Par heating up its branding iron

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Paramount Pictures film studio will focus on more clearly defining and branding what an MTV Films, Nickelodeon and BET movie is, Viacom Inc. president and CEO Philippe Dauman said Tuesday.

"I give Disney a lot of credit for what they have done," he said about the firm's branding of its films.

Speaking at the Bear Stearns Media Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., he also said that there could "maybe some time (be) a Comedy Central Films" label.

Citing a key film release this year, Dauman mentioned "Transformers," saying "it is a possible franchise."

Asked about the takedown notice for Viacom content that his firm recently issued for Google's YouTube, the CEO said it showed positive effects. "We found traffic increase to our own (Web) sites," he said. "We like to provide a high-quality environment to our advertisers."

Asked if Viacom has lost some of its cool factor as of late, Dauman said: "It's a very cool place to work. ... We will be the greatest of all entertainment companies" once his team works through some operational issues.

Also at the Bear Stearns outing Tuesday, Time Warner Inc. president and COO Jeffrey Bewkes said he is "not concerned about the financing drying up" that financial institutions have provided to film studios.

TW's Warner Bros. and New Line studios get "more of the upside in distribution fees" from recent financing deals, he told the investors.

Asked why there has been so much Wall Street money available to studios, Bewkes cited "more predictability" of financial returns because of the home video business "even with a flattening DVD" market.

Discussing the future of TW's AOL unit, he again signaled that it could be spun off if TW ever feels it could use the stock for acquisitions better than TW's stock and cash.

"It might be more advisable" somewhere down the line, Bewkes said.

The TW president also was optimistic that the conglomerate can remain a growth company in the future and said that while all its units are being run to be at their best performance, there is synergy between operations. He cited VOD as a key example of how TW Cable and the TW content businesses have come together.

Also at the Bear Stearns event, DirecTV Group CFO Mike Palkovic said that his company's customer service could be a lot better, but he added that it beats that of other pay TV outfits.

"We're winning the battle of pygmies," he quipped.

He also insinuated that proclamations of cable TV's triple-play advantage are overblown and that superior TV will attract the consumers that DirecTV covets.

"The bundle is mostly about price," he said. "Within that mix of services, television is what they care most about."

DirecTV, he said, beats cable because of its superior HD offering and easy interface and navigation tools.

He also dismissed VOD as a threat, calling it "a small event, competitively" because cablers have made it too complicated and haven't provided enough content. DirecTV's answer is to push VOD content to users' storage disks, and he noted that all DirecTV boxes deployed since 2004 are broadband enabled.

Across the country, at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference in San Francisco, Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel told Wall Street analysts that his company spent last year upgrading its online search product, and now Yahoo! intends on reaping the rewards.

"We spent a lot of our time last year building our plumbing," he said. "I think you will really see these things come alive over the next year or two."

Yahoo!'s new search system, Panama, "is generating higher-quality leads at more competitive prices," said Sue Decker, acting CFO and head of the company's advertiser and publisher group.

Decker, who many on Wall Street see as Semel's heir apparent, said she sees no evidence that what some see as a cooling U.S. economy is negatively impacting Yahoo!'s business.

"Secular trends in online advertising have way overwhelmed cyclical trends in the economy," she said.

Paul Bond reported from Los Angeles; Georg Szalai reported from New York.
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