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Wang Qishan Returns to China’s Political Stage

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 08:00 AM PST

China’s former anti-corruption czar, Wang Qishan, has just returned to the political stage.

On January 29, the Hunan Province People’s Congress announced that Wang, together with other 117 members, has been appointed as a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s national legislature.

Wang, 69, has reached the age of retirement for China’s top officials, according to the unwritten rules of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Thus, after the CCP reshuffled its leadership during the 19th Party Congress last October, Wang stepped down from both his principal positions: head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (the CCP’s highest internal-control institution) and member of the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee (China’s highest decision-making body).

However, there have been widespread rumors that Wang — who had been in charge of the grand anti-corruption campaign launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping since 2012 as Xi’s most important ally — would not leave China’s political stage so easily. Multiple oversea media outlets predicted that Wang would be appointed as China’s vice president or another important role at the annual meeting of the NPC in March.

The Hunan Province People’s Congress’ latest announcement has just added fuel to those rumors, since it’s extremely rare for a retired CCP high official to gain a seat in the NPC.

The latest development immediately caught media attention at home and abroad.

China’s local media outlets, although forbidden from analyzing the development by censors, simply highlighted Wang’s appointment by running the announcement as a headline, without adding any further explanation. The collective move by Chinese media further demonstrated the significance of Wang’s unusual appointment.

As The South China Morning Post noted, “In the past two decades, all top state officials, from presidents to ministers, as well as the party’s inner 25-member Politburo, have had seats in the NPC. At the same time, all outgoing and retiring top leaders have not stayed on for the NPC’s next session.”

Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan told SCMP that the arrangement has “paved the way for Wang’s vice-presidency.”

“Wang is almost set to become a member of the NPC’s presidium,” Zhang said. “but Wang’s real power will remain to be seen – it depends on what Xi’s needs are.”

According to China’s Constitution, there is no age cap for either the president or the vice president, merely a minimum age requirement of 45.

As for the role of the vice president, Article 82 reads:

The Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China assists the President in his work.

The Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China may exercise such functions and powers of the President as the President may entrust to him.

Thus, the power of the future vice president, whether Wang or another official, will be totally decided by Xi.

Pickup Trucks: 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500: What’s Changed

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 06:38 AM PST

By G.R. Whale

Most significant changes: Standard backup camera, some cosmetic changes and graphics, and MyLink standard on WT

Prices change: Increases of $500 to $1,000 depending on configuration

On sale: Now

Which should you buy, 2017 or 2018? 2018 because more configurations are available

Chevrolet’s Silverado 2500/3500 pickup trucks change little for model-year 2018. Both the Silverado HDs and their GMC Sierra HD twins will continue to offer 6.6-liter diesel engines with the highest horsepower rating in their class. They also still offer independent front suspensions, heavy-duty rear axles and leaf springs on two- and four-wheel models.

Silverado HDs come in four primary trim levels — WT, LT, LTZ and High Country — with special editions based on packaging or geography, including All Star, Midnight, Custom Sport, Alaskan and Texas editions, with the latter offered in Texas and adjoining states.

The Silverado offers regular- and crew-cab configurations along with a double cab other competitors don’t offer. Regular cabs and duallies come with 8-foot beds only. Maximum payload capacity (7,153 pounds) and bumper towing (23,300 pounds) should handle all pickup duties, and while nine colors are available, two are restricted by trim or cab style and the interior will be black or tan.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, all cab configurations of the Silverado 2500 scored four stars overall out of five, four in the frontal crash test, five in side crash test and three for the rollover. The Driver Alert Package that’s available on LT and LTZ models and standard on High Country models includes forward collision alert, lane departure warning, safety alert seat, and parking assist. OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hot spot is available.

Silverado HDs come standard with an aging 360-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic transmission; a 445-hp, turbo-diesel 6.6-liter V-8 with an Allison six-speed automatic is optional.. A locking differential is optional or included in some packages, as is a receiver hitch.

Here’s the full list of updates and changes to the 2018 Silverado HD:

  • Cajun Red Tintcoat, Havana Metallic and Iridescent Pearl Tricoat (crew cabs only) color choices
  • Tire pressure monitor now has tire fill alert for single-rear-wheel models with a gross vehicle weight rating less than 10,000 pounds
  • Rear-vision camera is standard on all models with cargo box
  • New grille mesh design on High Country and Z71
  • Revised Z71 and 4X4 graphics
  • MyLink 7-inch audio system now standard on WT model[JB3]

Manufacturer images; Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

Winter Games Athletes Lack Star Power: Survey

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 06:15 AM PST

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio featured swimmer Michael Phelps, already the most decorated Olympian ever, returning from retirement. Others, too, came to Rio with multiple golds, big endorsements and well-known backstories, including U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

The 2018 Winter Games in Pyeong-chang, South Korea, have just a flicker of that star power, with only two returning U.S. gold medalists, snowboarder Shaun White and alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, registering significant name recognition with American audiences, according to data from Hub Entertainment Research. (The survey was conducted online Dec. 16-19 with more than 1,000 U.S. respondents, ages 16-64.)

That may not bode well for a megabillion-dollar event that already shines less brightly than its warm-weather counterpart.

“It’s been proven time and time again that the Summer Olympics, with its diversity of sports and type of athletes, tends to have a broader appeal,” says Amy Rappo, communications strategy director at ad agency Droga5.

The Hub study found a paucity of well-known names coming to Pyeongchang, so much so that 19% of those surveyed claimed to have heard of none of the dozens of potential stars.

Traditionally, men’s hockey has been one of the most popular Winter Olympics sports. But the NHL has opted not to go on hiatus for the Games for the first time since 1998, denying the competition many of its top players.

Still, NBC benefits from the fact that it’s airing the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics in the same year — the first network to do so since 1992. And the football game is being played Feb. 4, just four days before the start of the Olympics, giving the network a platform to tout breakout candidates like Mikaela Shiffrin, an alpine skier with the possibility of challenging for as many as five gold medals.

“I think they’re going to use a lot of their Super Bowl time to ramp up promotions and do more profiles on the athletes as well,” Rappo says.

Yet the true appeal of the Olympics for viewers is not the caliber of stars at the start of the Games, argues Elizabeth Lindsey, manager partner at sports marketing and talent management firm Wasserman, but rather those who emerge over the course of the event.

