President Trump is the logical conclusion of Fox's influence on American culture: A New Yorker who channels right-wing populism and preys on conservative anxieties to boost his own brand.

March 5, 2019 | Hollywood


Good morning. Music to Howard Schultz's ears: 38% of Americans want a third political party, the highest number since at least 1995, per a new NBC News/WSJ poll. ... ReminderI'll be interviewing Schultz this Saturday at SXSW in Austin.


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Rupert Murdoch's Trump ROI


Moving the Market: President Donald Trump ordered his top economic adviser to pressure the Justice Department into blocking AT&T's Time Warner acquisition — one of three regulatory decisions in the Trump era that directly benefited Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, per The New Yorker's Jane Mayer:


• "In the late summer of 2017, a few months before the Justice Department filed suit [against AT&T's acquisition], Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene."


• "According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, 'I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!'"


• The other regulatory decisions that worked in Murdoch's favor: Approval of Fox's sale to Disney, which will net his family more than two billion dollars, and the FCC's move to block Sinclair Broadcast Group, "a conservative rival to Fox," from acquiring the Tribune Media Company.


The Big Picture: The Trump administration's alleged pro-Fox stance is the ultimate return on an investment Murdoch made more than 20 years ago when he launched Fox News as an alternative to America's centrist news channels and a home for the disenfranchised conservatives who ultimately became the Trump base.


• President Trump is the logical conclusion of Fox's influence on American culture: A New Yorker who channels right-wing populism and preys on conservative anxieties to boost his own brand.


• Despite privately criticizing him, Murdoch has cultivated ties with Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, because he understands the potential economic benefits, per Mayer.


Top Quote: “There are probably a lot of aspects of Trumpism that [Murdoch] is uncomfortable with," former Obama chief strategist David Axelrod tells Mayer. "But ultimately he’s a businessman. And it’s useful to have a friend who’s the President, particularly if there are close regulatory calls, and a President who is untroubled by the rules and norms in that regard.”


What's Next: The revelation about Trump's move to block AT&T-Time Warner is an invitation to Democratic lawmakers to pursue an investigation into a potential abuse of power by the president.


• NYT columnist Bret Stephens, on MSNBC: "I think it's one of the biggest almost-provable scandals of the Trump administration. ... The president of the United States appears to have suborned his Justice Department in order to pursue a political vendetta against a media entity, CNN, and to use all the engines of government in order to do that."


• Rep. Adam Schiff: "I've long feared Trump would use the instruments of state power to carry out his vendetta against the press ... Congress must find out whether Trump did just that by seeking to interfere in a merger ..."


Throwback Tuesday: AT&T chief Randall Stephenson talks to Stephens about the Justice Department's "peculiar timeline" in moving to block the Time Warner merger.

🏛 Rally the Market 🏛


Big in the Beltway: President Trump has a 46% approval rating, per the NBC/WSJ poll. That's lower than where Presidents Obama and Bush were at this point in 2011 and 2003, but higher than where President Clinton was in 1995.


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John Stankey re-orgs Warner


Despite Trump's alleged efforts, AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) was approved, the Justice Department has ceased its efforts to appeal the ruling, and WarnerMedia chief John Stankey has set about restructuring the media company's leadership.


Who's Next:


Bob Greenblatt, the former NBC Entertainment chief, will now serve as WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman overseeing HBO, TNT, TBS, TruTV and the new WarnerMedia streaming service.


Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, will add Turner Sports to his purview and become head of WarnerMedia News & Sports.


Kevin Tsujihara, the chief executive of Warner Bros., will add Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and other brands to his purview and become head of WarnerMedia Global Kids & Young Adults.


The Big Picture, via NYT's John Koblin and Ed Lee: AT&T, now "part telecommunications behemoth and part media-entertainment giant," is trying to beat out Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint "by offering not only service plans but also 'Game of Thrones' and 24-hour news."


• "At the same time, AT&T’s entry into the media sphere will eventually allow it to compete in the streaming business against companies it has rarely done battle with before, including the Walt Disney Company, Comcast, Netflix, Amazon and others."


Stankey: "If you don’t make a change, you’re not going to get any change in the product."


