheDailyBeast.com, has implied that the Rev. Al Sharpton is being rewarded with his own show on MSNBC for signing a "pivotal agreement" backing Comcast's takeover of NBC and its affiliated properties. Barrett observed that while Sharpton frequently contributes soundbites principally to Fox News, his three prior talks shows as an anchor "flopped badly." Commented Barrett "Sharpton has a long and well-documented history of leveraging his civil-rights profile for his own benefit. Grabbing a primetime anchor spot in exchange for cheerleading for a controversial merger would be the capper on that career." [Several publications, including The New York Times , have indicated that Sharpton will be installed in the MSNBC lineup at 6 00 p.m., which is not considered primetime. MSNBC has not confirmed the reports.] Barrett further reported that Comcast has given $140,000 to Sharpton's National Action Network since 2009, the same year the merger was first proposed; NBC declined to say how much it has given Sharpton.
Continue reading: Is Sharpton's Msnbc Show A Pay-back?
In the wake of overwhelmingly positive critical and public reaction to its coverage of the upheaval in The Middle East, al-Jazeera English has begun negotiating with Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, hoping finally to land an outlet on its system. In an interview with Reuters, al-Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey indicated that the talks with Comcast represent the first opening wedge in the Qatar-based network's efforts to be embraced by U.S. cable companies who have shunned it after leaders in the Bush administration complained that it was a propaganda outlet for anti-Americanism in general and al-Qaeda in particular. In recent weeks, it has been denounced by leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya as pro-American and pro-Israel. Only today (Wednesday) the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported that al-Jazeera reporter Atef al-Atash had disappeared after filing a report from Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi.
Continue reading: Al-jazeera, Comcast Open Talks