Media roundup, Jan 23-29
It's been a busy old week (both for me and the world of media). We've had two lesser networks, UPN and WB, announce that they're to merge to form a new network, CW (apparently the letters are from CBS and Warner). Then there's the news that Disney is buying former partner Pixar, in a $7.5 billion deal that puts it solidly back in the world of profitable digital feature film animation. And though Bob Iger's Disney is the one doing the buying, there's a strong sense that it's Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple and Pixar) who's the real power in this deal -- the new "King of all media". We've had Google announce it's setting up a new operation in China, even though that means allowing the Chinese government to censor its service. (Lots of coverage of that -- for a flavor of the latest coverage, and the competing issues involved, see here, from the Christian Science Monitor; here, from the Financial Times; and here; and for some pieces that argue that Google did the right thing see here, from Reuters, and here, from the LA Times). But otherwise, Google remains flavor of the month. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin seem to be, along with Jobs, the men of the moment.
So what's going on? Everybody in medialand is worried that their old media properties are decaying while they risk missing out on the upcoming digital bonanza. How bad is it? Well, of course everyone is still making money, but they're all worried about making less money sometime in the future. It seems it's time for the big boys to make some big moves. So while Disney is paying top dollar to stay hitched to Pixar's star, CBS Corporation (until recently known as Viacom) merges one of its networks with that of a competitor. And now, according to CNN Money, NBC owner General Electric seems to be thinking along the same lines. "With NBC's ratings suffering, Wall Street debates whether General Electric still needs a media unit, " notes the piece. One reason? NBC helps GE "control its image and present itself in a favorable light." Oh, and it’s still profitable. But how long can the network sustain these profits, especially when it’s losing the ratings war for that key 18-49 year-old demographic (where it’s been slipping for the past season and a half and is now well behind CBS and ABC)? Clearly there's a lot of maneuvering going on, and the people who can claim to be on the digital edge -- Page, Jobs, et al. -- seem to be pretty much in the driving seat.
Elsewhere, there are signs that more and more actual journalists are less impressed at the developments surrounding the digital revolution's cutting edge -- developments that mostly seem to revolve around entertainment rather than news. The Wall Street Journal notes that more and more TV journalists are looking to move from ailing network news to NPR. Notes the WSJ ("TB News Stars Move to NPR and Sound Off"), "Many television journalists say they are fed up with the move toward consumer-friendly news-you-can-use and away from weightier subjects like foreign affairs and government. And many also see news of any sort as an increasingly low priority for their employers. " The piece also notes NPR’s rapidly rising audience figures, up to 25.3 million for 2005, from just 22 million the year earlier. Seems there are still plenty of people who stil just want good, solid news and information, and never mind the digital bells and whistles!