The Weather Channel faces “severe operational and credit ramifications” if it can’t reach a deal with DirecTV to bring it back to the satellite company’s 20M subscribers, Moody’s Investors Service says today. The channel went dark this week on the No. 1 satellite service. The bond rating firm isn’t worried yet, saying that “there is a good chance that both parties will eventually renew the contract in order to avoid customer dissatisfaction and churn.” But TWC had better watch out. Its debt burden sharply increased last year when it borrowed $600M to pay a dividend to its owners — NBCUniversal, Bain Capital Partners, and Blackstone Management Partners. Moody’s said at the time that the borrowing seemed to indicate that “NBCU is comfortable with high leverage at [TWC], and signals that it does not view [TWC] as a strategic core-asset, but as an opportunistic investment.” Although it said that TWC generates enough cash to pay down the debt quickly, it expected the company to “either make acquisitions or build capacity for future dividend payments.” That’s why the DirecTV dispute is worrisome. Revenues from TV ad sales and distributor fees account for as much as 60% of TWC’s sales, Moody’s estimates — and without DirecTV the top line number could decline “in the mid single to low double digit range.” That could trouble debt owners: TWC is “weakly positioned” in Moody’s rating of B1, which indicates its belief that its debt too risky for many investors.
ABC’s ratings leader Good Morning America muddled through its first morning after news broke of the first successful raid on its popular on-air team. Weatherman Sam Champion is leaving tomorrow, to become managing editor, a producer, and anchor of a new flagship morning show at The Weather Channel. Not coincidentally, Weather Channel is co-owned by NBC, whose Today show is now regularly getting whomped by GMA, after monopolizing the daypart for years. “Cold weather set to hit even LA and Phoenix — one of many reasons to welcome Sam here right at the start,” George Stephanopoulos said awkwardly at the top of this morning’s GMA broadcast.
“You made headlines yesterday — you were off, but you were not resting,” added Robin Roberts, addressing Champion. “We are so excited for you — a big new adventure for you with your new job at The Weather Channel,” she said. Champion’s GMA colleagues seemed somewhat constrained and sticking-to-script-ish at the top of the broadcast – the news coming as it does while Roberts, as well as Josh Elliott and Lara Spencer also are in contract negotiations with ABC.
“It is hard to step out and make a change — I’m so proud and you’re setting an example for so many of us,” Roberts said (ominously we think, if you’re an ABC News exec), later in the program, as the GMA gang sat around and gabbed about Champion’s new gig. “We want to sometimes try something different — it would have been easy to stay; we know you love us and we love you. But to do this, that lets us know this is what you’re meant to do.”
Kevin Bennett has been named SVP Programming and Research, ID, Military Channel and Planet Green. It marks Bennett’s return to ID, aka Investigation Discovery, which he helped launch four years ago. His hire is part of a new management structure in which Bennett will lead a newly centralized programming, scheduling and research division across the three brands and will oversee development for ID.
Tom Huffman, formerly of Shed Media, has joined VH1 as VP Original Programming. He will step into to the network executive producer role for VH1′s Basketball Wives, which he developed and originally pitched to VH1 in 2009 when he was at Shed.
With Coast Guard Alaska debuting November 9, the Weather Channel has greenlighted another “guard” reality series, Lifeguard! Premiering in February, the 13-epiosde half-hour docudrama, produced by LMNO Prods, follows the men and women who guard the 150 miles of California coastline.
Alaska continues to be a popular setting for cable reality series. Following TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska and History’s taxidermy-themed Mounted In Alaska comes Coast Guard Alaska, a new Weather Channel reality series produced by Al Roker. It is exactly what the title suggests.
TLC has renewed Say Yes To The Dress: …