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Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Monday, Jan. 7, at 1:26 p.m. (PT); last updated at 4:25 p.m.

Lyne upped, Bloomberg out at ABC

Stu Bloomberg, a 20-year network veteran, has resigned as co-chairman of ABC Television Entertainment Group, with miniseries head Susan Lyne to take on the top programming job. Lloyd Braun, who has served with Mr. Bloomberg as co-chairman, is said to be poised to take on sole oversight of the network/studio umbrella group, including Touchstone Television.

ABC has been mired in a ratings slump for the past two seasons, dropping about 20 percent to a fourth-ranked position in the key adults 18 to 49 demo this season. There were few details on what prompted Mr. Bloomberg’s resignation, which comes three months after he renewed a long-term contract to oversee the network.

“Something had to happen, because being down about 17 percent [in the ratings] is not going in a positive direction,” said Bruce Baker, executive vice president of Cox Broadcasting and chairman of the ABC affiliates board.

ABC spokespeople could not be reached for comment, but a formal announcement was expected Monday afternoon. Ms. Lyne, who is expected to report to Mr. Braun, has served as executive vice president of movies and miniseries since March 1998. She has been widely credited for developing a large number of top-rated “Wonderful World of Disney” telefilms, including nonfiction offerings about Judy Garland, the Three Stooges and Anne Frank.

Mr. Baker seemed to find the elevation of Ms. Lyne an invitation to think positive. “She’s actually done good things” in her area of responsibility, he said.

At the same time, Mr. Baker acknowledged the inexorable rhythms of TV. “This is cyclical,” he said. “ABC is going to be No. 1 again someday. We just don’t know when. Certainly, this year has been very painful.”

AOL Time Warner forecasts modest 2002 growth: AOL Time Warner CEO-elect Richard Parsons told Wall Street the company expects little revenue and earnings growth the first part of 2002, and no growth in advertising at all this year. In a conference call with analysts and investors late Monday, Mr. Parsons said the company was penalized for falling short of its high expectations the first year of its merger, and he promised more conservative economic forecasts. “We will try not to overpromise, and we will deliver,” he said.

No substantial cost cuts are planned, he added.

AOL Time Warner is not assuming any economic recovery this year and is forecasting a more subdued 8 percent to 12 percent rise in earnings on a 5 percent to 8 percent rise in revenues for 2002 — far below the more ambitious projections the company provided when it merged in January 2001.

Although the company is lowering the bar on growth expectations, Mr. Parsons said AOL Time Warner will aggressively invest in the development of new products and services, accelerate international expansion, reinvest in core businesses and acquire new businesses so the company will be positioned to take advantage of an economic upturn.

That activity begins with AOL Time Warner assuming full ownership of its rapidly growing AOL Europe by buying a half interest for $5.3 billion in cash from Germany’s Bertelsmann AG. The move will take a $400 million bite out of cash flow in 2002 and another $300 million out of 2003 cash flow. The company offered further downward revision to its full year 2001 results, which it will report Jan. 30. It expects to post 18 percent earnings growth to just under $10 billion on an anemic 5 percent increase in revenues to $38 billion, dragged down by a 3 percent decline in advertising and lower earnings results in areas such as cable. Full year 2001 free cash flow will total $3 billion, far short of the $5 billion originally projected.Chief Operating Officer-elect Bob Pittman outlined plans for AOL Time Warner to aggressively build out its broadband, multiple Internet service provider, AOL TV and multimedia platform marketing. He said 2002 growth drivers will be video-on-demand, subscription VOD, online music, interactive television and franchise films (including “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings” and “The Matrix”).

New Chief Financial Officer Wayne Pace said the company’s subscription revenues grew about 12 percent in 2001 and are expected to increase by the mid- to low teens in 2002. On other fronts, Mr. Parsons said AOL Time Warner remains committed to cable and that Comcast Corp.’s snaring of AT&T Broadband “reaffirms the value of the cable platform.” AOL Time Warner will negotiate with Comcast to carry AOL as an ISP on its dominant cable platform and to sell the 25 percent stakes Comcast is acquiring from AT&T in Time Warner Entertainment.

