E! Boards Seacrest Wave

Jan 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

In the biggest talent deal in E!’s 15-year history, the entertainment network has completed an agreement to sign “American Idol” host and radio personality Ryan Seacrest to a three-year contract to anchor the daily “E! News,” host the network’s awards coverage and produce new original series. Mr. Seacrest will effectively become E!’s new brand personality.

“This is a huge coup for E! and demonstrates how

committed we are about being the dominant entertainment authority,” said E! President and CEO Ted Harbert. “Not only will we benefit immensely from Ryan’s extraordinary ability as a broadcaster, his crystal-clear vision of our brand will make him an extremely valuable supplier of original programming. He is the very best at what he does.”

To accommodate Mr. Seacrest’s packed schedule, the deal includes a state-of-the-art radio and television studio to be built for Mr. Seacrest at the E! headquarters in Los Angeles, probably overlooking a courtyard. From there, Mr. Seacrest will host his KISS-FM morning show, the weekly “America’s Top 40” countdown and co-anchor and serve as co-managing editor of “E! News” along with current anchor Giuliana DePandi. E! also will house Mr. Seacrest’s production company, Ryan Seacrest Productions.

All told, sources estimated the deal is worth in the mid-eight figures. “This is a mass deal,” said one source close to the agreement. “The only other thing that comes anywhere close to this is Larry King’s deal at CNN.”

Mr. Harbert said the network is also developing a companion news program to run following “E! News,” though details were not available.

In addition to his “E! News” duties, Mr. Seacrest will executive produce E!’s signature red carpet awards coverage and co-host the coverage along with Ms. DePandi. E! has also tapped Isaac Mizrahi, who hosts the daily one-hour talk show “Isaac” on sister network Style, to join the red carpet team. A fourth slot has yet to be filled, sources said. Mr. Seacrest will anchor the coverage from a tower, while other team members will work the carpet. The team will debut Jan. 16 at the Golden Globes; Mr. Seacrest will join “E! News” in March.

For Mr. Seacrest, the most crucial part of the E! agreement is a generous first-look development deal including multiple “pay and play” commitments.

“It’s very simple: I want to build a production company,” Mr. Seacrest said. “I’ve been looking for a place to set up shop in a meaningful way and not just in a vanity way. I was very cautious about taking on another talent deal. But on the radio I talk about [E! topics such as] pop culture, music, movies and TV stars. It’s what I like to do.”

The drive for production ownership stems from Mr. Seacrest’s desire to follow in the footsteps of veteran broadcaster Dick Clark. Last August, Mr. Seacrest was tapped to co-host, and eventually succeed, Mr. Clark on the annual “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” special on ABC. Mr. Harbert, a former ABC executive, said he hoped to foster a similar path for Mr. Seacrest.

“It’s wonderful for me because I was involved with helping Dick Clark build his production company at ABC,” Mr. Harbert said. “It’s great to be in business with somebody who can take over that mantel and eventually have just as big, if not bigger, of a company.”

The effort to bring Mr. Seacrest to the network began several months ago, when E! executives sat down to decide “how to take the E! brand to the next level.”

“One way to do that was to get a star,” Mr. Harbert said. “We made a list and Mr. Seacrest’s name was at the top.”

Negotiations began with Mr. Seacrest’s representatives at the William Morris Agency in October and concluded last week. Mr. Seacrest was also being courted by “Extra!” and TV Guide Channel, sources said.

E!’s goal was to convince Mr. Seacrest to host the awards and news programs, while Mr. Seacrest wanted to launch new series and gain a single studio location for his other commitments. One sticking point was getting KISS-FM owner Clear Channel to sign off on the deal. Though no money changed hands, sources said, E! and Clear Channel will swap some branding opportunities as part of the agreement.

The deal is easily the most lucrative talent contract E! has ever inked. In the past two years, E! personalities Howard Stern and red carpet divas Joan and Melissa Rivers left the channel after protracted contract negotiations, lending some to wonder whether the network had the will-or the corporate backing-to acquire high-profile talent.

Mr. Harbert said E! parent Comcast was “very supportive” of the Seacrest deal and that E! received an “aggressive” programming budget increase for 2006.

“We’re going to be expanding our red carpet coverage, our marketing and development,” Mr. Harbert said. “We may have to hold a few bake sales on Saturday mornings, but we’re prepared to do that.”

Mr. Seacrest is also about to enter renegotiations with Fox for his role on “American Idol.” When TelevisionWeek broke news of the pending E! deal Dec. 20 at TVWeek.com, sources said Fox was caught off guard and upset, unaware the E! contract was in the works. As part of the deal, Mr. Seacrest will not appear on “E! News” on days he hosts “Idol.”

E!’s ratings have recently begun to recover from a longtime slump. Despite losing original episodes of its top-rated series last year, “The Howard Stern Show,” the network is up 7 percent among total viewers and 18 to 49 in prime time. The channel also has slight growth for the year, up 2 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“E! News” is enjoying an even greater ratings bump: up 28 percent year to date among total viewers and up 59 percent in the fourth quarter. The growth is attributed to a pair of format changes made last January, when the show ceased live telecasts (allowing producers to compile a faster-paced, more content-heavy show) and Ms. DePandi was promoted to sole anchor.

Ratings for E!’s red carpet coverage also increased last year, with Emmy coverage rising from 1.2 million in 2004 to 1.8 million in 2005. Star Jones led the red carpet team during 2005 events, but was dropped from the Emmy awards after receiving mixed reviews from critics.

For Mr. Seacrest, who is best known for hosting Fox’s “American Idol,” the deal comes after an extraordinarily active three years.

Though his much-anticipated syndicated daytime show, Twentieth Television’s “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest,” was canceled due to low ratings in 2004, that setback hardly slowed the 30-year-old personality. In addition to his multiyear agreement to executive produce and host “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” Mr. Seacrest also took over “America’s Top 40” countdown from Casey Kasem in 2003, and replaced longtime L.A. morning show host Rick Dees at KISS-FM in 2004.

In October Mr. Seacrest also made a deal to host several editions of “Larry King Live,” taking on youthful interview subjects such as Jessica Simpson and Ashton Kutcher. Last summer Mr. Seacrest launched his own line of clothing, The R Line.

Mr. Seacrest said he doesn’t expect to add any more commitments-at least not television commitments-anytime soon. “I only want to do one TV show a day. I’ve learned my lesson,” he said. “I still want to have a life.”