Money makes the world go round: A blog about the business and culture of all things entertaining in the world of theater, television, film, music, art, gadgets, gizmos and other life necessities (and probably other things, knowing myself)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Race to Dominate Television Market

First, we saw newspapers across the country frantically come up with innovative alterations to stay afloat financially and now online options are blurring the lines for another traditional medium: television.

As online services offer more flexibility in scheduling and prices, the race in the home television market no longer is the playing field merely between cable and satellite television. Among the most popular competitors include Netflix, Hulu and even Microsoft. 

Netflix recently acquired new deals with NBC Universal, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros to cast their footsteps on the video streaming market. The Los Gatos, California-based company offers a $7.99 per month option allowing subscribers to watch unlimited television episodes and movies streamed into a computer or television set.

To officially shift their focus from DVD rentals to primarily video streaming, Netflix has raised prices on their DVD rental plans, increasing prices by $1 on their two most popular plans: the one and two-DVD rental at-a-time option.

Netflix experienced their fourth consecutive quarter of acquiring more than one million additional subscribers and shares have increased by 200 percent since the beginning of the year.

The company reported a net income of $37,967 million, or $0.70 per diluted share, at the end of their third fiscal quarter ending on September 30, 2010. The numbers represented a significant growth in the company compared to a net income of $30,141 million, or $0.52 per diluted share, from the same quarter of the previous year.

Netflix ended the third quarter with approximately 16,933,000 total subscribers, a 52 percent growth compared to 2009.

Similar to Netflix being fundamentally known as the internet movie provider, Hulu Plus is known as the internet television provider and their new $10 per month option offers subscribers the ability to watch episodes from current and past popular television series on ABC, NBC and Fox.

Even the world’s largest software company – Microsoft – can’t keep away from the enticing market; its latest move uses the Xbox game console’s internet and streaming capabilities for access to CBS, ESPN, CNN and Fox. With 25 million subscribers worldwide, Xbox Live currently has more subscribers than Comcast.

The race to be the first to successfully place software in television sets across America has hit cable service providers hard. Between July and September of this year, Time Warner Cable experienced a loss of 155,000 subscribers, a 41.3 percent increase compared to a loss of 64,000 subscribers during the same period the previous year.

During the third quarter of this year, U.S. cable companies experienced the largest decline since 1980 with the loss of 741,000 basic subscribers, according to research by SNL Kagan.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Show Me Your

So here's another “underdog” entertainment business story...

Indieflix, an online independent film distribution company, made headlines in September when they launched Film Festival in a Box (FFB), a game the size of a pizza box, also used as a distribution platform, in Times Square. In each cardboard box, four films are strategically placed in versions, such as Comedies, Pottymouth Comedies, and Powered by Girls
After players watch the four films, they can vote online for their favorites and the chosen filmmakers are eligible for monetary prizes.  The physical box can be purchased through Indieflix’s Web site or a small number of boutique stores for $14.99.

Indieflix started in 2004 when Scilla Andreen set out to create a fair distribution option for independent filmmakers, specifically the “little guys,” while working as a costume designer on the set of “The Wonder Years.” More importantly, Andreen wanted to expose and create awareness for low budget films to the community. 

“It’s about getting people physically together,” said Alex Bush, programmer and executive assistant to Andreen. “People have an idea of what they think indie films is…it’s like ‘put on your turtle neck and lets go cry for an hour.’ ”

“But watching indie films doesn’t have to be a dark and sad experience.”

Eventually, Indieflix hopes to move towards being entirely digital.

In the past decade, more people are able to make films and tell their stories with cheaper camera and editing software costs. But as film production becomes more accessible, with so many films, it is more difficult for every film to find an audience, said marketing manager of a New York City's film company

“The simple fact is, some films break through and some films do not,” he said.
Every low-budget indie film I have ever watched – with the exception of one or two – there is always some morbid underlying message and I am embarked with reactions of “Geez, what the heck is going on?” or “That was kind of gross” but I'll take Bush's expertise above and try it again. Perhaps indie films can be a joyful experience. Either way, you can't help but cheer on the underdogs here. Let's hope FFB takes off fast and stays high.

