April 20, 2021

In the Roaring Twenties, Ads Make a Comeback

One of the legislators who has pushed to rein in the power of the tech giants, Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island who heads the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, said the improving advertising business would not dampen the appetite in Washington for a crackdown on “monopoly power” in Big Tech.

“These are structural problems in the marketplace, and none of that will be changed by a few strong quarters,” he said.

The boom in digital advertising is lifting online publishers, but they aren’t the biggest beneficiaries. Even as television is getting a smaller share of the advertising market, the most sought-after digital advertising outlets are the new “connected TV” platforms — places like Roku, Hulu and Viacom’s Pluto TV. Those platforms put old-fashioned television ads next to old-fashioned television shows, but also provide advertisers detailed data on who is watching.

At the same time, advertisers remain skittish of news, in particular, using key words to block display advertisements from appearing next to stories about polarizing subjects. The president of global news and entertainment at Vice, Jesse Angelo, said he had declined a request last year from an entertainment company that, while celebrating the Black Lives Matter movement on its own website, asked Vice to block its ads from appearing near the terms “Black,” “Black people” and “Black Lives Matter.”

The big picture, though, amounts to a kind of optimism unseen in the gloomy digital publishing business for nearly half a decade.

“I don’t know that I could’ve predicted it at this level,” said Bloomberg Media Group’s chief executive, Justin Smith. “We haven’t seen digital advertising growth in high double digits since maybe 2017.”

And it’s not just advertising. Media executives are scrambling to catch up with demand for the other elements of their business that have fallen out of favor as subscriptions ascended, notably events.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/18/business/media/subscriptions-advertising-media.html

With ‘Knives Out’ Deal, Netflix Signals It’s in the Franchise Business

“The pandemic has really put the streamers head to head with theatrical distribution,” said James Moore, chief executive of Vine Alternative Investments, an asset manager focused on the entertainment industry. “Now you’re seeing the economics really accelerate towards the streamers, and they have both the wherewithal and the strategic need to retain those gains.”

“Knives Out,” with a cast led by Daniel Craig and Chris Evans, earned $311 million at theaters, close to half of it in international markets — the biggest growth opportunity for streaming services. It was one of the few box office winners in the past few years not based on a comic book or on existing intellectual property that was tied up in a lengthy studio deal.

(John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place,” from 2018, is another example. But that R-rated horror film was owned by Paramount, and it was such a box office boon that its sequel was one of the few films the studio held on to during the pandemic. It is scheduled to come out in theaters on Memorial Day weekend.)

For the original “Knives Out,” Mr. Johnson’s representatives at Creative Artists Agency negotiated a one-film licensing agreement with the film’s distributors, MRC and Lionsgate. That deal gave Mr. Johnson and his producing partner, Ram Bergman, control of the franchise and the right to shop future iterations to other parties. (Mr. Craig, who played the arch Southern detective Benoit Blanc in the film, is also an equity participant in the deal.)

The movie is part of a tried-and-true genre — the star-studded whodunit — that has been reinvented in recent years. “Murder Mystery,” starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, was a hit for Netflix in 2019. Kenneth Branagh’s reimagining of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” in 2017 worked well for Disney’s Fox division, pulling in $352 million, including $250 million from the international market. (A follow-up, “Death on the Nile,” has been pushed to 2022, partly because one of its stars, Armie Hammer, has been tarnished by a recent sex scandal.)

The “Knives Out” deal also highlights how much easier it is for a streaming service to exploit an already known title than to build one itself. While Netflix scored big with the 2018 Sandra Bullock film “Bird Box” — it said 89 million households had tuned in to watch the film within four weeks of its release — it is just now gearing up for a sequel, a Spanish-language version that won’t feature the original star.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/business/media/netflix-knives-out-deal.html

The Supreme Court’s Increasingly Dim View of the News Media

“New York Times and the court’s decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law,” Justice Thomas wrote. In a dissent in a criminal case a few months later, he wrote, quoting a previous opinion, that “the media often seeks ‘to titillate rather than to educate and inform.’”

No other member of the Supreme Court joined Justice Thomas’s opinion urging it to revisit the foundational 1964 libel decision, and Judge Silberman’s dissent was widely criticized. J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge who was on President George W. Bush’s short list of potential Supreme Court nominees, called the dissent shocking and dangerous in an opinion essay in The Washington Post last month.

But the negative views from the bench of the news media may not be outliers. A new study, to be published in The North Carolina Law Review, documents a broader trend at the Supreme Court. The study tracked every reference to the news media in the justices’ opinions since 1784 and found “a marked and previously undocumented uptick in negative depictions of the press by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The study was not limited to cases concerning First Amendment rights. It took account of “all references to the press in its journalistic role, to the performance of commonly understood press functions or to the right of press freedom.” Many of these references were in passing comments in decisions on matters as varied as antitrust or criminal law.

