Anyone who deals with Nikki Finke knows her m.o. If she doesn’t land a story first and early or doesn’t like something, she will hit back hard until she terrifies her target into giving her what she wants. She is also thin-skinned. Hence her recent email assault on the MPAA’s Howard Gantman, who sends me releases all the time. (Full email is below, hat tip: Gawker.)
Thus after Finke’s full-bore attack on Universal for not responding quickly enough to her demand for box office intel one weekend, the studio now plants her with exclusives like this one about Debbie Liebling losing her post, in hopes of more positive coverage. For Deadline, being first is everything.
But is it? The Hollywood Reporter is growing its online traffic (thanks to strong pick-up across the web of news and celeb-oriented stories) in the post-Oscar season, while more inside-trade Deadline, with its relatively tiny staff, is not. According to Comscore, THR’s uniques went from 3.5 million in February to 4 million in March, while Deadline went from 2.03 million to 1.64 million.
For example, later on, THR offered more thoughtful in-depth, reported analysis of the same Liebling story. I agree with Kim Masters that timing was everything on the Liebling departure announcement. The day after the studio chortled over huge record box office on Fast Five, Universal threw its current production chief under the bus in hopes of saving the jobs of its two cochairmen, Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley, as well as their boss, Ron Meyer, all under scrutiny from new owner Comcast’s Steve Burke. They replaced Liebling, who came over from Fox and was on the job a mere 18 months, with production execs Peter Cramer and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum (who supervised the Fast Five movie). I fail to see how anyone can view promoting Universal staff from within as meaningful change. When Stacey Snider left the studio to go to DreamWorks in early 2006, Meyer promoted worldwide distribution and marketing chief Marc Shmuger and Focus co-head David Linde to co-chairmen, digging into a deep exec bench at the time, and later when they hit a rough patch, replaced them with marketing chief Fogleson and production head Langley. Liebling was the new blood from outside–and now she’s clearly the sacrificial lamb.
Universal wasn’t going to target the usual fall guys during a long dry spell–marketing and distribution–clearly with Fast Five they’ve been doing their job. Even president Barack Obama took a swipe at Matt Damon’s The Adjustment Bureau, one of a series of underperformers at the studio. It seems that mainly Universal can rely on the Fast and Furious franchise to deliver–and the smartest move the studio has made was to import Fox animation czar Chris Meledandri, who followed up last year’s Despicable Me ($540 million worldwide) with this spring’s Russell Brand hit Hop.
Meanwhile The Wrap, with even smaller traffic as it chases the Royal Wedding and other trending topics, likes to report that THR is for sale, amid denials from Prometheus Global Media CEO Richard Beckman. (Whether THR can continue to sustain its costly economic model is another question.) And The Daily insists that Deadline owner Jay Penske would love to acquire streamlined Variety, which is still printing a daily and a weekly, as it keeps online content behind a pay wall, and gave staffers raises this year. Where will these chips fall?
Here’s the aforementioned Finke missive:
I am in receipt of your email below which was forwarded to my by Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman, who recently joined us from USA Today where he was the longtime Senior Media Writer for the Business section.
First, you do NOT talk to one of my reporters, let alone my Executive Editor like this, especially someone who has forgotten more about entertainment media in one day than you’ll ever know in your lifetime. Especially when considering you work for one of the least effective and most mendacious lobbying organizations connected to Hollywood, with a multitude of flacks who don’t do their job including yourself. So I expect an apology forthwith to David and to me.
That said, I edited David’s piece and I was a political science major at Wellesley, an AP correspondent in Moscow and London covering world political news, and a Washington DC staff correspondent for Newsweek covering a multitude of world and U.S.and Congressional and White House political news. During my time at Newsweek I reported alongside such Washington DC media names as Howard Fineman, Gloria Borger, Tommy De Frank, Eleanor Clift, and Margaret Warner before i moved to LA. Here, I continued covering such news when it was relevant to my positions as Los Angeles Bureau staff correspondent for Newsweek as well as many years as staff writer/reporter for the Los Angeles Times in its heyday.
So for you to even begin to say that my analysis — and it was my analysis — that the MPAA should not have hired a Democrat when the House and soon the Senate will turn Republican is “inaccurate” shows zero understanding of the fact that this was expressing an opinon, and that this was expressing a consistent opinion on Deadline. Contrary to your head-in-the-sand view, it is precisely a bipartisan issue. And I say that as a knee-jerk liberal Democrat.
What we did not say, and frankly should have, was that out of all the out-of-work Congressional blowhards which the MPAA could have hired, it chose to hire an ethically challenged one at that in the person of Chris Dodd, whose efficacy and integrity is now at such a low point that every sitting Congressional member would and should be justified in shunning him. In fact, the man you keep calling “Senator Dodd” here should really stop using that appellation since he has dragged his own and the Senate’s reputation through the mud because of his distasteful activities exposed for all to decry. Now, because of what you have written to us, I will rectify this situation and include this pertinent information in the posting.
That said, if you were so concerned about what Deadline writes about the MPAA, then why is this the first time I am even hearing your name? Why is this the first time you have even contacted Deadline or me (even though I am frequently described as allegedly the most powerful journalist in Hollywood)? Why is it that MPAA flacks constantly fail to give Deadline information in a timely or even complete manner? For instance, this so-called “first speech” on Hollywood issues which you refer to — in which Dodd on March 29 addressed thousands of theater owners at NATO’s CinemaCon — failed to generate even one news release or speech reprint sent to Deadline or even an alert by phone or email to us. Your own office thought it so unimportant that the MPAA made no attempt to pubicize it on Deadline. I have repeatedly complained about this situation to the MPAA’s flack in Los Angeles Elizabeth Kaltman and she has made no effort to fix it.
Further, if you had bothered to check, David wasn’t yet working for Deadline on March 29th. And I was in surgery. And I’ve checked with my staff and no one from the MPAA contacted Deadline by email or phone about this either. Which is par for the course since the MPAA is filled with useless executives who sit around all day doing next to nothing such as yourself.
Finally, your time would be much better spent, instead of insulting my Executive Editor and my news organization, attempting to at least prepare and disseminate accurate news. It is widely known (and often reported) that the MPAA data on issues such as worldwide piracy and its costs to Industry are wildly and laughably skewed in the studios’ favor. As for your statement about how the MPAA is working with the Hollywood Gulds on such issues, that, too, is hilarious. I see you at least did not mention the WGA since its political PAC in recent years has been working to obtain a Congressional investigation of all the Big Media companies represented by the MPAA and their monopolistic and colluding practices.
I await your apology,
General Manager, Founder, & Editor In Chief
[Chart courtesy Comscore.]