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Aug 5, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Miller in as AOL chief exec

Jon Miller’s being appointed CEO of the beleaguered American Online unit is “a done deal,” and an announcement is due mid-week, well-placed sources confirmed. Mr. Miller resigned June 27 from Barry Diller’s USA Interactive, just weeks before speculation began about his being a primary candidate to succeed Barry Schuler, who resigned as AOL chief last April. Bob Pittman, who recently resigned as chief operating officer of corporate parent, AOL Time Warner, has been serving as temporary AOL chief.

“The deal is done,” said a former senior executive who worked with Jon Miller at USA Inc. “They are going to announce late tonight or tomorrow.”

“They could have looked for another celebrity CEO,” the executive said, “but AOL wants someone who can increase value and bring a sense of reorganization to the service. It is a role Jon has played in building shareholder value at USA Interactive.”

Mr. Miller could start as early as next week, he said.

Mr. Miller and AOL Time Warner executives could not be reached for comment Mr. Miller will put his traditional media background to work as he reshapes AOL into a more conventional subscription and advertising-driven operation in the wake of a slowdown in subscriber growth and a scandal surrounding AOL’s revenue accounting practices, which are being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of justice.

Mr. Miller was president and chief executive of information and services at USA for two years before resigning to become president and chief executive of new portfolio company, Boston-based General Catalyst Partners. Before joining USA in 1997, Mr. Miller was managing director of Nickelodeon International. He also served as VP of programming for NBA Entertainment and director of programming at public television’s WGBH-TV in Boston.

Sept. 11 news hunger wanes: The halo effect the media enjoyed while the country was hungry for coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is slipping, according to a July survey of 1,365 adults for the Pew Research Center.

The poll showed that 56 percent of the respondents felt that news organizations “usually report inaccurately.” That number is up from 45 percent last November. Among TV News organizations, CNN continues to rank as most believable, with 37 percent of those polled saying they believe all or most of what they see and hear on CNN. CBS’s “60 Minutes” ranked second, with 34 percent saying they believe all or most of what they see on the program, followed by ABC’s “20/20” (31 percent), C-SPAN (30 percent), MSNBC (28 percent), “Dateline NBC” (28 percent), local TV news (27 percent), CBS News (26 percent), “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” (26 percent), NBC News (25 percent), ABC News 24 percent), Fox News Channel (24 percent) and National Public Radio (23 percent).

The percentages of respondents who felt unable to assess the believability of news outlets pose interesting questions about the limited appeal or profile of some, public broadcasting’s “NewsHour,” among them. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed categorized themselves as unable to rate the program that has been a PBS signature for more than 25 years. Thirty-nine percent identified themselves as unable to rate C-SPAN’s credibility and 29 percent felt the same way about NPR.

On the commercial side, the fierce wars of words and marketing waged by the three national news networks seems to have helped make them known quantities to more people. CNN’s “can’t rate” quotient in July was 13 percent, compared with 16 percent in May 2000. Twenty-one percent said they couldn’t rate Fox News Channel, down from 25 percent in May 2000. Twenty-three percent said they couldn’t rate MSNBC, down from 31 percent in May 2000.

On the other hand, 44 percent of the respondents said they have never heard of Aaron Brown, the “NewsNight” anchor hired to be the face of CNN in 2001. Also high in “never heard of” ratings were Fox News Channel’s Britt Hume (35 percent) and cable news ratings king Bill O’Reilly (26 percent).

Thirty-two percent said they had never heard of Brian Williams, who anchors his own show, “The News With Brian Williams” on CNBC and is the designated heir to “NBC Nightly News” when Tom Brokaw steps down in 2003.

Fifteen percent said they had never heard of Katie Couric, the co-anchor of “Today” who last year was given a $14 million-a-year salary from NBC and became the highest-paid person in all of TV news. In 1998 16 percent said they had never heard of Ms. Couric.

When answers to questions about credibility are broken down along partisan lines, CNN, which frequently gets tagged as left-leaning, gets higher ratings from Democrats (45 percent believe most or all they see) than Republicans (32 percent). Fox News Channel, which bills itself as “fair and balanced” but which is regularly described as “conservative,” gets balanced believability ratings from Republicans (28 percent) and Democrats (27 percent). MSNBC’s believability was higher among Democrats (30 percent) than Republicans (22 percent).

Cablevision to redeem Rainbow stock: Cablevision System will redeem Rainbow Media Group tracking stock in what could be a first step to tapping Rainbow’s balance sheet for funding or selling it outright. Interested buyers would include MGM and General Electric’s NBC, co-owners of the company that includes AMC, Bravo and the Independent Film Channel. If it converts its Rainbow shares, NBC could wind up with 13 percent of Cablevision. Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen estimates Rainbow could sell for between $3.4 billion and $4.4 billion. Cablevision will pay $9.54 a share, or exchange 1.19 shares of its own stock, for every share of Rainbow tracking stock, which represents a 3.6 percent discount from Rainbow’s Friday closing price. The move is necessary to help Cablevision, which meets with investors Thursday, close a looming $1 billion funding gap. Cablevision stock was trading down 13 percent at under $7 per share on the news.

