Fighting Words! Time Warner Says Comcast/NBCU as Dumb as…Time Warner/AOL.

bewkesJust in case anyone thought Time Warner had any lingering interest in NBC Universal, this ought to put it to rest: Time Warner (TWX) CEO Jeff Bewkes just compared the proposed Comcast/NBCU deal with the disastrous one his company made with AOL nearly a decade ago.

At an industry conference in Manhattan, Bewkes repeated arguments he has made in the past: Chiefly, that big media mergers have a lousy track record and that he couldn’t see how Comcast (CMCSA) could unlock any value by buying a majority stake in NBC Universal from GE (GE).

“Somebody has finally noticed that these things don’t work out so well,” he said, adding “We love to see our competitors taking risks.”

But just to hammer that point home, Bewkes compared the proposed deal to the one his company made nine years ago when it embarked on an ill-fated merger with AOL. That deal (made when Bewkes was running Time Warner’s HBO unit)  “basically made no sense” at the time, he said.

The main talking point in favor of that transaction–that connecting Time Warner’s content with AOL’s Internet distribution would create synergy–was “nonsensical,” he said. But “these kind of arguments, you’ll hear some of them this week, in the other merger that we’ve been talking about,” Bewkes said.

Clear enough?

Wall Street, by the way, remains unimpressed with the proposed deal as well: Comcast shares are down about 10 percent since word got out.

In other reiteration news, Bewkes also said, again, that he doesn’t plan on selling his Time Inc. publishing unit. Though he left himself a tiny window of wiggling room by noting that “no public company can ever say that it wouldn’t consider restructuring some part, whether it’s Warner, HBO, whatever.”

But Bewkes insisted that Time Inc.’s best-known magazine brands, including “Time, People, Sports Illustrated, InStyle,” are holding their own as print products and that the challenge will be turning them into online successes.

“We have basically a healthy business in terms of our relationship with readers. These brands mean something and they’re evolving…,” he said. “If you can’t take the leading titles that people have known for decades, and use the new world to make them relevant, really, shame on us.”

Ad Giant Publicis Tells Publishers to Throw Bodies at the Fake Web Ads Problem

the-sting-soundtrackLast month, the New York Times (NYT) was attacked by hackers who bought fake Web ads from the publisher. And one of the world’s biggest ad companies says that won’t be the last assault.

Publicis, the giant French ad holding company, has been warning Web publishers to be “hyper-vigilant” about other bogus ads like the ones the Times mistakenly bought, which were purportedly for Vonage but were actually designed to distribute malware. Publicis, whose units includes Starcom, Digitas, Optimedia, MediaVest, Zenith, and Spark, has been sending out letters warning publishers to be wary of the rogue ads, which it describes as an “industry issue.”

The catch: It appears that the only way to combat the attacks, at least in the near-term, is to do something that runs counter to industry trends — throw bodies at the problem. Publicis wants publishers to individually verify the ad orders they receive, which would be a non-issue for traditional media but is a problem Web publishing, which increasingly relies on automation. Mediapost:

The incidents have exposed potential vulnerabilities in on online publishing security, and are causing advertisers, agencies and publishers alike to reassess the processes they use to conduct business, especially as they interact with an increasing array of third-party intermediaries – advertising networks, exchanges, etc. – many of which place insertion orders automatically and without human intervention. The solution, as the Times‘ and Publicis’ new policies suggest, is to reinsert human interaction into the process – at least for the time being.

Whoops. That whole thrust of Web publishing is get humans as far away as possible from buying and selling decisions: The ad exchange that Google (GOOG) launched last month, for instance, is designed to handle those tasks in milliseconds. Now think about how long it takes to pick up the phone to actually confirm that someone is who they say they are. [Shudder].

It’s possible that this is simply butt-covering on Publicis’ part (these attacks have been out there for quite some time), and that this will blow over soon. But I don’t think so. Which means the ascent of Web ads may slow down, just a bit, as the industry figures out just how many humans it will take to fight the problem.

Disney “Transitioning” Ideal Bite, its $20 Million “Green” Lifestyle Newsletter

heather_yogaIdeal Bite, the green-flavored lifestyle newsletter  Disney bought in June 2008, faces an uncertain fate: Its parent company is shuttling the unit from one corporate silo to another, and says it’s not sure what will become of it once that happens.

For the record: Disney (DIS) says it always intended to move the company, which offers “bite-sized ideas for green living” via e-mail and a Web site, from its corporate strategy group to its interactive division, which will happen later this year. At that point, “it will still continue in some form,” says spokesman Michelle Bergman.

