July 6, 2022

Bonnie Hammer, the Woman Who Saves Cable Networks

But looking at the first day of shooting “Taken,” an alien abduction series with what then was the outrageous budget of $40 million, she knew the lead child actress was not strong enough. She pushed the show’s studio, Dreamworks, and its renowned producer, Steven Spielberg, for a different actress.

Her choice: the 10-year-old Dakota Fanning.

“Taken” vaulted the fledgling network to the No. 1 spot in cable ratings for two weeks, an early sign of Ms. Hammer’s astute programming instincts and of a quality her mentor, Barry Diller, called “a steely resolve.”

A decade later, Ms. Hammer has ridden that resolve and those instincts to a position of enormous influence and financial power in cable television. If cable is king, Ms. Hammer, chairwoman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, is cable’s queen and, since the departure of Judy McGrath from Viacom last May, possibly its most important executive.

Her ever-expanding collection of assets, including USA Network, the renamed Syfy, the E Entertainment channel, and the G4 network, as well as a nascent but growing television production studio, were the linchpin of Comcast’s $30 billion takeover of NBC Universal in 2009.

Published reports have estimated the annual profit for those assets at close to $2 billion. Stephen B. Burke, the NBCUniversal chief executive, said the figure was slightly lower, but he acknowledged that Ms. Hammer’s portfolio supplied “the biggest part” of the company’s overall revenue — far bigger than the Universal movie studio and the faltering NBC broadcast network.

USA has been the flagship of Ms. Hammer’s success, having finished as the top-rated channel in cable for 22 consecutive quarters. Under her, Syfy has also become a top-10 cable channel. (Mr. Diller said Ms. Hammer had turned what was a $50 million to $70 million annual profit for Syfy into $500 million a year).

Mr. Diller, now the IAC/InterActiveCorp chairman, said in a telephone interview, “The only person in cable programming who has done a job almost as good as Bonnie has done is Roger Ailes at the Fox Network. They are the only two people who are actually responsible for the success of their ventures.”

Mr. Diller said that when Vivendi sold the assets of Universal to NBC in 2004, the value set for USA and Syfy was $12 billion. “I said at the time, we can’t get any more value out of it,” Mr. Diller said. “I was that wrong.” He said since then he had realized “we underpriced it by $7 billion, for sure.” The difference, Mr. Diller said “is all Bonnie.”

Ms. Hammer now is turning her attention to another cable property, hoping to move the 15th-ranked E, over which she gained control after Comcast acquired NBCUniversal, into the same rarefied ratings territory as USA and Syfy.

“E has the possibility of growing exponentially, and yes I believe it could be a top 10 network,” Ms. Hammer said in an interview in her office at 30 Rockefeller Center. It is a prediction the rest of the cable business should probably take seriously. “She is a very, very determined person,” Mr. Burke said. “She is one of the most competitive business people I have ever met.”

Ms. Hammer, 61, started as a producer for the public television station WGBH in Boston, where, in an edit room, she noticed that the host of a do-it-yourself show seemed far less charismatic than the owner of the house being profiled in the show — and that was the beginning of Bob Vila’s television career.

She hit her stride in the 1980s, initially at Lifetime and then at USA, where she made her first big impression wrangling Vince McMahon and his unruly wrestling franchise, the WWF (now WWE).

“She just came in and rolled up her sleeves,” Mr. McMahon said. “She taught us a lot about network quality writing, story arcs, character development. She really helped the overall brand.”

Ms. Hammer decided that the heavy sports emphasis of the wrestling program limited its audience. “I thought it should be male soap opera,” she said.

Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal represented Ms. Hammer’s sixth management transition. Her retention was never in doubt. The old NBC regime, under General Electric, had long cited USA as NBCUniversal’s most prized asset, and tried to keep her happy — to a point.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=5211aab80e7282e51c0061b7a0eaef83

DealBook: Expedia Plans to Split Into Two

Expedia, the online travel company, said on Thursday that it would split into two companies, with its TripAdvisor business becoming a separate business.

The company said it either spin off TripAdvisor to shareholders or would reclassify Expedia’s stock. A spin-off, if approved, is expected to be completed in the third quarter.

Shares of Expedia surged in after-hours trading. But the credit-ratings agency Standard Poor’s warned that it might cut Expedia’s ratings as a result. “The transaction could raise Expedia’s adjusted debt leverage to mid-2x, assuming all existing debt remains in place at Expedia,” Andy Liu, a credit analyst with S.P., said in a statement. Expedia has more than $1.6 billion in debt, according to Capital IQ.

Expedia was spun off from IAC/InterActiveCorp, the Internet conglomerate, in 2005. Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC, is also chairman of Expedia.

In December, Mr. Diller and John C. Malone of Liberty Media reached an agreement to separate their mutual interests, with Liberty giving up its voting stake in IAC for cash and two business units. But Mr. Diller and Mr. Malone remained intertwined at Expedia, in which Liberty holds a 17.6 percent stake.

The company’s statement announcing the split said that “it is expected that Expedia’s dual-class equity capital structure and the governance arrangements between Barry Diller and Liberty Media will be mirrored at TripAdvisor following the transaction.”

The announcement comes a week after Expedia resolved a dispute with American Airlines that had kept the airline’s fares and schedules off Expedia’s Web sites.

Expedia also owns Hotels.com and Hotwire. It has a market value of $6.2 billion. TripAdvisor Media Network accounts for about 11 percent of the company’s annual revenue, according to Thomson Reuters.

Corporate splits have been nearly as active as acquisitions in recent months. Expedia’s plan follows announcements by ITT, Fortune Brands, Marathon Oil and Sara Lee to divide their businesses.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=5f536d0054e47c57e5e616257d145ce1