“A generation ago, the court actively taught the public that the press was a check on government, a trustworthy source of accurate coverage, an entity to be specially protected from regulation and an institution with specific constitutional freedoms,” wrote the study’s authors, RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor at the University of Utah, and Sonja R. West, a law professor at the University of Georgia. “Today, in contrast, it almost never speaks of the press, press freedom or press functions, and when it does, it is in an overwhelmingly less positive manner.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/us/supreme-court-news-media.html

What Snoop Dogg’s Success Says About the Book Industry

As fear for their industry turned to a stunned optimism last year, publishers started to rethink almost everything they had once taken for granted, from how to cultivate new literary talent to the ways that they market and sell books. Live literary events like book signings and author appearances have been replaced, as with so many things, by Zoom. BookExpo, the largest gathering of publishing professionals in the United States, which typically took place in May and drew thousands of booksellers, publishers, editors, agents, authors and librarians to the Javits Center in New York, has been canceled. The convention center is now being used as a mass vaccination site.

“One of the most significant things that’s going to change is the re-evaluation of all that we do and how we do it,” said Don Weisberg, the chief executive of Macmillan.

The loss of live author events all but wiped out a significant revenue stream for bookstores. Virtual events can draw bigger and more geographically diverse crowds, and they are cheaper for publishers, but online audiences often don’t buy the book from the store that’s hosting.

Gayle Shanks, co-owner of Changing Hands in Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz., said that at virtual book events, the store has sold as few as half a dozen books. At a really good virtual event, they might sell 150 copies — but that same author, in person, might sell 1,000. Some publishers have started paying her stores to put on virtual events, she said, usually between $200 and $500, which is about comparable to what they would earn if they sold 20 to 50 books, she said.

Like the big retailers, independent bookstores were also flooded with online orders, a welcome surge of business when their doors were closed, but one they were poorly set up to manage — some stores went from getting maybe a dozen orders a day to hundreds last spring. For many of them, the growth in online sales still wasn’t enough.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/18/books/book-sales-publishing-pandemic-coronavirus.html

CBS News Will Try to Reinvent Itself, Again

“The wants and habits of our consumers evolve by the day,” Mr. Cheeks wrote to his staff in a memo last week. He effusively praised Ms. Zirinsky as an “indefatigable” driver of “powerful journalism” while suggesting that it would fall to the next generation of CBS leaders to usher in the modern era: “Z has helped position the division for success.”

Ms. Zirinsky, in the interview, said that “every part of my being believes this transition is right, at the right time, with the right ideas.” She conceded she “would be lying” if she claimed ratings were unimportant, but she noted that “Evening News” had narrowed its deficit in the key demographic and that she had shored up a newsroom that, after the convulsions of recent years, had “felt a bit abandoned.”

Ms. Zirinsky signed the star anchor Gayle King to a new contract at “CBS This Morning,” which had lost momentum after the exit of its former co-anchor Charlie Rose over claims of workplace misconduct. On March 8, the show beat ABC and NBC for the first time on the strength of its exclusive excerpts from Oprah Winfrey’s CBS interview with Meghan Markle. “60 Minutes” and “CBS Sunday Morning” remained highly respected and highly rated.

Some of Ms. Zirinsky’s strengths — a love of producing; an encyclopedic knowledge of the network — proved double-edged. Accustomed to the banter of the control room, she sometimes mused aloud about personnel changes, prompting unease and unauthorized leaks; trained to report every fact, she spent months seeking input about her next moves, delaying big decisions.

By the time Ms. O’Donnell was officially named “Evening News” anchor in May 2019 — days after the announcement had leaked to The New York Post — Ms. Zirinsky had openly told colleagues that the network presidency could be an awkward fit for her. The Post reported last week that Ms. Zirinsky, during a lengthy corporate budget meeting, scrawled “I hate my job” on a sheet of paper and held it up.

“I am transparent,” Ms. Zirinsky said, when asked about her expressions of frustration with the job. “The passion that I feel sometimes gets misinterpreted. I wouldn’t have traded this for anything. If I was asked today to step into this role, I would do it all over again.”

CBS News has tried a number of approaches over the years to lift its fortunes.

The “Evening News” tried a megawatt star (Katie Couric) and a lesser-known homegrown prospect (Jeff Glor). “CBS This Morning” was a revolving door of anchors and producers. David Rhodes, who had worked at Fox News before he became the CBS News president in 2011, ran the division in the style of a technocrat before he was replaced by Ms. Zirinsky, the old-school shoe leather journalist.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/18/business/media/cbs-news-susan-zirinsky.html

One America News Network Stays True to Trump

Assignments that the elder Mr. Herring takes a special interest in are known among OAN staff as “H stories,” several current and former employees said. The day after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Mr. Herring instructed OAN employees in an email, which The New York Times reviewed, to “report all the things Antifa did yesterday.”

