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Top communications execs at Facebook and Twitter depart on same day

Facebook has dealt with a string of public relations nightmares over the past year, but they’ll soon have to carry on without their top PR boss.

Elliot Schrage, a Google veteran who has been at Facebook for the past decade, announced on Thursday that he will be leaving his position at Facebook.

“After more than a decade at Facebook, I've decided it’s time to start a new chapter in my life. Leading policy and communications for hyper growth technology companies is a joy — but it's also intense and leaves little room for much else,” Schrage wrote in a public Facebook post

Schrage will stick around to help find his successor and will serve as an adviser to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, he said. Despite the fake news and data privacy scandals, a Facebook representative told NBC News he first raised his desire to move on from the company “long before the election” and agreed to stay on after Zuckerberg and Sandberg asked for his help.

Since then, Facebook has weathered the most intense criticism in the company's history.

Schrage mostly stayed behind the scenes at Facebook but did encounter some recent public criticism after he told Natasha Lamb, a managing director at investment firm Arjuna Capital, she was "not nice" for asking a question about sexism. Schrage apologized for the comment.

Another PR pro, Twitter’s head of corporate communications, Kristin Binns, also announced on Thursday that she’ll be leaving the company after two years to serve as senior vice president and chief communications officer at Activision Blizzard. Naturally, Binns shared the news where else, but on Twitter.

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Time Warner is now Warner Media, and a lot of executives are leaving

That's all folks!

WarnerMedia is the new name for Time Warner, according to an internal memo from the AT&T executive who is taking charge of the media company, John Stankey.

The telecom firm said that customer confusion with Time Warner Cable, long since spun off from the company, was the reason for the change.

The memo also outlined a host of corporate executives who are to leave WarnerMedia as a result of the acquisition. CEO Jeff Bewkes has said previously he would leave after the transition.

The departures include the head of the Turner division, John Martin, a former chief financial officer for Time Warner who was poised to run the whole company at one point in history. Turner houses CNN, TNT and TBS among other assets.

At a recent conference, Martin had criticized AT&T's DirectTV unit, describing its poor service. The statements were received by many as clues that he didn't want to stick around.

For now, the memo seems to suggest that Stankey will play a much more active role at Turner, thought he will be limited in what he can do until the firm knows whether the Justice Department will appeal against a ruling allowing AT&T and Time Warner to merge. That could take up to 60 days.

In an unusual move, Stankey didn't name a successor to Martin from among the company's ranks and perhaps appeared to set up a three-way race to lead the Turner division listing three top executives there:

  • David Levy, president, who runs not only the ad sales unit at AT&T that the company hopes to capitalize on, but is responsible for buying its sports rights.
  • Also listed are Gerhard Zeiler, head of international, and Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide.

Other top executives to depart include Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of corporate marketing who joined after counseling Rupert Murdoch for many years at News Corporation.

Also on the way out at Time Warner: Howard Averill, chief financial officer; Karen Magee, chief human resources officer; Carol Melton, EVP of global public policy; and Olaf Olafsson, EVP of international and corporate strategy.

Stankey praised the team in his memo: "Over the course of their tenure, this highly accomplished team fended off a hostile takeover by a rival media company (Fox), put in place plans to consolidate the New York-based offices into the Hudson Yards complex (which will be the most advanced office space in New York), and successfully restructured the company, ultimately positioning us to succeed in this new chapter."

Stankey welcomed the Time Warner staff with a note about all the AT&T deals they're now eligible for.

The company also confirmed an early plan to give away a free TV package to AT&T wireless customers.

Martin did not return a request for comment.

Could the Justice Department still force an asset sale at AT&T?

AT&T closed its momentous and torturous acquisition of Time Warner on Thursday, with a press release touting not just Time Warner’s crown jewels — HBO, Warner Bros., and Turner — but a host of direct-to-consumer streaming businesses.

AT&T assets in the online video world are significant and include an international joint venture with the Chernin Group that houses Fullscreen and Crunchyroll, among other web entertainment businesses. And with Time Warner it will also add some big digital businesses, such as CNN.com and Bleacher Report.

The Justice Department may be down, but it isn’t out. It is no doubt aware of how its response to Judge Leon’s decision to rubber stamp the AT&T/Time Warner deal — and deny the Justice Department’s case that it is anti-consumer — could have further ramifications on other actions coming down the pike. 

The DOJ has 60 days to decide what to do. While an appeal seems an unlikely prospect on the face of it, the department has forced asset sales before, as in the case of an aircraft filtration company, Parker-Hannafin, in December last year after rivals raised complaints.  

So while the celebrations are ongoing at AT&T, the Time Warner assets have to remain separate for now and more specifically, Turner most remain ring-fenced from AT&T, and there is to be no change of compensation or number of employees. Good news for chief John Martin? 

