Thursday, December 1, 2016

(Sports) MMA: Congratulations UFC, you played yourself








Every organization suffers self inflicted wounds once in a while but no company in the world cuts its nose to spite its face more than the $4 billion MMA behemoth that is the UFC. 

The UFC can largely get away with these self inflicted wounds because they're far and away the biggest MMA promotion on face of the earth, have the best talent in the sport on their books, and with the recent sale to WME/IMG, are the most valuable sports franchise in American sports. 

However, with the recent formation of the Mixed Martial Arts Athlete Association that sports Georges St Pierre, former chairman and CEO of Bellator Bjorn Rebney, former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and former bantamweight king TJ Dillashaw as its members, the UFC may have to contend with possibly the strongest bid yet to bring collective bargaining into MMA. 

The nascent association also includes fan favorite Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Army Veteran Tim Kennedy which rounds up an impressive cast of elite level fighters in their prime. One of the big problems other organizations such as the Professional Fighters Association had in bringing collective bargaining into MMA was their inability to get prominent UFC fighters on board but with the MMAAA already attracting championship and top ten level fighters among its ranks out the gate suggests that this obstacle won't be much of a problem for MMAAA going forward. 

While the MMAAA hasn't revealed much in the way of a strategy or gameplan to take on the might of the UFC, MMAAA has two things going for it, Bjorn Rebney, a lawyer by trade and who knows MMA inside out and GSP, a much respected and admired former champion who could help recruit more fighters and possibly played a part in attracting the names the organization already has as members. 

However, MMAAA are hamstrung by the simple but crucial fact that the UFC have all the cards in their favour. They're by far the biggest promotion in the sport and have the best talent which means the UFC can and almost certainly will act as if MMAAA doesn't exist despite MMAAA already enjoying the backing of some of their best fighters.        

Despite this, there are plenty of chinks in the UFC's impressive armor, most troublingly its relationship with its fighters. Because the UFC is by far the biggest promotion in MMA, the UFC tends use its dominant position to undermine its fighters or make decisions that impact fighters directly without their input. The most flagrant example of this was the UFC's apparel deal with Reebok which was clearly hammered out without the input of their fighters. Because of Reebok deal, fighters lost thousands in sponsorship money which in some cases outstripped their show and prize money combined. 
The UFC wouldn't have been able to do this if fighters were represented by a strong union who could hold the UFC's feet to the fire which is why you'll have a hard time finding a member of MMA community who isn't in favour of fighters unionizing.  

While there are some concerns about MMAAA intentions particularly surrounding the involvement of Bjorn Rebney and his history in dealing with fightersthe MMAAA is possibly the best positioned effort so far to unionize the fighters though it remains to be seen how they plan to proceed. 

In sum, The UFC hasn't been shy about putting its interest first over it fighters but with the recent sale to WME/IMG and recent exit from one of its biggest market suggest the MMAAA has picked the right time strike the UFC as it may have played itself into a corner. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

(TV) The Walking Dead: The Walking Dead ‘Swear’ Episode Review



(Photo Credit: AMC)
The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 6
By Garrett Yoshitomi

This week, The Walking Dead slows down a bit; veering off the beaten path of this season’s Negan storyline, to reunite us with everybody’s twelfth favorite main character, Tara. If you’ll remember (or not), we last saw Tara (Alanna Masterson) in the season six episode, “Not Tomorrow Yet,” when she and Heath (Corey Hawkins) left on a two-week supply run after the group’s takedown of the Savior’s satellite outpost. Since then, a lot’s happened- we’ve seen the deaths of two major characters (three, if you count Denise), as well as the introduction of multiple new characters, including the Kingdom’s King Ezekiel and Shiva. Meanwhile, Daryl’s currently being held captive at the Sanctuary, Maggie and Sasha have moved to the Hillltop, and as recently as last week, Carl and Jesus have stowed away aboard one of Negan’s supply trucks en route to Savior-town. But really, who cares about all of that?

Rather than show us the next chapter in the Rick v. Negan saga, The Walking Dead presses pause on the current storyline to focus on a character most casual fans probably forgot existed, and another character casual fans definitely forgot existed. I haven’t really been jonesing for an opportunity to catch-up with Tara and Heath (I do remember who they are, though, for the record), but their offscreen story is one that probably needed to be told eventually; though, the timing of their episode is pretty unfortunate. I'm not completely opposed to a Tara-centric episode, but when it airs directly after the season’s first real cliffhanger, and grinds the plot to a screeching halt, it comes across as “filler-ish,” and is hard to enjoy. And this *would* have been a good hour of The Walking Dead to enjoy. Tara’s been a group mainstay since season four, and finally finds herself with something to do besides following Glenn around, or getting shoehorned into an out of left field romance (sorry Denise fan).
 
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Realistically, though, there was no other way to handle this. Tara had to go offscreen for a while to accommodate Alanna Masterson’s maternity leave, and bumping this episode up or down in the schedule would have caused more pacing problems than it would have solved. For instance, while postponing this episode, until after Jesus and Carl’s Excellent Adventure, would have been more immediately satisfying, doing so would have made 'Swear' the lead-in to the midseason finale, which is not ideal. And forget leaving this episode until after the midseason break. By then, it would be almost a year since we last saw Heath and Tara, in which case, you might as well not bring them back at all.