Glorious Italian Renaissance Days No More

Imagine 250,000 culture and arts employees so angry that they abandon their jobs to join a 24-hour strike, leaving movie theaters, film/television sets, opera houses and concert venues vacant and shut down.

Earlier this week, the scenario above became a reality as Italian workers marched from their businesses to protest the government’s culture spending cuts to its lowest level in 20 years. Silvio Berlusconi’s 2011 Budget Law reduced the country’s single arts fund, FUS, to €300 million ($416 million), approximately €200 million less than where it stood three years prior. 

Raphael's famous The School of Athens, or Scuola di Atene

Last month, more than 1,000 actors, director and producers disrupted the International Rome Film Festival at Rome’s Auditorium Parco Della Musica to protest against budget cuts.

Despite union strikes and tension, Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi refuses to back down on spending cuts and the government is pushing to slash the budget even sooner – three weeks earlier than usual. Instead, the budget vote will be scheduled four days before the confidence vote for Berlusconi. If he loses, he will have to resign and more money could possibly be added to the FUS budget by a new government. The culture minister has a confidence vote of his own scheduled Nov. 29 in which he will also have to step down if he doesn’t receive a majority nod from parliament.   

I say, c'mon! They gave us Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Raphael ... a major international contributor to the art world, the Italians' reactions imply something much deeper is being taken away than merely money. Currently, the country's FUS is far more restricting than funds in Germany and France.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yet another Wall Street lawsuit

I know, I know...this doesn't have anything to do with entertainment unless you view it as entertaining to watch...another lawsuit has been filed against JP Morgan with co-defendant HSBC on their side:

JP Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) and HSBC Securities Inc. (NYSE: HBC) face allegations of manipulating the silver futures and options market and violating the Commodity Exchange Act and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Filed on behalf of Carl Loeb, an independent investor, by litigation firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, the lawsuit accuses JP Morgan and London-based HSBC of manipulating the silver futures market by naked short selling a considerable amount of silver futures contracts, but not intending on delivering the futures by its “expiration” date. 

According to the complaint, JP Morgan accumulated substantial short positions, or contracts to sell an asset, in silver futures when they acquired rival investment bank Bear Stearns in 2008. In the following months, JP Morgan and HSBC owned more than 85 percent of the short positions in the market of silver futures contracts.   

In the short period of time, these companies have made $100 million off the activity,” said Sean Matt, co-counsel and partner at Seattle-based Hagens Berman, in a conference call with New York University students. “It’s a very large damage case the farther you go out…like you throw a pebble in a lake and you actually see energy from that pebble and the waves span out from where that pebble is dropped.”
The lawsuit alleges that the two giant investment and security firms colluded to flood the Commodity Exchange, or "COMEX," with a substantial amount of futures contracts in a given time to force prices to rapidly decline. 

“The top four largest traders in silver futures own about 20-45 percent of the annual silver market so I highly doubt [JP Morgan and HSBC] own anywhere near the positions they hold,” Matt said. “If they don’t own enough, they cover it and close out the contracts by doing the opposite.”
In the late 1970s, Nelson and William Hunt lost their billionaire fortune after the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) found the brothers guilty of conspiring to manipulate and monopolize the silver market, committing fraud and racketeering and violating antitrust laws. To date, there have been twenty-two similar lawsuits filed in New York’s Southern District Court, but issues still arise as to the question of manipulation: when is it legally manipulation?

“If people believe there is no collusion between market participants, their view of the market participants is skewed,” said Itamar Dreschler, assistant professor of finance at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. 

To determine manipulation, the CFTC use a four-part test: First, does the defendant have the ability to influence market prices? Second, Did the defendant specifically intend to do so? Third, does artificial prices exist? Lastly, Has the defendant caused an artificial price to occur?
“In most commodity markets, there are position limits such that this cannot happen…there are limits on the amount of short positions you can amass…not so for silver, gold and copper,” Matt said. “I have read that people believe to reform the market, part of what they need to do is put in position limits.”

