Entertainment Industry

Category: Yahoo

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."


AOL launches a network of lifestyle video channels

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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

New animated series to debut on online channel Shut Up! Cartoons

Pubertina Shut Up Cartoons Smosh YouTube

One is about a Japanese monster that shrinks down to human size and is forced to seek a variety of mundane jobs. Another describes the life of a 13-year-old going through puberty, from the perspective of a recent Cal Arts graduate.

"Krogzilla gets a job" and "Pubertina" are among 18 original series that will be featured on a new online animation channel on YouTube debuting April 30 called Shut Up! Cartoons. It's the brainchild of comedic duo Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, creators of the popular YouTube channel Smosh.

Shut Up! Cartoons, targeted at teens and young adults, will feature a diverse lineup of shows, and is the latest example of how the Internet is emerging as an increasingly important breeding ground for animation.

Top online video distributors such as Yahoo and YouTube are creating or distributing premium online animation as part of an effort to keep viewers on their sites and to generate more advertising dollars. Google Inc.'s YouTube, its dominant online video site, is helping fund and develop 100-plus free high-quality channels with the support of top Hollywood animation veterans and new talent.

"It's a really exciting opportunity for us,'' said Barry Blumberg, the Shut Up! Cartoons executive producer and former longtime chief of Disney Television Animation. "What everybody struggles with in the media world is that there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. We talked to creatives and said, 'What would it be like to essentially make your own thing?'"

Read more in today's business section.






A happy medium between animation and live action

DreamWorks Animation unveils plan to build studio in China

'Electric Internet' to join charge of animated shows onto the Internet

-- Richard Verrier 

Photo: Scenes from "Pubertina," one of several animated series to be featured on a new animation channel on YouTube called Shut Up! Cartoons. Credit: Shut Up! Cartoons

'CSI' creator launches new movie project on Yahoo

CSI Crime Scene Investigation

The creator of the television hit "CSI" series hopes to do for cyber-crime investigations what he did for police forensics, turning a little-known science into fodder for mainstream entertainment.

Anthony E. Zuiker's latest project is "Cybergeddon," a motion picture that will appear not in movie theaters but as a series of weekly episodes available online this fall through Yahoo.

"Cyber crime is the 2.0 version of crime," said Zuiker, who spent a year researching computer threats, even flying to Washington, D.C., to meet with investigators at the FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Department and National Security Agency.

"They scared the daylights out of me," Zuiker said. "I was officially scared even to log in, which all makes for great drama, as long as it's fictionalized."

Zuiker developed a story that revolves around Chloe Jocelyn, a white hat hacker in the FBI’s cyber-crime division, and newly transferred agent Frank Parker, who together uncover a massive digital conspiracy. They join forces with incarcerated master hacker Chase “Rabbit” Rosen to crack a worldwide ring of cyber-terrorists who have been responsible for a range of malicious behavior -- from mobile stalking of U.S. senators to tricking consumers into revealing confidential information on the Web, through a technique called "clickjacking."

Norton, the antivirus software for computers, mobile phones and tablets from Mountain View, Calif., software company Symantec Corp., provided Zuiker with technical advice about aspects of cyber crime and ultimately became a sponsor.

"It was a real natural partnership, where Anthony had this vision to do what he did for 'CSI' in bringing the forensics to the forefront. How does it really happen?" said Rhonda Shantz, Norton's vice president for global brands. "He wanted to do that for cyber crime."

Shantz said "Cybergeddon" provides a compelling way for Norton to alert consumers to little-known threats, such as the malicious apps that can spread viruses through tablets, smartphones and Facebook accounts.

"Our whole purpose is to educate in a way that people find comfortable," Shantz said. "'Wow, is that possible on a mobile phone?' 'Wow, I had no idea that could happen on tablet.' The whole surge of what's happening in the mobile world -- that's where we find we have to do the most education."

"Cybergeddon" is Zuiker's second digital venture. He also plans to produce 12 original short films for the YouTube channel BlackBox TV. Zuiker said he sees digital distribution as a way to reach vast global audiences of viewers who are watching entertainment in new ways.