Some “H stories” are reported by Kristian Rouz, an OAN correspondent who had written for Sputnik, a site backed by the Russian government. In a report in May on the pandemic, Mr. Rouz said Covid-19 might have started as a “globalist conspiracy to establish sweeping population control,” one that had ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, the billionaires George Soros and Bill Gates, and “the deep state.”

Ms. Britton, the former OAN producer, recalled checking a website that Mr. Rouz had cited to back some of his reporting. “It literally took me to this chat room where it’s just conservatives commenting toward each other,” she said.

In an email to staff last month, Ms. Oakley, the news director, warned producers against ignoring or playing down Mr. Rouz’s work. “His stories should be considered ‘H stories’ and treated as such,” she wrote in the email, which The Times reviewed. “These stories are often slugged and copy-edited by ME as per Mr. H’s instructions.”

OAN’s online audience is significant, with nearly 1.5 million subscribers to its YouTube channel. One of its most popular videos, with about 1.5 million views since it went online Nov. 24, criticized Dominion Voting Systems, the election technology company whose equipment was used in more than two dozen states last year, including several won by Mr. Trump. Hosted by the OAN White House correspondent, Chanel Rion, the video shows a man who said he had infiltrated Dominion and heard company executives say they would “make sure” Mr. Trump lost.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/18/business/media/oan-trump.html

The Oscars Are a Week Away, but How Many Will Watch?

Mr. Soderbergh did acknowledge that there is only so much the producers can do.

“People’s decision-making process on whether to watch or not doesn’t seem to be connected to whether or not the show is fantastic or not,” he said, pointing to the strong critical response for this year’s Grammys, which notably featured a risqué performance by Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B.

The Oscars telecast, on the other hand, saw its ratings peak in 1998, when 57.2 million people tuned in to see the box office juggernaut “Titanic” sweep to best-picture victory. Since the turn of the century, the most highly rated year was 2004, when the academy honored another box office behemoth, “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Analysts point to a litany of challenges propelling the decline. Old broadcast networks like ABC are not as relevant, especially to young people. The ceremonies, even if kept to a relatively brisk three hours, are too long for contemporary attention spans. Last year’s Oscars ran three hours and 36 minutes (the equivalent of 864 videos on TikTok).

Why slog through the show when you can just watch snippets on Twitter and Instagram?

Moreover, the Oscars have become overly polished and predictable. “The Oscars used to be the only time when you got to see movie stars in your living room, and very frequently it was a hoot,” Ms. Basinger, the Hollywood historian, said. “Some seemed a little drunk. Some wore weird clothes. A few had hair hanging in their face.”

Increasingly, the ceremonies are less about entertainment honors and more about progressive politics, which inevitably annoys those in the audience who disagree. One recent producer of the Oscars, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential metrics, said minute-by-minute post-show ratings analysis indicated that “vast swaths” of people turned off their televisions when celebrities started to opine on politics.

And there is simply awards show fatigue. There are at least 18 televised ceremonies each year, including the MTV Video Music Awards, BET Awards, Teen Choice Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, CMT Music Awards, Tony Awards, People’s Choice Awards, Kids’ Choice Awards and Independent Spirit Awards.

With ratings expected to tumble for the coming telecast, ABC has been asking for $2 million for 30 seconds of advertising time, down about 13 percent from last year’s starting price. Some loyal advertisers (Verizon) are returning, but others (Ferrero chocolates) are not.

“We’re really not getting much advertiser interest,” said Michelle Chong, planning director at Atlanta-based agency Fitzco, “and it’s not something we’ve been pushing.”

Tiffany Hsu contributed reporting.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/18/business/media/academy-awards-tv-ratings-audience.html

Swiss Billionaire Ends Bid for Tribune Publishing

Mr. Wyss, who made his fortune as a medical device manufacturer, had joined the Maryland hotel executive Stewart Bainum Jr. in a bid that seemed as if it had a chance of preventing Tribune from becoming fully owned by its largest shareholder, the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

In late March, Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum had put together an offer of $18.50 a share, which valued the chain at $680 million. It came more than a month after Tribune had reached a nonbinding agreement to sell itself to Alden at $17.25 a share. On April 5, Tribune Publishing said that its special committee had determined that the bid from Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum would be reasonably expected to lead to a “superior proposal,” when compared with the Alden bid.

Because Alden is known for slashing costs at the roughly 60 daily newspapers it controls through its MediaNews Group subsidiary, journalists at Tribune publications cheered the surprise entry of Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum into the bidding.

Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum declined to comment. Tribune’s special committee also declined to comment.

