Friday, 16 Apr 2021

What’s Next for Fox and CNN

The media’s message

Jason Kilar of CNN’s parent WarnerMedia and Fox Corp.’s Lachlan Murdoch made news yesterday — that’s their business, after all — at a Morgan Stanley conference. The shifting strategies of the media giants are in the spotlight as the Trump era fades, the pandemic approaches its final stages (let’s hope) and billion-dollar deals for sports rights come up for renewal. Here’s what the media moguls said that caught our attention:

On the news cycle …

Fox says Biden is good for business. From a ratings point of view, “the main beneficiary of the Trump administration was MSNBC,” said Mr. Murdoch. “And that’s because they’re in loyal opposition, right? They called out the President when he needed to be called out. That’s what our job is now with the Biden administration.” (Here’s what CNN thinks about that.)

Fox News recently fell behind CNN and MSNBC in key ratings for the first time in 20 years.

CNN says the pandemic is good for business. “It turns out that the pandemic and the way that we can help inform and contextualize the pandemic, it turns out it’s really good for ratings,” said Mr. Kilar. He added that “CNN is killing it.” (Here’s what Fox News thinks about that.)

The question, though, is whether there are enough people paying for cable these days to make the affiliate fees that CNN generates worth it to WarnerMedia.

On deals …

Fox will look for acquisitions outside cable. Mr. Murdoch said there is a “plethora of opportunities” for deals, from gaming to streaming and elsewhere. (Fox Sports has the option to buy an 18.5 percent stake in the gambling group FanDuel this summer.) For M.&A. watchers, it’s worth noting that the two-year moratorium on dealmaking following Fox’s sale of 21st Century to Disney has now expired.

WarnerMedia will probably sell more stuff to manage its debt load, like it did when selling a stake in DirecTV to TPG last month. “We will continue to be aggressive and disciplined about our focus,” said Mr. Kilar. “And that may include some things that we bring into the company, but it probably also includes things that are not a part of the company.” As for other potential deals, candidates could include a sale of Xandr, WarnerMedia’s advertising unit, or a tie-up between Dish and DirecTV.

Mr. Kilar wasn’t asked about longstanding speculation that the company might sell CNN — speculation stoked when Jeff Zucker announced he is stepping down from the channel at the end of the year — though the WarnerMedia chief has previously suggested he had no plans to do so.

On sports …

Amazon could carry many N.F.L. games exclusively, according to The Wall Street Journal, which would shake up the rights for a cornerstone of Fox’s programming. Mr. Murdoch made a seeming reference to The Journal’s report that Amazon could take over Thursday-night games from Fox starting in 2022, noting that “the most likely scenario” after negotiations with the league is that Fox will just keep Sunday games. The per-season fee for that package could double, to $2 billion, according to The Journal.

Background reading …

On Fox: “As Trump Reels, Fox News Has a Message for Viewers: Stick With Us”

On CNN: “Jeff Zucker Helped Create Donald Trump. That Show May Be Ending.”

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

Another bad day — and week — for the market. The S&P 500 had another down day, dragged lower by tech stocks and jitters over inflation that the Fed chair Jay Powell failed to dispel. With stocks set for a third week of decline, investors will look to the monthly U.S. jobs report today for direction.

China sets robust economic growth targets and tightens its grip on Hong Kong. At the Communist Party’s annual meeting, officials targeted 6 percent annual growth, a big rise in military spending and an electoral overhaul in Hong Kong that would cripple the opposition there.

President Biden brings a leading critic of Big Tech into the White House. Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and former contributing writer for Times Opinion, has been named to the president’s National Economic Council. It signals a confrontational approach by the administration toward the tech industry.

The Senate picks up debate on the stimulus bill. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, demanded that clerks recite the 628-page plan, which took more than 10 hours yesterday. (If you need help going to sleep, here’s the video.) The chamber will debate amendments today, with a final vote coming, perhaps, in the wee hours of Saturday.

Italy blocks vaccine exports, an escalation in the global competition for supplies. Rome stopped 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine from being flown to Australia, as a rise in cases, slow vaccine rollout and fear of mutations combined to convince officials to take drastic action, potentially inviting retaliation.

The difficult birth of a pregnancy discrimination bill

Eight years, six legislative sessions and thousands of lawsuits. That’s what it has taken Congress to consider a bill that would provide pregnant women with clearer protections at work. Its prospects for passing into law are now better than ever, Alisha Haridasani Gupta and Alexandra Petri report for the In Her Words newsletter.

It has a renewed sense of urgency, as the pandemic pushed millions of women out of work. When the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which was first proposed to lawmakers in 2012, was reintroduced last month, it had 225 sponsors, including 19 Republicans.