“I can guarantee you some of the names that aren’t recognizable going into the Olympics will be known after the Olympics, because the Olympics is a story maker,” Lindsey says. “It’ll happen again this year, because it always does.”

WHICH OF THESE OLYMPIC ATHLETES HAVE YOU HEARD OF?

Pre-Games, only a handful of athletes have significant awareness among viewers

Shaun White: 53% Awareness
White entered the pro circuit at age 13. Now, at 31, he’s become one of the most decorated figures in snowboarding, earning two Olympic gold medals as well as 15 golds at ESPN’s X Games. He’s also taken home 10 ESPY Awards.

Lindsey Vonn: 51% Awareness
The 33-year-old alpine skiier is the only American woman to capture Olympic gold in the downhill event, winning in Vancouver in 2010. No woman has more World Cup wins (76) than Vonn.

19% have heard of none of these athletes

Kelly Clark: 15% Awareness
Clark is the youngest U.S. woman snowboarder to medal at the Olympics, taking gold in the halfpipe at age 19 in 2002. She also won bronze in 2010 and ’14.

Jamie Anderson: 13% Awareness
A five-timeX Games gold medalist, snowboarder Anderson won Olympic gold in 2014 in the first Olympic slopestyle.

Nathan Chen: 12% Awareness
The 18-year-old Chen has been the U.S. men’s national figure skating champ for the past two years — since he hit the senior circuit. This is his first Olympics.

Lindsey Jacobellis: 10% Awareness
A five-time world champion in the snowboard cross, Jacobellis memorably took silver in the 2006 Olympics when a late flourish failed.

Maddie Bowman: 8% Awareness
Snowboarder Bowman won Olympic gold in the Games’ first halfpipe competition, in Sochi. After rehabbing a torn ACL in 2015, she’s won two X Games golds.

Amanda Kessel: 7% Awareness
A concussion during the 2014 Olympics sidelined Kessel for two years, but in 2017 she led the U.S. women’s hockey team to the World Championship.

Maia and Alex Shibutani: 7% Awareness
The sibling ice dancers have been a team for 14 years. They took bronze at the 2017 World Championships after placing ninth in Sochi.

Mikaela Shiffrin: 7% Awareness
Alpine skiier Shiffrin won her first world title in the slalom in 2013 at age 17 and has never lost since, including at the Sochi Olympics.

(Sources: Hub Entertainment research, Variety; Only athletes with more than 6% recognition are shown)

How to Successfully Sanction North Korea

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 06:04 AM PST

The North Korean nuclear crisis has placed a premium on the ability of sanctions to avert war, and the past two years have seen an important increase in U.S. and international sanctions against Pyongyang. Since the beginning of 2016, the United Nations Security Council has enacted five new resolutions that rank among the toughest such penalties the UN has ever imposed on any country-targeting the North’s sources of income and trade, and not simply entities directly involved in its nuclear program. The U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration also enacted important new sanctions last year, including a welcome move to begin imposing sanctions on Chinese companies that engage in commercial trade with North Korea. Just last week, the Trump administration strengthened these measures by imposing sanctions on more than a dozen North Korean financial and procurement representatives based in China and by targeting two Chinese companies that engaged in commercial business with North Korea.

These measures have had a notable effect, thanks in part to better Chinese cooperation to cut off key trade in coal and other minerals, South Korean shipping interdictions, and international financial vigilance. But for economic sanctions to force North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into making meaningful nuclear concessions, let alone to bring a change in North Korea’s leadership, the United States and its allies need a long-term strategy to constrain North Korea’s economy and make the sanctions bite.

The key to a successful sanctions strategy is recognizing that such measures take time to achieve results. Consider the case of Iran. U.S. President George W. Bush first began a campaign of international economic pressure against Iranian banks in 2006, and the UN and the U.S. Congress both enacted tough sanctions between 2010 and 2012. But it was not until 2013, after the economic isolation began to take its toll and lower oil prices hurt Tehran’s budget and reserves, that the regime was prepared for serious negotiations over its nuclear program. It would be another two years of talks before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear agreement, was signed.

To be sure, North Korean sanctions have also been in place for years. But until recently, the measures applied were limited and episodic in scope; the ability of North Korea to adapt to pressure and the lifeline of the Chinese economy had blunted the effects of this pressure. As a result, the now-amplified penalties will take time to fully impact North Korea’s economy and change Pyongyang’s strategic calculus. The Trump administration thus needs to map out a long-term strategy rather than one premised on achieving short-term results or reacting to near-term North Korean provocations. 

MAKING SANCTIONS WORK

A long-term sanctions strategy against Pyongyang has four pillars. The first is relentless enforcement-particularly of the new measures enacted in 2017-and making every effort to prevent circumvention of the sanctions.

The popular portrayal of North Korea as a hermit kingdom has long been a misleading characterization, at least in terms of the country’s economics. The South Korean government estimated that in 2016, North Korea exported $2.8 billion worth of goods and imported $3.7 billion worth. This trade provides North Korea with both critical revenues and key economic and commercial imports, such as fuel, vehicles, machinery, and other equipment. 

The UN and U.S. sanctions enacted over the past two years have the potential to cut deeply into North Korea’s economy. UNSC Resolution 2375, which was passed in 2017, for example, prohibits North Korean textile exports, a major revenue source. Indeed, in September the U.S. Mission to the United Nations estimated that the resolution, combined with other initiatives, bans 90 percent of North Korea’s exports by value. The resolutions also capped Pyongyang’s oil imports and prohibited foreign companies from participating in joint ventures in North Korea. This is why Pyongyang reacted so loudly to the imposition of these sanctions, calling them an “act of war.”

Sanctions, however, are only as effective as their enforcement. This point is particularly critical given North Korea’s well-documented history of using shell companies, middlemen, and evasive techniques such as money laundering to dodge international scrutiny. Indeed, Pyongyang is already working to circumvent the sanctions on oil imports by arranging offshore ship-to-ship oil transfers to mask its identity as the ultimate oil purchaser. Washington needs to continue to maintain an aggressive pace of designations and prosecutions against companies that violate North Korea sanctions in order to shut down illicit networks and deter would-be future violators.

