Entertainment Industry

Category: MTV

On Location: MTV's 'Buck Wild' denied W. Va. tax credit

Jersey Shore MTV

First it was artificially tanned, party-crazed Italian Americans. Now it's mud-racing, squirrel-hunting Appalachians.

MTV once again finds itself at odds with state film officials who refuse to subsidize the network’s latest reality TV show with tax credits, citing its unflattering depiction of West Virginia culture.

“Buck Wild" is scheduled to start filming next spring in Charleston and Sissonville and follows a group of recent high school graduates living in rural West Virginia as they participate in homegrown activities like mud-racing.

"We'll give our viewers a singular and fun glimpse at this generation's experience as we go into Appalachia to capture the lives of a lovable group of dynamic young people," MTV programming head David Janollari said in a recent statement.

But the West Virginia Film Office was not impressed and twice turned down the show’s application for incentives over concerns the series will negatively portray the state. West Virginia offers tax credits of up to 31%. But in order to qualify, a production has to meet specific content criteria set forth by the state legislature. The denial came to light last month when MTV announced the new series.

“It [the production] can’t portray West Virginia in a significantly derogatory manner,” said West Virginia Film Office Director Pam Haynes, acknowledging that what is deemed “significantly derogatory” is subjective and decided by a six-member panel.

The show's executive producer, J.P. Williams of Parallel Entertainment, is a native West Virginian best known for creating “Blue Collar Comedy,” a stand-up troupe led by Jeff Foxworthy that pokes fun at rural American life. Representatives of Parallel could not be reached and MTV spokeswoman  Candice Ashton declined to comment. 

The denial follows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision last month to revoke a $420,000 tax credit that his state’s Economic Development Authority had awarded to MTV for its hit reality TV series "Jersey Shore," which spent $2.1 million in the state.

The show, which has drawn criticism for its portrayal of Italian Americans, perpetuated misconceptions about New Jersey, Christie said in his veto letter.  The fifth and most recent season of “Jersey Shore” was the third to be filmed in New Jersey -- seasons two and four were filmed in Miami Beach and Italy, respectively. 

Many states that offer filming incentives stipulate content requirements. In Michigan, a legal provision requires films approved for tax credits to help promote the state as a tourist destination. In Texas, a production may not qualify for tax credits if it “portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.” That law was cited last year when the Texas Film Commission denied tax credits for Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete,” a film that starred Danny Trejo as a former federal agent wreaking much-deserved havoc on corrupt government agents and overzealous border vigilantes.

Cries of censorship have being aimed at attempts of more heavy-handed state control over content.  In Florida, a legislative proposal to bar a special tax credit for family entertainment from productions that exhibit “nontraditional family values” was dropped last year after it was criticized for targeting gay characters.

In an environment in which state filming incentive programs are being scrutinized and reevaluated, states like West Virginia must walk the fine line between drawing productions they hope will stimulate the local economy while keeping the constituents that foot the bill happy.

“We are doing our responsibility to our taxpayers,'' Haynes said, "to run the program as the legislature mandates."


ON LOCATION: Report shows state film tax credits pumped $3.8 billion into California's economy

L.A.'s share of TV pilot pie gets smaller, FilmL.A. report says 

MTV remakes itself for the millenial generation

-- Dima Alzayat

Photo: The cast of MTV series "Jersey Shore" films in Florence, Italy. Paul "Pauly D" DelVecchio, left, Vinny Guadagnino, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino and Ronnie Ortiz-Magro. Photo by Jeff Daly / MTV / PictureGroup.

Viacom profits rise 37%; end to DreamWorks Animation deal seen

Philippe Dauman

Viacom delivered 37% higher profit in its third quarter, largely driven by a bounty of revenue at its profitable cable channels including MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

For the quarter ended June 30, revenue was up 15% to $3.8 billion.  The New York media company, controlled by billionaire Sumner Redstone, generated $574 million in net income,  or 97 cents per share, compared to $420 million, or 69 cents a share, in the year-earlier period.

Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said the company's stepped-up investment in original programming was making a difference.  He also indicated that Los Angeles-based Paramount Pictures was working under the assumption that it would lose its profitable distribution arrangement with DreamWorks Animation -- a topic that piqued the interest of analysts.

