September 21, 2021

Investors Wary of Alliance Talk for Peugeot

It would not, investors seemed to have decided Friday, as a rally in the shares of the French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën fizzled along with speculation about a stronger alliance with General Motors and its Opel unit.

According to such speculation, based on a report Thursday by Reuters, the Peugeot family was ready to cede control of the ailing French carmaker that bears its name. The family, which holds a 25.2 percent stake and about 38 percent of the voting rights in Peugeot, was prepared to give up control y if General Motors raised its stake from the 7 percent it already owned, Reuters reported.

Peugeot shares rose as much as 5.5 percent in Paris trading on Thursday based on the report, which also said that the Peugeot family had held talks with Dongfeng, a Chinese automaker. But Peugeot shares retreated on Friday after analysts said neither option was plausible. The shares were down about 3 percent Friday afternoon.

Neither Peugeot nor Opel, which uses the Vauxhall brand name in Britain, is selling enough cars to keep their factories busy. The plants, which cost money even when they are not being used, have contributed to large losses at both companies. In addition, Opel and Peugeot have suffered declining market share and are focused on the depressed European market, without enough sales in healthier regions like China to compensate.

“The business rationale doesn’t stack up,” said Paul Newton, an analyst at IHS Automotive, a market research firm. “They compete in all the same segments in the same markets.”

In both France, where Peugeot has most of its factories, and Germany, Opel’s home base, closing plants and laying off workers is extremely difficult because of labor laws as well as stubborn resistance from unions and political leaders.

“You’d really have to get to work and cut a lot of capacity,” Mr. Newton said. “It would be ugly really. I don’t know why they would want to do it.”

“There is no urgency about a capital increase,’’ a person close to the Peugeot family said, dismissing the reports of a G.M. or Chinese deal as “rumors.” The person, who asked not to be identified by name because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the automaker “is always talking with its American and Chinese partners” as part of its normal business.

“But,” the person said, “the Peugeot family is very attached to its history and its stake in the firm.”

General Motors, which reported a loss of $200 million in Europe for the first quarter of this year, said it had no interest in raising its investment.

“Our position remains unchanged: we have no intention of investing additional funds into PSA at this time,” G.M. said in a statement. “We will not comment on speculation.”

But the fact that such talk was taken seriously underscores the perilous situation Peugeot is facing in a European market that continues to shrink five years after the financial crisis hit.

Peugeot, which reported a 6.5 percent decline in sales in the first quarter after a loss of 1.5 billion euros in 2012, is not big enough to finance new products as well as its competitors can or enjoy the same volume discounts on parts.

The automaker also suffers from its dependence on the dismal European market. Car sales on the Continent fell in May to their lowest level in 20 years, and analysts say there is little hope for a turnaround in the foreseeable future.

In Europe, the French company trails only Volkswagen in unit sales. But a vast gulf separates the two companies globally, thanks largely to Volkswagen’s international footprint, including in China, which has become the German carmaker’s largest market.

Peugeot also continues to be outperformed by Renault, its smaller French rival, largely because of Renault’s global alliance with Nissan Motor. The alliance gives Renault international reach that Peugeot, despite big gains this year in China and Latin America, cannot match.

Jack Ewing reported from Frankfurt.

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Stocks Mostly Hold Firm

Stocks were mixed on Friday, lifted by a strong report on consumer sentiment but pulled down in late trading by what was said to be an internal report of weak Walmart sales at the start of February.

The Standard Poor’s 500-stock index fell in late trading, with Wal-Mart Stores leading the way down after the report on February sales, but the index remained higher for the week and extended its streak of weekly gains to seven. The last such run was from December 2010 to January 2011.

Equities were little changed for much of the session, with investors finding few reasons to make big bets after an extended rally on Wall Street.

Interest rates were steady. The Treasury’s benchmark 10-year note fell 2/32, to 99 31/32, and the yield rose to 2.01 percent from 2 percent late Thursday.

