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ABC News and Univision launch joint news venture

ABCNewsUnivision

ABC News and Univision plan to launch a 24-hour English-language news network targeting U.S. Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of the nation's population.

The as-yet unnamed television network is expected to launch in 2013, covering issues of relevance to the audience, the companies said in a joint statement. A website, along with mobile and social media content, is scheduled to debut this summer -- in time for the upcoming presidential elections. 

"This exciting joint venture represents the latest example of our long-term strategy to broaden the reach of ABC," Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks, said in a statement.

Latinos represent 16% of the total population in the United States, a number that is projected to increase to 30% by 2050. The demographic group wields considerable spending power, over $1 trillion.

"This alliance combines the expertise and brand strength of Univision News with ABC News' leadership and is another example of Univision's commitment to serving and empowering Hispanic America while connecting all audiences to Latino issues," said Cesar Conde, president of Univision Networks.

As part of the joint venture, ABC and Univision News would share reporting and production resources. A management team is expected to be announced this summer. 

 -- Dawn C. Chmielewski

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Photo: From Left: ABC News President Ben Sherwood, Univision Networks President Cesar Conde and Univision News President Isaac Lee announce ABC News and Univision News plan to create a multiplatform news service.  Credit:  Lorenzo Bevilaqua / ABC

Katie Couric launches weekly Web show on Yahoo

Katie Couric at Yahoo
Television news personality Katie Couric is a familiar fixture at the network upfront presentations to advertisers and media buyers.

But this week the former news anchor appeared, microphone in hand, at Yahoo's Digital Content NewFront presentation as the site announced the May 1 premiere of "Katie's Take," a weekly online show that will explore subjects such as health, nutrition, parenting and wellness.

The original Web show represents a deepening of Yahoo's partnership with ABC News. Together, the network news operation and Yahoo News garnered more than half of all news videos watched online last month, said Ross Levinsohn, Yahoo's executive vice president of global media.

"Katie's new show is representative of our focus on premium content -- and premium content on every screen," Levinsohn said. "I enjoy watching cats on skateboards as much as anybody. We're shooting a little higher than that."

The former CBS "Evening News" anchor also has a new syndicated talk show with Walt Disney Co. that premieres this fall.

Couric, camera operator in tow, struck a comedic tone on stage, describing herself as an experienced journalist "wearing slightly S&M shoes." She staged a mock interview of Levinsohn, in which she asked irreverent questions such as "What the hell is Yahoo?" and "Why are you so special?"

"Thank goodness you didn't ask me what I've read," deadpanned Levinsohn, in a reference to Couric's interview of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. The line elicited laughter from about 600 people attending Yahoo's event.

Yahoo senior vice president Mickie Rosen said Yahoo's news service reaches 91 million Americans a month, more, she said, than such online competitors CNN and Fox News combined. ABC and Yahoo together plan to focus their coverage on the 2012 presidential election.

"When we dreamed up this together, we wanted to do something completely new," said ABC News President Ben Sherwood. "The thing I am most excited about is we're just getting started."

The new Couric show was part of a new slate of original programs. The creators of the Broadway show "Rock of Ages," Matthew Weaver and Chris D'Arienzo, will use Yahoo to launch a 1980s-themed jukebox musical about a big city kid who moves to a small town, tentatively titled "Dancing With Myself."

Actor Tom Hanks appeared, via video, to talk about his new, dark animated series on Yahoo, "Electric City," which is set in a post-apocalyptic world. CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker appeared on stage to screen his cybercrime series, "Cybergeddon."

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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Yahoo executive vice president Ross Levinsohn, left, and Katie Couric at Yahoo's Digital Content NewFront presentation. Credit: Yahoo

CBS chief Leslie Moonves' favorite comedy is not on CBS

Leslie Moonves is CBS' chief executive.

CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves made a startling admission at the 36th Annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium on Saturday.

At the end of a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, prominent entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren asked the television titan to name his favorite television comedy.

"Modern Family," Moonves said.  

The Emmy-winning sitcom, created by Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, has become a colossal hit for ABC. The show, now television's top-rated comedy, is produced by another rival, 20th Century Fox Television -- not CBS'  production studio. 

