Wilson to Exit NBC Enterprises
NBC Enterprises President Ed Wilson, who has guided the company since its inception four years ago, has decided not to renew his contract. Mr. Wilson said he will work through NBC’s upcoming merger with Universal Studios to ensure a smooth transition period for the company.
Mr. Wilson said that after being in the syndication business for more than 20 years, it is time to explore other opportunities in the industry. “This is the right decision for Ed Wilson,” he said. “It was the right time because there are great people here and we’ve had four wonderful years together. I have the utmost respect for NBC for what we’ve been able to build here. The only thing I want is to be invited back to the first taping of ‘Jane Pauley.'”
Friedman Named CafÈ Entertainment President: Former AMC Motion Picture Group President Robert L. Friedman has been named president of a start-up production company called CafÈ Entertainment Studios, which seeks to make “cutting edge” projects for film, television, music and DVD. Media Consulting Associates — whose principals include Herman Rush, former chairman of Columbia Pictures Television — will also represent the company. Celia A. Fox, a young entrepreneur, will serve as the company’s chairwoman and CEO.
Petherbridge Takes Interim COO Post at BBC America: Jo Petherbridge has been appointed acting chief operating officer of BBC America. She will take over day-to-day operations of the channel until a successor is appointed for Paul Lee, who earlier this week announced his resignation to join ABC Family.
Currently the channel’s senior VP of strategy and communications, Ms. Petherbridge joined BBC America at launch in 1998. Before joining the channel Ms. Petherbridge, a former journalist, headed up nonfiction program publicity at the BBC in London. She will report to Jana Bennett, director of television, and Mark Young, president and CEO of BBC Worldwide Americas.
Digital TV Sales Rise: Sales of digital TV sets in January and February surpassed more than $1.3 billion on about 853,000 units, according to the latest information from the Consumer Electronics Association. That’s a 124 percent unit increase and a 100 percent increase in dollar sales over the same time period last year.
MGM Reaffirms Plan to Issue Special Dividend: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has reaffirmed its commitment to pay shareholders a one-time dividend as part of its effort to share the company’s wealth with investors, attempting to put to rest speculation that a possible sale of the studio to Sony would scuttle the payment.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, MGM said it is still on track to seek board approval for the special one-time payment of $8 per share. MGM plans to finance the dividend payment in the capital markets with the intention of paying it back quickly.
“MGM expects its board of directors to vote on the dividend recommendation shortly after the completion of the refinancing of the credit facility, which is expected to close next week,” the company said in a statement.
Some on Wall Street suggested Wednesday that MGM’s plan to issue the one-time dividend is a smokescreen to mask the company’s efforts to put itself up for sale.
MGM and its biggest investor, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, are reportedly holding talks with Sony and a pair of buyout firms about a possible sale of MGM film and television businesses to the Japanese conglomerate for $5 billion.
Nielsen Sports to Track Brands’ Exposure: In-stadium signage, live broadcast promotions and audio mentions during sports telecasts will be measured by Nielsen Sports, a new unit of Nielsen Media Research. National sports teams, advertisers, agencies, television stations and broadcast and cable networks will be able to access information about visibility and length of exposure for sponsorship material.
Adelphia May Go Up for Sale: Beleaguered cable operator Adelphia Communications said today it is exploring putting itself up for sale as part of its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The announcement comes amid speculation on Wall Street that a handful of MSOs are eyeing Adelphia and its 5.4 million subscribers in anticipation that the company will be ripe for a sale once it emerges from bankruptcy reorganization. Seen as best positioned to make a play for the company include Time Warner Cable and, to a lesser extent, Cox Communications. Comcast is also seen as a potential suitor, though many analysts discount the chances of a Comcast bid given the cable giant’s interest in The Walt Disney Co.
“We were pursuing a plan of reorganization that called for an independent Adelphia because we believed it was in the best interests of our bankruptcy constituents,” said Adelphia Chairman and CEO William Schleyer. “Increasingly, in our continuing dialogue with constituents after filing the plan, it became clear that a broad range of constituents preferred to allow the market to determine the appropriate value for Adelphia.”
Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Adelphia had come under some fire from creditors for the reorganization plan unveiled in February. Among the criticisms is that Adelphia management has grossly undervalued the company.
Some Wall Street analysts have estimated Adelphia’s value to be as high as $21.5 billion.
Viacom Reports Q1 Results: Viacom President and Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin said Thursday that his company would follow whatever rules the Federal Communications Commission adopts to curb indecency in the media, but he vowed also to take the agency to court in the hopes of curtailing efforts he described as “inappropriate.”
“We are concerned anytime you have the government getting involved in issues like speech,” Mr. Karmazin said during Viacom’s first-quarter earnings call. He added that the FCC was traveling down “a slippery slope” if it was to try use its “position to influence the kinds of programming Americans get to hear.”
Mr. Karmazin said the FCC’s efforts to expand the scope of indecency beyond the so-called seven dirty words goes too far. He also criticized the apparent flip-flopping of the FCC over whether U2 lead singer’s use of the F-word was indecent.
“If they are pulling in the guidelines to say instead of being on the edge of the envelope we need to be in the middle, we will adjust our programming and put in delays to protect us,” he said. But, he added, Viacom would also consider taking the FCC to court because “We believe what they are doing is not appropriate.”
Meanwhile, Viacom reported a 60 percent surge in first-quarter profit to $710.5 million, or 41 cents a share, versus a year-earlier profit of $443.1 million, or 26 cents a share, as revenue climbed 12 percent to $6.8 billion.
The company said advertising revenue growth of 21 percent to $3.2 billion, combined with double-digit growth at the company’s cable and television operations fueled the increases.
Viacom’s cable networks, the company’s biggest and best-performing division, reported a 21 percent increase in revenue to $1.4 billion, and a 24 percent increase in operating income, largely the result of higher advertising and affiliate fees. MTV Networks reported a 35 percent increase in advertising revenue, while BET posted a 16 percent gain. Cable affiliate fees rose 9 percent, thanks to gains at BET and MTV, which offset a slight decline at Showtime.
The television operation recorded an 18 percent jump in revenue to $2.3 billion and a 38 percent rise in operating income to $336 million. The company said CBS and UPN generated 26 percent higher ad revenue on the strength of CBS’s prime-time lineup and the lifts received from the Super Bowl telecast Feb. 1, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion ship and political advertising.
Viacom’s television stations reported a 14 percent rise in advertising revenue, and the company said its syndication business generated gains on increased revenues from “Everybody Loves Raymond” and higher barter revenues from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Dr. Phil.”