September 23, 2021

Media Decoder Blog: The Breakfast Meeting: Networks Embrace Content Marketing and Retailers Admit to Faking Faux Fur

Television networks and channels are becoming increasingly involved in making commercials, hoping to prevent audiences from skipping ads, Stuart Elliott writes. New efforts at content marketing (also called content advertising and native advertising) have become the norm as networks try to convince marketers to pay more for airtime. Scripps Networks Interactive, the parent of cable channels like DIY, Food Network and Travel Channel, is one of the leaders in the field. Jonathan LaConti, vice president for ad sales at the company’s New York office, said that Scripps strives to make commercials that look “really natural,” particularly if they involve one of the network’s hosts.

Three retailers settled federal claims on Tuesday that they had marketed real fur as fake fur, Julie Creswell reports. Neiman Marcus, and Eminent settled with the Federal Trade Commission for marketing rabbit, raccoon and, possibly, dyed mink as faux fur, to the applause of animal rights groups. The seemingly counterintuitive business plan has become more viable as retailers struggle to meet a growing demand for fake fur and a global supply chain obfuscates the origins of some clothing materials.

Sylvia Nasar, a tenured professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday accusing the university of misdirecting $4.5 million in endowment funds over the last decade, Christine Haughney writes. Ms. Nasar, who is the John S. and James L. Knight professor of business journalism at Columbia and the author of the book “A Beautiful Mind,” charges in the suit that the university misused a $1.5 million endowment provided by the Knight Foundation to establish a professorship. The agreement called for Columbia to pay the professor’s salary on its own, then use the grant money for additional salary and benefits like research. Ms. Nasar’s complaint says that instead she spent $174,000 of her own money and when the accounting firm KPMG audited the endowment they found that Columbia’s “misappropriations and defaults” totaled as much as $4.5 million. A Columbia spokeswoman would not comment on pending litigation.

A new book by Jane Goodall, the primatologist, contains passages taken from Web sites without attribution, according to an article on The Washington Post’s Web site on Tuesday, Leslie Kaufman writes. The book, “Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants,” written with Gail Hudson, who has worked with Ms. Goodall on two other books, is about plants and their impact on humans, not chimpanzees. Ms. Goodall acknowledged the duplication and apologized, adding that she would discuss the issue on her Web site’s blog.

Tom Bissell, the author of seven books and a contributor to publications like The New Yorker and Harper’s, has broken into a new genre by writing “Gears of War: Judgment,” the fourth video game in the popular science-fiction military series for the Xbox 360, Chris Suellentrop reports. Dialogue, character development and plot are often afterthoughts behind game mechanics and lush combat sequences in games like “Gears of War,” but in this case Mr. Bissell and Rob Auten, who helped him write the game, were instrumental almost from the beginning. The resulting game is fast-paced and lean, propelling the action forward with a subtle story line that inattentive players might miss for the explosions.

The New York Times announced on Tuesday that Alison Smale would become Berlin bureau chief and Richard W. Stevenson would become Europe editor. The change comes as The Times moves to create an integrated global news brand; the The International Herald Tribune, which The Times has owned since 2003, will be renamed as The International New York Times later this year.

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In Cable Niches, Less Reality and More Original Shows

Now, for the first time, she is in charge of a one-hour drama, but it is not for any network she envisioned earlier in her career. It is for VH1, the older-skewing version of MTV.

Niche cable channels like VH1 that have depended solely on unscripted programs or repeats of others’ scripted programs are now trotting out their own comedies and dramas. Their aim is diversification. When Ms. Littlejohn’s drama, “Single Ladies,” has its premiere late this month, “it’ll distinguish VH1 amid their steady diet of reality shows,” she said.

Top-tier cable channels like USA and TBS have been creating dramas and sitcoms for more than a decade, but now relative small fry are doing the same. The shows are a way to stay competitive.

“I think the bar has been raised in scripted,” said Jennifer Caserta, the general manager of IFC, the Independent Film Channel, which may be better known now for the sitcoms “Portlandia” and “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.”

The trend toward more scripted cable shows has been evident at advertiser presentations by VH1, IFC and other channels this spring.

