Sounds like Judge Richard Leon of the DC federal court is sabre rattling, but you have to pay attention when someone in a position like his even hints that he may try to undo a deal as big as Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. Leon says he’s “not sure I’m going to sign” a court review of the Justice Department’s settlement terms that are enforceable for seven years, The Wall Street Journal reports. His reason? The provision that calls for an arbitrator to resolve disputes between Comcast and online content distributors who want NBCU programming is ”not in the public interest,” Leon reportedly said. The arbitration provision applies to a condition that would require Comcast not to discriminate against competing video services that want to license NBCU shows. The judge, who was appointed George W. Bush, says that courts might do a better job of protecting the public than an arbitrator would, for example by requiring annual reviews to ensure that the judgment is being upheld. But those who favor arbitration, including many public-interest advocates, say it helps to level the playing field: Companies challenging Comcast in court could run out of cash while the media giant appeals decisions it doesn’t like. As it is, the government’s conditions for Comcast enable challengers to take their cases to the Justice Department, where decisions are final, or the FCC, where they can be appealed.
This may look like a boring corporate announcement, but it’s pretty important. Lots of ad agencies were eager to win Comcast’s business — wrapping its image-making up with NBCUniversal’s — even though the assignment is monstrously complicated and risky. Comcast is determined to raise NBC from its No. 4 rank in prime time. That means it has a lot riding on the campaigns that Maxus develops to introduce new shows. And like most cable operators, Comcast could use an image makeover from ad agency SMG at a time when millions of consumers are wondering whether to cut the pay TV cord.
Statement from Comcast Corporation and NBCUniversal on the Completion of their Media Agency Review
After a thorough media agency review for our diverse business portfolios, we have selected Publicis Groupe’s SMG and GroupM’s Maxus as our media strategy and planning agencies. The combined accounts are worth in excess of $1B. SMG will continue to support Comcast Cable and add the NBCUniversal theme parks to its portfolio. Maxus will support NBCUniversal’s domestic properties, while GroupM’s MediaCom will continue to represent the company’s media interests outside the US. The decision to consolidate our media agencies was made in order to streamline the way our companies conduct business. We appreciate the tremendous work, creativity and talent of all the world-class media agencies that participated in the review process
I’d be stunned if Comcast and Bloomberg TV don’t settle their spat about Bloomberg’s channel position on Comcast cable systems before the FCC has to step in. But for now their saber-rattling makes for entertaining theater about an interesting question: What did the FCC mean when, in approving Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, it ordered the cable operator not to discriminate against services such as Bloomberg that compete with NBCU channels including CNBC? For example, in Comcast’s system in Hartford, CT dial flippers have to go to channel 178 to find Bloomberg TV but only to channel 60 to find CNBC.
In a letter to Bloomberg today, Comcast says that the complaint is an attempt by “a multi-billion dollar financial services conglomerate that can and should stand on its own two feet in any negotiation to manipulate the FCC process for its own narrow commercial gain.” The FCC, Comcast says, only ordered the cable company not to discriminate in the future – it said nothing about changing channel line-ups that existed before the NBCU deal. If it moved Bloomberg now, Comcast says, then other cable channels would ask for changes. That “would cause significant disruption to consumers and other cable networks beyond anything the FCC contemplated or could reasonably have required.”
But Greg Babyak, Bloomberg’s Head of Government Affairs, says that the FCC “told Comcast that it must include independent news channels, such as Bloomberg TV, in any news neighborhood that it carries …
Comcast Will Spend $300M More This Year On NBC Primetime & Cable While Admitting Universal “Has To Make Better Films”
This morning, the top Comcast execs in an earnings conference call admitted to Wall Street that NBCUniversal, which the company just purchased, is a fixer-upper and, in the short term, a money pit. NBCU chief Steve Burke says the company plans to spend $200 million more this year on NBC’s primetime schedule than General Electric did last year when it owned the network. (Burke is looking at 21 pilots, about the same number NBC ordered in 2010.) Comcast considers the turnaround to be a long-term project, but Burke says that simply lifting NBC to third place from fourth would mean “hundreds of millions” in improvement in the company’s cash flow. Meanwhile, Burke also says he plans to spend $100 million more this year on programming NBCU’s cable networks. He expects a “very strong” upfront ad sales season.
As for Universal’s film business, where 1Q revenues and operating cash flow declined, Burke says that “we have to make better films,” although the size of its current slate is “about right.” He attributed some of the woes to the fact that the company had to include a lot of marketing costs for Hop and Fast Five in the latest quarterly report even though most of the revenues from those recently released films will show up on Comcast’s next earnings statement.
