E W Scripps Looking To Sell Dilbert-Parent United Media


E W Scripps, the newspaper and TV holding company, has decided to put its content and cartoons/comics licensing unit United Media on sale, it announced as part of its Q409 earnings results today. UM is responsible for licensing popular features such as “Peanuts” and “Dilbert”, among others, with the rationale being capitalizing on “recent interest and activity in the market for character-based properties.”

Scripps says it will be open to a sale or JV “involving all or part of United Media Licensing. Another option is to keep operating the business if the exploratory process leads management to determine that more long-term value can be created for company shareholders by retaining the property,” it said in its statement.

Meanwhile, on EW Scripps’ earnings, it had profits of $12 million in Q4, compared to a loss of $12.6 million in the prior-year period, on the backs of reduced restructuring costs after Scripps Interactive (NYSE: SNI) spinoff. The company also brought down expenses by 17 percent. Revenues dropped 18 percent to $217.4 million from $264.9 million in the year ago quarter.


ABC News Plans Major Job Cuts As Part Of ‘Fundamental Transformation’; Westin’s Memo

ABC News

ABC (NYSE: DIS) News is planning a major restructuring of its operations that will likely leave it with “substantially fewer people on staff,” according to an e-mail sent to employees this afternoon by ABC News President David Westin. Westin calls it a “fundamental transformation” that will “ensure that ABC News has a sound journalistic and financial footing for many years to come.” He says that the changes, which will include extensive digital training for remaining employees, “will make ABC News the place to work in the digital age.”

The network will offer buyouts to all full-time, non-union employees in the U.S. and also plans to offer buyouts to some union represented employees. Westin says that the response to the buyouts will dictate whether ABC News will need to lay off employees. A source says the company needs between 300 and 400 employees to take the buyouts in order to avoid layoffs.

The job cuts would be the first at ABC News since January 2009, when ABC News cut about 35 staffers—a move that was attributed to the “weakening economy.”

The memo:

From: Westin, David
Sent: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 3:40 PM
Cc: Sweeney, Anne
Subject: ABC News Transformation

Over the past several years, we’ve seen a lot of changes— changes at ABC News and in the news industry overall. I’m proud of the way we’ve responded both to unexpected transitions in our programs and to the economic realities of our business. We’ve adapted quickly and effectively and – above all – put our audiences first. Our programs are stronger today than they were ten years ago. This is a credit first and foremost to the men and women at ABC News.

But all of us are good reporters.  We can see that our entire society is in the middle of a revolution—a revolution in the ways that people get their news and information. The digital age makes our business more competitive than ever before. It also presents us with opportunities we couldn’t have imagined to gather, produce, and distribute the news. We can have great success in the new world – but only if we embrace what is new, rather than being overwhelmed by it.

The time has come to anticipate change, rather than respond to it. We have a rare opportunity to get in front of what’s coming, to ensure that ABC News has a sound journalistic and financial footing for many years to come, and to serve our audiences even better. But we must move boldly and promptly. In the past, we’ve sought out less expensive ways to replicate what we’ve always done. The time has come to re-think how we do what we are doing.

To that end, we anticipate that between now and the end of the year ABC News will undergo a fundamental transformation that will ultimately affect every corner of the enterprise. We will be guided by one central principle: In everything, we will ensure that we put our audiences first – providing them with first-rate journalism covering the things that matter the most to them in ways no one else does. And, we will do it with a business model that ensures we will be here for our audiences for many years to come.

The transformation will have six basic components:

1. In newsgathering, we intend to dramatically expand our use of digital journalists. We have proven that this model works at various locations around the world. We believe we can take it much further;

2. In production, we will take the example set by Nightline of editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material and follow it throughout all of our programs, while recognizing that we will continue to rely upon our ENG crews and editors for most of our work;

3. In structure, we will combine our weekday and weekend operations for both Good Morning America and World News;

4. In special events, we will rely upon our program staff through the day and night to cover unexpected events and marshal personnel from across the division to cover scheduled events;

5. In newsmagazines and long-form programming, we will move to a more flexible blend of staff and freelancers so that we can respond to varying demand for hours through the year; and

6. Overall, we will eliminate redundancies wherever possible.

An essential part of this intended transformation will be extensive training in the new technology – whether in the field or in-house. This is an extension of the digital bullpen training we’ve undertaken already, but it will be on a scale that we have not seen before. This training program and changes it will make possible in all of our operations will make ABC News the place to work in the digital age. We won’t just be preparing people for the new world; we will be living in it.

When we are finished, many job descriptions will be different, different skill sets may be required, and, yes, we will likely have substantially fewer people on staff at ABC News. To ease the transition, we are offering a voluntary separation package to all full-time, U.S.-based, non-union, non-contract employees. Information and details of the program will be sent to your home address in the next few days. The response to this voluntary program will determine the extent to which we will need to make further reductions. I encourage everyone to talk with their supervisor if they have any questions.

Any voluntary separation offers for union-represented employees will be in accordance with our obligations under the applicable labor agreement. Whatever changes we make overseas will be done in compliance with local laws and, where required, include management consultation in advance.

Throughout this process, I will keep you informed of where we are and where we are going with the transformation. Tomorrow, I will discuss this on the 9:30 call, and we will be holding meetings with various groups of staff in New York.  Kate O’Brian and I will be in Washington next week to explain what we are planning in person and to take questions.  Either Kate or David Reiter will be travelling to the bureaus in the coming days to do the same.

I won’t pretend that all of this will be easy. But I do truly believe that it will be good for ABC News. I believe in this institution. I believe in its mission and in its future. As always, I will need your help in making sure that we are as strong as we can be for many years to come.

Thank you.

NBCU Olympics: Digital Is The Future, But TV Is Still King

Olympics2010 Logo

It’s half-way through the Vancouver Olympics and NBC Universal’s research head Alan Wurtzel already has some findings to share about the viewing results so far. Anticipating the ire of bloggers who have complained that NBCU has been holding back too much live coverage of the games from online, Wurtzel made it clear that the network considers online viewing something for tomorrow, but “TV is still king today.” Still, Wurtzel had a number of stats related to online that he wanted to trumpet, particularly if it suggested that multitudes are watching more digital than before, with a large extent seeing it as an addition to TV. For online, Wurtzel said, “Here’s the headline: about half of those using NBCOlympics.com didn’t use it during the Summer Games in Beijing.”

The internet use, so far, has been more than double the entire 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. NBCU is also using a single source from Arbitron’s panel for both TV and internet viewing.

—93 percent of those who watched Apolo Ohno’s silver speed skating event never saw it on TV.

—In the men’s short program, 56 percent of those who watched figure skater Johnny Weir watched it for the first time online, while 44 percent watched it on TV first and turned to online video to relive it. “We’ve always thought that internet video viewing is a solitary event, but the research showed us that two-thirds of the people we interviewed said they watched a web video of the Olympics at least once with somebody else, while 16 percent said they regularly watched with others.”

Mobile: Not only is the growth huge, but it’s mainstreaming. 11 million mobile visits in Vancouver versus 8 million in Beijing. Seven out of 10 who are using mobile now to watch the olympics didn’t use their phones to view the Beijing games. There have been 1.1 million mobile app users to date for the Olympics.

Simultaneous viewing: Over half have watched TV and used the internet site at the same time. The same percent for mobile.

Google’s help: Wurtzel touted the research the network is doing with Google? on search results tied to the Olympics broadcast. During the opening ceremonies, NBCU ran a video on TV featuring the song “We Are The World” to promote assistance to the Haitian earthquake victims. Google? searches for the keyword “Haiti” went up 500 percent and remained high subsequently.

Brand recall: Advertisers who bought Olympics spots both online and offline saw an average boost in brand recall from consumers of roughly 16 percent—versus just buying one or the other.


First Round Capital Forces Its Start-Ups to Sing for Their Supper (and Your Holiday Card)

Some of you really enjoyed last year’s edition of the First Round Capital holiday card, which featured the VC firm’s portfolio companies “dancing” a la 2008’s “Where the Hell is Matt?” viral video.

Alas, I don’t think this year’s version is nearly as entertaining. But Susan Boyle fans, who include at least one of my bosses, may get a kick out of it.

Also, people who like watching Web darlings like Xobni, Mint and Get Satisfaction try to warble along. By the way, anyone want to tell us what “stealth” company Swipely is up to? Looks credit cardy.

First Round Capital 2009 Holiday Card from First Round Capital on Vimeo.

Review Round-Up: iPhone 3G S Offers Improvements, But Nothing Revolutionary

Some of the first reviews have started to trickle in on the new Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iPhone coming out this Friday. Above and beyond the consensus seems to be that the 3G S upgrades will be nice, but it’s nothing that will blow your socks off. Instead, the software update — which everyone can start downloading today — is much more important in terms of new features, especially since it’s accessible to all. Here’s a look at what the technology reviewers are saying: WSJ’s Walt Mossberg: “I don