The United States also needs to tackle North Korea’s growing use of cybertools and digital sanctions circumvention. Over the past two years, Pyongyang has mounted an aggressive, multifaceted campaign to use cybertools to hack banks, likely including stealing tens of millions of dollars from the Bank of Bangladesh’s account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and from a bank in Taiwan. Pyongyang is also using ransomware and other cybertools to acquire cryptocurrencies to finance its operations. Although the dollar value of North Korea’s digital currency activities is likely small, Washington and its allies need to stop Pyongyang’s ability to evade sanctions through digital means before it becomes a major weakness in the global sanctions regime.

The second pillar of a long-term strategy for North Korea sanctions is integrating sanctions with other coercive economic and national security tools, including the anti-money-laundering tools established by Section 311 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Washington has already taken important first steps along these lines. The U.S. Treasury designated North Korea as a “jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern,” and last year the Trump administration imposed a Section 311 action on Bank of Dandong, a Chinese bank that was facilitating financial transactions for North Korea.

There is, however, room to do considerably more. The Trump administration should build on its previous actions by issuing a “class of transaction” Section 311 designation. With this action, Treasury would designate any North Korean financial and commercial transaction or activity as a class of transaction of “primary money laundering concern” and require specific enhanced due diligence, information collection, and reporting tied to any transactions touching North Korean activity. This would put the onus on financial institutions, in particular Chinese banks with exposure to the United States and Western banking systems, to determine if they have direct or indirect exposure to anything that touches North Korea. This in turn would increase pressure beyond the existing designations of North Korean banks and companies, whose names and affiliations may change.

Another important tool is increased information sharing with the private sector. In recent months the U.S. Treasury has taken an important first step by more frequently sharing its knowledge of suspected North Korean-linked companies with major banks in the United States and Europe. Treasury should expand on this step by joining with allied nations to establish a dynamic information sharing mechanism with key private sector actors, including banks, shipping companies, and other key global industries. For example, the Treasury should launch a formal public-private partnership against North Korea’s illicit trade that would regularly convene key corporate stakeholders from different industries and different allied countries to share information and analyze trends.

Washington and its allies should also combine these forms of pressure with a more aggressive interdiction strategy-building on the Proliferation Security Initiative that has made it easier for the United States and allied countries to board ships suspected of carrying WMD components and provisions of UNSC resolutions tied to interdiction of suspect vessels-that makes clear that Australian Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. naval vessels will be targeting suspect shipments moving in and out of North Korea. Given the proliferation risks of a regime willing to share and trade in missile, nuclear, and other prohibited technologies, a more robust and consistent effort on this front is necessary.

The third pillar of a long-term sanctions strategy on North Korea involves China. Chinese-North Korean trade increased tenfold between 2000 and 2015, and China likely accounted for 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade in 2017. Chinese exports to North Korea increased during the first part of 2017, even as China’s imports from North Korea fell following the new UN sanctions. Changing Pyongyang’s behavior requires Beijing exerting more coercive influence than it has in the past.

Chinese and U.S. interests with respect to North Korea have never aligned neatly-with China worried more about instability on its border than nuclear development-and it is no surprise that China has been reluctant to cut off trade with its neighbor, including in oil. Nonetheless, there are several steps that Washington can take to increase China’s cooperation without having to directly confront Beijing.

U.S. officials should emphasize compliance with UN Security Council obligations, a class of sanctions China has long stated it accepts even while denouncing U.S. sanctions as illegitimate. Publicizing photos and other evidence of evasion, like North Korea’s ship-to-ship oil transfers, can shame China into greater compliance. But the United States will also need to be prepared to increase pressure in ways that will ultimately change China’s strategic calculus. China needs to understand that the costs it will face by allowing North Korea to continue on its current path outweigh the costs of taking a harder line with Pyongyang.

Recent U.S. sanctions on Chinese companies doing business with North Korea represent a solid start. But the companies sanctioned to date likely had limited exposure to the United States and sanctions are unlikely to have major economic costs for China. U.S. officials need to make clear that they are prepared to target large Chinese banks and companies that are heavily connected to the United States  and the U.S. financial system if China does not fully enforce UN sanctions on North Korea and push its neighbor toward denuclearization. Chinese legitimacy and its economic health are core interests for Beijing that have never been put at risk because of North Korea.

In this regard, Washington should also create and announce task forces that will focus intelligence, law-enforcement, financial, and regulatory attention on the corruption, human rights violators-including the networks supporting North Korean forced labor around the world-and cybernetworks that North Korea relies on to run its system. These areas touch and affect China indirectly and directly and often cut to the heart of Chinese interests. These task forces can complement U.S. sanctions regimes already in place to focus on these issues, including the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the Treasury Department to sanction individuals involved in corruption and human rights violations, and Executive Order 13757, targeting malicious cyberactivity and networks. China must understand that U.S. and international pressure and presence will only increase over time, as the risks from North Korea, such as proliferation, persist.

The Trump administration must also deter other countries from propping up North Korea. In 2017 there were troubling signs that Russia was quietly increasing its support for Kim, including by facilitating illicit North Korean coal exports and by covertly providing oil to North Korea. The Trump administration needs to make clear that Moscow will face punishing costs if this trend continues, including more aggressive sanctions against the Russian government officials and ministries involved in supporting Pyongyang.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

The final pillar of a long-term sanctions strategy against North Korea is ensuring that the measures have adequate time to work.

The recent sports diplomacy between Seoul and Pyongyang and the announcement that North Korea will participate the 2018 Olympics and march together with South Korea under a unified flag during the opening ceremonies represents a valuable reduction in tensions and should ensure that Pyongyang does not engage in a provocation during the Olympics next month. But it is vitally important that the international community maintain the economic pressure on North Korea until it actually makes concrete nuclear concessions. In the past, Pyongyang has used diplomatic gambits to seek a reduction in pressure without having to concede anything meaningful, a strategy that has allowed it to avoid truly punishing economic consequences. Sanctions pressure is just beginning to bite and a quick move to unwind would cost the United States, South Korea, and other allies vital leverage. Giving up such leverage too quickly or downplaying the effect of sanctions to achieve sustainable concessions has been a repeated failure of Washington’s economic statecraft.

