Friday, September 30, 2005

It's not just Rup investing in the internet ...

While News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch has been prominently investing in internet media firms (as reported in London Calling), he's certainly not the only one. Other big media corporations, including Viacom and Time Warner, are also pursuing aggresive interent acquisition strategies. The Benton Comm Policy listserv notes a Wall Street Journal piece (Story here but requires registration) that highlights how these and other TNCs "are spending billions in a spate of acquisitions and aggressive Internet initiatives, and are likely to keep on spending." Why are they doing this? In a nutshell, it's the fear of being left behind by new media as audiences migrate to the internet--potentially prompting advertisers to jump ship. The WSJ piece goes on:
    Some hope to directly challenge the giant portals like Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc. -- Web sites that serve as gateways to the Internet. Others are transferring some of their most valuable content to online sites, even though that risks alienating their traditional distribution partners. Although it's too soon to say whether the media industry's latest approach will bear fruit, the companies are finding some areas more fertile than others. They have been investing heavily in youth-oriented Web sites, like gaming, and less in areas like prime-time entertainment programming that is still a cash cow for the television networks. They're also mostly avoiding the pay-per-view model, which hasn't yet gained traction online.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Robert Fisk barred from entering US

ROBERT FISKThe Independent's veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk, a constant and vociferous critic of the US-UK invasion of Iraq has apprently been barred from entering the United States. Doug Ireland of Direland cites a (Santa Fe) New Mexican report that "U.S. immigration officials refused Tuesday [Sept. 20] to allow Robert Fisk . . . to board a plane from Toronto to Denver. Fisk was on his way to Santa Fe for a sold-out appearance in the Lannan Foundation 's readings-and-conversations series Wednesday night." A program officer for the Lannan Foundation was quoted as saying "Fisk was told that his papers were not in order." Fisk ended up being interveiwed via satellite link from a Toronto TV station by Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! (MP3 of interview is available at the Democracy Now! web site)

Monday, September 26, 2005

More Rup Online

The Financial Times reported last week that Rupert Murdoch's next online moves are being readied for roll-out in the coming weeks. Look for Rupe to land a search engine and some sort of Internet voice service soon.

Rumor still has it that Blinkx will be the search engine that ends up part of the Murdoch stable. FinTimes notes that Rupe is keen on Internet voice services, predicting a much faster acceptance and widepspread availability -- he's saying two or three years.

To recap, Murdoch first announced his intentions to expand News Corp's online activities last winter at a News Corp meeting, then in April gave a much noted speech at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in which he spanked the participants for not keeping up with technological changes driving how young people get news and information (FinTimes: the Internet and other digital technologies require a revolution in today's media companies. Murdoch went on a buying spree in the summer with an eye on companies oriented toward young male audiences. Finally, he held yet another summit this month in Carmel calling in what the Guardian described as 45 top executives with the charge of creating an online entertainment media empire. Please note: ENTERTAINMENT.

Can you create an interactive, community based media product that is still highly commercial? Well, look at e-Bay, for starters. It's no charity outfit. Can you buy such an entity? Don't they have to be grown? I guess Rupe intends to find out.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

BBC's Internet TV trial ready to go

The Wall Street Journal is taking notice of the BBC's moves to mainstream the Internet and integrate it with its broadcast activities. Aaron Patrick of the WSJ points out the Beeb's trial, beginning later this month, to issue its iMP (interactive media player) to about 5,000 selected UK viewers to allow them to download and watch most of the BBC's television content for up to seven days. (This is apparently the same program as the MyBBC player Doctor Media previously referred to in blog entries here and here.) "No other broadcaster has made so many shows available for download to computers," notes Patrick. He goes on: "The BBC hopes its iMP software will become the iTunes of Internet television, allowing viewers to customize their TV schedules over the course of a week."

Amazingly, the iMP uses peer-to-peer file-sharing/networking software similar to that designed for Napster and Kazaa (software that triggered a "music-sharing free-for-all" on the Internet). In this form of peer-to-peer networking,

    iMP users will be required to share the downloads with each other. As programs spread from computer to computer, most iMP users will actually download them from other people instead of the BBC. That means the broadcaster won't have to buy Internet capacity to transmit large computer files to millions of people.

The BBC's move shows how far ahead it has moved from U.S. broadcasters in this regard. U.S. networks, fearful of what they've seen happen with musical downloads, have so far only toyed with internet television, and refused to make complete shows available for download (although of course countless TV shows are in any case illegally obtained off the Internet thanks to software such as BitTorrent). The BBC is trying to make the whole process legal and above board. Patrick quotes Nancy Cassutt, vice president of content at Internet Broadcasting Systems Inc.: "What the BBC is doing is what every network Web site here in America is trying to do -- discover what works online." It helps of course that the BBC doesn't have to worry about shareholders and making profits as it tries out this bold new experiment.

