Entertainment Industry

Category: Comcast

Magic Johnson's cable channel deal approved by Maxine Waters

Maxine Waters

The sale of Comcast cable channels to Magic Johnson and Sean Combs have met with the approval of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).

Waters was one of the chief critics in 2010 of the then-pending merger between communications giant Comcast and NBCUniversal, because she felt the companies were not committed to hiring and promoting minorities. But she praised Comcast’s announcement this week that they are establishing four new independent channels targeting minorities.

“I am pleased that Comcast-NBCUniversal has taken steps to honor its commitment to media diversity in programming and ownership,” Waters said in a statement released Wednesday.

The new channels include one owned by former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson, one owned by rapper and entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs and a third owned by “Spy Kids” director Robert Rodriguez.

Waters said that Comcast-NBCUniversal “appears to be making progress in efforts to fulfill its public interest commitments.” She also noted new MSNBC shows hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris Perry, Tamron Hall and Martin Bashir.

Said Waters, “It is clear that Comcast has begun to act on the concerns that I, and the community of minority media professionals, raised during the course of the merger review.” She added, “While these initial steps are commendable, I urge the company to continue to cultivate diversity among its executive leadership, showrunners and other studio heads with ‘greenlighting’ authority … Comcast-NBCUniversal would be a trailblazer within an industry that continues to struggle with diversity and inclusion.”

Waters had been particularly tough in her grilling of NBCUniversal and Comcast officers when they were called before Congress in 2010 to defend the merger.


Magic Johnson to launch TV network via Comcast

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters blasts FCC conditions on Comcast-NBC deal

-- Greg Braxton

Photo: Rep Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Credit: Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times

Comcast launching Netflix-like streaming service

"Oceans Eleven"This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

With an eye toward holding onto current subscribers and attracting new ones who may be tempted by Netflix, Comcast Corp. is rolling out a new subscription streaming service that boasts a mix of TV re-runs and older films.

Called Xfinity Streampix, the service launches this week and allows users to watch content on televisions and Internet-connected digital devices like smartphones.

It will be free to customers who get their video, Internet and phone service from Comcast. People who get only their TV from the company will pay $5 per month. Netflix streaming costs $8 per month.

While the new service inevitably drew comparisons to Netflix, and spurred a 3% drop in that company's stock Tuesday, there are notable differences. Comcast's initial agreements with Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., and NBC Universal (which the cable giant owns) provide it with less content than Netflix currently offers.

Xfinity Streampix users will get access to television shows like "30 Rock" and "Grey's Anatomy" and films like "Brokeback Mountain" and "Ocean's Eleven," but can't watch TV shows like "Mad Men" and movies like "Drive" that are exclusively on Netflix.

In addition, while anyone with an Internet connection and a digital device can access Netflix, Xfinity Streampix is available only to the people who live in areas covered by Comcast. Currently, there are 23.2 million homes that have Comcast television service, including many in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento.  Los Angeles is not part of the Comcast footprint, which also covers Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami and Houston. 

"We have no plans to take this outside our footprint," Marcien Jenckes, Comcast's general manager of video services, said in an interview. "It is not at all our intention to compete with Netflix."

Among cable companies, Comcast has been the most aggressive in adding new services to respond to the explosion of portable devices while trying to retain its core customers.

"This is an extension of our strategy to give consumers the content that they love where and when they want it," Jenckes said. "This just makes our existing subscriptions more valuable."

Netflix is not the only threat. The service could make Comcast more attractive, in the company's service areas, than subscriptions offered by satellite companies Dish Network and DirecTV and telephone companies Verizon and AT&T.

This new service adds to the more than 75,000 TV shows and movies currently available on Comcast's Xfinity On Demand service. Users pay for each film or episode through that more traditional video on-demand offering, which features more recent movies than the subscription package.

[For the record, 3:18 p.m. Feb. 21: An earlier version of this post said that 52.5 million homes have Comcast television service. In fact, Comcast has 22.3 million subscribers. The service is potentially available to 52.5 million homes in the regions served by the cable operator.]


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Robert Rodriguez joins Magic Johnson, Sean Combs in Comcast TV group

-- Meg James and Ben Fritz

Photo: Brad Pitt and George Clooney in "Ocean's Eleven." Credit: Bob Marshak / Warner Bros.

Robert Rodriguez joins Magic Johnson, Sean Combs in Comcast TV group


To fulfill its commitment to increase diversity in the cable landscape, Comcast Corp. is launching four independent channels targeting minorities in the next two years, including one owned by former Lakers star Magic Johnson and another owned by former rapper and entrepreneur Sean "Diddy" Combs.

