Gotta love a snow day if you don’t have anywhere to be. Yes, I have a busy week ahead and things to prepare, but they don’t require going out.
The TV people were right this time. It’s almost 1pm and I’m supposedly getting 3 inches of snow an hour, which should end up as 6-10 inches when it’s done, and the snow didn’t even stick at first.
The storm comes less than a week after this last one, last Friday.
Luckily, I have lots on my mind to share with you today.
From ugly weather (to those of you in Florida) to an ugly video: Monday, Britain’s Independent reported, “The National Rifle Association has released a video containing a threatening message to journalists, warning them ‘your time is running out.’”
You see an angry looking and sounding “conservative political activist and TV host Dana Loesch telling “every lying member of the media” that “we are done with your agenda” and they have “had enough.”
She names lots of media hosts and shows. Then, at the end, she ominously says, “Your time is running out. The clock starts now,” and she turns over an hourglass.
Talk about bitter! Thousands of Americans have stood behind the young survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Florida that killed 17 of their classmates, as they called on lawmakers to reform the gun rules.
Also Monday, Variety reported President Trump will be talking about gun violence — with leaders of the video game industry!
According to the Entertainment Software Association, which represents major video game makers:
“Video games are enjoyed around the world and numerous authorities and reputable scientific studies have found no connection between games and real-life violence.” … “Like all Americans, we are deeply concerned about the level of gun violence in the United States. Video games are plainly not the issue: entertainment is distributed and consumed globally, but the U.S. has an exponentially higher level of gun violence than any other nation.”
But a group spokesman says they’ll be there anyway.
The entertainment magazine reports after the Parkland massacre, the President said,
“I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”
“will provide the opportunity to have a fact-based conversation about video game ratings, our industry’s commitment to parents, and the tools we provide to make informed entertainment choices,”
but their titles don’t contribute to real-life mayhem.
I’m excited about something else. It’ll help you watch out for hidden agendas in news, or media that knowingly publish falsehoods or propaganda.
The Nieman Journalism Lab announced a start-up initiative called NewsGuard that’ll fight fake news by rating more than 7,500 news sources. NewsGuard says it plans to hire dozens of people with journalism backgrounds and have them
“research online news brands to help readers and viewers know which ones are trying to do legitimate journalism — and which aren’t.”
The ratings will be like a traffic light. A real newspaper publishing good content will get green. A fake news site will get a red. Then, according to Nieman,
“A site that’s not putting out deliberately fake news, but is overwhelmingly influenced in its coverage by a funder that it’s not eager to disclose? Maybe a yellow.”
And the ratings — called “nutrition labels” – will come with “a 200- to 300-word write-up on each source’s funding, its coverage, its potential special interests, and how it fits in with the rest of the news” world since the founders acknowledge not all of the sites in a given color category are equal.
I can’t wait for this to start. The folks behind NewsGuard are Steven Brill (founder of The American Lawyer and Court TV) and L. Gordon Crovitz (former publisher of The Wall Street Journal).
Brill told CNN “algorithms aren’t cutting it, so real-life reviewers are needed to judge reliability.”
They say their “goal is to give everyone the information they need to be better informed about which news sources they can rely on — or can’t rely on.”
Analysts will work in pairs. They may not settle on a rating if they feel they don’t have enough information to be confident, or have editors weigh in if the analysts disagree.
Plus, “The company will also have ‘a 27-7 ‘SWAT team’ that responds to breaking news and news items that are suddenly trending.”
It plans to stay in business by licensing “NewsGuard’s encyclopedia of news sources to social media platforms and search engines” – in other words, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter, which could leave out the reds or use them with a warning – and offering advertising for businesses that “want to be spared any embarrassment that comes from advertising on deliberately fake sites.”
Brill said the tech companies will pay because, “We’re asking them to pay a fraction of what they pay their P.R. people and their lobbyists to talk about the problem.”
Good luck, guys!
Now, to Rupert Murdoch’s chutzpah and greediness. In January, he called for Facebook to pay for the content his companies – 21st Century Fox and News Corp. – publish on the site, while it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s company that really does him a favor by distributing the stuff! (You can decide how much the stuff is worth until NewsGuard kicks off.)
Now, the U.K.’s The Register is reporting Facebook “abandoned its ‘fix’ for news after publishers complained about a drop in traffic” and that’ll mean more clickbait for the rest of us.
Facebook had added an Explore tab in October, to show us more from friends and family on our News Feeds, and remove professional publishers.
The Register described a few examples:
“Clickbait-focused publishers such as Buzzfeed had benefited enormously from being promoted on Facebook – and owed much of their success to lightweight ‘shareable content.’ But after the changes, traffic dropped sharply. Facebook rushed to assure publishers it was just a test. It has now formally abandoned the experiment, counting “feel-good news and service content” publisher LittleThings among the casualties.”
On Feb. 28, the U.K.’s Business Insider reported once flourishing women-focused digital publisher LittleThings closed down, blaming Facebook’s huge algorithm tweak.
The Register explained Facebook has “come under fire” since the 2016 Presidential election. First, the News Feed was “hand-curated by low-paid graduates” but “accused of political bias.” Then it replaced the people “with an algorithm that valued ‘engagement’” but a “low bar for inclusion” exposed more “inflammatory and bogus material.”
It also quoted former senior Facebook exec Antonio Garcia Martinez, who explained how viral content was given a premium value.
“Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is,” Martinez said. “If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.”
And Donald Trump’s campaign – which spent very little money – was playing by Facebook’s rules since “rural targets were cheaper to reach than urbanites, and Trump wanted to reach them, so Facebook ad spending proved to be very good value.”
Bottom line, according to The Register:
“The results of Facebook abandoning this particular experiment is that clickbait-hungry publishers will continue to rely on the platform for exposure, rather than building their own brands, and Facebook will rely on clickbait-y free content to keep people on the site. It’s a marriage of the desperate.”
That’s not what I wanted to read.
Meanwhile, Miami’s CNN’s Jeff Zucker accused Facebook and Google of having a duopoly or monopoly on money from digital content, and wants regulators to look into the two companies.
Keep in mind, CNN was a monopoly on 24-hour cable news from June 1, 1980 to 1996 when MSNBC started on July 15, and Fox News Channel went on the air on Oct. 7. (That’s except for when ABC/Westinghouse’s Satellite News Channel competed from June 21, 1982 until Oct. 27, 1983, and CNN founder Ted Turner bought it.)
Sounds like a sore loser. His ratings stink.
Late last month, he tried to come across as a spokesperson trying to protect good journalism when The Hollywood Reporter quoted him as saying,
“Everyone is looking at whether these combinations of AT&T and Time Warner (his own company, which AT&T wants to buy for $85 billion, and may put his own job in jeopardy -Lenny) or Fox and Disney pass government approval and muster, the fact is nobody for some reason is looking at the monopolies that are Google and Facebook. … That’s where the government should be looking, and helping to make sure everyone else survives. I think that’s probably the biggest issue facing the growth of journalism in the years ahead.”
Government “helping to make sure everyone else survives” sounds a whole lot like President Obama bailing out the U.S. banking and auto industries during the Great Recession. It was probably the best thing he did as President. Philosophically, maybe he shouldn’t have, but nobody can deny it worked and saved jobs.
But the banking and auto industries are not journalism. They’re not protected by the First Amendment. And intelligent people will turn to quality news, even if it’s hard to find, and that has already become harder and harder for years.
Advice for Zucker: Do a better job on TV. In contrast to President Obama, explain why you hired so many digital staffers a year ago, only to lay off roughly 50 of them last month – and why you shouldn’t be one to go.
Vanity Fair reports, “Several high profile digital initiatives are being scaled back.” Media analyst Jeffrey McCall told Fox News the layoffs “seem to suggest that CNN may have outkicked its coverage” and Zucker wanted his digital group to “grow too quickly” before having a “comprehensive plan” in place. Also, “It does seem odd that these cuts are apparently targeted for the digital side at this time, when most strategists seem to think that’s an area for potential growth,” McCall said.
And the kicker (rather than “kick ass”), according to the Fox article,
“Last month, YouTube star Casey Neistat — hired by Zucker on the recommendation of his teenage son — abruptly walked away from CNN less than two years after CNN reportedly paid more than $20 million for his video-sharing startup Beme.”
Time Warner is a big company. It owned AOL – one of the early pioneers of the Internet – until about the time you were hired. Why didn’t TW compete? Or did it, and free enterprise sent the experiment to wherever those 50 laid off digital staffers are?
According to TV Newser, the Justice Department sued to block the AT&T-Time Warner deal back in November, and the antitrust trial is set to begin March 19.