Mr. Bainum, who had taken a special interest in another Tribune paper, The Baltimore Sun, remains committed to pursuing ownership of Tribune Publishing. With Mr. Wyss no longer at his side, he is seeking new financing, the three people said. Mr. Bainum told the Tribune’s special committee of Mr. Wyss’s departure on Friday, two of the people said, and confirmed his exit from the deal in writing on Saturday.

Mr. Wyss, who was born in Bern, Switzerland, and has a home in Wyoming, first visited the United States as an exchange student in 1958 and worked as a journalist as a young man. A decade ago, as the chief executive of the Swiss-based medical device maker Synthes, he oversaw its sale to Johnson Johnson for roughly $20 billion.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/17/business/media/wyss-bainum-tribune-bid.html

100 Days Without Trump on Twitter: A Nation Scrolls More Calmly

But how significant is the noise? Many Republicans still seem to be hanging on Mr. Trump’s every word. But others say that without Twitter or indeed the presidency, his voice has been rendered nearly impotent, much the way Alpha, the terrifying Doberman pinscher in the movie “Up,” becomes ridiculous when his electronic voice malfunctions, forcing him to speak with the Mickey Mouse-like voice of someone who has inhaled too much helium.

“He’s not conducting himself in a logical, disciplined fashion in order to carry out a plan,” the anti-Trump Republican lawyer George Conway said of the former president. “Instead, he’s trying to yell as loudly as he can, but the problem is that he’s in the basement, and so it’s just like a mouse squeaking.”

Not everyone agrees, of course. Even some people who are no fans of Mr. Trump’s language say that the Twitter ban was plain censorship, depriving the country of an important political voice.

Ronald Johnson, a 63-year-old retailer from Wisconsin who voted for Mr. Trump in November, said that Twitter had, foolishly, turned itself into the villain in the fight.

“What it’s doing is making people be more sympathetic to the idea that here is somebody who is who is being abused by Big Tech,” Mr. Johnson said. Although he doesn’t miss the former president’s outrageous language, he said, it was a mistake to deprive his supporters of the chance to hear what he has to say.

And many Trump fans miss him desperately, in part because their identity is so closely tied to his.

Last month, a plaintive tweet by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, that bemoaned Mr. Trump’s absence from the platform was “liked” more than 66,000 times. It also inspired a return to the sort of brawl that Mr. Trump used to provoke on Twitter, as outraged anti-Trumpers waded in to inform Mr. Giuliani exactly what he could do with his opinion.

It is exactly that sort of thing — the punch-counterpunch between the right and left, the quick escalation (or devolution) into name-calling and outrage so often touched off by Mr. Trump — that caused Mr. Cavalli, a former sportswriter and associate athletic director at Stanford University, to leave Twitter right before the election. He had been spending an hour or two a day on the platform, often working himself up into a frenzy of posting sarcastic responses to the president’s tweets.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/17/us/politics/trump-twitter.html

Carol Prisant, Elegant Design Writer, Dies at 82

She had anxious, perseverating thoughts about death and worried that she might kill her own child. Her fears were nearly realized one day when, while she was at the wheel of a car in which her toddler son was riding, a driver drifted into her lane, forcing her to swerve and hit a tree.

For decades, as Ms. Prisant wrote in her last book, “7 Shrinks: 60 Years in an Undiagnosed Altered State,” published earlier this year, she veered between terror and disassociation. She could put a cigarette out on the back of her hand without feeling it. And for decades she was treated with the blunt instruments of old-school psychiatry — the tropes of Freud, electroshock therapy — before receiving a diagnosis only a few years ago of depersonalization disorder, a response to trauma in which the sufferer loses her sense of self.

It’s a harrowing memoir — Kate Chopin by way of Sylvia Plath. The “underbook,” as Ms. Prisant would say, to her carefully curated life.

In 2000, Mr. Prisant died suddenly of pancreatic cancer. Ms. Prisant left Long Island and moved to a grand apartment on East End Avenue in Manhattan. It was a half-timbered showplace she camped up by painting the living room walls bubble-gum pink. The dining room was purple.

Her smaller next apartment, where she lived until her death, was very pale — and very still, as she often said — decorated in an extravagantly neo-Classical style, like a set from one of the 1930s-era films she loved.

In addition to her son, Ms. Prisant is survived by a brother, Richard Lincoff, and a granddaughter.

Ms. Prisant wrote several books on antiques; a novel, “Catch 26”; and a memoir of her life with dogs, “Dog House: A Love Story.” She had many, and in recent years spent her weekends reading — and singing — to abused dogs rescued by the A.S.P.C.A. in Manhattan.

Her job was to get the dogs used to the sound of a human voice that wasn’t going to hurt them — to help them discover, as she wrote in an unpublished essay, “over time, that the world isn’t threatening.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/15/style/carol-prisant-dead.html