The Philadelphia-based cable giant said Tuesday it also would launch two English-language channels owned by Latinos. One will be owned by film director Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids," "El Mariachi") and the other by Spanish-language television veteran Constantino “Said” Schwarz.

El Rey channel will be a joint venture between Rodriguez and FactoryMade Ventures executives John Fogelman, a former top William Morris Endeavor talent agent, and Cristina Patwa. The channel, which is slated to launch in early 2014, is expected to feature Latino celebrities and producers. 

"This is the right time to create something new that has cultural significance and can reach the U.S. Latino audience that is really booming," Rodriguez said in an interview. 

The group envisions the channel as "an action-packed, general entertainment network in English for Latino and general audiences" with a mix of reality, scripted and animated series, movies, music, comedy and sports.

Young, U.S. born Latinos "are an under-served market, and Comcast really responded to our pitch," Rodriguez said. "They want to make this work."

Fogelman said his team started pitching Rodriguez on the project about a year ago when Comcast first announced that it would back start-up channels. "We knew if we could get Robert on board we would finally have that authentic voice. There is a groovy factor to him, you can see it in his films and the talent whom he gets to work with him."

Comcast announced three other channels.

Aspire, the Magic Johnson channel, is expected to launch this summer. The Atlanta-based network will be managed by the NBA Hall of Famer in partnership with GMC TV. Johnson said in an interview that he wants Aspire to be filled with entertaining and positive programming for African Americans families. Aspire's lineup will include movies, documentaries, short films, music, comedy, visual and performing arts, and faith and inspirational programs.

Combs' channel, which is expected to launch in 2013, will be called Revolt. Combs said in a statement the channel would be built "from the ground up in this new era of social media" and feature music videos, live performances, music news and interviews. It is expected to incorporate social media interaction for music artists and fans. Former MTV executive Andy Schuon is partnering with Combs on the venture.

The fourth channel -- BabyFirst Americas -- is expected to launch in April.  Proposed by TV veteran Schwarz, the channel is expected to emphasize the importance of early child development, including verbal, math and motor skills. It will be geared for infants and very young children and their parents.

Comcast promised the federal government that it would help launch 10 independent cable channels as part of its effort to win approval of its acquisition last year of NBCUniversal. Regulators were worried that the consolidation of two enormous media companies would make it even more difficult for small independent channels to compete.   

Comcast said it made its selections after sifting through more than 100 proposals.

Of the 10 networks, four will be majority African American owned, two will be majority American Latino owned, two will be operated by American Latino programmers, and two will provide additional independent programming. Comcast said it would carry the channels on its cable systems as part of its digital basic tier of service. 


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-- Meg James

Photo: Director Robert Rodriguez arrives at the premiere of his movie "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D" in Los Angeles in July 2011. Credit:  Gus Ruelas / Reuters

Magic Johnson to head Comcast cable channel Aspire

MagicMagic Johnson, the former Laker and basketball Hall of Famer, has long been on an aspirational journey. This summer he plans to bring his upbeat message to new audiences with the launch of a 24-hour cable television channel named Aspire, via Comcast Corp.

Comcast plans to announce Tuesday that it will make available Johnson's 24-hour network in late June in about 11 million of its subscribers' homes. The initiative begins to fulfill a promise the cable operator made last year when it was seeking the federal government's approval of its more than $14 billion merger with NBCUniversal. 

The Philadelphia-based cable giant agreed to launch 10 new channels by 2018, including eight owned by African Americans and Latinos, to diversify its channel line-up.

"I told Comcast that I wanted to be sure I got the first one," Johnson said with a laugh during an interview with the Times.  

Johnson, who left professional sports 20 years ago and has since built a business empire, said the channel would focus on positive, uplifting images of African Americans. The basic cable outlet, which will be based in Atlanta, will join other channels targeting black viewers, like BET and TV One, and will offer opportunities for blacks who have struggled to find work in mainstream Hollywood.

“This is big for myself, for the African American community and the African American creative community," Johnson said. "I wanted a vehicle to show positive images and to have stories written, produced and directed by African Americans for our community. Aspire—that’s how I’ve been leading my life.”

Read the full story in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times.


