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"I don't think you can call it a perfect storm...but certainly the market was in need of a break." — Johnson Research Group CEO and Chief Market Strategist Chris Johnson on the 3.3% decline in the Dow Jones industrial average on Feb. 27

It's the day after the Oscars, and traditional celebrity wags are gaga over Scorsese, Gore, and what was that thing around Meryl Streep's neck? Harvey Levin, however, wants to know about the condition of Anna Nicole Smith's body, as her family squabbles over her burial.

Levin is managing editor of TMZ.com, the cheerfully sleazy celebrity site that, measured by viewers, has zoomed past Web sites from People, E! Entertainment Television, and Entertainment Weekly. The site generates more than 6 million unique monthly users, nearly double the number of a year ago, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Now TMZ, a joint venture of Time Warner (TWX) units AOL and TV production studio Telepictures, is planning to bring its take-no-prisoners paparazzi videos and tales from Hollywood waiters to TV. This fall it will go up against mainstays like Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight. The show will air in about 80% of the U.S., including Fox Entertainment's 35-station group in the big markets.

The competition isn't quivering. "We know our mission—to get big exclusive interviews and solid Hollywood entertainment news," says Rob Silverstein, executive producer of Access Hollywood, whose ratings rose 10% this year. "Others can dip their toes into what will get them quick ratings."

But TMZ hopes advertisers take note of its audience, which is younger than the competition's 45-ish median viewer age. Working from a nondescript Burbank warehouse, Levin's 25-person staff has been generating buzz since it broke Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic meltdown last summer. TMZ also led the pack in reporting comedian Michael Richards' racist club rant and Britney's return to rehab. Among the site's regular advertisers: Verizon (VZ), Blockbuster (BBI), and J.C. Penney (JCP). Some clients still ask for distance from some of TMZ's racier topics, says Eric Bader, senior vice-president for digital connections at MediaVest USA, which buys online ads. (Hershey asked for an ad to be dropped from a spot adjacent to coverage of Richards' tirade.) But any anxiety advertisers once had about such celebrity tabloids "has really burned off," Bader says. "The audience numbers are just too big."

They're No. 1, but don't get out the big foam finger.

Athens-based Ohio University tops the Recording Industry Association of America's music piracy list, with the most copyright warnings received about students' illegal file-sharing: 1,287 so far this academic year. RIAAsays such warnings are up dramatically, and on Feb. 28, CEO Mitch Bainwol announced the RIAA will replace warnings with pre-lawsuit notices for students.

Federal law requires the roughly 800 schools notified to stop repeat offenses or face liability. At No. 2 Purdue, with 1,068 notices, multiple violations lead to a warning and possible loss of Web access, but spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg says Purdue's wireless network can't easily match students with their IP addresses. Ohio U's interim CIO Shawn Ostermann says the school cuts Web access at offending addresses, sending students (ID'd when they report the problem) to a judicial board. Consequences are yet to be decided.

Are prices rising faster for women than for men? Recent research by David Rosenberg, chief North American economist for Merrill Lynch, identifies a male-female split in the inflation rate.

Crunching CPI data for the past year, Rosenberg found that goods and services geared toward women (including clothes and shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, housekeeping, and appliances) are posting bigger price rises than those catering to men (clothing, shoes, sporting goods, TVs, and auto parts and repairs).

While the gender gap isn't new, Rosenberg says the divergence has "widened considerably" in the past few months. Calculated separately, the "female inflation rate" is now 3.6% year over year, 18 times the 0.2% rate for men.

What's behind the disparity? In part, shifting demographics and job trends, which, in turn, affect demand—and thus prices. Women currently enjoy greater employment growth than men, and their consumer confidence is at a six-year high. They are also marrying later or not at all. That matters, says Rosenberg, because single women spend a higher percentage of their income than single men do, and spend more on themselves, according to the latest Census Bureau's Consumer Expenditure Survey.

All this helps explain why prices for women's clothing and jewelry are growing at their fastest pace in over a decade while those for auto parts are holding steady and prices for big-screen TVs are declining. "If you're an investor with a stake in the U.S. consumer," Rosenberg says, "your portfolio should somehow reflect these demographic and economic forces."

Considering A major strategic move, a CEO might go to a few trusted advisers for guidance or bring in an investment banker. David Cummings, the iconoclastic founder of BATS Trading, is asking about 1,500 of his closest friends.