“We hope on behalf of our clients that it [the impact of case] will lead to a market free of manipulation…that will likely involve the price of silver going up, I suspect.”

To be honest, I am still pretty confused about the process of naked short selling of futures and options. If "manipulating" the silver market push the price down, it will eventually bring the price up again. So where is the big payoff in the end for the accused? But I guess it doesn't take an investment banker to understand that eventually, a bubble WILL burst if you continue to short items you can't deliver.  I mean, there was a case where a trader was prosecuted after cornering merely 5 percent of the market. I guess all we can do is wait and see what will come out of yet ANOTHER Wall street case.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Broadway or Please Try Again

With so many talents, so many choices and so many hardworking people, to make it anywhere nowadays, you have to make it BIG. To be honest, who can afford greatness if it doesn’t pay?

And sadly, this is most true of the arts.

In today’s society, the theater pros know that if a play is ever going to have half a chance of making it, it’s got to make it on Broadway.  Yes, most of us are romantics and we want to believe that the passion, the fuel, the drive is going to make up for the lack of money, but to be frank, the passion, the fuel, the drive is going to realistically pay your bills for about as long as you can work that extra part-time, nighttime job.

When I first moved to the city, my roommate took me to a tiny, Off Broadway show hosted by The Acting Company. The storyline was amazing, the actors were talented and the audience was fascinated. After the lights came on, I sat there playing the minute details over and over again in my head, wondering what they could all mean and how they transcended into my life. It was a deep sense of enlightenment that you hope to gain after a movie, a poem, a story, a song. A wonderful sensation that could make you feel empty or satisfied, depending on the intentions of the producer/screenwriter/author.

But despite how wonderful that play was, I doubt it would ever see Broadway in the near future. Not enough bright lights for the big city, I guess. In our time, Broadway needs big stars, over the top sets and perilous stunts in order to rake in the big Benjamins.

Take the anticipated “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the most expensive Broadway show ever made with an estimated budget of $60 million. Opening day for the show has recently been delayed again due to incomplete safety inspections from the New York State Department of Labor.

The theatrical musical directed by Tony Award winner Julie Taymor, most known for “The Lion King,” shut down productions for months in 2009 after not having enough funds to continue the show, which was estimated to cost $40 million at the time.

I understand that people expect a big show after spending a handsome sum on tickets, but what bothers me is that you might not have a chance if you’re not inclined to go the mainstream route. Some of the most talented people in the world are involved in Off Broadway plays and low-budget films. Most of them seek nothing more than to generate some kind of idea, thought, meaning to the public.

And does Broadway really mean that you’ve made it? I guess the answer depends on what your meaning of “making it” truly is. If it means falling asleep during a Broadway production – as my roommate and her friend did while watching “A Life in the Theater” – then no, I do not take that as “making it.”

But the question remains: why does it always have to be all or nothing? Or in this case, why is it always Broadway or “Sorry, you didn’t have enough aerial maneuvers in this one. Please try again.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bravo to Baghdadiya

For me, the Middle East has always been a mysterious, struggling place and people. So many cultures. So many beliefs. So many views. And all in such close proximity to one another. Its rapid changes and complexities is what keeps us all guessing.
So when I read about Baghdadiya, I thought, “Bravo.”

Baghdadiya is a satellite channel best known for its infamous reporter Muntader al-Zaidi, or the guy who threw his shoe at former President George W. Bush in 2008. The channel broadcasts from Cairo and is notoriously known for controversial programs, even hosting a morning program that allows for viewers to share their criticisms of the government. The channel is as opposite to censorship as the Middle East, or perhaps any region, can possibly achieve.

But this past week, it all ended and a banner hung from the empty studio: “The Closing of Baghdadiya is a Funeral for Democracy.”

On All Hallows Eve, government officials arrested two of Baghdadiya’s employees on allegations that they were working with terrorists. The officials then forced everyone to vacate and closed the studio.

