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Mar 3, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Disney Board Splits Eisner’s Duties, Names Mitchell Chairman

Hours after a stinging rebuke of the leadership of Michael Eisner, The Walt Disney Co.’s board of directors late Wednesday separated the roles of chairman and CEO, keeping Mr. Eisner as CEO and naming presiding director George Mitchell as chairman.

The move, which was widely expected given the growing number of shareholders unhappy with Mr. Eisner’s leadership, followed a significant vote of no confidence by Disney shareholders Wednesday at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Philadelphia. More than 43 percent of voting shareholders withheld their support of Mr. Eisner’s re-election to the board of directors.

“While making this change in governance, the board remains unanimous in its support of the company’s management team and of Michael Eisner,” the company said in a statement. “We are aware that some voted for an immediate change in management and in the board. However, taking all of these factors into account, we believe the action we have taken today is in the best long-term interest of the shareholders of the company.”

It might not prove to be enough for some of the most vocal shareholder dissidents. Former board member Stanley Gold, who along with former board member Roy Disney started the anti-Eisner campaign, said after the shareholder vote that splitting up the chairman and CEO roles won’t go far enough to address his concerns. Mr. Gold said the only way to ensure Disney gets back on the right track is to remove Mr. Eisner.

Meanwhile, Comcast said Wednesday that the voter dissent shown at the shareholders meeting should prompt Disney officials to take another look at the $54 billion merger proposal Comcast made last month. But Disney reaffirmed its view that Comcast’s offer was inadequate, saying that the board “will carefully review and analyze any reasonable proposal.”

Disney Vote Deals Setback to Eisner: Walt Disney Chairman Michael Eisner suffered a blow Wednesday when 43 percent of Disney’s shareholders withheld their support for the embattled executive.

According to preliminary numbers, nearly 772 million votes were withheld in Mr. Eisner’s re-election bid, in which he ran unopposed. The large no-confidence vote was a victory for the anti-Eisner movement, increasing the chances that Mr. Eisner will be stripped of his title as chairman.

The vote capped a day in which both Mr. Eisner and a group of dissident shareholders led by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold made last-ditch efforts to state their cases during Disney’s shareholders meeting in Philadelphia. Before the preliminary results were read, Mr. Eisner attempted to beat back mounting criticism of his stewardship by stressing that the media company is on the right track.

Noting that the Burbank-based company is expected to see its fiscal 2004 earnings grow 30 percent over 2003 levels, Mr. Eisner said he was generally pleased with the firm’s performance.

“I love this company,” he said. “This board loves this company. We are a well-managed company with first-rate governance.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Gold outlined his reasons for wanting Mr. Eisner out, citing among other things Disney’s failure to meet its goals for ABC and ABC Family and the allegation that the board is beholden to Mr. Eisner.

“We won’t accept any half-measures,” Mr. Gold said. “No amount of spinning will be tolerated. Michael Eisner must leave now. It is no longer sufficient to separate the chairman and CEO titles. “This is a referendum on real governance in America. The board has been sent a big message and it has to meet the challenge,” he said after the vote.

September Films Hires Winters: Former Fisher Entertainment president Alan Winters has been hired as the new president of September Films, the company announced Wednesday. September Films is the producer of “Bridezillas” for Fox, “Single in the City” for WE and “Instant Wedding” for Lifetime. Mr. Winters other credits include “The Other Half” for NBC Enterprises and “The Last Resort” for ABC Family.

Nielsen to Measure Time-Shifted Viewing: Nielsen Media Research said it will begin to include time-shifted viewing via PVRs and DVRs in its television audience reports beginning in April 2005. The first samples to include PVR data will be the local set-metered markets. In July 2005, the national and local People Meter services will include PVR data. Nielsen said that as part of its plan to include PVR data, it has pushed back the deployment of its Active/Passive meter from July 2004 to April 2005.

Burke to Step Down at Weather Channel: The Weather Channel announced Wednesday that Bill Burke will step down as president and CEO of The Weather Channel Companies this summer to return to Maine with his family. Mr. Burke will pursue new entrepreneurial opportunities, which will include a continued working relationship with Landmark and TWCC in a consulting capacity. The company also announced that Debora Wilson, currently chief operating officer of The Weather Channel Network and The Weather Channel Interactive, will become president of The Weather Channel Companies.

The companies include The Weather Channel Networks, The Weather Channel Interactive and TWC Media Solutions. WSI, the business-to-business unit of TWCC, will continue under the leadership of its president, Mark Gildersleeve.