The Trump administration will also need to find ways to slow North Korea’s nuclear tests. Given the rapid advances in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, North Korea may perfect a nuclear device capable of hitting the United States prior to buckling under crippling economic pressure. The United States and its allies need to continue aggressive efforts to slow the North’s nuclear progress and to continue readying its military capabilities in a bid to deter further North Korean provocations. This will signal to China as well that the time for them to influence Pyongyang is now. Every month that Washington can slow North Korea’s nuclear progress is another month for the economic pressure of the sanctions to build.

North Korea’s nuclear program represents potentially the greatest national security challenge the United States faces today-one that will require the effective deployment of all types of national power. Done effectively, a long-term sanctions strategy has the potential to be a central element of a peaceful solution. In recent memory, sanctions and financial pressure often have been misunderstood and underestimated in their ability to achieve diplomatic results. Now is the time for urgency to attempt to change behavior and avert war.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

Big Media, Silicon Valley Battle for Multibillion-Dollar Sports TV Rights

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 06:00 AM PST

The year is 2034. The Olympics that have been a fixture on channels owned by NBCUniversal since 2002 have disappeared from TV altogether. Instead, the Winter Games stream live to your phone courtesy of Amazon, which bid the rights away from all of the biggest media companies. The downhill skiing competition has never looked better in 16K screen resolution, with not a hint of buffering.

This fictional scenario may sound inconceivable, and no company is known to be making a play for the rights to the Olympics just yet. But as NBC is set to blanket the two biggest sporting events on American calendars — Super Bowl LII (Feb. 4) and the 2018 Winter Olympics (Feb. 9-25) — across screens everywhere next month, tech titans are making an unmistakable advance on sports telecasts that were once the exclusive preserve of traditional media companies.

Mikaela Shiffrin, 22, is the reigning Olympic champion in the slalom, after taking the gold in Sochi in 2014.Carlos Serrao

Over the past two years, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Verizon and Yahoo have picked up smaller sets of mostly nonexclusive rights to different packages of live pro games, essentially rebroadcasting what’s seen on TV to a fraction of the audiences coming to linear channels. But the current bidding war for primetime TV rights to “Thursday Night Football,” which the NFL is shopping to broadcasters and streaming services alike, is indication enough that Silicon Valley players are poised to snatch away all of the rights packages they’re currently content to share.

“One day you’ll wake up and say, ‘Son of a gun! The NFL is no longer on X network — it’s in a new place,'” predicts industry vet Michael Kassan, founder and CEO of consulting firm MediaLink.

In the U.S., TV and streaming rights for the most popular leagues are (mostly) locked up until 2021. But digital platforms may strike sooner on foreign shores: In the U.K., for example, bids for English Premier League soccer rights are on the table this year — and Amazon has been rumored to be a serious contender to vie against current rights holders BT and Sky. The crown jewel of European sports rights, EPL cost the two companies roughly $7 billion in 2015.

New media’s most powerful entities are mum on whether they’re willing to strike for the biggest rights deals. Sports is “an area we want to continue to invest in,” says Dan Reed, Facebook‘s head of global sports partnerships, declining to get specific. “We see all kinds of fans on our platform, ranging from the most popular sports to niche sports.”

While the scale of their ambitions is unclear, some of the tech giants certainly have pockets deep enough to easily bid up the multibillion-dollar price tags on game packages. That could put them beyond the reach of media companies already suffering financially as ratings for some top sports attractions sag. But if incumbent rights holders are feeling the pain now, that’s nothing compared with the world of hurt that awaits them in the event they lose the content that’s the linchpin stabilizing many of their businesses.

“Sports obviously is the glue that holds the pay-TV bundle together,” says CFRA Research senior media analyst Tuna Amobi. He pegs the prospect of traditional TV nets losing key sports rights as a medium-term risk factor: “What makes it unsettling for the traditional media conglomerates is that they know the digital companies have a lot of firepower if they decide to ratchet it up. It’s only going to get more and more intense.”

DEALS ON DECK
Several soccer rights packages expire in the next three years; NFL and MLB soon after
PROPERTY EXPIRATION
DATE
CURRENT RIGHTS
HOLDER
MARKET AVG. ANNUAL RIGHTS FEE
Italian Serie A 2018 Sky Italia, Mediaset Italy $1.1b
English Premier League 2019 BT Sport, Sky U.K. $2.2B
La Liga 2019 Mediapro, Telefonica Spain $1B
Ligue 1 2020 BeIN Sports France, Canal Plus France $1B
NFL Monday Night Football 2021 ESPN U.S. $1.9B
MLB 2021 ESPN, Fox, Turner U.S. $1.9B
UEFA Champions League 2021 Multiple (U.S.: Turner) Global N/A
Bundesliga 2021 ARD, Sky Deutschland Germany $1.1B
NFL Sunday Ticket 2022 AT&T/DirecTV U.S. $1.5B
FIFA World Cup 2022 Multiple (U.S.: Fox, Telemundo) Global N/A
NHL 2022 NBC U.S. $200M
NFL 2023 CBS, Fox, NBC U.S. $3.1B
NASCAR Cup Series 2024 Fox, NBCSN U.S. $820M
Olympics 2024 Multiple (U.S.: NBCUniversal) Global N/A
NBA 2025 ESPN, Turner U.S. $2.6B
Sources: GroupM “The State of Video,” November 2017, Variety research. NBCU’s Olympic broadcast rights extend through the 2032 Summer Games.

Of the digital sportscasting rookies, Amazon and Facebook have been the most active in seeking out bigger-ticket streaming rights, according to industry execs. Besides “Thursday Night Football,” both have signaled interest in bidding for WWE’s “Raw” and “SmackDown” franchises, sources say, ahead of NBCUniversal’s USA Network deal expiring in 2019. In addition, UFC’s pact with Fox ends this year, and the mixed martial arts melees could be an opportunity for one of the streamers to jump into the sporting ring.

“The tech companies have a lot of money,” says Richard Hampson, senior VP of market insights and analytics at GroupM’s ESP Properties. “They can afford, as rights become available, to invest in and understand how that content performs on their platforms.”

Among other usual suspects, Google at this point isn’t seen as throwing its full weight into bidding for premium sports. Apple and Netflix are dumping truckloads of cash into original scripted entertainment. Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos has repeatedly sworn the company has zero interest in getting into the sports game — but “there’s never a never with Netflix,” says Eunice Shin, managing director and head of consulting for Manatt Digital.

Industry execs expect significant moves from Facebook — which hasn’t hidden its hankering for sports. Earlier this month, the company hired Peter Hutton, CEO of Discovery-owned Eurosport, to lead its negotiating team for live-streaming sports deals, sources confirmed to Variety. He’s expected to join Facebook after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics. Hutton comes aboard after embarking on a search to recruit a sports dealmaker who will have “a few billion dollars” to vie for global rights deals, according to a Sports Business Journal report. Meanwhile, the social giant last fall entered a $600 million bid for five-year rights to Indian Premier League cricket matches, ultimately losing to Star India (which bid $2.6 billion for TV and streaming rights).

The company’s interests even caught the eye of Rupert Murdoch, who observed in an interview in the wake of 21st Century Fox’s announced asset sale last month to Disney, “The one that’s coming for sports is Facebook. … We don’t know which country they’ll go after or what they’ll do.”

Live sports is a key component of Facebook Watch, the company’s platform aimed at driving “high intent” viewing of episodic programming blended with community and discussion features. “We think sports is a natural fit for Facebook,” Reed says. “It’s inherently social and it’s very popular.”

“I want to partner with ESPN and the NFL — not disrupt them.”
Anthony Noto, former Twitter COO

For Amazon, live sports serves a different objective: It’s designed to drive consumers to Prime, the membership program centered on free shipping (so they’ll buy more stuff), which also includes unlimited access to Prime Video.

Like Facebook, Amazon is cagey about how big its appetite might be for sports in the coming years. “We’re still in the very early stages of this,” says Jim DeLorenzo, head of sports for Amazon Video. Right now, he says, the company is trying to “provide additional content we think our customers will love.”

Amazon’s sports lineup has included 11 NFL “Thursday Night Football” games this season and the Assn. of Tennis Professionals’ Next Gen Finals (through the end of the year); it also inked a two-year pact to live-stream the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour worldwide. “We’ll have to see how things pan out over the near term just to see if there’s additional content that makes sense going forward,” says DeLorenzo.

Amazon streamed “TNF” to Prime Video customers this season after Twitter had the global internet rights in 2016. For the past two seasons, the NFL has used “TNF” as a sandbox to test out digital deals to supplement its primary TV distribution. All told, Amazon’s streaming of the games drew 18.4 million total viewers in 224 countries and territories. The average-minute audience watching NFL contests on Prime Video for at least 30 seconds topped 310,000, 17% higher than Twitter’s results the season prior.

Mikaela Shiffrin, 22, is the reigning Olympic champion in the slalom, after taking the gold in Sochi in 2014.
Carlos Serrao

That, according to the NFL, boosted overall consumption of “TNF” by about 2.5%. The league touts it as a win. “In a world where people are trying to drive as much incremental consumption as possible, this is a small but growing asset for us,” NFL senior VP of digital media Vishal Shah said at an industry conference last fall.

Last month, the NFL told prospective bidders it would consider granting “TNF” exclusive rights to an internet service — which would mark the first time the league sold a multigame package to an over-the-top distributor. But observers see this as a negotiating tactic to spur a TV network to buy the entire 11-game “TNF” package, including online rights. Facebook, for one, will sit out this round of NFL haggling, per a Bloomberg report. “I don’t think any of the networks are going to take the threat from the tech companies lying down,” says one top TV sports programming exec.

To be sure, if the tech players do move to snare top-flight rights, the TV giants aren’t just going to quietly fold their cards. They’re prepared to mount an aggressive defense to maintain possession of what’s become the most valuable live content available anywhere.

“For us, it’s pretty simple. It’s the wheelhouse; it’s the essence of our company,” says Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive VP of programming and scheduling. The Disney-owned programmer — jolted by last month’s exit of president John Skipper and a string of layoffs — in 2017 spent more than $8 billion on sports rights, according to estimates by SNL Kagan.

Rick Cordella, exec VP and GM of digital media for NBC Sports Group, asserts that broadcast TV is still unmatched at reaching a massive audience — while at the same time, NBC is delivering a massive streaming lineup for fans who want to watch on other devices. The NBC Sports app pumps out about 20,000 hours annually of live programming, and this year it will deliver an additional 1,800 hours for the Winter Olympics from South Korea.

TV sports execs say that compared with the newer digital entrants, they have a track record to give rights owners confidence they’ll continue to reach fans regardless of the platform. “If you’re a league or governing body looking to sell your rights, there’s no better place to sell them than broadcast TV,” Cordella says.

Through a certain lens, the stage looks set for serious drama. There’s an epic clash looming between upstart digital players and TV networks for the future of sports broadcasting. It would be a category-altering move if one of the insurgents forced a turnover of, say, “Monday Night Football,” which has been a television staple for nearly five decades.

Some have even suggested that streamers-versus-broadcasters is a false dichotomy because the leagues could essentially cut out either and begin distributing directly to consumers, as if media companies were just middlemen easy to disintermediate. It’s a theory Netflix’s Sarandos proffered last December as a means of explaining his own company’s disinterest in sports. But speaking at a Variety event days later, 21st Century Fox president Peter Rice dismissed the notion.

“It’s not just someone with an iPhone at the league streaming the game,” Rice said. “We have an expertise in how to do that. It costs us a billion dollars a year to produce games. The leagues are not set up to do that. It’s not their expertise.”

But there’s still another narrative: the idea that tech companies are more friend than foe to television networks, because they actually broaden a TV network’s reach — not cannibalize it.