Zucker, get more people to your website and have your digital salespeople do a better job, you sore loser, or you’ll be out of a job!
Back to 21st Century Fox’s Murdoch. He got a black eye about a week ago when Philadelphia-based Comcast (the cable company that also owns competitor NBC) topped his company’s offer to buy the 61 percent of Sky PLC it didn’t already own. That could halt Fox’s attempt to consolidate ownership of the British broadcaster. It has owned 39 percent of Sky for years.
But even more importantly, Sky is supposed to be one of many assets Fox plans to turn around and sell to Disney (owner of ABC) — while keeping only its American broadcast network, TV stations (you know by now Fox doesn’t bother list them on its Stations Group website) and plans to buy more, the Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network — in a separate $52 billion follow-up deal.
But Fox was cheap.
Reuters reports Comcast offered £12.50 per share ($31 billion), significantly higher (more than 16 percent) than Fox’s £10.75 per share. (Yes, I know how cheap Fox is. I worked for them. The one exception is the NFL.) Sky already agreed to be sold to Fox, but the British government delayed the takeover because it’s concerned about Rupert Murdoch’s influence. In 2011, he closed the News of the World after its journalists admitted hacking phones to get scoops, but he still owns The Sun and Times newspapers.
Fox promised to keep Sky News fully independent for ten years, but faces skepticism across the pond. And with a ten-year promise, I don’t understand how it could be sold to Disney.
Reuters reports Sky’s shares jumped more than 20 percent, while shares of Comcast, Fox and Disney all fell. So if the Sky-to-Fox first part doesn’t happen, investors may expect a bidding war.
You’ll remember in December, Comcast bid $60 billion for Fox’s assets – “substantially more” than Disney – maybe even $10 billion more, according to Philly.com. But Disney’s bid beat Comcast’s. The Wall Street Journal reported Murdoch “was concerned that a Comcast deal would be opposed by U.S. regulators and instead opted for the lower Disney offer.” The deal still needs approval from the Justice Department.
“When a set of assets like 21st Century Fox’s becomes available, it’s our responsibility to evaluate if there’s a strategic fit that could benefit our company and our shareholders. … That’s what we tried to do, and we are no longer engaged in the review of those assets. We never got the level of engagement needed to make a definitive offer.”
More merger news: Broadcasting & Cable reports eight of the 50 states’ attorneys general came out against the Sinclair–Tribune merger. They told the Federal Communications Commission “it does not have the authority to raise the 39 percent national audience reach cap for TV station groups, that it does have the authority to eliminate the UHF discount” – the old rule that discounts the number of viewers UHF stations reach by half, because they were weaker and harder to watch years ago before modern technology like cable, computers, etc. – and that it should eliminate the discount.
That UHF discount was gone until FCC chairman Ajit Pai – a President Trump appointee under investigation for improperly pushing for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in its attempt to acquire Tribune Media. Now it’s back. Critics say Sinclair has forced local stations to provide favorable coverage to Republican candidates for years.
B&C claims Pai is “saying the previous commission should have considered the cap and the discount together, which it is now doing.”
The attorneys general are from Illinois (home to Tribune), Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California and Virginia.
They – according to B&C – argue “getting rid of the cap would threaten diversity, competition, and localism, and cites Sinclair Broadcasting, whose Tribune deal would benefit from lifting or eliminating the limit, pointing out that it distributes news stories that must run in its newscasts.”
In November, The Baltimore Sun reported Maryland’s attorney general opposed the takeover because “the combination would decrease consumer choices and diversity in the media marketplace.” Sinclair is based in Maryland.
According to The Sun, Sinclair claims “the merger would allow the new company to better serve local viewers with expanded local coverage, better facilities and more programming, delivered in part by operational efficiencies.”
The company announced it would sell several stations to stay under a new cap, but the deals it reached would let it continue to control the New York and Chicago stations it sells, so those big cities won’t count. (Is there ANYBODY who thinks that’s OK?)
According to Variety, Sinclair will sell WPIX-New York for a measly $15 million to Cunningham Broadcasting. More than 90 percent of that company’s stock is controlled by trusts owned by the estate of Carolyn Smith, the late wife of Sinclair founder Julian Smith and mother of Sinclair chairman David Smith. So the Smith children own it. Talk about a shell corporation! Cunningham owns 20 stations but at least 14 of them are run by Sinclair!
