Monday, April 14, 2008

TV networks looking for new eyeballs online

CBS Corp. executives faced a challenging reality last fall before the debut of "Big Bang Theory": TV viewership was flat. So the network debuted the show in its entirety for a week online despite risks that the giveaway would sap viewership for the TV premiere.

LOS ANGELES - CBS Corp. executives took an unusual risk last fall before its series debut of “Big Bang Theory” — it offered the entire episode online despite the chance it would sap viewership for the TV premiere.

The show, about two geeky physicists and their beautiful female neighbor, got 90,000 views on and other Web sites over a week, followed by a better-than-expected 9.5 million for the Sept. 24 on-air premiere.

“The thought was purely to try to find new eyeballs in a medium that generally appeals to younger demographics, and then drive them to put butts in seats to watch on their beautiful plasma-screen TV when the series takes off,” said Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive. “It was fairly radical, and we’re happy with how it came out.”

Looking to tap new revenue through online ads, attract new viewers and keep loyal fans, broadcast networks are making bigger, riskier bets on Internet delivery of their shows. The challenge is to grow viewership online without cannibalizing traditional ratings and DVD sales while making more money on programming seen on the Web.

But online audiences are still limited, a stumbling block that’s expected to be a hot topic at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual gathering, which starts Monday in Las Vegas.

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According to comScore Media Metrix, led the network pack with 8.5 million unique visitors over its entire lineup of shows for the whole month of February, followed by with 7.9 million. By comparison, a single episode of CBS’s “CSI” recently took in more than 20 million TV viewers in one night.

Still, there are signs that the online experimentation will pay off.

Networks now charge more per thousand viewers online than they do over the airwaves, where the average for a primetime show is about $25. Analysts put the online rate anywhere from $35 to $50 per thousand, though there are millions more potential traditional TV viewers.

Advertisers pay more online because there is a better accounting of how many viewers see the ads and an extra benefit that an impulse to purchase can be acted on with the click of a mouse.

“For an advertiser, you’re getting a clear performance result,” said Bob Davis, a Web investor and former CEO of search engine Lycos. “No matter what the click-through (rate) they get, it’s infinitely larger than the click-through they get on TV. The click-through they get on TV is zero.”

ABC, which streams “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” on its site after airing on TV, is aiming to tweak its formula to make its online ads as lucrative as its TV ones.

“In order for us to drive the number up to what we get on broadcast, we have to do one of two things. We have to either increase the number of ads that you currently see on or figure out different ways to generate value for advertisers,” said Albert Cheng, executive vice president of digital media for the Disney-ABC Television Group.

“We are not at parity yet with broadcast, but the goal and everything that we are doing is to drive toward parity,” he said.

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The CBS experiment with “Big Bang Theory” was so successful that the network repeated the online-preview formula with two other shows, “Dexter” in February and “The Tudors,” on the CBS-owned pay cable channel, Showtime, in March.

ABC, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Co., expects to explore the effectiveness of localized advertising in test markets in the next several months, because its media player can detect the location of the online viewer, Cheng said.

Technology companies also are working to style ads that will be more interactive, leading to higher sales — such as making products that appear in shows clickable — or targeting viewers based on what kinds of content they have seen recently.

“Ultimately, where the Internet will really become a powerful source of revenue is that all forms of advertising will work in a highly targeted way,” said Steve Mitgang, chief executive of Veoh, a Web site that streams ad-supported shows. For TV shows at least, ad-supported free viewing online has proved more profitable than fee-based video downloads on services like Apple Inc.’s iTunes, said George Kliavkoff, chief digital officer of NBC Universal.

NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co., stopped supplying its hit TV shows to iTunes last year. Instead, it teamed up with News Corp. to launch, a Web site that went public last month and streams shows like “Battlestar Galactica” and “The Office” for free with ads.

The NBC Universal-News partnership, as well as CBS, are testing a “ubiquitous” approach, making their content available across dozens of Internet partner sites, including YouTube, rather than drawing viewers to a single destination.

It’s not clear which model of delivery will prevail. None of the networks disclose how much ad revenue they collect from online show streams, but all have made major investments in what is a growing business.

“We’re sort of in the first inning of how some of these digital platforms will develop,” said Kliavkoff. “We still don’t know what the winning business model will be at the end.”

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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MILF Island

8 Songs Inspired By Real Women

Songwriters have found inspiration in all sorts of places, from transvestites to team tennis titans. Maggie Koerth-Baker has read between the liner notes to find out for whom 8 famous songs were written.

