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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

NBC's Olympics coverage expected to be close to 'break-even'

'Today' show Olympics co-host
"Today" show co-hosts, from left, Savannah Guthrie, Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer during a broadcast of the morning news program from London. (Paul Drinkwater / Associated Press / August 1, 2012)

NBC could yet earn a gold medal for its controversial decision to delay televising marquee events from the London Olympics until prime time in the U.S.

The company approached the London Olympics, which officially opened Friday, expecting to lose about $200 million on its coverage. But ratings for the Summer Games have been much higher than expected, which should allow the company to escape a huge financial loss.

"We are off to a very, very successful start," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke said Wednesday morning during Comcast's second-quarter earnings call. "We think London is going to be right around break-even. We are way ahead of where we thought we would be."

PHOTOS: London Olympics | Day 4

NBCUniversal is paying $1.18 billion to the International Olympics Committee for the exclusive television rights in the U.S., and is broadcasting the events on a multitude of channels including NBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, the NBC Sports Network and on the Internet. The company is incurring more than $100 million in production costs.

Despite a chorus of complaints about the network's decision to delay broadcast of high-profile sports events until prime time, hours after the events are over, the television ratings have been dramatically higher than expected.

Ratings are up about 9% compared with the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Burke said. The NBC network has been drawing more than 30 million viewers in prime time, a spectacular feat in an age of fragmented media and dwindling audiences.

PHOTOS: Royalty takes in the Olympic Games

Audience interest has helped fuel advertising sales.

"Even before the Olympics started this year, we were over $100 million ahead of our ad sales goal," Burke told analysts on the call.  "So there was a lot of demand I think for the time and we booked over $100 million more than our plan and more than we ever had booked before. Now that the Olympics have started, the second positive ... is in ratings, which are way up versus forecast."

Late last week, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said the company had sold more $1.2 billion in advertising time for the Olympics on the various television networks, Internet sites and local NBC television stations.

On Wednesday, during the earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis cautioned that while the results were better than expected, the company had already factored in a financial loss on the Games.

That means on the books, the London Olympics still will result in a financial loss for the company.
"We will have a negative impact in free cash flow in the third quarter,"  Angelakis said.

Despite "Battleship" bomb, Comcast increases 2nd-quarter profit
NBC London Olympics coverage sets records despite angry tweets

AFTRA Health & Retirement Plan 'Examining Options' After Merger

SAG AFTRA One Union Logo - H 2012

It looks like the AFTRA health and retirement plan is reviewing the possibility of unification with the corresponding SAG plan, but the AFTRA plan is not ready to commit –- even through the union wants immediate interim action.

From The Hollywood Reporter Labor Watch

In the wake of a SAG-AFTRA board resolution Sunday urging that the SAG and AFTRA health plans “implement immediately a reciprocity agreement,” the AFTRA plan issued a non-committal statement Monday that may put the brakes on hopes for immediate change.
Improvements in pension and health – some form of unification or coordination – were priorities for many members who voted for merger.

STORY: SAG-AFTRA Board Urges Unified Pension & Health Plan

The AFTRA plan’s statement reads: “The Trustees of the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds are examining and will continue to fully explore the options available to them following the merger of performer unions that created SAG-AFTRA on March 30. Any decisions made or not made by the Trustees of AFTRA H&R will continue to be guided by the best interest of the participants served by AFTRA H&R.”

Citing the confidential nature of trustee meetings, the SAG plan had no comment in response to an inquiry by The Hollywood Reporter.

As an interim step, SAG-AFTRA wants the two plans to implement health plan reciprocity immediately. That would increase performers’ access to health insurance by ameliorating the “split earnings” problem, in which members find the employer P&H contributions from their film and most commercial work flowing to the SAG plan, while the contributions from much of their TV work goes to the AFTRA plan.

That split can result in members falling short of required earnings thresholds for each plan even if their aggregate earnings would have met the applicable threshold if the plans were unified.
But the AFTRA Health and Retirement statement seems to signal that nothing is going to happen immediately – even though, as a source confirmed, the two plans have been in discussions.

