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TelevisionWeek is teaming up with TV industry veteran Marianne Paskowski. The blog will give Marianne a forum to convey her deep knowledge of the industry and pass along some of the juicy morsels she's hearing on the grapevine. Marianne has covered the TV industry from the inside out and top to bottom, and TVWeek's readers are bound to benefit from her sharp eyes, ears and wit. TVWeek.com invites readers to jump online, chime in and pick Marianne's brain on the latest industry news.

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August 2006 Archives

Car Ad Sales Woes

August 29, 2006 1:33 PM

This is thetime for new car sales and some strange things are a pedal. Suddenly gas prices have come down 10 cents a gallon --hello OPEC-- just when all the new models are coming out.

And then there are two strange blips on the radar screen. First, Ford announced that it might take the company private. God knows what that means for TV ad sales. And then Toyota announced that it was scaling down production to re-examine quality-control issues. Same issue.

My husband just ran his aging Tahoe into the ground. I, of course, drive a more sensible but ugly Toyota RAV-4 a four-cylinder car that I call “Baby Dumbo,” because it looks like a dwarf elephant.

We wound up replacing the Tahoe with a new ’06 Toyota Sports Edition 4-Runner, priced to move off the lot for the new models, soon arriving. We didn’t buy it based on a single ad we saw on TV. I didn’t even know it existed. Nor did he.

We researched online and at the gym. Anyone who knows jack about cars would say this is pretty stupid. It’s an 8 cylinder gas guzzler. But we live on Cape Cod and Bob wanted an off-road vehicle for the beach. And this baby performs. In other words, people make decisions, for better for worse, not based on TV ads but from word of mouth and now the Internet.

That has some ramifications for the auto industry, which has the worst screaming, high-decibal dealer ads on TV. So what did you buy? And what will you buy and how will you reach your decision?

I doubt it’s from a TV ad.

Real Estate Meltdown

August 25, 2006 5:29 PM

Well now we know. The so-called “soft landing” for ebbing residential real estate transactions is not soft at all. It’s in major free fall. And that economic indicator has major ramifications for every sector of the country’s economy, including the selling and buying of TV ad time.

Why? Home sales have been the chief catalyst of economic growth in this country for the past three years. When people don’t buy homes, they don’t buy a lot of consumer goods either. And they don’t go out. I’m starting to read and hear a lot about the country maybe already being in a recession.

Oddly enough, sometimes a recession is a good time for the TV biz. That’s because families tighten the belt and cut a lot of discretionary spending. They are eating at home a lot more and not going out to the movies. That’s good and bad for TV, especially cable. Logic argues that nobody is gonna shut off the cable. They’re stuck at home. And history shows they don’t, in fact, cut off cable service.

But ad sales? That's another story. Ad sales could be affected as studios and fast food companies know it’s going to become more difficult to lure people out of their homes. Sounds like the country is on its way to another cocoon period. So how do we grapple with this? Your thoughts?

A New Low for Reality TV

August 24, 2006 1:18 PM

Come Sept. 14, CBS’s “Survivor” returns with a new twist: The four tribes will segregate contestants by race. You got it: blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians on four separate teams. Martin Luther King is probably rolling over in his grave this morning.

How low can TV sink? Racial stereotypes and hatred are still very much alive. How ennobling is this sop? So what’s next for “Survivor?” Four teams selected by religion, pitting Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists against one another?

CBS, I predict, might risk an advertiser boycott.

I’ll Tell You the Reason

August 23, 2006 7:47 PM

A rather breathless report came out late this afternoon that Adelphia Communications president and COO Ron Cooper told AP that he was stepping down for “good reason.”

Of course he is. After all, Adelphia, a troubled MSO in bankruptcy, just got swallowed by Time Warner Cable and Comcast Communications. The “good reason,” according to one of his pals, was that part of his deal all along was that if he saw Adelphia through the transition, he could stand to make anywhere between $8 million and $16 million. Not chump change.

Cooper, who was COO at AT&T Broadband, (formerly Media One, formerly Tele-Communications Inc.) joined Adelphia in 2003 to upgrade facilities to get the sordid mess ready for sale.

Now the big question is will Cooper, a Type-A workaholic, enjoy his new-found earnings or soon wind up elsewhere in the biz? Plenty of cable ops could benefit from his expertise. He’s like the Red Adair of cable. Call him if you need to drown out a blazing fire.

Who’s In Charge?

August 21, 2006 5:15 PM

Well, tonight, I am. At least in terms of the remote control, because my husband is on a business trip. And I’m going to watch “Dog The Bounty Hunter,” A&E’s 2-year-old reality series that reached 4.5 million viewers for an episode that aired Aug. 8. It was the net’s highest-rated series event in its history.

Of course I missed that episode because Bob thinks the series is moronic. And it’s true that lately I have won the battle of the remote, making him watch a bunch of cable’s new summer debuts. That evening I decided my own marital bliss was more important than watching Dog and Beth’s wedding.

Yes, it’s nice to do things as a couple, but if he were home tonight he would be flipping through all of the cable news nets, C-SPAN and the History Channel, hitting the remote every time a commercial pod appears. Last night I actually saw Lifetime’s new documentary “The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale,” in real time and in its entirety.

But home alone, even I was torn. I also wanted to see HGTV’s “Designed to Sell” and several other shows. And I don’t pre-record anything anymore because I never watch any of it later.

And that’s the boon and bane of watching cable during the summer: There are so, so many good things to sample, all vying for the same eyeballs in the same time period, truly making a cable programming scheduler’s job a nightmare.

Verizon Tries to Cut to the Chase

August 18, 2006 2:15 PM

Covering Verizon’s moves into the TV space should really be some reporter’s full-time beat. You can’t pick up a paper without reading about its entry somewhere into video. Yes, even on this little spit of sand in the ocean, Cape Cod. For two days straight, the Cape Cod Times reports the state’s displeasure with Verizon as it lobbies to shorten franchising time, leaving municipalities just 30 days to hammer out deals.

It usually takes a year for those pacts to get nailed down, but Verizon wants to change the rules. Verizon already provides video in six communities surrounding Boston and has newly won franchises in six other communities in that area. Now the telco wants to come over the bridge, having had discussions with five Cape Cod towns, which went quite poorly.

Clearly those sensible Yankees are not going to be rushed into anything, saying they want to make an educated decision. And they also know that national telecom re-reg is afoot.

Clearly I’m not a sensible Yankee, but a shrewd New York “wash-a-shore” who sees some merit in what Verizon is trying to do. Competition results in lower prices for consumers. And, it’s not as though Comcast, the incumbent is going to go away.

Corporate Foes to Co-Chair NCTA Confab

August 17, 2006 4:09 PM

Remember several years ago when Cox Communications and ESPN took their dispute over rate hikes straight to Washington, D.C., in a very public and ugly forum?

One cable wag who reminded me about that imbroglio—which the NCTA was mortified about—found it humorous and odd that the trade association has just named George Bodenheimer, who is co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of both ESPN and ABC Sports (talk about title bloat), and Cox Communications President Pat Esser as co-chairs of the association’s annual convention.

That same wag also took a jab at the convention’s new name, The Cable Show. “How retro is that,” he asks, pointing out that years ago the association changed its name to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association to reflect the industry’s expansion into Internet and phone.

And here’s a Paskowski prediction: Don’t expect to see any general sessions on the state of programmer/operator relations, or everyone will wind up back in the Beltway pointing fingers, arguing why cable prices are so high. Hopefully what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, where the newly christened Cable Show convenes May 7-9, 2007.

The Invasion of the Pods

August 16, 2006 8:20 PM

So now we know spending on paid product placements will hit $3.1 billion this year and will grow to about $7.6 billion in 2010, as New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott reports today. The stats come from PQ Media, a Stamford, Conn.-based-research company.

This doesn’t bug me a bit. What really gets me is the number of commercial pods appearing during long-form programming on several cable networks. You know who you are.
There is nothing more annoying than watching a program for five minutes and then get assaulted by a pod which is also five minutes long. Call me touched, but I actually like product placements and look for them when I watch TV.

Product placements have long been the staple of theatrical films. You would never see a can of soda marked “Brand X” sitting on a table on the big screen. So let’s not fret too much about product placements. They don’t send viewers running to TiVo. The invasion of the pods is the problem.

The Return of the Yuppies

August 15, 2006 2:08 PM

Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal totally gets it in his piece, “Networks use older actors to seek new audiences,” which appeared in today’s Seattle Times. He quotes Ken Dychtwald, an expert on the baby-boom generation, who says something we all know: That the boomers have the money, but advertisers and TV nets largely still cater to a younger audience.

Rosenthal provides a snappy recap of the return of baby boomer stars who are coming back to the small screen this fall. Take James Woods, 59, who will appear in CBS’s “Shark.” Then there’s the 58-year old Ted Danson, who will appear in ABC’s “Help Me Help You.” And there are more, but they are men.

TV entertainment, by and large, is still not showcasing boomer babes. The women Rosenthal cites are Katie Couric, 49, who will anchor “The CBS Evening News,” and Meredith Vieira, 52, who will take Couric’s place on the “Today" show.

