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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape notice...in a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of October 16, 2017

Give it up, competitors told; the customers have spoken
"The boat has passed"

Netflix has the video entertainment business shaking and quaking. This week’s big announcement (October 16) of spending an extra US$1 billion or so on 80 movies and 30 series (to something in the neighborhood of US$8 billion) next year blurred a few eyes, as it was supposed to. It is an interesting strategy, about one new movie released every four and a half days.

The company also announced subscriber growth for the last quarter, 850,000 in the US and 4.45 million outside the US. At the end of September Netflix had 109.3 million subscribers. Earlier in the month, Netflix raised the monthly rates for US and UK subscribers. Nobody - at least on Wall Street - cares. “We think Netflix has reached escape velocity,” gushed investment bank Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson to clients, quoted by CNBC (October 17).

Media business watchers chimed in. “The reason for the ongoing boom: for the money nowhere are customers getting so many well-produced new series and films,” said German media news portal meedia.de (October 17). “Netflix can awaken the big budget cinema,” said French business daily Les Echos (October 18). “Master of their own destiny,” said Taiwan business portal bnext.com.tw (October 17). (See more about streaming media here)

The Walt Disney Company, the prolific legacy producer, is still pondering, officially, entering the subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) business. The recently ended a back-catalogue distribution deal with Netflix. Ratings service Nielsen has started collecting audience data on series and films offered on streaming services though Netflix doesn’t run ads. They have, of course, opened the doors to merchandising.

“They are so far ahead of everyone else, it’s impossible to compete with them,” said Hollywood legend Barry Diller, quoted by Variety (October 17). Netflix has “a business model that (the) entertainment (industry) has never had to compete with. The boat has passed.”

Press support cut, innovation proposed, newspapers howl
"turn it in another direction"

When Norway’s government presented its proposed state budget recently journalist organizations and newspaper publishers noticed a cut to press support (pressestøtten). Many countries provide various financial support mechanisms to media operators - from direct grants and tax breaks to indirect aid through state advertising. The cohesive cultural benefit of high quality news, information and entertainment distributed through publications and broadcasting necessitates financial support, it is generally believed, as purely market-driven means are too unstable.

“It should not be surprising to anyone,” said Culture Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland, quoted by journalisten.no (October 12), that “we will reduce (press) support and turn it in another direction.” This is not - necessarily - about austerity. It is just not working. The current (2017) press support budget line is NOK 313 million (about €33.5 million) and NOK 25.7 million (€2.75 million) will be cut, though NOK 7 million (about €750,000) of that will be diverted to innovation-based grants for local newspapers. (See more about media in Norway here)

“More than half the funding goes to five national newspapers and these five show a total decline in their circulation figures, if I look at the last five years,” she explained. “Then there are 235 newspapers sharing the other money. The support must stimulate innovation to ensure further development.”

Publishing and journalist groups strongly voiced disagreement in an open letter published in major daily Aftenposten (October 18). “The purpose of the (press) support is precisely to take care of existing media diversity, in the face of extensive market failure in the advertising market,” said the letter. “For the affected media companies, this cut could mean that many journalists will lose their jobs. Converted to journalists, the reduction will be between 30 and 40 positions. This corresponds to a major Norwegian newspaper editorial department.”

Norway instituted press support funding in 1969 to “prevent closure of newspapers and maintain a diverse daily press.”

Suspects are many, and they are in charge
"The situation is desperate"

A powerful car bomb took the life of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia Monday (October 16). The blast hurled the rented automobile she was driving across the road and into a field. Local authorities are searching for clues. There are many, owing to the nature of her work - and the depth of those offended.

Ms Caruana Galizia took on corruption and those who profit from it. She was published in Times of Malta, Malta Independent and others. Collaborating with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) she scoured the Panama Papers and found evidence of dodgy officials. The revelations - and well of details of lawsuits from the rich and powerful offended - were publishers in her website Running Commentary. Her style was often described as “direct.” She had been receiving threats. (See more about investigative reporting here)

“Allowing Daphne Caruana Galizia to be so cruelly murdered was a failure of the State, of its government and of its institutions,” said former home affairs minister Louis Galea, quoted by Times of Malta (October 17). "It is not rocket science to provide the necessary security whether the individual asks for it or not, and whether such an individual is an easy person to protect or not. This is a question of public interest and of rule of law and order.”

Forty-one years ago (US) Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles was killed in a car bombing. He had been piecing together details connecting public officials, gambling and mobsters. His last words, reportedly, were “they finally got me.” Protracted legal proceeding led to jail terms for low-level mobsters but not those who may have ordered the hit. (See a recap of the Don Bolles story here, from azcentral.com)

"There are crooks everywhere you look now,” wrote Ms Caruana Galizia in a post to Running Commentary minutes before she was assassinated. “The situation is desperate." 

Journalist groups don't like what's happening, point fingers
just like that other guy

Authorities in Spain and Catalonia tripping over each other for the best spin in a bad situation continue to attract the ire of journalist and press freedom advocates. Spanish civil guards, wearing evil-looking helmets, graced TV news and newspaper front pages around the world disrupting the less-than-official Catalan independence referendum (October 1). Before that Catalan authorities attempted to shut-down several online news outlets. Who made these decisions?

Tensions between authorities and news organzations, Catalan and Spanish, have not been tempered by time. Several journalist associations and unions throughout Spain produced a manifesto (October 11) calling for “objectivity and ethics in this matter.” The document gives specific attention to public broadcasters “at both the state and regional levels” to “serve all citizens… objective and balanced information, without being subject to guidelines or reflect the position of the governments concerned.” (See more about media in Spain here)

International press freedom advocate Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) updated (October 13) a report on interference with news coverage in Spain and Catalonia originally produced a few days before the voting. "We demand that the Catalan authorities condemn the stigmatization of the Spanish media, trying to blame them for a situation that actually has a political origin,” wrote RSF EU and Balkans editor Pauline Adès-Mevel. “This way of blaming the media evokes the campaigns of Donald Trump and extreme right movements.”

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