Cable channels are in the middle of the upfront advertising period, when they secure commitments for ad spending for the rest of the year.

Channel owners like Scripps Networks and Viacom have forecast big gains in the upfront period this year because ratings continue to drift toward cable and away from broadcast, and the advertising marketplace is rebounding. Cable ad time, which is generally less expensive than broadcast ad time, is expected to grow faster than broadcast.

The cable and broadcast marketplaces “seem well positioned for truly strong results,” the News Corporation chief operating officer, Chase Carey, told investors last week.

For small channels, scripted shows are centerpieces that can be displayed to advertisers — and can command premium advertising rates.

“More scripted shows, more incredible performances,” screamed a banner at the presentation last month by the cable channel BET, which has struck ratings gold with scripted comedies and is looking for its first drama project. Often, though not always, scripted programs are perceived to be safer harbors for advertisers than reality programs. Bhavana Smith, a vice president at Draftfcb, an advertising network owned by the Interpublic Group, called scripted a “more controlled environment” for brand integrations.

“Do you really want to rely on Snooki to do justice to your brand?,” she asked, referring to a “Jersey Shore” cast member.

At IFC, the Cheetos snack brand was featured on the most recent season of “Portlandia” and the Jameson whiskey brand was featured on “Todd Margaret.” Ms. Caserta said each companies’ advertising “is humorous in itself, so incorporating them into our scripted comedies was easy.”

Most cable channels still subsist largely on so-called reality shows. They are generally less expensive to produce than scripted shows, and they are generally repeatable dozens or even hundreds of times.

But there are advantages to having an original scripted show on the schedule. Such shows convey status — they can define a channel’s identity, help to deliver higher per-subscriber fees, and impress executives at the parent company.

In other words, sometimes it is about ego.

Small channels like AMC, with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” and TV Land, with “Hot in Cleveland” and “Retired at 35,” have provided something of a blueprint for others. BBC America, for instance, is developing its own dramas to supplement what it imports from Britain. With the trial in scripted television can come error. CMT, the country music channel, last month canceled its first sitcom, “Working Class,” due to low ratings.

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Media Decoder: Time Warner Cable and Viacom Seek Ruling on iPad App

Time Warner Cable and Viacom each filed lawsuits on Thursday that seek to resolve a stormy dispute in the television business over the right to stream channels to new devices like iPads.

Cable companies like Time Warner Cable say their existing contracts with channel owners like Viacom cover devices like iPads that can be turned into television sets. Some of the channels owners disagree, and they have been exchanging threats with Time Warner Cable ever since its TWCableTV app was released in mid-March.

When Viacom, Scripps Networks, Fox Cable Networks and Discovery Communications threatened legal action a week ago, Time Warner Cable temporarily removed their channels from the app. But it said it would pursue legal options, and on Thursday afternoon, the company filed a request for a declaratory judgment in favor of its app — and against Viacom — in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The company’s general counsel said Time Warner Cable was “asking the court to confirm our view” that the company has the rights to in-home viewing of channels on any screen.

Minutes later, Viacom said it ad filed its own suit in the same court for breach of contract and copyright violations.

In its suit, Viacom asserted that the iPad app amounted to “unlicensed distribution of Viacom’s programming.” It also acknowledged what other channel owners have said privately: that having cable companies like Time Warner Cable extending the TV viewing to tablets could damage its business.

Time Warner Cable’s actions “will interfere with Viacom’s opportunities to license content to third-party broadband providers and to successfully distribute programming on its own broadband delivery sites,” Viacom said.

Viacom has been the most aggressive of all the channel owners in the app battle. A statement accompanying its lawsuit suggested that it expected new payments for the rights to stream to tablets: “With $5.2 billion in cash from operations last year, Time Warner Cable can certainly afford to provide our programming through this new broadband service without passing along any additional costs to its customers.”

Time Warner Cable, with more than 14 million customers, is the second-largest cable company in the United States, after Comcast. Time Warner said Thursday that its app had been downloaded more than 360,000 times. Cablevision, which has about 3.5 million customers, released a more sophisticated streaming app last week, and on Wednesday it said it had counted more than 50,000 downloads.

Other cable companies are known to be developing similar apps, and may face similar rights issues with channel owners.

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