KEY STREAMING RIGHTS DEALS
New media players such as Twitter, Facebook and Amazon are increasingly adding sports content to their lineups.
DATE SERVICE PROPERTY DETAILS
July 2016 Twitter NHL, MLB Weekly games
Jan. 2017 Twitter PGA Tour 31 events and 70 hours of total coverage for the 2017-18 tour season
April 2017 Amazon NFL Thursday Night Football $50m, 1-year deal. Includes 11 games, available to Prime Video members in 200 countries
May 2017 Facebook MLB 20 MLB games throughout the 2017 season
May 2017 Twitter WMBA 3-year deal (2017-19). 20 games per season
May 2017 Twitter MLB Expands 2016 deal to include a weekly show featuring live look-ins, highlights and analysis
June 2017 Facebook UEFA Champions League Streams 2017-18 matches through quarterfinals on Fox Sports Facebook page
August 2017 Facebook NCAA 15 live college football games (9 Conference USA/ 6 Mountain West)
Sept. 2017 Facebook NFL 2-year deal includes highlights from all regular-season games, as well as playoffs and the Super Bowl
Nov. 2017 Amazon ATP World Tour 5-year deal includes live coverage of 37 events (U.K./Ireland). U.S. subscribers get access to Tennis TV
Nov. 2017 Facebook NCAA Basketball Partnership with sports net Stadium includes 47 college games in 2017-18
Dec. 2017 Verizon NFL $2b over 5 years. Includes all in-market and national games (preseason, regular season, playoffs/Super Bowl)
Dec. 2017 NBC NFL Sunday Night Football Expands prior deal to include mobile platforms starting in 2018 season
Dec. 2017 Facebook WWE 12-episode in-ring series for 2018
Dec. 2017 ESPN NFL Monday Night Football Expands agreement to include mobile phone streaming for ESPN subscribers
Sources: Company Data, Jefferies estimates

That’s what DeLorenzo suggests. He points out that Amazon Channels recently launched CBS All Access as an add-on subscription option for Prime members, delivering another option for customers to access live NFL games and other sports. Under the ATP deal, Amazon will offer the association’s Tennis TV service in the U.S. as another part of Amazon Channels. And in the U.K. and Germany, Amazon tenders Discovery-owned Eurosport as a subscription channel.

“We haven’t looked at it as if we were competing with the broadcasters,” DeLorenzo says. “There’s no reason to think we can’t continue to work with them as partners.”

Twitter tells a similar story of TV coexistence, although that’s probably mainly because it doesn’t have the heft to vie for exclusive sports rights given its size (with a market cap of less than $18 billion). The social service’s strategy is about helping leagues, teams and rights owners access an audience they wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach, according to Anthony Noto, who recently left his post as Twitter chief operating officer. He describes Twitter’s ability to connect with younger viewers who are “not watching TV or not at home,” and to generate incremental advertising dollars for TV partners.

“There are going to be big tech companies and new entrants that want to create a unique offering and disintermediate [other] distributors,” Noto says. “That’s not us. I want to partner with ESPN and the NFL — not disrupt them.”

The other key opportunity for Twitter is to stake a claim on less popular sports that aren’t widely available on TV. “We know that on Twitter if you care about
the WNBA, the NWHL, lacrosse, cycling or fencing, we can serve those audiences well,” says Noto, who before joining Twitter was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, and prior to that was the NFL’s chief financial officer.

“The one that’s coming for sports is Facebook. We don’t know which country they’ll go after or what they’ll do.”
Rupert Murdoch

Verizon has made a strong sports play recently, including an NFL streaming pact worth $1.5 billion to $2 billion for U.S. mobile rights and an expanded deal with the NBA to offer out-of-market subscriptions, aiming to make live sports and related content a much bigger part of its Oath division, which includes Yahoo Sports. The telco’s hypothesis is that it can build a sports streaming brand to cater to a generation of consumers growing up outside the pay-TV walled garden. “It’s our ambition to own sports in the mind of the consumer for mobile and digital,” says senior VP Brian Angiolet, Verizon’s chief media and content officer.

Not everyone believes exclusive live sports really are a long-term strategic fit for the likes of Amazon or Facebook. David Gandler, CEO and co-founder of OTT subscription-television start-up FuboTV, argues that there’s a weak economic case for challengers to swoop in and pay through the nose for rights to premium sports programming.

“For a TV network, it makes sense to use sports to drive value — you aggregate large audiences, advertise, promote your other programming,” Gandler says. “For a tech platform, it doesn’t make sense.”

There’s a natural framework for sports rights, he says: “Long term, I just don’t see technology companies — the FANG [Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google] group — really doubling down on all these rights.” That’s especially true, Gandler adds, given that Amazon can see a higher return by acquiring a real asset like Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, as opposed to renting sports rights for a couple billion dollars over a few years.

Today, the reality is that even with billions to spend on sports media rights, tech players can’t get their hands on the exclusive access that they know would seriously move the needle. “We’re getting what we can get as it becomes available,” Verizon’s Angiolet says. “Are there more rights to get? Yeah, the ocean is deep. But with the NBA, NFL and soccer, there’s plenty we have there to work with.”

Whether or not tech players will try to seriously compete in the big leagues, there’s no question internet streaming is providing an outlet for a myriad of smaller sports properties that can’t get a berth on TV. And it’s an area where leagues can employ new technologies like social interactivity and virtual reality to deliver a fan experience that’s unlike anything on TV.

THE MONEY MIX
TV and streaming rights will be the biggest — and fastest-growing — source of sports revenue in the U.S.
North America sports market revenue forecast
Source: PwC Sports Outlook, December 2017 — For NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS

Look at Amazon-owned video-broadcasting unit Twitch. As part of trying to broaden beyond its video-game roots, Twitch last month unveiled a deal with the NBA to stream up to six minor league games per week during the current season. The NBA G League games on Twitch include interactive statistics overlays and a co-streaming option for Twitch personalities to provide their own live commentary.

In other words, it’s not your dad’s brand of TV sports. “Twitch elevates video in a unique, engaging way that resonates with young viewers,” NBA G League president Malcolm Turner said in announcing the deal.

Amid the rising streaming tide, media conglomerates have tried to jockey for position to become OTT giants — before nimbler rivals have the chance to sweep them off their sports pedestals.
Disney last year acquired majority control of BAMTech Media, the video-streaming unit formed by Major League Baseball, paying a total of $2.6 billion in a pair of deals for a 75% stake, alongside MLB and the NHL. The company provides the infrastructure for MLB.TV, as well as the NHL, PGA, HBO Now and WWE Network digital streaming services.

And BAMTech will power ESPN Plus, the sports programmer’s direct-to-consumer OTT subscription service, expected to launch in the spring of 2018. (Disney hasn’t divulged many details about the new offering, but it won’t include NFL, NBA or MLB games — for those, you’ll still need to buy pay TV.) Separately, Disney also will obtain 22 regional sports networks under its $54 billion proposed deal to buy a big chunk of 21st Century Fox’s assets. It remains to be seen how the RSNs will fit into the streaming-sports puzzle, but clearly Disney sees value in combining its TV sports businesses with new internet distribution.

