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Jul 1, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Messier pressured, agrees to resign from Vivendi/Universal

Jean-Marie Messier, the French media baron who bought Universal Studios a little over a year ago, has agreed to resign as chairman/CEO of Vivendi Universal — an ouster resulting from a boardroom battle over his leadership of the debt-ridden conglomerate.

According to Reuters and other media reports Mr. Messier agreed to step down Monday after a block of directors — including U.S. board members represented by the Bronfman family and Edgar Bronfman Jr. — had called for his removal in recent weeks. Shares in the world’s second-largest media firm jumped more than 10 percent as investors reacted positively to what appears to address the 19 billion euro dollars in long-term debt for what started as a French water utility and resulted in a spending spree to acquire Bronfman’s Seagram-dominant shares in Universal Studios in 2001.

“It’s true. We’ve just had it confirmed by the company,” an industry source was quoted in Reuters, referring to Mr. Messier’s loss of support of his board and his agreement to quit.

Le Monde daily said Messier had reluctantly agreed to step down after a 60 percent drop in Vivendi’s share price but he was wrangling over the terms of his departure.

Vivendi declined comment but sources close to the company said Mr. Messier had rallied a hard core of supporters, including Vivendi’s No. 2 man, Eric Licoys, for a crisis meeting. U.S. board members have been calling for Mr. Messier’s exit for some months. Supporters of Vivendi’s biggest shareholder, the Canadian Bronfman family, again demanded his resignation last Tuesday, but he clung on with the support of his French allies.

Mr. Messier, 45, has been blamed for Vivendi’s recent woes after transforming the 150-year-old former water company into a global media titan with control of Universal Studios and its world’s-largest music label. Mr. Messier also engineered the re-acquisition late last year of Barry Diller’s Studios USA Inc., which has been reintegrated as part of Universal Television. There was no immediate word of how the ouster of Mr. Messier would affect Universal’s U.S. TV operations, which include USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel and Universal Television’s network series production, syndication and international distribution.

Vivendi Universal shares soared earlier today on the news of Mr. Messier’s potential exit, briefly moving up 13 percent from Friday’s closing $21.50 per share price tag. In late-afternoon trading today, the U.S. listing was trading at $22.61, up 5 percent (adding $1.11 a share).

Number of roles decline for SAG members: Perhaps it’s a reflection of the sour economy nationwide, but a new study released by Screen Actors Guild finds a 9.3 percent decrease in the number of TV and theatrical roles for 2001 compared with the previous year. The overall reduction in casting was also reflected in single-digit yearly percentage decreases for performers of color over the same period.

For calendar year 2001, SAG data — based on information provided by TV and film producers — estimated that 48,167 roles were signed to Guild contracts, a 9.3 percent reduction from the 53,134 roles cast under union contracts in 2000.

Although slightly lower than the general employment decrease, minority actors in the African American community received 14.4 percent of the roles cast, down about 3 percent from 2000 (at 14.8 percent). Latino/Hispanic roles decreased 2 percent year to year (4.8 percent vs. 4.9 percent), while Asian/Pacific Islanders moved down 4 percent (2.5 percent vs. 2.6 percent).

“It is disappointing to see the total number of roles for SAG members declining,” SAG President Melissa Gilbert said in a prepared statement. SAG is actively seeking remedies to bring more opportunities to our members. The Guild also continually strives for creative casting choices and urges producers to accurately reflect the American scene.”

A complete copy of the study, accompanied by charts and other data, is available online at SAG.org.

Ad recovery not yet in sight, says Zenith: No certainty of recovery yet. That’s the conclusion of The Zenith Optimedia Group’s midyear advertising spending forecast for 2002.

The Zenith forecast takes note of the recent strong upfront for the broadcast networks but finds scant comfort in it for the immediate future. “We do think the majority of that billion dollars [that the networks took in this year over 2001’s upfront total] was money held out for scatter last year and is now in the upfront this year,” said Rich Hamilton, CEO, The Zenith Optimedia Group, the Americas. “The fact that that money is in the upfront this year is encouraging from the standpoint of advertiser attitude and perspective about the next 12 months, because last year at this time more advertisers were not prepared to make those commitments. But does it signal a significant uptick in ad spend in 2002 vs. 2001? No.”

