Media Predictions 2009: What Won't Happen
New Year's predictions: They're right up there with Christmas carolers and fruitcake as sure signs we're about to change the calendar again. Every journalist worth his or her laptop litters the Internet, and Old Media like newspapers and magazines, with what they're sure will happen in the next 12 months.
I'm not playing that game—exactly. Instead, Power Lunch is going to wow you with the Second Annual…10 Things That Won't Happen Next Year. How is that different from making predictions? Strictly speaking, it's not. But any self-respecting online columnist must do something to distinguish himself (or herself) from the growing gaggle of know-it-alls out there.
So without further ado, and in hopes no one is taking this too seriously, here are the Top 10 Things That Won't Happen in 2009. Trust me (or don't):
Katie Couric Won't Get Axed
O.K., I admit it. Last year, I thought she was a goner. So did The Wall Street Journal, which printed that she'd be out after the election. Didn't happen then, won't happen now. Why? Sarah Palin, that's why. Couric proved that—can ya imagine?—she is a first-rate journalist whose questions made the Republican Veep candidate look like a rube. Oh yeah, and Katie's ratings are up, too—even if she still trails Charlie and Brian. Things can change in a hurry, but I'm betting that CBS (CBS) CEO Leslie Moonves, who doesn't like admitting a mistake, appreciates Katie embracing YouTube and all manner of digital delivery of her news shows.
Sumner Redstone Won't Go Broke
That's the hot rumor around Hollywood. The 85-year-old billionaire, or so the story goes, is so heavily mortgaged that he's going to be forced to sell off his theater chain, CBS, and maybe even his baby, Viacom (VIAB), to pay off the $1.6 billion he owes Bank of America (BAC) and others. Yeah, he'll be selling—and maybe even CBS will go bye-bye—but the old guy has got the lenders thinking he'll need time to get some value out of the real estate sitting under those theaters. They'll wait.
Harvey Weinstein Won't Go Broke Either
O.K., so maybe The Weinstein Co., the company he and brother Bob started, does fold. It has overspent, hasn't had more than one or two smallish hits, and has watched as some of its top execs have headed out the door. It could score an Oscar nomination for its film The Reader, a post-Nazi flick starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet. But as for Harvey, he didn't put much of his own dough into the company. It's investors like Mark Cuban who could get burned.
Steven Spielberg Won't Get His Money
Unthinkable, right? That Steven Spielberg, who bolted from his three-year deal with Paramount to start his own company, is struggling to find bankers to lend him money for a $1.4 billion studio (to be called DreamWorks again) that he's already set up at Universal (GE). The banks don't want to give him the $750 million his business plan calls for. So Spielberg's financial team is scrambling to put together a $350 million package. The lousy financial market has pushed the loan from November to January, and now to sometime in the first quarter. Sure, he'll get money—he's Spielberg, after all—but he won't get the $750 million he initially wanted, at least not for a while. The good news: His Indian backer, Reliance Big Entertainment, isn't likely to take its $550 million equity elsewhere.
Jim Cameron Won't Have a 3D Titanic on His Hands
Hollywood's most aggressive big-bet artist, the 54-year-old director of Titanic and The Terminator, is hard at work putting the final touches on a megaproject called Avatar, which is expected to wow folks and usher in the era of 3D films in America. At a budget approaching $200 million (some say much higher), it reminds folks of his big-budget bet on Leonardo and that sinking cruise liner. But that bonanza won't happen this time. The intergalactic sci-fi battle movie is being made using "capture animation," which makes human actors look cartoonish (anyone remember Beowulf?). The age of commercial 3D may be upon us, but it won't be Cameron bringing it to the fore. My money is on DreamWorks Animation's (DWA) Monsters vs. Aliens, which comes out in March, months before Avatar's Dec. 18 release. I've seen parts of it, and "real" 3D cartoons are where the action is gonna be.
Tom Cruise Won't Be an Action Star Anymore
The marketing mavens at MGM turned a minor miracle and converted the onetime Scientologist bad boy into a squeaky-clean, smiling cherub for Matt Lauer and David Letterman. That, plus a hefty $60 million in marketing expenses, was enough to propel his latest flick, the Nazi assassination film Valkyrie, into a $30 million opening over the Christmas weekend, about twice what some in Hollywood had predicted. Still, whether Valkyrie turns a profit is still up in the air. And his next film is a comedy. Can you see anyone ever trusting this guy with a $150 million movie again?
Yahoo! Won't Get Sold
Lord knows it should. The online media company, whose net income fell by a humiliating two-thirds from 2005 to 2007, is looking for new leadership. It also has itchy investor Carl Icahn, who hiked his stake to 5.5% in November. Icahn pushed Yahoo (YHOO) to sell itself to Microsoft (MSFT) earlier this year. But after Google (GOOG) backed out of an advertising deal with Yahoo two months back, that told wise investors that something wasn't right at Yahoo. Microsoft might still bid, and there are recurring rumors that Time Warner (TWX) could merge its equally ailing AOL with Yahoo. Meanwhile, a team of Yahoo heavyweights, former Northwest Airlines (NWA) Chairman Gary Wilson and former Viacom President Frank Biondi, are looking for a CEO who can turn this mess around. I figure Icahn wants the new guy to make some serious changes before pushing for a sale.
Rupert Won't Sit on the Sidelines
It's been way too long since Rupert Murdoch last bought something. He plunked down $5.6 billion two years back for Dow Jones, and is now busily turning its flagship Wall Street Journal into a worthy competitor to The New York Times. But he's sitting on some $12 billion in cash and receivables, and has made gentle noises of late about seeing the current market as one with buying opportunities. Of course, News Corp. (NWS) stock is at a woeful $9 a share—his Dow Jones deal has sent the stock down to about one-third of where it traded a year ago. For mere mortals, that means hold. For Murdoch, that means everything else is underpriced, too. How about a bid for MGM, which has a giant library of old movies that he could shove through News Corp.'s muscular network of satellite and cable channels?
TV Networks Won't Disappear
A lot of pundits say one or more of the four major TV networks will cease to exist in the next 12 months. One often-mentioned loser: CBS. Huh? CBS's ratings are actually up this year, albeit by a scant 1%, while the other three networks' ratings are down. (Among the 18- to 49-year-old age group that advertisers love, they're all down, and overall the networks have lost some 1 million viewers this year.) Still, there are plenty more folks fleeing newspapers and magazines. Advertisers are sticking with TV networks, even as they flee local TV stations. So why would one of the Big Four have to fold? One won't. Not in 2009, at least.
The Online Video Winner Won't Be YouTube
Sure, the Google unit has tons of traffic and has been doing its best to find a way to generate revenues from the consumer-generated video that continues to be its mainstay. It's struck deals with several companies, which create their own video channels as well. But the online video winner just might be Hulu, the year-old joint venture between NBC and Fox that is generating north of 24 million monthly viewers. That's a fraction of YouTube's traffic, but Hulu's ad sales are fast-growing and folks are watching 10 or so TV-length shows each month. CBS CEO Moonves speculated recently that his network might just give its shows to Hulu as well, after resisting from the outset—as long as Hulu's sponsors send their shows to CBS's TV.com site. That will happen eventually, and the big boys will start to take serious market share from YouTube.