1. “Philadelphia Freedom”

Written by: Elton John & Bernie Taupin

Written for: Billie Jean King, as a thank-you for a tracksuit she gave Elton. And what a tracksuit it must have been! The 1975 song remains one of the most popular disco hits ever, leaving thousands of Hustle enthusiasts wondering just what Billie Jean King had to do with Philadelphia, anyway.

Turns out, the song was a reference to King’s pro tennis team, The Philadelphia Freedoms. Prior to 1968, tennis players were all considered “amateurs” and weren’t eligible to receive prize money. So, if you didn’t have the wealth to support yourself, you couldn’t play. Billie Jean King fought against those constraints, ultimately founding Professional World Team Tennis in 1974 and turning tennis into a paid league sport. [Photo courtesy of]

2. “Lola”

Written by: The Kinks’ Ray Davies

Written for: A transvestite. But the question is, which one? According to Rolling Stone, “Lola” was inspired by Candy Darling, a member of Andy Warhol’s entourage, whom Ray Davies briefly (and cluelessly) dated. If that’s the case, then “Lola” is just another notch on Darling’s song belt—she’s also referred to in Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” (”Candy came from out on the Island/ In the backroom she was everybody’s darlin’.”)

But, in the Kinks’ official biography, Davies tells a different story. He says “Lola” was written after the band’s manager spent a very drunken night dancing with a woman whose five o’clock shadow was apparently obvious to everyone but him.

3. “867-5309/Jenny”

Written by: Jim Keller (of Tommy Tutone) and Alex Call

Written for: Unknown, as the songwriters apparently make up a different story about its inspiration every time they’re asked. While the woman continues to remain a mystery, however, the phone number is all too real. In fact, it’s been wreaking havoc ever since 1982the passage of time hasn’t quelled of the number of crank calls. In 1999, Brown University freshman roommates Nina Clemente and Jahanaz Mirza found that out the hard way, when the school adopted an 867 exchange number for its on-campus phone system. Immediately, the girls’ innocuous Room No. 5309 became a magnet for every drunk college kid with a 1980s fetish.

Other unfortunate phone customers have fought back with creative and profitable solutions, like the holder of 212-867-5309, who put his phone number up for auction on eBay in 2004. Bids approached $100,000 before eBay pulled the item at the request of Verizon, the number’s actual owner.

4. “Für Elise”

Written by: Ludwig van Beethoven

Written for: Some girl probably not named Elise. In fact, as far as most historians can tell, Beethoven didn’t even know an Elise. Instead, the song was originally titled “Bagatelle in A minor” based on some handwritten notation a Beethoven researcher claimed to have seen on a now-lost copy of the sheet music.

Further complicating things, Beethoven had hideous handwriting—to the point that some scholars speculate the song was actually written “for Therese,” as in Therese Malfatti, one of several women who turned down a marriage proposal from the notoriously lovesick maestro.

5. “Oh, Carol”

oh-carol.jpgWritten by: Neil Sedaka

Written for: Carole King, naturally. Sedaka and King actually dated briefly in high school — a romance Sedaka was able to successfully milk with “Oh, Carol,” a then top-10 (if now somewhat forgettable) 1959 pop song.

However, the real success of “Oh, Carol” came a few months later, when it inspired King to write a rebuttal entitled “Oh, Neil.” At the time, King and her husband, Gerry Goffin, were fledgling songwriters in need of a hit tune. “Oh, Neil” wasn’t that, but it did pay off. After Sedaka gave a tape of the song to his boss, King and Goffin landed jobs at the legendary Brill Building pop music factory, where the duo went on to write chart-toppers like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “The Loco-Motion.”

6. “It Ain’t Me, Babe”

Written by: Bob Dylan

Written for: Joan Baez, though it clearly wasn’t the nicest gift Dylan could have given her. The two met in 1961, when Baez was an up-and-coming folk singer and Dylan was a nobody from Minnesota. Desperate to make his break in the music biz, Dylan worked like crazy to get Baez’s attention. He eventually ended up going on tour with her, which is how he first became famous, and also how the two began dating. For a while, they seemed like the golden couple, but things soon went downhill.

During a European concert tour together in early 1965, they had a huge fight and parted ways. That May, Dylan was holed up in a hotel after being hospitalized with a virus, and Baez, hoping to remain friends, decided to bring him flowers. Sadly, that’s how she found out that her ex was already dating someone else. That someone else was Sara Lownds, whom Dylan married a mere six months later.