It would hardly be news if any other entertainment CEO said he liked a competitor's program, but this was Moonves. He has been CBS' most ardent cheerleader for more than 15 years, and he has changed the names of several business units in his corporate stable so they would be branded CBS. 

Moonves immediately knew he would take flak.

"I'm going to get in big trouble with Chuck Lorre next week," Moonves said, referring to the prolific producer who has helped build CBS' comedy blocks into some of the most profitable half-hours in all of television with his shows "Two and a Half Men," "The Big Bang Theory" and most recently "Mike & Molly."

Ziffren noted that "Big Bang Theory" (produced by Warner Bros. Television), which airs on CBS on Thursday nights, is beating the once-invincible Fox Broadcasting singing competition "American Idol" in the ratings.

"Look, 'Idol' is still a monster show, I wish that I had it, but it's not what it used to be," Moonves said.

For the record, Moonves said his two favorite dramas on television were "The Good Wife" on CBS and "Homeland" on Showtime, which is owned by CBS. 

"And they are both mine," he said.

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-- Meg James

Photo: CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves in April 2011 at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention. Credit: Julie Jacobson / Associated Press

Oscars 2012: A hit in social media

 Octavia Spencer Best Supporting Actress

Although the 84th Annual Academy Awards came across decidedly old school in its television broadcast, the event delivered high marks in new media. 

Sunday's Oscar ceremony generated 3.8 million comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, according to data generated by Cambridge, Mass.-based Bluefin Labs. That made this year's awards show the second most talked-about entertainment event on TV since the company began measuring and analyzing social media traffic several years ago.

CBS' telecast of the Grammy Awards this month was the undisputed champ with 13 million social media comments. The third most popular awards event was last year's MTV Video Music Awards with 3.1 million comments, according to Bluefin Labs.

The ABC television network, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and advertisers stepped up their social media campaigns promoting the Oscars this year, in large part, to keep the TV ratings high. Their efforts appeared to have paid off with Nielsen's estimates that more than 39 million viewers tuned in -- an increase of 1.4 million people compared with last year's show. 

Comments on social media sites surrounding Sunday's ceremony and red carpet arrivals surged nearly 300% over last year's gala. In 2011, there were fewer than 1 million comments. The trend suggests that more people are turning to social media outlets while watching TV by using a "second screen" -- a tablet, smartphone or laptop computer -- to stay connected to their friends and followers who are also watching TV.

Bluefin Labs' analysis found that the gender breakdown for the social media pundits was roughly in line with the composition of the TV audience. An estimated 57% of those who commented were women; men made up 43%.

It was more difficult to ascertain the mood of commenters. Bluefin found that 22% of the comments about the Oscars were positive, 16% negative and 62% neutral.

Peaks in the social media traffic came at somewhat predictable intervals.  The most talked-about moment came at the end of the evening when the nearly silent film, "The Artist," won for best picture. The second most popular portion was the presentation of three awards by Tina Fey and Bradley Cooper -- two crowd-pleasing comedians particularly popular with the social media demographic. 

The pair was on screen several minutes, presenting honors for film editing, won by "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and sound editing and sound mixing, both won by Martin Scorsese's 3-D family film "Hugo."

Octavia Spencer's emotional acceptance speech for supporting actress for her performance in "The Help" was the third most popular highlight in social media. Remarks about Spencer ranked highest in terms of "most positive." 

And even though, at age 82, Christopher Plummer would seem to be well beyond the Facebook demographic, his win for supporting actor in "Beginners" registered as the fourth most buzzed-about Oscar moment. 

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-- Meg James

Photo: Octavia Spencer, escorted by Christian Bale, after Spencer's win for supporting actress for her performance in "The Help." Credit:  Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

 

ABC sells all of its Oscar broadcast commercial spots

NataliePortmanWinsOscar

Commercial time in this month's Academy Awards broadcast is a hot ticket.

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger said Tuesday that the ABC network last week sold the remainder of its available advertising time — several weeks earlier than usual. 

"There was demand for even more spots than allowed in [our] contract," Iger said in an earnings conference call with Wall Street analysts. Iger said the network squeezed in a few additional spots before it hit the contractual cap.