Congresswoman Maxine Waters blasts FCC conditions on Comcast-NBC deal

Comcast-NBC deal gets the okay from FCC, Justice Department

NBCUniversal diversity executive Paula Madison to step down

Comcast hires the FCC's Meredith Attwell Baker for its NBCUniversal unit

-- Greg Braxton and Meg James

Photo: Earvin "Magic" Johnson speaks during the press conference held by the Magic Johnson Foundation at the Staples Center. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S. Presswire

Comcast fourth-quarter profit jumps 26%; NBC and film lag

The Lorax Universal Pictures
Comcast Corp. beat analysts' estimates with a 26% increase in fourth-quarter profit, but two NBCUniversal units continued to struggle: the NBC broadcast network and Universal Pictures.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, the Philadelphia cable television giant posted net income of $1.29 billion, or 47 cents a share, compared to $1.02 billion, or 36 cents per share, for the year-earlier period.  Revenue climbed 3% to $15 billion.

Once again, the company's core business of providing bundles of cable TV channels and high-speed Internet service bolstered its financial results. Comcast added 336,000 Internet customers during the quarter while losing 17,000 video subscribers, demonstrating that the cable company was doing a better job holding onto its customers than it did during the recession.

But NBCUniversal continued to be a mixed bag.

The New York media company, which Comcast co-owns with industrial giant General Electric Co., generated revenue of $5.7 billion -- an increase of less than 1% over the year-earlier period.  Operating cash flow declined 6.8% to $1.1 billion for the quarter. 

Cable television networks, including USA, Syfy, Bravo and MSNBC, increased revenue 5.3% to $2.2 billion.  Broadcast TV revenue declined 3.7% to $1.8 billion -- reflecting continued ratings problems at the NBC broadcast network. 

Filmed entertainment revenue dipped 1.8% to $1.3 billion, in part because of lower home entertainment sales. Theme parks revenue climbed 4% to $498 million.

Cable networks' operating cash flow increased 15.3% to $923 million, but NBC posted an $80-million loss. The broadcast unit produced $55 million in operating cash flow in the previous-year period. Operating cash flow at Universal Pictures dropped nearly 50% to $89 million.  

Comcast said its focus for the last year was integrating NBCUniversal operations, finding the right management team and stepping up investments in programming.

"As you look out over 2012 and 2013 we are going to start to, hopefully, see some of the seeds we planted bear fruit," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told analysts. "We've said the network is going to take us a number of years to turn around. We also think we can see some improvement in film; our film business has not been doing well but we have a very strong slate in 2012."

However, Michael Angelakis, Comcast's chief financial officer, warned analysts: "The real headwinds are programming costs."

One analyst suggested that Comcast's shiny new toy -- media company NBCUniversal and its peacock network -- could ultimately challenge the company's financials.

"Evolutionary biologists have cogently argued that the peacock's tail evolved, paradoxically, as a gigantic display of handicap," Bernstein Research senior analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a report.  "Only a very healthy specimen could survive carrying around such a burden."


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 -- Meg James

Photo:  Ashley, voiced by Taylor Swift, is a character in the upcoming Universal Pictures film: "Dr. Suess' The Lorax." Credit:  Universal Pictures

The Morning Fix: 'Idol' ratings tumble! SOPA and PIPA fight rages on.

After the coffee. Before trying to make this a three-day weekend.

The Skinny: I'm picking the Giants and Patriots this weekend, which is no doubt also the match NBC wants for the Super Bowl. Friday's headlines include a look at the new Star Wars video game, a box office preview, the latest on the piracy legislation fight and a tumble in the ratings for "American Idol."

The Daily Dose: Co-worker Ben Fritz asks this burning question: Mirror mirror, on the wall, which media conglomerate engages in the most blatant cross-promotion of them all? "Top Chef" fans likely noticed that this week's episode was essentially an hour-long commercial for June's big-budget movie "Snow White and the Huntsman." Film star Charlize Theron was the guest judge and the challenge was to cook a meal fit for an evil queen (guess which character Charlize plays). Not mentioned in the episode is that "Snow White" comes from Universal Pictures, which like "Top Chef" network Bravo is owned by Comcast Corp.'s NBC Universal. Smart corporate synergy or crass product placement? How about both?

American Idol ratings fell in its season premiere
Can't we all get along? The battle over proposed bills to fight piracy continues to rage on. Hollywood is furious that its efforts to curb theft and piracy have been overshadowed by Silicon Valley's claims that the laws will hurt innovation and free speech. In the meantime, an activist group has been hacking into websites to protest the bills and some sites went dark for a day as a form of protest. Of course, if Hollywood and the TV networks shut down for a day for political purposes, they'd hear about it from regulators and consumers. On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cancelled the vote on one of the bills. Meanwhile, on Thursday the feds shut down the site Megaupload for violating piracy laws. The latest coverage from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Variety.

