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Thirty-Nine Percent November 25, 2003

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So the House reached a compromise with the White House, and buried in the omnibus spending bill, agreed to limit TV station ownership to 39% of national coverage. It’s just a coincidence that Viacom’s at 38.8% and Fox is at 37.8%. My cynicism runneth over.

Let’s see, that means that, theoretically, 2.6 companies could own the universe, down from 2.9. People make fun of me for saying 15%-20% of US households defines a certain kind of critical mass, but at least I’ve got some numbers and history behind my thinking.

The caprice is just mind-boggling.

Clearly, this exercise has very little to do with guaranteeing a diversity of media voices – or not. But it’s Thanksgiving, and all good congressmen must go home for turkey and football.

Blind Leading the Blind November 19, 2003

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Well, this should be amusing. Henry Blodget will be covering the Martha trial for Slate.

Suing for Linux November 19, 2003

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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SCO ceo Darl McBride’s presentation at Enterprise IT Week sounded fairly reasonable until the last ten minutes, when he implied that if his company fails at its lawsuits, the free world, capitalism, and the $200 billion software market would all come to an end. I want to agree with him – I believe in getting paid for intellectual property – but the preso left me cold. The bodyguards, presumably there to protect him from those vicious open source enforcers, didn’t help.

SCO, who owns all the old AT&T Unix licenses, is suing IBM for breach of contract, saying that IBM leaked SCO copyrighted code into software it released back into Linux. SCO is also out to quash the Gnu Public License under which a lot of open source is distributed, and it’s threatening to sue a big Linux user to scare off IT as well. It just gave David Boies a piece of the company to act as its chief kneecap-breaker. SCO wants to cash in big on what it sees as back payments, and set itself up as the only viable Unix on Intel provider. That’s assuming it is serious about being a product company – rather than a licensor – a big assumption.

Darl, you’re a $60 million company, at best, not the harbinger of a new age. This case is not the slippery slope towards software anarchy you make it out to be. There will always be more developers who want to be paid than to be “famous,” and current licensing, copyright, and intellectual property laws are doing a half-decent job of ensuring they will be. (The situation is less clear in entertainment rights.) The computer industry is based on innovation, not sitting back and collecting royalties. Ask Texas Instruments or Motorola. Or IBM, for that matter.

Now, I’m not a true believer in open source. But there’s no question Linux is putting the fear o’ god into Microsoft, at least on the server side. A lot more than most of the industry-strength Unixes I used to cover back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s when I was a software and Microsoft analyst. The movement is rallying a cadre of developers to do great, creative work. Would I advise a big company to run its business on free Linux? Hell, no. Who’s going to be responsible if it breaks?

Best case scenario: IBM drags out the case for a couple years and eventually settles, so there’s no precedent. (SCO probably has a good case against them.) SCO vanishes quietly into the sunset. But even this casts a pall over open source.

Worst case scenario: SCO wins next year, and goes after everybody. Precedent is set based not just on code but on methods and concepts, which makes it really, really hard for any developer who’s ever even seen a copy of licensed Unix to say they came up with something original, or Berkeley-based. Only winners here are Microsoft and, just maybe, Sun. Shrink-wrapped Intel Unix stays the niche product it’s always been. Open source movement starts over with a new code base and takes three years, at best, to get back momentum. Ugh.

Infotainment? Mediatail? November 10, 2003

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AdAge’s Randall Rothenberg points out Benetton’s hiring of Kurt Andersen (ex of New York Magazine, Inside.com, and Turn of the Century, a book I’ve plugged before in this space). Andersen will be chairman and editorial director of Benetton’s Colors magazine, which has enough literary journalism chops for me not to call it a magalogue.

Rothenberg is a bit gushy, but I’m also an Andersen fan, and think this is an interesting development.

Sony “Synergy” November 5, 2003

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According to the Journal, Sony has put in place a working group to develop more links between its entertainment assets and its consumer-electronic products. The increased communication between all of Sony’s units, part of the struggling consumer-electronic company’s turnaround strategy unveiled last week, is “a significant milestone,” said Howard Stringer, chairman and chief executive of Sony Corp. of America and vice chairman of Sony.

What, Sony hasn’t had such a thing in place for TWENTY years??? Sigh. On the one hand, it’s nuts if they haven’t. On the other, I suppose it’s a good thing that they’re not synergy-mad or vertical-integration-crazy.

Media Monopoly “Power” November 4, 2003

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If anyone has any doubts, confirmation that we have more to fear from the fact that mass-media is funded by advertising than from the purported power of media monopolies to promote an agenda:

CBS caves on “The Reagans” miniseries.

NEW YORK – Following a storm of protest and threatened advertiser boycott, CBS announced Tuesday it was pulling “The Reagans” miniseries off the air.

The network said it was licensing the completed film to Showtime, a pay cable network that, like CBS, is owned by Viacom.

CBS insisted it was not bowing to pressure about portions of the script, but that the decision was made after seeing the finished film.

“Although the miniseries features impressive production values and acting performances, and although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience,” the network said in a statement.

As a broadcast network, CBS has different standards than a pay cable network, CBS said.

Is Entertainment Really a Business? November 3, 2003

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Weirdly great quote in NYTimes story on how Leno has been beating the pants off of Letterman in the ratings for the past zillion years.

“Jay runs the ‘Tonight’ show like a political campaign,” Mr. Burnett (Rob Burnett, a Letterman exec producer) added. “If he thinks something will attract more viewers, he’ll do it. Jay sees that Arnold Schwarzenegger is hot, so he introduces Arnold at a political rally. He sees that wrestling is hot, so he wrestles for the W.W.F. Maybe Jay earned himself a few more viewers for doing those things, but you have to ask yourself: Who would you rather be? Jay or Dave?”

Who would you rather be? The only important thing – I mean, seriously, we’re talking about late night talk shows – shows up later in the story:

According to a Nielsen cost analysis based on last season’s three ratings sweep months, 30-second commercials in “Tonight” cost about $65,000, while those in “Late Show” cost about $53,000. Over a season that differential could mean about $40 million extra in revenue for NBC.