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Monday, July 16, 2012

'Iron Man 3' most talked about online, but 'Oz' gets best buzz. Nickelodeon ratings tumble from loss of carriage on DirecTV. Comcast says government needs to stay out of programming business. Warner Bros. brings Hollywood luxury to VIP tent.

"SpongeBob SquarePants"
"SpongeBob SquarePants" has taken a hit from losing DirecTV viewers. (Nickelodeon / July 16, 2012)

From the LA Times Company Town Blog

Ratings for Viacom's Nickelodeon have fallen dramatically in the days since the channel was dropped from satellite broadcaster DirecTV over a fee dispute.

On July 10, the last day Nickelodeon had distribution on DirecTV, its total day audience was about 1.8 million. On July 11, that figure fell 33% to 1.2 million.  On Friday, the average was up slightly to 1.3 million.

Losing carriage on DirecTV couldn't have come at a worse time for Nickelodeon. The cable network, which caters its programming to kids and teens with shows that include "SpongeBob SquarePants"and "Dora the Explorer," has seen its audience shrink over the past year while rival Disney Channel has made gains.

While talks are ongoing between DirecTV and Viacom, neither side has indicated that a deal is near. Viacom took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times today encouraging DirecTV subscribers to switch services.

A Viacom spokesman noted that the ratings drop is not surprising given how popular Nickelodeon is on DirecTV. "It's the most watched cable network on DirecTV," the spokesman said.

Other Viacom channels have also seen a loss of viewers. MTV's total day average went from almost 500,000 viewers on July 10 to 273,000 on July 13, a 43% dip. VH1 has dropped almost 30% of its audience and Comedy Central is off 21% for the same period.

Comcast doesn't want the government playing backseat driver. (Bloomberg / July 16, 2012)

Comcast Corp. has a message for the government: Don't tell us which channels to carry.

"The government does not -- and cannot -- tell the Washington Post what columns to carry, or what sections of the paper to put them in, or what days of the week to run them," wrote Kyle McSlarrow, president of Comcast/NBCUniversal Washington, D.C., in a blog post.

"It doesn't tell Amazon what books to sell, or to recommend to its customers," he added. " It doesn't dictate what films Netflix licenses, or features.  It doesn't specify which TV shows should be available on Hulu and which should be on Hulu Plus."

That being the case, McSlarrow said, why should regulators have any role "in determining which networks a cable operator carries, what tiers they should be placed on, what channel numbers they should be assigned, and how much cable operators (and their customers) should pay for those channels?"

McSlarrow's blog post was aimed at the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to rule soon on a dispute that the cable giant is having with the Tennis Channel.

At issue is how Comcast offers the Tennis Channel as opposed to similar cable networks that it owns. Last December, an FCC administrative judge ruled that Comcast had discriminated against the small, independently owned Tennis Channel by putting it at a competitive disadvantage. It did so, the judge said, by not placing the Tennis Channel in the same package of channels in which Comcast sold its own Golf Network and NBC Sports Network.

No time frame has been set for the FCC to weigh in on the judge's ruling.

In his post, McSlarrow said the FCC judge's ruling misinterprets a regulation aimed at preventing cable operators from discriminating against independent cable networks.

"Though undoubtedly well-intentioned, the ALJ’s ruling was a breathtaking regulatory overreach," McSlarrow opined. He noted that Comcast was already carrying Tennis Channel in a sports package as per its agreement with the network. "Other major multichannel video distributors have made similar carriage decisions, and six of the top 20 largest video distributors refuse to carry Tennis Channel at all," he said.

McSlarrow acknowledged that it distributes Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network to more customers than Tennis Channel, but added "that’s also true of virtually every major distributor in the marketplace, even including the satellite companies that hold major equity interests in Tennis Channel."

The judge, McSlarrow said, "appears to have impermissibly conflated the concepts of discrimination and differential treatment."

Comcast fears that if the Tennis Channel wins, it will lead other programmers to charge discrimination if they don't like their channel placement.