That doesn’t sound good. Disney says it plans to conduct a review of the unit, so it’s not ready to answer some basic questions about the e-mail newsletter company. Like: Are cofounders Heather Stephenson (who lives and works in San Francisco)  and Jennifer Boulden (who until this summer lived and worked in Bozeman, Montana; she’s now in LA, I’m told) staying on? Will Disney have to take a writedown on the property? Will there be layoffs? “It’s too early to say. I can’t tell you,” Bergman says.

OK. But If I had to bet, I’d say at least some of the dozen-plus employees will be hitting the job market.

Disney paid a reported $20 million for the business a year and a half ago, and the plan was to create a big green-centered business around it, but that hasn’t panned out, sources said. The company, founded in 2005, is one of the many lifestyle newsletter businesses backed by Bob Pittman’s Pilot Group.

Comcast (CMCSA) bought DailyCandy, the best known of Pittman’s stable, for $125 million a little more than a year ago. That was surely one of the last “pre-Lehman” Web 2.0 M&A deals, but grunts and murmurs out of Philadelphia and Pilot indicate the business has held up during the recession. And Thrillist, a “DailyCandy for dudes” effort that has yet to sell, seems to be booming.

Exclusive: MySpace Gets a New Sales Boss–MTV Vet Nada Stirratt (Plus, an Internal Memo, Of Course!)


Employees at MySpace have been waiting to find out who their new ad sales boss will be, as BoomTown reported earlier this week.

And, here she is: Nada Stirratt, who until today was running digital sales for Viacom’s (VIA) MTV Networks. (You can read her goodbye memo to MTV colleagues below.)

It looks as if MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta is assembling a team of MTV veterans at his company, which he’s in the process of overhauling. In addition to Stirratt, MySpace has brought former digital guru Jason Hirschhorn over as chief product officer. And Courtney Holt, who runs MySpace Music, had run digital music for MTV before Chris DeWolfe, Van Natta’s predecessor, brought him on board last year.

Next week will be Stirratt’s debut in front of the entire advertising sales staff of MySpace, who are set to gather at a new seaside resort about 20 miles south of Los Angeles to get a first glimpse of the fresh direction the company is preparing to take under its new management.

The struggling social networking site has been trying to reboot its image, spur innovation in its product and–most of all–pull itself out of a too-long slump, even as longtime rival Facebook has seen explosive growth.

In late August, MySpace sales and marketing head Jeff Berman left the company as MySpace hired MediaLink, a New York- and Los Angeles-based media consultancy, to help get its ad sales business back on track.

That effort has been led by MediaLink President Wenda Millard, who is well known in the ad industry and was longtime leader of the ad sales force at Yahoo (YHOO).

Getting an experienced top ad exec in place will round out a recent spate of new hiring by MySpace, including a new CTO, Alex Maghen, who moved over from its MySpace Music joint venture, and a new CFO, Mark Rosenbaum.

This has been part of a wholesale flushing out of most of the top execs who worked under DeWolfe by Van Natta.

Now, with a new team of execs, the News Corp. (NWS) property is putting the finishing touches on a master plan, which will include a new redesign of its hopelessly messy interface and doubling down on a product strategy that will center on, said one source, “what we own”–namely, music and entertainment.

Music is the obvious key leverage point, the still-bright spot of MySpace, followed by adding big entertainment categories like movies, television, gaming, video and other pop culture arenas.

Once the rejiggered product is in place, it will be up to Stirratt to sell it to advertisers.

Until we see how she does in that key job, here’s her missive to MTVers:

From: Stirratt, Nada
To: MTVN Digital Advertising
Sent: Fri Oct 09 16:34:51 2009
Subject: Thank You for Everything

Hi Everybody –
It is with mixed emotions that I write to inform you that I will be leaving MTV Networks.  I have accepted the job of Chief Revenue Officer at MySpace and will be starting there later in the month.
The past 3+ years have been such a wonderful experience and I thank you for the extraordinary work you all have done to make MTVNetworks Digital stand for a best-in-class sales organization unlike any other in the business.  Truly.  We rocked the industry with our innovation, ideas, relationships and results.  And we had a ridiculous amount of fun along the way.
So thank you for everything.  And a special heartfelt thanks to my leadership team of Kevin, Brad, Jason and Heather: I have learned so much from each of you and will cherish your friendship.


(Full disclosure: News Corp. also owns Dow Jones, which owns this site.)

