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Internet TV packages are getting pricier — including AT&T's

AT&T is raising prices on its streaming video bundle just weeks after telling the government that it's merger with Time Warner would result in lower prices for consumers.

The telecom giant added $5 to the price of DirecTV Now's cheapest online channel bundle, which now costs $40 — about the same as everyone else's — while removing HBO from one of its packages. It also jacked up its "administrative fee" to $1.99 per month.

This story from Ars Technica is a good reminder of what the company said it would do during the extensive court battle with the Justice Department and its real-world economics. The company says it also offered free channels to AT&T Unlimited subscribers.

AT&T isn't alone. Streaming video providers are entering a new phase of their lifecycle: trying to cover the cost of the channels they offer. Mid-year seems like a good time for a rethink on pricing, it appears.

Sling raised prices in June. Sling remains the cheapest offering with a $25 a month package called Orange, which includes ESPN. It is also offering individual channel choices too. Sony's Playstation Vue said this month it is raising prices for channels by $5 to $44.99 per month for the lowest tier, called Access, or $84.99 for the highest tier called Ultra. YouTube's YouTube TV, a cable like bundle raised its fee by $5 in March to $40.

Streamers have long pitched themselves as a cost efficient alternative to existing TV bundles, but it's worth remembering that the average price of broadband in the US is $58 per month, according to this FCC report

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Fox News and Business voices pull no punches on Trump in Helsinki

Neil Cavuto on Fox Business called it “disgusting." Fox News' website ran an opinion piece with the headline, “Putin eats Trump’s lunch in shocking Helsinki summit.” Fox News anchor Bret Baier called it "almost surreal at points."

President Donald Trump's appearance alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday drew broad criticism from Republicans and Democrats. But even some of the notable faces of Fox's cable channels, which have generally reported favorably on the president throughout his first term, struggled to defend his actions on Monday.

Abby Huntsman, a Fox News anchor and co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend” (and daughter of Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia) tweeted: “No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus.”

CORRECTION (July 16, 2018, 6:00 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of a Fox News anchor. He is Bret Baier, not Brett.

Read more here.

Sinclair's attempt to create a local TV behemoth hits a roadblock

Sinclair’s attempt to create a local TV powerhouse just hit a roadblock.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said on Monday that he has “serious concerns” about Sinclair's plan to merge with Tribune Media and will have the FCC vote on sending the deal to an administrative judge.

Pai focused on Sinclair’s plan to spin-off a handful of stations to parties that he said could remain under Sinclair’s control.

“The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law," Pai said in a statement.

Read more here.

Former CEO of Billboard and The Hollywood reporter resigned amid sexual harassment investigation

The former CEO of Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter resigned amid an internal investigation into sexual harassment, according to the The Daily Beast.

John Amato left the company last week, and the company’s owner Valence Media said it was beginning an investigation about workplace practices at the publishing company.

The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani reported that Amato was ousted after employees came forward with harassment allegations against him. The story also notes other complaints from staff about interference with a story about Charlie Walk, a music industry executive and friend of Amato’s who was accused of sexual harassment.

A public relations firm that represents Billboard, Jonesworks, declined to comment. Another firm representing Billboard owner Valence Media and Amato’s lawyer, Joel Katz, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

About-face at Chequers

President Donald Trump appeared to describe the exclusive interview he gave to the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun newspaper as "fake news" at a joint news conference Friday with British Prime Minster Theresa May at her Chequers country residence.

The Sun's front-page interview, published Thursday, was timed for maximum embarassment for May and included fierce criticism by Trump of how she has negotiated Britain’s exit from the European Union, or Brexit, and praise for Boris Johnson, her recently departed foreign secretary and one of her chief political rivals, as a potentially "great prime minister."

May’s plan “will definitely affect trade with the United States, unfortunately in a negative way," Trump told The Sun, adding it "would probably end a major trade relationship with the United States.” He also noted: “I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree. She didn’t listen to me.”

At the joint news conference Friday, it was an entirely different side of Trump. BBC News political editor Laura Kuenssberg got the first question and wasted no time calling out the disconnect between The Sun interview and Trump's praise of May in advance of taking questions from reporters. "You seem, rather, to have changed your tune," Kuenssberg said. "Is this the behavior of a friend?" Here's the full exchange

Trump shot back, "I didn't criticize the prime minister,” adding that he had made lots of positive comments in the interview about May, too, and there was a tape to prove it. "It's called fake news," he said.  He also added that May could do what she wants with Europe and that "it's OK with me."

Trump delivered a stinging rebuke of CNN when its reporter Jim Acosta tried to ask a question. "CNN is fake news. I don't take questions from CNN,” Trump said before turning to Fox News. A CNN network insider noted that Trump had taken a question the day before from its White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond. 

NBC News also came in for arrows after White House correspondent Kristen Welker asked about Trump's comments on NATO. Trump described NBC News as “possibly worse than CNN.” NBC’s Ken Dilanian came to Welker’s defense with a tweet noting that she had asked a fact-based question. 

The president of the White House Correspondents' Association, Margaret Talev, issued a rare rebuke of the president on Twitter  on Friday and praised The Sun for releasing the full audio of the Trump interview. 

"In response to the president lashing out at NBC, CNN and The Sun: Asking smart, tough questions, whether in a presidential press conference or interview, is central to the role a free press plays  in a healthy republic," Talev said.

"Given that the president took a question from a CNN reporter in his NATO news conference just a day earlier, maybe he was letting off steam today rather than expressing an official stance toward a news organization's ability to report,  but saying a news organization isn't real doesn't change the facts and won't stop us from doing our jobs. We appreciate The Sun for posting the entire audio of their interview so that everyone can hear the president's remarks for themselves."

Kylie Jenner on track to be youngest self-made billionaire

Forbes has a jaw-dropping cover this month.

It has finally discovered who and what sells in print. While the kings of social media ponder their future in Sun Valley, Kylie Jenner has leveraged their platforms to establish a $900 million cosmetics business.

Kylie, 20, who is no stranger to selling, said thanks on Twitter and added the hashtag #kyliecosmetics.  She's on track to becoming the youngest self-made billionaire in history. Gulp.

Here's her line if you want to see what her business is all about. "Social media is an amazing platform," she tells the magazine. Kim Kardashian West is worth a conservative $350 million.  

What's so great about Sky?

If you've ever watched the poker movie "The Sting," starring Paul Newman, you'll be familiar with the intensity of the high stakes game being played by Comcast, the owner of NBCUniversal (parent company of NBC News) and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox.

Both are vying to acquire U.K. satellite TV service Sky. Fox, which already owns 39 percent of the company, is set to flip it to Disney as part of a wider sale of assets.

Fox just submitted a new, higher offer, and Comcast is expected to top it, making Sky shareholders very happy. Separately, Comcast is less likely to make another counter bid for the main prize of Fox's cable TV and movie assets, according to CNBC's David Faber.

But why do they want to buy Sky so much? 

Not so long ago, smart people on Wall Street wondered why anybody would want it at all: it remains a satellite broadcaster in a world moving to embrace internet-delivered content.

Still, Sky has a few things going for it, as one savvy London cab driver told Brian Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast.  Sky's competition is Virgin Media, owned by Liberty Global, and BT, a telecom company.

Here's why they're bidding:

  • Sky grew subscribers in its latest quarter through April. In a tough U.K. environment, the firm added 38,000 customers, though it lost 30,000 in Germany and Austria and a few more in Italy.
  • Not only does it own a major package of English Premier League games, it also paid less than previous deals for them as part of a long-term package.
  • Sky has movie relationships with Universal (owned by Comcast), Disney and AT&T's HBO.
  • It also has a broadband-delivered service for Sky customers who can't put a satellite dish on the roof.  

If Comcast wins, it will become the biggest pay-TV provider in the world with a total of 52 million customer relationships. It will also have an important U.K. lynchpin for NBC News, as it plans to transform Euronews into a global news service if it gets to add Sky News.

If the Fox/Disney deal goes through, Disney gets into the direct-to-consumer business in a big way.

Here's the FT's latest on the bidding war with Comcast pondering its next move after a GBP 24.5 billion ($32.3 billion) bid from Fox for Sky. Check out the FT's amusing photograph of Rupert and his wife Jerry from the Allen & Cos. Sun Valley conference.