"There has been what I consider to be a surprising amount of attention to this issue," Dauman said, noting that Paramount itself was no slacker at the box office with six movies in a row that have surpassed $100 million in gross receipts.  Of course, that list includes DreamWorks Animation's popular "Kung Fu Panda 2." 

Paramount announced last month that it would be forming its own animation studio with the goal of releasing one computer-generated movie a year, beginning in 2014. 

"We are proceeding on the operating assumption that we will not be extending the DreamWorks Animation deal beyond next year,"  Dauman said.  "Paramount will do just fine under any scenario." 

JKatzenbergSunValley When pressed by a second analyst about the seemingly tense state of negotiations between Paramount chief Brad Grey and DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg to extend the relationship, Dauman did not exactly put that speculation to rest.

"Let me stress that Jeffrey and I have a very good and strong relationship, and a deep relationship between our companies.  It's not just a Paramount relationship -- It's a Viacom relationship.... We have done a great job in marketing DreamWorks Animation films.... The only issue is what DreamWorks Animation wants to do strategically, and how that fits into our own strategy."

Viacom now considers the April-through-June quarter its third quarter.  Viacom's media networks unit raked in $2.39 billion in revenue -- a 16% increase from the previous-year period.  Viacom attributed the increase to higher advertising and licensing fees.  Advertising revenue was up 14% worldwide to $1.28 billion for the quarter.  Domestically, ad revenue jumped 12%.  Affiliate fees increased 19% to $971 million as the company began to capture dollars from digital distribution deals.  It also collected higher fees from traditional distribution partners.

Despite lower theatrical earnings, the Paramount filmed entertainment unit saw its revenue climb 13% to $1.41 billion. The company said the growth came through higher television license fees and DVD sales and rentals.  Home entertainment revenue was up 33% to $331 million, in part because of the inclusion of an additional release when compared to its slate of offerings during the year-ago period. 

Meanwhile, Paramount's theatrical revenue was down 9% to $588 million.

The company expects the current quarter to be stronger because the third installment of "Transformers" was released at the end of June. The bulk of the profits from that hit movie will be recorded in the July-September quarter.

-- Meg James


DreamWorks Animation officially passes on Paramount

Paramount, DreamWorks Animation talks break down

Paramount's new animation division spells likely end for DreamWorks deal

Photo: Top, Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman last month at the Allen & Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Credit: Peter Foley / Bloomberg.

Photo: Lower right, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg meets with reporters in Sun Valley.  Credit:  Scott Olson / Getty Images.

Powerful MTV Networks leader Judy McGrath steps down

Judy-mcgrath One of television's most influential figures, MTV Networks Chairman and Chief Executive Judy McGrath is leaving the network that she helped shape into a cultural force.

McGrath, 58, has been chairman of the MTV Networks since 2004. In that role, she and her team programmed some of the industry’s most influential and popular networks, including MTV, MTV2, VH1, Logo, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Comedy Central, TV Land and Spike.

She began her career as a copywriter at MTV in 1981 and rose through the ranks to take on pivotal roles helping to shape the network into a phenomenon that has defined youth culture for decades. But after 30 years in the trenches, and helping to nudge MTV back from a prolonged ratings slump, she decided that it was a good time to leave to do something new.

"Creatively, financially, all the brands and businesses are in wonderful shape today. I leave with pride, joy and gratitude for the ride of a lifetime. I especially thank my friends and colleagues on the senior team ... " McGrath said in a statement, released Thursday. "They have my respect and affection, always."

Many in the industry had speculated that McGrath might be forced out after Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone fired her longtime mentor and MTV architect, Tom Freston, from his job as chief executive of the company in September 2006. But she held on, striking a new working relationship with Freston's successor, Philippe Dauman.

"The words 'creativity,' 'passion' and 'integrity' are thrown around a lot in business. But when used to describe our friend and colleague Judy McGrath, these words take on special relevance and meaning," Dauman, Viacom's CEO, said in an email to employees Thursday morning.

"After a brief flirtation with the magazine industry, she arrived at MTV moments after its birth in 1981 as a copywriter. Soon, her creative work was helping to define MTV’s maverick attitude and unique audience connection with on-air promos and contests like 'Devo Goes Hawaiian' and 'One Night Stand with Journey.' From the beginning, she energetically channeled her life-long passion for music into everything she did. Judy thrived and so did MTV. She subsequently moved up the ranks and became editorial director, executive vice president and creative director, and then, president of MTV. Under her direction as president, MTV grew from a cable channel about music into the global brand it is today by constantly reinventing and reflecting the always-changing youth culture," Dauman said.

McGrath's executives -- Doug Herzog, president of the MTV Networks Entertainment Group; Van Toffler, president of MTV Network Music & Logo Group; and Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and the MTV Network Kids & Family Group -- now will report to Dauman.


MTV names Stephen Friedman as its new president

Riding the Jersey wave, MTV wraps quarter with poufy high ratings

-- Meg James

Photo: Judy McGrath Credit: Reuters

MTV names Stephen Friedman as its new president

Viacom reports strong quarterly earnings; Paramount Pictures shows dramatic improvement

Viacom Inc. delivered strong second-quarter results, buoyed by its cable ratings success, including MTV's blockbuster "Jersey Shore," and 38% higher revenue at Paramount Pictures. 

The Melrose Avenue film studio raked in $1.2 billion in revenue, with "Rango" and "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" helping propel worldwide box office of $401 million. Paramount posted an operating profit of $39 million for the second fiscal quarter, compared with an $83-million loss in the year-earlier period. 

"Paramount Pictures delivered strong results across the board," Philippe Dauman, Viacom chief executive, told analysts Thursday during an early-morning conference call.

For example, Paramount's home-entertainment division, fueled by nine DVD releases including "Megamind" and "The Fighter," garnered a 38% increase in revenue to $410 million.  In the year-earlier quarter, the studio released only one new DVD title.  Worldwide box-office revenue was up 50%.  The division also collected $336 million in TV license fees, which was up 30% compared with a year earlier.

Viacom executives told analysts that, although thrilled with the studio's performance, they would search for ways to improve efficiency because filmed entertainment continued to be the company's lowest-margin business. Paramount has thrived, in part, because of its partnerships with Marvel and DreamWorks Animation.  It now wants to stock its pipeline with more pictures from Paramount.  

"We are looking to benefit from our own franchises," Dauman said.

Overall, Viacom's net earnings from continuing operations climbed to $376 million, or 63 cents a share, compared with $255 million a year earlier.  Revenue for the company soared 20% to $3.27 billion.

Cable television networks, including MTV, Nickelodeon and BET, continue to be the company's financial heart.  Second-quarter television revenue of $2 billion was up 11%.  Operating income of $795 million was up 13%.   

Advertising at the cable networks jumped 12% for the quarter.  The company has taken advantage of its broadcast-sized ratings for several of its shows, including MTV's "Jersey Shore," and Nickelodeon's "iCarly" special.  And BET delivered its best ratings quarter ever.

 "Every part of Viacom is in great shape," Dauman said.

-- Meg James

Photo: "Rango." Credit:  Paramount Pictures / Viacom Inc.

MTV names Stephen Friedman as its new president

Veteran MTV executive Stephen K. Friedman was promoted Wednesday to president of the influential youth-orientated cable network.

Friedman, 41, has served as MTV's general manager since 2008, running the day-to-day operations and becoming a key player in the reversal of the channel's prolonged ratings slide.  For more than a year, MTV has been on the march with such popular shows as "Jersey Shore," "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant."  Friedman will continue to report to Van Toffler, who is president of the MTV Networks Music and Logo Group.  

StephenFriedman "Since Stephen took over the helm at MTV 2 1/2 years ago, he has done an incredible job helping spearhead the reinvention of the MTV brand for millennials," Toffler said in a statement announcing his lieutenant's new assignment.

Viacom Inc.'s MTV also has experienced some of its best ratings in years for its signature award shows, including the "Video Music Awards" and the "MTV Movie Awards."  The ratings spikes reflect how Internet buzz can help expand audiences for TV shows, and how audacious and culturally relevant TV shows can spark Internet chatter and trends.