STORY: Embattled SAG Pension & Health CEO Resigns

This is not the first time the AFTRA H&R trustees have thrown cold water on merger. In response to a study of merger feasibility that SAG and AFTRA commissioned during the union merger campaign, the trustees said, “the merger of pension and health funds as large and divergent as the AFTRA and SAG plans raises complex and unique financial, legal and benefit issues which can only be addressed through a comprehensive analysis performed by the funds.”

They added at the time, “No position has been, or will be, taken by the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds Trustees or its co-counsel until such time as a comprehensive feasibility study is performed.”
The unions became one several months ago, but the two plans are legally separate from the merged entity, just as they were separate from the corresponding unions before merger. Half of the trustees are appointed by the union and half by management. Although SAG-AFTRA wants immediate and expeditious action, the dynamics are complex, since trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of plan participants.

A possible difficulty is that some trustees may see the best interests of AFTRA participants as being different from what the union has advocated. Here again, complexity is the watchword. On the one hand, reciprocity or unification of the two sets of plans could reduce the split earnings problem.
But on the other hand, as a THR graphical analysis in March showed, the SAG pension and health plans have been on a sharp downward trend, with benefits decreasing, eligibility tightening and premiums increasing far more quickly than changes in the AFTRA H&R plan.

STORY: SAG Health Plan on Steep Downward Trend, While AFTRA Plan's Changes Are Modest (Graphical Analysis)

A key cause was the shift of new television work to AFTRA. That appears to have slowed, but with the legacy SAG and AFTRA contracts still in place, the two plans still have different – and divergent – sources of income. That isn’t expected to change until 2014, when the next round of studio negotiations will provide a forum for the union to push for a single, unified contract.

Another reason that AFTRA H&R trustees may be moving slowly is that the SAG P&H plan was rocked several months ago by series of allegations of misconduct, a filed (and still-pending) lawsuit and the April resignation of its embattled CEO.

The SAG plan’s economic and organizational difficulties may have become a stumbling block, although it’s impossible to tell.

The SAG-AFTRA board’s resolution was approved overwhelmingly on Sunday (99.47 percent in favor) and calls on the trustees of both plans to “implement immediately a reciprocity agreement between the two existing Health Plans” and to “undertake expeditious and appropriate action to create a unified Health Plan.”

The resolution also urged the trustees to review “the feasibility and advisability of creating a unified (pension plan) and reciprocity agreement between the existing (pension plans).”

Unifying the plans does not necessarily mean merging them. The exact form that any unification takes depends on complex actuarial and other factors. But whatever happens, immediate action may not be in the cards.

Bookmark The Hollywood Reporter’s Labor Page for the most in-depth coverage of entertainment unions and guilds.
Twitter: @jhandel

From The Hollywood Reporter Labor Watch 

The Ongoing Mission to Shame Obama Out of Mentioning the BinLaden Raid

The goal is to once again rewrite history to discredit a sitting president...It has been done the same party.

On Sunday night, the Daily Caller went live with an excerpt from Richard Miniter's upcoming national security book. The scoop: "At the urging of Valerie Jarrett, President Barack Obama canceled the operation to kill Osama bin Laden on three separate occasions before finally approving the May 2, 2011 Navy SEAL mission." The source: An un-named administration official. The reaction: Lots of people pointing out that the single source contradicts plenty of reportage on the mission.

But you can't look at this story on its own. Operation: Fickle President is the third aggressive attempt to re-shape the "gutsy call" story.

April 26. Operation: CYA. Time magazine runs a well-sourced story about the OBL raid, one year later, with newly released documents from the commanders.'s Ben Shapiro focuses on a line in a memo from then-CIA Director Leon Panetta: "The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands." Shapiro reads this as Obama preparing to "blame the troops" if the raid went pear-shaped -- which it almost did, as a helicopter was damaged on the descent. MISSION STATUS: Ongoing success. The "CYA" theory was picked up by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey almost immediately. You can still hear references to the theory that, somehow, the commander-in-chief would have dodged responsibility for failed raid by saying the troops screwed up. 