The AP Tries a “Truthiness” Approach: “We’re Not Talking to Google” Means “We’re Talking to Google”

Colbert-truthinessFor a company that delivers information for a living, the Associated Press might want to work on getting its story straight. Earlier this year, AP chair Dean Singleton baffled the Web by channeling Howard Beale. This week, AP CEO Tom Curley told a group of journalists that his company wasn’t talking to Google about renewing its licensing deal. But they have been for months, and continue to do so.

In fact, reps from Google and the AP linked up in Manhattan on Wednesday to discuss the deal, which expires at the end of this year, people familiar with meeting tell me. That timing makes sense, since Google had flown in many of its top brass to New York for a series of internal meetings this week.

But that would come as a surprise to anyone that took Curley’s words, delivered after a speech in Hong Kong on Tuesday, at face value.

Here are Curley’s comments, recorded by an attendee at the Hong Kong meeting and transcribed by Zachary Seward at Nieman Journalism Lab:

Someone asked Curley if Microsoft (MSFT) was willing to accept the AP’s demands. “They have said very strongly that they would,” Curley responded. A bit earlier, he said of Microsoft, “They know how to have a conversation.” And what about Google? “I’m not talking about Google (GOOG),” he said. “We haven’t talked. We haven’t talked. We haven’t talked with them in any serious way.”

AP spokesman Paul Colford says he has nothing to add to Curley’s comments. But I’ll try to make a case on his behalf: Maybe this is one of those “depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” situations, where Curley doesn’t consider the talks the two sides have been having to be “talks”. Alternate proposal: Maybe Curley is going for “truthiness” instead of “truth”.

I guess that’s possible. The recurring story I’ve heard from sources on both sides of the negotiations, which have been going on for months, is that they’re not moving very far.

The problem: The AP has a list of demands, which start with more money and move on from there, including assurances that its copy will receive better treatment than secondary outlets. And Google hasn’t expressed much interest in changing the existing agreement. The company is “quite happy” with the deal they have now, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told reporters on Wednesday.

I understand why Curley would want to play up his talks with other portals, as well as the notion that he’s willing to pull his cooperative out of the world’s biggest traffic generator. Per above, I don’t think those are particularly effective tactics, but I understand them. But that’s different than creating an alternative reality altogether.

Conde Cuts Continue: 15 at Digital, More to Come

conde-nast-buildingConde Nast, which shuttered four magazines this week, has said it won’t be cutting any more titles. But that won’t be the last of its cuts: The publisher is looking to take out roughly 25% of costs at each of the magazines it publishes, so it is very likely that’s going to lead to layoffs in many cases.

Today’s example doesn’t come from a magazine per se, but from the company’s digital group, which let go of “more than” 15 people, MediaWeek reports.

You should see a trickle of these reports in the weeks to come, and from other publishers as well: Employees at Time Warner’s Time Inc (TWX), for example, are bracing for cuts this fall, or in early 2010, and my former colleagues at Forbes expect to hear about another set of layoffs in the next week or so. And whoever wins the bidding for BusinessWeek will almost certainly take an axe to that company’s payroll.

The Secret of Chad Hurley and Steve Chen’s Famous “Two Kings” Video. Revealed!

chad hurley and steve chenRemember the era-defining video that Chad Hurley and Steve Chen made three years ago? The one where they looked simultaneously giddy, groggy, and perhaps a tiny bit intoxicated, and announced that they had sold their video site to Google for $1.65 billion?

That clip, it turns out, is an unlikely homage to…wait for it… the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy. Really!

Go ahead and look at the first two clips at the bottom of the post. Note Hurley’s reference to “salt and pepper” and “two kings getting together”. See? In the Diddy clip, too. Who knew? (OK, so at least one of you did).

Anyway, Hurley references both clips in a blog post he’s published this morning commemorating the anniversary of the sale. He also announces that the site is now serving up “well over” 1 billion video views a day (last month Comscore (SCOR) estimated YouTube was doing 10 billion views a month in the US.)

And there’s also some general talk about the site’s evolution: Rather than focus solely on short clips, it’s also working to bring in movies and TV shows, etc. Nothing you didn’t know already.

Expect to hear more meaningful — but equally upbeat –  talk about the site’s progress next Thursday, when Google (GOOG) announces its Q3 earnings.

Last quarter, Google executives went out of their way to talk up the site, and CFO Patrick Pichette said YouTube could start generating significant profits soon. This week, CEO Eric Schmidt also made a point of praising the YouTube deal, and the site’s performance during a New York press conference.

Here, once again, is that famous clip.

And here’s the one Hurley was apparently referencing.

And here, once again, is the most popular clip in YouTube’s history: