The Query: featuring news and analysis on the media by Claire Atkinson

The NBC News Media Blog is here to keep you current on the media business. Check here every day for fresh news on the latest corporate battles, media mergers, the growth of paid content and big ad-revenue shifts.

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The Query

Netflix hires 'blackish' creator away from ABC

Is Netflix on a mission to hire all of the Disney/Fox talent?

On Thursday, the streaming video giant said it signed Kenya Barris, the creator of ABC's "black-ish," to a multi-year deal to produce new series exclusively at Netflix.

The new deal comes after Netflix signed Ryan Murphy, the former Fox producer behind "American Horror Story," and ABC's Shonda Rhimes, the creator of "Grey's Anatomy," to wide-ranging content deals. Variety quoted an unnamed source saying the deal is worth $100 million to Barris.

CNBC's Michelle Castillo explained why so many producers want to work with Netflix these days — producers get more money upfront including their initial production budget plus 30 percent on top while agreeing to take less of the back-end (money made from the show after it’s released).

The Wall Street Journal's Joe Flint noted that Barris exited his ABC Studios deal after tensions about an episode involving athletes taking a knee. (ABC and ESPN are both owned by Disney.)

A casual Netflix watcher might be having a bit more difficulty locating shows given the vast amount of originals to choose from. The company is on track to make 1,000 original movies and shows by the end of the year.  

Barclays analyst Ross Sandler pointed out in a July investor report that too much content could affect the Netflix user experience: "The deluge of originals on the service can worsen user experience by making content discovery more difficult.”

One TV agent told The Query that they're starting to observe early signs of a backlash with some clients wondering about whether their content will find an audience with so much competition.


Daniel Arkin

'The Meg' highlights growing movie teamwork between U.S. and China

“The Meg,” the gleefully dumb shark thriller that took a bite out of the weekend box office, isn’t your average Hollywood project.

That’s because it’s only half a Hollywood project: The movie was co-produced by Warner Bros. and Gravity Pictures, a Chinese company.

The movie, which grossed $44.5 million in the U.S. and another $50.3 million in China, was clearly created with Chinese moviegoers in mind. It is partly set in the waters off the Chinese mainland and co-stars acclaimed Chinese actress Li Bingbing.

Why does this matter? China, home to 1.3 billion people and more than 40,000 movie screens, is the second-largest box office on the planet behind the United States. American studios are increasingly focused on making a killing there — and so that’s why traditional players like Warner Bros. are teaming up with Chinese financiers and co-producers.

Universal Pictures did something similar earlier this summer with “Skyscraper,” an action-packed riff on “Die Hard” starring Dwayne Johnson. The movie was set in Hong Kong and co-produced by Legendary, a California-based production company that was acquired by the Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group in 2016.

Universal Pictures is owned by NBCUniversal, which is also the parent company of NBC News.

“Skyscraper” was a dud in the U.S. and a moderate hit in China, where it has grossed close to $100 million.

Newspapers across the U.S. ready editorials about Trump's attacks on press

The Boston Globe and the American Society of News Editors put out the call — publish editorials on Trump's escalating rhetoric about U.S. journalists.

And the newspapers are prepared to answer. CNN's Brian Stelter reports that more than 100 publications are each prepared to publish an editorial on Thursday, which would make it one of the widest coordinated efforts in the history of American media. 

The ASNE put out the call on Thursday.

"This dirty war on the free press must end," the ASNE posted on its blog. "The Boston Globe is reaching out to editorial boards across the country to propose a coordinated response. The Globe proposes to publish an editorial on Aug. 16 on the dangers of the administration's assault on the press and ask others to commit to publishing their own editorials on the same date. Publications, whatever their politics, could make a powerful statement by standing together in the common defense of their profession and the vital role it plays in government for and by the people."

The editorials are being coordinated by Marjorie Pritchard, deputy editorial page editor at the Boston Globe.

Roku captures streaming video growth

Streaming video player Roku is capturing a big slice of the big shift to internet-delivered TV viewing, but it's not leaving advertisers behind.

What is Roku:

Roku started life as a unit of Netflix, which sold out early on, but the company still calls Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California, its home. Menlo Ventures and Sky Ventures also helped this company get off the ground too.

The little publicized Roku is the Spotify of streaming devices - it outsells Amazon Fire sticks, Google Chromecasts and Apple TVs, and is independently owned.

Here's Bloomberg's Tara Lachapelle with some good insights and graphics on Roku.

Roku also operates the ad-supported .

Why is it important:

Not only is Roku the biggest seller of devices that enable TV sets to stream video, it has its sights set on the growing number of advertisers looking to target consumers with household-level data sets.  

"TV advertisers are shifting budgets to OTT," the firm said in its second quarter shareholders letter. "Over time we believe the vast majority of the $70 billion annual U.S. TV advertising market will shift to streaming." Roku boasts extensive insights into its 22 million subscribers.

Roku is growing like a weed:

The company unveiled growth numbers on Thursday along with its earnings, that surprised Wall Street estimates. Roku stock shot up 21.3 percent after the bell on Thursday.

Roku added seven million accounts in the past 12 months, and average revenue per user grew 48 percent year-over-year to $16.60. The amount of content being streamed is also growing: 5.5 billion hours in the quarter, a 57 percent increase versus a year ago. 

Why is it so popular:

Roku says it's easy to use. It has two price points, either $29.99 or $105.99. Roku is also putting a new button on its home screen helping users to find free ad-supported movies and TV content across the web and splits ad revenue with content owners.

If you bought Roku last September when it's IPO price was $14 a share, then you'd be in the money today, barely a year later.  The stock was trading above $60 at lunchtime on Friday.

The most polarizing brands in America? Trump and CNN

How do you feel about the "Trump Hotels" brand? How about Fox News or The Washington Post?

The answer is that it very much depends on whether you're a Republican or a Democrat.

A new survey from Morning Consult, a polling and data analysis company, found Trump Hotels to be the most polarizing brand among Americans, with a 78-point "net favorability spread" between Democrats and Republicans. 

After that, it's quite a list of media companies: CNN, Fox News, NBC News, New York Times and MSNBC round out the next six. 

The survey, which was based on 336,370 surveys conducted online by Morning Consult from Oct. 3, 2017 to Jan. 2, 2018, highlights just how politically divisive the media has become, with Republican and Democrats disagreeing deeply about how they rank the favorability of many mainstream outlets. The chart below, via Morning Consult, illustrates just how different the two sides see many major U.S. news outlets.

Morning Consult

The New York Times now has 3.8 million subscribers

The New York Times reported its second quarter earnings on Wednesday and it had its own good news/bad news.

The good news: The Times recorded $23.6 million in quarterly profit and now has 3.8 million subscribers; 2.9 million of them are digital-only.

The publisher added 109,000 net new subscribers in the period, not quite as great as the same quarter last year when the Times signed 114,000 net new subscribers. Subscription revenue is now two thirds of all revenue.

The bad news: Print advertising is down 11.5 percent, and digital ad revenue fell 7.5 percent. Daily circulation fell 10 percent. That was enough to send Times shares down 5.1 percent to $23.05 in afternoon trading.

The Times also spent a lot of money re-organizing its seating. The company took a $1 million charge related to "the redesign and consolidation of space in our headquarters building."

The paper said it has leased four and a half of the seven floors it has made available to rent. Here's what the company CEO Mark Thompson had to say about the period.



Journalists fire back at Twitter CEO about role of press in countering conspiracy theories

Journalists had a lot to say about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday morning — and most didn't like Dorsey's assertion that the role of the press was to offer a check on the conspiracy theories of Alex Jones' InfoWars.

Dorsey explained on Tuesday night why Jones, who has claimed that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, remains on Twitter after other social media outlets banned him.

"Accounts like Jones' can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best,” Dorsey tweeted.

Here's what a few journalists and outlets had to say about that:

Portland Press Herald in Maine, tweeted: "You know, @jack our days are pretty full as it is without cleaning up your website for you pro bono. Just sayin."

Freelance journalist Lauren Duca wrote: "Yeah, that’s the job of journalism. What’s your job exactly?"

Rob Tannenbaum, who describes himself as a writer for New York magazine, tweeted:  "See @Jack? Literal, mortal consequences of allowing sensationalism and unsubstantiated rumors to flourish in what you dishonestly call the public conversation."

Bill Grueskin, a former WSJ executive and professor at Columbia Journalism School, according to his Twitter bio said:  "If only journalists had publicized the fact that the Sandy Hook murders did, indeed, take place. Thanks @Jack."

Garrett Graff, a Wired contributor, posted: "Honestly, if we can't agree that Sandy Hook hoaxers don't belong in the public sphere, are there any lines that Twitter and @jack are willing to draw?"

Meanwhile, The Guardian's Carole Cadwalladr, who broke news on Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data, is the latest reporter to say she's taking a break from Twitter. She posted this adieu along with an image on an attack on her.

“This enemy of the people is taking a break.  for the amazing support for this story, Twitter. It is very much appreciated. #Journalism2018,” she tweeted.

Just a few weeks ago, New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman explained why she was taking a break from engaging on Twitter. 

"Twitter has stopped being a place where I could learn things I didn’t know, glean information that was free from errors about a breaking news story or engage in a discussion and be reasonably confident that people’s criticisms were in good faith,” Haberman wrote in the Times.

The Twitter CEO responded last month in a long thread. Dorsey quoted Haberman's thought: “There is an important discussion about journalism that must take place, including about how all of us performed during the 2016 campaign, but Twitter is not where a nuanced or thoughtful discussion can happen.”

Then he added: "This is what we’d like to fix the most."

Axios adds to news outlets making TV with HBO show

Add Axios to the growing list of news outlets making TV shows. 

The digital media upstart announced on Wednesday that it has struck a deal with HBO to produce a "limited docu-series" to coincide with the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. The series will have big-name interviews and short documentaries on important topics, Axios' Mike Allen said in a post.

Media companies searching for non-advertising revenue have been slowly venturing into the world of high-end nonfiction video production. Vice was among the first, signing a deal with HBO back in 2012 to make documentary programming. 

Since then, both BuzzFeed and Vox have deals to produce shows Netflix, OZY Media started "Breaking Big" for PBS, and the New York Times is preparing to launch "The Weekly" on FX.

Joanna Coles tweets about her post-Hearst future

Joanna Coles is getting off the treadmill — literally.

The former chief content officer at magazine publishing house Hearst surprised the publishing world when she resigned last week. On Monday, in her own unique style, Coles tweeted out a video of herself getting off a treadmill and discussing what is next.

"My route is being recalculated," she said. "It's time for a new adventure."

The New York Post was first to report her departure on Friday.

On Monday, Hearst released a statement from a spokeswoman: "Joanna is an innovator, a connector and an inspired editor. She's made the decision to start a new adventure and we thank her for her creativity and many contributions and wish her the very best."

Many magazine industry watchers were surprised when she wasn't selected to succeed David Carey, who is stepping down as president. Instead, the 50-year-old Hearst digital chief Troy Young got the job.

During her tenure at Hearst, Coles created a world that went well beyond editing magazines including Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire; she's a board member at Snap and worked with TV network Freeform to help create a show based on her journals called "The Bold Type." The married media executive also published a book about online dating this year.

Coles told The Independent back in 2008 that in order to pitch herself as a new chief at women's magazine Marie Claire, she had to chase after then-Hearst president Cathie Black, who was just leaving her office to head to the airport. Coles invited herself into the back of the cab to make her pitch to run Marie Claire. She got the job and the rest is history.

CNN boss Jeff Zucker is doing well after heart surgery

Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, is through heart surgery and doing well.

Zucker is on a leave of absence through August to recover and is expected back at the network in September. A CNN spokeswoman confirmed, "Yes, he's doing great."

Zucker has battled with a number of health scares over the years from colon cancer to Bell's palsy but is recovering well. The news chief is 53 years old. A friend of Zucker, who asked to remain anonymous as they are not authorized to speak publicly on his behalf, said he is not watching news or responding to email while he recovers. Here's CNN media reporter Brian Stelter's tweet on Zucker's internal announcement about the news. 

"CBS Evening News" gets boss's name wrong

Jeff Glor might want to watch out.

The "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor reported on his boss, CEO Leslie Moonves, and CBS second-quarter earnings last night. The graphics staff misspelt Moonves as "Mooves."

Some viewers noticed and tweeted out the mistake.


The New York Times stands by journalist who sent insulting tweets

Controversy around recent hires at the The New York Times continued on Thursday, with its newest addition coming under fire from conservatives for some of her old tweets.

On Wednesday, the Times announced that it had hired Sarah Jeong to write about technology for the newspaper's editorial board. By Thursday, she had become the target of criticism from right-leaning websites that surfaced a series of tweets in which she appears to repeatedly insult "white people." You can read a collection of them on

The Times said it is sticking by her: "Her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers. She sees now that this approach only served to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media.”

The Verge, a digital tech publication where Jeong has been a reporter, also defended her. 

"Many of those now reacting to these tweets have intentionally taken them out of context, and she has since received an unrelenting stream of abuse from strangers on the internet," the website's editors and senior staff wrote in a post. 

Jeong for her part posted on Twitter that she wouldn't make such comments again and explained her comments weren't directed at a wide audience and were intended as satire.

The Times editorial board in February drew criticism when it hired tech journalist Quinn Norton and then rescinded its offer after Norton's connections with a person who worked for the Daily Stormer, a neo-nazi website, were revealed. 




Wall Street analysts play by the CBS rules

Analysts on Thursday's CBS earnings call did not ask Leslie Moonves, the embattled chief executive of CBS, about the misconduct allegations against him. 

Journalists were not impressed. 

"The CBS analysts are embarrassing themselves so far," wrote Axios business editor Dan Primack on Twitter.  "As everyone watches a house burst into flames, a $CBS analyst pipes up to comment on the lovely weather."

"As CBS executives and directors know best, the professional fate of Moonves & of CBS Corp as an independent company are very much uncertain," NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik tweeted. "Investment analysts can't possibly assess the company without resolution of those two huge Qs. And yet ...nada."

Moonves was his usual chipper self on the call touting the future growth of the company's streaming offerings and explaining how Amazon has boosted subscriptions to its digital service, but he did not touch on the allegations against him. In introductory comments, a CBS investor relations executive said on the advice of lawyers the CEO would not answer questions about matters unrelated to the earnings.

The New Yorker on Friday reported that six women, four of whom spoke on the record, accused Moonves of sexual harassment or misconduct from the 1980s to the 2000s. Of these allegations, four accused Moonves of forcible touching or kissing, and two allege sexual misconduct or harassment.

Moonves said in a statement to The New Yorker: "I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely. But I always understood and respected — and abided by the principle — that 'no' means 'no,' and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career."

The long time media and entertainment analysts who have done these earnings calls with the CEO for years agreed to play by the rules. But investors might have been eager to know if their stock will be affected by the possibility of Moonves stepping down, or perhaps gain an update on the legal case winding through Delaware involving CBS's controlling shareholder, who is now at odds with the CBS boss.

Rich Greenfield, media and technology analyst with BTIG, who was not picked to ask a question during the call, complained on Twitter: "Shame on the CBS analysts who were allowed to ask questions and failed to use the opportunity."

Fox Business Network senior correspondent Charlie Gasparino posted his thoughts on Twitter: "Yet another example of how too many Wall Street analysts are in the bag for companies they cover. OK Moonves won't answer questions about the sexual misconduct allegations, but these cowards won't even ask him about succession, which is important to investors."

CORRECTION (Aug. 3, 2018, 10:05 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the name of the business-focused cable channel of 21st Century Fox. It is Fox Business Network, not Fox Business News. 

