MEDIATION -- AND THEN WHAT?

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is expected to agree to federal mediation of its dispute with the Screen Actors Guild as early as today (Thursday), Daily Variety reported today , citing no sources. At a board meeting on Sunday, SAG had requested intervention by a federal mediator. Whether a mediator would be able to break the current stalemate between the two sides remained in doubt, however. The studios have insisted that they do not plan to budge on its rejection of the union's demands for compensation for new media productions. In its report about the matter, Variety commented that SAG's call for mediation was likely "a bid to buy time to stir up support for a strike threat among the rank and file -- especially if the majors [studios] resist the mediator's efforts to reach a settlement." The Hollywood Reporter commented: "The mediator ploy could simply be a case of SAG exhausting every possible route to a solution -- or it could be a way to avoid a potentially embarrassing rejection of fighting on by the membership. Perhaps most ominously, bringing in a mediator could shift the timing of a potential strike to Oscar season, when its impact would be most severe."

CRITIC EBERT CRITICIZED BY CRITICS

After initially defending his decision to write a scathing review of the indie movie Tru Loved after walking out after the first eight minutes, Roger Ebert has had a change of heart. In a message posted on his website, he concedes, "In reviewing the first eight minutes, I was guilty of too much affection for my prose." Later, he vows: "I will never, ever, again review a film I have not seen in its entirety. Never. Ever." (He has since seen the entire film and posted a detailed review of it.) Some of Ebert's fans and fellow critics are not willing to let him off the hook so fast, however. In the Los Angeles Times, media columnist Patrick Goldstein writes today (Thursday): "If there were ever an act that indelibly painted critics as elitist snobs, it would be America's best-known critic reviewing a movie after only bothering to watch for eight minutes." Orlando Sentinel critic Roger Moore sayes that writing a review of a movie based on its first eight minutes is "not cricket." He then concludes, "If we're going to start writing reviews of movies we haven't suffered all the way, or at least most of the way through, the way most people who shell out $10-12 do after they've spent the cash, we're all doomed." And Gary Susman, a sometime critic who writes the PopWatch blog for Entertainment Weekly's website, comments: "No other movie critic in America could have pulled off such a stunt without getting fired. I fear that, even though he corrected his mistake, he's still set a bad example. At a time when film critics all over America are losing their jobs, it can't be good for readers, editors, or filmmakers to think that when he did passes for professional, acceptable behavior among film critics and the outlets that publish their work, even for a moment."

NETFLIX VIA BLU-RAY

Netflix subscribers will soon be able to stream movies directly to their TV sets via Blu-ray disc players that can be connected to the Internet. The online video renter said Wednesday that some 12,000 titles will be available for viewing via two Samsung Blu-ray models that currently retail for $399. (Owners of the Samsung players need to download special software at www.samsung.com/bluraysupport in order to view the movies.) Meanwhile, rumors spread on the Internet Wednesday that the Netflix movies will soon be available for viewing by owners of Microsoft's Xbox game units.

BLOCKBUSTER MAY THRIVE IN POOR ECONOMY

The precarious economy may be unnerving to many in the entertainment business, but it may very well boost rentals for video retailer Blockbuster. Indeed, the Dallas-based company on Wednesday reported a 5.1-percent increase in revenue during the third quarter, after reporting significant sales growth in the previous two quarters. And while the Dow plunged 514 points on Wednesday, Blockbuster's stock edged up. Michael Pachter an entertainment analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, said, "The last three weeks are as bad as you're going to see for consumer confidence, and if someone is on the cusp of joining Netflix and paying a monthly fee or not, they may opt to rent movies à la carte instead." Separately, the Los Angeles Times quoted Pachter as saying, "It's very easy to substitute rental for movie tickets when times are tough."

NO RELIEF FOR MEDIA COMPANIES

Virtually all media shares continued their downward spiral today (Thursday), with Time Warner shares taking another hard beating, falling 7 percent to $8.96, close to its 52-week low of $8.83. Sony Corp. dropped a whopping 10 percent to $21.06, while General Electric, the parent of NBC Universal, dropped 2.85 percent to a new 52-week low of $18.26.