Here’s a good profile of John Stankey, the guy who will become the new Jeff Bewkes, heading all of the entertainment assets. He admitted that college football is his only appointment viewing and had struggled to name entertainment shows that he watches. (We’re sure that he’s become a keen student of movies and TV since the profile was written.)

The Department of Justice won't pursue a stay of the AT&T-Time Warner deal... but they're not done just yet

The Department of Justice hasn't given up prosecuting the AT&T/Time Warner merger just yet.

A DOJ official, who asked to remain anonymous because they're not publicly authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told NBCNews: "The Department will not be seeking a stay, but continues to evaluate its options with respect to an appeal."

That means AT&T might have to sweat it out for a few more days before it can close its Time Warner acquisition.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on Thursday denied the DOJ's attempt to block the AT&T-Time Warner, rejecting every argument by DOJ lawyers that the combined company will hurt competition.

But the DOJ still has options - namely a full-on appeal.

Top communications execs at Facebook and Twitter depart on same day

Facebook has dealt with a string of public relations nightmares over the past year, but they’ll soon have to carry on without their top PR boss.

Elliot Schrage, a Google veteran who has been at Facebook for the past decade, announced on Thursday that he will be leaving his position at Facebook.

“After more than a decade at Facebook, I've decided it’s time to start a new chapter in my life. Leading policy and communications for hyper growth technology companies is a joy — but it's also intense and leaves little room for much else,” Schrage wrote in a public Facebook post

Schrage will stick around to help find his successor and will serve as an adviser to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, he said. Despite the fake news and data privacy scandals, a Facebook representative told NBC News he first raised his desire to move on from the company “long before the election” and agreed to stay on after Zuckerberg and Sandberg asked for his help.

Since then, Facebook has weathered the most intense criticism in the company's history.

Schrage mostly stayed behind the scenes at Facebook but did encounter some recent public criticism after he told Natasha Lamb, a managing director at investment firm Arjuna Capital, she was "not nice" for asking a question about sexism. Schrage apologized for the comment.

Another PR pro, Twitter’s head of corporate communications, Kristin Binns, also announced on Thursday that she’ll be leaving the company after two years to serve as senior vice president and chief communications officer at Activision Blizzard. Naturally, Binns shared the news where else, but on Twitter.

The New York Post wastes no time in getting in on legalized sports betting

Well that didn't take long.

On the first day of legalized sports gambling in New Jersey, the New York Post debuted a daily betting guide with a full two pages of odds and data for a variety of different leagues — even the Canadian Football League.

Just one month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prevented states other than Nevada from allowing gambling on sporting events. That triggered something of a gold rush, with many states moving to legalize the once-backroom activity and plenty of companies preparing to take advantage.

That includes plenty of media companies that see new opportunities for revenue related to sports gambling. And with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Thursday placing the state's first official bet, the Post is among the earliest to cater directly to the eager gambler.

But they're far from alone. ESPN has a new show exclusive to its streaming subscription service that focuses on sports betting.

Nicole Kidman is latest to sign with Amazon Studios

AT&T's Randall Stephenson better get comfortable with spending big once he takes charge of Time Warner — competition for talent is getting more intense.

Nicole Kidman just signed a first-look deal for film and TV with Amazon Studios. 

Kidman's biggest TV hit of late is the Emmy-winning HBO show, "Big Little Lies." While HBO's on-screen product doesn't appear to have suffered given the sharp increase in the price of doing business in Hollywood, it must sting that Kidman's going to Amazon Studios and not just for TV.

Amazon will also potentially show her movie projects in theaters too. Kidman's Blossom Films will give Amazon a first look on new initiatives. She is still working with HBO on an upcoming series, however. Here's Vanity Fair with a story about how Kidman and Reese Witherspoon are conquering TV. 

Here's the Hollywood Reporter with all the details. While big media giants scramble to buy each other, they must also watch the chicken coup. Warner Bros. just shelled out $400 million to keep program maker Greg Berlanti (Riverdale and Supergirl).

It looks like Amazon Studios' new chief, Jennifer Salke, a former NBCUniversal entertainment executive, is looking to outgun Netflix. Salke also just signed up Oscar winner Jordan Peele and is preparing to launch the "Lord of the Rings" series for the streaming service.

And then there's Apple still looming — and reportedly tip-toeing into the movie business.

Why media executives can't play by Netflix's rules but are still trying

If you're in the media business, you might be sick of reading about how well Netflix is doing.

Here's a great explanation of why media executives might be justified in feeling they're getting a bad rap. CNBC's Alex Sherman has a good analogy in this must-read article.

Let's say you're a carpenter, and you make furniture out of mahogany. You pay for mahogany wood and sell a finished product for a profit. You've been doing this for years, and you've made a good living from it.

One day, a new guy — let's call him Reed Hastings — moves in next door. At first, Reed seems awesome. After looking through your store, he buys a bunch of the dusty pieces in the back no one else wanted.