Moonves' billionaire status threatened

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves was on his way to becoming a billionaire, but The New Yorker might have put a stop to that.

The CBS board said on Tuesday it was hiring an outside law firm to conduct an investigation, an apparent reference to accusations of misconduct against Moonves raised in a New Yorker piece that was published last week.

Moonves could lose out on $300 million of salary, bonuses and stock grants if the board finds he violated the terms of his contract and could be let go for cause, according to an analysis by Bloomberg.

Moonves would lose equity and bonus awards worth $135 million, $126.5 million in salary, and potentially the right to become an advisor to the company at $40 million over five years, according to Bloomberg's analysis of regulatory filings.

Earlier this year, Forbes reported that Moonves was already worth some $700 million and was the second-most highly paid CEO in the U.S., according to

Former Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, who stepped down after a battle with Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS, walked away with an estimated $95 million, according to Bloomberg calculations from 2016.

Amazon made $2.2 billion from ads in the second quarter

Madison Avenue might be concerned about Amazon cutting into its advertising business, but that hasn't stopped marketers from spending more money with the e-commerce giant.

Amazon reported on Thursday that its growing advertising business generated $2.2 billion of revenue in the second quarter — more than double what it brought in during the same time period in 2017.

Once just a small part of Amazon's sprawling business, advertising is now starting to add to the company's bottom line.

“Advertising is starting to make an impact on gross profit,” said Amazon chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky.

Advertisers favor Amazon because their ad buys result in sales, but advertisers also know that in the long term they could end up helping Amazon gain a superior understanding of what consumers want. Amazon is starting to sell its ad capabilities directly to clients such as HP and Lego, according to Digiday, bypassing the agencies altogether.

Read more on Amazon's recent success. Here’s a transcript of Amazon’s earnings call with investors.

Spotify adds subscribers but not revenue per user

Spotify is growing like weed as consumers make the switch from downloads to streaming services.

But the second quarterly report from the newly public music streaming company had good news for some — and bad news for those who are keeping a close watch on whether Spotify is making any money.

The good news: Spotify finished its second quarter with 180 million monthly active users, with 83 million of those users paying for the service. That's huge growth versus the second quarter last year when it reported 138 million monthly active users. And Wall Street was encouraged — Spotify stock rose 4.9 percent on Thursday.

The not great news: Apple is coming, at least in the U.S. The Financial Times spoke with unnamed music executives who said Apple is already about to leapfrog Spotify's U.S. subscriber total.

The bad news: Spotify's average revenue per user declined by 12 percent versus the same period a year ago to around $5.70 per month thanks to promotions, such as the offer that bundles Spotify with Hulu for $12.99. Spotify also hasn't been shy about making the free tier as attractive as possible to convert consumers to the paid tier, but it seems many consumers are happy holding on to their cash. 

Spotify just hired former Condé Nast Entertainment chief Dawn Ostroff, but Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said there was no intention to get into the original video production game. Here's a transcript of the investor call. 

Comcast: It's all about broadband now

Comcast released its second-quarter earnings on Thursday. Here's the highlights from the company's earnings report and investor call.

Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is the parent company of NBC News. 

What happened with that 21st Century Fox bid? 

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said he was attracted by the international expansion opportunity of Fox's assets but that the price was just too high.

"Ultimately, we pulled back because we thought that we couldn’t build enough shareholder value by making the price at which it seemed, in our judgment, to be possible to buy that, which was increasing," Roberts said on a call with analysts.

Comcast lost video subscribers:

Comcast lost a net (combined new subscribers and lost subscribers) of 140,000 cable subscribers.

But it's all about broadband now: Comcast added a net of 260,000 broadband subscribers in the quarter. Wall Street had expected 191,000 adds in the period. The main upside of broadband is that Comcast can make more money from each customer (average revenue per user), as the chart below from MoffettNathanson shows.

That helped push Comcast stock up 3 percent in morning trading on Thursday.

Can MSNBC beat Fox News?

Here's what Roberts had to say on that: "MSNBC is now solidly ahead of CNN in primetime and closing the gap with Fox News. I'm not sure enough focus has been paid to MSNBC and the incredible progress it has made."

Enough about Netflix already:

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke shared a common frustration in big media circles: "In terms of direct-to-consumer, there is a feeling right now that everybody is completely focused on Netflix. The vast majority of TV viewing is not streaming. The vast majority of TV viewing is not Netflix or Amazon or Hulu. The vast majority of TV viewing continues to be linear, particularly for big events."

What's going on with Hulu?

An analyst asked, but they did not get an answer. Comcast owns 30 percent of Hulu, with Disney soon set to own 60 percent thanks to its acquisition of some Fox assets.

What's the latest on Sky?

Comcast remains the lead bidder  for the London-based pay-TV company Sky, which reported earnings on Thursday, too. Disney will inherit a piece of Sky once its Fox acquisition is complete, so Fox has to up its bid if it wants to keep it out of Comcast's hands. Here's one reason its a target right now: Sky said it added 500,000 customers in the past year and reported a nine percent increase in core earnings for the full year. Here's Thursdays press release.

Facebook's brutal day

Facebook had a thoroughly brutal Wednesday — and its Thursday doesn't look much better.

The social network reported earnings on Wednesday, missing analyst expectations on subscribers and revenue. The company also warned that its future profit margins would shrink.

Facebook's stock plunged 20 percent in after-hours trading — wiping off some $120 billion in market value from the company. If Facebook's stock declines as much in Thursday trading, it will be the be the biggest one-day loss of market value by a single company in history.

Read more on Facebook's earnings here.

Viacom in talks to buy AwesomenessTV

Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw, citing two people familiar with the matter, reports that Viacom is in talks to buy AwesomenessTV, part of the once-hot group of YouTube aggregators that were seen just a few years ago as the future of youth media.

A source familiar with the talks but not authorized to speak publicly told The Query that the companies are in advanced talks but there is no guarantee a deal will be struck. Hearst and Verizon also have stakes in AwesomenessTV.

Shaw reported that the deal is not yet done but that the price tag could be around half of the company's 2016 valuation of $650 million. Viacom declined to comment.

Comcast owns 51 percent of AwesomenessTV, which it acquired when it bought DreamWorks Animation in April 2016. DreamWorks Animation bought AwesomenessTV for $33 million in May 2013. 

Comcast also owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.

Comcast did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump slams FCC for blocking Sinclair deal

The political intrigue over Sinclair's efforts to create a local TV giant continued on Tuesday night when President Donald Trump weighed in. 

In a tweet, the president blasted the Federal Communications Commission for referring Sinclair's acquisition of Tribune Media to an administrative law judge, a move that could scuttle the deal.

"So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune," Trump tweeted. "This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!"

Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.

Sinclair first agreed to buy Tribune for $3.9 billion in May 2017 in a deal that would dramatically increase the number of Americans the company reached with its stable of local broadcast stations.

Since then, the FCC and its chairman, Ajit Pai, have been scrutinized for pushing to relax local TV ownership rules that would have limited how much Tribune that Sinclair could keep. The FCC's own Inspector General had reportedly opened an investigation into whether Pai had pursued the rule change to benefit Sinclair.

Those critiques subsided after the FCC referred the case to an administrative law judge, a move that could kill Sinclair's acquisition.

Though Trump voiced support for Sinclair in the tweet, there are indications that some of the president's friends in the conservative media world were happy to see the FCC act, though there are no indications that the president pushed Pai to end the deal.

Chris Ruddy, CEO of conservative media company Newsmax, told the New York Post that he had voiced his opposition to the Sinclair-Tribune deal directly to the president. And CNN noted that Sinclair has been seen as a growing rival to Fox News. Rupert Murdoch, executive co-chairman of Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox, reportedly talks with Trump at least once a week.

As for Tribune, the company has said it is assessing its options. It might want to talk to Cox Enterprises, which said on Tuesday it is also eyeing a sale of its interest in 14 local TV stations.