“The fact Disney made the decision to acquire BAMTech shows its commitment to the future,” says BAMTech CEO Michael Paull, who came aboard a year ago from Amazon’s video division.

Also wading further into the digital pool, NBC in 2016 formed Playmaker Media, a similar business-to-business streaming video unit. Last summer it debuted NBC Sports Gold, a live-streaming service with different subscription packages for Premier League soccer, international cycling, track and field, rugby and other sports.

Turner Sports also has direct-to-consumer sports plans. The cable programmer struck an exclusive three-year deal for multiplatform rights to the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League soccer games beginning with the 2018-19 season. Under the pact, Turner will present more than 340 UEFA matches per season. While the cabler will carry many of those contests on TBS or TNT, Turner expects to launch a new stand-alone premium sports-streaming video service based on the UEFA rights and tied to its Bleacher Report digital-sports brand.

SPORTS: PAY TV’S CRITICAL COMPONENT
91% Percentage of sports fans who subscribe to pay TV for access to live games
82% Percentage of traditional pay-TV subscribers who would scale back/cancel their subscription if they no longer needed it to access live sports
56% Percentage of sports fans who want access to more interactive content like stats, interviews and chat while watching live sports
$23 Average amount sports fans would pay for unlimited access to live sports on any platform
Source: PwC 2017 Consumer Intelligence Series video survey

One of the big reasons the likes of Disney, Turner and NBC have moved to build out their own streaming businesses for sports boils down to one thing: data.

Having their own direct-to-consumer streaming services lets them collect and analyze granular information on sports fans’ viewing behavior. In an increasingly multiplatform world, a treasure chest of rich metrics is a clear differentiator. Used effectively, they can help media companies be more valuable partners to leagues, which are looking to use data to create smarter and more effective audience development and engagement. “Data is the new black. If I’m the person who can give it to you, that’s going to be an advantage,” says MediaLink’s Kassan.

To ESPN’s Magnus, the world is a long way from streaming platforms being the exclusive solution for leagues and other rights holders. He views tech companies as the latest team of competitors, and notes that ESPN has long faced well-funded rivals in the business. “I first heard of a ‘sports-rights bubble’ 15 years ago,” he says.

What the sports world is facing today isn’t all that different from what transpired back in the early ’90s, when the seven-year-old Fox, looking to establish itself, outbid CBS with what was then an eye-popping $400 million annually for Sunday-afternoon NFL games. CBS, Fox and NBC now each pay the NFL around $1 billion per year. New bidders stand to drive up the cost of the rights all over again, which will be a challenge for incumbent broadcasters already feeling
the drag on their businesses from bigger digital giants. But that’s the price of admission in a world where very valuable content cuts through the clutter — and can amass fans in huge numbers. ESPN, like every other team on the field, will have to pick its targets.

“Sports is platinum, premier content,” says Magnus, “and there will always be a lot of suitors for it.”

Pantages Sets L.A. Debuts for ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 06:00 AM PST

On Tuesday, the Hollywood Pantages Theatre announced its seven-production lineup for the 2018-19 season, which includes the Los Angeles premiere of the tuner based on Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Directed by Jack O’Brien, it includes music by Marc Shaiman, with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Also making it’s L.A. debut is 2017 revival Tony Award winner “Hello, Dolly!”

The musical will run Jan. 29 to Feb. 17, 2017. “A Bronx Tale” will kickstart the new season, running Nov. 6-25, followed by “Hello, Dolly!,” “Cats,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon.”

“A Bronx Tale,” which evolved from an Off Broadway show, is written by Chazz Palminteri and directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks. Music is by Alan Menken while the choreography is by Sergio Trujillo.

“When we discovered the amazing shows we were going to be offering to our dedicated season ticket holders, and all theater lovers in Los Angeles, we felt like kids in a candy store, or in this case … a chocolate factory! This season, our historic venue will play host to the most treasured stories of the last 50 plus years, brought to life by the world’s scrumdiddlyumptious composers and playwrights,” Pantages general manager Jeff Loeb said in a statement. “Whether you join us for the laughs, the tears, the drama, or the spectacle, we’ve got your Golden Ticket to a great season of Broadway musicals.”

Season tickets are now on sale, and current season ticket holders can begin renewing their seats starting Tuesday.

 

 

Chat Fiction App Yarn Raises $13 Million, Adds Original From ‘Saw’ Writers

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 06:00 AM PST

Mammoth Media, the company behind the Wishbone and Yarn mobile apps, has raised a $13 million Series A round of funding led by Greylock Partners, with participation of Los Angeles-based Mammoth incubator Science Inc. The company wants to use the money to further invest in mobile storytelling.

Yarn is a mobile app that tells stories through text message exchanges, essentially allowing viewers to become voyeurs and read in on the chats between a story’s protagonists. These stories are enhanced with video streams and other media, and area increasingly featuring recognizable talent: Last week, Mammoth debuted a new series called “Hack’d” on Yarn that features Musical.ly influencer Kristen Hancher.

The show, which is all about a hacker attacking a social media star, has been produced by some of the writers of the “Saw” franchise. The company also has projects with Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez and Liam Hemsworth in the works. Yarn users have read 36 million stories since the app launched last year, and are currently reading 1.6 billion episodes per week.

Mammoth Media is defining this new generation of mobile media,” said Greylock Partners partner Josh Elman, who also joined Mammoth’s board of directors, in a statement. “It doesn’t look like books, TV, or movies, it is something different. This new form of media is mobile first, where users touch and interact with the content as they experience it.”

Yarn has also been working with brands including Skype to develop sponsored shows, including one titled “Still Searching” that debuted last week.

Perhaps this type of sponsored content will help the app with one of its biggest problems thus far: An over-reliance on paid subscriptions that seems to turn off numerous prospective users. Browse through Google Play’s reviews for Yarn, and you’ll find countless 1-star reviews complaining that Yarn won’t let users watch videos, or even browse the app’s show directory, without committing to a paid subscription that runs anywhere from $2.99 per week to $39.99 per year.

A spokesperson told Variety that new users of the app would get access to the first episode of “Hack’d” for free until the end of the week.

