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Battista Replaces Shell as Gemstar CEO

Dec 10, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Jeff Shell on Friday stepped down after two years as CEO of Gemstar-TV Guide International, a move that is likely to add to speculation that he is poised to join cable giant Comcast in a top programming position.

Rich Battista, Fox Entertainment Group executive VP of business development and strategy, was tapped to replace Mr. Shell.

The company also announced that News Corp. Executive VP Althea Disney will add the title of Gemstar’s executive chairman of the board and will replace Lachlan Murdoch, who has resigned his position as a Gemstar director.

News Corp. owns a controlling 42 percent stake in Gemstar and installed Mr. Shell at the company in April 2002, first as chief operating officer and then CEO six months later.

Wall Street greeted the news of the executive change with enthusiasm, sending Gemstar shares up nearly 9 percent to $5.87 a share.

Though there has been speculation for months about Mr. Shell joining Comcast, Friday’s announcement caught many by surprise. For his part, Mr. Shell said he made the decision to leave Gemstar on Wednesday and informed the board on Thursday. His resignation is effective immediately, though he agreed to help with a transition period.

“When I joined the company, I had a clear mandate to get the corporate house in order,” Mr. Shell told analysts during a early-morning conference call Friday. “During my tenure, these goals have been largely accomplished.”

Mr. Shell said that with his employment contract set to expire in April, he “had some informal discussions about my future at the company,” and decided he was ready for a new challenge. He added that he currently does not have another job, and declined to speculate on whether he might be joining Comcast.

A Comcast spokesman could not be reached for comment Friday morning.

Mr. Battista said Friday that because he has “been in the job for an hour,” it was premature to discuss what plans he might have for the company. He did say that the TV Guide Channel and the TV Guide magazine “are clearly two of the key aspects of the company,” and that their growth will be priorities.

A large part of Mr. Shell’s job has been fixing a series of financial missteps committed by Gemstar’s previous management that required the company to write down billions in miscounted revenue.

Though Gemstar ultimately resolved the accounting scandal, the company’s shares have continued to lag, mainly due to continued circulation weakness at the company’s flagship magazine.