Oprah's getting into the restaurant business

Oprah might not be running for president, but she’s placing more financial bets beyond TV and film to grow her empire. 

Winfrey, who made Vogue UK’s August cover, is getting into the restaurant business with an investment in Phoenix-based True Food Kitchen, which serves healthy food such as fish tacos. The company says its dishes mean to be anti-inflammatory. 

True Food Kitchen CEO Christine Barone told Advertising Age the company plans “to double in size over the next three years. We will be opening up a significant number of restaurants and really do need financing to help fund that growth.”

Oprah will join the company board.  

The “60 Minutes” correspondent also has an investment in Weight Watchers and a line of pre-made food with Kraft Heinz. Weight Watchers reported a 24 percent increase in revenue in the quarter through March. 

Winfrey has been in the spotlight lately. In June, she signed a content development partnership with Apple for new shows in addition to her existing long-term deal with Discovery Communications, which houses her OWN cable network and website.

Meanwhile Hearst’s “O, The Oprah Magazine,” ranked as 50th in terms of magazine audience with a total of 12 million people in May, according to the Association of Magazine Media. 

Martin Sorrell's plan to build a digital ad business has officially begun

Round one goes to Martin Sorrell and his new company, S4 Capital.

Sorrell, the former WPP Group chief executive, just agreed to acquire Dutch digital production company MediaMonks for about $353 million. The two companies are looking to build a futuristic ad business for the digital age by embracing creative ideas, experiences and media buying.

Sorrell's former employer, the advertising giant WPP, was also looking to acquire the company, and Sky News reports that Sorrell and WPP are at loggerheads over the purchase. Sorrell left the company after a blow-up with WPP's board, which had led an investigation against him. 

What's so special about a digital production company in Northern Holland you might ask? The firm's client list, which includes Netflix, Google, Twitter and Amazon.

In a filing about the acquisition, the two firms outlined a vision for building a digital media-buying platform and that the combined company will have 750 staff.

The Drum has a video of some of the futuristic work MediaMonks did for Audi. It's impressive.

Update: WPP Group didn't waste any time in making sure Martin Sorrell knows where they stand.

The company shared this statement with the media on Tuesday: “WPP’s lawyers wrote to Sir Martin’s lawyers last week pointing out the breach of his confidentiality undertakings in his approach to Mediamonks after his resignation from WPP. Despite subsequent protestations from Sir Martin’s lawyers, we are well aware of the facts and he has jeopardised his LTIP entitlement."

 

HBO's new owner doesn't sound very hands off

John Stankey, the new boss at AT&T's media unit, had a frighteningly cold assessment about what would be expected from the HBO staff under the new regime.

According to The New York Times, which obtained a tape of a recent town hall meeting, Stankey told HBO staff they needed to make more money and produce more hours to help AT&T monetize viewers through consumer data. He also likened the coming year to "childbirth," in other words difficult but worth it.

"We've got to make money at the end of the day, right?" he said.

AT&T declined to comment. 

It's hard to imagine Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings or the folks at Amazon rallying the troops with a call to make money and get data.

This Stankey comment in the New York Times report of the meeting, however, stuck out:

“I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow’s world.”

Is this a hint that there's an ad-supported version of HBO in the planning stages?

Stankey, who heads up WarnerMedia, which houses the Time Warner media assets that AT&T bought, isn't coming out of these staff meetings looking too great. His promises of independence at CNN came with a surprising caveat. After explaining that AT&T wouldn't be second guessing the bosses, he added: "The second part of editorial independence is that freedom is earned by people who work hard and report factually and do their jobs well and that's what CNN does."

The "freedom is earned" part didn't go down to well with some. Here's Felix Salmon at Slate on why that caveat matters.

Ben Affleck — yes that Ben Affleck — appears to have predicted Spotify and Netflix back in 2003

Here's a fun catch — Ben Affleck called the emergence of streaming subscription services back in 2003. 

A clip of an Affleck interview was making the rounds over the weekend, in which the actor-director talks about how technology, including file-sharing services, are pushing consumers to realize that they could have access to an entire music library rather than just buying CDs. 

To put this in context, Facebook at the time had not yet been launched and Napster had been shut down just a couple years ago — and a solid three years before Spotify was founded.

It's worth a watch just to see how much of it came true.