Entertainment Industry

Category: Media

Mike Wallace: Newsman's death symbolizes passing of an era

Wallace

Mike Wallace, the 93-year-old pitbull of CBS' "60 Minutes," died this weekend in New Canaan, Conn. 

CBS announced his death Sunday morning by lauding Wallace's brazen brand of reporting, which "made his name synonymous with the tough interview -- a style he practically invented for television more than half a century ago."

More than any other broadcast network, CBS has been most closely associated with its broadcast news team, which over the years has boasted such heavyweights as Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite as well as Wallace. Each of the newsmen helped define CBS as a beacon for serious journalism.

PHOTOS: Mike Wallace | 1918 - 2012

“All of us at CBS News and particularly at '60 Minutes' owe so much to Mike," Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and a longtime executive producer of "60 Minutes," said in a statement. "Without him and his iconic style, there probably wouldn’t be a '60 Minutes.' There simply hasn’t been another broadcast journalist with that much talent. It almost didn’t matter what stories he was covering, you just wanted to hear what he would ask next."

Wallace's tenacious spirit and blistering questions helped to build "60 Minutes" into a ratings juggernaut, and establish the program as the gold standard for broadcast journalism. "60 Minutes" has logged an unprecedented 23 seasons in Nielsen's annual ranking of 10 most popular programs.

The durability of "60 Minutes" proves that viewers continue to have an appetite for hard-hitting newscasts. The program still thrives in an era when the format that inspired it -- the once-a-week newsmagazine -- has lost relevance with the immediacy of the Internet.

VIDEO: Remembering Mike Wallace

Across America, newsroom leaders are struggling to redefine their magazines, newspapers and local TV and radio newscasts. They are doing so amid dramatically shrinking resources and the reality that readers and viewers probably already saw or heard a snippet of the news elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the lure of celebrity news, which drives ratings and Internet traffic, has become an irresistible urge for many in the news business.

Fewer news outlets are practicing the brand of investigative journalism that Wallace and "60 Minutes" helped to define. It is easier and cheaper for news outlets to turn to talking heads to fill air time.

Wallace, in contrast, honed his interview style on the ABC network TV news program, “The Mike Wallace Interview.” He also experimented on a local New York television guest show called “Night Beat.”  

"Wallace’s relentless questioning of his subjects proved to be a compelling alternative to the polite chit-chat practiced by early television hosts," CBS said in its statement.

Wallace's last appearance on television was in January 2008. His sit-down interview on "60 Minutes" with baseball pitching legend Roger Clemens, who stood accused of using steroids, made front-page news.  It was a fitting finale that served to underscore Wallace's legacy.

CBS strives to maintain its edge in hard-news reporting. The network is revamping its "CBS This Morning" program this year with the installation of Charlie Rose, a move to inject a more serious tone.  CBS News chief Fager believes that viewers still care about news with substance. 

Wallace's passing should inspire others in the news business to consider that, too. 

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 -- Meg James

Photos: Mike Wallace, right, is shown in 1968 with "60 Minutes" co-anchor Harry Reasoner, left, and the show's creator, Don Hewitt. Credit: CBS News archives

Demand Media, after 4th-quarter loss, projects better 2012

Richard Rosenblatt Demand Media

The Internet can be a cruel mistress.

Demand Media Inc. found that out the hard way. A year ago the Web company, awash in traffic, was the darling of Wall Street, valued at $1 billion in a Jan. 26 initial public offering.

Three months later, Google Inc., which had sent millions of visitors a day to Demand’s websites, modified its search results to de-emphasize destinations deemed to have lower-quality content. The change throttled the Santa Monica company’s traffic nearly 25% between January and July.

Wall Street turned against the company, driving its stock from a lofty $24.57 in March to $5.62 by October.

On Thursday the company — whose properties include Livestrong, eHow and Cracked.com — reported a $6.4-million loss on $84.4 million in revenue in its fourth quarter, which ended Dec. 31. It had posted a $1-million profit on $73.6 million in sales a year earlier.

“The business that they took public changed fundamentally when Google changed its algorithm,” said Patrick Walravens, an analyst with JMP Securities. “The business model they had for producing content no longer works. So what’s the new model?”

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TV viewing, movie attendance to hit skids in 2012, analyst says

Media analyst Rich GreenfieldWill 2012 be the year people watch less television?

That's what analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG thinks. Greenfield, who is one of the more refreshingly candid media industry watchers, has released his predictions (registration required) for the entertainment industry. Among them: The number of people watching TV in 2012 is going to fall. 

"We believe 2012 will be a watershed year for the media industry and serve as a historic inflection point for traditional TV consumption," Greenfield wrote. Although the saturation of cable channels trying to cater to every niche has boosted the time people spend in front of the television, Greenfield said, "we believe consumers have reached a breaking point. "

So what will people do in place of zoning out in front of the boob tube?

"Social gaming will become a new 'cure for boredom,'” Greenfield predicted.

Going to the movies is also going to lose its luster. Already reeling from a year that saw box office attendance fall by 4%, Greenfield says, the industry will see moviegoers become even more picky when it comes to opening their wallets for Hollywood.

"We believe consumers are tiring of expensive, premium-priced movie experiences, particularly when combined with an increasingly unsatisfying exhibition experience," the BTIG media watcher said.

New platforms will be the beneficiaries of people turning their backs on the multiplex. For example, the push by Netflix into original content will pay off for the company, which endured a rough 2011 after a new pricing model was met with a backlash from its subscribers.

Greenfield also expects Facebook to make a bigger push into video in an effort to take on YouTube. In an email exchange, Greenfield didn't rule out the possibility of Facebook one day trying to build its own video programming service that could in theory compete with cable and satellite.

On that note, Greenfield thinks 2012 will see the development of what he calls virtual MVPDs (multichannel video program distributors). In other words, consumers will no longer have to get a cable box or satellite dish, but instead will be able to subscribe to cable TV via the Internet. Typically, cable operators that are also broadband providers, such as Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, have resisted the idea of competing against each other by becoming virtual MVPDs. Greenfield thinks satellite broadcaster Dish and phone company Verizon will be the first movers.

As for deals, Greenfield thinks Liberty Media will unload its pay TV channel Starz. He does not say to whom, but he previously has written that Comcast, parent of NBCUniversal, should buy Starz. He also thinks somebody will buy AMC Networks, the parent of cable channels AMC, WE and IFC. Lastly, he said heads will roll at NBC if the network's new musical drama "Smash" crashes.

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Analyst Greenfield blasts Cablevision and its CEO Jim Dolan

Greenfield says Comcast should buy Starz for NBCUniversal

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Rich Greenfield. Credit: BTIG.

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