Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Dawn Chmielewski

Google in preliminary talks to buy online video site Hulu

Hulu on WebOS 3.0

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 subscription and ad revenue this year.

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.

Read more of our post on Company Town.

RELATED:

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

What's next for Hulu

Yahoo approaches Hulu about possible acquisition

-- Jessica Guynn and Dawn C. Chmielewski

Image: Hulu's website, Hulu.com, on an HP TouchPad. Credit: Hulu/Hewlett-Packard

Hulu is up for sale

HuluPlusApponiPad

Hulu is putting itself up for sale after all, The Times has learned.

Yahoo recently approached Hulu about the prospect of a purchase deal, but as Times reporters Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz noted earlier, there was some question as to whether the Internet TV- and movie-streaming service wanted to be bought.

Now there's an answer, as Chmielewski, Fritz and their colleague Meg James reported on our sister blog Company Town, Hulu is putting itself up for sale and has gone as far as to retain investment banks to get a deal done.

From Company Town:

The popular online television site, which has been the cause of much consternation in Hollywood, has retained investment banks Guggenheim Partners and Morgan Stanley to facilitate a potential sale, according to people familiar with the matter. Prospective bidders have received notice that the sales process would begin in about two weeks.

The news comes a day after it was revealed that Hulu had received an unsolicited acquisition offer and that Web portal Yahoo has expressed interest in potentially acquiring it. Yahoo has not yet made a formal bid, said a person with knowledge of the situation.

By signing up the investment banks, however, Hulu is making clear that it is not just on the receiving end of interest. Rather, its owners -- News Corp., Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal parent Comcast Corp. and Providence Equity  -- are seeking to exit the company three years after it launched.

One matter still unclear would be just how much Hulu would be willing to be sold for. The company, which is on the path to running as an independent entity despite being a joint venture between the major media firms named above, is an attempt by TV makers to tap into the value of their content on the Web -- and a bit of a Netflix challenger.

For more on this development in Hulu's business, and what's known of interested bidders so far, read the full Company Town report.

RELATED:

Yahoo looks into buying Hulu, but is Hulu for sale?

Yahoo buys IntoNow, maker of TV "check-in" app for iOS devices

Amazon adds streaming video to Prime subscriptions in a bid to rival Netflix, Hulu

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screenshot of Hulu's iPad app. Credit: Hulu /Apple

Yahoo looks into buying Hulu, but is Hulu for sale?

Hulu on iPad

Yahoo recently approached Hulu about possibly buying the online TV and movie service, according to reports.

The potential takeover talks were unsolicited by Hulu and it isn't clear whether the streaming video service is looking to be bought, The Times' Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz said in a report on our sister blog, Company Town.

From Chmielewski and Fritz:

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.

Word of the talks spread on Tuesday afternoon and was confirmed to Company Town by people close to the companies.

To read more about the talks between the two tech companies, head over to Chmielewski and Fritz's report, "Yahoo approaches Hulu about possible acquisition."

RELATED:

Google buys SageTV in move to beef up Google TV

Yahoo buys IntoNow, maker of TV 'check-in' app for iOS devices

Amazon adds streaming video to Prime subscriptions in a bid to rival Netflix, Hulu

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: The Hulu Plus app for the Apple iPad. Credit: Hulu / Apple

Yahoo close to hiring Levinsohn as head of U.S. operations

Former Fox Interactive Media President Ross Levinsohn is in negotiations with Yahoo to replace Hilary Schneider as head of U.S. operations and is close to taking the job, a person familiar with the situation confirmed.

The news was first reported by All Things D's Kara Swisher.

Levinsohn, who probably will remain in Los Angeles if he takes the job, declined to comment. A Yahoo spokeswoman also declined to comment.

Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz is under pressure to revive lagging confidence that Yahoo can recapture its former Internet glory in the wake of several executive departures. Bringing in a deeply experienced and savvy digital media deal maker and executive to oversee its media properties and advertising sales force could give Yahoo's confidence a boost.

Levinsohn is currently an investor at Fuse Capital in Los Angeles. It invests in digital media and communications start-ups.

But he became well known for running digital operations for News Corp.'s FIM unit. He pushed to buy MySpace, at the time a rising Internet star, and struck a lucrative search advertising deal with Google. After leaving News Corp., he teamed up with former AOL chief Jonathan Miller in an investment firm, Velocity Capital. Miller is now chief digital officer of News Corp.