Cummings, whose fast-growing Kansas City (Mo.) electronic market is nibbling into NASDAQ'S volume, wants to develop a European strategy. So in a Feb. 27 e-mail to Wall Street types—everyone from traders to nyse and nasdaq executives—he asked for advice: Should BATS, which stands for Better Alternative Trading System, tie up with existing markets? License technology? Start a subsidiary? Set up a cross-ownership deal? Stay home?

Cummings frequently sends out "Dear Trading Community" e-mails in which he simply opines. Is he serious about soliciting ideas? Quite, he says, adding: "If they are really good ideas, a job offer is possible."

The issue of going into Europe arose when he read erroneous British press reports that BATS was looking to buy into Plus Markets Group, a British electronic market that he "had hardly heard of." Then he looked at its Web site and realized the idea might not be a bad one, he wrote in the Feb. 27 e-mail, urging his readers to help him contact the company. Taking a jab at nasdaq's failed hostile bid for the London Stock Exchange, Cummings added that he won't make an unwelcome run. What do the folks at Plus say? London-based executives would be "happy to put the kettle on and have a cup of tea with him," a spokesman says.

How bad is business for subprime lenders? As defaults mount from mortgage borrowers with shaky credit histories, some of these lenders are shuttering. Others are being bought by Wall Street firms.

First Franklin Financial was snapped up by Merrill Lynch (MER) for $1.3 billion in December. Then there's the case of Encore Credit Corp., an Irvine (Calif.) mortgage bank with a subprime specialty.

On Feb. 12, Bear Stearns (BSC) closed a deal to buy Encore for $26 million, an amount that turned out to be less than what Encore's parent, ecc Capital, owed Bear Stearns for financing the subprime loans. To make up the difference, ecc gave $7 million to Bear Stearns, the buyer, as the loans ECC sold in the market fetched less than anticipated.

ECC Capital officials declined to comment, but the deal wasn't a total loss for ECC staff, some of whom are migrating to Bear Stearns to head subprime-loan underwriting. Thomas Marano, Bear Stearns' head of mortgage and asset-backed securities, says he values the ECC staffers' expertise while noting that the investment bank's "exposure to subprime is not particularly large."

The New Yorker's iconic cartoons as Web videos? They're now available as animations at Apple's (AAPL) iTunes Store, and they'll soon be on newyorker.com. The free videos run 15 to 20 seconds (including an ad) and add sound, movement, and color. Each takes six weeks to adapt, using independent artists and actors, say Jim Cox and Michael Fry, who head RingTales, the Santa Monica (Calif.) new-media outfit that licensed the right to animate and distribute the 70,000-plus cartoons. Besides Web sites, RingTales sees a market in mobile phone and e-mail "cartoon of the day" subscriptions. It soon expects to add animations of three "household name" comic strips.

WWW.CHEEZHEAD.COM

Searching for job openings—or candidates— on the Web can feel like casting a net into an abyss. This blog about online recruiting, written by Joel Cheesman, has an industry-insider feel at times. But it'll help you understand the cyber-job world and the search engines that pair candidates with recruiters. Cheesman, who advises employers on their Web-based talent hunts, has the scoop on everything from coding tricks that can put an unknown site on Google's (GOOG) radar to the latest on the upcoming partnership between Jobster and Facebook.

If you could carve one mean, lean auto machine out of The Big Three, what five U.S. car brands would that imaginary company sell to compete with Toyota?

"Ford's Europe division has compelling designs. Chevy still has the world's most recognizable brand and great trucks. Jeep is the genuine article. Cadillac's upward trajectory is its own to squander. Aston Martin is a Cinderella story. — Michael Spinelli, editor, Jalopnik.com

"I'd take Jeep because it's an icon, Cadillac because it's successful, and Chevy and Ford for the sales volume and truck business. I'd also stick to my allegiance and keep the Chrysler brand." — Thomas Stallkamp, former Chrysler president; partner, Ripplewood Partners

"Cadillac, for luxury. Chevrolet and Ford as standard bearers in cars, trucks, and new technologies. Chrysler, to reenergize and continue to dominate the minivan market. Jeep, to take on SUVs." — David Davis, editor-in-chief, WindingRoad.com; founder, Automobile magazine


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