In a statement, the Tennis Channel said, "there is nothing new in this blog post that Comcast hasn’t already argued in front of the FCC, and that hasn’t already been rejected by the ALJ, the FCC Enforcement Bureau and the FCC Media Bureau.”

Michael Cinder waits with his family to get into Comic-Con
"Iron Man 3" was the most buzzed about Comic-Con movie online, but "Oz: The Great and Powerful" got the most positive comments. (And the "Captain America" sequel is still a couple years away.) (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times / July 16, 2012)

The widely anticipated follow-ups "Iron Man 3" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" were the most talked about movies on social networks during Comic-Con, but it was the prequel "Oz: The Great and Powerful" and "The Expendables 2" that got the most positive mentions.

The data, compiled by social media research firm Fizziology, contained few surprises among the upcoming, highest-profile sequels and adaptations that were promoted at last week's San Diego convention that were mentioned the most in tweets and Facebook posts. "Oz," the Superman reboot "Man of Steel" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2" followed "Iron Man" and "Hobbit" on the list.

But fans' tastes were a bit eclectic when it came to what they liked most. Behind "Oz" and the follow-up to 2009's aging action stars hit "Expendables" were "Wreck-It Ralph," Disney's upcoming animated movie set in the world of video games, the Quentin Tarantino slavery drama "Django Unchained," and "Man of Steel." Those films received the highest percentage of positive comments online.

Several movies generated largely positive response inside the San Diego Convention Center's Hall H but did not top the charts online, including the science-fiction drama "Elysium" and director Guillermo Del Toro's robots vs. monsters movie "Pacific Rim." Fizziology attributed that to the fact that there was no new or even existing footage from those movies available online for fans to link to and discuss.

Only one movie received comments that were more than 4% negative during Comic-Con, and it was one that didn't even have a panel at the event. Apparently spurred by publicity in San Diego surrounding the new Nickelodeon series featuring the same characters, discussion of Paramount's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles" reboot set for release in 2014 spiked during the event. A sizable 28% of comments were negative, indicating that fans are still upset over news from earlier in the year about changes that will be made from earlier versions of the reptile samurais.

People waiting to get into the Lionsgate/IGN party at Comic-Con International 2012
People on line hoping to get into Lionsgate and IGN's Comic-Con 2012 party. But Warner Bros.' VIP tent was even more exclusive. (Patric T. Fallon / July 15, 2012)

At this year's Comic-Con International, Warner Bros.  set up a VIP-only tent so packed with luxury that some of those allowed in said it reminded them more of the Cannes Film Festival than the annual gathering of geek fans.

There was little indication outside that there was anything special about the white tent that sprouted up for the first time this year. Located in between the San Diego Convention Center's Hall H, where the most popular panels for movies and TV shows are held, and the "Extra" stage where Warner touted many of its TV shows in an outdoor setting, it was surrounded by shrubbery.

A single entrance was flanked by two security guards who stood in front of a green carpet with velvet ropes for the VIPs exiting their cars. The only people allowed inside appeared to be Warner executives and the actors, writers, producers and directors whom the studio brought in to promote its films and TV programs.

But inside it was a world removed from the jam-packed environs of the Con, where it's often difficult for famous names to walk five feet without being accosted by fans.

As described to The Times by three attendees, guests sat on white couches and enjoyed amenities such as free foot massages and scrubs, pool tables, Xboxes, an open bar and free food, hair and makeup touch-ups, plus a Sundance-style gifting suite. Even the port-a-potties were more luxurious than those typically found at a concert or construction site.

(A Warner Bros.  spokesman said media were not allowed in and did not respond to further requests for comment).

Several Comic-Con veterans said they did not know of any other Hollywood studio going to such lengths to accommodate its VIP guests at Comic-Con in the past. But they noted that it's part of the growing alternate world for Hollywood professionals who go to San Diego for Comic-Con but can spend their days in luxury lounges and their nights at exclusive parties without ever setting foot on the show floor.

From the LA Times Company Town Blog

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