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Paul LaMonica Commentary:
Media Biz by Paul R. La Monica Column archive

'Turkeys' on a plane

Give thanks for things like Borat, 'Heroes,' and YouTube, but pass on the celebrity rants and flimsy football.

By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It's that most wonderful time of the year ... time for columnists like me to put together year-end best of and worst of lists!

Now before we all succumb to a tryptophan/cranberry sauce/football-induced stupor, here's a look back at the year that was in media ... with an oh-so-novel Thanksgiving-themed twist. Here are five things about the media that I'm thankful for and five media turkeys

Things to be thankful for
NBC's new hit "Heroes" is one of this media columnist's favorite things of 2006 ...
... but "Snakes on a Plane" and many other Time Warner-produced box office duds made Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema media turkeys this year.
2006 was a good year for major media stocks ... with the notable exception of Viacom.
A tale of two search engines: Shares of Google are climbing higher and higher, while investors fret about how Yahoo keeps losing ground to Google in search.

YouTube You can debate whether or not the online video site is really worth $1.65 billion (some would say Google got robbed, and others think Google got a bargain), but YouTube clearly is the media story of the year.

Even if you get rid of all the pirated copyrighted material, YouTube still has a massive treasure trove of amusing videos that can help you while away those long hours at the office (uh, I mean long weekends at home, boss!).

YouTube is great because it proves that people don't always need the mainstream media to keep them entertained ... and some truly talented people are now able to get their work seen by a large audience. My personal favorite? Pug bowling!

Google Sure, some of the hype surrounding Google (Charts) is silly. Every time the company comes out with a new service, many cover it as if it's the 21st century equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone. Yes, Google Earth is cool. But let's not go overboard, people.

Still, I'm thankful for Google because it really is making a big difference in the media world. The company's search platform has made it a lot easier for small businesses to get their name out there. Google is also taking steps to transform the way radio, print and TV ads are bought and sold.

And unlike Internet stocks from the late 90s, you can argue that Google is worth every penny (even at $500 a share) since the company is insanely profitable. For once, the buzz might actually be warranted.

Borat Love him or hate him, Sacha Baron Cohen's fictional Kazakh journalist is helping to change Hollywood. For one, he's showing that a movie without a big A-list star can still do huge business. "Borat" has made just a little less than $100 million so far, according to research firm Box Office Mojo.

But more important, the success of "Borat" will hopefully prove to Hollywood that moviegoers are ready for edgy comedies, something that will make us squirm in our seats even as we double over with laughter. Heaven knows, do we really need any more formulaic romantic comedies starring Jennifer Aniston or lowbrow toilet humor escapades featuring the likes of Rob Schneider?

Heroes NBC's comic-book-inspired drama is, in a word, awesome. Full disclosure: I'm a geek. But I'm not alone. More than 14.6 million people, on average, are watching this show on Monday nights, according to Nielsen Media Research.

I'm glad "Heroes" is doing well since it is a fun show that features smart storytelling and interesting characters. But also, it's finally nice to see NBC getting some press for having a hit show and being cool again.

It's been a long time since NBC could claim to be "Must See TV." But thanks to "Heroes," along with other quirky shows like "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" - not to mention "Sunday Night Football" - NBC finally appears to be climbing out of the ratings abyss. That's a good thing for the once proud Peacock Network.

Media stocks In 2005, suckers for alliteration like yours truly were all negative Nellies. The headlines focused on media malaise, media meltdowns and moribund media.

But this year, it's completely different. Now, the stories are about media mojo, media mergers and media mania! Shares of most of the major media conglomerates have bounced back sharply this year.

Walt Disney (Charts) and News Corp (Charts) are up more than 30 percent. CBS (Charts) has gained 14 percent. And shares of my parent company, Time Warner (Charts), have even joined the party. The stock's up 19 percent. So I'm thankful finally to see the TWX portion of my 401(k) doing well.

Media turkeys

Tom Cruise/Mel Gibson/Cosmo Kramer, etc. What is up with the bizarre public behavior of celebrities this year? From Cruise's couch jumping to Gibson's anti-Semitic rant and, most recently, Michael Richards's racist tirade, America is getting an ugly glimpse at people who used to be well-loved stars.

Methinks celebrities need to learn that once they are done filming movies or TV shows, it may be better to simply be seen and not heard. Just shut up and act!

Viacom Speaking of Cruise, was there a stranger media power play move this year than Viacom (Charts) chairman Sumner Redstone basically using The Wall Street Journal to fire Cruise?

It's been a tumultuous year for Viacom and Sumner. Cruise's "Mission: Impossible III" was a box office disappointment. Viacom's cable networks are underperforming. So after Cruise got shown the door, Sumner also dumped Viacom CEO Tom Freston.

And Wall Street is growing impatient. Viacom is the only major media stock to be in the red this year. Viacom's woes are all the more embarrassing since the company spun off CBS earlier this year, and the Eye Network was supposed to be the boring laggard stock of the two.

Yahoo! What's that about a rising tide lifting all boats? Online advertising is sizzling, but you wouldn't know it from Yahoo's (Charts) stock price. Shares have tumbled 31 percent this year.

Yahoo has lost market share in search to Google. The long-awaited launch of a new advertising platform, dubbed Project Panama, was delayed. And when the company warned in September that it was seeing weakness in auto and financial services advertising, most of Yahoo's competitors were quick to point out that they were doing just fine.

Now some are starting to wonder if Yahoo's CEO Terry Semel will be around much longer. To be fair, some of the concerns appear to be overdone. But Yahoo does need to start winning back ground it has lost to Google - pronto! - if it wants to regain Wall Street's confidence.

Time Warner's movie business. Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, have had a calamitous year. The two studios have combined for just 13 percent of ticket sales at U.S. theaters, well behind Sony, Disney and News Corp.'s Fox

The studios released a series of high-profile flops. "Poseidon" was the biggest, uh, shipwreck. "Superman Returns," despite a $200 million box office take, didn't live up to expectations. The M. Night Shyamalan movie "Lady in the Water" was a critical and box office dud. And New Line's "Snakes on a Plane" may have generated a sssstrong amount of interest with bloggers, but that didn't translate into fannies in the sssseats at the multiplex. (Confession: I saw and loved "Snakes" on opening night ... but Jim Beam has a funny way of making many things more tolerable.)

Warner Bros. has bounced back a bit lately. Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" is the biggest box office hit of his career as well as a likely Oscar contender. And "Happy Feet," the computer-generated animated movie about dancing penguins, nudged out the new James Bond movie for the top spot last weekend. Still, the performance of Time Warner's movie business this year reminds me of another flightless bird ... gobble gobble gobble!

Monday Night Football on ESPN I'd be remiss if I didn't mention MNF. I tore apart ESPN in two columns last week, and these pieces hit a major nerve. I received nearly 200 e-mails from readers - most of them agreeing with me that MNF is an embarrassment. And the football blog on The New York Times even gave my column a shout-out. Thanks, Gray Lady!

Yes, MNF has done well, ratings-wise, on ESPN this year. But the telecast's over-the-top promotions for ABC and other Disney products as well as an increased focus on celebrity interviews and other non-football-related topics, has angered many viewers.

Will fans get fed up and change the channel? I hope so. I'd love to be able to watch MNF again without wanting to throw something at the TV. And the only way ESPN will see fit to change its telecasts is if people send a message by not watching. After witnessing the Giants lose this past Monday night (grr), I can safely say that's the last Monday night I'll tune in. Who's with me?

The reporter of this story owns shares of Time Warner through his company's 401(k) plan. Top of page

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