The law would clarify the “accommodations” that companies should provide for pregnant employees, which are currently governed by a patchwork of state laws and ambiguous provisions in a 1978 law that made it illegal for employers to consider pregnancy in hiring, firing and promotion decisions.

Courts usually side with employers in pregnancy discrimination cases, a recent four-year study by the advocacy group A Better Balance found. Some of the accommodations courts have said workplaces weren’t required to provide included additional bathroom breaks and stools to sit on.

“It’s just a common-sense piece of legislation to help keep women in the work force,” said Representative John Katko of New York, one of the Republican lawmakers backing the bill. It is expected to pass the House in the coming weeks.

“The economy isn’t physics — it’s not governed by scientific laws outside our control. It’s made up of people making choices about our values and what kind of society we want to live in.”

— Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, at a hearing on “Wall Street vs. Workers” held by the banking committee he chairs.

In the papers

Some of the academic research that caught our eye this week, summarized in one sentence:

People with higher incomes tend to feel better about themselves, but don’t show more compassion toward others. (Eddie Tong et al)

Generous government support has reduced corporate bankruptcies via “hibernation rather than zombification.” (Mathieu Cros, Anne Epaulard and Philippe Martin)

At McDonald’s restaurants, a rise in the minimum wage results in more expensive Big Macs and few other effects on operations or jobs. (Orley Ashenfelter and Stepan Jurajda)

Readers on reopening

Yesterday, we highlighted some of the signs that people are preparing to go out into the world again, from buying concert tickets to booking cruises and joining gyms. Here’s another: Sonia Syngal, the C.E.O. of Gap, told The Wall Street Journal that demand for dressier clothes is rising. She expects a “peacocking effect that happens, as people emerge from Covid.”

We asked whether you have spotted other glimpses of post-pandemic life, and these are a few of the indicators you flagged to us:

Cape Cod rentals for the summer are “out of sight,” said Ray. “They’re stretching into the autumn.”

“Brazilian and body waxing is way up,” said Nickie in Virginia (who should know, because she runs a salon). “People are getting ready for vacations and swimsuit season.”

“I was stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway at 3:30 p.m.,” said Susan. “My thought: L.A. is back!”

A bitter pill

A Delaware judge recently struck down “poison pill” provisions put in place by the energy company Williams to shield itself from takeover attempts during the pandemic. It was the first time in more than two decades that the influential Chancery Court, which presides over most disputes in corporate America, invalidated a poison pill adopted by a public company. The ruling is likely to be challenged, but corporate advisers took notice of the potential implications.

It wasn’t a “typical” poison pill. The board of Williams adopted the measures early in the pandemic to guard against unspecified activist threats if the company’s share price fell. It was unusually aggressive — the Delaware judge called it “unprecedented” — because it would be triggered when an investor amassed a 5 percent stake, a lower threshold than most. The measures authorized the company to issue stock to dilute activists’ power and also included “wolfpack” provisions to prevent undesirable investors from working together to build a stake in the company.

It still alters the conversation. Corporate advisers can no longer tell company directors that poison pills are essentially always upheld, because now one has not been. This is important as activism is on the rise and many pills adopted by companies early in the pandemic are coming up for renewal by shareholders.

THE SPEED READ

Deals

Jack Dorsey’s payments company, Square, is buying a majority stake in Jay-Z’s music streaming company, Tidal, for $297 million, and the rapper will join Square’s board. (NYT)

In SPAC news, the online insurance seller Hippo is merging with a blank-check firm run by Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus in a deal worth $5 billion; the photo-sharing service Shutterfly is reportedly in talks with a SPAC at a valuation of up to $5 bil­lion; and Chamath Palihapitiya sold all of his $200-million-plus personal stake in Virgin Galactic, which merged with one of his SPACs in 2019. (Reuters, WSJ, Business Insider)

Politics and policy

The S.E.C. created a task force to take a closer look at companies’ disclosures about climate change and social issues. (Reuters)

The U.S. temporarily suspended tariffs on Scotch whisky. (NYT)

The E.U. proposed a law that would require companies to disclose gender pay gaps. (NYT)

Tech

Amazon has spent the pandemic embarking on a warehouse shopping spree in New York. (NYT)

Reddit has hired its first C.F.O., a clear sign that it’s preparing to go public. (NYT)

Twitter is reportedly testing an “undo send” button. (Engadget)

Best of the rest

Black representation in the fashion industry has been lacking. Is that changing? (NYT)

A new supersonic jet claims to carry up to 18 passengers from New York to London in one-and-a-half hours. (Telegraph)

The clothing company Suitsupply has an, erm, interesting idea of what post-pandemic life will be like. (AdAge)

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