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Azoff MSG Entertainment Buys Half Of Levity Entertainment Group

Irving-Azoff__130904215849-200x200The joint venture forged last year between Jim Dolan’s Madison Square Garden and Irving Azoff’s Azoff Music Management just complemented its strength in music and large venues by adding comedy and clubs. Azoff MSG says today that it bought 50% of Levity Entertainment Group, a power in comedy management and booking that also owns clubs and produces TV shows including about 100 specials for Comedy Central and Food Network’s Iron Chef. The companies didn’t disclose financial terms. But LEG chief Robert Hartmann tells me that the infusion of capital and management expertise will enable him to move on his ambitious global growth plans, which include the development of clubs that combine music and comedy. “It’s not your father’s comedy club,” he says. “It’s more a diversified entertainment destination.” Hartmann will continue to run day-to-day operations but says he’ll have a “true partnership” with Azoff – who’s best known as a manager of pop music performers including  Christina Aguilera, the Eagles, and Steely Dan.

Levity Entertainment GroupLEG’s 70 or so clients include Jeff Dunham, Jenny McCarthy, and Aaron McGruder (the cartoonist behind the syndicated comic strip The Boondocks, which also appears in animated form on Adult Swim). The deal with Azoff MSG includes LEG’s ownership stake in seven clubs including the Hollywood Improv, as well as new locations. Hartmann plans to eventually fold in his partnership interest in 24 other clubs that include Levity Live, Improv, … Read More »

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Madison Square Garden Plans $100M Revamp Of the Forum In Inglewood

MSG says that the Forum, which it bought in 2012, will reopen January 15, 2014 with a performance by The Eagles following the upgrade. “Since we first explored the opportunity to acquire the Forum and expand The Madison Square Garden Company’s presence on the West Coast, our vision has been clear: return the venue to its celebrated position as one of the most beloved and well-known venues in the country for the benefit of the community, fans and performers for generations to come,” says MSG Executive Chairman James Dolan. He thanked his pal Irving Azoff for bringing the Forum to his attention and says that the long time manager of groups including The Eagles and Steely Dan “will play an important role in helping us meet our ambitious goals.” Azoff called the Forum “an iconic Southern California landmark” that is “sure to become the world’s quintessential music-focused venue.” BBB Architects, which worked on the renovation of Madison Square Garden, will direct the work on the Forum. The company says it will be “inspired by the venue’s original 1967 design, and includes upgrades to the entire venue site.” It will be given flexible seating to accommodate up to 17,500. The exterior paint job will keep its 1960′s “California sunset red.” Chase bank was named the Presenting Partner. The City of Inglewood will lend $18M for the renovation and has included “a number of forgiveness options,” says Stifel analyst Benjamin Mogil.

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Time Warner Cable And Madison Square Garden Resolve Carriage Impasse

UPDATE, 3:18 PM: MSG just issued a statement saying that it has “a tentative agreement” with Time Warner Cable to carry MSG, MSG+ and Fuse “effective immediately.” The company thanked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and NBA Commissioner David Stern. MSG also says that it’s “committed to providing our fans with award-winning programming that continues to warrant their loyalty and allegiance, and we thank them for their patience.” Schneiderman is claiming credit for having “worked diligently with Time Warner Cable and MSG Networks over the last month to bring about a resolution to their dispute.”

PREVIOUS, 1:40 PM: We’ve confirmed that Time Warner Cable will have MSG on for tonight’s game. The No. 2 operator also has agreed to keep carrying Fuse, MSG’s low-rated music channel. MSG would have lost $10M a year in revenue if Time Warner Cable had dropped the channel. But Mike Angus, Time Warner Cable’s SVP Content Acquisition, said in December that fewer than one-tenth of Fuse’s potential viewers tuned in — making MSG’s effort to package it with its popular sports networks “nothing more than a tax on New York sports fans.” 

PREVIOUS, 12:54 PM: New York basketball fans, and owners of Madison Square Garden stock, can rejoice. The 48-day contract dispute that kept regional sports channel MSG off of Time Warner Cable is over — with final terms expected before the New York Knicks’ game tonight with … Read More »

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Music Video Channel Fuse Could Blow Up In Carriage Spat With Time Warner Cable

By | Monday December 19, 2011 @ 6:07am PST

Execs at marginal cable channels who want to know how determined pay TV operators are to clear away what they consider programming deadwood should keep an eye on the carriage spat between Madison Square Garden and Time Warner Cable. They’re engaged in the season’s hottest battle over programming costs as they negotiate renewal terms for their current contract that expires on December 31. Per usual, there’s a lot of noise about who’d be most responsible for inconveniencing consumers if there’s in impasse — with most of the focus on the possible loss of popular regional sports channels MSG and MSG+, which carry the New York Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, and Buffalo Sabres. MSG has a hotline (1-888-keepmsg) that encourages Time Warner Cable customers to jump to another pay TV provider. “As excitement builds for the return of the NBA, Time Warner Cable is threatening to pull MSG Networks from its systems,” the programmer says. The cable company says that “the ball’s in MSG’s court, so these channels will come off only if MSG pulls the plug.”