Friedman came to MTV in 1998 to launch MTV's strategic partnerships and public affairs department. Over the years, he has been instrumental in many of MTV's social and political causes.  In 2004, he helped launch mtvU, the channel dedicated to college students, and as general manager he helped craft the channel's Emmy Award-winning Sudan campaign to protest genocide in Darfur. He was deeply involved in MTV's award-winning "Fight for Your Rights" campaign and its "Choose or Lose" political drive. Before joining MTV, Friedman was director for the PEN American Center, an international writers' human rights organization.

When former MTV President Christina Norman left the channel in 2008, Friedman stepped in as general manager, assuming most of her duties. Norman is now running OWN, the joint venture between Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications Inc.

-- Meg James   

Photo: Stephen Friedman. Credit:  MTV Networks

Riding the Jersey wave, MTV wraps quarter with poufy high ratings


MTV is finishing the first quarter with its highest ratings in five years, a noteworthy 27% jump among young viewers compared with the first quarter of 2010.

The Viacom Inc.-owned network's numbers were fueled by the third season of "Jersey Shore," which soared to the top of the ratings chart in the youth demographic of 12- to 34-year-old viewers. The show, which launched in December 2009 and features the Italian American New Yorkers Vinny Guadagnino, Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino and, of course, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, who made the hair pouf sort of fashionable again, attracted more young viewers than television's top-rated show, "American Idol," according to MTV.

The third season of "Jersey Shore" became MTV's highest-rated show ever. It grew 35% compared with the second season and averaged 7.9 million viewers per episode. Production of the fourth installment of "Jersey Shore" recently got underway in Italy.

MTV's ratings resurgence has significantly helped Viacom's cause on Wall Street. Viacom common stock has been trading close to its 52-week high of $46.65 a share.

MTV's "Teen Mom 2" also netted substantial ratings, becoming cable television's No. 2 original show with an average of 3.8 million viewers an episode. "Real World: Las Vegas" was MTV's third show in cable's top 10, with ratings 11% higher than the previous installment of the show. It averaged 2 million viewers an episode.

Sister Viacom channel Nickelodeon said it posted its most-watched quarter with an average of 2.4 million viewers. During the quarter. Nickelodeon put forth several of the top preschool programs in television with "Bubble Guppies," "Max & Ruby," "Team Umizoomi," and "Go Diego, Go!"  It also boasted basic cable’s top three animated series with the perennial favorite "SpongeBob SquarePants," as well as "T.U.F.F. Puppy" and "The Penguins of Madagascar." 

-- Meg James

Photo: The cast of "Jersey Shore." Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press  

Dancing games 'Beat It' in January, but overall video game sales stumble again

Michael Jackson The Experience 

Bye, bye, music games. Hello, dancing games!

As the market for music simulation games craters, dancing titles are rising to the occasion. Three dancing games moonwalked their way to the top 10 sellers in January, according to a report released Thursday by the NPD Group.

Two of the dancing titles came from Ubisoft, a French game publisher that has proved adept over the last few years at surfing on the crest of fast-rising trends. Its "Just Dance 2" and "Michael Jackson The Experience" were the second and ninth bestselling games in the U.S., respectively.

The rise in sales of dancing games, however, still wasn't enough to offset the overall decline in video game sales, which recorded another down month. 

Music games sales, meanwhile, have fizzled, prompting the largest publisher in that genre, Activision Blizzard Inc., to pull the plug on its Guitar Hero business last week. Another publisher, Viacom Inc.'s MTV Games, sold its Harmonix studio, which developed the Rock Band series of games, for $50 in December to a private investment firm.

Ironically, Harmonix developed Dance Central, the eighth bestselling game in January, before MTV cut the Cambridge, Mass., studio loose.

Though January sales are relatively light in comparison with the three months leading up to Christmas, it still has a bump from holiday gift cards.

Players bought $1.16 billion in games, consoles and accessories last month, down 5% from January 2010, when they shelled out $1.22 billion, according to NPD. Sales of consoles such as the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or Wii fell 8% to $324 million. Consumers spent 5% less, about $576 million, on games to play on those consoles.

To see the top 10 list, click the continue reading link at the bottom of the post.


Continue reading »

Viacom sells $500 million in debt

Viacom said Monday that it had sold $500 million in new corporate bonds -- at 4.5% interest -- to raise money to buy back some of its higher-interest debt.

