Articles of the Day


Despite Industry Gloom, AOL Takes Its Ad Sales Pitch On The Road — Despite all its bad news lately, AOL (NYSE: TWX) can point to at least some revenue gains tied to its traffic jump. The company’s Q3 was mixed at best: profit dropped 7 percent to $400 million and display ad revenue fell 15 percent to $181 million; meanwhile, it had 12 percent gains in paid search. Later tonight, AOL, led by CEO Randy Falco and Lynda Clarizio, head of Platform-A, will gather 400 ad and media execs to kick off a “traveling upfront presentation” it’s calling the AOL Roadshow at the American Museum of Natural History. Bill Wilson, EVP of AOL Programming, demoed his presentation for me Friday; he’ll be trumpeting the company’s traffic numbers (one favorite of his: 21 months of consecutive year-over-year unique visitor growth for a current total of 56 million uniques). More important, he will also try to convince the industry that AOL is actually delivering on those traffic gains. Although total ad revenues were down 6 percent to $500 million in Q3, Wilson will highlight the news that the vertical content network of sites were up “solid double digits in Q3”—but no specific figures.

WSJ.com’s Third Super-Premium Tier Coming? — Murdoch’s love for newspapers is undying, nevermind the near-death throes of the medium itself, and he reads it out (literally, on the radio) as part of a series of Australian radio lectures titled, “The future of newspapers: moving beyond dead trees.” Compare and contrast this to his famous speech on April 13, 2005, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which shook the newspaper industry then for its forward thinking about the digital future of newspapers. And this was before he bought MySpace (three months later) and later in 2007 bought Dow Jones.

GE’s Immelt: ‘Some Opportunities In Media Consolidation’ — Jeffrey Immelt’s latest tack to convince people that NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) parent General Electric is staying in the media business—talk about buying more media assets. The GE chairman and CEO told the FT “There are going to be some opportunities in media consolidation, in infrastructure, oil and gas, aviation. And my hope is that we can play in some of those as time goes on.” Those who may need convincing include Vivendi (EPA: VIV), which owns 20 percent of NBCU. As FT points, it’s time for the annual guessing game over whether Vivendi will exercise its put option for GE to buy that stake and whether GE would sell NBCU to avoid further investment. GE acquired the majority of NBCU in a $14 billion deal in 2004. But much has changed at GE since the last time this question came up, including the company’s structure and NBCU’s designation as one of five operating units. Vivendi’s put option runs through 2016 and is based on market value; starting 2011, GE has an annual window with call rights through 2017 with a floor price of $8.3 billion that will increase based on the Consumer Price Index.

AOL Cutting Off Uncut Video Service; More Squeeze On Third-Party Vendors? — AOL (NYSE: TWX), as part of its efforts to trim the non-core and no-revenue-generating parts of its portfolio, is closing down the AOL Uncut online user-gen video service, after 2.5 years of trying to compete in the space. The service, started in May 2006, was powered by Videoegg, which has since moved on to become an online video-advertising network. According to a memo/FAQ to be sent out next week, obtained by Techcrunch, the service will close on Dec 18, and users will have to transfer video off the service before then. It is recommending that users transfer videos to Motionbox, the white-label video-upload service.

Discovery To Invest Up To $100 Million in Oprah Network; Has Spent $7 Million Till Now — The high-profile launch of “OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network” in late 2009 has attracted its own share of speculation since the announcement in January earlier this year, including executives, programming choices and finances. The company has already names Robin Schwartz as president, Maria Grasso as SVP of programming, Robert Tercek as president of digital media, among others. But no other details on the finances have been revealed till now.

UMG Digital Sales Up 33 Percent, New Streams Offset Dropoff In CD Sales — Universal Music Group predicted a turnaround, and maybe it’s coming to pass… UMG posted EUR 3.14 billion ($3.97 billion) revenue in the first nine months of 2008 –that’s up 3.5 percent if you rule out currency fluctuations. True, in actual currency, it’s down 3.8 percent, but even that’s better than the kind of chronic results some of the majors have become used to. It’s not that CDs are enjoying a revival… the hike came thanks to growth in music publishing and merchandising after UMG bought BMG Music Publishing and Sanctuary, from increased licensing income via the growing number of music-using services, and from a 33 percent increase in digital sales. All of which ”more than offset lower physical sales, according to parent group Vivendi’s earnings. Earnings before the deduction of interest, tax and amortization expenses were up 21.8 percent to EUR 408 million ($516 million) but were actually dragged down by various restructuring costs. Duffy was a big seller for the label.

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