But the most important issue is whether the No. 2 cable company will be able to drop MSG’s music video channel Fuse from its lineup — potentially resulting in $10M a year in lost revenue for MSG. “Fuse is watched by fewer than one-tenth of one percent of the customers who have it available — that’s just 4,000 customers out of more than 7.4M,” says Mike Angus, Time Warner Cable’s SVP Content Acquisition. MSG’s effort to package the music service with its popular regional sports channels “is nothing more than a tax on New York sports fans.”  MSG says that Fuse “appeals to a growing audience of a desirable demographic and its unique partnership with MSG Entertainment ensures it offers programming, access, and promotion that no one else can.” The average pay TV provider pays about six cents a month for each customer who receives Fuse, SNL Kagan estimates. Read More »

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Media Stocks Up On Strong Holiday Sales And Hope Of European Debt Solution

Shoppers spent a record $52.4B over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, up 16% from last year, the National Retail Federation says. Add that to reports that European leaders are getting serious about resolving their debt crisis, and it’s easy to see why investors are in such a good mood today. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is up 2.8% at mid-day, about the same as the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Among Big Media stocks, Time Warner (+4%) leads followed by Sony (+4%),  Viacom (+3.7%), Comcast (+3.7%), CBS (+3.4%), News Corp (+3.2%), and Disney (+2%). In the rest of the media universe several companies that have been pummeled in 2011 are taking a breather including Crown Media (+17.7%), Real D (+11.8%), and Netflix (+10.5%). Sinclair Broadcast Group is up 9% after it announced today that it wants to raise its borrowing capacity by $530M, possibly to buy TV stations. Madison Square Garden — which owns the New York Knicks — is up 8.7% after the NBA announced that it will salvage at least part of this year’s basketball season. The short list of companies that are down at midday includes New Frontier Media (-2.8%), Cinedigm (-2.7%) and Westwood One (-1.1%).

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UPDATE: Madison Square Garden Scrambles For Concerts To Replace Lost NBA Games

UPDATE, 8:10 AM: MSG CEO Hank Ratner told analysts that he can’t say much about the lockout “in light of (NBA) league restrictions.” But it has created problems. “We are exploring opportunities to bring other live events to the Garden” to replace the lost games, he says. It’s been tough to do so at the last minute, though. Ratner has scheduled two performances and adds that “we’re going to use the influence that we have as Madison Square Garden to schedule as many dates as we can.” Can companies that have bought suites at the Garden cancel them? The company says not to worry — but won’t give specifics. Season-ticket holders can get refunds, including for the eight Knicks home dates that have been lost. MSG is required to send the cash out within 10 days and include a 1% annual interest rate payment retroactive to October 1. The company says the lost games won’t cause its sports TV channels to run afoul of its cable and satellite affiliation agreements. The deals have provisions for work stoppages; hockey and Knicks-related programs will fill in for some of the lost games. MSG Media President Mike Bair says that “the vitality of the market for hockey has been better than last year and better than our plan.” Meanwhile the company continues to upgrade the Garden, and says the total bill should come to $980M.

PREVIOUS, 5:42 AM: We’ll have to wait for the company’s quarterly conference call with analysts to find out what how badly the NBA lockout might hurt the owner of the New York Knicks, MSG regional sports networks, and the Madison Square Garden arena. There was no mention of it in this morning’s earnings report. But the disruption follows a strange quarter as the company closed Madison Square Garden and the Theater at Madison Square Garden for upgrades. MSG reported net income of $21.3M, up 10.5% vs the same period last year, on revenues of $177.6M, down 6.9%. The revenue figure was well ahead of the $173.88M that analysts expected. And earnings, at 28 cents a share, zoomed past the 10 cents the Street anticipated. Read More »

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Jim Dolan Joins Live Nation Board After Company Says He Can Still Be A Competitor

The mind-numbing network of interlocking corporate relationships at Live Nation — the No. 1 concert promoter and owner of Ticketmaster — just became much more complicated with the announcement that Jim Dolan is joining its board of directors. He’s a power in live entertainment in his role as executive chairman of Madison Square Garden — a major owner of concert venues (Radio City Music Hall, The Beacon Theater, The Chicago Theater), sports teams (New York’s Knicks and Rangers) and media outlets (MSG network and music channel Fuse). Dolan’s also CEO of Cablevision Systems, a director of AMC Networks, and a Live Nation client in his role as lead singer and guitarist for blues band Read More »

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Lady Gaga: Finally, Some Decent HBO TV

By | Sunday May 8, 2011 @ 8:09am PDT

I never quite understood the appeal of Lady Gaga until I saw HBO’s Monster Ball Tour concert special from Madison Square Garden last night. It showcased her versatility as a singer, songwriter, musician, and dancer and not just another Madonna-wannabe novelty act. But her message of personal empowerment really came through loud and clear, punctuated by poignant behind-the-scenes lines like, “You know how many times I came to this arena, and now they’re opening these gates up for us?” or “I still sometimes feel like a fucking loser kid in high school,” or her description of the pushback she encountered at NYU’s Tisch School Of The Arts. A well-edited, well-directed Haus Of Gaga two hours on a pay channel I used to watch all the time and now hardly at all. Better programming, please.

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