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Jun 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Schleiff to Present Dan Aaron Lecture

Court TV Chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff will present the upcoming Dan Aaron Lecture on Innovative Management at Harvard Business School. The lecture is part of CTAM’s week-long Executive Management Program, which begins June 22 in Boston. Mr. Schleiff was selected to share his insights due to his background in management and production at Studios USA, Viacom and HBO. The Dan Aaron Lecture was endowed by Julian A. Brodsky, Ralph J. Roberts and Comcast to honor the late Comcast co-founder.

Tarantino and Stein to Host ‘My Trio’: Quentin Tarantino and Time magazine columnist Joel Stein have been commissioned for the first two quarterly editions of “My Trio,” where guest programmers schedule the network’s prime-time lineup for one week. Mr. Stein’s week will commence Sunday, July 20, and will feature such series as “Battle of the Network Stars,” “Pink Lady and Jeff” and “Idiot Savants.” Mr. Tarantino’s week will begin Oct. 5. Details will be announced later this year.

Kane Elected Chairman of MTVA: WABC-TV, New York, President and General Manager Tom Kane has been elected chairman of the Metropolitan Television Alliance (MTVA), the coalition formed to replace the TV tower destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Mr. Kane succeeds WNET-TV, New York, President William Baker, who oversaw the process that in May led to a memorandum of understanding with the developer of the WTC to include a new TV tower in the Freedom Tower to be constructed on the WTC site.

Clinton and Clemens Boost ‘Letterman’ Ratings: The one-two punch of Sen. Hillary Clinton and New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens helped lift “Late Show With David Letterman” to its highest metered-market ratings in more than three months. In the 55 cities metered by Nielsen Media Research, “Letterman” averaged a 4.8 rating/12 share, 17 percent higher than its Monday metered-market average and enough to edge past NBC’s “Tonight Show” (4.6/11) for the first Monday since Mr. Letterman ended his shingles sick leave March 31.

Vivendi Contemplates IPO: Vivendi Universal’s finance chief said today that although six parties are interested in some or all of the company’s U.S. entertainment assets, the beleaguered French conglomerate is considering an initial public offering as a way to monetize its Vivendi Universal Entertainment unit.

An IPO would likely involve floating between 25 percent and 30 percent of VUE, which includes a film studio, cable TV assets and TV production operations, said Jacques Espinasse, chief financial officer of Paris-based Vivendi Universal. He made the comments during a first-quarter earnings call this morning in which the company also reported a sharply narrowed loss.

“Given the return in the [stock] market, we are also seriously considering an IPO,” Mr. Espinasse said. “It is not a fall-back solution. … [It will] not be done in sequence, not because the offers are disappointing. It can be a dual-track process. It is possible to switch from one track to the other.”

Mr. Espinasse also confirmed reports that bids from the six would-be buyers are due to the company on June 23. He added that the offers would be in a variety of permutations, ranging from all of the entertainment assets of VUE to only a handful of properties.

A sale of all of the entertainment assets, which also include Vivendi Universal’s theme parks, a gaming business and recording giant Universal Music Group, could fetch as much as $20 billion — and would be a significant boost to Vivendi Universal’s efforts to trim is massive debt load.

Among the buyers said to be interested in the Vivendi Universal entertainment assets are Liberty Media; an investment team consisting of Vivendi Universal Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr., Wachovia Securities, Merrill Lynch and Cablevision Systems; another investment team made up of oil billionaire Marvin Davis, Bain Capital and Texas Pacific Group; Viacom; General Electric’s NBC unit; and MGM.

A person close to one of the parties interested in buying the entertainment assets said Vivendi officials probably wouldn’t select a buyer until the first week in July, after a scheduled board meeting slated for later this month.

The comments by Mr. Espinasse were the clearest sign yet from Vivendi Universal’s management as to where their heads are at with regard to the entertainment asset sale. They also repeat the company stance that it is free to do whatever it wants with the entertainment properties, despite hints by USA Interactive Chairman and CEO Barry Diller that unless his stake in Vivendi is maximized, he will thwart any sale.