Moody’s may cut Disney credit rating: The stock of Walt Disney Co. hit a new eight-year low in trading in a down market today when Moody’s Investors Service said it may cut its long-term credit rating after Standard & Poor’s said Friday it may take similar action. The action would come in response to Disney warning investors late last week that it will miss its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings targets, most likely falling below year-ago levels due to weakness at its theme parks and media networks unit. Disney stock closed down 7 percent at $14.27 a share, unfazed by news that its ABC Television Network will forge a new programming partnership with AOL Time Warner’s HBO unit.

Lower rating hurts Cox stock: Cox Communications lost 20 percent of its value today after Lara Warner, analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, lowered her rating on the company to “hold” from a “strong buy” a week after it reported sharp increases in second-quarter revenues and subscriber growth. All cable stocks, which have been volatile and in steep decline, were dragged down by the action. Cox traded to $20 a share midday. Ms. Warner cited concerns about Cox having to expense installation costs, and about increases in administrative and general expenses.

Showtime green-lights ‘Crown Heights’: “Crown Heights,” an original telefilm based on actual events that followed the death of an African American child in a car accident in which the driver was a Hasidic Jew, has received the production green light from Showtime. The movie, to be telecast in 2003 under the Showtime Original Pictures for All Ages banner, will star Mario Van Peebles (“New Jack City”) and Howie Mandel (“St. Elsewhere”).

ABC, HBO Independent Productions link in development deal: ABC and Home Box Office have entered into a two-year agreement to jointly create new programming for the Disney-owned broadcast network. Under the deal, HBO Independent Productions will develop and produce series programming funded by ABC and for broadcast on the network. While ABC will have first-look rights on all programming developed by HIP, HBO’s in-house production arm will be able to approac
h other networks for projects not ordered by ABC and to draw upon the development fund established by the network for these projects.

ABC will provide deficit financing for pilots and series on or off ABC, possibly in partnership with HIP, with ABC retaining distribution rights (through Buena Vista Television) and copyrights for all programming developed through this association. “We look forward to combining our creative resources with ABC to develop new, innovative programming for broadcast television,” HBO CEO Chris Albrecht said in a prepared statement. “This new relationship provides us with a great opportunity to build on our proven track record in creating successful series for broadcast networks.”

HIP is responsible for such broadcast network series as CBS’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” and the former Fox sitcoms “Martin” and “Roc.” “This new partnership with HBO allows us to tap into the creative relationships and sensibility that has made HBO so successful over the past several years,” added Lloyd Braun, chairman of ABC Entertainment Television Group. “This deal further underscores our commitment to develop with the best producers in the business as we continue to rebuild ABC.”

Under Mr. Albrecht’s purview, HIP is managed by Russell Schwartz, executive VP of creative affairs, business and planning, who has overseen HIP’s creative and business activities since 1999. Reporting to Mr. Schwartz is John Martin, director of creative and business affairs and a soon-to-be-hired senior development executive.

Warner Bros. adds creative execs: Warner Bros. Television has brought aboard Marianne Cracchiolo and Rachel Kaplan to join the studio’s creative team as VP of comedy development and director of drama development, respectively. Ms. Cracchiolo was senior VP of comedy development at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, while Ms. Kaplan was VP of development for writer-producer Jeff Kline. At the same time, Andrew Plotkin was promoted to VP of drama development, from director of drama development; Wendy Steinhoff to director of comedy development, from manager of comedy development; and Amy Byer to manager of comedy development, from assistant in the development department.

Disney digs into miners’ tale: The Walt Disney Co. has signed an exclusive book and movie deal valued at $1.5 million with the nine Pennsylvania miners who riveted a nation of TV viewers last month after being rescued from a subterranean coal shaft after a three-day ordeal. A spokesman for ABC confirmed the network will look to accelerate production of a made-for-television movie to air during the upcoming 2002-03 season. The spokesman added that ABC is already scouting locations in proximity to the Quecreek, Pa., site of the mining disaster. Each of the nine miners and lead rescuer stand to earn $150,000 in selling the rights as a group. The deal includes the publication of a Hyperion book on the rescue saga. The ABC spokesman declined comment on the financial terms of the deal.

Due to the extensive TV news coverage of the mining rescue, CBS and NBC were also said to be interested bidders for rights. Because the story is in the public domain, the other broadcast networks could still rush production of their own rescue telefilms without the miners’ participation, but there is no word of a rush to do so.

Hallmark Channel picks up ‘Angel’: Hallmark Channel has acquired exclusive cable rights to “Touched by an Angel,” which will begin airing on the network in September. Nearly 200 episodes of the ongoing CBS Saturday night series will be made available to the network. Hallmark sublicensed the rights to the series from Pax TV, which plans to rely more heavily on original programming.

NBC hires business development VP: The NBC Television Stations Group has named Mike Chico senior VP of business development. Mr. Chico, who will report to Peter Dunn, the station group’s executive VP for sales, comes from ABC, where he was VP of business development, sports sales and station Web operations.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications