Briefly Noted

Jan 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Rumors rock AOL TW, Viacom
The executive suites at two of the world’s largest media companies were jolted by unsettling press reports that have left Wall Street analysts and investors wondering about the future of leadership at Viacom and AOL Time Warner.
For AOL Time Warner, it was the revelation originating in Fortune magazine that outgoing chief executive Gerald Levin was pushed into his self-professed “voluntary” early retirement. No one at the company, including Mr. Levin, 62, is denying the report that Fay Vincent, a longtime member of the AOL Time Warner board of directors and a close friend of Mr. Levin, told someone that Mr. Levin had been forced out. But no one is confirming it, either.
Some surmise Mr. Levin took the fall for the company’s failure to meet its ambitious earnings targets in its first year as a merged entity, while publicly citing his distress over the Sept. 11 terrorist events as the motivation behind his departure. “Jerry Levin’s decision to leave was his own,” a company spokesman said.
If the report is true, analysts are concerned about what such shenanigans portend for the administration of incoming CEO Richard Parsons, a Time Warner veteran, and for the ability of the diversified company to get all of its disparate pieces working together constructively.
At Viacom, tense relations between Chairman Sumner Redstone and Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin spilled into public again via Jan. 21 articles in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
The bottom line: nothing is likely to change any time soon. Mr. Karmazin says he does not intend to leave his post before his contract expires at the end of 2003, and his contract prohibits Mr. Redstone from firing him. The only way things could change is if all but two members of Viacom’s board of directors vote to dismiss Mr. Karmazin-highly unlikely given his support from the board and Wall Street for what has been a very decent track record.
Things will get more interesting at Viacom a year from now. In May 2003-six months before the expiration of Mr. Karmazin’s contract-Mr. Redstone can change the complexion of the Viacom board.
Welch to `Squawk’ for CNBC
Jack Welch, the former chairman of NBC parent company General Electric, is keeping his retirement all in the family. Mr. Welch, whose business philosophy has made him an international icon and best-selling author, has been named a special contributor to CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The first of his quarterly appearances as guest host will take place Thursday, Feb. 7, the same week that a schedule and lineup change will move “Squawk” an hour later to 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. (ET) weekdays.
CBS signs `Survivor: Marquesas’ sponsors
CBS Television has announced that seven sponsors have signed on to become integrated marketing partners throughout the entire run of “Survivor: Marquesas,” which premieres Thursday, Feb. 28. The seven marketing partners are Cingular Wireless, Saturn VUE, Sierra Mist/Pepsi, Reebok, Masterfoods USA, VISA and Coors. All sponsorship packages include guaranteed category exclusivity, promotional billboards in each “Survivor” broadcast, logo inclusion in all CBS “Survivor” print ads and, where applicable, product placement.
Tribune, E.W. Scripps report sluggish Q4
Tribune Co. is the latest media conglomerate to report fourth-quarter results that have been marred by the advertising slump. Fourth-quarter earnings fell 45 percent to $69 million, or 21 cents a share, excluding one-time items, compared with $124.4 million, or 36 cents a share, a year earlier. Fourth-quarter revenues declined 13 percent to $1.32 billion from $1.51 billion, with television revenues off 14 percent.
E.W. Scripps reported a 23 percent decline in fourth-quarter broadcast revenues to $76.4 million. The company’s overall fourth-quarter earnings were $41.1 million, or 52 cents per share, down from $54.7 million, or 62 cents per share, a year earlier. Overall revenues were $376.8 million, down from $459.6 million.
Game Show plans TriBond series
Game Show Network, which recently picked up “Russian Roulette,” has now signed a development deal for a potential series based on the best-selling line of TriBond board games.
As part of the deal, GSN acquires worldwide rights to develop a TV game show and a synchronized interactive television version of the board games.
“Roulette,” from Sony/Columbia Tri-Star International Television, was the first original series commitment from Rich Cronin, GSN president and CEO. The “Roulette” deal calls for 65 half-hour episodes of the series, which is scheduled for an April launch.
Appel named senior VP, Turner Trade Group
Kellie Appel has been named senior vice president and general manager for Turner Trade Group, which puts together with national advertisers based on both cash and trade elements. Ms. Appel previously served as senior VP for strategic planning and business development at Turner Broadcasting System.