July 2013

Amazon Expands Push Into Originals, Greenlights Five New Projects

Amazon Studios announced today that it has greenlighted five new projects, as the studio continues its push into original programming.

The five new pilots follow what the company calls positive response to its first round of TV pilots. The new projects are all aimed at kids.

“We're very excited to be able to introduce these five original ideas and their talented creators to Amazon customers. After the success of our first pilots, we look forward to getting lots more fantastic feedback from kids and parents,” said Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios. “For the first time we are offering live-action and animated programming for older children and continuing with entertaining, educational programming for preschool-aged children -- it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The company noted in its press release: "Amazon Studios’ first pilots launched in April of 2013 with eight comedy pilots and six kids pilots. Of the 14 pilots, 'Alpha House,' 'Betas,' 'Annebots,' 'Creative Galaxy' and 'Tumbleaf' were chosen, with the help of customer feedback, to be produced as series. The shows will stream on Prime Instant Video later this year and in early 2014."

Here are the descriptions of the new projects from the press release:

Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street
Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street is a live-action adventure show created by David Anaxagoras, a first-time writer, discovered through Amazon Studios’ open-door submission process. This pilot is a look at the lives of three quirky tweens who live in a surreal world of eccentric characters and strange happenings.

Grid Smasher
Grid Smasher offers viewers an innovative visual style with a mix of puppetry and CGI and was created by Emmy Award nominee Dan Clark (Team Smithereen, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). In Grid Smasher, Johnico and his team of rag-tag aliens compete to win the greatest game in the universe.

Hard-Boiled Eggheads
Hard-Boiled Eggheads, created by Emmy Award winner Duane Capizzi (Transformers Prime, Jackie Chan Adventures, Men in Black: The Series, Darkwing Duck) is an animated action-comedy for children ages 6-11. The pilot features Miles and Quentin, classified special agents who set out to correct the mistakes of science -- monsters made of toxic waste, mutants born of lab accidents and the occasional hostile alien.

The Jo B. & G. Raff Show
The Jo B. & G. Raff Show is an animated series created by multiple Emmy Award-winning writer and producer Josh Selig (Sesame Street, The Wonder Pets, Oobi). In this pilot, two best friends, Jo B. and G. Raff, are hosts of their very own TV show, “The Jo B. G. Raff Show” but every day, just when their show is about to start filming, Jo B. realizes that G. Raff can’t be found anywhere. This pilot helps teach preschoolers the importance of compromise and how to meet in the middle to resolve disagreements.

Wishenpoof!
Written by Angela Santomero, creator of Blue’s Clues, Creative Galaxy, and the Emmy-nominated literacy series, Super Why, Wishenpoof! is an animated series that helps teach the essentials of problem solving, empathy and making good choices. The pilot revolves around Bianca, who is just like any other little girl -- well, almost -- Bianca has “wish magic.” Bianca’s magical powers of wish magic let her make all kinds of wishes come true. This is Santomero’s second Amazon Studios pilot. Santomero’s first pilot, Creative Galaxy, is currently in production and scheduled to be available on Prime Instant Video and LOVEFiLM in early 2014.

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Oprah Opens Up About the N-Word, Racism

Oprah Winfrey let her feelings be known about racism and the N-word in an interview with Parade magazine. The longtime queen of daytime TV made it clear she has no tolerance for the word.

Winfrey sat down with fellow actor Forest Whitaker and director Lee Daniels, with the three doing publicity for the upcoming release of their movie "Lee Daniels' The Butler."

Asked about the use of the N-word, Winfrey said: "You cannot be my friend and use that word around me. It shows my age, but I feel strongly about it. … I always think of the millions of people who heard that as their last word as they were hanging from a tree."

Daniels added: "It’s a word I used quite a bit, until Oprah sat me down and talked to me about its power."

Said Whitaker: "I don’t use the word. Never did."

Noting that young people today don't know enough about the civil rights movement ("They don’t know diddly-squat. Diddly-squat!," said Winfrey), Winfrey asked: "Do we live in a land where Martin Luther King’s dream has been ultimately fulfilled? No. Has part of the dream been fulfilled?"

To which Daniels replied, "Yes," and Winfrey nodded. Then she added: "Are more people judged by the content of their character than by the color of their skin? Yes. Is everybody judged by the content of their character? Absolutely not."

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'Talent' Fuels Big Win for NBC; Weak Premiere for New Series

Even with its two-hour "America's Got Talent" shedding viewers from last week, NBC coasted to an effortless ratings win Tuesday night, based on Nielsen overnights for the key 18-49 demo.

TVbytheNumbers.com reports that "Talent" ticked down one-tenth of a ratings point in viewers 18-49, settling for a 2.7 average -- still the strongest show of the night on broadcast by a wide margin. NBC led off with a repeat of "Hollywood Game Night," which delivered a 1.0.

The other big two-hour reality showpieces airing last night couldn't compete with NBC's entry. Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" was next in line with a 1.4 average in the 18-49 demo, equaling last week's number, while ABC's "Extreme Weight Loss" also matched last week, notching a 1.1.

CW broke out its new show "Capture," which has been billed as a reality version of "The Hunger Games" (while critics liken it more to Hide and Seek). The one-hour premiere barely moved the needle at 9 p.m., trickling in with a 0.4 in viewers 18-49 -- well below CW's two installments of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (0.8 at 8 p.m. and 0.9 at 8:30). "Capture" did improve on the 0.3 delivered by "Perfect Score" in the slot one week ago.

CBS rolled out three hours of drama repeats -- "NCIS" (1.1 average in 18-49), "NCIS: Los Angeles" (0.9) and "Person of Interest" (0.8).

When the dust settled, NBC was firmly at No. 1 for prime time as a whole with a 2.1 average rating in 18-49, topping Fox (1.4 average), Univision (1.3), CBS (0.9), ABC (0.9) and CW (0.6). NBC's edge in total viewers was 7.6 million to CBS's 6.2 million, Fox's 4.1 million, Univision's 3.4 million, ABC's 3.3 million and CW's 1.7 million.

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New App Tells Viewers When the Commercials Are Over

A new iOS app alerts viewers in real time when TV programming returns from a commercial break. Engadget reports that the tech goodie, Commercial Break, is currently running a beta test.

"You tell it what channel you're watching and it uses DSP and some algorithms to analyze audio and video cues, delivering a push notification to your mobile device once what you were watching comes back," the story reports.

The piece adds: "As of right now, it's in public beta with 10 compatible channels in New York City: ABC, CBS, CNN, ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, NBC, TNT, TBS and USA. Outside of the Big Apple, CNN, ESPN and ESPN2 are compatible nationwide, with a few of these channels also available to others along the East Coast."

The app's developers have plans to expand to other markets as well, the report notes.

According to a press release announcing the app, Commercial Break is available for free from Apple's App Store during its beta test.

Commercial Break co-founder and CEO Haim Kairy says in the release: "The average American sees more than ten hours of commercials every week. Commercial Break is two Israelis' attempt to help them take back that time. The idea came to me after channel-surfing one day: I realized that my co-founder, Eli Ben David, and I could apply our backgrounds in engineering and sound production to automate the tedious channel-flipping that we all do while waiting for our program to come back from commercials."

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Who's the Highest-Paid Actress in Hollywood? The List Is Out

Forbes magazine has released its list of Hollywood's highest-paid actresses, and the actress who tops the list hasn't made a major movie in three years. Coming in at No. 1 was Angelina Jolie.

Her last major film, the report notes, was "The Tourist" with Johnny Depp, a 2010 release.

"In the interim, Jolie wrote and directed her first film, the Bosnian War movie 'In the Land of Blood and Honey,' and privately dealt with a major health issue. After finding out that she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene, Jolie opted to have a double mastectomy," Forbes notes. "Jolie probably could have kept her decision a secret. Somehow, the celebrity press never caught on to why the star was suddenly out of the public eye."

Jolie tops the list, based on earnings between June 2012 and June 2013, with earnings estimated at $33 million.

"Hollywood hasn’t shied away from Jolie," Forbes reports. "She’s still one of the few actresses who can demand a paycheck north of $15 million for the right movie -- like Disney’s retelling of the old Sleeping Beauty story, 'Maleficent.' The film, which hits theaters next summer, marks Jolie’s return to blockbusters and big money."

The No. 2 actress on the list, Jennifer Lawrence, checks in with earnings of $24 million.

"Hollywood’s new It Girl had a huge year in 2012," Forbes reports. "Not only did she win the Best Actress Oscar for 'Silver Linings Playbook,' she helped the first movie in 'The Hunger Games' franchise earn $690 million on a budget of $80 million. While Lawrence was paid under $1 million to appear in the first film, Lionsgate was more than happy to bump up her pay for 'Catching Fire,' which hits theaters in November. She’ll also co-star in the next 'X-Men; film, 'Days of Future Past,' in which she plays a young Mystique."

Last year's No. 1, Kristen Stewart, slips to No. 3 this year with earnings of $22 million, down from $34.5 million a year ago.

In fourth place is Jennifer Aniston with $20 million, and rounding out the top five is Emma Stone, at $16 million.

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Controversy Swirls Around Star of New Reality Show

The figure at the center of an upcoming cable reality show is attracting a lot of attention, and much of it is negative. Business Insider reports that Steve Stevens, who stars in CNBC's new show "Money Talks," appears to have a shady past.

Stevens runs a business that sells sports betting picks and is described by the network in a press release issued over the weekend as a "well-known handicapper." But Stevens "is being called a fraud and an ex-convict by some of the most prominent people in the sports betting world today," the story reports.

A report from a site called WagerMinds questions the identity of Stevens, noting that it has never heard of him even though "we've covered the sports betting industry for years." Experts have also called into question Stevens' claim that he has a 71.5% success rate at picking games, which WagerMinds says has the impossible odds of "one trillion to 1."

Business Insider adds that the "70% claim was a red flag for a lot of sports betting folks," adding that NBA bettor Bob Voulgaris, who is described by FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver as the best sports bettor in the world, only wins about 57% of his bets.

Stevens' company VIP Sports Las Vegas has its domain name registered to a man called Darin Notaro, who allegedly is on probation for six federal felony counts of telemarketing fraud by wire going back to 1999, the story says.

Reports suggest that Stevens and Notaro are the same person, and a statement from a CNBC spokesman, published by Business Insider, appears to confirm that suggestion. Here's the full statement:

"We are aware of Steve Stevens’ 1999 conviction and while we are very clear in the press release that VIP Sports clients risk big dollars in the hopes that Stevens and his agents have the expertise to consistently deliver winners, viewers should tune in on September 10th at 10pm ET/PT to draw their own conclusions about VIP Sports. We are merely betting that viewers will be interested in the world of touts and handicappers and in no way endorse either Stevens’ picks or his business model."

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Popular Radio Personality Dumped After Sexual Harassment Allegations Surface

A popular radio host has disappeared from the air, with his show being abruptly canceled after allegations surfaced that he had sexually harassed a male employee of the show, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"Spanish-language radio personality Eddie 'Piolin' Sotelo's mysterious departure from the airwaves last week came after a performer on his nationally syndicated program accused him of sexual harassment, according to documents obtained by The Times," the newspaper reports. "Alberto 'Beto' Cortez, a writer, producer and performer on the popular 'Piolin por la Manana' radio program, alleged that his boss Sotelo was 'physically, sexually and emotionally harassing' him for a three-year period ending last January."

The paper reports that Univision, the broadcaster behind "Piolin por la Manana," has severed ties with Sotelo.

"Univision has not decided how it plans to program the early morning drive-time period that Piolín ruled for a decade," the Times reports separately. "For now, the company is playing Mexican regional music during that slot. During the month of June, the most recent month that has ratings data available, Sotelo's show was tied for sixth place among morning programs in the competitive Los Angeles media market."

The Times also notes: "In addition to the claim of sexual harassment, Cortez alleged that Sotelo ordered members of his radio production team to falsify letters in support of a high-profile campaign for congressional immigration reform, an issue that Sotelo championed on his program."

