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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Muppets go Bejing. Asner fights to keep SAG on its own. The soaps are not dead, at least not yet. Genertion "C" and the Digital Consumer.

The MuppetsPhoto of Walter, the newest Muppet, getting a pep talk from Kermit the Frog in "The Muppets." Credit: Scott Garfield/Disney.
From the LA Times Company Town Blog, click here for the latest entertainment news.

Muppets Speak Chinese. The Walt Disney Co. has reached an agreement that would bring Pixar Animation Studios' "Cars 2," Disney's "The Muppets" and other approved films to Chinese cable television viewers, broadening the Burbank entertainment giant's access in the world's most populous market.

An executive from You On Demand said Wednesday that it had struck a licensing deal with Disney to rent current films, as well as classic movies such as "The Lion King" or "Mary Poppins," through its recently launched on-demand service in China. These titles also would be part of a planned Netflix-like movie subscription offering that's expected to begin in June.

"Disney films define quality family entertainment and we're thrilled that You On Demand will be their showcase to the world's largest television audience," said You On Demand Chairman and Chief Executive Shane McMahon.

You On Demand operates under an exclusive joint venture with China Home Cinema, the HBO-like arm of China's broadcast movie channel, CCTV-6. You On Demand provides the video-on-demand service that is available to about 3 million viewers through cable operators in the Shandong, Jilin and Zhejiang provinces.

Over time, McMahon hopes to expand the service's movie offerings and the availability in a cable TV market that already dwarfs that of the U.S., with some 187 million cable households. Warner Bros., with its library of hundreds of titles approved by the Chinese government's censors, was the first to offer its films through You on Demand. Earlier this month, Lionsgate struck a licensing deal to make available such titles as the Oscar-nominated "Hotel Rwanda," the popular "Saw" franchise and older movies like "Dirty Dancing."
You On Demand charges viewers $1 to $3 to rent a movie through their cable provider — a nominal fee that McMahon hopes will be attractive enough to allow You On Demand to compete with inexpensive pirated DVDs that are widely available in China. He said studio executives hope that services like You On Demand will convince Chinese viewers to pay for a convenient, high-quality movie experience.

One investor, Neil Danics of SPAC Investments, points to an announcement Wednesday from Youku Inc., an Internet-based on-demand service that licenses movies from Warner Bros., Paramount and 20th Century Fox.  Since launching a year ago, Youku said it has processed more than 1 million pay-per-view and subscription orders.

"That tells us the Chinese people do pay for content," said Danics.

The Skinny: ABC's "Modern Family" on Wednesday night once again showed how a potentially sensitive subplot -- this time the loss of a daughter's virginity -- can be handled with grace and humor. Still, have to wonder how comfortable ABC brass was with that story line. Headlines include a shake-up at Paramount's animation unit, the revolt of Ed Asner and other actors against the proposed merger of SAG and AFTRA,  and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings talks about his company's rough 2011.

Ed Asner 
Photo: Ed Asner. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times. 

We're gonna break it after all. Former "Mary Tyler Moore" co-stars Ed Asner and Valerie Harper are working on a new project: breaking up the merger between actor unions SAG and AFTRA. Other actors trying to put the brakes on the combination include Martin Sheen and Ed Harris. More from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.

Daily Dose: Fans of ABC's General Hospital" may have reason to be optimistic that the soap will live for another season. That's because "General Hospital" is easily beating ABC's new chat show, "The Revolution," in viewers and in key female demographics. ABC has to make a decision which show to keep before this fall when Katie Couric's new talk show premieres on ABC-owned stations. If ABC goes by the numbers, then "General Hospital" can certainly make the case to live another year. However, the network has made clear it does not believe in the long-term future of soaps, so don't be shocked if it scraps both "General Hospital" and "The Revolution" in favor of something else.

Photo: A group of friends play on iPhones and an iPad outside the Pasadena Apple store in October 2011. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.

Enter Generation "C". At the start of the decade, Nielsen talked about "Generation C," or the connected generation. It was a group of teens and 20-somethings who came of age in the time of Myspace and Facebook, who used mobile devices and social media platforms to remain constantly in touch with their "tribes" --  people who share common interests, causes or movements.

Nielsen's newly released State of the Media: U.S. Digital Consumer Report underscores just how connected this group truly is. Americans ages 8 to 34 make up just 23% of the population, but they represent an outsized portion of consumers watching online video (27%), visiting social networking/blog sites (27%), owning tablet computers (33%) and using a smartphone (39%).

