He Said, She Said

Barbs, blasts and broadsides from NATPE

Ted Turner says he has written his epitaph: “I have nothing more to say.” But judging by his remarks at NATPE last week, he won't go quietly into his long, long good night. He made headlines worldwide when he compared the popularity of Fox News to Adolf Hitler's. Reminded that Fox now leads in ratings, Turner noted, well, yeah, maybe so, but Hitler got the most votes when he was elected to run Germany prior to WWII. Turner also charged that Fox is a propaganda tool for the Bush Administration.

“There's nothing wrong with that, he added. “It's certainly legal. But it does pose problems for our democracy—particularly when the news is dumbed down,” leaving voters without critical information on politics and world events and “overloaded with fluff,” he said. (For reader reaction, see Open Mike, page 36.)

Turner railed against big media: “Consolidation has made it almost impossible for an independent. It's virtually impossible to start a cable network.” And he ragged on former Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin, who pushed Turner out of the way. Taking the long view, Turner said the world endured “50 years of despotic Communism” and so Levin wasn't that bad.“I wish him well,” he said, adding, very quietly, “Sort of.”

BUT HE APPEARED FOR FREE: Another voluble executive, Mediacom Chairman Jon Mandel did not disappoint. When asked by CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo how marketers can build buzz for a new product, he quipped, “Like the federal government, you pay people,” a not-so-subtle jab at commentator Armstrong Williams' shilling for the Department of Education.

CALL HER SHECKY OPRAH: One of the convention's highlights was an appearance by a glowing Oprah Winfrey at King World's private dinner. In a monologue about King World chief Roger King, Winfrey had guests rolling in the aisles especially when she imitated his gruff, booming voice. She praised King, too, but, bottom line, she said, “he can't produce.” Example: Once, early on, he told her to do a whole show about the weather. Dutifully, she obeyed, and the show bombed. He left her alone after that.

FUNNY, THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE TOLD US, TOO: Tyra Banks, clad in a killer brown suit, plunging black tank top and sky-high heels, told a NATPE press conference she may look like a natural on the runway but chose modeling only “because I was 5 foot 10 and people told me I should.” Where she really feels comfortable—OK, here comes the plug—is on the small screen. On TV, the stunner says, “I felt like a true human being.”

BUT THEY HAVE GREAT LIBRARIES: On a NATPE panel, Dennis Swanson, the executive vice president and COO of CBS/Viacom, recalled the days before cable and other competition for ad dollars in the 1970s: “You just answered the phone and took the orders and then went out golfing. My gosh, that was fun.” Reflecting on it a few moments later, he added that broadcast television was so easy then that, today, “some of the dumbest people in the world are billionaires.”

And now “MobiSodes”: One day before the official opening of NATPE, the futurists out there hosted their own special cellphone-themed day. News Corp. made headlines announcing a cluster of programs made specifically for mobile phones. Its first-generation content will work only on certain Verizon phone models, sending 1-minute “mobisodes” of 24 starting next month. (They're only a minute long because that's about as much bandwidth as a cellphone can handle, and yes, Fox has a copywright on the word “mobisode.”)

Two more are in the works: Love & Hate and Sunset Hotel. If those click, says Daniel E. Tibbets, Twentieth Television VP of production, these projects may end up as full-fledged series. (A mobisode script is about two pages long.) News Corp. has been showing 24 in the UK this month, charging cell customers about £10 for the whole series, but Fox says Verizon hasn't priced it yet. Anyway, panelists agreed, soon when “actors just phone it in,” that will be a good thing.

The likely next big advance: Alex Bloom, a Verizon Wireless executive, also told the conference the company can't wait to offer a “video tone”: a scene and a phrase from a favorite movie or TV show that becomes the “ring” every time a consumer gets a call.