Are we in a recession? Despite the lowest consumer confidence ratings in 26 years, our President doesn't think so. Word on the street (Wall, that is) is that Bernanke's going to "pause" this week (like Petraeus) -- offering perhaps one last quarter-point cut, then leaving the market to seek its equilibrium point. This follows as the Euro lost ground for the first time in three years; Bloomberg quotes a UBS analyst who seems to think that in economic terms, the EU is about to see a world of pain, but we've turned a corner. While there is a factual basis for the term (two consecutive quarters of GDP decline) there is also an emotional corollary. Without being reductionist, let's consider the possibility that the market is having growing pains as it catches up with technology. In last week's JackMyers ThinkTank, Kayak's Terry Jones said as much. Right now we're at a crossroads - it's nearly Pistols At Dawn for Microsoft/Yahoo, and fisticuffs in the gaming world between EA and Take-Two Interactive. There's Democratic Primary fatigue as Obama and Clinton continue to square off, one threatening to bloody the other, even at the expense of party or Nation; it's in the imminent factionalism between Viacom and CBS. Are the seams coming apart, or are we simply preparing to morph into something without precedent, both culturally and economically? As Frank Rich pointed out in his column yesterday -- "Once our news culture sets a story in stone, chances are it will crumble." All we can do then, is survey the landscape and listen to our instincts.
It's apropos that our most escapist medium of entertainment should flourish in a recession. Tomorrow will see the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. Expectations: $400M in the first week (point of comparison: Iron Man w/ Robert Downey, Jr. is tracking to do $70M over its three day May opening). Despite being dogged by charges of misogyny by the likes of Hillary Clinton (during her '06 Senate re-election campaign) research is beginning to bear out that violent games do not create school shooters. If anything, Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson argue in their Harvard Medical School study, Grand Theft Children?, that kids who don't play are at risk. The much-hyped game release can only highlight the ongoing war of words between Take-Two Interactive (whose Rock Star division developed GTA) and EA's $2B hostile takeover. Early game reviews are strong, speaking of its "cinematic experience" and "narrative storytelling." Reuters pegs global game revenue by 2010 at $47.5B. Grand Theft Auto's Special Sauce? Take-Two pioneered "open world gaming" in GTA 3, back in 2001. The franchise is so successful that there's even a network effect on game consoles and PCs sold, and yes - soundtrack music created for the experience.
Yahoo! v. Microsoft: The Last Mile?
Steve Ballmer's "Yahoo! submit" deadline quietly passed over the weekend. As earnings came in for both Yahoo! and MSFT, analysis of the deal, tilted, even if just a wee bit. With a modest uptick in profits, Yahoo! converted a skeptic at the New York Times, and with MSFT's less than blistering growth, BusinessWeek went so far as to opine that it is Microsoft that needs Yahoo! Not everyone agrees - CNet continues to find fault with Yang and Decker as poor replacements for Semel; Kara Swisher of AllThingsD finds that Yahooligans are so mired that they just want the deal done. Silicon Alley Insider exhaustively takes the temperature of anyone remotely connected with the deal, publishing Microsoft's reported list of its Yahoo! director slate set up for the proxy fight (Yahoo! must meet by July). Despite indicating that it would not raise its bid ($31/share or $44B), SAI finds a Citi analyst who's confident that they'll up the price, because they have no Plan B. Meanwhile Y!'s AdSense test is moving along and Google's counsel is confident to go on the record that there won't be an anti-trust hiccup since it's a non-exclusive deal. Brownie points: the new Yahoo! Open Strategy (YOS) -- sort of an anti-Peanut Butter Manifesto -- is embraced by TechCrunch and the Times' Bits blog.
MESH Is Not Something From Project Runway
While Microsoft is mewling that the uncertainty over the Yahoo! deal is depressing its stock, the crowd has certainly turned on Vista. Consumers hate it - especially its User Access Control (UAC) -- which sort of acts like a reverse personalization. MSFT's launch of MESH is really big news, but the critics are divided. What praytell is MESH? If you don't have time to read the CNet FAQ, it's a virtual desktop that can be accessed by networked PCs. TechCrunch writes that it "reassert[s] the primacy of client-based apps" but to many, that's the problem. While MESH creator Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie recently shared an epiphany: that it is the Web, not the PC, that is the center of the tech universe, Silicon Alley Insider's Hank Williams believes that MSFT is hedging its bets and betting against the Clouds.
Can You See Me Now?
USAT reports that full length video on mobile is going gangbusters. It touts that 47% of viewers are spending 15 minutes a session; 25% are on for a half-hour. It looks at how AT&T is upgrading their offerings, mentioning PIX, its new movie channel. Our Shelly Palmer is contrarian. He looks at the cratering of Pivot - a project that saw Cox, TW, and Comcast join up with SprintNextel as Exhibit A. Perhaps Google's new Mobile Ad Banners will validate the space? Despite the delay of the 3G Blackberry, Apple's imminent next-gen iPhone release will yet save us all.
Songs In The Key Of Life
The iTunes store turns 5 today. Wired bolsters InStat's claim that it's poised to own 28% of ALL music purchases (not just digital) by 2012. PaidContent reports that Sony has acquired Gracenote for $260M, the last of the independents in the music metadata space. Billboard praises EMI's reorg, even as it moves to layoff 2,000 employees. MSN Music Service has a PR problem. As of August 31st, it will no longer provide DRM keys to users that legally purchased and downloaded music, thereby becoming the poster child on why DRM is bad and the RIAA cannot be trusted.
Update Your Plaxo
Effective June 1st, Alan Cohen becomes CEO of OMD USA. After 7 years as CEO of Omnicom's digital agency Organic, Paul Kingdon replaces Phil Rosedale as head of Second Life's Linden Lab. Nielsen Co will have its first CMO - John Burbank leaves that position at AOL. Much speculation over David Verklin's stepping down from Aegis, even as Carat CEO Sarah Fay has been anointed his heir apparent. Innuendo: It seems that Mr. Verklin might be joining Project Canoe as its CEO.
Congress Fillets FCC Head
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin spent two days at the Senate last week. He was upbraided by Jane Harman for the Wireless Spectrum auction's failure to sell the "D-block," earmarked for public safety. He was reprimanded for relaxing cross-ownership rules, (bringing together Trent Lott with Hillary Clinton AND Barack Obama) even as he agreed that Comcast probably did throttle traffic. Vuze - which started the ball rolling on this front - found that the biggest eight ISPs all disrupted traffic; on Friday AT&T denied this. Attorneys General from four states (CT, WA, MD, OH) are asking Martin to create free satellite radio -- despite DoJ approval for a XM-Sirius merger. Finally, the Senate Commerce Committee added $65M to go to low-powered TV stations as we switch over to digital. Who says this is a do-nothing Congress?
Just Greenlighted: The Sumner Redstone Reality Show
It's a drama with more plot twists than CSI, or repercussions than The Tudors: In announcing that Viacom will be launching a fourth pay TV channel, Philippe Dauman has set a thousand tongues wagging. Does this auger that Les Moonves (coming off CBS News' worst ratings ever) is no longer Sumner's favorite son? Multichannel News thinks its success, especially in this economic climate, is an uphill battle. The New York Post's Peter Lauria muses how this will affect the TV distribution plans of The Weinstein Co. The LA Times has it on good authority that former SHO exec Mark Greenberg will head the network, but BusinessWeek has the money quote: "Mark getting this job is definitely another f__ you to Matt."
Online Video: Are We There Yet?
NewTeeVee found that VCs love online video -- still! Last year 68 startups garnered $460.5M; Q1 saw them raise $217.3M. Not too shabby. The Guardian thinks that Hulu's ability to make and send content clips is RAD. While CEO Jason Kilar aspires that it become the "world's best monetization source for premium content," (exhale) I'm really intrigued by the beta launch of Blinkbox, which permits mashups of clips. Was Dawn Ostroff right to pull online streaming of the CW's Gossip Girl? Our Nina Spezzaferro has been following the blowback and thinks, not so much. SAI looks at the ratings - slightly down: from 2.5M to 2.44 viewers. Memo to Ostroff: Innovation isn't reactionary, it's forward looking. Forbes has a roundup on the movement of Internet video from the PC directly to your home entertainment center. Last week Broadband Enterprises announced a partnership with ScanScout that will enable it to implement the latter's overlay technology as part of its overall plan to expand video advertising opportunities and, consequently, increase revenue to BBE's network of content providers.
The Future of Media and Entertainment: Realities of Dealing with the Changing Media Marketplace.
All of this movement in the Online Video space makes tomorrow's JackMyers networking breakfast timely. Our panel will include: Sarah Fay, CEO, Carat and Isobar U.S.; Dina Kaplan, COO, blip.tv; Jack Haber, VP Global Advertising and eBusiness, Colgate Palmolive Company; Albie Hecht, CEO, Worldwide Biggies; and Shane Steele, Consultant and former Coca-Cola head of Interactive Marketing. While this is a sold-out event, look for video up on JackMyers.com to be made available following the event.