Both Burke and Roberts mentioned the “S” word — synergy — which hasn’t been used by Big Media since the days of AOL Time Warner. And we all know how that turned out.
Don Browne is the latest veteran NBC Universal executive to take his leave since the Comcast takeover. NBCUniversal announced his retirement today after 30 years with the company, effective June 3. Following an extensive career with NBC News in New York and Miami, Browne has served since 2005 as president of Spanish-language Telemundo Communications Group after arriving at Telemundo as CEO eight years ago. Under the new post-merger organizational structure of NBCU, Telemundo was put under the purview of Lauren Zalaznick, with Browne reporting to her. Browne joins other prominent executives from the NBCUniversal side of the new company to depart since the merger, including chief diversity officer Paula Madison (who announced her retirement yesterday), Angela Bromstad, John Eck, Peter Smith and Roma Khanna.
Another long-time NBC executive is leaving the company following the merger with Comcast. Paula Madison, NBCUniversal’s EVP diversity, said today that she will retire from the company May 20, after the first Joint Diversity Advisory Council in Philadelphia with Comcast and NBCU, to work for her family’s investment business. Madison joined NBCU in 1989 as assistant news director at WNBC-TV. She served as president and general manager of KNBC-TV before becoming NBC’s first chief diversity officer in 2007. Madison is the third top NBC executive listed in Steve Burke’s November memo outlining the post-merger organizational structure to exit, following Angela Bromstad and John Eck. On the international TV side, high-profile departures include Peter Smith and Roma Khanna.
WGAW Board Members Chip Johannessen and Patric Verrone have issued a strongly worded message of support the Comcast writers wanting WGA representation:
To Our Fellow Members,
“If the Writers Guild didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.” — Legendary Hollywood executive Sid Sheinberg said that back in 1988 when he was president of Universal Studios. Mr. Sheinberg didn’t say it out of some great love of the Guild. The fact is we were on strike at the time and, if there had been some way to do without us, any self-respecting studio head would have jumped at the chance. But Mr. Sheinberg understood the role that our Guild, and all the other guilds and unions, play in this industry. A role that Universal’s latest owner, Comcast, seems not to understand.
Hollywood runs on a talented pool of what is essentially freelance labor. The guilds, every bit as much as the companies, make this talent pool possible by ensuring two things: First, that when you work, you’ll be fairly compensated. And second, that your pension and health benefits follow you from job to job. Projects and shows come and go, but fair compensation and portable benefits ensure that talented people remain. This guild-based ecosystem works to everyone’s advantage, including the companies. It makes our industry possible. Because talented people won’t follow their dreams here if, after 20 years of working, they’ve got nothing to show for it. And without the talent pool,
With Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal completed, the newly formed NBC Sports Group – which consists of NBC Sports, Golf Channel, VERSUS and 11 Comcast regional sports networks – this morning unveiled its executive structure under chairman Dick Ebersol. Turner veteran Mark Lazarus, who has long been rumored to take run the new group’s cable properties, is the only outsider on the team, while NBC Sports execs are being given the reins of Comcast’s Versus and Golf Channel. Here is a rundown of the new exec hierarchy:
Going to work this morning, NBC Universal employees found all the company’s old signs replaced overnight with new ones. They feature the company’s new logo and new name, which is the same as the old one sans a space between the two words, NBCUniversal. (The TV networks, NBC, CNBC and MSNBC are not getting a logo overhaul, keeping the peacock intact.) Along with the new signage and new Intranet system, employees were greeted by gift boxes on their desks. The Welcome memo below explains the contents of each box, which included beautifully crafted books about the history of the merging companies, a stocks certificate for 25 Comcast shares and free passes to the Universal Theme Parks:
Today marks the birth of the new NBCUniversal. Together, Comcast and NBCUniversal are poised to become the greatest media company in the world, delivering quality content to a global audience on every conceivable platform.
We are incredibly excited about this opportunity. We’re humbled, too, since we are keenly aware that NBC and Universal both have tremendous legacies, reaching back nearly a century.
Although only half as old, Comcast also has a proud history, having grown from a single system cable operator to the largest video and residential Internet service provider in the country.
As we embark on this adventure together, it seems like a good time to reflect on how we got here. That’s why we put this
UPDATED: Comcast today held town hall meetings for NBC Universal employees in NBCU’s main outposts, New York and Los Angeles, and Comcast’s hometown Philadelphia, with remotes from Miami and London. Comcast officially unveiled the new logo for NBCUniversal (all one word) which is how it will be spelled from now on. The redesigned NBCU logo uses purple as the primary color, with the peacock and the globe both gone. However, the NBC network logo will remain unchanged, so no one should call the ASPCA in search of the beloved bird.