An expensive galaxy far far away. It cost $200 million and took six years to make. No, we're not talking about James Cameron's next movie. We're talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic, the costliest and riskiest video game ever made. The Los Angeles Times looks behind the scenes at the making of the game and what it will have to do to be a hit.

Jump ball. Reading the stories about the box office this weekend and it seems to me that there is not going to be any dominating by any movie. "Underworld: Awakening," Sony's latest chapter in its vampire series (is it sign of how out of it I am that I have never heard of this franchise?) is expected to end up on top. I am no expert but I predict "Haywire," the action movie starring Gina Carano, is going to do better than people think. Projections from the Los Angeles Times and Hollywood Reporter.

Secrets of phone hacking. Earlier this week, News Corp. settled a bunch of claims having to do with phone hacking at the company's now-closed tabloid News of the World and its still up-and-running paper the Sun. While the company has tried to say that settling is not an admission of guilt, that's a hard sell. In the meantime, the Guardian, the biggest thorn in News Corp.'s side, offers up its story on how the media giant hid and misled authorities about the scope of the scandal.

Out of tune? Fox's "American Idol" returned Wednesday night and only 21.9 million tuned in to watch the season debut of the show's 11th season. Yes, the number is the lowest for the show since Season 1. But it is also an amazing number for a show that old. In my opinion, it is a little too early to start playing Taps for "American Idol." More on the numbers from the Wall Street Journal.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Betsy Sharkey went crazy for "Haywire."

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter. Even when I'm not there, I'm there. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Photo: "American Idol." Credit: Michael Becker / Associated Press.

Bloomberg jabs at Comcast on anniversary of NBC deal approval

Business media giant Bloomberg LP is marking the upcoming one-year anniversary of the government's approval of Comcast Corp.'s acquisition of NBCUniversal to remind regulators that it thinks the cable giant is disrespecting the feds.

Bloomberg, parent of business news channel Bloomberg Television, thinks that Comcast should be required to put the Bloomberg channel near its main competitor CNBC on its cable systems. Bloomberg has argued practically since the day Comcast announced its deal with NBCUniversal that it feared the cable giant would favor NBC's CNBC financial channel over Bloomberg on its systems, which reach more than 20 million consumers.

Last June, Bloomberg filed a complaint against Comcast at the Federal Communications Commission arguing that the conditions of the government's approval of the Comcast-NBCUniversal deal require Bloomberg to be moved closer so it can be in the same "neighborhood" as CNBC. The FCC is still reviewing the matter and no timetable is set for a ruling.

"Marking yesterday's one-year anniversary of the FCC's Order approving Comcast's blockbuster acquisition of NBC Universal, it's time for Comcast to live up to the bargain it accepted to secure its merger," said Greg Babyak, head of government affairs for Bloomberg LP. "Rather than continue to watch Comcast thumb its nose at the FCC and the American viewing public, the FCC should immediately require Comcast to stick to commitments, and implement the plain language of the order, including the news neighborhooding condition."

Comcast has countered that the FCC's conditions do not require it to move Bloomberg closer to CNBC.

"If Comcast were forced to do what Bloomberg is asking the government to mandate, millions of customers would be subject to disruption and confusion required by massive channel realignments to benefit a thriving $30 billion media company," a Comcast spokeswoman said. "The FCC carefully crafted its moderate, forward looking condition precisely to avoid this type of upheaval.”

And no, Comcast didn't thank Bloomberg for remembering the anniversary.


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-- Joe Flint



Hulu surpasses 1.5 million subscribers

Alec Baldwin HuluHulu finished 2011 with 1.5 million customers enrolled in its 14-month-old subscription offering, Hulu Plus.

The Santa Monica-based Internet company also notched $420 million in revenue for the year, an increase of 60% over 2010.  That was slightly less than initial projections. Early on, Hulu predicted that it would approach $500 million in revenue for the year.  However, the advertising market slowed during the third and fourth quarters, putting a crunch on the company's ambitious estimates.

"We exceeded our plan despite the soft advertising market (economy) in the second half of 2011," Hulu chief executive Jason Kilar wrote Thursday in a blog post.  "Overall the Hulu ad business grew aggressively and Hulu Plus materially exceeded our plan."

Hulu — a joint venture of media giants Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and NBCUniversal and private firm Providence Equity Partners — does not break out its earnings.  A Hulu spokesperson said the service has become profitable in the U.S. 

However, the company ramped up spending in 2011 to start a service in Japan, which likely was a drag on earnings.

This year should be healthier for Hulu and other media companies because of the rebounding ad market. What's more, Hulu has been concentrating on building its subscription service, Hulu Plus. The original Hulu online video site is still a free offering. Hulu Plus, launched in November 2010 is a more exclusive and expansive offering that costs consumers $7.99 a month.

