November 27, 2015

Comedy Central Should Appoint a Woman to Replace Jon Stewart

In her Academy Awards acceptance speech for receiving an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette got a rousing welcome from legend Meryl Streep and other women in the Oscar ceremony crowd when she called for equal pay for women in the movies.

It’s time for equal pay and equal opportunity for women in television, too, which means that Viacom’s Comedy Central should name a woman to replace Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”

And I have a candidate – Laurie Kilmartin. Laurie is currently the only female monologue writer for Conan and has been a successful female stand-up comedian and writer.  She’s very smart, knows politics and is tough enough to stand up to the macho male political blowhards and bloviators who Jon Stewart was so magnificent at deflating.

Larry Wilmore has added some welcome diversity as Stephen Colbert’s replacement in the time slot that follows “The Daily Show,” but to succeed in the 11:30 p.m. time slot, Wilmore needs a strong lead-in from the “The Daily Show” at 11:00 p.m.  If Wilmore and Stewart’s replacement for “The Daily Show” don’t do well in the ratings, Viacom’s response will more than likely be to do what it’s typically done in the past and increase commercial time.

Joe Flint in the Wall Street Journal had a revealing article  on February 18, titled “Cable TV Shows Are Sped Up To Squeeze In More Ads,” and the worst offender, with 24.2 minutes of commercials in an hour, was Viacom’s BET.

Twenty-four minutes of commercial time in an hour; what a self-defeating, greedy travesty. No wonder people are cutting the chord and paying to watch exciting commercial-free programming such as Netflix’s “House of Cards.”

Therefore, Viacom should try something radical and newsworthy by choosing the right woman to replace Jon Stewart. A woman-for-a-woman’s sake would be cynical and would work against Comedy Central, but the right woman would give the network a much-needed boost.

My suspicion is that Comedy Central will make a “safe” choice of a white male, that the ratings of “The Daily Show” will decline and that the network, under profit pressure from Viacom, will increase the commercial load, which in turn will start a vicious cycle of turning off viewers, lowering ratings and adding more commercials.

Welcome to the land of stupid, suicidal cable programming.

NBC Is Painted In The Right Corner With Lester Holt As Anchor Of ‘Nightly News’

The NBC News division of Comcast-owned NBC/Universal had no choice but to appoint Lester Holt to replace the suspended Brian Williams on the top-rated “NBC Nightly News,” and by doing so it painted itself into the right corner.

Holt will be the first African-American sole anchor of a major broadcast network’s early news program, and that’s good. Appointing Holt was the right thing to do because Holt had been Brian Williams’s regular backup for several years and was the obvious choice.

Unlike CBS News that cynically hired Katie Couric to anchor its evening newscast primarily because she was a woman, not because she was a qualified journalist, NBC News promoted Holt because he was the best person for the job, not because of his gender or race. NBC had its eye on merit, not necessarily the ratings.

Also, there would have been a huge outcry, led by MSNBC’s own Al Sharpton, if Holt hadn’t gotten the job. NBC would have been accused, and rightly so, of racism if they had not upped Holt. And now NBC is stuck with Holt for the same reason even though the ratings of the “Nightly News” will probably go down for several reasons.

First, the odds of any network evening news program staying number one forever are slim. Second, it is no secret that there is still racial prejudice and that there are people who will switch newscasts because of Holt’s color. Third, an anchorperson is not the only contributing factor to why people watch an evening network newscast.

AR&D, a major local TV station news consultancy, made a presentation at which I was present several years ago about the elements that contributed to a newscast’s success. There were 150 of them, and the anchor or anchors was only one of the factors, and not the top one. Media researchers know this fact, but the media generally don’t.

The media tend to simplify the highly complicated question of what makes a newscast number one, and they tend to attribute ratings success primarily to the anchor. The networks should be so lucky that it was as simple as hiring a charismatic news reader.

What Lester Holt has going for him is habit. Habit is the most important factor in a news program’s rating success. Also, Holt is very good at what he does – reading the news – and he’s a solid reporter and journalist.