May 1. Operation: Swift Boat. Veterans for a Strong America, a heretofore sleepy group, puts up a pulse-pounding web ad accusing the president of "spiking the football." (That was the cliche Republicans had started using to gripe about the White House running its own video about the OBL raid.) Its chairman tells Michael Hastings that more is coming. "I’ve been talking to operators in the community," he says. "There is palatable discontent." MISSION STATUS: Uncertain. VfaSA swore to run more ads but hasn't gone live with them. 

It's a series of stories, not one scoop, and the goal is to bring the president back down from Olympus on national security.

The role of government

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

-President Obama

Romney praises Poland's socialist economy

Poles Apart

So on the third leg of his foreign tour, Mr. Bean Mitt Romney lavished praise on the Polish economy. It wasn’t quite as big a blooper as his praise for Israel’s single-payer-plus-price controls health care system, but it wasn’t good.

For one thing, Poland has substantially bigger government than the US; in 2007, that is, pre-crisis, the Polish government spent 42 percent of GDP, compared with 37 in the United States. And despite what Romney claimed, there was no obvious trend toward smaller government; Polish spending as a share of GDP was about the same in 2007 as it had been in 2000.

Oh, and universal health care too.

Beyond that, there’s a good explanation of Poland’s relative resilience in the crisis compared with most of Europe: currency depreciation, or as Republicans put it, debasing the currency (note that a rise here is a fall in the zloty):

When capital was flowing into the European periphery, Poland responded with appreciation rather than inflation — and when the capital flows dried up, Poland quickly regained competitiveness with depreciation, rather than having to rely on slow, grinding “internal devaluation”.

So actually Poland’s success suggests that (a) big government isn’t so bad (b) sometimes its good to debase your currency.

Source: New York Times (click here)

Which Party has done the most or women and women's rights?

Gore Vidal, celebrated author, playwright, dies at 86

 Author of "Ben Hur", "Myra Breckenridge", "Visit to a Small Planet" and "The Best Man" RIP at 86
 Gore Vidal, the novelist, essayist and playwright, will be remembered as much for his outspokenness and scorn for popular culture and politics as for his 60-year writing career.

"I use to be a famous novelist...but the noun is pretty much gone."
He died Tuesday at age 86.
His nephew, Burr Steers, said Vidal died at his home in the Hollywood Hills of complications from pneumonia. Vidal had been living alone in the home and had been sick for "quite a while," Steers said.
Vidal, whose best sellers included Myra Breckenridge and Burr, was proud to be a political and literary troublemaker.
A half-century ago, he outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American writers to describe and embrace unambiguous homosexuality.
In 2008, he said, America is "rotting away" — and not to expect President Obama to save it.

In this Dec. 9, 1974 photo, author Gore Vidal discusses Hollywood unions, politics, lecturing and publicizing books during an interview in Los Angeles.
Vidal was born into the establishment on Oct. 3, 1925, at West Point, N.Y.
His father, a former West Point football star, was the military academy's first aviation instructor. He also was one of the founders of TWA, the airline giant, and had a love affair with Amelia Earhart.
Vidal's mother was an actress and socialite who, according to her son, had an "on-and-off affair with Clark Gable."
As a boy, Vidal lived in Washington, D.C., with his namesake, his maternal grandfather, Oklahoma's legendary blind senator, Thomas P. Gore.
After prep school, Vidal didn't attend college, but said he received a great education just by reading to his grandfather.
Vidal also was a distant cousin of former vice president Al Gore, whom he avoided, as he put it, "on the ground that one day plausible deniability will be useful to each of us."
His awards included the National Book Award in 1993 for United States: Essays 1952-1992 and the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1982 for The Second American Revolution and Other Essays.
Though he once swore he would never write about himself, his first memoir, Palimpsest (1995), covers the first four decades of his life in which he ran for office and worked as a scriptwriter and playwright.
His second memoir, Point to Point Navigation (2006), is a Who's Who's list of celebrities including JFK, Jacqueline Kennedy, Tennessee Williams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Orson Welles, Greta Garbo, Federico Fellini, Rudolph Nureyev, Elia Kazan and Francis Ford Coppola.