"When you go wide, as with movies like 'Avatar,' this is thousands of screens," Zuiker said. Yahoo "is 50 million screens a day. "

Yahoo's deal with Zuiker marks the second such big Hollywood partnership it has struck in recent months. Tom Hanks' Playtone Productions is developing an animated series for Yahoo targeting men ages 18 to 34. These content agreements fit with the site's efforts to be thought of as a leading source for high-quality content online.

"Projects like 'Cybergeddon' are part of our tentpole strategy where we're really bringing major event programming to the network,"  said Yahoo's head of video, Erin McPherson. "What's fascinating about 'Cybergeddon' is it's theatrical in its scope. Everything from production values to the cast to the way we're going to market and promote it is going to be like a big theatrical event."


ABC News, Yahoo expand their Web-content deal

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YouTube's Robert Kyncl charts Internet video's meteoric rise

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: The characters Nick Stokes and Sara Sidle (George Eads, Jorja Fox) from an episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Credit: Monty Brinton / CBS 


ABC and Yahoo form news alliance

ABC-Yahoo news partntership premieres Monday with George Stephanopoulos' interview with President Barack Obama

Yahoo and ABC News have a formed a wide-ranging strategic partnership to share and create content on the popular Web portal.

"It's a game-changing day for us," ABC News President Ben Sherwood said during a conference call detailing the alliance, which was first unveiled on the network's "Good Morning America" program Monday morning.

The two companies said their partnership will "transform the delivery of news and information across the digital landscape." The two companies, who already had an existing relationship, reach over 100 million people online every month, they said. ABC News will be a prominent fixture on Yahoo's home page.

Although the news outlets of ABC and Yahoo will continue to operate separately, both will also work together on news coverage and share bureaus in New York, Los Angeles and Washington. "This relationship will give ABC News an unrivaled ability to reach across the Web, combining Yahoo!'s vast distribution and cutting-edge technology with our award-winning journalism," Sherwood said.

The partnership's first original series, "Newsmakers," will premiere Monday with "Good Morning America" correspondent George Stephanopoulos interviewing President Obama. The program will be streamed live on Yahoo.com and ABCNews.com. Christiane Amanpour will also have a presence in the venture, and "Good Morning America" will be a large component of the partnership.

"To be able to blend these two organizations is the start of something really special," said Ross Levinsohn, executive vice president of Americas at Yahoo.


Yahoo launches original series

Alibaba's Jack Ma says he's 'very interested' in buying Yahoo

-- Joe Flint

Photo: George Stephanopoulos on the set of "Good Morning America" in 2010. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman / For the Times

Yahoo launches original series

Embattled Internet giant Yahoo plans to launch a series of original programs this fall as it seeks to better capitalize on its sizable audience.

Yahoo will debut eight short-form series, starting Oct. 3, which feature such actresses as Judy Greer ("Love & Other Drugs") and Niecy Nash ("Reno 911") and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me"). 

Forthcoming programs include Spurlock's "The Failure Club," a documentary series about conquering the fear of failure; "Let's Talk About Love," a weekly relationship show hosted by Nash, and "Ultimate Proposal," which depicts unusual marriage proposals -- including a prospective groom arriving via parachute -- hosted by "All My Children's" Cameron Mathison.

These new Web series are an extension of Yahoo Executive Vice President Ross Levinsohn's strategy to  bring more premium entertainment to the Internet portal, which is already among the top online destinations in the U.S., attracting about 178 million monthly visitors, according to measurement firm comScore.  

Yahoo has already gained traction with original programming. The company claims its "Prime Time in No Time," a daily video recap of the previous night's prime-time network shows, is among the Web's most viewed original series.

Yahoo also has expressed interest in acquiring Internet television service Hulu, which is owned by News Corp., Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal, the Walt Disney Co. and Providence Equity Partners. Preliminary bids for Hulu were submitted earlier this month.

Yahoo's original content play was first reported by the industry trade publication Variety.


Google Inc. in preliminary talks to buy Hulu

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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Morgan Spurlock. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times.

Apple Inc. in preliminary talks to acquire Hulu

Apple Inc. in preliminary talks to acquire Hulu

Apple Inc. has joined a handful of companies, including its chief rival Google Inc. and online portal Yahoo, in weighing a potential offer for video service Hulu, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed.

The discussions are still in the early stages, said that individual, who requested anonymity because the negotiations are confidential.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said the company would not comment on rumors or speculation. A Hulu spokeswoman similarly declined to comment. The discussions were first reported by Bloomberg News.

Hulu has emerged as one of the leading sites for watching TV shows online, attracting about 28 million monthly visitors, according to measurement firm ComScore. Its media owners, News Corp., Comcast Corp.-owned NBCUniversal and the Walt Disney Co., have opted to put the service up for sale, in part because its success was creating conflicts with existing business arrangements, but also to capitalize on the hot investment climate for technology companies.

The site could fetch a price as high as $2 billion, according to banking estimates.

Hulu offers a radically different proposition to consumers than is available now through Apple's iTunes store, which sells episodes of TV shows for $2.99, and, in some cases, offers a 99-cent rental. Hulu, by contrast, allows viewers the ability to watch current TV shows online for free -- but with advertising included. A subscription service, Hulu Plus, offers a broader selection of programs that can be viewed on more devices for a monthly fee of $7.99.

One media analyst said consumers simply haven't gravitated to Apple's TV rental model.

"The natural model for distributing TV shows is ad-supported or subscription, not on an individual program rental basis, nor even the episodic purchase model," said Arash Amel, IHS Screen Digest's research director for digital media.

"Subscription and advertising is what the TV consumer is familiar with, and any digital platform will have to replicate that model to succeed [in the] mass market," Amel suggested. "That is as true for Apple as it is for any other technology company seeking to provide TV content."


What's next for Hulu?

Hulu rehearses its sales pitch

Google Inc. in preliminary talks to buy Hulu

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Hulu main page image. Credit: Hulu

Google Inc. in preliminary talks to buy Hulu

Google Inc. is in preliminary talks to buy online video pioneer Hulu, people familiar with the situation said.

Hulu has begun meeting with potential buyers including Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. to drum up interest in a sale, said these people, who requested anonymity because the discussions are confidential.

The presentations to the potential suitors are a first step as Hulu's owners weigh whether to sell the site after having received an overture from Yahoo.

Hulu's financial advisors, Morgan Stanley and Guggenheim Partners, set up the meetings with media, technology and communications companies.

The technology heavyweights are seeking to capitalize on the widespread popularity of online video and position themselves to reach the growing number of viewers who watch television shows, movies and short videos on computers, mobile devices and Internet-connected television sets.

Hulu's rights to the current season’s TV shows have drawn interest from Google and Yahoo, in part because these popular programs have attracted more than 600 advertisers -- including such major brands as McDonald's, Johnson & Johnson and Toyota. Indeed, the site expects to bring in $500 million in revenue this year from advertising and proceeds from its Hulu Plus subscription service.

Google, which has had a testy relationship with Hollywood, is making a major push to add professionally produced content to its mix of user-created videos on YouTube. It has hired industry veterans to help the Internet search giant make inroads and strike deals.

Yahoo is crafting its own strategy of bringing more premium content to its popular portal. Microsoft has had success offering access to movie subscription service Netflix Inc., dominant sports cable channel ESPN and the Hulu Plus paid offering to users of its Xbox game consoles.

Key to all three potential suitors are Hulu's licensing deals for popular TV shows such as “Glee,” "Modern Family" and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." The lure of these top-rated programs quickly vaulted the 3-year-old service to among the top destinations for online video, with some 28 million monthly viewers, according to the measurement firm comScore.

Two of the media companies behind the online video service, Walt Disney Co. and News Corp., recently renewed licensing agreements to make Hulu more attractive for a sale. Comcast agreed to give up NBCUniversal’s management control in the venture to get approval for its acquisition of a majority stake in the media conglomerate. Comcast is required to provide programming to Hulu on the same terms as the other owners.