What Holt has against him is that NBC News’s reporters and producers are not as strong as they used to be. The other 149 factors are not under his control and are weaker than those at ABC, as demonstrated by the fact that ABC’s “Good Morning America” took over the ratings lead from NBC’s “Today” in the summer of 2012 and is still in the lead. It seems inevitable that ABC News’s know-how will take hold at its “World News Tonight,” and the ratings trends are starting to show ABC catching up, even before Williams was suspended.

My heart goes out to Lester Holt, a solid professional who deserves to sit in the “NBC Nightly News” anchor chair, but who will blamed for an inevitable decline in the ratings that will have nothing to do with his competency or merit. I’m also glad that I’m not NBC or Comcast trying to deal with the situation at the same time that it is trying to convince the FCC and the Justice Department that it’s good for the country to allow it to purchase Time Warner Cable.

But that is another story. In the meantime, Holt is competently doing his job in the corner he’s in. Go Lester!

Stop Watching NFL Football

On September 15, I sent the following email to my children and my six oldest grandchildren:

I was watching NFL Football on Sunday, as is my habit, but in the Jets-Packers game, after an ugly fight in the end zone, I realized that the rage and violence was out of hand and that I was guilty of supporting this culture of violence by watching it.

Fifty years ago I quit smoking when I realized that it could kill me, which meant I would never see my three (at that time) beautiful children again. Thirty-five years ago I stopped drinking because I was recovering from hepatitis. When I had a glass of wine, it hurt me — it was agonizing — and I once again decided that I wanted to live to see my kids grow up.

Yesterday I stopped watching and supporting NFL football because I don’t want my grandsons and granddaughters to be exposed to that kind of violence. If there is any fighting in their lives, I want it to be the gentle, fun, highly choreographed dance that Amaqui, Kai and Abe [three of my grandchildren] did in “Aphrodite and the Alien” [a 2:46-minute video spoof].

I urge you to read this blog post by my friend, the psychiatrist Justin Frank, the author of “Bush on the Couch” and “Obama on the Couch.” The post is titled “Facing Facts.” And I hate to do this, Chris [my son], because I know how much you love the Patriots, but I urge all of you not to watch NFL football and to stop supporting a culture of violence…for the sake of my children, my grandchildren and your own humanity.

In an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times titled “Punishment of Child Abuse” that ran on September 17, Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, in reference to NFL star running back Adrian Peterson’s indictment for “reckless or negligent injury to a child,” wrote:

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense. Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.

In the NY Times September 18, Book Review section, Anand Girdharads wrote a review of Jeff Hobb’s new book:

“The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” seeks answers in the true story of two men, reared in the same mostly black, mostly luckless neighborhood, whose trajectories spectacularly diverge.

One man is Shawn, born to a sweet-talking, drug-pushing father named Skeet, who tries to keep his son from books, fearing they will make him too soft for a hard world. Instead, Skeet teaches Shawn how to fight, intimidate, know everyone on avenues where it’s lethal not to.

In “luckless,” poverty-stricken, tough urban ghettos, fighting and violence are ingrained in the culture – violence is taught to children and in many cases this violence and abusing (and abusive) behavior is ingrained in a child’s personality and soul by brutal “punishment.”

But what can those of us who have not been brought up with violence and abuse and who are privileged, white, upper-middle class and secure do to help reduce the violence and systematic abuse of children and women? We don’t have a Harry Potter magic wand that we can wave to reduce violence in our society.

But we can do what concerned, fed-up citizens have done for eons – protest. Civil disobedience. Stop obeying bad laws – Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King taught us how to do that – and stop supporting a sport that teaches (bounty on hurting quarterbacks), accepts (minor punishments for sexual and child assault) and even encourages soul-shrinking violence.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Uplift your own sense of humanity, agape and compassion. Stop watching NFL football.

Enough, Roger!

Guest Blogger, Bruce Braun writes:

I’ve been a fan of the NFL since childhood, but no longer. It is not because the 49er’s charge $117 a pop for one ticket and parking can easily be $50. Violence on the field is one thing, but that is where it should stop. Ray Rice has become a metaphor for the daily violence we see in our country. Tolerance has effectively become tacit license by the NFL management and owners for players to commit crimes off the field. Sit out a few games, pay a fine? No big deal when you are being paid $10M a year. “I was drunk, lost my head, but I now see the error of my transgressions and promise to not do it again.” Bullshit!

Enough is enough.

In every other profession, new hires are subject to reference checks, applications inquire if the applicant has ever been arrested or convicted of felonies, etc. Why not the NFL?

If Roger and the owners were really concerned about players being arrested, charged or convicted, consideration ought to be given to a more comprehensive screening of players before hiring them. Cops have to pass psychological and criminal background checks, government security clearances draw similar scrutiny.

I submit the following for just the last 12 months that should prove sufficient for more screening than just playing ability. My source is

Ray McDonald, defensive tackle, San Francisco 49ers. Arrested Aug. 31 on suspicion of felony domestic violence in San Jose, Calif.

Greg Hardy, defensive end, Carolina Panthers. Arrested May 13 on two misdemeanor charges after he allegedly assaulted and threatened his ex-girlfriend.

Ray Rice, running back, Baltimore Ravens. Arrested and charged Feb. 15 after striking his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

A.J. Jefferson, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings. Arrested and charged Nov. 25, 2013 with one felony count of domestic violence following a fight with his girlfriend.

Daryl Washington, linebacker, Arizona Cardinals. Arrested May 3, 2013 for assault after an argument with his ex-girlfriend in her Phoenix apartment.

Amari Spievey, safety, Detroit Lions. Arrested March 26, 2013 for third-degree assault, risk of injury to a child, disorderly conduct after a child-support argument in Middleton, Conn., his hometown.

Michael Boley, linebacker, New York Giants. Arrested Feb. 8, 2013 on child abuse charges in Etowah County, Ala., three days after being cut by the team.

Leroy Hill, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks. Arrested Jan. 29, 2013 on two felony counts of domestic violence after an incident with his girlfriend in his Issaquah home.

Chris Rainey, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers. Arrested Jan. 10, 2013 and charged with misdemeanor simple battery after an altercation with his girlfriend in Gainesville, Fla.

Robert Sands, defensive back, Cincinnati Bengals. Arrested Jan. 4, 2013 and charged with fourth-degree assault after an altercation with his wife in their Florence, Ky home.

Bryan Thomas, linebacker, New York Jets. Arrested Oct. 31, 2012 and charged with aggravated assault of his wife and drug charges in Randolph, N.J.

And recently, we read Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson beat his 4-year-old son with a tree branch as a form of punishment this summer, an incident that allegedly resulted in multiple injuries to the child. According to reports, Peterson has been indicted in Montgomery County, Texas for injury to a child.

What about former New England Patriot, Arron Hernandez who is currently being held without bail following his indictment on three murder charges?

Would Michael Vick be playing in the NFL today if TMZ had broadcast video of his tossing cash bets as dogs tore each other apart?

I can’t fathom any corporation with an employee arrest record like the NFL. How many companies would continue to employ persons exhibiting behaviors such as those above? Only a zero-tolerance policy on assaults, battery, drugs, drunk driving, weapons charges, and domestic violence will ever send the proper message to players. Game suspensions and fines don’t cut it.

We should keep in mind the League enjoys an anti-trust exemption that enables individual teams to not compete for TV revenues with other teams, that it has benfitted hugely by taxpayer bonds to fund stadiums and their improvements, that it is the beneficiary of numerous federal state and city taxes and that it has misrepresented the seriousness of brain concussions for years until very recently, like this week.

Football has become a game in which millions live out their fantasies of “killing the opposition”, has become too powerful and too violent and is becoming a metaphor for American ignorance and aggression.

What say you Roger, other than using terms like ambiguous?

Gannett Spin-Off Makes the Score Wall Street, 4 – Public Service, 0

On Tuesday, August 5, Gannett announced it was spinning off its publishing business, consisting of USA Today, 81 daily newspapers and the British news company Newsquest. The new spinoff newspaper company will keep the Gannett name.

The company that will own Gannett’s television stations and digital assets doesn’t have a name yet, but will consist of 46 stations, including the Belo stations, which Gannett purchased last year for $1.5 billion. The new broadcasting company will be the largest group of TV stations in the top 25 markets.

Gannett’s response seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to the Tribune Company and E.W. Scripps Company doing the same thing – spinning off its newspapers and keeping its TV stations in a separate company.

