Insights & Inanity: Twitter Works With Nielsen, Buffett and Comcast Blew It

It's mid-month and it's hotter in New York than Miami. With that curiosity, it's time for Insights & Inanity:

--Time is fast approaching (it may already be here) when network executives won't have to wait until the next morning's Nielsens to gauge how programming did. They might not have to wait 15 minutes. Forget carping about the troubling pursuit of set-top-box data, Twitter has already upgraded measurement immeasurably.

Monitoring the content and speed of Twitter commentary is a real-time focus group, which is particularly helpful in looking at how the younger set feels. Sunday's season premiere of "Breaking Bad" on AMC sparked a waterfall on social media, according to the Hollywood Reporter. So did the women's World Cup on ESPN earlier in the day, a game that generated more tweets per second than Bin Laden's death.

In line maybe, "Breaking Bad" had its highest-rated episode ever. The soccer ratings were strong, though surprisingly didn't topple the 1999 World Cup final.

--Sure, FIFA members are spending a lot of time engaged in corruption, so maybe there's not much left to think about the game. Plus, the international soccer governing body is laughably skittish about using technology to improve the game. But, at least for the World Cups, why are spectators and players left to guess how much time is left in a game? Why is the referee with the wristwatch the only one to know?

Can't a stadium clock -- controlled by the ref with some sort of hand clicker -- be visible to the players, attendees and TV cameras? That would allow players to know exactly how much time is left to either score, or run out the clock.

It would also bring an element of checks and balances to ensure the referee is indeed allowing the proper amount of extra time to account for a player faking an injury. It would also discourage the players from the theatrics. ESPN and Univision should lobby FIFA for this - maybe they have -- but it probably won't make a difference. In the meantime, when a player is on the ground writhing in pain, they should put a clock on-screen counting that time to give more insight into a referee's competence by adding it up at the end.

--Not sure how much work will be getting done at News Corp. Tuesday morning. Or, for that matter across much of the media industry. Starting at around 9:30 a.m., the cable news networks, along with C-Span and Current TV, are scheduled to go to the British Parliament and carry testimony of News Corp. top executives Rupert and James Murdoch, as well as the former head of the company's British newspaper business, about the burgeoning phone hacking scandal in the U.K.

It will be interesting how CEO Rupert Murdoch acts in the open forum to the acrimony and allegations coming his way. Expect him to be well-coached and allow questioners to vent and then be calm and apologetic.

Also, how will the former News Corp. U.K. newspaper head Rebekah Brooks do? She's just been relieved of her job, so loyalties to News Corp. might be frayed. More critically, she was arrested Sunday, so the need to tell all about the allegations and any cover-ups would seem to involve personal liberty.

Fox News, owned by News Corp., will have a correspondent on site and presumably give the testimony the same attention as others.

Overall, this is an unexpected boon for the networks. It's a news story that doesn't bring many questions and queasiness about how much attention to devote to it as the Casey Anthony story did for some, and allows time away from being a ping-pong net in the recriminations over the debt ceiling.

--It never ceases to amaze how difficult it is to predict the taste of the public. In its sixth season, "America's Got Talent" ratings on NBC are extraordinary, up 19% in the 18-to-49 demo on Tuesdays, and 20% on Wednesdays versus last summer. Its numbers remarkably would place it in the top 10 in the key demo during TV's regular season.

--Warren Buffett and Comcast may hardly miss, but the new "ESPN book" strikingly reveals both made colossal strikeouts in 1990.

On Buffett's advice, the book says, Cap Cities/ABC opted not to buy the remaining 20% stake in ESPN the company didn't own. Buffett, a major Cap Cities/ABC shareholder, would later say it was one of the worst mistakes he ever made.

Comcast blew it too, though. It also passed on buying the 20%. At the time, ESPN was in about 57 million homes.

Disney later bought Cap Cities/ABC and now owns 80% of ESPN.

As it played out, Hearst acquired the balance and still has it, which means it can launch all the magazines it wants and play around with new media and live nicely off any dividends. According to the New York Times, Hearst paid $165 million-$175 million for its stake.

Which means the company likely was smarter with the money than if it had used it for for Berkshire Hathaway shares then.

Tags: television, tv
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