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Dec 23, 2003  •  Post A Comment

SEC, Vivendi, Messier Settle

Vivendi Universal and deposed Chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier Tuesday settled fraud charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission, ending an 18-month probe by the agency and resolving a months-long battle between the company and its former leader over a severance package now valued at $25 million. The value of the package in U.S. dollars has risen as the dollar/euro exchange rate has shifted.

As part of the settlement, reached before an SEC deadline Wednesday that could have triggered civil charges against both Mr. Messier and the company, Paris-based Vivendi agreed to pay $50 million in civil penalties, which will go into a fund to be distributed to certain Vivendi shareholders per terms established by the SEC.

Meanwhile, Mr. Messier agreed to give up on a claim to a severance deal that has been at the center of heated battle between the former executive and his former employer and to pay $1 million in civil penalties and $1 in disgorgement.

Former Vivendi chief financial officer Guillaume Hannezo also settled fraud charges with the SEC, agreeing to pay $1 million in disgorgement and civil penalties.

Specifically, the company settled charges that it misled investors about the financial health of the company and improperly adjusted cash flow figures to mask the company’s true financial status. The company and Messrs. Messier and Hannezo neither admitted nor denied any wrongdoing in connection with the charges, the SEC said.

Current Vivendi Chairman and CEO Jean-Rene Fourtou said, “We are pleased to close this chapter of our history, to put this matter behind us and to continue to work for the benefit of our shareholders.”

Said Mr. Messier in a statement: “The resolution of the SEC proceeding represents a personal sacrifice for me, but it is a considerable consolation that the funds will be used to benefit Vivendi shareholders. I am pleased to be able to resolve all these matters and look forward to pursuing my new future with Messier Partners, a business consulting firm.”

The settlement closes an 18-month investigation into alleged accounting violations related to a buying spree under Mr. Messier’s stewardship that nearly bankrupted the company. Following the board’s discovery of the severity of Vivendi’s liquidity crunch, Mr. Messier was ousted in July 2002.

Mr. Messier and Vivendi then battled for months in courts in New York and Paris over whether the former chairman was entitled to a $25 million severance package that he said the board agreed to as part of his departure. Vivendi challenged his right to the severance, saying Mr. Messier never got the proper approval from the board for the payment.

CBS Will Not Comment on Jackson Special, Rumored Interview: In his foxnews.com column, Roger Friedman cited unnamed sources saying that CBS plans to run the Michael Jackson special that was yanked from the network’s lineup last November after the performer was confronted with new allegations of child molestation. Mr. Friedman’s sources also said Mr. Jackson agreed to sit down for an interview with “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley, who has had a long-standing request for an interview with the eccentric star.

If Mr. Bradley has received a new commitment — the distinguished “60 Minutes” correspondent reportedly was stiffed once before — nobody at “60 Minutes” or CBS is counting chickens before they hatch. “We do not comment on rumors,” said a spokesman for the newsmagazine, “but were we to get such an interview we would announce it.” As for the special, a CBS spokesman said he had “not been able to reach CBS executives, who are scattered around the country on holiday, to confirm or deny the report.”

The special, which was mostly a career retrospective plus a performance, would air in the first week of January, according to Mr. Friedman’s sources.

Nielsen Inadvertently Releases Data for Delisted Station: Nielsen Media Research’s plan to omit ratings data for KZTV-TV was derailed last week when Nielsen accidentally released the results of the November sweeps diary in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Nielsen mistakenly released to third-party processors a DVD containing the Eagle Creek Broadcasting-owned CBS affiliate’s statistics after a Texas court ruled against KZTV’s request for a restraining order. The station was delisted by Nielsen for breach of contract and trademark infringement. “It was a huge mistake for us,” a spokeswoman for Nielsen said Tuesday after the ratings company learned about the error and issued a recall for the DVD and disputed data.

Eagle Creek President Brian Brady likened the situation to trying to force a genie back into a bottle. He also said that KZTV’s infraction — incorporating his station’s anchors onto the cover of a sample Nielsen diary in spots that ran on KZTV’s air until Nielsen ordered them pulled — did not seem to have tainted the data.

“We didn’t see any spikes,” said Mr. Brady, who described the station’s growth as consistent with “the growth over the last five books.”

Pronouncing data free of taint is “hard for anyone to say,” the Nielsen spokeswoman said. “We feel the integrity of the data was in some way affected. That why we delisted them in the first place.”