But the new agreements may include provisions that would require users to prove they're paying cable or satellite TV subscribers before they can watch current episodes of shows one day after their initial airing. Otherwise, they would be forced to wait.  The agreements would remain intact if Hulu is sold.

A Hulu spokeswoman declined to comment. A Microsoft spokeswoman could not provide immediate comment. Google and Yahoo could not immediately be reached for comment.

A sale would allow Hulu's media owners to make a graceful exit from a service whose success nonetheless created friction with traditional business partners. Cable and satellite distributors complained about paying for the right to carry programs that Hulu offered free online. A transaction would also enable owner Providence Equity Partners, which put $100 million in the venture, to see returns from its its investment.

Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible said he expects Hulu’s owners to seek the same valuation for Hulu that Netflix commands from investors, about $2 billion. Hulu earlier scrapped an initial public offering that some investment bankers said could have valued the company at more than $2 billion.

Technology companies may be willing to pay a premium to get the kind of original content that draws advertising from major brands, said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

But Arash Amel, research director for digital media for IHS Screen Digest, says he isn’t sure how much of a premium. Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are not buying Hulu’s technology, so they would risk paying through the nose for shows when content deals expire, he said.

“If you had those deals for 10 years, OK, you have time to build a business,” Amel said. “But look at what they are trying to do to Netflix. They help you until you are successful then they want most of what you make or they try to kill you.”

-- Jessica Guynn and Dawn C. Chmielewski


Comcast has to sit on its hands while Hulu drama plays out

What's next for Hulu

 Yahoo approaches Hulu about possible acquisition

Hulu is popular, but that wasn't the goal

Photo: Hulu screenshot showing Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." Credit: Hulu

Yahoo approaches Hulu about possible acquisition [Updated]


Yahoo Inc. recently approached Hulu to discuss a possible acquisition of the popular online video service, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Hulu, which streams television shows on the Internet, has been the subject of intense speculation about its future. The company, whose owners include media giants News Corp., Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp., has been struggling to find a balance between the desires of consumers to watch shows free online and its owners' interest in protecting the value of their programming. Late last year, it launched a paid subscription service to complement its free offerings.

Although there has been interest in the company, it remains unclear whether its owners have any desire to sell. Hulu has not taken any traditional steps associated with a sale such as retaining an investment bank to field offers. However, it is currently undergoing a restructuring that would give Chief Executive Jason Kilar and his executive team greater autonomy while imposing new rules on the availability of television content.

[Update, June 22, 1:46 p.m.: Hulu has put itself up for sale and retained two investment banks.]

On Tuesday afternoon, word of the unsolicited offer spread and was subsequently confirmed by people close to the company. It is not known whether the offer came from Yahoo or another entity. Spokespersons for Yahoo, Hulu, News Corp. and Comcast declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hulu's board of directors has not met to consider any offers, a person close to the board said. The Santa Monica company's board includes executives from News Corp., Disney and Providence Equity.

Comcast, which acquired its stake when it took control of NBC Universal, has no say in the operations of the company. It forfeited NBCUniversal's Hulu board seats and role in management as part of the conditions of government approval of Comcast's acquisition of the entertainment company.

An earlier attempt for Hulu to become an independent, publicly traded company was quashed because the service didn't have long-term rights to stream the broadcast TV shows that have attracted 27 million monthly viewers to the site. Any potential buyer would probably want to secure a long-term commitment to content from the current owners.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the unsolicited offer.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz


Hulu's IPO on hold (for now)

Hulu's owners weigh board shuffle

Hulu is popular, but that wasn't the goal


Photo: Hulu CEO Jason Kilar. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

NetCoalition says it is against Comcast-NBC Universal deal, but that doesn't mean Google is too

Google coming out against the Comcast-NBC Universal deal is a sexy story. It's just not true.

NetCoalition, a Washington-based public interest group, was getting headlines Monday for its announcement that it is joining the Coalition for Competition in Media in opposing Comcast Corp.'s deal to take a controlling stake in General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.

"We are concerned this merger will create a vertically and horizontally integrated media behemoth that will smother competition, diminish choice and reduce broadband network investment, all while raising prices for consumers," said Markham Erickson, executive director and general counsel of NetCoalition.

That yet another organization has come out against the merger of the nation's largest cable and broadband provider with a programming giant is hardly big news. But in its release, NetCoalition notes that it serves as the "public policy voice for the nation's leading Internet companies," including Amazon.com, Bloomberg LP, EBay, Google, Wikipedia and Yahoo!.

The implication from that sentence is clear. Google, the giant of the Internet, is against the deal. Indeed, the stories on the NetCoalition announcement from The Hill, an influential Washington news source, and AdWeek both play up Google's involvement in the coalition.

The only problem is Google has not come out against the deal. A spokeswoman for the search giant and YouTube parent said it does not have a position on the merger. Google has not filed comments with the FCC either in support or in opposition to the deal. Yahoo has also not officially weighed in at the FCC, and a person familiar with the situation said the company was surprised to find itself mentioned in the NetCoalition release. A Yahoo spokesperson did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Amazon and EBay have also steered clear of the regulatory fight over the merger. However, Bloomberg, the business-media giant, does have issues, as it fears NBC's business channel, CNBC, will have an unfair advantage once it is owned by Comcast.

Google may in fact have issues with the deal, but if it does, it is dealing with them privately, as is Yahoo. A spokeswoman for NetCoalition referred inquiries about the release to Erickson, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Comcast dismissed the release saying, "It's been almost a full year since the transaction was announced, and today one coalition funded by a small set of merger opponents is joining another lobbying coalition funded and run by those same merger opponents."

-- Joe Flint


Federal appeals court tosses out method for calculating music streaming royalties

In a ruling that has the potential to affect many websites that stream music, a federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out a lower court's method for determining music royalties, saying the calculations were flawed.

ASCAP Logo The case involves a dispute over how much Yahoo Inc. and RealNetworks Inc. should have to pay the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in royalties for the ability to stream music on their websites. ASCAP collects performance royalties on behalf of songwriters from radio stations and other businesses that play music and then distributes the payments to the artists.

Though the case directly concerns Yahoo and RealNetworks, its outcome could affect how much numerous sites and online services -- including AOL, YouTube, Pandora, Slacker Radio and MOG -- pay for the right to stream music, said Jon Potter, a principal at RPG Strategies, a digital media consulting firm in Bethesda, Md.

“This will absolutely impact the royalty rates for all Internet radio companies and music streaming companies, as well as companies streaming any type of media with a musical component, including videos and games,” Potter said.

At issue is a district court’s decision in 2008 to set a 2.5% royalty rate for millions of songs owned by the 390,000 songwriters represented by ASCAP. RealNetworks and, in particular, Yahoo argued that the calculation was excessive.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit sided with Yahoo, concluding that the lower court’s method for setting royalties was “unreasonable” and “imprecise” because it overstated how much the sites benefited from having streaming music in various areas of the sites, the judges wrote in the ruling.

The appeals court faulted the lower court’s “inclination to lump all of Yahoo’s varying musical uses together, instead of looking into the nature and scope of Yahoo’s different types of uses.” On-demand music streaming, the court noted as an example, would have a revenue stream different from that of music that plays in the background of a video.

The ruling directed the lower court to come up with a new and fairer method for determining royalty payments.

Though Yahoo exited the music streaming business in 2008 when it handed that function of its site to CBS Radio, the case involves tens of millions of dollars in potential back royalty payments from Yahoo, Potter said. Overall, ASCAP stands to collect hundreds of millions of dollars more, depending on the outcome on the case.

Yahoo, in a statement, said it was “pleased with the court’s decision and looks forward to the establishment of a truly reasonable royalty license rate that properly accounts for music use on its services.”

RealNetworks shared Yahoo's sentiment, saying in a statement, "We believe the guidelines set forth in this decision will help establish more fair and reasonable royalty rates for Internet music providers."

ASCAP issued the following statement: "We anticipate that in the end, the proceeding will result in a fair and favorable license fee to be paid by commercial online services for the valuable intellectual property they use to sustain their businesses -- the music created and owned by the songwriters, composers and music publishers ASCAP represents."

-- Alex Pham


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