Post-Hack, Sony should rebrand its film division as Columbia

Retro Columbia Pictures Logo

There’s been so much written about Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) since its servers were hacked in November, 2014. As a lot of private information, including emails and full copies of unreleased movies were made public without permission. It has been a PR nightmare for the company in many ways, with calls for executives to lose their jobs, amongst other things.

The SPE brand, and actually the entire Sony brand is currently in trouble. As a result, Sony could drop its name from its film and TV entertainment properties and rebrand under the name of its flagship film studio, Columbia Pictures.

Now Sony, a Japanese company who’s primary business is home electronics, has gone the opposite way in recent branding. For the past few years, the Sony logo has appeared before the logos of its multiple film & TV brands, including Tri-Star, Castle Rock and of course Columbia. This same approach has been used in promoting Sony’s PlayStation video game consoles. The term for finding new places for a company to plaster their logo everywhere, coined by writer Paul Lukas is “logo creep“.

That is way too much Sony in Sony’s branding.

A few years ago, one company that failed to rebrand when there was a crisis was BP. After the BP oil spill, the company could have renamed it US business to the previous name, AMOCO or something else. As much as BP keeps its name and logo, they will continue to be known as “The Oil Spill People”, no matter what good they’re claiming to do.

Sony Pictures Entertainment can start the rebuilding of its brand as simple as becoming Columbia, and downplay its Sony corporate ownership.

Different approaches to streaming live concert video

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One great thing about broadband video is that programming can exist for niche audiences.  These are shows that might not have a big enough audience to air on broadcast or cable TV.  However, they have fanbases passionate enough to pay for them.

Live video of concerts are a perfect format for the Internet.  Fans now have the opportunity to watch a concert that they might have been shut out for tickets or taking place in another town, in their own living room.  This sensation is commonly known by live music fan as “couch tour”, and there’s a few companies currently getting in on the action.

1. Nugs.net This is a company who’s primary product is audio recordings of live concerts.  Their existing relationships with live acts, big and small has led to live webcasts of concerts.  Since Nugs.nets offers audio downloads of concerts, they can sell the live video stream and audio of the concert in a package deal.

2. Tourgigs Based in Austin, TX, a music/tech hotbed centered around the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music and tech conferences, Tourgigs offers the option to own concert video after the fact, besides showing it live.  Tourgigs also boasts Roku access, unlike Nugs.net.

3. Live Nation/Yahoo Being the largest concert promoter and venue owner in the US, Live Nation has the most cloud on this list, and could possibly acquire one or all of these music startups.  Live Nation has been streaming free webcasts of major artist through the Yahoo Screen service.

4. Qello Unlike the other services mentioned, Qello is a service that shows previously recorded concerts and documentaries.  It is essentially a Netflix for live music.

5. YouTube The top video site in the world streams live concert videos, particulatly festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella.  YouTube also has a plethora of live concert footage, recorded professionally and by amateurs.  This may include video that is up there without permission from copyright holders and could be removed at any moment.

Live streams of concerts are (still) in its infancy, with room for tremendous growth.  As the services listed above, as well as others not included in this list (and those which do not yet exist), the “couch tour” experience will continue to improve.

Does the Fall TV season still matter?

Fall TV

This question has been going through my head for the past few months, as a new TV season has begun.  Just like every year that I remember, the broadcast television networks brought back many of their biggest shows for their season premieres.  Also, new series debuted with the hopes of becoming big hits on their own.  Many of those new shows get cancelled while others live on to “maybe” to become a big hit, lasting numerous seasons and making stars of its cast.

However, as time goes on, competitors to the TV season have emerged in numerous places, to the point that the fall season is increasingly losing significance.  There are other times of the year/ways to watch television that are increasingly competing with the status quo.  Here are some examples.

1. Netflix/Hulu/Amazon: Their original programs tend to premiere outside of the Fall window.  “House of Cards” seasons have launched in February.  “Orange is the New Black” premieres during the summer.  Amazon has been an exception, with its original shows like “Transparent” going live in the fall.  Outside of their constant new programming, these services have entire runs of series that are no longer on the air, but were huge successes.  Why watch a new series on CBS when Netflix has every episode of “Lost” or “Breaking Bad”?

2. Cable: Speaking of “Breaking Bad”, AMC will bring its spinoff “Better Call Saul” to air in February.  The cable networks have year-round launches for new shows.  HBO has some of its biggest hits like “Game of Thrones” and “Girls” premiering early in the year.

3. The increasing role of the “midseason replacement”.  NBC programs its spring schedule around the fact that “Sunday Night Football” only happens in the fall.  Fox only airs “American Idol” (which spent most of the 2000’s as the highest rated show on TV) in the spring.  No longer is the cream of the crop of broadcast offerings reserved for just the fall.

4. Cat videos, and other non-“TV” video entertainment.
Autumn is still an important time for the entire commercial world to begin, especially with the school year (and major ad campaigns targeting the back to school crowd) starting.  However, it is only one venue now to launch new and returning TV shows.

In light of “Too Many Cooks”, how viable is a sitcom today?

If you haven’t seen the sitcom parody “Too Many Cooks”, watch it now. Be warned, it is eleven minutes long.

One of the observations that I had from this video (which I personally found to be funny), was a reminder of how less relevant the 30 minute TV comedy has been in the past decade. The last super mega comedy to air on TV was “Friends”, ending in 2004, ten years before “Too Many Cooks” aired.

In the decade since, TV comedy has become segmented. The biggest “hits” have mainly been on CBS, like “Two and a Half Men”, “The Big Bang Theory” and the recently ended “How I Met Your Mother”. CBS has a business model different from their broadcast TV competition, as their goal is to get the largest audience altogether, and not just winning a specific age demographic.

There were also shows like “The Office”, “30 Rock” and “My Name is Earl” on NBC, one camera comedies that were critically acclaimed, yet did not have much of a big office. Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” fits that mold (it’s run by a bunch of people that worked on “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation”), where the show was saved by its surprise 2014 Golden Globe wins. ABC, through the success of “Modern Family”, has been lucky to have a comedy hit, even though it’s far from the network’s heyday of “Home Improvement” and the TGIF lineup on Friday nights.

A hit sitcom is the holy grail for the studios and production companies that make them, particularly for the rerun rights. A show that can air 5 nights a week in syndication is money. A hit show is even more valuable. The cast of “Seinfeld” never have to work again, because the show’s still popular in syndication 16 years after the final episode aired. I personally believe that Seinfeld’s success actually hurt the development of sitcoms for years, due to how it was so different from the norm at the time, and changed viewer interests.

So, back to my question of the state of sitcoms in the light of “Too Many Cooks”. There will probably never be another comedy (or scripted TV show) that captures the entire nation/world at once. With so many entertainment options, including cable TV and the endless video online, there will still be hits, but there just may be Too Many Comedies to watch them all.

FCC just might let Aereo be a cable company after all (if they don’t go out of business first).

Aereo

As I have previously written, I was an Aereo subscriber until a number of court rulings led it to shut down, at least temporarily. However, the FCC is considering rule changes to allow Aereo, and other online providers of broadcast channels to legally exist. The saga known as Aereo currently stands as follows:

1. Aereo was determined to be breaking the law by transmitting broadcast TV signals to paying customers without permission of those broadcasters. The Supreme Court ruled that Aereo was acting like a cable company, providing TV channels to subscribers for a fee.

2. A number of lower courts ruled that Aereo could not legally be a cable company, because they didn’t provide actual cable wire or satellite in customers homes.

The rules and laws that currently answer the question “What is a cable company?” are clearly in the favor of the status quo cable/satellite/telco companies that don’t want to lose their legacy subsciption businesses.

The success of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. has shown there is a market for “TV” available online. With Dish Network negotiating to launch a digital “cable” service (and enduring negotiation issues with Turner over some rights), it may become a reality soon.

With Aereo laying off employees, including their entire Boston-based staff, they may not neccesarily still exist by the time they become legal, but digital multichannel video services may soon, legally become a reality.

Amazon’s “Transparent” shows that “Binge Watching” works.

Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent”

How much of “Transparent”‘s success is due to Amazon’s decision to release it’s first season’s episodes in a Netflix-like “binge watching” approach?  Based on results, the approach works.  The entire season was released on September 26, 2014 and already renewed for a second season on October 9th, less than two weeks later.

This is clearly a reflection of Netflix, who has released its entire seasons of original shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” at one time.  A year ago, Amazon’s first two original series, “Betas” and “Alpha House” were released in the more traditional manner of one new episode debuting each week.  It took Amazon a few months from the premiere until the announcements to renew or cancel.  “Alpha House” was given a second season while “Betas” was cancelled.

Amazon has announced that Season 2 of “Alpha House” will be released all at once, unlike it’s first year of episodes.

Amazon, Netflix and other services like Hulu are in the infancy of releasing studio quality “Television” shows on their online services.  They are still fine tuning how this process works, from the time of year to release new shows and the choice between coming out with the entire batch of shows at once or releasing them on a weekly basis.  Hulu has taken the weekly approach with “The Awesomes”, an animated superhero parody led by Seth Meyers, and featuring the voices of Meyers and other comedians from the SNL / NBC / Lorne Michaels camp.  The show has completed two seasons, with a third on the way.  However, its buzz is quite weak compared to the successes on Netflix, Amazon and traditional TV shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad”.

Obviously, the entire season can’t be released for everything.  Chelsea Handler’s new late night series for Netflix will likely be topical, and wouldn’t make sense to release more than one episode of a time.  However, for most traditional TV formats debuting on an online VOD service, the entire season approach has seen the most success.

This is where cord cutters will (probably) watch the Stephen Colbert Late Show (not Hulu).

Stephen Colbert on the Late Show with David Letterman

One of the biggest questions about Stephen Colbert’s move to CBS has likely been answered, with the network’s announcement of a new online service.

“Will the Late Show, hosted by Stephen Colbert, be on Hulu on another digital service for set top boxes like Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, etc.?”

The answer is likely not Hulu, but probably the new CBS All Access.  This $5.99/month package will feature new and past episodes of current and former CBS programming.  It will also include live streams of it’s local Owned and Operated CBS stations in markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other big cities.  The one thing that it won’t have at launch will be live NFL games.  While it is launching on PCs and mobile, set top box support will follow.

What the press release didn’t mention was Colbert.  My guess, is since CBS will own the show (compared to Letterman, who’s Worldwide Pants company owned his show and the Late Late Show), and will not have licensing problems to put Colbert on its online pay service.

Colbert is probably going to be a big selling point for this new service, as his current show, “The Colbert Report”, is on Hulu Plus, along with virtually all late night talk shows that are not on CBS.  I have long argued that there would be a backlash if the Colbert Late Show is not widely available online at launch.  This is not merely being available on the CBS website, but also on mobile devices and set top boxes like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

Sports Media: Not just ESPN anymore

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I used to constantly complain about ESPN.  They are the (self proclaimed) Worldwide Leader in Sports, and they’re telling the truth.  I actually took an entire year off from watching any ESPN content, back in 2011, and have watched less ever since.

The good news is that ESPN now has competition.  The bad news is that they’re not close to matching and beating the Worldwide Leader yet.  The good news is that they are primed for growth.  Here are the existing players, and my take on them.

1. NBC Sports Network (Formerly OLN/Versus).  They have the NHL, and little more.  They desperately needed to get either MLB or the NFL in their last contract negotiations, and failed.  They reportedly lost out on NBA in 2016, but its not the best fit for them, despite nostalgia for John Tesh’s “NBA on NBC” theme.  Shockingly, they haven’t produced a Sportscenter-like daily highlights show.  Instead, it’s all about English Premier League soccer (which they have gotten positive reviews for), Tour de France and smaller conference college football and basketball.

2. Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports 2.  They got the MLB package (baked into Fox’s already existing national broadcast and regional cable relationships with the league), which is a huge start.  Add to that a nightly sports highlight show anchored by a team they poached from Canada, and a simulcast of NY radio host Mike Francesa during the afternoons, and they’re off to a good start.

3. CBS Sports Network (Formerly CSTV/CBS College Sports).  This entity is surprisingly profitable despite having no major live pro/college games.  They mainly have shoulder programming about CBS’ broadcast properties: the NFL and college football/basketball.  Most of their college games are overflow from ESPN, NBC and Fox’s contracts.  This approach makes this network available in fewer cable households, but it gives CBS an expanded presence.

There are also the league-owned networks; NFL Network, MLB Network, NHL Network and NBA TV which do a good job focusing on their leagues for those who want to pay extra.

These networks have shown that sports media continues to expand beyond ESPN.

One year without Current TV

Original Current TV Logo

Current TV would definitely be discussed in the classes that I teach.

The original format of Current TV is my all time favorite concept for a cable network.  Its 4-5 years on air were something special.  It is heartbreaking, at least to me that it is no longer on the air.

The network, which launched in 2005, was owned by Al Gore (who you all know) and a guy named Joel Hyatt (who you probably don’t know).  Instead of traditional programming, it showed what they liked to call “pods”.  They were short news documentary pieces produced by not only their in house staff, but also by viewers.  If a viewer got their video on the network, they were paid a minimum of $500.

Like many cable networks, especially those not owned by a big media company with a lot of other channels to its name, it had trouble getting distribution.  Cablevision never carried it.  (I even created a “Get Current TV on Cablevision” group on Facebook, since I was so passionate about it).

In 2009, Current changed its format to more of a traditional news channel, anchored by Keith Olbermann.  It was the beginning of the end.  Olbermann didn’t last a year.

Current was eventually sold to Al Jazeera, using its assets to start Al Jazeera America.  Part of that is an online network called AJ+, based out of Current’s former San Francisco office.

The original format of Current TV was brilliant.  I was surprised that it never was duplicated.

If Fox buys Time Warner…

I don’t know how real the prospect of Fox (through its year old post-News Corp split parent company 21st Century Fox) is, but its quite intriguing.

Here, in 2014, there are a small number of companies that own a lot of (traditional) media properties.  They are:

Comcast (owner of NBC Universal)
Viacom
CBS Corporation (spun off from Viacom)
Disney
News Corporation
21st Century Fox (spun off from News Corp.)
Time Warner

That is only seven companies, or 5 if you consider the pairs of Viacom/CBS and News/Fox as single entities due to the same ownership.  The Big 5 can go down to 4, if a Fox/Time Warner deal actually happens.

This is very dangerous for many reasons.  I may share those reasons in depth over time, if  I feel like it.  However, it is very simple.  The few major companies that control much of the media may become fewer…