Advertising categories that moved from scatter to the upfront this year included domestic autos and the movies, said Peggy Green, president of national broadcast, Zenith Media Services. This year’s increased broadcast-network upfront dollars were a “combination of three things,” she said. “New advertisers moving to upfront, dollars coming out of the [recent] Olympics and going into prime time and increased budgets from sustaining advertisers.”

Zenith has revised its overall 2002 U.S. ad-spend forecast slightly upward. In April 2002, Zenith predicted that U.S. advertising spending would decline by 1.8 percent in current dollars (which includes inflation). Now Zenith believes U.S. ad spending will decline by 1.2 percent this year. Global ad spending will decline by 0.5 percent this year, according to Zenith’s forecast.

Zenith also reported today that advertising spending in the United States declined 6.1 percent in 2001. The decline was 3.8 percent in a global basis.

Gross advertising billings for the first quarter, compared with the same quarter last year, were up 0.2 percent in the U.S., according to Zenith. Billings in Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy and Japan were all down for the quarter, from -0.7 percent (France) to -6.0 percent (Japan).

Shatner gruesome host on new Sci-Fi show: “Star Trek’s William Shatner, most recently host of “Iron Chef USA,” aims to scare viewers silly on “William Shatner’s Full Moon Fright Night,” the new weekly Sci-Fi Channel series. Mr. Shatner will introduce late-night B-movie sci-fi flicks and pay what Sci-Fi Channel calls “his own unique homage to campiness by personally re-enacting a gruesome moment from that night’s movie.” Tune in on the premiere date, Saturday, Aug. 3.

Cavuto reups with Fox News: Neil Cavuto has been signed for five more years as VP and managing editor, business news, at Fox News. Mr. Cavuto also anchors “Your World With Neil Cavuto,” which has been the most-watched business news show on cable for the past six months.

SEC’s Unger becomes CNBC analyst: CNBC has hired former SEC Commissioner Laura Unger as an on-air regulatory expert. Ms. Unger will do analysis and commentary on the SEC and other agencies that have oversight of financial markets. “Laura’s experience on the SEC will allow her to serve as our ‘watchdog for the watchdog groups,'” said Pamela Thomas-Graham, president and CEO of CNBC.

Ms. Unger had been an SEC commissioner from 1997 to 2001, when she was named acting chairman of the commission by President Bush. Her previous experience includes a stint as a staff attorney for the SEC’s enforcement division and positions on congressional staffs.

Media account shifts: Nine advertisers shifted a combined $387 million in domestic media accounts in June, a major slowdown from the 13 advertisers who shifted $1.4 billion in May, according to the MediaAnalysisPlus’s MAP Barometer. Year to date: $4.9 billion in media billings has changed hands.

The largest media account change in June was Hewlett-Packard’s shift of $135 million in media in the wake of its merger with Compaq Computer from FCB and Initiative Media to Optimedia.

Also in June there were three $50-million media accounts
that changed agencies: Datek, from Bozell to MindShare; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had no incumbent agency, to Media Strategies and Research; and M&M Mars, from MediaCom to Mediaedge: CIA.

‘M*A*S*H’ to run on Hallmark Channel: “M*A*S*H,” the award-wining, top-rated sitcom that lasted longer than the Korean War it depicted, will be telecast exclusively by the Hallmark Channel beginning September 2003.

The Fox series, a ratings workhorse in syndication, was most recently called upon by FX, the Fox general entertainment cable channel, which used it to shore up flagging ratings last season when high-profile off-networks dramas failed to perform to expectation.

The deal for the 255 digitally remastered episodes includes the 21/2-hour finale, still the single-most-watched entertainment-series telecast in television history, that capped the 11-year-long series run.

Animal Planet inks deal with PaperMate: Animal Planet and PaperMate have embarked on a July-August education-themed partnership that calls for an investment by the writing-products company, which the cable network values at $6 million.

The partnership will include a student essay-writing contest tied to Animal Planet’s “Jeff Corwin Experience” series, the production of more than 42 million packages of co-branded Animal Planet/PaperMate products, a sweepstakes, the production of a 30-second spot by PaperMate for the network and a six-week-long sponsorship deal for Animal Planet’s Sunday night programming block, which will include the 30-second spot, tagged billboards and promos.