ABC fetched an average of $1.7 million per 30-second spot for the 84th annual Academy Awards broadcast on Feb. 26, a slight uptick from last year's rate.

The strong demand by advertisers bodes well for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which relies on television revenue to stage its annual Oscar festivities as well as finance its operations.  Some observers have fretted that the field of nominees, led by "The Artist" and "Hugo," lacks a mainstream blockbuster film that would help lure mass numbers of viewers to the awards telecast. The biggest box-office draw of the major nominated films was "The Help," which had four nominations.  

Billy Crystal will host this year's awards ceremony.

The Academy Awards historically is one of the top television events of the year — often second only to the Super Bowl — and has become advertisers' favorite vehicle to reach women. The show is typically the second most-expensive network TV buy, too, after the Super Bowl. In the advertising world, the event is known as the "Super Bowl for women."

The Oscar audience is also typically upscale, representing viewers with plenty of disposable income, making it all that more attractive to advertisers.

The Oscars ceremony also has drawn high advertiser interest because — like the Super Bowl or the "American Idol" finale — it is broadcast live and viewers watch the commercials rather than speeding through them with their digital video recorders. That makes the ad time more valuable to companies.

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— Meg James

Photo:  Natalie Portman accepts her Academy Award for lead actress for her performance in "Black Swan" at last year's Oscar ceremony.  Credit:  Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Disney and Univision in talks for English-language news channel

Dianesawyer

The Walt Disney Co. and the nation's leading Spanish-language broadcaster are in talks to launch an English-language cable news channel, according to people familiar with the matter.

A new 24-hour channel would represent a move by both companies to enter new territory. Disney's ABC News could compete for viewers with established around-the-clock cable news operations such as News Corp.'s Fox News, Time Warner's CNN and Comcast Corp.'s MSNBC. Until now, ABC has shown little appetite for joining the cable news wars.

Univision Communications, which owns the nation's fifth-largest TV network, could use the channel to reach more acculturated viewers that advertisers prefer: Latinos who predominately speak English.  Univision has already announced plans to launch a cable news network, this one a Spanish-language channel, later this spring.

A Univision spokeswoman declined to comment, as did an ABC spokesman.

ABC has struggled to be more competitive and has shed hundreds of staff members from its ABC News division because the network produces only a few newscasts. NBC News correspondents provide coverage to multiple channels, allowing the network to better monetize costs.

The discussions were first reported Monday by The Wall Street Journal, but no deal is imminent, said one knowledgeable person. 

The nation's Latino population is sizable and fast-growing. Nearly 50 million people described themselves as Hispanic or Latino in the 2010 U.S. Census, up 43% from a decade ago.   

Second- and third-generation Latinos also have greater disposable income than their parents or grandparents, making them an atrractive and underserved audience. Targeting these viewers would help differentiate the channel from more established cable competitors.

Cesar Conde, president of Univision Networks, addressed his desire to court bilingual viewers in a keynote speech he gave last month during the National Assn. of Television Program Executives convention in Miami. Univision has begun offering English captions for all of its prime-time telenovelas.

As envisioned, ABC and Univision would share news gathering and production costs. Disney would also stand to collect subscriber fees from cable operators, helping to underwrite the heavy cost of a television news operation.

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Photo: ABC's "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer. Credit: ABC.

— Dawn C. Chmielewski and Meg James

 

In the 2010 Census, 50.5 million people said they were Hispanic or Latino. That’s up from 43% from 35.3 million in 2000.  That help

Lionsgate and Grupo Televisa to expand TV partnership

SoyTuDuena

Santa Monica-based independent studio Lionsgate and Mexico's programming powerhouse Grupo Televisa are expanding their budding partnership with a new venture that aims to create television shows for English-language audiences.

The move continues a trend of major media companies in the U.S. looking south to Latin America for programming concepts and business partners. Earlier this week, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. said it planned to launch a new broadcast network this fall in collaboration with Colombian broadcaster RCN. 

Companies -- and advertisers -- are becoming increasingly interested in capitalizing on the growing clout of Latino consumers. They make up the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S.

Lionsgate and Televisa -- Mexico's largest media company -- said Tuesday that their new unit would tackle six to eight TV projects a year. The plan is to mine story lines from Televisa's vast vault of wildly popular telenovelas and adapt them into English-language comedies and dramas for U.S. broadcast networks and cable channels. Executives also intend to develop original concepts for scripted and unscripted shows.

The two companies first went into business in 2010 with a joint venture called Pantelion Films. Its purpose is to acquire and distribute feature films that appeal to Latinos in the U.S. 

The parties declined to disclose financial terms of their new TV arrangement. The soon-to-be-named venture will be managed by Paul Presburger, chief executive of Pantelion Films. Presburger helped put the TV entity together with Lionsgate on behalf of Televisa.

Televisa separately has an equity stake in Univision Communications, the largest Spanish-language media company in the U.S. Televisa's programming fuels the prime-time ratings on the flagship Univision network, helping to build it into the nation's fifth most popular network.

A handful of projects already are in development for English-language programmers, including a comedic adaptation of Pantelion's first film, "From Prada to Nada." The firm is working on a scripted drama for ABC based on Televisa's smash hit "Soy Tu Duena." The new show will be called "Badlands."  Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC Studios is collaborating on the series.

Until now, little of Televisa's programming was accessible to mainstream audiences. The new development, unveiled at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives convention in Miami, followed Univision's announcement that it would begin adding English-language subtitles through closed caption to its prime-time telenovelas

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Photo: Actors Fernando Colunga and Lucero in Televisa's telenovela "Soy Tu Duena," which produced huge ratings in the U.S. for the Univision network. Credit: Antonio Uribe / Univision

 

 

ABC and motion picture academy unveil updated Oscars app

Oscars app for iPhone

Behind-the-scenes moments of the 84th Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 26 will once again be coming to multiple screens near you.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, together with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Television Group, have updated the Oscars app they introduced last awards season that brings video from the red carpet, backstage and the Governors Ball to portable Apple Inc. devices.

Tuesday's announcement coincides with this morning's unveiling of the 2012 Oscar nominations.

Enhanced features include new ways to experience Hollywood's biggest event of the year from the iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. Viewers will have two ways to view the goings on: in a "watch" mode that provides a guided multi-camera tour of the Oscars, or a "direct" mode that enables viewers to choose their own camera angle.

One pre-show component offers access to awards buzz on Twitter and video from last year's show and original video, plus photos.

"Our team really listened to what fans had to say last year, and made a huge effort to build on the things that worked and make them even better," Karin Gilford, senior vice president of digital media for ABC.com, said in a statement.

The Oscars app is an attempt to hold onto viewers who already use a tablet, smartphone or laptop computer to check their email, surf the Web or post to social media sites while watching TV shows. Its content is designed to complement the live telecast.

ABC sister division Walt Disney Studios is competing for best picture in this year's Oscar race with two movies it distributed for DreamWorks, "War Horse" and "The Help." 

However, Disney's Pixar Animation Studios did not receive a best animated feature nomination for "Cars 2" -- the first time an eligible Pixar movie has been snubbed by the Academy since the animation category was created in 2001.

Pixar's "La Luna" did garner a best animated short film nomination Tuesday.

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Image: The Oscars app. Credit: Disney/ABC Television Group

Hulu introduces "Battleground," its first original scripted show

Hulu Battleground

Online video service Hulu's ambition to become a destination for high-quality, original, scripted shows begins with -- and not on -- a "Battleground."

Hulu executives and show producers on Sunday unveiled Hulu's small programming slate, which consists of three productions, including the politically themed "Battleground," during the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.

Networks have long used the nearly two-week gathering of journalists to promote their upcoming series. It was Hulu's first appearance at the press tour, and was particularly noteworthy because it marked the first time an online distribution platform participated in the event traditionally reserved for such TV industry heavyweights as ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, Showtime and Fox.

"We've long asked the question, how come the creativity and vibrancy that exists in the indie film world doesn't exist in TV?" Andy Forssell, Hulu's senior vice president of content, said in an interview. He said Hulu executives concluded that the reason was television's structural barriers, including the mandate that shows immediately produce sizable ratings.

"For us, we don't need a show to take off in the first, second or third episode," Forssell said. 

Hulu's first effort in scripted TV programming, "Battleground," debuts Feb. 14.  It is directed by actor J.D. Walsh ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") and produced by Hagai Shaham ("The Details") and Marc Webb ("The Amazing Spider-Man" and "(500) Days of Summer").

The 13-episode series is timely, coming in the midst of the Republican primary season. The show, which employs the "faux documentary style" of storytelling, follows a rowdy group of campaign workers who labor to advance the chances of a third-place candidate in the battleground state of Wisconsin.

Fox television originally bought the script but passed on making the show.

"We saw a spark there," Forssell said.  "We think the show has the potential to be something that people say: 'This is one of the best things I've seen in the last couple of weeks.' "

Hulu also plans a second season for Morgan Spurlock's "A Day in the Life," a series that debuted last year.  In its first season, the show followed such luminaries as music producer and Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am and British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.  Hulu To Launch Original Scripted Show

In the second season of "A Day in the Life," Spurlock ("Super Size Me" and "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold") and producing partner Jeremy Chilnick plan to capture the daily routines of actor Joel McHale ("Community") and UFC fighter Jason "Mayhem" Miller, among others.

The third original show is "Up to Speed," which comes from filmmaker Richard Linklater ("Dazed and Confused" and "School of Rock.") Linklater has committed to directing six episodes of the show, which Hulu said is designed to discover "historic nooks and crannies of notable destinations."

Although Hulu is developing more original productions, it has no plans to compete with the broadcast networks, Forssell said. (After all, Hulu is owned by broadcast-network owners Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal and News Corp.).

"The core of the Hulu business is working with the big studios and the big networks and that hasn't changed," Forssell said.

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Photo: Cast of "Battleground," Hulu's first original scripted show. / Credit:  Hulu

 

Broadcasters take on FCC indecency rules in Supreme Court showdown

NYPD Blue was fined for indecency

The broadcast industry will try next week to persuade the Supreme Court to tell the government to back off when it comes to regulating content.

On Tuesday, the high court will hear arguments from News Corp.'s Fox and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC that the Federal Communications Commission's rules regarding indecent programming and the way they are enforced by the agency are both vague and unconstitutional.

The Fox and ABC cases have been working their way through the courts for years. In indecency cases, the FCC typically fines the TV stations that use the public airwaves to carry the networks' programming. However, many stations are owned by networks, which usually fight the fines on behalf of their affiliates.

ABC's case stems from a $1.4-million fine the FCC levied on the network and some of its affiliates in 2008 for a 2003 episode of the police drama "NYPD Blue," in which the buttocks of actress Charlotte Ross were visible to viewers. ABC fought the fine and, last January, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York threw it out.

Fox's fight grew out of incidents in 2002 and 2003, when Cher and Nicole Richie cursed during live awards shows. The curses were not bleeped. In 2004 the FCC ruled that Fox could be fined for indecency violations in cases when a vulgarity was broadcast during a live program. While the FCC never followed through with a fine, Fox has fought that ruling and -- as was the case with ABC -- the 2nd Circuit sided with the network.

The FCC then appealed both rulings to the Supreme Court, which tied the cases together. NBC and CBS are not parties to the case but are interveners and supporting Fox and ABC.

Arguing for ABC is Seth Waxman, a partner at WilmerHale and a former solicitor general during the Clinton administration. Fox's lawyer is Sidley & Austin's Carter Phillips. Both have argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times.

Carrying the ball for the FCC will be Solicitor General Don Verrilli. Interestingly, Verrilli has argued cases for the TV industry before the Supreme Court when he was in private practice and has a strong background in telecommunications and media law.

The networks ideally would like to see the indecency rules tossed. A more realistic scenario, according to one network executive watching the case, is that the FCC's methods of enforcing the rules will be called into question. If that happens, the likely result would be that the FCC would be asked to clarify its rules and be more transparent in how it enforces them.

That would be seen as a huge victory for the broadcasters because it would make it more difficult for the FCC to go after TV stations for airing racy material. Indecency rules do not apply to cable networks such as HBO or FX because they do not use the public airwaves to broadcast content.

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Supreme Court to decide fate of FCC indecency rules

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "NYPD Blue" stars Dennis Franz and Charlotte Ross. Credit: ABC

 

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