In it, he also wrote about the illness and death in 2003 of his partner of five decades, Howard Austen. They lived in self-imposed exile in Ravello, Italy, for more than 30 years.

Of their relationship, Vidal wrote, "It's easy to sustain a relationship when sex plays no part and impossible, I have observed, when it does."

During World War II, Vidal joined the Army at the age of 17. He drew upon his experiences as the first-mate on an Army supply ship in the Aleutian Islands for his debut novel, Williwaw (1946).
Fame came later with his third book, The City and the Pillar (1948), the first American novel to deal frankly and positively with homosexual love.

He was viciously criticized for it, but he attracted the notoriety he would rail against and savor for the rest of his life.

Vidal resisted being called gay, saying there was no such thing as a homosexual person, only homosexual acts.

Gore Vidal voiced his likeness on 'The Simpsons.' Vidal, right, is with cartoon versions of authors Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen and Tom Wolfe.

His life was filled with connections to the rich and famous. His mother married Jacqueline Kennedy's stepfather. He was friends with John F. Kennedy and actors such as Susan Sarandon, Paul Newman and Eli Wallach.

In November 2009, when he received a lifetime achievement award at the National Book Awards, Vidal was introduced by Newman's widow, actress Joanne Woodward. She recalled what Vidal said when he became the godfather of Woodward's and Paul Newman's first child: "Always a godfather, never a god."

Twice he ran unsuccessfully for political office: for Congress in Upstate New York in 1960 and for the Senate in California in 1982.

Some of his best known novels grew out of his fascination with politics and history, including Washington, D.C. (1967), Lincoln (1973) and Burr (1984), which is about Vice President Aaron Burr, who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.

His political plays include The Best Man and An Evening with Richard Nixon.

But he'll be best remembered by many for events that had nothing to do with his books.
In a 1968 TV appearance, he goaded conservative William F. Buckley, who yelled at him, "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the god---- face and you'll stay plastered."

In 2008, The New York Times asked Vidal how he felt when he heard that Buckley had died: "I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred," he responded.

In the '60s and '70s, Vidal was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, lauded as a witty, entertaining raconteur. More recently, he voiced himself on TheSimpsons and Family Guy and appeared on the parody Da Ali G Show, where Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen) mistook him for Vidal Sassoon.

Vidal seemed to court controversy. Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh contacted Vidal after he read Vidal's 1998 Vanity Fair essay that criticized the war on drugs, inadequate health care for the poor and government monitoring of phone calls.

Vidal corresponded for two years with McVeigh and said he thought McVeigh was wrongfully prosecuted as the primary suspect in the 1995 bombing that killed 168.

Vidal was one of five people invited by McVeigh to attend his 2001 execution. He planned to write about it for Vanity Fair but at the last minute did not attend.

He also loved movies and was an accomplished screenwriter. In Hollywood, he contributed to the scripts of Ben-Hur, Suddenly Last Summer and The Catered Affair.

One of his best known novels, Myra Breckinridge, a satire that dealt with transexuality and pornography, was considered shocking when it was published in 1970. It was turned into a movie with Rex Reed and Raquel Welch, which Vidal was said to dislike intensely.

During the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, he suggested that prosecutor Kenneth Starr be tried for treason for trying to override the results of two presidential elections.

He attacked the Supreme Court's "purloining" of the 2000 presidential election and said that Americans who died on 9/11 were as much victims of U.S. foreign policy as victims of terrorism.
He also said, "I am told the Cheney-Bush team dislikes their junta being compared to the Nazis. If they ceased behaving like Nazis, no comparison would come to mind."

His favorite president was Franklin Roosevelt: "When I say president," he said in 2009, "I still mean Roosevelt — wisely, I think."

He criticized President Bush for the Iraq War and President Obama for continuing the Afghanistan War. In a rambling speech at the National Book Awards in 2009, Vidal asked, "Didn't George Washington say, 'He who controls Afghanistan will carry New Jersey?' ''

Critic Adam Goodheart wrote that Vidal was "ironic, cosmopolitan, erudite, a sexual non-conformist with a superbly honed sense of envy who needs to be both gate-crasher and guest of honor at every party."

