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Aug 25, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Liberty Out of Vivendi Universal Auction

John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp. officially withdrew its offer to buy the U.S. entertainment assets of Vivendi Universal on Monday, only one day before the Vivendi board is to meet in Paris to discuss the second round of bids.

There is widespread speculation that NBC, a division of General Electric, is now the front-runner to win Universal, with a bid that would combine the network with the studio in a new company, which would be controlled by NBC, with Vivendi remaining as a minority shareholder for at least three years.

The only other bid still on the table is an offer which includes a large amount of cash, more than $8 billion by some accounts, put forward by the Bronfman family, led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. That group also includes a division of Cablevision Systems as a minority partner.

Robert Bennett, President and CEO of Liberty Media said in a statement: “The VUE assets represent a unique collection of high quality media assets. However, the synergy opportunities with our other businesses are not sufficient to support the expected transaction value. We maintain a significant investment in Vivendi and we wish the Vivendi management team much success as they evaluate alternatives for the VUE assets.”

Liberty Media Corporation owns interests in a broad range of video programming, broadband distribution, interactive technology services and communications businesses, including Encore, STARZ!, Discovery, IAC/InterActiveCorp, QVC, Court TV and Sprint PCS.

Fox News Drops Lawsuit Against Franken: Fox News on Monday dropped the lawsuit that had turned Al Franken’s “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” into an overnight best-seller. The retreat by Fox came just three days after a federal judge in New York declared as “wholly without merit” the Fox News plea that satirist Mr. Franken be forbidden to use “fair and balanced,” the slogan Fox had copyrighted in 1998, in the title of the book.

“It’s time to return Al Franken to the obscurity that he’s normally accustomed to,” Fox News spokeswoman Irena Steffen told the Associated Press.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said the book is a parody protected by the First Amendment. “This is an easy case,” Judge Chin said. “It is ironic that a media company, which should be protecting the First Amendment, is seeking to undermine it.”

Hoover, Crawford to Host ‘Cold Pizza’: Former Fox News correspondent and entertainment-show host Kit Hoover and Emmy Award-winning TV sports anchor and director Jay Crawford will host “Cold Pizza,” the two-hour live morning show scheduled to debut on ESPN2 on Oct. 1. Handling news updates for the New York-based show will be former Olympian and Fox Sports Net anchor Leslie Maxie.

Thea Andrews, host of Canada’s “Cooking for Love” and “Guys TV,” will be “Cold Pizza’s” reporter, doing on-site features and live reports from traditional sports and non-sports events, and looking for stories in which sports intersects with entertainment.

“Cold Pizza’s” production team includes former “Today” and “The Early Show” producer Steve Friedman as consulting producer and former “Early Show” senior producer and executive producer of Lifetime Television’s sports programming Brian Donlon as the coordinating producer.

“Since Cold Pizza will not be a traditional morning show, it needs the right mix of talent and personalities with some edge and pizzazz,” said Jim Cohen, VP for programming and production at ESPN and the show’s executive producer.

“Cold Pizza” will be telecast live from 7 to 9 a.m. (ET) each weekday and will repeat at 9 a.m. with live news updates. It will be produced as part of the ESPN Original Entertainment (EOE) franchise that is mandated to expand ESPN and ESPN2’s audience by targeting young and casual sports fans.

Kristol Named TNS Media COO: Mark Kristol has been named chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence/Entertainment Services Group. The Entertainment Services Group will integrate relevant resources from TNS Media Intelligence/CMR to deliver targeted products and services on the entertainment marketplace and positioned to achieve their business goals. Mr. Kristol will report to TNSMI/CMR president and CEO Steve Fredericks.

Kelly to Leave Insight Communications: Insight Communications President and Chief Operating Officer Kim Kelly is leaving the cable company at the end of November to pursue other opportunities, the company said.

Ms. Kelly’s departure ends 13 years at the New York-based cable company, which has 1.4 million subscribers. She joined the company in 1990 as chief financial officer and was promoted to chief operating officer in 1998.

She will stay on until Nov. 30 to assist with the transition, and has agreed to consult for Insight for up to two years after she leaves the company. The company said it has begun a search for a replacement for Ms. Kelly and is looking both inside and outside the company.

As part of the management change, executives who previously reported to Ms. Kelly will now report to Vice Chairman and CEO Michael Willner.

Warner Bros. Casting Executive Dies of Cancer: Barbara Miller, a longtime casting executive at Warner Bros. Television, died Sunday from cancer. Ms. Miller, who joined Warner Bros. in 1976, cast numerous hit shows, including “ER,” “Friends,” “The West Wing,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Dallas” and “Knot’s Landing.” She received 10 Emmy nominations and won four Emmys for Outstanding Achievement in Casting. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 10:30 a.m. at Rose Hills Mortuary in Costa Mesa, Calif. A memorial in Los Angeles is also being planned, with the date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Ms. Miller’s name to the American Cancer Society.

