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Big Media’s 1Q Earnings Roundup: Cash

The money is flowing again into Big Media. Just about every media CEO who recently spoke to Wall Street analysts about this year’s 1st Quarter earnings said that ad sales are up and consumers are spending. “Viacom has never been stronger financially,” CEO Philippe Dauman crowed. At Disney, where net profits fell slightly, CEO Bob Iger expressed he was “confident in the trends we’re seeing across our segments”. So will these companies do more hiring and give out raises? Don’t be naive. Dauman, for one, told investors that he’s “watching for head count creep” while the company returns $1.9 billion to shareholders over the first 9 months of its fiscal year. Most Big Media companies are buying back their stock, making publicly held shares more valuable. CBS doubled its quarterly dividend to shareholders and Viacom plans to follow suit.

Here are some of the other major themes from this earnings season:

TV Advertising: Network executives were predictably upbeat about what will happen in their upfront ad sales negotiations in coming weeks. Disney CEO Bob Iger predicted the market will be “strong”. NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke upped that to “very strong”. And News Corp COO Chase Carey claimed it’ll be “truly strong”. Their pronouncements made CBS chief Les Moonves sound refreshingly bold when he projected “solid double-digit increases” in ad sales for his broadcast network. Executives cited the price increases they’ve seen in scatter sales as the economy has improved and auto, technology, telecom, … Read More »

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Barry Diller’s Oscar Weekend Mogul Picnic

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Sure, every Oscar weekend there are the Friday night agency parties — Ari Emanuel’s WME fete, and Jim Berkus” UTA party for the Coen Brothers, and Bryan Lourd’s CAA bash (where the valet parkers screwed up the parking situation so badly that the Triple-A crowd had up to a 2-hour wait for their cars). But the place to really see the Big Media moguls, past and present, and their assorted pilot fish on parade is Barry Diller’s Saturday afternoon lawn luncheon ostensibly in honor of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. This year drew a particularly good 300+ crowd to the tent on Diller’s Beverly Hills estate for Hollywood’s major meet’n'greet. Guests included in no particular order: Sir Howard Stringer (eating the repast of veggie chili and fried chicken and poached salmon with Rupert Murdoch), David Geffen, Ron Meyer (who took his new NBCUniversal boss Steve Burke), Sandy Gallin, Bryan Lourd, Jeff Berg, Oprah Winfrey (who dined with Michael Eisner and Larry Gordon and her BFF Gayle King), Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Arianna Huffington, Eva Longoria, Valentino, Wendy Stark, Joan Collins, Terry Semel, George Hamilton, Toby Emmerich, Penny Marshall, Lorraine Bracco, Balthazar Getty, Alan Grubman, David and Victoria Beckham, Les Moonves, Anderson Cooper, California Governor Jerry Brown, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tom Freston, Bob Daly,  Jonathan Dolgen, Brett Ratner, Dani Janssen, Shirley MacLaine, Alana Hamilton Stewart, Donna Karan, Oswald Botang, Kevin McCormick, A. Scott Berg, Cheryl Tiegs.

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MERGER GIVEWAY: NBCU Employees Get Comcast Shares, Universal Studios Passes

Nellie Andreeva

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:

Dear Colleague:

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

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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

Read More »

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Jeff Zucker’s Farewell Note To NBCU Staff

Nellie Andreeva

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,
Jeff

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FCC Approves Comcast-NBCU Merger Deal

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: … Read More »

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Final Thoughts On The New NBCU Structure

Nellie Andreeva

UPDATES NBC Universal’s New Organizational Structure Revealed

UPDATES COMCAST-NBCU: Ted Harbert And Bob Greenblatt To Run NBC, Pat Fili-Krushel Also Coming

The organizers of the Saban Free Clinic’s Annual Dinner Gala must have been scrambling today to update all the materials for the Monday event with the new title for the night’s top honoree, Robert Greenblatt, who today was named chairman of NBC Entertainment as part of the post-merger management structure of NBC Universal unveiled by the company’s incoming CEO Steve Burke.

Greenblatt, who will oversee the network and sister studio UMS, won’t be conducting any business, including meeting with his staff or talking to agents, until the merger is approved, something sources suggest may happen in mid-January. By then, the broadcast networks will be in the thick of picking up drama pilots, so Greenblatt would have to jump right in. He is expected to begin familiarizing himself with NBC’s development right away and will probably read pilot scripts as they come in to be able to start making greenlight decisions on Day 1. Drama has been a particularly vulnerable area for NBC with no new series introduced in the past couple of years lasting more than a season and a weak freshman drama class this fall. That makes the future of NBC’s head of drama Laura Lancaster uncertain. Greenblatt is still a ways away from making any personnel changes, but after he officially starts, he is expected to make some. In today’s memo, there was good news for 2 NBC veterans, Marc Graboff, chairman of NBC Entertainment and UMS, and Angela Bromstad, president of primetime entertainment. While the announcement didn’t mention their titles, leaving the door open to them changing, they were mentioned by name as reporting to Greenblatt in the new chain of command. That means that both are factoring into new Burke’s immediate plans for NBC. From then on, it will be up to Greenblatt. Read More »

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Comcast Internal Memo From NBC Universal Boss Steve Burke Reveals Organizational Structure Under New Owners

UPDATES COMCAST-NBCU: Ted Harbert And Bob Greenblatt To Run NBC, Pat Fili-Krushel Also Coming
UPDATES New Comcast/NBCU Organizational Structure

NBC Universal boss Steve Burke today made the new organizational structure official for NBC broadcasting, NBC Entertainment, NBCU cable, and Universal Studios and Universal Pictures:

For nearly a year, we have worked hard to identify people from NBC Universal, Comcast and outside the two companies to form our new leadership team when the deal closes. Our goal has been to find people who have the skill sets we need to succeed and who reflect the values that will be the hallmark of NBC Universal, including teamwork, integrity, creativity and a commitment to treating people the right way.

We have also been very focused on putting in place the best possible organizational structure. To that end, we have created some new positions, changed the scope of others, and shifted some reporting assignments. We think we’ve developed a structure that organizes the company in the smartest way possible.

We are beginning our leadership announcements now because with the anticipated close of the deal nearing, we want to give everyone enough time to begin to think about the specific opportunities and challenges they will face beginning the day of the close. This is particularly true for areas that have transition work to complete before we close. While new roles won’t be effective until the deal closes, and while there will be more announcements to come, it is important that we are prepared to hit the ground running.

To that end, I am pleased to make the following initial announcements of members of the new NBC Universal senior management team:

Bonnie Hammer will become Chairman, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios. USA, SyFy, E! Entertainment, G4, Chiller, Sleuth, Universal HD and UCP (Universal Cable Productions) will report to Bonnie. Neil Tiles will remain President of G4 and report to Bonnie as will a newly appointed president of E! Entertainment.

Lauren Zalaznick will become Chairman, NBC Universal Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media. Bravo, Oxygen, and iVillage will continue to report to Lauren, as will the Integrated Strategic Marketing Group, which oversees initiatives including Green Is Universal, Healthy at NBC Universal and Women at NBC Universal. Digital properties Daily Candy and

Fandango, Spanish language broadcaster Telemundo, and cable networks mun2, Style, and PBS Sprout will also report to Lauren.

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COMCAST-NBCU: Ted Harbert And Bob Greenblatt To Run NBC, Pat Fili-Krushel Also Coming, Fired Jeff Zucker Weeping

UPDATES New Comcast/NBCU Organizational Structure

2ND UPDATE: Comcast’s new NBC Universal boss Steve Burke is supposed to finalize his new organizational structure and announce it today. We’d told you previously that Ted Harbert, president and CEO of the Comcast Entertainment Group, might be getting a big new job: it’s alongside former Showtime entertainment president Bob Greenblatt, and the two men will run NBC as equals reporting to Burke. Harbert will oversee stations, affiliates, and sales in NYC while Greenblatt will run programming and possibly marketing as well in LA. These are just two of the big changes that couldn’t wait for FCC regulatory approval, not if NBC wanted to have a development season. As it is Greenblatt and Harbert may not physically take the reins at NBC until mid-January, sources tell us, which is late for this pilot season. ”It’s going to be a long, steep, uphill climb in a tough world,” one insider described to us. “At least those GE boobs will be out of the way.” Meanwhile, sources tell us that fired NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker has been holding mini town hall meetings with company employees and in two different gatherings started crying and had to stop to re-compose himself. Yesterday was the latest breakdown. Last week, he actually closed his office door and cried.

The NBC operations job was previously discussed with chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group Tony Vinciquerra and CBS Corp’s Nancy Tellem who we’re told “agonized over the decision and went back and forth and wound up somewhere inbetween” after talking to Burke and Greenblatt about it. Sources tell us that Tellem wanted Greenblatt to report to her, but Burke made it clear he had made a commitment that Greenblatt would have unfettered access to him. So Tellem kept pondering until Burke moved on without her in the past 10 days.

Also in the mix will be Pat Fili-Krushel, the former president of the ABC television network and most recently EVP of Administration of Time Warner Inc. She’ll be taking over NBCU’s HR, legal, and other administrative areas. In her role with Time Warner, she worked closely with the other members of Time Warner’s senior management team and its operating divisions on a variety of organizational, developmental and diversity issues. Her responsibilities included oversight of philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, corporate human resources, worldwide recruitment, employee development and growth, compensation and benefits, and security. Burke knew Fili-Krushel from his days at Disney/ABC.

Comcast Programming group president Jeff Shell will be based in London in an international post. NBC cable’s Bonnie Hammer will oversee USA, Syfy, and E!, while Lauren Zalaznick will run Bravo, Oxygen, and Style. We also hear that G4 will mostly likely go to Hammer, and Telemundo to Zalaznick. Sources tell us that today’s announcement won’t mention Angela Bromsted who may or may not survive all these changes, depending on the source, or that eventually Greenblatt may possibly bring in outsiders including Jennifer Nicholson Salke and Danielle Gelber. Read More »

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Official: Gaspin To Exit NBCU Post-Merger

Nellie Andreeva

Comcast is clearing the way for its pending announcement of the new NBC Universal top executive structure. Jeff Gaspin, who had felt more and more as the odd man out in Comcast’s plans for the post-merger NBCU, just sent out a note to NBC Universal employees announcing that he will depart the company following its merger with Comcast after he and new NBCU CEO Steve Burke “could not agree on an appropriate role” for him in the new company. Gaspin had 4 years left on his contract, which was breached by the merger and Burke replacing Jeff Zucker. Gaspin was furious when a report last week claimed he was gone because it wasn’t true: in fact the two men hadn’t made that decision yet even though everyone guessed that’d be the ultimate conclusion because it’s known that Burke wants to decrease the media company’s layers of management. Gaspin has spent a combined 19 years at NBCU, most recently as chairman of NBC Universal TV Entertainment. “I want to thank Jeff for his many significant contributions to NBCU and for his professionalism throughout the integration process,” Burke said in a statement. After sending the memo (text below), Gaspin gathered his senior executive team for an emotional meeting.

Even though there has been much speculation in the press I wanted you to hear directly from me.

During the course of the Comcast/GE merger, I’ve had many good conversations

Read More »

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New Comcast/NBCU Organizational Structure

8TH UPDATE: Comcast is clearing the way for its pending announcement of the new NBC Universal top executive structure. Jeff Gaspin, who had felt more and more as the odd man out in Comcast’s plans for the post-merger NBCU, just sent out a note to NBC Universal employees announcing that he will depart the company following its merger with Comcast after he and new NBCU CEO Steve Burke “could not agree on an appropriate role” for him in the new company. Gaspin had 4 years left on his contract, which was breached by the merger and Burke replacing Jeff Zucker. Gaspin was furious when a report last week claimed he was gone because it wasn’t true: in fact the two men hadn’t made that decision yet even though everyone guessed that’d be the ultimate conclusion because it’s known that Burke wants to decrease the media company’s layers of management. Gaspin has spent a combined 19 years at NBCU, most recently as chairman of NBC Universal TV Entertainment. “I want to thank Jeff for his many significant contributions to NBCU and for his professionalism throughout the integration process,” Burke said in a statement. After sending the memo, Gaspin gathered his senior executive team for an emotional meeting.

EXCLUSIVE… 6TH & 7TH UPDATE:  Jeff Gaspin is flying on an NBC Universal corporate jet from NYC back to LA right now and is telling fellow passengers that a report he is leaving the company is “not accurate”. As we’ve been saying all along, there are a lot of moving parts to this NBCU organizational restructure, and a lot hasn’t been pinned down yet. Gaspin, who is NBCU Television Group President/COO, falls into that category. We’ve learned that he hasn’t had a “definitive conversation” with Comcast about his future yet. And the fact is that, as of today, his future has not been decided. “It may turn out to be true that he leaves. And he’s preparing for it. But it’s not true right now,” an insider just told us.

EXCLUSIVE… 5TH UPDATE: We’ve confirmed that onetime CBS bigwig and now consultant Nancy Tellem has indeed been in formal talks with Comcast brass about taking a top job at NBC alongside Robert Greenblatt. The idea was that he would be in charge of creative, and she would fill a parallel NYC-based network president-type job. Both would report to new NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke. As we reported Comcast hopes to announce the new NBC Universal organizational structure — one which now may or may not include Jeff Gaspin who got on a plane Monday for NYC Monday to meet with Comcast brass. About Tellem, “Comcast is talking to her. Nothing has been decided yet though because there are still ongoing issues. But people are trying to work through those issues,” one insider told us. ”She wants to do it. She just has to make sure the job is right.” Tellem was among half a dozen top-level broadcast executives (including Fox Network Group Chairman/CEO Tony Vinciquerra) approached by Burke some months ago after the Comcast/NBC deal was announced. Tellem was most recently boss of the bulk of CBS Inc’s entertainment operations until she stepped down in December 2009 to become Senior Advisor To The CEO.

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Jeff Zucker Roasted By Former And Soon-To-Be-Former NBC Colleagues

Nellie Andreeva

Katie Couric, Alec Baldwin, Brian Williams, Mark Feuerstein and Lorne Michaels took turns roasting outgoing CEO of NBC Universal Jeff Zucker at the Center for Communication’s annual Frank Stanton award luncheon at the Pierre Hotel in New York today. According to news reports, Couric, in a subtle reference to the recent comments by Rick Sanchez that Jews control the media, called Zucker “living proof that Jews may control the media, but that doesn’t mean they’re good at it.” She took a shot at both NBC’s and her own ratings woes at third-ranked CBS Evening News. ”There’s no surprise he was drawn to a game where the lowest score wins,” she said about Zucker, referring to his passion for golf. “He showed me that being in third place really isn’t that bad.” Michaels gave Zucker props for keeping Conan O’Brien on The Tonight Show in the show’s final week when the comedian was blasting the NBC Uni CEO night after night. “I doubt that would have happened at CBS. It definitely would not have happened at The Walt Disney Co. – they’re far too well run. Possibly at Fox.” Williams said the award has “a kiss of death” to it, a reference to the fact that former Viacom CEO Tom Freston too was pushed out of Viacom just a few weeks before receiving the Frank Stanton award.

Zucker also played off the coincidence, warning other industry types who get the news that they would be honored by the … Read More »

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FCC Digs Deeper On Comcast/NBCU Merger

The federal regulatory body wants more info from Comcast and NBC Universal like details on carriage deals, online distribution, rates, and so on while it reviews the planned merger. The FCC made another follow-up request on Monday in letters to both companies and demanded compliance in the form of written and electronic compliance by October 18th. Broadcasting & Cable was first with the details. Requests like this that makes insiders and outsiders think the merger approval may extend beyond the end of 2010. And yet, publicly and privately, Comcast’s Steve Burke last week began to take control of NBCU as its new CEO, replacing Jeff Zucker whom he fired. The FCC is requesting the following info based on its documents: Read More »

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TOLDJA! Steve Burke Becomes NBCU CEO

As far back as a year ago this October, I first reported that Comcast Corp COO/No. 2 Steve Burke would be running NBC Universal and replacing Jeff Zucker. And in November I explained that, because Burke would have his hands full there, Neil Smits from Charter Communication had been hired to assume Burke’s Comcast Cable Communications responsibilities. So today’s announcement is more than year old news to regular readers of Deadline Hollywood. Still, today’s official announcement really hits Zucker where it hurts coming just 2 1/2 weeks after he was shitcanned by Burke. Zucker on Friday decided to reveal his firing because he’d just finished negotiating his severance package. He sent an email to NBCU staff and told reporters Burke had made it clear that Comcast wanted to move on at the close of the deal so Zucker had to move off the top job.

Unlike Jeff who was widely regarded in Hollywood and NYC as a pretender to the throne, Steve is true showbiz royalty by blood. He’s the son of Dan Burke, the former president of Capital Cities/ABC before it was bought by Disney. The younger Burke graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School then joined Disney in 1986 and founded Disney Stores, then served as president of Euro Disney. He kept rising and became ABC broadcasting president. But left 10 years ago to join Comcast, where Steve was the architect of the largest cable company’s 2004 hostile takeover attempt of Disney. (Burke’s loathing of FrankenEisner was an open secret.) I recall that, during the Mouse House bid, Burke pledged to return Disney’s … Read More »

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