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Bob Greenblatt's Warner vision


Bob Greenblatt, the newly appointed chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment, tells me AT&T's takeover of the WarnerMedia brands is "a godsend" for HBO and Turner at a time when "media businesses are declining."


• He also tells me that "the brands are going to stay the brands," meaning he does not intend to change HBO's emphasis on top-tier premium programming despite the departure of former chief Richard Plepler.


Top Quotes:


On HBO: "We have the best television on earth, and that's HBO. ... What we're trying to do is preserve the quality and elegance of what HBO has been doing for 40 years and at the same time increase its output to a reasonable degree that doesn't effect the quality and elegance and beauty."


On AT&T: "The world wants to consume content in a different way. In order to do that, you have to build a new planet — we're going to try to build a new planet in a streaming service that can bring us into the future, and it's hard to do that without a massive company with worldwide reach behind you. That's what AT&T brings to this party."


On Netflix: "Netflix doesn't have a brand. It's just a place you go to get anything -- it's like Encyclopedia Britannica. That's a great business model when you're trying to reach as many people on the planet as you can."


On the Streaming Wars: "It's getting to be a crowded field ... We think there's room to carve out a very good consumer base for us. ... We have our collection of assets, and I think we can put them together in a way that's really compelling and where there's a way to build the subscriber base."


On WarnerMedia content: "I liked 'Jack Ryan' as a show ... 'The Bodyguard' ... 'Russian Doll' ... the Aziz Ansari Show ... 'The Good Place' ... 'This Is Us' ... There are all kinds of things that are exciting. It's just got to be really quality. It doesn't have to be the usual kind of dark show that we think of as premium television."


Oh/and: Greenblatt took issue with those who have suggested that WarnerMedia is going to cannibalize HBO in the service of AT&T's larger ambitions.


• "This is a company that really wants this media company to grow and prosper. Maybe they want to do it a little more efficiently... but they're not saying let's undo HBO."


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Jeff Zucker eyes sports rights


Newly minted Turner Sports chief Jeff Zucker tells Variety's Brian Steinberg that the company “will certainly continue to be a significant player in the sports-rights arena,” a sign that WarnerMedia may expand its broadcasting rights beyond the NBA, NCAA, PGA Tour and a smattering of other holdings.


• “WarnerMedia will continue to be aggressive when appropriate and strategic," Zucker tells Steinberg. "We are not going to take anything off the table."


• Zucker also tells Steinberg he has already made outreach to the commissioners of the major sports leagues.


The Big Picture, via Zucker: “News and sports continue to be the only two types of programs whose viewership is increasing in television ... Live programming remains the least impacted by the new forms of distribution and the way people consume today."

Market Links 


Bob Iger adds Ravi Ahuja to the Disney Television fold (LAT)


Julie Laulis leads the shift from TV to broadband (CNBC)


David Goodman arrives at "impasse" with agencies (Variety)


Steve Clemons leaves The Atlantic for Axios (@SCClemons)


Elon Musk backs a satire site called "Thud" (The Atlantic)


Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

What's eating Steven Spielberg?


Talk of Tinseltown: Steven Spielberg's move to block Netflix and other streaming services from the Oscars, which I reported on yesterday, amounts to a declaration of war on Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos and is already splitting allegiances in Hollywood.


• My colleague Daniel Arkin reports that studio executives see the battle as "a high-stakes fight for the future of the medium," pitting established directors like Spielberg and Christopher Nolan against those who say Netflix is "addressing the habits and needs of contemporary audiences."


Top take, via screenwriter Paul Schrader: "Distribution models evolve. The notion of squeezing 200+ people into a dark unventilated space to see a flickering image was created by exhibition economics not any notion of the 'theatrical experience.'"


• ... and yet, Schrader also argues that his latest film for A24 may have been "relegated to film esoterica" had Netflix picked it up first and "dumped it into its larder."


Throwback Tuesday: May 17, 1988 in NYT: "There has been, in Mr. Spielberg's words, 'a war' to make him agree to put his 1982 film [E.T.], the top box-office movie of all time, on cassette."

What Next: If Spielberg has a problem with Netflix, just wait til he hears about Quibi.


See you tomorrow.


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