Thursday morning headlines

Tribune race shifting?: The Broad/Burkle offer appears to have a slight edge, according to the WSJ. But not enough to prevent Trbune's advisors from trolling for additional bidders. Apparently, they're going after folks who conducted due diligence on the company, but did not make an offer. One group approached was a consortium that includes private-equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, long considered a favorite. But the consortium still ain't biting. Also, there's lots of chatter about News Corp.'s involvement in the Chandler proposal, most of it suggesting that the Chandlers don't stand much of a chance.

Northrop looking good: The L.A.-based defense contractor came out this morning with fourth-quarter profits of $1.28 a share, compared with 92 cents a year earlier. Analysts had been expecting $1.26. Profits were solid across the board, reflecting a defense industry that's capitalizing on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Federal money to buy and develop weopons grew 19 percent in the fourth quarter, so that should mean continued strong results at Northrop and the other majors. Reuters

Stepping on the brakes: Americans are driving less - not by leaps and bounds, but enough to make the big brains wonder whether a jump in gas prices has had some influence on consumers after all. The drop in per-driver mileage didn't amount to much - just 0.4 percent in 2005 - but it's the first time the number has gone down since 1980. Going along with the decline in driving has been a pickup in mass transit ridership. OK, but does it really seem like folks are driving less in L.A.? LAT

Hooray for reality: L.A. saw a 53 percent increase in the number of days spent shooting reality TV shows - and it's a good thing because other types of location shooting - features and commercials - had drops in 2006. The trouble with reality shows is that they have far smaller budgets than scripted productions. LAT reports that a typical one-hour drama that runs 22 episodes costs close to $50 million, compared with about $7 million spent on a 10-episode reality show. Here's a sample of which shows are shot in which locations:

"Beauty and the Geek," Wilshire area
"The Apprentice," Hollywood Hills
"Top Chef," downtown arts district
"The Girls Next Door," Holmby Hills
"Parental Control," San Fernando Valley
"Clean House," Sherman Oaks
"Pimp My Ride," Culver City and San Fernando Valley

Going for laughs: Lots of coverage about what commercials will be running during the Super Bowl - and yes, it can be a big deal. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Leeds School of Business said companies that buy Super Bowl ads may get a slight boost in their stock prices at the time of the announcement. If you think that's funny, try out the new ads being prepared by Budweiser - smart-alecky crabs making off with a cooler of Budweiser from a group of unsuspecting bikini-clad women and two astronauts trying to share a Bud in space. Budweiser says it's going for laughs this time around instead of focusing on heritage and quality (yeah, who cares about that stuff). WSJ Denver Business Journal

Time's mag deal: NY Post reports that 18 Time Inc. titles will be sold to Sweden-based publishing giant Bonnier Group for more than $200 million, but well below the $300 million that Time had sought. The deal involves Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, TransWorld Snowboarding, Yachting, Salt Water Sportsman, and 11 other magazines in the Time 4 Media Group, as well as the Parenting Group, which includes magazines Parenting and Baby Talk. Announcement is set for today.

21st Century stock jumps: Shares are up more than 26 percent this morning in response to American International Group offering to buy the 38 percent of the Woodland Hills-based insurance company it doesn't already own. AIG is offering $19.75 per share, a 19 percent premium to Wednesday's closing price. The stock is now trading at around $21, which means that traders think there may be higher bids in the works. AP

Better cable service: Well, that's what they're saying in the WSJ. Among the improvements at Time Warner Cable - our company - is having the technician call a customer while he or she is en route to the home. That way, the customer doesn't have to wait around (yeah, right). From the WSJ:

Historically, cable companies have faced challenges in estimating times between in-home appointments due to unexpected problems at prior appointments or even basic issues like traffic and bad weather. Mergers within the cable industry, as well as companies' efforts to keep up with demand for new services like phone service, have strained installation crews and call centers. All this can add up to customers spending many minutes on hold or waiting at home for hours. Companies like Cleveland-based TOA Technologies are creating software to make appointment scheduling easier, and the growing availability of global positioning technology can route technicians more efficiently.

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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