And several weeks before these two spinoffs, Time Warner spun off its huge magazine businesses, including Time, People, Fortune and Sports Illustrated, into a stand-alone print business and kept its content-creation and distribution businesses, Warner Bros., HBO and Turner Cable channels.

All of these spinoffs were justified based on maximizing shareholder value. TV stations and cable channels rake in gobs of money and are highly profitable. Newspapers and magazines are slowly bleeding to death as readers move from paper to mobile screens and as advertisers inevitably follow this audience diaspora (and pay less for the corresponding mobile ads).

But when the notion of “maximizing shareholder value” is bandied about, we have to ask who are the shareholders that are demanding more “value,” which really means a higher stock price. Today’s shareholders are not individuals, but are huge institutional investors, such as pension funds, mutual funds and hedge funds that all demand outsized returns. They have a Wall-Street-Gordon-Gekko-greed-is-good mentality.

In the good old days (ahh, nostalgia) most newspaper and many magazine owners thought of their publications as delivering useful, important news and information to serve the public good, convenience and necessity, and were typically guided by the tenants of responsible journalism as well as, and often before, profits.

What seems to have happened in the four recent spinoffs is that the media companies involved have spun off anything that smacks of public service.  Separate the profits from the journalism – keep the state, throw away the church.

Wall Street, 4 – Public Service, 0.

But wait. There is hope. One counter trend to the Wall-Street-greed-is-good approach is reflected in Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post, and there are indications that the WAPO is scurrying to catch up digitally and continue to serve a more mobile public. And BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post have hired responsible investigative journalists and are publishing responsible, in-depth journalistic reports to intersperse with their click-bait content.

Another counter trend is the rise of B corporations, as reported by James Surowiecki in the August 4, issue of The New Yorker. The B in B corporations stands for benefits, and the firms are for-profit companies that “pledge to achieve social goals as well as business ones.” (I’d link to the The New Yorker article, but you can’t get in unless you subscribe, so I don’t bother.)

Warby Parker, Patagonia, Etsy, and Seventh Generation are examples of B corporations, of which there are currently over 1,000, and are allowed by law in 27 states.

Surowiecki writes:

The rise of B corporations is a reminder that the idea that corporations should be only lean, mean, profit-maximizing machines isn’t dictated by the inherent nature of capitalism, let alone human nature. As individuals, we try to make our work not just profitable but also meaningful. It may be time for more companies to do the same.

I would add one word to the last sentence: “It may be time for more media companies to do the same.”

But what are the odds that the old-line media moguls such as Murdock, Redstone, Moonves, Roberts, Bewkes, or Iger will get a sudden public service urge or that the Wall Street owners of their companies’ stock will allow them to achieve social goals as well as business ones.

Don’t hold your breath.

“Programmatic Buying Killed Us”

NEW YORK – July 5, 2020. “Programmatic buying killed us,” said CEO Jill Jack in an interview the week after she closed down National Spot Sales Representative, Inc. (NSSR), the last remaining independent television and radio national sales representative company.

ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC’s TV station representative divisions and Clear Channel’s Katz Media Group all shut down their operations a year earlier, leaving NSSR struggling with only 5% of all TV and radio inventory sold on a direct, guaranteed basis.

“With so little inventory sold non-programmatically, we couldn’t survive,” Jack said. “There weren’t any buyers left because all the agencies used their own or independent trading desks, so we had to call direct on small- and medium-sized businesses that typically made us call on their Purchasing Departments.”

“Selling used to be fun – calling on buyers, taking them to lunch, plying them with drinks, sneakers, jeans and all sorts of swag.  Purchasing Departments don’t take swag. All they want is Big Data and insights. What do my salespeople know about that? It’s no fun,” Jack said wistfully.

I asked Ms. Jack if there was any single event or watershed moment that might have foreshadowed the end of direct media selling. “Sure,” she said, “On June 4, 2014, Ad Age reported that the world’s largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble announced that 70-75% of its digital media wold be bought programmatically. I remember Ad Age’s sub-head on the story: ‘Other Marketers Likely to Follow P&G’s Example.’

“It was like the bottom fell out of direct selling. Up to that point, most digital ad dollars went for direct marketing, not for branding. P&G’s decision opened the floodgates for digital branding dollars. Everybody followed P&G like lemmings, as they always do.”

