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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

PBS faces major funding cuts. Spanish TV excempt? Are Trailers even trailers anymore? Bloomberg cries fowl against Comcast-NBC-Universal. Starz launches into expensive first run programming season.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski
 Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

All of this post, all items, are from the LA Times Company Town blog. (click here)

Spend on Spanish TV and you do no have to worry about pesky Campaign Spending Rules. Although Hispanic voters will play a big part in the 2012 election, Spanish-language stations have been left out of a proposed rule from the Federal Communications Commission requiring big city television stations to put detailed information online about what candidates are spending on the upcoming presidential race.

Later this month the FCC will vote on whether television stations should be required to publish  information online about how much politicians are spending on TV advertising. Such information is already available to the public, but anyone wanting to see it must visit a TV station and make a formal request. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has called making political advertising information readily available a common-sense update to what is already the law of the land.
Initially though, only stations that are affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in top-50 markets will be required to put political spending information on the Web. The rule tweak, which is expected to pass, would go into effect by late summer or early fall at the latest, still in time for the 2012 general election.
Other stations in smaller markets around the country would have up to two years to do so after the rule change goes into effect.

Media watchdogs are concerned that the rule change leaves out Univision and Telemundo stations as well as other Spanish-language outlets. Lots of money is expected to be spent on the Hispanic vote for the 2012 contest in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Dallas with large Spanish-speaking populations.

"This really needs to be fixed," said Corie Wright, an attorney with Free Press, a nonprofit media watchdog group. "If you are drawing a line at the top markets, you want to include the stations that are reaching a large number of households in those markets." Wright added that it is unfair of the FCC not to give Spanish voters the same access to political advertising information that it is providing to the rest of the electorate.

The Skinny: I heard a splash while watching "Mad Men." I hope it wasn't a shark jumping. Tuesday's headlines include a look at how movie trailers have evolved in the digital age, ratings from some new high-profile cable shows including Lifetime's "The Client List" and Starz's "Magic City," and Sony forecasting a big loss.

Lifetime's The Client List may do repeat business
Photo: Lifetime's "The Client List." Credit: Michael Desmond / Lifetime

Ratings roundup. Several high-profile cable shows premiered in the last few days, including Starz's new drama "Magic City" and Lifetime's "The Client List." While "The Client List," about a woman who goes to work in a massage parlor to make ends meet, had a decent opening and may get some repeat customers, "Magic City" was a little slower out of the gate. Details from the Hollywood Reporter.

Daily Dose: Time Warner, which has already made a play for Dutch television production giant Endemol, is not giving up. While Endemol is wrapping up its financial restructuring and has shaken up its executive suite, Time Warner insiders think the money men that will end up in control will want a quick buck and are eager to deal.

Tough week. On Monday, word emerged that Sony will cut its staff by as many as 10,000. Now the company also gave warning of a $6.4-billion loss when it releases its annual results next month. More from Reuters.

Trailers for Trailers for Trailers....
It started in December with Ridley Scott's "Prometheus." It continued this winter with "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2" and "Total Recall." Now it's being used for "Looper," an original science fiction film starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt that, unlike the prior three films, doesn't come with a well-known brand name.

It's the "trailer for the trailer" phenomenom. Or when the trailer in question is a one-minute "teaser" trailer, a "teaser for a teaser."

At a time when trailers are watched more online than in theaters and the one- to three-minute clips are endlessly scrutinized and can be watched tens of millions of times if they go viral, studios will do whatever they can to draw attention. The latest trick is to use short clips that hype the pending debut of a trailer in order to generate attention and turn the trailer debut into a major event, not unlike the day when a movie itself actually hits theaters.

The "trailer for a trailer" tool -- is it a gimmick? Is it a fad? -- is the latest evidence that trailers have become much more important to Hollywood in the digital age. For more on the rapidly changing business of making and selilng trailers, see the story in today's Times.

Top trailers of 2012: 1. “The Avengers,” 126.1 million views; 2. “The Hunger Games,” 84.4 million; 3. “The Dark Knight Rises,” 68 million; 4. “The Hobbit: Part 1,” 57 million; 5. “Chronicle,” 51.7 million; 6. “The Amazing Spider-Man,” 50.2 million; 7. “Prometheus,” 45.9 million; 8. “Battleship,” 44.2 million; 9. “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2,” 39.8 million; 10. “John Carter,” 39.6 million.

Bloomberg takes aim on Comcast. Bloomberg LP has filed another complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against Comcast Corp., claiming that the cable giant is thumbing its nose at conditions the government put on it as part of approving its 2011 takeover of NBCUniversal.

At issue is where Bloomberg's business news channel is located on Comcast-owned cable systems in relation to Comcast's own channels CNBC and MSNBC. Bloomberg has claimed that a condition of the merger requires Comcast to move Bloomberg to the same "neighborhood" as its own CNBC and MSNBC channels.

"We need a passport to get to the news neighborhood from where we are now," cracked Greg Babyak, head of government Affairs for Bloomberg LP.

Comcast has countered that the FCC's conditions only apply if Comcast were to start placing similar channels next to each other on the dial, a practice known as "neighborhooding."

In its latest FCC filing, Bloomberg claimed Comcast has done just that. It cited two markets -- Crescent City, Fla., and Claxton, Ga. -- where Comcast created a neighborhood of news channels but left out Bloomberg Television.