The earliest ‘Swear’ could have aired this season is maybe third- right after ‘The Well.’ But, this would have pushed current episode three, the Daryl-centric ‘The Cell,’ back a week, meaning we would've had to wait two whole episodes after the premiere, to see how a member of the main group dealt with the aftermath of Glenn and Abraham’s deaths. The one benefit of this hypothetical schedule, is that we would have had five straight episodes of Savior-storyline goodness, starting with 'The Cell,' and ending with the midseason finale. In reality, though, this never would have worked. Airing such a weak episode so early on in the season could have been disastrous, especially since The Walking Dead still finds itself in a rather precarious ratings situation, despite its all-time viewed seventh season premiere.

So, if it couldn't have been moved forward, and it couldn't have been pushed back, that means the writers made the best possible scheduling decision, right? Well, not necessarily. I think the shrewd decision might have been to switch ‘Swear’ with last week’s Hilltop episode, the fifth of the season. It would have delayed Maggie’s first post-premiere appearance another week, but considering episode four (two weeks ago) tried to “trick” us into thinking Maggie died, an extra week of filler could have squeezed out a bit more suspense, before inevitably revealing that she’s alive and well. Even this isn’t the perfect solution, though. Having to wait four weeks to find out how Maggie’s dealing with the death of her husband is just too long of a wait for such important character development.

As for the actual episode? It’s…not great. Probably the worst of the season. Tara just isn’t a compelling enough character to carry an episode on her own, and it shows in nearly every non-action scene she’s in. But hey, look at how quirky and awkward she is. That’s cool…right? Heath’s contributions are predictably just as marginal, and the fact that Corey Hawkins is slated to star in the new 24 reboot, doesn’t bode well for the character’s long term viability. We do get a nice bit of world building this week, and the Oceanside community does have a pretty interesting culture and origin story, at least relative to some of the other groups we’ve come across. I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of the Oceanside women, but if it is, they were a pretty satisfying group of one-off antagonists, with an original backstory, and just enough bite to back up their bark. Although, the fact that they were bested by Tara is mildly disappointing.
 
(Photo Credit: AMC)

With just two weeks to go until the midseason finale, The Walking Dead enters the homestretch of season 7A with a half-hearted filler episode that ignores most of the recent central plot development, to focus on a pair of characters that haven’t been heard from (or missed) since the latter third of season six. It’s not incredibly uncharacteristic of The Walking Dead to see its season fizzle out after a strong start, but ‘Swear’ is an unusually poor example of filler, even by TWD standards. It's barely relevant to the season’s overall plot, and fails to tell a particularly interesting self-contained story. In television, each episode is precious. There are only so many hours in a season, in a series, to tell meaningful stories that tie together into overarching narratives. I can’t help but wonder that if Tara had just been killed off in season six, instead of sent offscreen for half a season, maybe this episode could have been used to explore other, more crucial plot points that are currently dangling in the wind, waiting for resolution.

Friday, November 25, 2016

(TV) Viacom: Why a merger with CBS is the only play Viacom have left







With the end of the disastrous decade long reign of Phillippe Dauman over, there has been a lot of talk of Viacom's next move which seems quite strange since the company only has one option worth contemplating, merging with CBS as quickly as possible. 

With surely no one crazy enough to risk their reputation turning around a company that owns increasingly irrelevant and underperfoming media networks, low on cash and is $12 billion in debtViacom not merging with CBS is suicideUnderstandably, highly respected CBS CEO Les Moonves is less than thrilled with the prospect of  his company merging with Viacom which currently, for the lack of better words, looks like a shit sandwich. Unfortunately, for Moonves at least, the decision to merge with Viacom isn't entirely up to him.   

The decision to merge the two would largely depend on redstone family (principally Sumner and daughter Shari Redstone) who own 80% of both companies through the company National Amusements. Both Redstones are in favour of merging both companies which split over a decade ago and have already made moves to see it through. 

With both companies boards stacked with members loyal to the redstones, the merger looks like a matter of time. In truth, Viacom would not be in this position if the company would have got rid of now former CEO Philippe Dauman five years ago instead of last August as the Frenchman is largely responsible for the glaring weaknesses that beset the company. Much of Viacom can be laid at Dauman's feet as he oversaw arguably the dumbest capital allocation strategy ever pursued by a media company and failed to respond to glaring market trends particularly the rise of SVOD companies such as Netflix and Hulu and the increasing maturity of Pay TV market. 

Because of Dauman criminally negligible mistakes, Viacom  are alarmingly vulnerable as they own media networks in an age where the market for them is shrinking rapidly. The upshot of this trend is that it affects their two biggest markets, TV and advertising. Viacom for years made their crust bullying cable and satellite pay TV operators into paying  large carriage fees by leveraging  their popular networks such MTV and Comedy Central forcing pay TV operators to cough up for less popular networks in their portfolio and then sell airtime to marketers and agencies during commercial breaks which has made Viacom one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world.  

However, this business model had dangerous weaknesses as it made Viacom unhealthy dependent on the pay TV market for their daily bread. Thanks to rise of Netflix and SVOD in general and pay TV operators losing subscribers every quarter for the last five years, Viacom's pay TV dependent business model has blown up in their faces and nobody knows just how to pick up the pieces. 

The only way out of the mess Viacom finds themselves in is merging with CBS who have negotiated the maturity of pay TV and the rapid rise of SVOD better than most media companies. CBS, unlike Viacom, has some footing in the SVOD market with Showtime anytime and thanks to its content deal with the NFL, it has its hands on the most important content in the TV business, sports. However, CBS, like Viacom, is low on cash and is $8 billion in debt. Nonetheless, CBS are still in a better position than Viacom which despite some downsides, makes a merger viable. 

In sum, Viacom can thank their lucky stars  they're part of the Redstone universe as if they weren't, one could only imagine where Viacom would be.                  





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