Welcome to Sudden-Death Overtime. The steel cage match that was Microsoft vs. Yahoo! was such a nail-biter that it took until Saturday before we had our denouement; and what a tale it was. The Democratic primary continues to be at loggerheads -- we'll see if Thursday brings any clarity. And while we're in the midst of a recession (confirms Warren Buffett) last week saw many brightspots: Iron Man did $201M world-wide (!) for its opening weekend; Grand Theft Auto IV failed to disappoint, and Viacom was largely saved by its Rock Star, not any particular MTV or VH1 personality, but the game. After a naval gazing slash introspection slash denial, it seems that we're ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a raft of NEXTS: platform distribution, standards, monetizing content and beyond.
Three months after tendering its initial offer, Microsoft failed to reach terms with Yahoo! Rather than pursue a hostile takeover, Steve Ballmer withdrew MSFT's offer on Saturday. Here's a timeline of the two companies, taking us from '97 to the present. Since we're living in a transparent age, (in this regard) Ballmer's letter to Yang was made public. The Wall Street Journal's Deal Blog dissects it line by line; it does little to change Ballmer's perception as an ogre. In Yang's letter to his constituency he refers to the deal as "unsolicited" and a "distraction." Forbes wonders -- afterall it was only $4/share that separated the two - if Ballmer's hubris killed the deal. Now comes more idle speculation. PaidContent pontificates on where MSFT might park its $50B war chest. Some believe that this bad end puts Yang on notice, while others are certain that it's last call for Ballmer (TechCrunch has a poll). Venture capitalist Fred Wilson has created a futures market for Yahoo!'s stock market close today. Who are the winners in this corporate M&A misfire? Google and, perhaps AOL, who might find itself the belle of the ball, vying for the affections of both MSFT and Yahoo! Finally, the Times Online thinks that it ain't over until it's over.
Make It Work: Online Video
There was something in the air last week. On Tuesday, the JackMyers Networking Breakfast: The Future of Media and Entertainment brought together content creators Dina Kaplan of blip.tv and Albie Hecht of Worldwide Biggies (our interview with Kaplan and Hecht is here); Carat CEO Sarah Fay; Shane Steele, former head of Interactive Marketing for Coca-Cola and now a consultant; and Jack Haber, Colgate Palmolive's VP for Global Advertising and e-Business. Ed Martin covered the proceedings. Researcher Jenny Pearson posted from a somewhat more quantitative perspective. Moderator Jack Myers had some afterthoughts. I had some observations as well. On the left coast, the Economics of Social Media conference similarly explored the Future of Online Video with a roster including Google, MTV, Revision3, and Veoh. Ben Silverman told TVWeek that the future of broadcast would be "event-driven" and that in the fall NBC would be experimenting: Its Aussie import Kath & Kim would take TV viewers to the Web for the last scene. We'll see how that flies! ShineReveille (yes, Silverman's ex-shingle) merged with Goldman Sachs' Media Rights Capital, making it the largest distributor of independently produced TV content. MySpaceTV announced that they were rolling out 12 pilots. Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times performs a eulogy and waxes nostalgic for the Upfronts, while Multichannel News recognizes that it's cable's time to shine. (BusinessWeek's a bit more pessimistic, reporting that cable's costs are spiraling as it competes.) Brian Stelter, the TVNewser cum Times' Decoder, tracks doings around the still-stealth Viacom pay network. With GemStar gobbling up Macrovision - w(h)ither TVGuide? Nikke Finke is certain that they are being gutted, while paidContent shows a bit more restraint. Apple announced a gamechanger: It struck agreements with the six major studios to release their feature films on iTunes the same day as their DVD window release. Silicon Alley Insider remarks that there's simply no upside for MGM to remain above the fray. The titles will be sold for $14.99, while it's rumored that Apple is paying the studios $16 a copy. Can you say loss leader? Regardless, the LA Times details how this is a tipping point for Hollywood movie distribution. Apple TV has certainly spurred innovation: The Times has a chat with a professor from MIT's Sloan School of Management who thinks that the engame is consolidating your hardware into one box, a WiiDVDCablePVR, if you will. Is Sezmi the answer to his prayers? Rafat Ali of paidContent takes a test drive. Certainly, the long awaited HomeGrid Forum standards between Intel, Infineon, Texas Instruments, and Panasonic are crucial in getting us to that "Last Mile." Of course, TechDirt's Michael Masnick reminds us that many folks are already combining BitTorrent and RSS feeds to get their content; broadcasters need to embrace P2P!
Gaming Blows Up
Gaming continues to emerge as a leading entertainment platform. For those of you who will never see the inside of Grand Theft Autos I-IV, The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff has a guided tour of the byzantine game. GTA's parent Take Two is still enmeshed in E-A's hostile takeover scheme; its stock dip seems to indicate that stockholders welcome E-A. Viacom's Rock Band shipped 3 million copies and trumpeted 10 million downloaded songs. While it seems that the game's success literally enables Viacom to wager that $100M on its new network, a poster on Silicon Alley Insider has this insightful observation: "There's more content available than any other game of its kind, and it's actually reasonably priced. Add to that the fact that you can now purchase entire albums in rock band form, and that some bands will be debuting their albums exclusively on rock band before any other medium Viacom is going to be rock and rolling in dollars. RIAA, take note, this is how to compete with free."
The Price of Music
Speaking of the RIAA, the trade organization lost a landmark case: Atlantic v. Howell. Finding: Making songs available on a file-sharing network did not, in and of itself, constitute infringement. That hasn't stopped it from stepping up takedown letters at a University near you. ASCAP, RIAA's brother-in-arms, had a better week, winning a rate judgment against AOL, Real Networks, and Yahoo; the cost of streaming music on the Web just went up. The XM-Sirius deadline has again been postponed, this time to May 15th.
Mobile Enters Adolescence
AT&T announced a mobile TV deal with MediaFLO. PaidContent thinks it's DOA. Adobe launches its Open Screen initiative, recognizing that it's going to have to provide Flash for the 3G iPhone. A resurrected Nokia is tapping into crowdsourcing -- it allowed its users to iterate Sport Tracker, which has since been downloaded 1 million times. What conversation is complete without an iPhone rumor? A $199 AT&T subsidy. BusinessWeek has a slightly different take than the Times.
A meeting of the American Association of Advertising Agencies kicked off a flurry of activity in the ad space. Nielsen had two announcements: the launch of its Digital Strategic Services - ostensibly to "protect" brand reputations online - monitor, yes, but protect? It also debuted Total Web, a metric that combined PC + mobile. ABC said that it was going to run more ad spots online. Hearst-Argyle's Boston's WCVB began testing Backchannelmedia's interactive TV platform. Google TV Ads went live. Cox purchased Adify for $300M. ComScore emerged unscathed from the Google debacle with a 35% increase in revenues.
Taking the Risk; Knowing When To Cash Out
SAG and AMPTP are taking a time out until Wednesday. Nikke Finke thinks that the studios are prepared to wait it out until mid-July. As we head into the Indiana and North Carolina primaries tomorrow, HuffPo's Thomas B. Edsall reports that the Clinton campaign is considering a "nuclear option" - using its leverage on the Rules and Bylaws Committee to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations. Looking at the time and money spent on the Microsoft/Yahoo! deal, is this a political gamble worth taking?