The sale of the new 10-year senior notes is expected to close Feb. 22.

"Viacom intends to use the net proceeds from the offering to fund a cash tender offer for up to $500 million of its outstanding 6.25% senior notes due 2016," the media company said in a statement, adding, "and, to the extent any proceeds remain, for general corporate purposes, including the potential repayment of any borrowings under its revolving credit facility or other outstanding indebtedness."

The tender offer -- for senior notes due in 2016  -- expires at midnight (Eastern time) March 14.

The company, controlled by billionaire Sumner Redstone, has been on a tear this year.  Its marquee MTV Networks have seen ratings soar,  in large part thanks to Snooki and the Situation of MTV's juggernaut hit, "Jersey Shore."  It's 3-D Justin Bieber biopic, "Never Say Never," released by new label Paramount Insurge, raked in more than $30 million in weekend box-office receipts. 

Viacom's stock price has risen more than 50% during the last year.  Viacom common stock closed Monday at $45.26 a share, up 12 cents a share.

The company said Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo Securities were serving as dealer managers for the offering.

-- Meg James

System gives advertisers plausible deniability in controversy over MTV's 'Skins'


MTV's racy teen drama "Skins" has lost some advertisers in the last few days including Taco Bell and General Motors in the wake of negative publicity the program has gotten over its sex- and drug-filled plots.

In a few cases, the advertisers say they never intended to have their spots run in "Skins," which made its debut last Monday in the 10 p.m. slot and immediately drew the wrath of the Parents TV Council, which is pressuring advertisers to boycott the program. 

One might wonder how ads got in a show advertisers now say they didn't want to be featured on in the first place. Well, that's one of the dirty secrets of the TV business. Many advertisers don't actually know where their commercials appear.

With the exception of really big events such as the Super Bowl or the Oscars, advertising is not sold on a show-by-show basis. Instead, an ad agency or media buyer has a number of impressions it wants to make, and the networks put commercials in the shows most likely to deliver the best results. If a network does not deliver, then additional ads, known as make-goods, are provided.

This system gives advertisers plausible deniability when it comes to their commercials running in shows with risque content. It is kind of like the Claude Rains character in "Casablanca" who closes Rick's for allowing gambling while being handed his winnings.

Some advertisers do have lists of shows or types of programming they want to steer clear of, but most would just as soon not know. But as programming becomes more controversial in search of ratings, advertisers may need to take a more hands-on approach to their media spending because the "we didn't know" excuse is getting a little weak.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: MTV's "Skins." Credit: MTV.






Former MTV executives Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley form studio within Ben Silverman's company

There is life after MTV.  

Two longtime executives of the youth-oriented network, Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley, on Monday unveiled their new venture -- DiGa -- which they described as an independent production studio housed within Ben Silverman's company, Electus, a business unit of Barry Diller's IAC. The firm will be based in New York, but they said they will open a production and editing office in Los Angeles.

DiSanto and Gateley said they plan to develop scripted and unscripted prime-time TV shows to sell to networks and cable channels, including MTV. They already have several projects in development, including a potential comedy series starring the personality Amanda Diva; a fashion series from Jill Martin, author of "Fashion for Dummies," and a few projects from Jackhole Industries, a collaboration of Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Carolla and Daniel Kellison.

"Liz and I are thrilled to partner and form DiGa, the next logical step in our career as we look to expand on the work we did together at MTV as producers and executives," DiSanto said in a statement. "We look forward to creating and developing content in a variety of mediums and for new outlets, while also continuing a great relationship with MTV Networks, our long-time home."

DiGa means "speak" in Spanish and is also a combination of DiSanto's and Gateley's last names. DiSanto started as a production assistant at MTV in 1989 and rose through the ranks, working on some of MTV's most successful programming, including "Total Request Live with Carson Daly," and "Jersey Shore."  He became president of programming in June 2009 and left the network at the end of 2010. Gateley joined MTV in 2003 as a development executive and was deeply involved in the creation of "Laguna Hills," "America's Best Dance Crew," "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom." She also departed the network at the end of last year.

It had been rumored that the pair would go into business with Silverman, the former William Morris agent, producer and NBC programming executive. Silverman's Electus will retain distribution rights to shows that DiGa produces.

-- Meg James 



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