USA Today (click here for video and updated coverage)

News Corp. will lay off 29% of staff at its iPad publication the Daily

Rupert Murdoch
News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch pauses as he delivers a keynote address at the National Summit on Education Reform on October 14, 2011. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / July 31, 2012)

News Corp .said it would lay off 29% of its full-time staff at the Daily, the struggling national news publication created in early 2011 to reach a new generation of readers by taking advantage of the soaring popularity of Apple Inc.'s iPad tablet computer.

The media conglomerate said Tuesday that the loss of 50 of its 170 employees was part of a broader reorganization that would include a refocusing of certain aspects of its coverage.

The Sports and Opinion sections have seen the lightest readership and will be reorganized. Sports reporting is provided by Fox Sports and other content partners. The Daily will no longer have a stand-alone Opinion section, with editorials appearing in news pages and clearly marked.
News Corp.said the Daily will continue to invest in original reporting, photography and video, interactivity and information graphics.

"These are important changes that will allow The Daily to be more nimble editorially and to focus on the elements that our readers have told us through their consumption that they like and want," Editor in  Chief Jesse Angelo said in a statement. "Unfortunately, these changes have forced us to make difficult decisions."

The Daily — touted as a bold experiment to capitalize on a new and powerful distribution platform — nonetheless has struggled to find its footing. This month the New York Observer reported that the tabloid was losing $30 million a year.

Publisher Greg Clayman issued a statement, expressing optimism for the Daily's future:
"As more and more people buy and use tablets in their daily lives, The Daily will grow with them. We have consistently remained one of the top-ranked paid news apps since our launch, and have steadily grown our subscriber base."

News Corp.declined a request to make Clayman or Angelo available for comment.

The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's new iPad 'publication,' debuts Wednesday
News Corp. board votes to split media empire into two companies
Rupert Murdoch says News Corp. split in two will unlock value

Tea Party's Cruz scores stunning win in Texas Senate primary

A Canadian born Texan with Cuban ancestry is the likely next US Senator from Texas.

Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz scored a stunning upset over a longtime Texas state officeholder in a Republican U.S. Senate primary runoff on Tuesday, transforming Cruz into a national conservative star and marking a resurgence of the movement to shrink the size of U.S. government.

Cruz, 41, a former state solicitor general who has never held elected office, became the third insurgent Republican this year to defeat an establishment Republican in a U.S. Senate primary.
He scored a surprisingly comfortable victory with about 56 percent of the vote to about 44 percent for Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who a year ago was considered the frontrunner.

"They said this was impossible," Cruz told a roaring crowd of supporters in Houston on Tuesday night. "They said I couldn't do it. And you know, they were right. I couldn't do it, but you could and you did it. Tonight is a victory for the grass roots."

Cruz will be a strong favorite to win the election in November against Paul Sadler, who won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, because Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. The Senate seat is being vacated by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Most Texans had never heard of Cruz when he took on Dewhurst, 66, a wealthy businessman who spent $19 million of his own money on the race and had the support of top Texas Republicans including Governor Rick Perry.

"When Ted gets to Washington, he's going to be seen correctly as a giant-killer," said Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, the nation's largest Tea Party political action committee.

Cruz spent a year and a half crisscrossing the state, introducing himself at Tea Party meetings and Republican women's club gatherings as a "constitutional conservative."

And he drew support from conservative stars such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and money from national conservative groups such as the Club for Growth. That group's political action committee spent $5.5 million to support Cruz, the organization said.

Cruz, whose father came to Texas from Cuba with $100 sewn into his underwear, would become the first Hispanic U.S. senator from Texas if he wins in November.

Dewhurst and Cruz had similar policy positions. Both pledged to do away with President Barack Obama's health care reform and to rein in Washington spending.

Cruz, a Princeton University debate champion and a Harvard Law School graduate, stood out with sharp debate performances. Some Cruz voters said they viewed Dewhurst, a former state land commissioner who has presided over the state senate since 2003, as something of an incumbent who had been in office too long.