“It’s a complicated aspect,” the spokeswoman said. “I don’t think anyone can truly explain what the ramifications are if somebody is using the Nielsen name on air.”

Nielsen to Stop Aggregating Pay Cable Nets’ Ratings: Nielsen Media Research has announced changes in the way it will report ratings data for premium pay cable networks such as HBO and Showtime.

Until now the ratings for a group’s various channels were aggregated to create a single measure of the size of a show’s audience. Nielsen said that as of January, the primary channel of each premium pay network will be reported separately, meaning that a program’s ratings will reflect audience estimates for that program on the primary pay channel only. This is expected to produce lower estimates for some hit shows, such as HBO’s “Sex and the City.” It will also make it difficult to compare ratings numbers with past figures.

Several years ago, the premium pay cable networks began offering multiple feeds of their services. For example, in addition to the primary HBO channel, many HBO subscribers can watch HBO Signature, HBO Comedy, etc. Each of these feeds is referred to as a “plex” channel. Until now, Nielsen’s audience estimates for a given pay network have reflected the aggregate tuning to all of that network’s plex feeds.

Other networks that will be impacted include The Movie Channel and Cinemax.

CBS Goes Hi-Def for NFL Playoffs: CBS has announced it will broadcast its full slate of five NFL playoff games, culminating in the live broadcast of Super Bowl XXXVIII on Sunday, Feb. 1, in high-definition television format. Sony Electronics will sponsor the HDTV broadcasts, which will begin Sunday, Jan. 4, with the CBS Television Network’s first AFC Wild Card playoff game.

In addition, the CBS/Sony collaboration will make possible the broadcast of the network’s NFL pre-game show, “The NFL Today,” from the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, Jan. 18; the Network’s Super Bowl pre-game show, “The Super Bowl Today,” Sunday, Feb. 1 (2 p.m. to 6 p.m., ET); and the “America Online Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show” in HDTV.

CBS Sports’ Super Bowl XXXVIII and AFC Playoff HDTV broadcasts will feature the highest-definition television format — 1080 lines of picture resolution — and 5.1 digital Dolby surround sound. The unified productions for the standard-definition and HD telecasts will feature the same camera angles, replays and graphics.

“There is no bigger stage to showcase the HDTV experience than the Super Bowl,” said Sean McManus, president, CBS Sports, in a statement. “We’re pleased to once again partner with Sony as we continue to believe in the power of HDTV for all viewers.”

“There is no stronger entertainment combination than major sporting events in HD and Sony’s digital television lineup,” said Tim Baxter, senior VP of Sony Electronics’ Home Products Division, in a statement. “Sony DTVs bring the big actio
n home. Once consumers experience the AFC playoffs and the Super Bowl in spectacular high-definition sight and sound, they’ll never look at sporting events the same way. It’s really like no other home theater entertainment.”

AT&T to Interact With ‘World Idol’: Fox Broadcasting Co. has announced that AT&T Wireless will be an interactive sponsor of the upcoming “World Idol” competition.

In a two-part global television event, “Idol” show winners from around the globe, including past American winner Kelly Clarkson, will compete for the “World Idol” title on Dec. 25 on Fox. In the second part of the special, airing Jan. 1, 2004, the first World Idol will be crowned. Pop superstar Sir Elton John will make a special guest appearance on the final results show, performing for the global audience.

The “World Idol” competition is being staged in London and broadcast to countries around the world. Viewers in the United States will be able to vote for their favorite contestant by phone, but only AT&T Wireless customers will be able to vote via text messaging.

“AT&T Wireless and Fox introduced millions of Americans to text voting and created the largest text-messaging event by a single carrier in world history during last year’s ‘American Idol,'” said Glenice Maclellan, VP of messaging services at AT&T Wireless. “‘World Idol’ will be a major television event, and once again, only AT&T Wireless customers will have the ability to vote via text messaging — giving their wireless phones a very special place next to the TV remote this holiday season.”

‘Inside Politics’ Adds Sunday Show: One of CNN’s signature weekday shows will expand to a sixth day at 10 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 4, when “Inside Politics Sunday” debuts. The hour will be executive produced by Suzanne Nelson and hosted by assorted members of the news network’s political team.

Scholastic to Help NBC Election Coverage Feel Young: During the 2004 elections, the Scholastic Kids Press Corps, comprised of students ages 10 through 14, will report for NBC’s various news programs in addition to articles written for the Scholastic classroom publications. In return, the Scholastic reporters will have access to NBC journalists for their articles. ABC News has a similar partnership with My Weekly Reader.