The trial should last for three months, and if it's successful (and why wouldn't it be!), Auntie "plans to make the iMP freely available in the U.K. next year, becoming the first TV network to show its entire schedule over the Internet."

But remember, you'll have to live in the UK to get this.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

News Corp hedging its political bets in US?

Tina Brown, writing in the Washington Post, notes something that most Americans might find incredible: that Rupert Murdoch could switch his allegiance to the Democrats if he felt it was in his business interests to do so. In a piece titled "Rupert Murdoch, Bending With the Wind," Brown notes Bush's sinking poll numbers and the unexpectedly strong performance by "liberal" CNN in its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She also notes "Recent friendly meetings between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Murdoch, recorded in the New York Observer" that just could "be early signs of embryonic bet-hedging" by the media veteran. Really? How far can we take this? Can we really countenance tthe possibility that, come the next Presidential election, Murdoch's empire might turn from the Republicans and toward a Democrat--even Hillary?

To address that question, Brown tries to illuminate something about the basic instincts of the man who has proved to be perhaps the globe's greatest buccaneer and survivor. She points out: "Less publicized than Murdoch's fierce political conservatism--undoubtedly his private conviction--is his readiness to turn on a dime when it's commercially expedient. That suppleness is one of the things that make him such a formidable opponent. Nothing distracts him from his business goals--not ideology, not friendship, not some inconvenient promise, not even family."

Need a historical exemplar? Brown reminds American readers of Murdoch's volte-face in 1997, when he shifted his media empire's support from John Major's hapless conservative government to "New" Labour's up-and-coming Tony Blair. Could he be planning a similar shift in the US--taking a leaf out of his UK playbook? Perhaps.
    No one in London believed that the Sun, Murdoch's rabidly Thatcherite tab, would ever support the Labor Party. But in the 1997 election Rupert was quick to spot Tony Blair's rising star. The tabloid cowboy editor, Piers Morgan, kept a diary of working for Murdoch while editing his scandal sheet the News of the World and wrote a book that rode the bestseller list all summer in Britain. "The Tories look like dying donkeys," he notes in a diary entry in August 1995, "and Blair is starting to resonate with the public as a fresh, dynamic, viable alternative. Murdoch doesn't back losers and he is talking in a way that suggests he might ditch the Tories."

Brown goes on to cite the comparisons frequently made between Murdoch and William Randolph Hearst, which she characterizes as often "misleading." Why?
    Like Hearst, Murdoch was a liberal populist as a young man and moved far to the right in middle age. But Hearst, once he switched, kept his flag flying from the same ideological pole. When the vehemently anti-communist Rupert wanted to expand his television beachhead in Asia, he didn't hesitate to cancel a book contract by his HarperCollins imprint with the former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, rather than risk alienating the Chinese. Bruce Page, author of "The Murdoch Archipelago," described to me Murdoch's outwardly authoritarian character as "fluid nothingness at the core -- less a matter of drives than lack of the containing structure found in normal people."

Add in a possible change-of-heart by Murdoch's right-hand man at Fox News, Roger Ailes, and you have a script that could--just possibly--lead to a shift in direction for Murdoch's empire. Remember, it happened in the UK eight years ago, and it happened overnight. The only question--at least for Brown--is whether the Republicans, like the British Conservatives, have really "started to look like dying elephants." Remember, Rupert doesn't back losers.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Next step on Rupert's Internet assault

Rupert Murdoch has been gathering his forces for the next step of his assault on the Internet. The Guardian's David Teather and Jane Martinson note that up to 45 of Murdoch's chief executives met this weekend near Carmel, California "for two days of private discussions on what he [Murdoch] has described as the company's highest priority: how to grapple with the threat and opportunity of the internet to the media empire he has spent a lifetime building."

As Doctor Media pointed out, Murdoch's News Corporation has, from almost a standing start, begun to build a significant web presence since the beginning of this year. It has formed an internet unit, Fox Interactive Media, that oversees its web activities. And with big-budget purchses of Intermix Media (including MySpace.com, a popular social networking site), IGN Entertainment, and Scout.com (which will be integrated into News Corp's Fox Sports enterprises), NewsCorp has made a spash on the Internet, and Murdoch also apparently wishes to buy Blinkx, a search engine.