Paul Robinson Replaces Sergi Reitg as Imira Entertainment CEO

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 05:59 AM PST

MADRID — International media executive Paul Robinson is replacing Sergi Reitg as CEO of Imira Entertainment, the top Spanish kids-family content distributor-producer, part of India’s Toonz Media Group.

Since the launch of Imira in 2003, Reitg has achieved several milestones, building a company to leading international status, successfully navigating Spain’s financial crisis from 2008 which savaged the local animation sector, and capitalizing on new digital distribution revenues in Spain and especially in Latin America, as well as the growing demand from new channels for content.

“Sergi Reitg has decided this is ideal moment to leave on a high before planning his next venture,” Imira said Tuesday in a statement.

His immediate plans are to take a break from the day-to-day demands of building and running a TV distribution and co-production operation, after which he will communicate his plans in the industry,”

With a large kids experience under his belt, having held senior executive positions at The Walt Disney Company, NBC Universal and the BBC, Robinson will lead Imira forward as it angles to make the next stage of its growth within the global kids and family entertainment industry.

Robinson “will both ensure a smooth transition as well as enhance even further Imira’s growing global distribution business,” Imira promised.

In Spain, Imira has strong relationships with core TV operators, including pubcasters TV3 and RTVE and Telefonica’s paybox Movistar +, as well as global players such as Disney, Viacom and Turner.

Over the last year, the company has added deals with Netflix, HBO and other digital and mobile platforms around the globe, increasing its titles’ visibility to audiences worldwide.

Acquired by Toonz in 2015, Imira’s last financial year achieved record incomes in its 15-year history, increasing sales revenues by 20% compared to the previous financial exercise, the company confirmed on Tuesday.

TV-News Reaches Beyond TV Screen for Trump’s ‘State of the Union’

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 05:45 AM PST

The usual array of ABC News anchors will greet viewers at 9 p.m. eastern tonight on ABC. The will deliver the typical preliminary remarks about President Donald Trump’s first official address to Congress about his legislative agenda. And afterwards, they will offer just what viewers have come to expect: post-speech analysis.

But at 8:15 at ABCNews.com, a different team of correspondents from the news outlet will be seen hanging out with viewers at a bar.

While George Stephanopoulous, David Muir and Martha Raddatz, among others, hold down a traditional TV broadcast, Amna Nawaz, Devin Dwyer, Rick Klein and Tara Palmieri will interview college students and other interested parties whose first inclination at a moment of national import may not be to sit down in front of a traditional TV screen.

“We like to make the assumption that much of our audience is on the go. They are out and about, but intensely interested in the world around them,” says Katie Nelson, an executive producer of news content at ABC News, who will be involved with the outlet’s live-streaming efforts. “We don’t want talk at them. We want to talk with them.”

Some TV-news outlets are working to change the state of play for tonight’s “State of the Union,” mindful that there’s a growing populace of tech-savvy viewers who have different expectations for special news reports.

Yes, NBC News aficionados will see Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Megyn Kelly and Andrea Mitchell on TV at 9 p.m. this evening. But YouTube users might stumble upon at 8 p.m. live-stream led by NBC NewsSteve Kornacki and Katy Tur. The pair are expected to discuss viral moments from past addresses and share presidential trivia, among other things. It is NBC News’ first YouTube live-stream around a “State of the Union.”

Simply put, the share of Americans getting news online regularly is growing while those doing the same with TV is falling, according to an August survey conducted by Pew Research Center. The organization found 43% of Americans reporting frequent access to news from online sources, compared with 50% saying they often got news from TV – a gap of just 7 percentage points. In early 2016, the margin was 19 percentage points, according to Pew – more than twice as big.

Other news outlets are dipping a toe in these waters. Bloomberg L.P., which recently launched Tic-Toc, a video newscast delivered via Twitter, intends to kick off coverage there at 8:45 p.m., with a real-time curation of Twitter conversations about the event. During the speech, hosts will analyze Twitter sentiment about Trump’s address.

The digital formats bring with them different requirements. At ABC, producers are eager to communicate with potential viewers on Twitter, asking them to send questions to which they’d like answers, says Nelson, the producer. “We will be doing our best to provide background and research and fact-check as it all comes up,” she adds.

CBS News will be providing hours of “State of the Union” coverage on CBSN, the news unit’s streaming service. Starting at 5 p.m., Elaine Quijano and Alex Wagner will anchor special coverage from New York, with contributions from CBS News’ political reporters and contributors in D.C. CBSN will also incorporate reports from local journalists across the country, including Nevada, Missouri, Florida and Ohio. At 9 p.m, CBSN will simulcast CBS News network coverage. Just as CBS is likely to make way for local news, CBSN will offer more analysis after 11.

Cable-news networks will also offer digital programing. Fox News Channel will live-blog the entire event, starting at 8 p.m. eastern., and live-stream video of the speech at 9. CNN intends to live-stream its special TV coverage around the event to the CNN.com homepage and through its app to mobile devices.

Because live-streams don’t have to end on the hour or half-hour to accommodate other programs, commercial breaks or station affiliates, the networks have room to be flexible. The correspondents and anchors can hang around, more often than not, as long as they feel they have something to say, says ABC’s Nelson. “We will stay up as long as it takes to deliver a good show,” says Nelson.

Grammy Chief Neil Portnow Walks Back ‘Women Need to Step Up’ Comment: ‘I Wasn’t As Articulate as I Should Have Been’

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 05:39 AM PST

Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow set off an uproar Sunday night when he said female artists and executives need to “step up” after being asked about the low number of women Grammy winners in 2018.

Early Tuesday morning, Variety received a statement from Portnow:

“Sunday night, I was asked a question about the lack of female artist representation in certain categories of this year’s Grammy Awards,” it reads. “Regrettably, I used two words, ‘step up,’ that, when taken out of context, do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make.

“Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced. We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor, and empower them. Our community will be richer for it.

“I regret that I wasn’t as articulate as I should have been in conveying this thought. I remain committed to doing everything I can to make our music community a better, safer, and more representative place for everyone.”

Portnow’s original comment follows below. He had been asked by a Variety reporter how female artists and executives can push forward after this year’s poor showing at the Grammys.

“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome,” he said. “I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”

His comment promoted angry social media posts from Pink, Charli XCX, Sheryl Crow and many others.