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Brian Ross is out at ABC News

Investigative journalist Brian Ross is out at ABC News.

Ross confirmed his departure in a tweet on Monday afternoon. The veteran network reporter had been suspended without pay from ABC News after incorrectly reporting on air that President Donald Trump had directed former national security advisor Michael Flynn to make contact with Russia's government during his election campaign.

The mistake led to a firestorm of criticism directed at Ross and ABC News. The President had called for Ross to be fired and noted that Ross' report had affected the stock market. The network clarified the report a few hours later, then apologized for the mistake and benched Ross for a month. He returned in January in a different position, working on long-form pieces but not about Trump.

It is unclear precisely why Ross and his producer Schwartz are departing at this time. The two intend to keep on with their investigative work, Ross said in his tweet.

ABC confirmed the departure in a memo from the network president James Goldston.

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AT&T believes in ad targeting and privacy: can the two coexist?

Is AT&T looking to establish a new national ad platform for the TV industry?

The company renamed its advanced advertising business on Tuesday with a promise to offer Madison Avenue something new — targeted advertising at scale. The new unit is called Xandr, after Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone and established The Bell Telephone Company and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

AT&T acquired Time Warner’s content business for $85.4 with a stated intention of getting TV and online viewing data and marrying it with ad targeting capabilities — a combo the company says will allow it to charge more for its ad inventory.

Here’s how AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson explained it to Recode’s Peter Kafka.

In a statement about the new branding, the telecom giant noted that it has signed deals with regional cable companies Altice USA and Frontier Communications to aggregate and sell their national addressable TV advertising inventory.

Addressable advertising means ads that are targeted to identifiable consumers. TV and telecom firms have struggled to compete with internet companies simply because online players are much less regulated in what data they can share. “Xandr’s unique differentiator is its commitment to personalization," the company said in its statement.

Still, the departure of Oath CEO Tim Armstrong doesn’t bode well for that kind of data mash-up in the current political climate. Oath is part of Verizon.

In the press release, AT&T said: “This initial step starts to create the foundation of a national TV marketplace for advertisers and premium content publishers.”

With TV measurement firm Nielsen exploring a sale, it appears AT&T is making a bold effort to reshape video ad buying with its extensive data and distribution capabilities.

Speaking at the Relevance Conference, Stephenson criticized media industry innovation, according to a tweet from Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw that was confirmed by the company.

“I have not been exposed to many industries as reluctant to change as the media industry in terms of business models and changing how you deliver the product," Stephenson said. "It is an industry that has about as much inertia as any industry I’ve been part of.”

While the phone company wants to have a closer relationship with their customers and viewers, it’s not clear consumers — or politicians — feel the same way. Privacy remains a huge topic of public concern and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has a hearing Wednesday about that very topic. The Los Angeles Times lays out who’s attending the high profile event: AT&T, Amazon, Google, Apple, Twitter and Charter Communications, but no consumer advocates.

Stevenson is arguing for the government to step in to regulate privacy, largely to avoid the states doing it themselves.

Craig Newmark backs news site to take on big tech

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark confirmed on Monday he is spending $20 million to back The Markup, a journalism project led by reporter Julia Angwin aimed at pointing out the serious deficiencies in tech platforms and their impact on society.

Angwin, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, most recently worked at ProPublica, where she looked at how Facebook ads could be used to exclude racial groups from housing, which is against the law. Here’s the story.

“The effects of foreign bad actors on our election, that’s been the most shocking to me,” Newmark said when asked about the most surprising negative effects of technology on society.

But rather than criticize the tech platforms, Newmark is choosing to play diplomat. He wants tech giants and the news media to play nice in order to fend off Russian interference in future elections.

“I can say first hand, a great deal of good is coming from all three major tech platforms," Newmark said. "I’m engaged in quiet diplomacy, getting together a platform of people with constructive critics of the platforms. I've been doing it for some years without much traction, but as I get a little louder, I’m becoming more effective.”

Newmark added: “I have a great deal of confidence in what Facebook, Google and Twitter are doing.”

Some might see some irony in journalism funding coming from Newmark, who also gave a $20 million gift to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. After all, Craigslist's free online bulletin board drew classified ads away from newspapers, helping kickstart a difficult run for print media that continues.

Newmark pushes back against that narrative, pointing to research that shows the newspaper industry has been in decline for decades

John Skipper's DAZN looking to punch its way into OTT

Some people might know billionaire Len Blavatnik as the owner of Warner Music and France’s streaming music service Deezer, but he’s also behind a company attempting to upend the direct-to-consumer sports business.

Blavatnik, together with former ESPN president John Skipper, operate a company called Perform Group, which runs DAZN (pronounced "Da Zone"). The streaming service is getting its a big test this weekend, streaming its first major sports event — a boxing match between Anthony Joshua  and Alexander Povetkin.

The service is $9.99 per month (first month is free) and offers live and on-demand streaming of boxing matches and mixed martial arts as well as other library programming. Joseph Markowski, head of DAZN North America, told The Query the company is aiming to compete with the pay-per-view boxing matches that typically cost $70 to $100. The streamer is advertising this weekend's match via digital media to win sign-ups.

“We’re not just competing with ESPN+, we’re competing with ESPN,” Markowski said.

He said the firm’s exclusive focus on streaming gives it a leg up versus other broadcasters who have to worry about cannibalizing their TV distribution revenue.

DAZN aims to be in the ring when it comes to negotiating for big sports rights when they are available, though Markowski declined to name any. He said DAZN has plans to grow well beyond its origins in the fighting realm, and we should expect to hear a lot more about their sports offering in the coming months.

Can it challenge a plethora of sports streamers already in the market both from the leagues and their TV partners as well as a possible move by a Facebook, Google or Amazon? Blavatnik’s pockets are pretty deep.

The Hollywood Reporter's power list is changing, thanks to #MeToo

The #MeToo movement and the broader push for diversity in the entertainment industry are starting to have an effect on power dynamics in Hollywood.

The Hollywood Reporter's annual 100 list released on Thursday is missing a host of influential names felled by the #MeToo movement. No longer on the list are former CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, Pixar's former chief John Lasseter, producer Brett Ratner and Amazon's former studio head Roy Price.

Matthew Belloni, Hollywood Reporter editorial director, said that the list includes 35 women and people of color, a big change from prior years. He said the list was less a reflection of the magazine's desire for inclusion and more about who's got "juice" in the entertainment industry. 

"Women and people of color are having big success. Ryan Coogler (director) and Michael B. Jordan (actor) from 'Black Panther,' that's a reflection of the massive success of that film. They are two names that constantly come up," Belloni said. "Tiffany Haddish and Lin-Manuel Miranda are the same. Roy Price is off the list, and that allowed Jennifer Salke to go up." Salke is the head of Amazon Studios.

The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow, who has arguably had a bigger effect on who's up and down in Hollywood than any other force in the past 12 months, joined the magazine's top 100 for the first time, after Moonves was taken off the list at the last minute after he left CBS

Disney CEO Bob Iger tops the list for the third time in a row.  

Belloni said he has spent the day fielding angry emails and complaints about the list.

"Some in old-school Hollywood think there are personal agendas and there's back room dealing," he said, but added that the people at the top of the list, such as Netflix CEO Reed Hasting are there because they are buying. "They're excited about people who are spending a lot of money.”

Amazon charges up online ad rankings

Amazon’s advertising business is growing so fast that measurement firm eMarketer is now predicting it will be the third-biggest digital ad sales entity by the end of the year, behind behemoths Google and Facebook.

On Wednesday, eMarketer revised an earlier projection published in March that had Amazon coming in fifth behind Microsoft and Verizon’s Oath, which includes AOL and Yahoo. 

Amazon is now expected to book more than $4 billion in ads. The company’s popularity among advertisers is driven in part by consumers' shift to conducting product searches on Amazon and the firm’s two-day shipping service. Amazon is also selling ads on its streams of NFL Thursday Night Football and its gaming destination Twitch.

The report states that Amazon is projected to generate $4.61 billion in advertising revenue versus an earlier year-end forecast of $2.89 billion.

Notably, Google and Facebook’s share of the pie shrinks, according to this forecast. The so-called “duopoly” will take a 57.7 percent share of digital ad revenue in 2018 versus 59.2 percent last year, with smaller players also capturing some of the market.

 

eMarketer.com

Woodward book on Trump is a record breaker

"Fear," is officially a record breaker.

Bob Woodward's book about disarray in the Trump White House recorded first-week sales of 1.1 million in all formats, a record for publisher Simon & Schuster.

The last record holder was Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" biography, according to the publisher. That book sold 379,000 copies back in November 2011.  

"There is only one word to describe the sales of 'Fear' - and that word is huge," said Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, which is part of CBS Corporation. "What's especially gratifying is the appreciation readers and reviewers have for the integrity and importance of Bob Woodward's reporting."

The publisher has ordered a 10th printing, bringing the number of hardcover copies in print to 1.2 million. First day sales were 900,000, the company said in a statement.

Still, the book, only its second week on sale, is already fading from the news cycle as another title about President Donald Trump has emerged — this one from Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago. Her book, "Full Disclosure," published by St. Martin's Press, is now attracting headlines after The Guardian wrote about its contents.

And there's more Trump-related books on the way. Earlier today, the Associated Press reported that former FBI official Andrew McCabe has signed a book deal for "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump," out on Dec. 4.  

Will more tech investors step up for print media?

Staff and former editors of Time Magazine are celebrating the news that Marc Benioff, the Salesforce CEO worth $6.6 billion, and his wife Lynne Benioff are acquiring the iconic magazine from Meredith Corporation.

Richard Stengel, who ran the newsweekly between 2006 and 2013, told NBCNews.com that was happy to hear about the acquisition.

"It sort of like a dream come true in the sense of here's a tech billionaire who believes in the brand and in impartial news coverage and growing Time both domestically and internationally and doesn't want to play an editorial role," Stengel said. "It's the best of all possible worlds."

Nancy Gibbs, who was the first woman editor of the magazine from 2013 to 2017, said: "I'm over the moon, because obviously we've been living with uncertainty for a long time and hoping for the best outcome.

"What struck me, is this is not some bloodless business transaction," Gibbs said. "You can feel the passion and the purpose that he and Lynne bring to this."

Gibbs said she met Benioff, who is spending $190 million on the magazine, at a dinner in Davos, Switzerland, when she was running the Time Inc. news group. 

Gibbs, who is now the Edward R. Murrow Chair of Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, added: "When it comes to imagining a new future, I can't imagine a better steward. I'm thrilled for my colleagues and readers and everyone who spent so much of our careers there and rooting for the best possible outcome."

Time magazine's editorial staff were also celebrating the change in ownership on Twitter. Chris Wilson, the director of data journalism, tweeted: "I'm delighted that it will be in wise and benevolent hands with the Benioff family."

Columnist Susanna Schrobsdorff tweeted: "There's no better owner for Time and no better time to own Time."

Recode noted the magazine sent the famed bar cart around the office to celebrate.

Benioff said in a text message exchange with a New York Times reporter — conducted while he was receiving a massage — that Time is still in a strong financial situation. "It's a very strong business," he reportedly texted. "Very profitable."

The WSJ reported on Monday that Time is projected to see a 9 percent decline in revenue in 2018 from $173 million in 2017.

Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor of communications and magazine at Newhouse School, wondered about the all-round rejoicing given tech's role in wrecking the traditional economics of publishing. 

"I am not one of those people who are celebrating the sale of legacy publishing to a tech insider," Grygiel said.

While she says Benioff is well liked because of his stance on human rights and same sex marriage, legacy publishing has been decimated by tech disruption. 

While Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs have shown what investment and expertise can do for publications such as The Washington Post and The Atlantic, other wealthy individuals have found publishing a tough road and have given up their investments. 

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes sold The New Republic after a rocky period of ownership, and billionaire Joe Ricketts folded DNAInfo after he couldn't find a way to make it profitable. Peter Barbey, a wealthy investor, said he would sell The Village Voice just three years after buying it.

Still, Grygiel said there may be more Silicon Valley luminaries headed for the publishing world. Alibaba's Jack Ma acquired the South China Morning Post, while Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder, created The Intercept. 

Meredith is looking to sell other major magazine titles including Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated.

Online video viewing continues to rise, says research firm Magid

Magid Advisors President Mike Vorhaus gave one of the most popular presentations at Goldman Sachs' annual Communacopia conference on Thursday. No prizes for guessing it was about the explosion of online video trends and cord cutting.

Vorhaus said that three-quarters of all internet users are now paying for a subscription video service, and online video viewing is up 8 percent per year.

The presentation also suggested that there's more consumer demand for smaller selections of cable channels, or skinny bundles, a point also brought home by Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav, who confirmed his company has a deal to provide a host of its TV channels to smaller online bundles offered by Hulu and Sling TV.

But Vorhaus also touched on the topic of China, asking how many investors in the media had actually visited the country that is likely to be the lead topic of earnings presentations in the not-too-distant future. By his count only a quarter of the audience responded that they had.

Vorhaus told The Query that the Chinese digital middle class is around 700 million people, while there's another 600 million blue collar workers who will be digitally connected in the coming years.

"If you claim to cover a U.S. studio and you don't know about China, you are out of touch," he said. "There is this whole image that it is very agricultural.

He noted there are more than 150 cities in China with a population of one million or more.

Still, he noted that even Chinese players such as Tencent are still operating at the whim of government rules. Tencent stock dropped last month after the Chinese government banned the content of one of its games. Here's how CNBC covered it. Tencent Holdings also owns RIOT Games which produces the popular "League of Legends" computer game.

Magid Advisors
Magid Advisors

Take-Two Interactive CEO on challenges in China

The CEO of games publisher Take-Two Interactive, Strauss Zelnick, used his perch at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference on Thursday to launch a broadside against China.

Zelnick, a newly appointed board member at CBS, told investors of the many hurdles of growing the gaming business while Chinese companies can operate without any challenges.

"We have a completely odd and unequal situation where Chinese companies can come to the U.S. and buy companies no problem in our space," he said. "And if they don't want to do that, they can bring a title here and market it and keep all the proceeds."

Zelnick added: "In order to go to China, we've have to have half our business owned by a local company in China. The good news is they provide expertise. We are in business with companies like Tencent and we are thrilled to be in business with them, but we don't have a choice to be clear."

The Take-Two chief executive added that the firm needs government approvals to launch games in China, which in itself is a political process, and added: "China's been stealing our intellectual property for a really long time. Those things just have to change." 

So far, the tariff wars with China have not included any measures involving the entertainment sector to any large extent, but Zelnick wants to see some changes. "I'm not sure why the U.S. government thinks that it's an OK thing to do with our sector." 

Here's the link to the webcast to listen to the full session, and here's a link to Zelnick's CNBC interview where he talks about the need for boards to have good compliance, a clear reference to CBS. 

Zelnick also used the stage to promote his new book, “Becoming Ageless,” which drew a few laughs from the crowd. 

Survey shows Kaepernick campaign has already taken a toll on Nike

Nike’s new ad campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick is tanking the company’s favorability ratings, according to a survey from Morning Consult, a polling company.

The company, which surveyed more than 8,000 people before and after the print and TV ads were released earlier this week, said that Nike’s favorability ratings have dropped sharply.

"Before the announcement, Nike had a net +69 favorable impression among consumers, it has now declined 34 points to +35 favorable," Morning Consult wrote in its report.

The ad campaign features Kaepernick, the athlete-turned-activist who knelt during the national anthem to protest mistreatment of minorities in the U.S.

The ad copy reads: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” 

Kaepernick has not played for an NFL team since opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March 2017. Since then, the NFL has been dealing with an ongoing controversy over players protesting during the national anthem.

President Donald Trump even tweeted about the Nike ad campaign.

"Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts," the president tweeted. "I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way? As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!"Morning Consult’s First Poll released on Thursday morning found:

  • Only 2 percent of Americans reported hearing something negative about Nike recently. That number jumped to 33 percent following the announcement.
  • Republicans had the biggest swing, with those "like to purchase Nike goods" declining from 51 percent to 28 percent.

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