Tribune Stations to Receive Nielsen Data: Nielsen Media Research signed an eight-year agreement to provide ratings data to all 26 of Tribune Broadcasting’s television stations. The deal includes eight stations in markets scheduled for Local People Meter services. Effective immediately, WLVI-TV Tribune’s station in Boston, where Local People Meters are already in service, will begin receiving LPM data from Nielsen. Nielsen is launching LPM services in the top 10 markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago this year.

UPN Picks Up Missy Elliott Show: Hot on the heels of the success of “America’s Next Top Model,” UPN has picked up a talent competition show searching for the next big hip-hop star that will feature Grammy Award-winning artist Missy Elliott. After open call auditions, the chosen contestants will join Ms. Elliott on the road for her upcoming concert tour and compete for the chance to become a hip-hop superstar.

The show, which is still untitled, was created by Jessica Horowitz and Ms. Elliott’s manager, Mona Scott. It is produced by Shapiro/Grodner Productions in association with Monami/Violator Productions. Arnold Shapiro, Allison Grodner, Ms. Scott, Jay Blumenfield and Anthony Marsh are executive producers. Ms. Elliott is co-executive producer.

Fox Wins Tuesday Ratings Battle: Fox’s combo of “American Idol” and new reality soap “Forever Eden” easily won Tuesday night in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. “Idol” once again was the highest-rated show of the night with a 10.7/28 in adults 18 to 49 and 25 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

The second episode of “Eden” also won its time slot in both measures with a 5.2/13 and 11.8 million viewers. However, it dropped 36 percent of its 18 to 49 rating and lost 5 million viewers from its first half-hour to its second half-hour.

UPN’s “America’s Next Top Model” was down from its record-setting numbers last week in adults 18 to 49 (3.4/8 vs. 3.8/10) and total viewers (6.8 million vs. 7.6 million), but it still turned in a solid performance, finishing fourth in its time slot in adults 18 to 49 and beating NBC’s “Scrubs” in the second half-hour.

For the night, Fox won adults 18 to 49 with an 8.0/20, followed by NBC (3.8/10), ABC (3.3/9), CBS (3.0/8), UPN (2.4/6) and The WB 1.8/5). In total viewers, Fox won the night with 18.4 million, followed by CBS (12 million), NBC (9.4 million), ABC (8.7 million), UPN (5.1 million) and The WB (4.4 million).

Fox Acquires ‘Fear Factor’: Continuing on his aggressive acquisition track for the Fox owned-and-operated stations, Fox Television Stations Chairman Lachlan Murdoch has acquired NBC Enterprises’ “Fear Factor” for the fall. Which follows to recent deals in which Fox snagged Sony’s “Seinfeld” and King Worl
d’s “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

For NBC, the sale to the Fox station group gives “Fear Factor” clearance in more than 70 percent of the country for its fall debut in national syndication. The first network reality series in recent history to reach syndication, “Fear Factor” has also been sold to broadcast stations owned by Acme, Bahakel, Clear Channel, Cox, Emmis, Granite, Grant, Media General, Meredith, Milwaukee Journal, Raycom, Sinclair, Viacom and Young in addition to Fox cable outlet FX.

“Fear Factor has shown over the course of its four seasons on NBC that it has tremendous appeal with viewers of all ages,” said Ed Wilson, president of NBC Enterprises. “With its stand-alone episode format and nonstop action, our partners at FX and at the local broadcast stations should reap the benefits from its success for years to come.”

House Panel Approves Tough Indecency Measure: The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 49-1 today to approve legislation that would raise the maximum fine for an indecent broadcast from $27,500 to $500,000. Existing law caps the maximum fine for a continuing series of indecencies at $300,000, but under the measure approved by the committee, each incident would be subject to the $500,000 levy, with no cap for a continuing series of violations.

The legislation also makes clear that station talent and others who commit indecencies on air, not just station licensees, could be subject to the $500,000 sanctions. In addition, the measure would allow the Federal Communications Commission to fine a network in cases in which a network-originated indecency catches an affiliate by surprise. The new legislation, which is expected to go to a vote on the House floor next week, also makes clear that on-air indecencies could jeopardize a broadcaster’s license.

“Enough is enough,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the committee’s new chairman. “Consumers in America want broadcasters to step back across the line.” The sole dissenting vote on the committee came from Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., who failed in an effort to strip the bill of the penalties for on-air personalities. “I don’t trust this administration to make those decisions about what is indecent for me and my constituents,” she said in an interview.

In a statement, the National Association of Broadcasters announced its opposition to the legislation, urging that lawmakers rely on the industry to address the issue on its own. “We hear the call of legislators and are committed to taking voluntary action to address this issue,” said NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts.