Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:
1) Surprisingly, the biggest news items of the past two weeks come from the ‘dying’ world of publishing. The ‘Time’ in Time Warner is officially breaking off as Time Warner has announced a split with its magazine division, Time Inc. The spin-off will make Time Inc. an independent, publicly traded company, currently the number-one magazine publisher in the U.S, featuring People, Sports Illustrated, Forbes and of course, Time. But Time Warner isn’t the only conglomerate making bold publishing moves, as News Corp. is creating a new publishing-focused company, still named News Corporation, granting it a healthy starting-allowance of $2.6 billion. This has led to multiple reactions from the industry with fears of possible layoffs at Time.
2) Staying in the world of magazines, Next Issue Media has expanded beyond Apple to launch on Windows 8 and Microsoft products like the Surface. Following a subscription model for unlimited access to over 80 magazines, Next Issue has been called both ‘Hulu’ and ‘Netflix’ for magazines. (The jury is still out on which one we are all going to call it. Post your suggestions in the comments below!) CEO Morgan Guenther is aiming for 1 million subscribers in the next 18 months.
3) Back to battling conglomerates, new information in the legal battle between Cablevision and Viacom has come to light. To catch you up, at the end of February, Cablevision filed an antitrust suit against Viacom, arguing against the mass media giant’s method of bundling its less performing cable networks with must-watch ones claiming, “The manner in which Viacom sells its programming is illegal, anti-consumer, and wrong,” in what may very well be the least self-aware statement ever made by a corporation. Now, Cablevision is claiming Viacom was threatening a $1 billion penalty if Cablevision refused the lower-tier networks. More on this irony as it develops.
4) The release of EA’s highly anticipated reboot of the SimCity video game franchise may go down as one of the biggest disasters in the industry’s history (though nothing touches the unforgettable landfills of Atari E.T. cartridges). Utilizing EA’s already highly controversial always-online DRM protection, SimCity became unplayable for thousands of players due to server issues and shut-downs. An alleged EA employee blasted the company on Reddit, expressing frustration and disappointment over the launch. EA responded by increasing server capacity and offering a free game, but many have not been assuaged, especially after computer modders/hackers revealed the game can function offline, but EA refused to allow that capability despite the massive amount of server failure.
5) In more video game news, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) have announced a new campaign to educate parents on the industry’s ratings system and parental controls. This comes as a response to increased media scrutiny, particularly in the possible connection between video games and violence in teens and young adults. In a related move, the ESRB has changed its policy on game marketing, following a model similar to Hollywood in that publishers may show trailers for Mature (M) rated games to a wide audience, as long as a green slate (a la movie trailers) precedes the footage.
6) Hulu’s future is in question, as Disney and News Corp. are discussing strategy for the online streaming service, with the implication begin one may buy out the other’s stake (which would be another third. The final third is primarily owned by Comcast, who is barred from management decisions to a federal regulatory agreement). The talks appear to be centered around the companies’ divergent views on Hulu’s primary operation, with News Corp. favoring the paid subscription model of Hulu Plus while Disney wants to focus on advertising-based revenue from free streaming.
7) News from the ‘upfront-line’: upfront season has begun! Cable and smaller broadcasting divisions have already begun the annual process of selling airtime to advertisers. Two of the more newsworthy reports come from NBC News Group, where Matt Lauer joked about recent negative reports on his image and Today’s slipping ratings, and Disney Kids, pushing the use of multi-screen viewing patterns and, much more importantly, the upcoming summer spin-off “Girl Meets World.” We demand Mr. Feeny!
8) At the box office, the past two weekends played Jekyll and Hyde for Hollywood, providing them their first flop and first mega-success of 2013. Two weeks ago, Jack the Giant Slayer brought in an estimated $28 million domestically, just 14% of its nearly $200 million budget, though it shows promise in Asia. Last weekend, however, Oz: The Great and Powerful proved to be just that, bringing in over $80 million domestically and $150 million globally. While this is good news for a Disney, who started planning for a sequel before Oz‘s release, it is better news for the entire domestic box office, as current year totals are 17% behind 2012.
9) Unionized healthcare workers at the Motion Picture Television Fund hospital stated their intention to strike for three days starting this Monday, March 18. MPTF responded with intentions to hire replacement workers for the strike. Talks fell through this past Wednesday, and the union plans on following through with their strike.
10) A new study from Carnegie Mellon‘s Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics, published on March 6, draws the conclusion that since the shutdown of piracy-giant Megaupload, legal digital movie sales and rentals have increased, drawing a distinct correlation. Their findings show, “a positive and statistically significant relationship between a country’s sales growth and its pre-shutdown Megaupload penetration.”
And finally, The Silly Side, the news stories too inane not to share:
- A countersuit has been filed over the Fifty Shades of Grey porn parody (Fifty Shades of Grey: A XXX Adaptation). Smash Pictures (really) is claiming Universal’s lawsuit is unjustified on the grounds that due to its being originally published online as part of a fan fiction series, it is technically in the public domain.
- Please don’t turn off your smartphones. App, a new horror film from the Dutch studio 2CFilm, involves utilizing a free interactive app movie-goers can use during the screening, that adds complimentary information and scenes that are activated by audio cues in the film.
- Russell Crowe saw a UFO and posted a video of it. That’s really all I have to say about that.