Brian Williams hosted the main event in New York attended by new NBCU CEO Steve Burke and 90-year-old Comcast co-founder Ralph J. Roberts who choked up giving a heartfelt speech about seeing his dream come true with the NBCU acquisition. The Los Angeles meeting went Hollywood with Ryan Seacrest, a Comcast man via his E! deal, as the host. Ralph Roberts’ son Brian was there, as well as Universal Studios president Ron Meyer and new NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt. The Philly meeting is hosted by CNBC’s Jim Cramer, with Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis and Comcast Cable head Neil Smit attending….
Vivendi has officially divested itself from NBC Universal, selling the remaining portion of its 20% stake in the company back to General Electric before the merger with Comcast is officially complete on Friday. The price: Vivendi received a total of $5.8 billion for the 20% stake. In a statement, Vivendi CEO Jean-Bernard Levy said, “We are very satisfied that our objective to exit NBC Universal has been completed. Vivendi is fully focused on pursuing its profitable growth strategy.”
A Philadelphia Inquirer report recounts how the Comcast team locked in on FCC Democrat Mignon Clyburn, who joined the commission in 2009 and who was one of the five who eventually decided if Comcast should get NBC Universal. Comcast strategists studied the members of the FCC and came to the conclusion that Clyburn would be a key deciding vote. So in a textbook case of lobbying, they set out to woo her by making constant and repetetive hard promises that the newly-formed media conglomerate would be a kind-and-gentle corporation. It worked, and she cast a ‘yes’ vote. As it was, the final vote was 4-1 in favor of the marriage.
NEW DETAILS: “MSNBC And Keith Olbermann Have Ended Their Contract”; Lefty MSNBC About To Make Right Turn?
2ND UPDATE, SATURDAY AM: An MSNBC insider told this to Deadline today about Keith Olbermann’s departure Friday:
“This was all Keith’s choice. He has several times over the years said that he wants out of his contract. He never meant it until this year. He started lawyers negotiating twice this year. He stopped them in the spring. Then, about a month ago with the guidance of his new ICM team and a new LA manager (who were making zero $ on his current deal), he once again said he wanted to leave and this time they negotiated the full package.
“Because of all the false threats in the past, it was impossible for the network to know if he was really going to sign the final document yesterday. That’s why promos for his show were still running after he quit on the air. The network couldn’t really believe it or act on it until he said it on TV. They couldn’t tell the promo people to pull Keith’s show out of the cycle until they were sure. His staff learned he was quitting when they heard him say it on TV.
“Comcast has had no impact at all on MSNBC [yet]. Phil Griffin has complete authority. He makes deals without having to consult with anyone. He has made proposals over the years on the fly and in high-speed contexts where he is acting alone and with full authority. MSNBC is Phil Griffin’s network and
It was a memo like any other released by a CEO of a public company on the day the company’s quarterly earnings report is out. But this morning’s message by outgoing NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker about the company’s 4th quarter earnings ended on a farewell note as it comes a week before the completion of the Comcast-NBCU merger that will see Zucker replaced by Comcast’s Steve Burke. Here is what Zucker wrote:
As you know, the deal will formally close next Friday. That means this will be my last business update and indeed my last official word to each of you as CEO. Over the last few months, I made an effort to gather with every group of employees across the company. Hopefully, I’ve had a chance to meet and thank you personally for all you have done for this company. If I didn’t get to you, please accept my thanks now. I have been asked many times what I will miss the most about NBC Universal. That’s easy. The wonderful people of this company. So many colleagues…so many friends. I will miss you all.
It has been a fantastic run of almost 25 years. For me, that chapter’s ending, but for all of you it’s an exciting new beginning. With Comcast, I leave you in good hands and have no doubt that you will continue to do great things. I look forward to following your progress.