CTAM Honors HBO Campaign: This year’s CTAM Hall of Fame inductee will be HBO’s “It’s Not TV: It’s HBO” campaign. CTAM cited the campaign’s ability to successfully drive HBO’s entertainment value by elevating the network above the ordinary. The campaign was selected by a panel of marketing and ad agency executives for induction at the CTAM Summit in Seattle on July 22.

ABC Resigns From NAB: Citing a major conflict over deregulation, ABC today announced that it is bailing out of the National Association of Broadcasters. Chiefly at issue is a dispute over the Federal Communications Commission’s national cap on station ownership.

ABC and the other major broadcast networks have been lobbying to raise the cap to allow them to buy more TV stations. The FCC voted recently to raise the limit to allow broadcasters to buy stations reaching 45 percent of the nation’s TV homes. But the NAB, under orders from its affiliate-dominated board, is fighting to roll back the cap to 35 percent.

The other major TV networks — CBS, NBC and Fox — left the NAB over the same issue a couple of years ago. But in a letter today to NAB chief Eddie Fritts, Preston Padden, executive VP for ABC parent The Walt Disney Co., said ABC had stayed on board in hopes that the organization would drop the issue.

“We have now abandoned that hope,” Mr. Padden said, accusing the affiliates of using the NAB as a “weapon in their jihad” against the networks. “For two years, we have endured (and helped pay for) a nonstop stream of network-bashing letters, lobbying and legal filing,” Mr. Padden said. “The NAB and public policy process in Washington should not be abused to advance the business interests of one broadcaster over another.”

Mr. Padden noted that the association has been lobbying for deregulation supported by the affiliates, including duopoly and newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions. “Disney/ABC has gone the extra mile (and then some) to try to salvage the unity previously represented by the NAB,” Mr. Padden said. “We can try no more. With genuine sorrow, we hereby resign all of our stations and networks from membership in the NAB.”

Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said the association regrets ABC’s decision but does not feel its effectiveness will be undermined. “With the loss of ABC, NAB will still have more than 7,400 local radio and TV stations in membership, along with the Pax TV network,” Mr. Wharton said. “NAB’s effectiveness has always been based on having local radio and TV broadcasters in every city and congressional district in America. That will not change as a result of the ABC announcement.”

SAG/AFTRA Merger Battle Heats Up: With about 175,000 ballots in the hands of guild members, the battle for votes in the proposed merger of Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists heated up today as pro- and anti-consolidation forces made their cases to the press at SAG headquarters.

Flanked by dozens of noted performers who support the merger, guild leaders held a conference to combat recent criticism of the referendum.

“When I hear the opponents, they’re concerned about losing their power within the union,” said actor Jason George (“Barbershop”). “We should be concerned with losing power outside the union. I’m tired of actors fighting actors.”

Outside the SAG building, anti-consolidation forces objected to what they see as a deliberate rushing of a complicated and crucial issue by party leaders.

“If this is a good plan,
it will still be a good plan in a month,” said former SAG presidential candidate Valerie Harper. “Whereas a yes vote is irrevocable.”

The merger referendum ballots are due at the end of the month.

Paxson to Sell KXPJ-TV: Paxson Communications on Tuesday said it plans to sell its KXPJ-TV television station in Shreveport, La., for $10 million in cash to KTBS Inc., a deal that Paxson officials said takes advantage of the new TV station ownership rules.

“This transaction demonstrates the keen interest in our broadcast stations heightened by the FCC’s new rules,” said Lowell “Bud” Paxson, chairman and CEO of Paxson.

Mr. Paxson has made no secret of his desire to sell stations now that the Federal Communications Commission has relaxed the rules banning station owners from creating duopolies in many markets. At the time of the FCC vote earlier this month Mr. Paxson made it clear he saw it as an opportunity for either NBC, which owns a stake in Paxson, or another buyer to purchase Paxson assets.

Beyond that, the sale also continues West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Paxson’s effort to boost its liquidity through asset sales. Paxson said it expects the sale to be completed by fall, pending regulatory approval.

Before the sale, Paxson and KTBS, which owns ABC affiliate KTBS-TV in Shreveport, had a joint sales agreement between their respective TV stations.