Jeffrey Spitz, an attorney for Sotelo, called the allegations false. The Times quotes a statement from Spitz saying: "A disgruntled, troubled employee has made malicious and false claims about Eddie Sotelo. This was done as part of a demand for money. ... The employee worked with Eddie for more than a decade. The employee's allegations of harassment and falsification of immigration letters are pure fiction intended to gain a financial settlement."

eddie-sotelo.jpg

Eddie Sotelo

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Video: Did a CNBC Reporter Use an Offensive Slur?

A CNBC reporter has been accused of using an offensive slur on the air, although some observers say the word was used completely unintentionally.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the incident involves reporter Robert Frank, who was talking about Wendi Deng's impending divorce from media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. "What do you think the chink in the armor here might be?" Frank asked during the discussion of Deng, who was born in China.

Frank uses the word "chink" twice during the exchange.

The phrase previously got an ESPN headline writer fired after using it in a story about NBA player Jeremy Lin. The Asian American Journalists Association told Media Matters for America that the term is "offensive."

Media Matters sent an email to journalists after the CNBC exchange, citing the AAJA's media watch chair Bobby Caina Calvan. Media Matters said while Calvan said the question may have been "spoken innocently," the phrase shouldn't be used when talking about Asian Americans, the story notes.

A CNBC representative said the term's use was "totally unintentional."

Here's a clip of the report, with the controversial word appearing -- twice -- around the 3:23 mark.

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NBC Wraps Upfront, Brings Home Increases in Volume and CPM; Here's Why It Took So Long

NBC has finished its upfront negotiations, tying up loose ends well after the July 4 weekend, which has been the informal deadline in recent years, reports Jeanine Poggi in Advertising Age.

The network brought in a 20% increase in advertising commitments over last year, the story reports. Talks finished later than usual because the broadcast ad inventory was bundled for the first time with NBCUniversal's cable and digital properties, the story notes. Last year, NBC had things pretty well wrapped up by mid-June.

NBC secured $2.1 billion in commitments, up from about $1.72 billion to $1.74 billion last year. CPM rates rose between 7% to 8%, while last year the rate increases were more in the range of 5% to 6%, the story adds.

Poggi reports: "The figures mean NBC comes in behind CBS, which brought in $2.5 billion to $2.75 billion in ad commitments at this year's upfront market, where TV networks negotiate with ad buyers for commercial time in the approaching season. CBS's dollar volume was in line with the prior two upfronts, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Eye Network notched price hikes similar to NBC's, between 7% and 8%."

NBC is not alone in taking its time to conclude its upfront dealmaking this year. "ABC is still wrapping up deals, with media buyers claiming the network has been holding out for price hikes between 7% and 8%, higher than the 6% to 7% increases it saw last year," the story reports.

But $800 million may have evaporated from the broadcast prime-time upfront, compared with last year's commitments, because of weak broadcast ratings, Poggi notes.

"While some of these dollars may have shifted to cable and digital, media buyers say clients are holding back money that may eventually resurface in the so-called scatter market, where advertisers buy commercial time close to the air date," she adds.

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How Facebook Plans to Grab a Slice of the TV Advertising Pie

In a bid to break into the television industry's dominance of media budgets, Facebook plans to sell television-style commercials for as much as $2.5 million a day, reports Bloomberg.

The social-networking site will start offering 15-second spots to advertisers later this year, following efforts by Google and AOL to capture TV ad dollars, the story notes. Prices will range from $1 million to $2.5 million a day.

"With Facebook, the idea would be to capitalize on the millions of users who actively check the site on a daily basis, including during the prime-time hours coveted by television advertisers," the story reports. "As of last quarter, 61 percent of Facebook members were using the site daily -- a number that has risen despite management predictions that it would decline."

The service would allow advertisers to put their ads directly in a user's feed. At 15 seconds, the ads would be the same length as some TV commercials, and would also be the length of Facebook's Instagram's videos, a feature that was added last month.

The ads would be sold on a full-day basis and would be based on age and gender, a switch from Facebook's current practice of selling ads based on location and areas of interest, the story says.

"By relying on fewer categories, Facebook is mimicking the way television ads are purchased, an attempt to make the process more comfortable for executives accustomed to TV," the report notes.

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