With warm regards,
While the Comcast-NBC Universal deal is supposed to close next week now that it has received FCC approval, NBCU’s fourth quarter revenue rose to $4.8 billion (up 12%), and profit saw a 38% gain to $830 million powered by a Big Media-wide advertising rebound that boosted the bottom line across the company. NBC-Universal’s quarterly and yearly performance was announced as part of the latest General Electric results. GE boss Jeff Immelt called the strong fourth quarter “a pretty good precursor” for 2011, citing the bounce-back in the economy as a main factor for continued growth. “The environment continues to improve,” he said. “We think the economy can get a little stronger every day.” GE will give up its majority stake in the company when the Comcast deal closes next Friday but its bottom line still will be affected. For NBCU, the cable and broadcast sides were strong: Cable revenues grew 15%, and the broadcast side’s revenues grew 11%. Even though the quarter was robust, the year was still saw, as profit stood at $2.26 billion. NBC-U’s parent company, General Electric, posted net earnings of $4.46 billion, up from $2.94 billion last year. Quarterly revenues were almost flat at $41.4 billion. GE does expect a heavy tax rate in 2011, due to gains from the sale of NBC-U to Comcast. Immelt himself has a new additional role: he’s just been named by President Obama to head the new White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
UPDATED: In the first executive fallout from the pending post-merger restructuring at NBC, Angela Bromstad, primetime entertainment president for the network and sister studio UMS, will be leaving. She told her staff about her departure this afternoon. There had been rumblings that Bromstad may not be part of the new NBC programming team under new entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt after the Comcast/NBC Universal merger is completed next week, but Comcast’s November announcement of NBCU’s post-merger executive structure made a point of listing her as staying on. (There was a potential scenario, in which Bromstad would take over her old job of running UMS should Greenblatt decide to give it more autonomy.) If she hadn’t left on her own, Bromstad would have probably been pushed out within the next week or so, sources said. Greenblatt had reportedly been telling people that Bromstad “will be gone within 48 hours” of him starting at NBC. The latter is expected to finally happen next week when the Comcast-NBCU merger is approved. And in another sign that she was probably not going to factor into NBC’s future executive plans, Bromstad didn’t hold a Q&A session at TCA last week. This is the second time Bromstad leaves a top NBC post after a new chairman is brought in. In 2007, she was pushed out as president of UMS when Ben Silverman joined the network and moved to London to run NBCU’s …
UPDATED: Here’s the WGA, West’s statement on the Comcast-NBCU merger, approved yesterday:
“After a thorough review of yesterday’s announcements by the FCC and DOJ, the WGAW disagrees with their decisions approving the Comcast-NBCU merger. Even with the conditions placed on the merger by the FCC and the DOJ, we believe this merger is anti-competitive and is not in the public interest or the interests of our members. The WGAW remains committed to joining with other organizations and individuals to continue the fight for an open Internet, independent production, and diversity of voices in all media.”
Here’s yesterday’s WGA, East’s statement:
“The Writers Guild of America, East is disappointed by the FCC’s approval of the joint venture between Comcast and NBC Universal. We consistently have opposed this action because entertainment and news media already are too consolidated; too few multinational mega-corporations control what people watch on television and in movie theaters. The Comcast/NBCU deal is particularly frightening because it brings together one of the largest internet service and cable TV providers with one of the largest content providers. Without strong and meaningful safeguards, the economics of the deal virtually mandate that Comcast/NBCU will discriminate in favor of its own content and leave writers and other independent members of the creative community out in the cold. This will impact not only entertainment programming but the diversity of news and public affairs voices so vital to a democracy.
UPDATE: In a 4-1 vote, the FCC has approved Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal. Democrat commissioner Michael Copps cast the lone dissenting opinion, saying that ”it confers too much power in one company’s hands.” The deal should close by the end of January.
Of course, there are plenty of conditions set forth by the FCC regarding the marriage. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said these will “include carefully considered steps to ensure that competition drives innovation in the emerging online video marketplace.” Among the conditions, Comcast will be required to offer online versions of its TV shows to all reasonable distributors under the terms it now offers those shows to cable and satellite providers. Comcast will also be required to build more of a broadband infrastructure, offering speedy Web service to millions of low-income households for less than $10 a month. It also will be required to reach more homes — about 400,000 of them — and provide high-speed Internet access to more schools and libraries.
EARLIER: Now the real renovation work begins. The FCC is expected to greenlight one of Big Media’s mammoth deals in recent times: the nation’s biggest cable company Comcast gobbling up the majority ownership of NBC Universal as General Electric eventually gets out of the entertainment business to focus on industrial acquisitions. Approval of the $30 billion joint venture will come with plenty of demands about across-all-platforms access to content, and network neutrality conditions, and other conditions aimed at preventing further erosions of competition. (Of course, we all know such regulatory attempts are a crock: …
With the end date for the Comcast-NBC Universal merger still uncertain, NBC has opted to forgo an executive session at its portion of TV Critics Assn.’s winter press tour. With only a week left before the NBCU day of TCA next Thursday, the company finally released its schedule this morning, and it doesn’t feature a panel with executives, a long-standing TCA tradition. NBC’s new top programmer, Robert Greenblatt, is still expected to make an appearance next Thursday though a low-key and informal one as a spectator as his formal appointment as chairman of NBC Entertainment will likely not happen by then. The other new NBC chairman, Ted Harbert, made a TCA appearance last night at Comcast Entertainment Group’s reception.