Juma Hilfi, media adviser to Baghdad’s licensing commission, ordered the arrests and claimed the station violated regulations governed by the Communications and Media Commission, specifically mentioning a show when the channel played pranks on actors by having fake security officials find bombs in their vehicles and then question them on suspicions of terroristic involvement.

In America, this is known as a parody, a protected form of speech. It is imperative that we are all thinking about certain issues - even intertwined with humor -that affect our lives and futures. Bluntly stating something is too harsh for some, but when the same message is shared in a parody, it opens up our minds to think, “hmmm…”

Again, I say one thing to Baghdadiya: Bravo! It is not so much that I support everything they report or their views, but that I applaud them for stepping out and opening doors to the future in such a turmoil state. Bravo for being different and speaking your mind. Bravo for breaking the silence.

Let’s hope that the recent shut down of the station will cause others in the region to second guess censorship regulations currently practiced. The long road to freedom still lies ahead and the Middle East has a long way to go, but Baghdad is on her way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Revolutionary musical steps in Vietnam

In many countries - fortunately - creative disciplines such as music, fashion and art have had a long-standing history so it is welcoming for students to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them. But imagine going to school and not having a standard academic discipline to adhere to.

School systems in Vietnam have not quite caught up with the country’s breakthrough into international mainstream and students are forced to learn on their own – researching and discovering their idols and coming up with new ideas.

The lack of resources and support from school may initially be a halt but in a sense, Vietnamese youngsters are truly blank slates. They are given markers and pens and its up to them to make up their own rules, their own fashion, their own paths to greatness. 

More exciting news: recently, the first television channel and Web site dedicated to urban music has been launched in the fast-changing country. Jennifer Ravolet, creative director at Yan TV, traveled from France to tell the story about the beginning of a new chapter in Vietnam’s media world.

Music television and Web sites make up huge industries almost everywhere else in the world; it’s exciting that something with such successful roots in other places is finally having its “first” in Vietnam. 

Aside from music videos and entertainment news, Ravolet will try to spread cultural values and establish a strong brand and identity for Yan TV.

Vietnam’s Web site dedicated to music ( features news and international trends and names in the industry.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A New Kind of Reality

America is fascinated by reality television as much as we are obsessed with our celebrities. We are enticed by how the other half lives, whether they’re the crème de la crème or slums of the earth.  We want to let go of our own struggles and troubles and be a part of other people’s woes and dramas.

Now, aside from watching how the worst housewives behave or socialites spend their money across the continent, viewers can tune in to another kind of reality show that may hit a little too close to home.

Responding to the country’s economic conditions, reality shows like “Downsized,” “The Fairy Jobmother,” “Outsourced” and “Raising Hope” document the nature of how the economy has affected American families. Of course, we must remember that they are reality shows and can only portray “reality” to an extent, although we applaud them for trying.

Lifetime’s “The Fairy Jobmother” is probably the most fictitious out of the above mentioned economic derived reality shows, centering around British “expert” consultant Hayley Taylor, who announced to the public, “It’s time to get America back to work!”

There is a new struggling family every episode and Taylor helps them change their financial luck, but the idea of a foreigner aiding Americans back on their feet can be hard for some to accept. And of course, unlike the real reality, the families on the show are offered jobs and new prospects at the end of each episode.

The WE TV’s “Downsized,” is a tad more realistic, surrounding a Brady-like Arizona family with seven children. When the Bruce couple married, their kids were teenagers and the blended family enjoyed some good times with Todd’s thriving construction company. Unfortunately, the real-estate crisis hit right in their home and the family’s two properties foreclosed while they struggled to make credit card and rent payments. The children also help out, selling their possessions and collecting aluminum cans and glassed bottles for extra change.

Reality television provides an escape route out of our real lives, but networks are taking a new move to show the world what is essentially on the country’s mind at the moment: the economy.  Reality shows “Outsourced” and “Raising Hope” also focus on foreclosures and unemployment.  Get ready – you might not be laughing or sneering at the characters, but at least you’ll be rooting for them. But then again, we rooted for Jon and Kate and look what happened there.