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Dec 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Another Resignation at Disney

Walt Disney Co.’s boardroom showdown between some disgruntled directors and Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner heated up Monday afternoon when board member Stanley Gold resigned his post, joining Vice Chairman Roy Disney, who stepped down Sunday.

In a letter addressed to Disney’s board and delivered Monday during its regularly scheduled board meeting, Mr. Gold, who is a business associate of Mr. Disney, repeated a call for Mr. Eisner to step down, saying that his effort “over the past three years to implement needed changes has only succeeded in creating an insular Board of Directors serving as a bulwark to shield management from criticism and accountability.” Mr. Gold added that he hoped his resignation would “serve as a catalyst for change at Disney.”

The moves by Mr. Gold and Mr. Disney are the latest chapter in a recent series of battles brewing over the direction of the media giant, which until recently was struggling with flagging ratings at its ABC Network, weak animated film fare and low attendance at its theme parks. Both Mr. Gold and Mr. Disney have been critical of Mr. Eisner’s management style and the company’s financial performance.

‘Bernie’ a winner in its debut: The season debut of Fox’s “Bernie Mac” won its new time slot in adults 18 to 49 last night. “Bernie,” airing after “The Simpsons” at 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., scored a 4.7/11 in the demo, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. “Bernie” also finished second in total viewers with 10.4 million. “Bernie” retained 92 percent of “Simpsons” adults 18 to 49 lead-in and 90 percent of its total viewers lead-in. At 9:30 p.m., new sitcom “Arrested Development” saw a slight uptick week-to-week in adults 18 to 49 (3.1/7 vs. 2.9/7) and total viewers (6.7 million vs. 6.2 million).

NBC’s “The Lyon’s Den” returned to the schedule at 10 p.m. last night to poor results. “Den” finished last in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers with a 2.6/7 in the demo and 7 million viewers.

For the night, CBS won in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.4/11, followed by Fox (3.8/9), ABC (3.5/9), NBC (3.2/8) and The WB (1.3/3). In total viewers, CBS won the night with 17.1 million, followed by ABC (9.6 million), NBC (9.5 million), Fox (8.8 million) and The WB (3 million).

CBS, Affils Agree to Terms on NCAA Basketball: CBS and its affiliates have hammered out an agreement on how much of the network’s $6 billion NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship cost will be shouldered by affiliates and what the affiliates will get in return.

The deal, which is said to run the length of the NCAA contract that will keep the tournament on CBS at least through 2013, involves cash from the affiliates and a “value exchange program” that includes commercial inventory. Details were not immediately available.

It will take effect Dec. 31, 2003.

Comcast, Time Warner to Restructure Joint Ownership: Comcast and Time Warner said Monday they have agreed to restructure their joint ownership of cable systems in Texas and Kansas, simplifying the ownership structure and the process by which one partner can buy out the other.

The changes affect Texas Cable Partners and Kansas City Cable Partners, two joint ventures that are owned 50-50 by Comcast and Time Warner Cable. No financial terms were disclosed.

Under the new terms, the Kansas City partnership will be merged with the Texas partnership, with ownership of the new joint venture evenly split between the two cable giants. Time Warner will continue to manage the partnership for two more years, and either company has the right after June 1, 2006, to trigger the split of the partnership.

The new arrangement also specifies that the partner that did not trigger the split has the right to choose and take full ownership of one of the two cable-system pools making up the partnership.

While neither company offered a reason for the change to their partnerships, Time Warner officials in recent months have expressed an interest in expanding their market and said as recently as October that they were in talks with Comcast to simplify the structure of their joint venture for these cable systems.

Shakeup at Disney: Walt Disney Co. Vice Chairman Roy Disney stepped down Sunday from the entertainment giant’s board of directors and in a letter to Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner urged him to follow Mr. Disney’s lead.

Mr. Disney’s resignation marks the latest chapter in an ongoing battle between himself and Mr. Eisner over the company’s direction. Some press reports have suggested that by stepping down from the board Mr. Disney will be freer to publicly criticize Mr. Eisner’s management.

His letter to Mr. Eisner, which was sent ahead of a regularly scheduled Disney board meeting today and Tuesday, criticized the Disney chief executive for failing to revive sagging ratings at ABC, for micromanaging staff and for overseeing the departure of several key executives over the years.

Whether Mr. Disney can effect change at the top of Disney remains to be seen, however. With control of fewer than 1 percent of the company’s outstanding shares, his resignation could be mainly symbolic. Also, Mr. Disney announced recently that he is selling 7.5 million shares in the company, representing nearly 43 percent of his total stake, in a transaction with investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston.

ABC, MindShare Unite for Series Development, Production: ABC Television Network and media buying agency MindShare North America agreed to jointly develop and produce new television series for broadcast on ABC, the companies said today. At first, ABC and MindShare will focus on developing scripted series targeted to a broad family audience. ABC and MindShare will share development costs, and MindShare’s clients, which include Sears and Unilever, will support any series developed and produced through the agreement. The network will retain all distribution rights to these series, and will partner with MindShare in any back-end profits.

Earlier this year MindShare hired Peter Tortorici, independent producer and former president of CBS Entertainment and Telemundo Network, to work with the agency and its clients in program development. Mr. Tortorici, who is based in Los Angeles, will work closely with ABC and MindShare clients in the development and production process.

Figure Skating to Air on Oxygen: Oxygen will air four hours of the 2003 World Team Figure Skating Challenge in prime time Dec. 13 and 14. Included in the coverage is the first competition between Olympic gold medalists Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia since the controversy during the 2002 Olympics Figure Skating Pairs Competition in Salt Lake City.

This year’s telecast marks the first part of Oxygen’s three-year deal with IMG/TWI, which will produce the show under Oxygen’s supervision.

ESPN Deportes to Launch: ESPN will launch ESPN Deportes, a new 24-hour Spanish-language sports network, Jan. 7. The network’s premiere lineup will feature its own “SportsCenter” as well as a live telecast of the Golden State Warriors at the Dallas Mavericks.