Newspapers to Congress: Please Don’t Give Us a Bailout

newspaperlessThe newspaper bailout proposal you may have heard about over the last few months? The newspapers want no part of it, says an industry spokesman.

That said, the industry wouldn’t turn down some help from Congress, says John Sturm, CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

Testifying at a House hearing this morning, Sturm says his group does like proposals that would let newspapers–and other businesses–change some of their accounting practices related to tax refunds (via net operating-loss provisions) and pension plans. Oh, and he’s in favor of a proposed law that would let papers operate as nonprofits while still generating advertising revenue.

The complete text of Sturm’s opening statement is embedded at the bottom of this post, and if you want to watch the hearing, organized by Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, it’s being streamed live (albeit choppily) here.

My political handicapping skills are nonexistent, but that said, I think there’s no chance of Congress passing a bill that singles out newspapers for aid. Local papers are still vitally important to local lawmakers, but many of those lawmakers’ constituents hate their papers, for all manner of offenses, real and imagined. I just can’t imagine what they’d do if they were told their tax dollars were going to support their local rag.

Still, I wouldn’t rule out some politically motivated pressure being applied to bogeymen like Craigslist and Google (GOOG), in the form of antitrust scrutiny or other arm-twisting.


JFS-Statement-Joint-Economic-Committee-092409-Hearing

Nondeal of the Day: Microsoft Says It’s Not Buying Electronic Arts

madden_101There’s going to be a lot of buying and selling in the coming months, but here’s one deal that’s not happening: Contrary to market-moving rumors, Microsoft (MSFT) isn’t buying  videogame giant Electronic Arts (ERTS). Reuters:

“We have no plans to acquire EA,” Phil Spencer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. “They remain a very important partner to us. No acquisitions.”

Spencer declined to comment on whether it had held talks with Electronics Arts on such a move.

Anybody else want to take a run at the company? After a 7% jump yesterday, the company behind the “Madden” franchise, among others (it also has a piece of the “Rock Band” business), sports a $6.4 billion market cap.

Meanwhile, both Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) have announced that they’re in the market for relatively bit-sized deals.

Google, Yahoo Going Shopping Again

big_spender_singleRemember the good old days of the last Web boom, when startups sold to Google and Yahoo instead of going public? They’re back!

Yesterday, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said she had she was in the market for acquisitions — specifically “small and medium-sized opportunities.” Today, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he’d use his $11 billion cash hoard to do the same thing. At the G20 gathering in Pittsburgh, Schmidt told reporters that now that “it’s clear that the worst is behind us,” his checkbook is open again. Reuters:

“Acquisitions are turned on again at Google and we are doing our normal maneuvers, which is small companies. My estimate would be one-a-month acquisitions and these are largely in lieu of hiring,” Schmidt said.

“There may be larger acquisitions, but they really are unpredictable,” Schmidt said.

And sure enough, Google has been on a mini-buying binge as of late. Last month, it was video compression company On2 for $106 million (though angry owners of the penny stock insist it should be for much more). Earlier this month, it was reCaptcha, the um Captcha company, for an undisclosed sum. One decent bet for the future: Ad technology companies like Teracent.

Pretty sure I haven’t embedded any Bob Fosse clips before. Time to change that.

Another Media Reporter Packs His Bags: Timesman Arango Headed to Iraq

060905Arango1VWDoesn’t anyone want to cover the media beat anymore? First, BusinessWeek’s super-sourced Jon Fine departs for a six-month globe-hopping sabbatical. Now the New York Times’s (NYT) Tim Arango is leaving town as well: Instead of writing about moguls and mergers, he’ll be reporting from Iraq.

I’ve heard that Arango is leaving for six months, and that the Times doesn’t have plans to replace him while he’s out. But media editor Bruce Headlam, via email, says the paper is still figuring all of that out:

A lot is still up in the air — When Tim might go and for how long. We do know that he will be coming back, however, and he’s a huge asset to our group so we’re looking for creative solutions in the meantime.

Arango came to the Times after stints at Time Warner’s Fortune (TWX) and News Corp.’s NY Post (NWS). I’ve asked him for comment — for instance, I’d love to know why he wants to trade Midtown office suites for the desert — and will report back if I hear from him.