Radha Subramanyam, Nielsen’s senior vice president of media analytics, said this group is instantly recognizable: They're the ones furiously texting, even while sitting in a roomful of people. They don't think twice about pulling out their mobile phones in a fancy restaurant.

"When we start marketing them, we have to think differently," Subramanyam said. "They're consuming all different kinds of media, and they expect a direct relationship with brands.... This voracious device usage, which is almost an extension of their fingers, is tied to [their] expectations for instantaneous gratification and instantaneous response from brands."

That was fast. David Stainton is exiting as president of Paramount's animation unit only four months after taking the job. No explanation other than personal reasons was given for the abrupt resignation and the move has raised questions about the studio's long-term animation strategy. Coverage from the Los Angeles Times and New York Post.

Reading Reed. Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings is trying to move past 2011, the year the company managed to alienate its customer base and send investors fleeing. Vanity Fair chats with the media-shy Hastings who at least keeps things in perspective. "Our issues were ones that were unfortunate business judgments, not of morality or ethics or scandal,” he said.

Making the wrong enemies. Cherie Blair, wife for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has sued News Corp. alleging that her voicemails were hacked by a private investigator who had worked for the media giant's now-shuttered News of the World tabloid. Tony Blair and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch became BFFs during the former's tenure. Blair is even a godfather to one of Murdoch's young daughters. At this point, it might be easier if everyone in London who doesn't think News Corp. hacked their phones stepped forward. It could be a smaller list. More on Blair's suit from Bloomberg.

 Photo: Rep Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Credit: Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times

Big potential. While new cable channels from Magic Johnson and Sean Combs got all the attention earlier this week, cable giant and owner of NBC/Universal, Comcast Corp. is also going to a Spanish-language entertainment channel from director Robert Rodriguez. Earlier this year, Fox announced its plans for a Spanish-language channel and Univision often scores ratings on par with English-language networks. USA Today looks at the Latino audience and its growing clout on the media landscape.

Meanwhile the sale of Comcast cable channels to Magic Johnson and Sean Combs have met with the approval of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).

Waters was one of the chief critics in 2010 of the then-pending merger between communications giant Comcast and NBCUniversal, because she felt the companies were not committed to hiring and promoting minorities. But she praised Comcast’s announcement this week that they are establishing four new independent channels targeting minorities.

“I am pleased that Comcast-NBCUniversal has taken steps to honor its commitment to media diversity in programming and ownership,” Waters said in a statement released Wednesday.

No fun. On Wednesday, the Hollywood Reporter said Sacha Baron Cohen was planning to attend this Sunday's Oscars dressed in the costume and makeup he wears in his upcoming comedy "The Dictator." It didn't take too long for Deadline Hollywood to report that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences threatened to pull Cohen's tickets if he tried the stunt. Whether Cohen really wanted to wear the costume or just wanted a little attention for his movie remains to be seen. The Academy on the other hand showed themselves to be a little uptight. After all, it's not as if the telecast has to show Cohen in the crowd if he wore the outfit.

2009 protesters urging the Motion Picture and Television Fund nursing home to admit new patients
Photo: Protesters in 2009 rally against the planned closure of the Woodland Hills nursing home and hospital operated by the Motion Picture and Television Fund. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
Motion Picture Home Fined over Death. State regulators have fined the Motion Picture & Television Fund $80,000 for failing to prevent the death of a patient at its nursing home. An investigation by the California Department of Public Health found that the skilled nursing facility "failed to ensure an environment free of accident hazards with adequate supervision, leading to the death of a patient," according to a statement released by the agency Wednesday.
The investigation stemmed from the October 2010 fatality of Carrie Delay, a 90-year-old resident of the Motion Picture & Television Fund's nursing home who died after falling down a stairwell at the Woodland Hills facility.

Delay's family last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging the nursing staff had failed to properly monitor Delay, a wheelchair-bound patient suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

In a statement, Motion Picture & Television Fund Chief Executive Bob Beitcher said: "The MPTF takes patient safety very seriously and deeply regrets the incident. The citation...refers to an investigation completed in December, 2010. Since then we have taken additional extensive measures to ensure the safety of our patients and the quality of care that they receive."

Those measures have included hiring an outside safety consultant, conducting audits of policies and procedures and providing additional staff training, Beitcher said.

The incident was the most serious to occur at the nursing facility, which had faced complaints from residents and family members alleging deteriorating quality of care since the fund announced plans to shut down the nursing home and hospital in January 2009. The fund's board recently reversed course and began to admit new residents.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Patrick Goldstein on race and the documentary "Undefeated." John Horn on the marketing of the Navy SEAL movie "Act of Valor."

-- Joe Flint

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Photo: Ed Asner. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times.

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