7. “Our House”

Written by: Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)

Written for: Joni Mitchell. In December 1968, Nash and Mitchell moved into a cozy little house in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles. Though commonly left out of the hippy pantheon, Laurel Canyon was sort of a commune-home away from commune-home for San Francisco society — not just CSN&Y, but also Jim Morrison, the Eagles, Frank Zappa, and more.

“Our House” was directly inspired by a lazy Sunday in the Nash/Mitchell household. The couple went out to brunch, hit an antiques store, and then returned to find the house just a bit chilly, at which point Nash literally “lit a fire,” while Mitchell “placed the flowers in the vase that she bought that day.” No, really. The whole tableau seemed so ridiculously domestic to Nash that he immediately sat down and spent the rest of the day writing about it.

8. “Dear Mama”

Written by: Tupac Shakur

Written for: Afeni Shakur, who is, obviously, Tupac’s mama. A fascinating character in her own right, Afeni Shakur was born Alice Fay Williams, but changed her name while working with the Black Panthers in the 1960s. In fact, Tupac (named after the Peruvian revolutionary leader Tupac Amaru II) was born in 1971—just a month after Afeni was acquitted of bombing conspiracy charges. (She had spent most of her pregnancy behind bars.) As the song implies, she and Tupac didn’t always get along, particularly during his adolescence, when Afeni was addicted to crack. But, by the time of Tupac’s death in 1996, she was clean and the two had patched things up long enough for Tupac to write that she “was appreciated.” Today, Afeni runs a charity in her son’s name and is (somewhat controversially) responsible for Tupac’s multiple posthumous CD releases.

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Hip-hop 'wrong' for Glastonbury

Noel Gallagher
Oasis headlined the main stage at Glastonbury in 1995 and 2004

Noel Gallagher has criticised the decision to have a hip-hop act headlining the Glastonbury Festival.

The Oasis guitarist said having rapper Jay-Z at the festival was the reason tickets had not sold out this year.

He said it was "wrong" to have a hip-hop headliner and added that organisers had changed things too much.

But Hattie Collins, editor of urban music magazine RWD, called Gallagher's comments "ill-informed rubbish" and said Jay-Z was a "great crowd puller".

There were 100,000 tickets sold for Glastonbury on the first day, but in past years all tickets had sold out in a matter of hours.

Gallagher said: "If it ain't broke don't fix it.

"If you start to break it then people aren't going to go. I'm sorry, but Jay-Z? No chance.

"Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music and even when they throw the odd curve ball in on a Sunday night you go 'Kylie Minogue?'

"I don't know about it. But I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It's wrong."

Oasis headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 1995 and 2004, with the event selling out on both occasions.

Kanya King, who established the Mobo Awards, said Gallagher was wrong to criticise the festival's choice of headliner.

Gone are the days when a guy would turn up with a microphone and grab himself while wandering around mumbling
Hattie Collins, editor of RWD magazine

"Given that Glastonbury is trying to reach a younger audience and diversify then I think it's important that they embrace hip-hop," she said.

"It seems only fitting that you should have a global superstar act like Jay-Z on the show.

"Glastonbury doesn't have that many hip-hop acts on the main stage, so maybe music lovers will get to see him and their opinions will change."

Ms Collins said she believed the Oasis songwriter had "probably never seen Jay-Z live or heard any of his tunes".

"Hip-hop in a live setting can be fantastic and has just as much right to be there as any other run-of-the-mill indie band," she added.

Jay-Z will headline Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage on the Saturday night
"Gone are the days when a guy would turn up with a microphone and grab himself while wandering around mumbling."

Glastonbury organisers took out an advert in Monday's Guardian newspaper to encourage ticket sales.

The ad invites people to "take a five-day break at Worthy Farm and enjoy the most extraordinary festival anywhere in the world".

The full line-up will be announced on 1 May.

Having been a committed Glastonbury goer 2007 was for me the year it lost it's magic
Colin, Manchester

Gallagher also rubbished recent stories saying Oasis were ready to "do a Prince" and have a residency at London's O2 Arena.

"We'll never play the O2," he said. "We went there to see Led Zeppelin and to be honest the gig was fantastic, but it was the most soul destroying venue I've ever been to.

"And much to our manager and agent's disappointment, we came back and said we would never play there.

"So it means we are going to have to do 640 nights at Earl's Court, I would have thought.

"It's too Americanised for me, and it's too far away. Any gig you can get to by boat that hasn't got a beach is wrong."

He did confirm that Oasis' seventh studio album had been completed.

"That's finished. All done. We're just kind of waiting to get a record deal and get it out.

"We've not managed to get a title yet. We're in the middle of doing the artwork. Down to a shortlist of about three."

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Stein Goes to Bat for Intelligent Design

"I am floored by what a response it got," Ben Stein, the actor, author, and former White House speechwriter for President Nixon, said in his signature monotone on the phone from Chicago. Mr. Stein was referring to the effusive feedback that he and producers Logan Craft, Walt Ruloff, and John Sullivan have received from advance screenings of a new feature-length documentary hosted by Mr. Stein entitled "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."

In "Expelled," which opens April 18, the iconically blasé teacher from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the host of "Win Ben Stein's Money" has been recast as the driving personality and first-person narrator of a Michael Moore-style documentary confronting a contemporary scientific status quo that harbors a zero-tolerance policy for the theory of intelligent design in scientific research and American classrooms. According to the film's Web site, "educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure, and even fired for the 'crime' of merely believing that there might be evidence of 'design' in nature, and that perhaps life is not just the result of accidental, random chance."

The film's producers define intelligent design, somewhat tautologically, as "a theory that attempts to empirically detect if the apparent design in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design or the product of an intelligent cause." On the other hand, Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist, avowed atheist, and author of "The God Delusion," describes intelligent design as "creationism in a cheap tuxedo," and he spars with Mr. Stein onscreen in "Expelled." In a recent Web log entry, Mr. Dawkins dismissed "Expelled," a screening of which he attended in somewhat contentious fashion at the Mall of America this past Good Friday (his fellow on-screen commentator, P.Z. Myers, was ejected from the same screening), as "dull, artless, amateurish, too long, poorly constructed, and utterly devoid of any style, wit, or subtlety." The conservative contrarian Rush Limbaugh saw the same film with different eyes. "It is powerful. It is fabulous," he declared on his syndicated radio show.

Mr. Stein became involved with the film when he was approached by Messrs. Ruloff and Sullivan during pre-production. "They sent me an absolute torrent of information, some of which I read, some of which frankly I did not read," Mr. Stein said. Intrigued by what he did absorb and by a segment of computer animation commissioned by the producers that depicts life at a cellular level in its nearly infinite complexity, Mr. Stein signed on. "It just became a gigantically bigger project than I even had the slightest clue it was going to be," he said.

In the time- and box-office-tested stylistic tradition of Mr. Moore, "Expelled" is a globe-trotting journey during which Mr. Stein interviews and confronts various victims of what the film portrays as an intellectual embargo against intelligent design, and those who dismiss it or question its place in the scientific and academic communities. The first stop, the Capitol Mall in Washington, sets the tone for the rest of the film. In the shadow of the institute that fired him, the biologist Richard Sternberg describes his dismissal from his research fellowship at the Smithsonian for publishing a paper that defended intelligent design. "You're a bad boy," Mr. Stein says as the two men stroll among the cherry trees. "You questioned the powers that be."

The fact that Mr. Stein's drolleries are intercut with a montage that includes clips of Soviet Bloc delegates to the United Nations pounding tables, Communist thugs slapping prisoners, and close-ups of a guillotine should give you some idea of the intensity of the agitprop on display. It's a tribute to Mr. Stein's mischievous gravitas (he possesses an uncanny on-screen knack for getting his interview subjects to speculate themselves into a corner) that the whole thing doesn't go completely off the rails.

Like its narrative, "Expelled" is tonally and emotionally all over the map. Visits to Nazi concentration camps and a gruesome tour of a Third Reich psychiatric hospital in which the handicapped were euthanized as much, the movie contends, in Darwin's name as in Hitler's, vie for space with cartoons and 3-D animation. There's even a token scene of Mr. Stein and his crew being awkwardly refused unscheduled entrance to the Smithsonian by the museum's security staff. As is the case when suffering through similar moments in Mr. Moore's films, my heart went out to the guys provoked into having to do the arm grabbing. Someday, a filmmaker will turn the tables and shoot footage of harried spokespeople and rent-a-cops trying to gain entrance to Michael Moore's offices or those of Premise Media Corporation, the makers of "Expelled."

"Expelled" will likely appeal to those whose minds are made up in favor of intelligent design and infuriate those who, like Mr. Dawkins, oppose mixing God with biology. For those with little stake in either side of the controversy, there is the amusing spectacle of Mr. Stein skewering brilliant scientific minds as they are caught off guard by the lights, camera, and action. Mr. Dawkins becomes so flustered at one point that he even posits a creation theory of his own that fits the parameters of the film's working definition of intelligent design. After all the speculation on display in "Expelled," I couldn't help but envision the possibility that if the pro-intelligent design forces had their way, the current, inflexible Darwinian dogma would just swap positions with an equally inflexible intelligent design party line. Mr. Stein put me at ease. "I have no suggestions whatsoever what to replace [Darwinism] with. None at all. Period," he said. "I just would like the floodgates of discussion to be opened."

Though Mr. Stein shares writing credits (with Kevin Miller), "I didn't really write much of it," he said, taking credit only for a speech that bookends the film and calling the rest of the split credit "pretty much entirely a gift on [the producers'] part." Nevertheless, in conversation, the former attorney was arguably more persuasive than the film he hosts. According to Mr. Stein, Darwin himself came out on the side of a free exchange of ideas on the origin of life in a letter to a colleague.

"He said that this whole subject of evolution and where life came from and how it evolved is so complicated that for a human being with our paltry intelligence to try to answer it is like a dog trying to understand Newton's physics," Mr. Stein said. Darwin's sole suggestion for future generations, he said, was that "we keep discussing it more or less indefinitely and let each man think and hope as he wishes. I think that's pretty good advice."

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Disney's Pixar movies moving to 3-D format

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday its Pixar animation studio is committing to 3-D and will release all of its movies in the format beginning with "Up" next year.

Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter made the announcement in New York at a presentation of Disney's upcoming lineup of animated movies through 2012.

He said Walt Disney Animation Studios will offer "The Princess and the Frog," a musical set in New Orleans, in the traditional hand-drawn format for release for Christmas 2009.

Meanwhile, Pixar movies will be released in 3-D and the traditional two-dimensional format, beginning in May 2009 with "Up," about an elderly widower who embarks on a South American adventure.

Lasseter said he has been inspired by three-dimensional photography for decades.

"I love 3-D. I made a 3-D computer-animated short in 1989 called 'Nickname,' and in fact my wedding pictures with my beautiful wife Nancy were made in 3-D," he said.

The lineup from Walt Disney Animation Studios also includes the November release of "Bolt," the story of an actor dog who believes he has super powers; "Rapunzel," a retelling of the fairy tale set for release for Christmas 2010; and the modern-day fantasy "King of the Elves," set for release for Christmas 2012. Those films will be released in both 3-D and two-dimensional formats.

Pixar's upcoming releases include "Toy Story 3" in June 2010; "newt," a love story involving the last two blue-footed newts alive, set for the summer 2011; the Scottish fantasy "The Bear and the Bow" for Christmas 2011; and "Cars 2" in the summer of 2012.

Pixar also plans to rerelease the original "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" in the 3-D format.

During its lengthy presentation, Disney also showed a 30-minute clip of "Wall-E," set for release June 27. It tells a love story between the title character, a robot left alone on Earth for 700 years, and another robot named Eve sent to look for life.

"The population had to abandon Earth for a while, and they left little Wall-E there to clean it up," said Richard Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios.

The only clue creators gave for the upcoming "Toy Story 3" tale was that Andy, the boy who owned the toys, has grown up and is about to head off to college.

"Wall-E" is the first Pixar release since last summer's "Ratatouille," which grossed more than $620 million at the worldwide box office.

"Ratatouille" was the last publicly disclosed Pixar picture in development before Disney's acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios in May 2006 for $7.5 billion in stock.

The acquisition put Lasseter as the creative head at both Disney and Pixar studios and revamped the way Disney made animated films.

Lasseter was the director of the first two "Toy Story" hits and a former Disney animator.

In "Up," 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) puts balloons on his house to fly to South America to fulfill a promise to his late wife to live in paradise.

"We start with unusual premises," said Ed Catmull, Pixar co-founder and president of Pixar and Disney's animated studios. "We go down a path where we're initially always a little scared because we're doing something brand new. It's challenging, but out of that challenge comes the new and the interesting."

Disney's commitment to 3-D also reflects a move away from Disney's traditional strength in hand-drawn films, but Catmull said some 600 hand animators remained at the studios.

Disney also planned to release four computer-animated "Tinker Bell" movies straight to DVD and Blu-ray discs every year starting in October.

In a deal announced last month, four studios -- Disney, News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount, and Universal Pictures, which is owned by General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal -- agreed to help finance and equip 10,000 screens in the U.S. and Canada to accommodate 3-D movies.

The conversion will cost as much as $700 million and take three years.

Box office figures have shown that the enveloping feel of 3-D can attract two to three times more moviegoers who are willing to pay as much as $3 more per ticket, analysts said.

Theater owners and studios hope the offerings will help bring people back to multiplexes for an experience that cannot be matched by increasingly sophisticated home theater systems.

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