It’s the reverse of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” when you think about it. Or maybe it just means that women really are smarter than men. After all, Couric and Viera are going to be making a heck of a lot more money than Woods or Danson.

Big Apple Showdown

August 14, 2006 2:49 PM

Today Verizon is addressing the City Council of New York about its plans to offer television service in the nation’s largest city. Already incumbents Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems are making noises, saying that while they both welcome competition, it’s got to be a level playing field.

What that really means is that cable does not want Verizon to cherry-pick the most affluent neighborhoods like it has been accused of doing in Long Island, N.Y., and areas in Massachusetts. And judging from a New York Times article today, Verizon is going to spend a ton to capture the Big Apple.

The phone company is now upgrading its network in the Bronx, of all places. That’s a smart and expensive move for Verizon to make on the eve of its franchise approval meetings for New York City, which I predict will drag on for months. But the big question is whether Verizon will, given the staggering costs, be able to compete with two long-established cable companies? I doubt it.

The Death of the Upfront?

August 11, 2006 4:45 PM

Everyone is weighing in now, playing Monday-morning quarterback on why the recent TV upfront was such an exasperating, disappointing time for sellers. The answer is simple: After years of hearing about the complexity of cross-platform deals, the past upfront market was the litmus test, where the talk became reality.

It took months, for example, for Turner Network Television to enter the broadband space, which is does Aug. 15, because online ads for its DramaVision streaming media initiative for 30 movies were sold amidst the chaos of negotiating TV time.

Media buyers have been very demanding as they seek return on investment and wanted their TV, VOD, Internet and mobile deals all tied up together with one pretty ribbon.

Now that the upfront is largely over, maybe it’s time to sit on the beach and reflect: The TV upfront buying bazaar needs to be rationalized or maybe just abandoned. What a nightmare of multitasking this past one was indeed. I’m sure some hard lessons were learned by all.

There Oughta Be a Law

August 10, 2006 5:26 PM

I read something so disturbing today online -- that advertisers are now looking at text messages as the hot new medium -- that I accidently hit the delete button and now can’t remember where I read it.

That is lunacy and an invasion of my privacy. Several months ago, my mobile phone suddenly started to beep wildly, like all of the time, even though I had no voice messages. The problem was several teens had somehow gotten my number and started sending me all of their insipid text messages.

I would routinely kill them, without responding, but the volume -- and beeping -- grew to such a crescendo that I finally had to call Verizon to have the wireless provider put a block on my text message function. Since then, I’ve never had another and I certainly don’t want one from some packaged-goods maker trying to sell me a tube of toothpaste.

How is this gonna work? Shouldn’t advertisers, like e-letter providers, be required to seek permission, in other words, ASK the recipient to opt in and let them opt out?

USA’s 'The Starter Wife'

August 9, 2006 3:03 PM

When you consider that 50 percent all all marriages end in death and the other half wind up in divorce, I predict there will be a huge audience for USA’s “The Starter Wife.”

The six-hour minseries series, starring Debra Messing from “Will & Grace,” is based on Gigi Levangie Grazer’s best seller, “The Starter Wife,” a novel about a messy Hollywood divorce, which I’m sure many in La-La Land can relate to.

So this blog is for my friend, a serial wife, now in her third marriage who isn’t happy about her daughter’s recent marriage. “Oy, he’s just a starter husband,” she said philosophically.

The series begins production during the fourth quarter, and I’m sure USA will be promoting it big time.

A Midsummer’s Night Win for A&E

August 8, 2006 6:50 PM

When I read polarizing reviews about a new A&E reality series premiere, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” which was telecast last night at 10 p.m. (ET), I knew I had to watch it.

The cable net had commissioned the show for 13 weeks, not the usual six. In fact, the show was A&E’s highest-ranking season premiere since 2004, attracting a total of 1.9 million viewers in Nielsen overnight markets, according to a company spokesman.

This reality show is about the life of Gene Simmons, a member of the rock band KISS, and his life partner, Shannon Tweed, a former Playmate of the Year, actress and model. The most interesting thing about this show is that they have been together for 23 years but have never married and have two of the most normal children any of us would ever pray to conceive.

The demos were interesting. The show did best in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Birmingham, Ala., of all places.

The show did its worst in Washington D.C., getting mere hash marks. How interesting, given that many of the folks in Washington who rule our lives and are so out of touch with what goes on in the heartland, where this show actually exploded. Food for thought.

Verizon Bags NJ Prize

August 7, 2006 4:17 PM

Verizon Communications recently won its second statewide cable franchise, in New Jersey, after having won one earlier in Texas. The phone company is launching video, high-speed access to the Internet and phone service, similar to the cable industry’s so-called “triple play.”