The Guardian article reports that these recent purchases now "gives News Corp 70 million unique users and 12bn monthly page views. That catapults it into the fourth-largest internet firm in the world by page impressions, behind Yahoo, Time Warner and MSN, according to the investment bank Merrill Lynch." That's a pretty scary statistic, considering that News Corp hasn't been on most people's Internet radar screens up till now.

Apparently the agenda at the Carmel meeting was dominated by "how to turn News Corp's web properties into a hub for entertainment-related content. One News Corp insider called the strategy an attempt to create an 'entertainment Google' -- a one-stop shop for all those looking for computer games, movies, music or chat online."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Murdoch's Internet shopping spree continues

TeamXbox reports that News Corp announced today that it was buying IGN Entertainment, Inc, a video game community-based Internet company. Cost? $650 million cash (corrected from earlier post). The move had been rumored since earlier in the summer. Quoting from a press release: "The acquisition of IGN underscores News Corporation's commitment to expand its internet presence by offering a deeper, richer online experience for its millions of passionate users."

You mean Rup's going for the youngest audience possible?

Maybe I should say youngest male audience -- indeed could we argue that the New Corp ethos is fairly masculine? Don't more men enjoy Fox News? Doesn't News Corp go after the sports audience in particular which at the risk of gender stereotyping is a male audience. Here's what IGN includes: "IGN.com, GameSpy, GameSpy Arena, FilePlanet, TeamXbox, 3D Gamers, Direct2Drive, GameStats.com and a number of web sites within the Vault and Planet networks. IGN also owns and operates two entertainment web properties focused on movie-related content, IGN FilmForce and Rotten Tomatoes, and a male lifestyle web site, AskMen.com. In addition, it provides technology for online game play in video games."

Indeed, Forbes reports in its coverage of the buy that IGN considers itself one of the most popular networks for young men. Business Week too has proclaimed IGN the networkWhere the Boys Are: "The lifestyle portal for men aged 18 to 34 is built on a foundation of women in bikinis, sports, cars, movies, and digital games -- lots of games."

If your company seeks a predominantly male audience does that make the company more masculine? So News Corps is from Mars? Hey, maybe that's the problem with the Public Service Broadcasting ethos -- it's just too girly.

Other interesting tidbits from the release:
"With the addition of IGN, Intermix and Scout Media to the existing Fox-branded sites, News Corporation's U.S. web traffic will increase to nearly 70 million unique monthly users and more than 12 billion page impressions per month, putting the Company in the top echelon of most trafficked sites on the Internet today. The combined sites will also provide a powerful cross-promotional opportunity for Fox's television and film content and enable the company to more efficiently introduce new products and services using its enhanced web presence.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

MyBBC update

Reuters ran a story last week via Yahoo about the MyBBCPlayer plans set to roll out in trial version this month, noting that part of the deal will involve a partnership with private entities to enable audiences to buy music heard on BBC. Noting that BBC is the fifth most popular website in the UK (does that include hits from outside the country I wonder), the story mentions the oft-cited stat that the Beethoven symphonies BBC made available for free download recently got 1.4 million hits.

The story notes that "The idea that 'there needs to be a vast cordon sanitaire' between public service and commercial transactions 'flies in the face of the way the public actually use the media now,' he [Director-General Mark Thompson] said . . . Thompson said it was 'ridiculous' to think that technology-savvy consumers 'would not welcome the opportunity to actually buy a download of a piece of music they have heard on a BBC Website.' " Apparently the private music sector in the UK is not happy with the prospect.

And so besides making use of their "brand" (Thompson again: "Everything we know about the online world suggests that it's the big brands -- the eBays, the Amazons, the Microsofts -- that punch through, and the BBC is one of the big brands") as part of their Internet strategy, BBC will also become increasingly networked with the private sector. I'm trying to be open-minded here and acknowledge that folks surfing the Internet may indeed not give a rip who owns the site as long as it gives them what they want, but I have to confess that whenever I hear the words private-public partnership I cringe.

We need only turn to the US private-public partnerships in terms of PBS and NPR to see where this may potentially lead. Does BBC expect its audiences to sit attentively by when Merck sponsors -- say a review "The Constant Gardner"?

Of course BBC's strategy also includes projects such as the Creative Archive project making materials available for free download and use, the ICan project that creates communities to take social and political action around local issues, BBC Backstage , etc. (All discussed in previous posts).

Additional info:
Here's a blogger/researcher providing his quick hit assessment of the BBC Internet strategy.
An undated Powerpoint presentation on BBC Internet strategy on the BBC's own website.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The BBC's future: Don't look to Canada?