And it would sell WGN-TV Chicago for just $60 million to Steven B. Fader, chairman of Baltimore-based Atlantic Capital Group and business partner of David Smith in Atlantic Automotive Corp.
Those stations are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe a half-billion.
On top of that, Variety says,
“Sinclair would not only continue to operate the stations and receive the lion’s share of their revenue, but the sale agreement with both buyers gives Sinclair an option to buy the stations back within eight years. That’s seen as a marker for the company to bide its time in the hopes that the FCC relaxes its station ownership restrictions in the near future.”
The $3.9 billion deal – if it goes through – would make the nation’s largest television broadcast company even larger. Sinclair is already largest with 191 stations, while Tribune brings another 42 stations before divestitures. The post-merger reach would be 72 percent of U.S. homes. (Does that include the huge markets of New York and Chicago?)
This is something I didn’t consider in my last blog, about the possibility Fox buys Miami’s CW affiliate WSFL due to the merger, even though it doesn’t produce news, and gives up strong affiliate WSVN – simply to own a Miami station since Miami has an NFL team, the Dolphins. TVNewsCheck‘s editor Harry Jessell reported, “Fox has one other obvious option in Miami. It could buy ABC affiliate WPLG.” Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought it from Graham Media (the former Post-Newsweek) in 2014, and it’s Buffett’s only station.
I’m sure Buffett makes money but he has no vertical integration. Graham was supposed to help run the station after the sale, and it still has a Graham station look. So does its website. Also, Buffett is not the type to get attached (except maybe to Omaha) and would be willing to cash out of the price is right.
If he sells WPLG to Fox, then it makes sense ABC would probably call WSVN. Makes the most sense by far, but I wouldn’t swear on anything. In 1988, CBS seemingly surprised everyone by buying the former WCIX instead of affiliating with WSVN.
Jessell also reported he spoke to Ansin who said Fox hasn’t mentioned anything about “moving into the market and no expression of interest in WSVN.”
I also want to point out another example of a TV network not renewing a local TV station’s affiliation because it competed for viewers in part of a city where the network owned its own station. The last blog mentioned NBC getting rid of WMGM in Atlantic City because of its Philadelphia station, WCAU, and how ABC was much nicer years earlier when it paid the owner of KNTV in San Jose to leave the network because it owned KGO-TV in San Francisco. (WMGM shut down its news department.)
Since then, I remembered NBC dropped WHAG (now WDVM) in Hagerstown, Md., in the middle of 2016 because of Washington, DC’s WRC. Since then, the independent station really became competition, expanding its coverage area by 1.2 million households, also serving Chambersburg, Pa., Martinsburg, W.V. and Winchester, Va.
Also, I learned NBC dropped KENV-DT in Elko, Nev., which served a lot of the Nevada side of the Salt Lake City market. It aired its own news, but was run out of Sinclair NBC affiliate KRNV in Reno. That goliath Sinclair also owns three stations in Salt Lake City, but not the NBC affiliate. KENV is actually owned by Cunningham Broadcasting, and it shut down its news department.
And then I remembered something similar in the Tri-Cities of TN/VA, where I used to work. ABC dropped affiliate WKPT, the only TV station owned by Holston Valley Broadcasting. Yes, the station was weak. But no, there weren’t any other local stations that carried news. And no, ABC couldn’t get one of the two that did to change over to ABC. Instead, it made a deal to put ABC on the CBS affiliate’s subchannel! That shows it pays to be big and powerful (in contrast to what happened at Ed Ansin’s two stations in Miami and Boston), and that networks have a lot more possibilities for affiliates when it comes to subchannels. It’s not a good idea to get on their bad side. WKPT dropped local news and I showed you the unbelievable farewell to the main anchor just before that happened!
And Jessell also wrote he’s hearing “Fox is once again pushing the idea that it should represent its affiliates in all retrans negotiation.” That means instead of each station demanding money from cable and satellite companies to carry them, Fox would do the work for them all and send each station its share. It would carry the power of nearly 200 stations, and those stations won’t have to bother negotiating. Of course, Fox would also carry power over the stations, and the network’s opinion is its programming (sports) makes the stations worth more and will take its share. Plus, somebody has to pay for Thursday Night Football!
For me, it was nice peeking out the window and watching the snowstorm as I wrote, but like this blog, and certain stations’ newscasts, it appears to be over.
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