"We expect our subscription services to account for more than half of Hulu’s overall business later this year," Kilar wrote in the post.

 Hulu CEO Jason Kilar
Hulu said it was spending about $500 million for programming in 2012.  It recently announced a Hulu Latino service with Spanish-language programming as well as locking up online syndication rights for the quirky sitcom "Community."

"Hulu’s content offering grew approximately 40% versus 2010; Hulu Plus’ content offering grew more than 105%," Kilar wrote.


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— Meg James

Photos:  Top Center:  Alec Baldwin stars in Hulu's inaugural television advertisement in 2009, calling Hulu "an evil plot to destroy the world."  Credit: Hulu.  Bottom right:  Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar at the company's West LA offices; Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times.

NBC's Bob Greenblatt adjusts to bigger stage

BobgreenblattNBC's Bob Greenblatt says even a modestly successful show on cable TV can be declared a hit and can run for multiple seasons. But not on broadcast TV.  

The network's entertainment chairman several times on Friday reminded the Television Critics Assn. press tour gathering in Pasadena that broadcast television is different.

Greenblatt, who joined NBCUniversal last January after seven years programming premium cable channel Showtime, tried to minimize comparisons between his stellar track record at Showtime and his more modest results in his first development season at NBC.

Shows on network TV live or die based on the ratings they produce. Greenblatt said he launched more promising shows in three months this fall at NBC than during an entire year at his previous network. And NBC still slogged through a bruising fall, with its ratings plummeting 11%.

Greenblatt bemoaned how the NBC drama "Prime Suspects" was an incredibly strong show creatively, and would have lasted at least five seasons on a cable channel, but couldn't find a big enough audience on the network. Production on the program, a remake of a British television hit, stopped midway through the first season. 

"Maybe I should just blame the hat and move on," Greenblatt said, referring to the distracting fedora that the "Prime Suspects" star, Maria Bello, wore in her role as an intense police detective. 

"There were no great revelations this fall other than [our experience] keeps reinforcing how hard it is to break through," Greenblatt said. 

Read the full story about NBC's "really bad" fall season at our Show Tracker blog.


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—  Meg James 

Photo: NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt speaks at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena. Credit: Chris Haston / NBC

Disney partners with Comcast to provide ABC, ESPN on-demand


Entertainment giant Walt Disney Co. has struck a deal allowing Comcast Corp. cable customers access to all of its popular channels — including ESPN, ABC, ABC Family and the Disney Channel — from portable devices and video-on-demand services.

The expansive deal, announced Wednesday, will allow Comcast's more than 22 million cable customers who sign up for its Xfinity service to watch the Disney channels live or on-demand either while they are in their homes or on the go via their tablets or other portable devices. 

This is the first time that Comcast has agreed to pay for local retransmission of ABC-owned TV stations. For the last three years, broadcasters have been negotiating with cable companies to pay for signals that they previously provided for free.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

The agreement also marks the first time that Disney has provided live streaming and earlier video-on-demand access to its stable of entertainment channels as well as sports juggernaut ESPN. Time Warner Cable customers have access to "Watch ESPN," the Disney-owned network's authenticated streaming service. 

Disney and Comcast said that 70 services would be covered in the new long-term distribution agreement. 

The networks and services covered by the agreement also include Disney Junior (a new 24-hour basic cable channel for preschoolers), Disney XD, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN 3D, ESPN GamePlan, ESPN FullCourt and ESPN3. It also covers retransmission consent for seven ABC-owned broadcast television stations, among them WABC-TV New York and WLS-TV Chicago.

Philadelphia-based Comcast will provide its Xfinity TV customers with the suite of live Disney networks on an authenticated basis, meaning users must register to verify they are cable customers. 

“Comcast was the first video provider to create technology that enabled us to deliver content to customers where and when they want it across any viewing experience,” Neil Smit, chief executive of Comcast Cable, said in a statement.

“We are very pleased to have reached this unprecedented and innovative, long-term agreement with Disney which embraces the future of entertainment and allows Comcast to continue to bring our vision of TV Everywhere to Xfinity customers whether at home or on the go," Smit said.

Comcast said that license fee schedules for services covered in the deal would be phased in.

Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks, added, “This landmark deal is a great example of what can be achieved when programmers and distributors collaborate and innovate together to meet the ever-evolving needs of consumers and enhance the viewing experience. "


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— Meg James

Photo: Ginnifer Goodwin stars in ABC's new hit "Once Upon A Time." Credit: Chris Helcermanas-Benge / ABC.


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