Verizon is also lobbying for statewide franchises in California and Pennsylvania, which means if it wins, the company would not have to go through the arduous process of negotiating for local franchises municipality by municipality.

Meanwhile, according to last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, growth for the two satellite services, DirecTV and EchoStar has sputtered, while growth for cable’s popular triple array of offerings is growing quite nicely.

According to that WSJ article, 80 percent of the nation’s homes already subscribe to either cable or satellite. So where does that leave Verizon to catch on fire? It’s going to be on the price front. Verizon claims that in towns where it has “lit up,” consumers are already seeing savings of about 20 percent.

So the playing field has become commodified and I predict Verizon will probably pick up most of its future subscribers from satellite because those services presently are without a real broadband strategy.

Can the eBay Model Work for TV Ads?

August 4, 2006 5:09 PM

I don’t know why sellers of TV time—both broadcast and cable—are so squeamish about a proposal that a handful of national advertisers and their agencies have crafted with eBay to sell avails online.

The group of advertisers, working with eBay and using its technology, would create an online auction site called e-Media Exchange, according to published reports.

Understandably, sellers want to call the shots and don’t want to see the upfront ad arena vanish. After all, it’s a dandy way to unload 70 percent of their inventory in a matter of weeks. But e-Media Exchange sounds like it will start out small—quite small actually—working primarily with cable networks that have scatter units to sell in the wee hours of the morning or late at night.

If e-Media Exchange is set up any way like eBay is, sellers have absolutely nothing to fear. For eBay is commerce at its best. Take it from me: I have more than 400 stars on eBay as a buyer and seller. The seller sets the price, and potential buyers either bid or don’t. And if a seller gets lucky, and many do, bidding wars erupt.

In other words, e-Media Exchange could be a win-win for everyone. EBay’s technology is a work of art. Its tracking system is ingenious and has created a self-policing community where sellers and buyers keep everyone honest. Now the big question is: Will sellers of TV time agree to participate? If not, this is a missed opportunity for all.

AOL On hold: Not for Me

August 3, 2006 2:08 PM

Well it’s official. Time Warner Inc will be offering AOL to users with broadband Internet connections for free, allowing them to access e-mail and other features.

Time Warner wants to make AOL an ad-supported service and realizes it could lose half of its 17.7 million subscribers. But company officials say “no sweat” because they intend to offset that revenue loss by making headcount reductions in marketing and customer service.

Huh? How are advertisers going to react to reaching half the eyeballs they now have? Not well, I predict. And how are AOL users, who already endure rotten customer service, going to react when the service worsens?

And how will AOL actually handle this transition? I still have AOL as a backup and I would rather pay the $15.00 a month rather than ever have to make another single service call to Calcutta. Any AOL subscriber who would take the new freebie service, I predict, is gonna have trouble just getting through.

I’ve asked a lot of questions and I think subscribers and advertisers deserve some better answers from Time Warner.

Discovery’s McHale Wastes No Time

August 2, 2006 3:06 PM

Last night, literally just hours after her resignation as Discovery Communications president and CEO, Judith McHale held a fund-raiser in her Bethesda, Md., home for the chairman of the state's Democratic party. Ms. McHale, who had been with the company for 19 years, apparently is all ready for her next chapter: Mixing it up with politics. One Discovery insider said he believes Ms. McHale has her eyes set down the road on a Cabinet position. Others have speculated that she would like to become a part of the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., if Ms. Clinton decides to run for president in 2008. Another denizen of the Beltway said Sen. Clinton and Ms. McHale are friends.

Ms. McHale will remain at Discovery until year's end to consult on education developments. Now here's a question to sweat over during this blast of summer heat: Do business executives with decades of experience have a place in Washington?

Remember Vice President Dick Cheney before you answer that loaded question.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

August 1, 2006 2:43 PM

A new study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that its survey respondents are becoming quite skeptical about the credibility of all TV news. In this survey, no television news gathering organization was left unscathed. CNN, for example had a 42 percent approval rate last year, but this year that number dipped to 28 percent. Perhaps you can shrug that off by saying that viewers just don’t like the news they are seeing.

After all, the world is a pretty screwed up place, with a war and casualties continuing in Iraq; record breaking heat waves across this country and the ensuing debate about global warming … and let’s not forget the conflict between Irael and Lebanon. Ironically, given that news nugget, CNN announced today that it is creating CNN Exchange where anyone can submit news and video that CNN will vet and run on its cable networks CNN and CNN Headline News. Well, the vetting process better be pretty thorough because it’s easy for the best journalists to make unintentional mistakes.This democratization of the news waves sounds all well and good, but I hope the safety nets catch the kooks or hellions who will inevitably try to gum up the works. Am I worrying, too much? Probably, but what do you think?