And to cap off the meta navel-gazing, I should report here that I like my gig very much and have no intention of leaving.

Vevo, Universal Music’s Hulu for Video, Gets a Salesman

david kohlVevo, the music industry’s attempt to create a Hulu-like hub for its videos, is going to attract a lot of eyeballs when it launches later this year. Here’s the guy who’s supposed to attract advertisers: David Kohl, a former Nokia executive who starts work today as the site’s sales boss.

Kohl’s job is a key one at the venture, whose premise is that the music industry can do a better job of selling its video inventory than sites like Google’s YouTube (GOOG). Vevo is a joint venture owned (for now) by Sony (SNE) and Vivendi’s Universal Music Group; YouTube will help power the site and will share in some of its revenue.

In theory, there could be a lot of dollars to go around. When Vevo opens its doors later this year, it is expected to generate some 450 million video streams a month. In theory, the fact that a single company will control the way the videos and displayed and distributed will make those streams more attractive to advertisers.

vevo-logoBut there are plenty of skeptics who think the site will flounder, in large part because the music industry has never figured out how to run a successful consumer business, and the media business has a terrible track record when it comes to joint ventures. In Vevo’s favor: They said the same thing about Hulu, and that has been a success, at least operationally.

Kohl will run a six-person sales team he intends to expand, people familiar with Vevo’s strategy tell me. Up until now, Vevo head Rio Caraeff has been overseeing sales himself — and learning on the job, since he didn’t have any sales experience of his own. Vevo now employs about 45 people.

At Nokia, Kohl ran the company’s interactive ad group; he has also put in time at Viacom’s MTV Networks, Vivendi Universal and Comedy Central.

Tablet Schmablet: How About a Mud PC?

092209ATDgizmodoThe Wondertablet the guys at Gizmodo showed off last night looks cool. But you can’t actually touch one right now unless you know someone very connected at Microsoft (MSFT).

You know what you can touch? Today? How about a PC you control by shoving your hands in a box full of mud?

Seriously. All you have to do is get yourself to New York’s Nolita neighborhood and drop by Gizmodo’s annual gallery show, chock full of cool, weird and often gloriously useless gadgetry.

Among other geegaws on display: An automated pancake maker, some spark-emitting and dangerous-looking Tesla coils, a “Star Trek” tricorder and a videogame that dispenses beer. And, of course, an array of Apple (AAPL) paraphernalia, including some arts-and-craftsy iPhone cases.

The free show, which runs through Sunday, is mostly a labor of love on the part of head gadgeteer Brian Lam. But I gather it’s now making some money, via sponsorships, for Gawker Media’s Nick Denton. (And if that’s the case, I hope Denton uses some of that money to make sure there’s enough power and air conditioning at next year’s gallery. Also maybe some cots for his charges.)

Lam gave me a mini-tour yesterday afternoon, which I filmed with a Flip camcorder. If want to to see for yourself (it’s much less shaky that way), drop by the gallery at 267 Elizabeth Street.

Yahoo’s Bartz: Microsoft Deal Was “Very Clever”

092209ATDbartzSay this about Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz: She promised to answer any and all questions at a New York press conference today, and she delivered! The event, which was meant to highlight Yahoo’s new $100 million marketing campaign, went on for a good hour, and the Q&A covered a wide variety of topics (and a PG-rated F-bomb).

And when that finished, Bartz agreed to answer yet more questions. Video is below, but here’s a synopsis:

  • Should press, investors really compare Yahoo (YHOO) to Time Warner’s (TWX) AOL unit? “We aspire higher than that.”
  • Bartz explains and defends her Microsoft (MSFT) search deal yet again. Key point: She never wanted a big upfront payment, she says.  “What I got was revenue, with my expenses covered. I think that’s actually very clever… cash doesn’t help me. But revenue helps me. Revenue without expenses really helps me.”
  • Bartz says major Yahoo investors like Gordon Crawford support her tactics and strategy: “They’re fine… I meet with them a lot.”
  • Yahoo is interested in M&A, but nothing on an epic scale. “Buying interesting sites and content so we can pull in users or smart people, always a great option for us… giant joint merger combinations? That’s really hard….Small and medium sized opportunities are really what make sense for us.”