-- Jessica Guynn and Dawn Chmielewski

Disney joins rush to embrace Apple's iPad

Jobs-ipad When Walt Disney chief Bob Iger attended Apple Inc.'s unveiling of the new iPad two weeks ago in San Francisco, it seemed only a matter of time before content deals were announced.

Iger told Wall Street investors during Disney's earnings call Tuesday that the Burbank entertainment conglomerate plans to develop casual games and other forms of entertainment for the portable device, including digital books and a new and improved version of ESPN's ScoreCenter app on the iPhone, which provides real-time sores for more than 500 sports leagues around the world. 

"We find that the iPad has a lot of potential," Iger said. "We think it's a really compelling device. We think it could be a game-changer in terms of enabling us to create essentially new forms of content."

The iPad is a tablet-style computer that can display movies and television shows and Web videos, playing video games as well as books and newspapers. Iger said the quality of the 10-inch screen and its wireless Internet access open the door to a different kind of content than would be found on a computer or Internet-connected TV. Its speedier processor make it a more technically robust development platform than even the iPhone, he said.

Fans of an ABC program like "Lost" would be able to do more than merely watch the show on the iPad, Iger noted, and a new digital books initiative from Disney's Publishing Group could incorporate features such as singalong songs or simple animations.

"ESPN ScoreCenter, which is a great app on the iPhone and provides relatively rudimentary information scores basically," Iger said. "Suddenly we have an opportunity with a platform where you can make the scores come to life. We’re thinking about it in those terms."

Disney was the first of the major studios to sell television shows through Apple's iTunes store.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Apple Inc. CEO and Disney shareholder Steve Jobs announces the new iPad as he speaks during an Apple Special Event on Jan. 27 in San Francisco. (Credit: Ryan Anson / AFP/Getty Images)

Women mock the iPad, calling it iTampon

ITampon Are there too many men in Apple's marketing department?

That's what droves of women on Twitter and other social sites are wondering as they consider the name of Steve Jobs' new lust object, the iPad. The moniker comes uncomfortably close to those cheesy commercials touting the light 'n breezy features of feminine hygiene products.

The mocking goes along the lines of: Yes, the iPad is small, lightweight and slim. But can you swim with it?

Don't take our word for it.  Just take a look at Twitter, Tumblr or any number of other social blabbing sites and search #iTampon. It's outpacing #iPad itself as one of the most popular topics.

For mock photos, you can also go here or here.

Some are wondering whether the guys at Apple may have gotten their idea from an old MadTV spoof from 2006, which asks, "Why use the Maxi Pad when you can use the new iPad from Apple?" (Note before you watch: The video is on the raunchy side.) Messages to Apple were not immediately returned.

To get an idea of what people are saying, click on the Continue Reading link below. (Note: Some of the comments may not be viewed as tasteful, so read at your peril!)

Continue reading »

CES: DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg arrives, in shades, to welcome 3-D TV

Katzenberg
DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg wears 3-D glasses during a Samsung media event at the Consumer Electronics Show at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nev. Dreamworks, Technicolor and Samsung announced they had formed a partnership to offer 3-D in-home entertainment. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images.
Samsung Electronics America launched its new line of 3-D televisions, Blu-ray players, glasses and home theater systems with a little bit of Hollywood sizzle.

DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg took the stage today, before the official start of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, to announce that the studio would release "Monsters vs. Aliens" as a 3-D Blu-ray disc in an exclusive promotion with Samsung. The disc will be created by Technicolor.

Katzenberg said theater audiences have already embraced this new way of watching films, with four of the 10 films released in 3-D ranking among the top movies at the box office.

"With 3-D, we give them the feeling of being immersed in the stories and characters," Katzenberg said.

The new televisions and players that can lift these images off the screen will bring this experience to audiences in their homes, he said. Katzenberg is hoping that audiences will agree with his pronouncement, as he and Technicolor CEO Frederic Rose took the stage wearing 3-D glasses at the annual geek fest

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

CES: Toshiba goes all 3-D, all the time

CELL TV Photo Bucking the trend of falling TV prices, Toshiba today announced a new line -- Cell TV -- with a super-fast processor now used in the Sony PS3 game console.

This is the first announced use of the Cell chip in a TV. "Toshiba missed out on HD DVD -- which got beat out by Blu-ray -- but that gave them the first shot at defining the future of TV," said obviously enthusiastic analyst Richard Doherty, head of the Envisioneering Group, after the Toshiba press conference.

This future will likely be expensive, however. Toshiba did not announce prices for sets but was not shy in saying they would come at a premium. "We don't have to rush to the bottom," said Scott Ramirez, vice president of marketing for the company. 

The Cell's added power will support numerous enhancements, including a feature that will supposedly take any 2-D show and present it in 3-D when the viewer chooses. But it's not magic -- it will still require the use of 3-D glasses. Toshiba will be using powered, active shutter glasses that carry the highest price tag of any such specs. Yoshiaki Uchiyama, Toshiba senior vice president, said the top line of Cell TVs will come bundled with the glasses; otherwise, they will be à la carte.

Another feature of the Cell -- video calls on the set, with "crystal-clear images, even on a TV as big as 55-inches (although the this feature was not demonstrated at the press conference).

The Cell will also have built-in wireless networking, so  sets can connect to home networks without snaking more cables into living rooms. That will eliminate the need for separate, Internet-connected devices to view services such as Facebook, CinemaNow or Flckr from sofas.

But will Cell sell? Stay tuned.

-- David Colker and Dawn Chmielewski

Photo: Cell TV, from a new line of TVs from Toshiba due out in the fall. It was introduced today at CES. Credit: Toshiba

William Morris digital chief to head Davie Brown Entertainment

Lewis Henderson
New Davie Brown Entertainment CEO Lewis Henderson. Credit: William Morris Agency.

The former head of William Morris Agency's digital practice has been named chief executive of Davie Brown Entertainment, an entertainment marketing firm.

Lewis Henderson, who built digital businesses on behalf of William Morris' clients in film, television, music and sports, will seek to expand the Davie Brown's offerings to include digital marketing and entertainment strategy.

He succeeds James Davie, who co-founded the agency in 1985 and retires later this year.

While at William Morris, Henderson consulted with tech companies looking to create relationships within Hollywood. He also helped William Morris' clients create online content.

He most recently worked with Habbo to bring "American Idol" and NBC's "Heroes" shows to the online virtual world for tweens. 

Before the launch of William Morris Digital in 2006, Henderson co-founded the agency's corporate consulting business, where he advised such brands as Nokia, Pfizer, 24 Hour Fitness and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Warner Music vs. YouTube casualties include a banjo-playing 'Star Wars' fan*

A couple of years ago in a galaxy very, very nearby (OK, it's this one), a Web developer who does contract work for the U.S. Air Force filmed himself playing the "Star Wars" theme song on his banjo.

The banjo player, Will Chatham, from Asheville, N.C., posted the video to YouTube. It amassed 1.5 million hits, 8,000 comments, numerous blog-post references and an offer to play a gig at Lucasfilm's 30th anniversary "Star Wars" party. Oh, plus one notice of copyright infringement.

The notice landed last week, making Chatham one of many casualties of the falling out between Warner Music Group and YouTube. It began last month with music videos from such major acts as Linkin Park and rapper T.I. disappearing from the video portal, then quickly escalated.

Warner, it appears, didn't even warn some of its own bands before pulling clips. Social news website Reddit pointed out that pop rockers Death Cab for Cutie were left with egg on their faces, when links on the band's website began pointing to copyright-infringement notices on YouTube instead of the music videos that once stood in their place. The band's webmaster has since removed the links.

Chatham, who plays in a bluegrass group called the Whappers (no, they're not signed to Warner), is fighting back. Since receiving the e-mail from YouTube regarding Warner's claim, Chatham has filled out copyright counterclaim papers. If Warner doesn't respond within 10 days, YouTube may put the banjo video back online, according to a YouTube support page.

He says he can't understand how the innocent clip of him playing his cover version on a couch -- a video that was once chosen by YouTube to be featured on its home page -- could be illegal.

"It's me just sitting there, playing on my banjo," he said. "If someone actually stopped and looked at it, they would be like, Oh, well, that's just some guy being silly."

Neither Warner, nor the company's lawyer, nor YouTube would ...

Continue reading »
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