CNN blunders with ‘sexy’ promo of Zahn show: On the weekend before the debut of its “American Morning With Paula Zahn,” CNN aired a promotion that described Ms. Zahn as “a little sexy.”

That description was followed by a sound that some interpreted as a zipper in motion but that a CNN spokesperson said was meant to convey “a record scratching” and abruptly cutting off the music playing in the promo, which had been pulled by the time the show debuted.

Opposing interpretations of the audio punctuation aside, the on air promo — which labeled Ms. Zahn as “provocative” and “sexy” and “oh, yes, a little sexy” was “was a major blunder by our promotions department,” said CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson in a statement released late Monday afternoon.

“I am outraged — and so is Paula, who spent more than 20 years proving her credibility day in and day out on the air,” said Mr. Isaacson. “Proper procedures were not followed. This is a very serious matter, which we are treating in a very serious way.”

“I had no knowledge of the promo until it aired. When I saw it I was offended,” said Ms. Zahn, in a statement late Monday. “CNN management has apologized to me and assured me a mistake like this will not happy again. I am glad that both Walter and Jamie saw this is a serious issue took such quick and decisive action.”

Fox News Channel, Ms. Zahn’s previous home, gleefully fired off a new salvo in the increasingly colorful feud between the two all-news channels.

“It’s their No. 1 star on her first day of her new show, and their defense is: ‘We didn’t look at the promos,'” said Kevin Magee, vice president of news programming at Fox. “I’d be afraid to use that defense. Do you use the ignorance defense or the bad taste defense?”

Keyes signs on to host show for MSNBC: MSNBC has signed Alan Keyes, whose oratory enlivened the Republican presidential debates in 2000, to host a 10 o’clock weeknight hour of commentary and debate starting Jan. 21. The show, originating live from Washington, will be titled “Alan Keyes Is Making Sense.”

Mr. Keyes, who was ambassador to the United Nations during the Reagan presidency and who is one of the country’s best-known black conservatives, has for the last decade hosted a daily radio show titled “The Alan Keyes Show: America’s Wake-Up Call.”

Kelly to host CNBC golf tour coverage: When the Senior PGA Tour on CNBC opens its second season Jan. 19 to 20, Jim Kelly, who became known as the voice of the tour during his 17 years at ESPN, will host all 31 events to be telecast on the cable channel in 2002.

‘GMA’ loses Mora to Chicago station: “Good Morning America” is losing news anchor Antonio Mora to CBS-owned WBBM-TV in Chicago, which is scheduled to announce Tuesday that Mr. Mora will co-anchor the 5 o’clock and 10 o’clock weekday newscasts with Tracy Townsend. The Havana-born, Harvard-educated former corporate lawyer will be the first Hispanic to anchor a 10 p.m. newscast on a major station in Chicago.

TechTV to get wide distribution in China: TechTV, a 24-hour technology and entertainment news channel, said Monday that it has entered into an exclusive broadcast and program license agreement with Sun Television Cybernetworks Holdings Limited (Sun TV). Viewers in China, Hong Kong and Macau will now have access to a large volume of the quality technology programming offered by TechTV. The partnership, scheduled to last three years, will make TechTV among the few U.S. programmers widely available in
the Chinese market.

According to the agreement, Sun TV will provide localized, Mandarin-language versions of TechTV programming to viewers starting in the first quarter of 2002. Sun TV will have full access to broadcast this content on its own satellite channels and distribute the programming throughout China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Starz! Pictures to debut first original TV film: Starz! Pictures announced Monday that its first-ever made-for-cable film project, “Joe and Max,” will premiere on Starz! at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 9. The movie traces the true story of the rivalry and friendship between two heavyweight boxing champs-Joe Louis and European champion Max Schmeling. Starz! Pictures is a 1-year-old division of the Starz Encore Group.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications

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