Comcast Hires Silva as Executive VP: Comcast Cable said Monday that it has hired Steve Silva as executive VP of new business development, a newly created position at the cable giant.

Mr. Silva, who joins Philadelphia-based Comcast Sept. 2, came from Charter Communications, where he spent eight years and was most recently the chief technology officer of the cable operator.

He will be responsible for identifying and developing new businesses that the company says will take advantage of Comcast’s broadband infrastructure, and will work closely with the company’s engineering, marketing and operating units to explore opportunities in video, data and telephony.

IRS Seeks $1.5 Billion from Vivendi: Vivendi Universal on Monday said that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has informed the French company that it is seeking $1.5 billion in additional taxes plus interest associated with a 1995 stock sale by Seagram of 156 million shares in chemical giant DuPont. Vivendi acquired Seagram in 2000.

“Vivendi Universal continues to believe that the tax treatment is fully compliant with U.S. tax laws in force at the time,” the company said in a statement, adding that it will fight the IRS’s claim in U.S. tax court.The news comes as Vivendi enters the home stretch of its protracted sale of its U.S. entertainment subsidiary, Vivendi Universal Entertainment. Vivendi’s board is slated to meet Aug. 26 to discuss, among other things, bids submitted by Liberty Media, an investment team headed by Vivendi Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr., and General Electric’s NBC unit, which is seen as the most likely suitor to walk away with the assets.

MSNBC to Air Democratic Presidential Debate: MSNBC will carry a live Democratic presidential candidates debate at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29. There was no word on who will moderate the debate or where it will originate. The candidates who have accepted the invitation to debate are Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. The debate, which is being organized in cooperation with the South Carolina Democratic Party and the South Carolina Young Democrats, will be produced by NBC News for MSNBC and will be simulcast on the three NBC-affil
iated stations in the state.

EchoStar Intros New Receiver With DVR: EchoStar Communications said Monday it is rolling out a new satellite television receiver that also features a digital video recorder as part of a promotion that the satellite company hopes will stoke sales.

Under the “Free Dish” promotion, Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar will offer for free the combination receiver and DVR, called the Dish Player-DVR 510, through next January to new customers of EchoStar’s Dish Network satellite service.

The promotion includes a free satellite dish, free installation and the Dish Network’s video-on-demand service for anywhere from free to $4.98 a month, depending on the package a customer purchases.

Pegasus Shares Fall 12 Percent: Shares in satellite operator Pegasus Communications tumbled nearly 12 percent in midday trading Monday after the company said it is canceling a term loan financing arrangement it announced in July.

The announcement, made Monday morning, sent Pegasus shares down more than $2.50 to $18.60 this afternoon, as Wall Street questioned the company’s ability to use the term loan to improve its cash position. The company in July said the term loan would help cut its expenses and position it to better negotiate with DirecTV. Pegasus resells DirecTV content to rural customers but is locked in a legal battle with the larger satellite operator over the terms of that resale agreement.

Howard Verlin, an executive VP at Pegasus, said changes in the marketplace forced the company to withdraw its plans for the term loan financing. However, he added, “For now we are comfortable to retain the flexibility and pricing afforded by our current senior credit facility.”

TVB Reports Slight Increase in Local Broadcast TV Ads: The Television Bureau of Advertising says that local broadcast TV ad revenues hit nearly $7.6 billion in the first half of 2003, up 0.2 percent from the same period in 2002. Susan Cuccinello, senior VP of research for the TVB, drew her conclusion from estimates from the top 100 markets supplied by TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

The TVB also said that network TV grew 1.7 percent (to nearly $1.6 billion) and syndicated TV grew 15.8 percent (to more than $11.5 billion) percent during the first half of 2003, nudging total broadcast TV ad revenues 2.1 percent higher (to more than $20.7 billion) than they had been during the first half of 2002, which included the Salt Lake City Olympics.

The top three local and national spot advertisers during the first and second quarters of 2003 (and during the same quarters in 2002) were Daimler Chrysler (up 11.5 percent), General Motors (down 12.1 percent) and Ford Motor Co. Dealers Association (up 3.3 percent).

Four out of the top five advertising categories in the first two quarters of 2003 showed increased spending. The biggest category, automotive, was up 2.1 percent. Restaurant advertising was down 8 percent, followed by car and truck dealers (up 5.3 percent), telecommunications (up 1.4 percent), and furniture stores (up 5.2 percent).