But after a while, Reed decides to get into the furniture manufacturing business, too. And now he's telling your mahogany supplier that he'll pay 50 percent more for the same wood. Then another competitor, a rich fellow named Jeff Bezos, shows up across the street. He wants the mahogany, too, and he's bidding 75 percent more.

This is crazy, you think. How are these guys able to afford to pay so much more for the same stuff? They've got to be passing along the costs to their customers, right?

But they're not. You walk in their store, and they're selling the same quality furniture you make for less than you sell it. And cash from investors is pouring in.

You say, what the hell? I'll up my spending, too. This is the new world, I guess. So you bid 100 percent more for mahogany. Instantly, your stock falls. "Boo!" say your investors. "Your business model is dying!"

New York magazine's Josef Adalian gets inside the Netflix machine and reports on what it's doing differently. He notes that Netflix is now making more TV than any network in history.

Content chief Ted Sarandos says his staff have a lot of freedom and a lot of money: “Most of my team have more buying power than anyone has selling power in Hollywood. My direct-report team can greenlight any project without my approval. They can greenlight it against my approval!” 

 

 

AT&T wins, convincingly

WASHINGTON — AT&T's $85.4 billion acquisition of media giant Time Warner can proceed, a federal judge said Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that the combined companies do not pose a danger to consumers, a decision that amounts to a resounding win for the two companies.

Leon ruled that AT&T can buy all of Time Warner without any conditions, such as selling certain assets or agreeing to refrain from raising prices. Industry analysts had expected AT&T to win, but many speculated that the judge would force the company to agree to certain measures.

Read the full story here.

U.S. anti-trust chief talks AT&T/Time Warner just ahead of judge's decision

Makan Delrahim, who spearheaded the Justice Department's case against AT&T's proposed merger with Time Warner, spoke on Tuesday morning and made a final pitch to Judge Richard Leon, who this afternoon will decide the fate of the deal. 

Delrahim, the assistant attorney general for the antitrust division of the DOJ, revealed a surprise in his speech. He noted that when Justice was preparing its case against AT&T that the department received a curious request from an unnamed anti-trust officer from a state that Delrahim also did not identify.

“They told us they would only join our case if we provided written assurances that no divestiture would go to Fox or to Rupert Murdoch,” Delrahim said in his speech.

Delrahim said he rejected the request “because it would have been unconstitutional to accede to it.” 

The head of the Justice Department antitrust unit went on to say the division has been under pressure to disregard consumer harm and focus on protecting the wider market, democracy or freedom of speech.  

Delrahim, speaking at an Open Markets Institute event in Washington D.C., has argued that AT&T should divest a large portion of the proposed combination, suggesting a sale of  DirecTV or Turner Broadcasting, which houses CNN. 

He noted the Justice Department negotiated the largest-ever divestiture package from pharmaceutical giants Bayer and Monsanto. 

“The harms of that transaction [AT&T], following a consumer welfare rubric, were simply too great to accept, or try to fix with ineffective behavioral remedies,” meaning rules governing the competitive behavior of a company.

He reiterated the view that the merger would be harmful to consumers because it would, “unlawfully raise prices for cable TV subscribers and harm online innovation."

Delrahim closed by saying anti-trust enforcers would not benefit by “allegations that would flow from abandoning the consumer welfare standard.”

While there is a belief that President Donald Trump may have interfered in the Justice Department's thought process on the mega deal, Delrahim added: “Whether it is Kochs or George Soros or anyone else, political positions should have no role in determining the propriety of antitrust enforcement actions.” 

Delrahim concluded his speech with a quote from former President Ronald Reagan. “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” 

Who murdered the newspaper business?

Remember Craig Newmark?

Yes, the Craigslist guy. The one who reputedly killed newspapers' main revenue source, the classifieds. It’s easy to forget him given the focus on Google and Facebook, the current poster boys for the supposed death of print.

Well, he just donated $20 million to the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism to fund an endowment, according to this tweet from Vivian Schiller, the former head of news at Twitter. The school will now bear his name. 

Not everyone is thrilled. The comments accompanying her tweet are raw. “It’s like thanking the pickpocket for giving you back some loose change,” writes Jim Conaghan.

Another commenter, Eric Francis, adds: “I was working for newspapers during the time when classified ads, once a reliable source of newspaper revenue, tanked because of… Craigslist.” 

Former News Corp strategy boss, Raju Narisetti, meanwhile has another take, blaming the business side of journalism for being lazy and greedy: “As a unique industry where the entire 'product' changes 100% at least once every 24 hours for 365 days, adapting to change was a core DNA element at least on the newsroom creation/printing/distribution side. How could the news business not adapt 2000-2007 - for eight years!” 

Narisetti, who is joining Columbia Journalism School as a professor of professional practice, has a long thread on the topic that’s worth a read.