"Comcast is favoring its own programming content and discriminating against competitors," Bloomberg attorneys told the FCC.

A spokeswoman for Comcast denied that the company has created any new news neighborhoods since the NBCUniversal transaction closed last year.

Bloomberg filed its first FCC complaint against Comcast last June, and the length of time it has taken the regulatory to respond is also becoming a sore spot. On a Tuesday conference call hosted by Bloomberg, Gigi Sohn, chief executive of non-profit advocacy group Public Knowledge and a supporter of Bloomberg's cause, ripped the agency for dragging its feet.

Sohn said it is "ridiculous" that the agency has yet to act on Bloomberg's first complaint. "It's time to do the hard work and actually enforce those conditions," she said, adding that the FCC's inaction is going to discourage others from coming forward to report possible abuses by companies such as Comcast.

In a statement, Comcast called Bloomberg's latest complaint "desperate."

"If Comcast is forced to do what Bloomberg wants the FCC to mandate, beyond the requirements of the FCC Order, millions of customers will be subject to disruption and confusion required by massive channel realignments across the country, all to benefit an already thriving, $30-billion media company. It is hard to imagine a more anti-consumer result that would be less in the public interest," Comcast said.

David Bergstein
Troubled film financier David Bergstein has sued the owners of Miramax, alleging that they denied him money and an equity stake owed for his role in the acquisition of the film label from Walt Disney Co. in 2010, a law firm retained by Bergstein said Monday.

The suit, filed by Weingarten Brown (read a copy here), claims that Bergstein -- who has been involved in dozens of lawsuits, many related to his activities in the film business -- played a crucial role in the deal to acquire Miramax. It asserts that Santa Monica private equity firm Colony Capital, one of Miramax's new owners, and its principal Richard Nanula conspired to deny Bergstein a $6.1-million fee and 3.3% stake they agreed to provide him as part of the purchase.

"Defendants have lined their own pockets to the tune of tens of millions of dollars while reneging on the compensation promised to the individual who made the highly lucrative deal happen for them," the lawsuit alleges.

Bergstein sues over Miramax acquisitionColony and Nanula are named as defendants, as is Filmyard Holdings, the holding company that acquired Miramax in December 2010 for $660 million. The Qatari government's Qatar Holdings and Ron Tutor -- the chief executive of construction firm Tutor-Perini Corp. and a longtime associate of Bergstein -- also have stakes in Filmyard.

It was not clear exactly what role Bergstein played in the acquisition, except that he was working with Tutor before Colony joined the acquisition team in July 2010. In the suit, Bergstein says he initiated talks with Disney, which had already put Miramax up for sale, and negotiated the structure of the deal.
He claims that for his work, he was promised two separate $6.1-million fees, one at closing and another when certain conditions were met, plus a 5% equity stake in Filmyard. At the urging of Tutor and Colony chief Tom Barrack, the complaint says, Bergstein later agreed to reduce his stake to 3.33%.
Colony declined to provide Bergstein with any documentation as part of his stake or a share of profits when the company was recapitalized last fall, the complaint alleges. In addition, Bergstein says he was not paid his second $6.1-million fee when conditions were met, though he did receive the first payment.

Bergstein claims he was cut out because he has been the subject of negative press coverage related to his legal troubles from a string of troubled companies and business deals in which he has been involved. The financier's controversial past would have put off Qatar Holdings and a lender, the complaint says.

"Unable to alienate their lender and principal investor on the one hand and unable to make the deal work without Bergstein's efforts -- Defendants chose instead to merely lie to their lenders and investors and to Bergstein until they no longer needed him," the complaint states.
At a summer 2011 meeting, the document claims, "Nanula threatened Bergstein that if he continued to pursue his documented rights, Nanula would ensure Bergstein would 'never see a penny.'"

A spokeswoman for Miramax and Colony said her clients have not yet been served with the complaint and could not comment.] Reached by phone, Tutor said he was unaware of the lawsuit. "I don't know who owes what," he said. "I know there were machinations."

The lawsuit asks for at least $6.1 million plus the value of Bergstein's 3.33% interest. It comes three weeks after Miramax's then-chief executive, Mike Lang, unexpectedly departed after clashes with the company's board and staff. Although Lang is not named in the lawsuit, Bergstein's complaint asserts that Lang was fired.

Belt-tightening time. The National Endowment for the Arts is cutting back on its support of the Public Broadcasting System. According to the New York Times, the NEA will trim its funding of PBS by more than $1 million. PBS programs that will feel in the pinch include "Great Performances" and "American Masters." It is a time when public broadcasting is suffering from cuts made during the recession, programming competition and even canalizing over the Internet, being a the center of polarization in Washington D.C. and a graying audience.

Follow the Internet. We end today's Morning Fix with this story about legendary journalist Bob Woodard's interactions with a bunch of Yale students examining how the Watergate scandal would be reported in the digital age. Someone needs to tell those Ivy Leaguers that just googling "follow the money" would not be enough to bring a president down. A scary read from Tech President.

Do I get a free drink if I watch? Airline Virgin America is launching its own entertainment channel and has struck content deals with Funny or Die and Ben Stiller's Red Hour Digital. Details from Variety.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: James Van Der Beek pokes fun at himself in a new ABC sitcom.
-- Joe Flint
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All of this post, all items, are from the LA Times Company Town blog. (click here)

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