I asked if agencies weren’t reluctant to fire all of their media buyers. “Hell no,” Jack replied, “they couldn’t wait to automate the digital buying process and turn over buying to software at their trading desks. Media departments are cost centers; trading desks are profit centers. Automating their media buying process saved the agency’s bacon. Made them profitable again.”

I asked Ms. Jack what happened in the upfront market. “The upfront market went programmatic in 2017,” she said. “The big advertisers and their agencies still made deals under the table to allocate prime time and sports inventory and to shut out smaller brands, but the final buying was done on an automated basis. Actually, it was handled by Google.”

I asked if Google still handled the automated buying process even after it bought CBS in 2016. “Yes,” Jack said, “but killing salespeople wasn’t Google’s fault.  Google has added a lot of salespeople, who they, like Facebook, call evangelists. Google didn’t kill media salespeople, P&G did. They never liked us calling on them anyway.”

USA World Cup Team Survives, Aereo Doesn’t

On Thursday, June 26, the USA men’s football team moved on to the knock-out round of 16 in the World Cup, but the day before, startup Aereo lost its battle for survival in the Supreme Court.

What does USA FIFA football team advancing have to do with Aereo losing? ESPN and sports on television.

The Supreme Court case was titled American Broadcasting, Co. (ABC) vs. Aereo. ABC and ESPN are owned by the Walt Disney Co., which was joined in the case by CBS, NBC Universal (owned by cable TV giant Comcast), FOX and all the large cable TV companies and cable networks. The broadcast networks and their owned TV stations all claimed that it wasn’t fair for Aereo to retransmit their programming without paying them.

The details of copyright law are too complicated for me to fathom, so I can’t comment on that aspect of the case. Many bloggers and other news sources commented intelligently by focusing on the legal issues in the case, as Jerry Markon, Robert Barnes and Cecilia Kang did in the Washington Post. Some, like Farhad Manjoo in the NY Times Bits blog, commented on the technology issues involved, especially the implications that the Court’s decision might have on cloud storage companies.

But I think it’s interesting to see how the Supreme Court members divided in the 6-3 split. The Court’s three most conservative members (Alito, Scalia and Thomas) were on the dissenting team. Did they not understand the technology involved or interpret the copyright laws differently than the majority (Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy, Roberts and Sotomayor)?

Could it be the conservatives were voting in favor of a free-market solution and the majority was voting for a more liberal-oriented regulatory solution? Or could it be that the conservatives were sick and tired of their cable TV bills ballooning and wanted to cut the cord, or maybe they just weren’t interested in World Cup football? Free, over-the-air NFL, yes; cable-and-ESPN-delivered FIFA, no.

Or could it be that the conservative trio were looking ahead to 2018, when Fox and Telemundo will be carrying the World Cup, for which they paid $1.2 billion for the two-year package, outbidding ESPN and Univision, which paid $425 for the current FIFA package. Maybe they thought it was a fair, free-market solution for Aereo or other retransmission delivery systems not to pay anything to sports rights holders such as ESPN and FOX.

If you were a Supreme Court justice and liked the World Cup, loved ESPN and other cable network programming (MTV, CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, CNBC, Bloomberg News, etc.) and couldn’t bear the thought of cutting the cord, you would vote in favor of the broadcasters and cable networks and believe it was not fair for Aereo to pay nothing to broadcast networks for programming, especially not to pay for expensive sports programming.

The majority might have seen the chaos that would have ensued if they voted for Aereo. FOX and Telemundo would more than likely demand that FIFA re-negotiate the $1.2 billion deal. FOX, CBS, NBC and ESPN would more than likely demand that the NFL re-negotiate the multi-billion rights deals.  FOX and ESPN would want to re-do their deals with Major League Baseball. All too much to contemplate — too much money involved.

Thus, the decision against Aereo was the easiest way out – give the money to the broadcast and cable networks, the TV stations and the sports leagues, not to upstart Aereo and its backer, Barry Diller. The decision also put off the eventual demise of broadcast and cable TV a little longer, just like the USA World Cup football team’s advancement put off its eventual defeat a little longer.

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