As Doctor Media noted in her post the other day ("Murdoch in context") about Robert McChesney's talks on the need to save PBS and public broadcasting in the U.S., she's not optimistic about whether the system can actually be saved in any meaningful way. Neither am I, though I agree we need to make an effort. This leads her to raise the alternative psb approach that has begun to be outlined on this blog: based on "the BBC and the potential of a global public sphere or at least some sort of transnational Anglo public service sphere." The BBC clearly is making a valiant effort to retain its broad-based relevance in a changing media world, but if we look elsewhere in transnational Anglo PSB sphere, we might be less happy with what we see.

This brings me to Canada's CBC, or Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Staff at Canada's 70-year-old public broadcaster, supposedly "the voice of the nation," have been on strike for some three weeks now, services have been severely disrupted, and audiences are down 25 percent. But, according to Peter Preston of the Observer, "the damnable thing, the awful lesson from all this, is that nobody much seems to care. Only 10 per cent of Joe Public, once polled, thinks the strike a major inconvenience; only 27 per cent would even describe it as a minor inconvenience. The rest of Canada just walks on by, untroubled, uninvolved."

Preston, making a partial comparison between the public service broadcasters in Britain and Canada, notes the BBC's much stronger position in its home country -- though that should be no reason for complacency.
    Of course the BBC doesn't wallow in quite the same unpopularity hole as its Canadian cousin, at least for the moment. CBC prime time TV audiences have dropped to 5 per cent in the past six years (since the last strike). The usual American marauders and digital destroyers have done it terrible damage. But don't pretend that the same forces of future gloom pass Wood Lane by. BBC audience share in August - 21.5 per cent - was its worst monthly figure ever, and the last Sunday of the month - 16.8 per cent - the worst day since records began. Shrinking, shrinking ...

    What happens - the Canadian question, already put - when Joe Taxpayer declines to stand up and be counted again? There are differences, to be sure. We have the licence fee, Ottawa has direct government subsidy (nearing a billion dollars a year) to go with CBC's revenue from advertising, a mix-and-match that might come to Britain if fee-payers got too restive. The BBC tries to chase big numbers for its biggest shows; CBC has largely given up the ghost. Yet still, it's the similarities that bring a chill.

Yes, there are similarities, just as there are significant differences. The CBC has also attempted to get on the new media bandwagon, with an extensive CBC.ca web site, RSS feeds, podcasting, a free archives service, and so on (see wikipedia's "Internet" section); still it doesn't appear to be as innovative as the BBC's efforts (see, e.g., "MyBBC" on this blog). But this apparently hasn't stopped CBC's slide. For whatever historical, cultural or economic reasons, there is no doubt that the CBC is now in a much weaker position than the BBC. Yet both corporations were and are supposed to be "voices of the nation." It's one thing to ask whether the BBC can avoid the marginalization that bedevils U.S. public broadcasting, which after all was never really part of the national mainstream. The CBC example raises the question of how the BBC can avoid being relegated from national dominance to marginalization.

Yet the threat of national marginalization might (I stress might, as I'm still thinking this through) be a force driving these old-school public servive broadcasters away from a national psb orientation toward a transnational psb role. Of course, psbs would have to tread a fine line between maintaining public (taxpayer) support at home and spreading out to new audiences abroad. Obviously it makes sense for psbs--especially English-speaking psbs--to work together, although there is nothing wrong with working with for-profit entities, as long as the collaboration produces psb-friendly results. The BBC has clearly grasped this new reality. The CBC, I fear, hasn't.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Galloway: The Sequel

The firebrand British politician, George Galloway, is returning to the US this month on a tour that appears set to include Barbarella herself, Jane Fonda. Common Dreams is reporting via the Times that they have forged a pack to speak out against the Iraq war (with rumors of a joint appearance with Sean Penn in LA).

Galloway's appearance last spring before a US Senate committee on charges of being involved with the UN oil-for-food scandal was documented in an earlier post by Dougie who noted that the US media practically ignored the incredible political theater that Galloway created when -- rather than rolling over like American politicians when it comes to US Iraq policies -- he slammed the US administration for its lies about the weapons of mass destruction and the non-existent 911 links. The Independent notes that Galloway, who has some political baggage, teaming up with Fonda should have the righties foaming.

The tour, called Stand Up and Be Counted, begins September 13 in Boston. It is tied to Galloway's book tour ("Mr Galloway Goes to Washington") and Fonda's renewed activism. It should prove yet another interesting cross-over between Brit politics and the US entertainment industry.

Scheduled tour: New York (S14), Toronto (S16&17), Madison (S18), Chicago (S19), Seattle (S20), San Francisco (S21), Los Angeles (S22), Washington (24).