Wal-Mart Stores dropped 2.2 percent to $69.30 after Bloomberg News reported a weak start to February sales, citing internal company e-mails. The stock was the biggest decliner on the Dow Jones industrial average. The S. P. retail index fell 0.5 percent.

“When a retailer of this size comes out with this kind of lousy news, the whole market can fall off, especially on a Friday afternoon,” said Mike Shea, of Direct Access Partners in New York. “However, I’m not worried that this is indicative of any larger macro issue with retail.”

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 8.37 points, or 0.06 percent, at 13,981.76. The Standard Poor’s 500-stock index was down 1.59 points, or 0.1 percent, at 1,519.79. The Nasdaq composite index was down 6.63 points, or 0.21 percent, at 3,192.03.

For the week, the Dow and Nasdaq fell 0.1 percent each, while the S. P. rose 0.1 percent.

“There’s no news that suggests the strong underpinning for stocks isn’t appropriate,” said Mark D. Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. “We may have gotten ahead of ourselves, but there’s also an absence of bad news.”

Many investors are looking ahead to a debate in Washington over the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts put in place as part of a larger Congressional budget fight. The cuts are set to kick in on March 1 unless lawmakers agree to an alternative.

“This had been far enough out to not yet become an impediment for stocks, but it will start to move into the forefront,” Mr. Luschini said.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said manufacturing in New York State expanded for the first time in seven months. A preliminary Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan reading of consumer sentiment rose, beating expectations. But manufacturing fell in January.

Wall Street’s gains thus far in 2013 have been driven largely by strong corporate earnings. A surge in merger and acquisition activity, with more than $158 billion in deals announced so far in 2013, has given further support to the equity market as it points to healthy valuations and bets on the economic outlook.

Herbalife shares cut earlier gains to rise 1.2 percent on Friday, to $38.74. Late on Thursday, the billionaire investor Carl C. Icahn disclosed that he owned 13 percent of Herbalife and was ready to put it in play.

MeadWestvaco, a packaging company, climbed 12.5 percent to $35.65, making it the biggest percentage gainer on the S. P. index, after the activist investor Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management said it had bought about 1.6 million shares of the company.

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Media Decoder Blog: John Geddes, Managing Editor, Is Leaving The New York Times

John M. Geddes, left, with the executive editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson, and a fellow managing editor, Dean Baquet.Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times John M. Geddes, left, with the executive editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson, and a fellow managing editor, Dean Baquet.

2:37 p.m. | Updated John M. Geddes, a managing editor for The New York Times for the last decade and one of the top three editors at the paper, has decided to leave the company. In a note sent to the newsroom staff on Friday afternoon, Mr. Geddes said he was accepting a buyout package and would depart in several months after helping with transition on the newspaper’s masthead.

In his note, Mr. Geddes reflected on the many things he would miss about The Times, where he has worked for nearly two decades.

“After serving four executive editors, it is time for new horizons,” said Mr. Geddes in his announcement. He said would “ache for the vibrations that the newsroom gives off when a crisis erupts and we scramble” and would miss “hearing about a great story (or new ways to tell one).”

Mr. Geddes joined The Times in 1994 as its business editor and worked his way up the company’s editorial ranks. Before joining The Times, he had spent 13 years at The Wall Street Journal working in both New York and in Europe. He currently serves as one of two managing editors for The Times, along with Dean Baquet.

His departure comes as the paper undertakes a broader restructuring in the newsroom. Like many newspapers facing a troubled advertising market, The Times is trying to cut expenses; in December the paper offered buyout packages to nonunion staff members. It sought 30 volunteers, and said it would resort to layoffs if not enough employees opted for the buyout.

In recent months, The Times has also announced the departures of executives on the business side, including Robert Christie, senior vice president of corporate communications, and Scott Heekin-Canedy, president and general manager of The New York Times. Both of their positions have been eliminated with their departures.

Jill Abramson, the executive editor, said in a statement: “John Geddes is the consummate newsman with superb instincts for stories and people. We’ve been partners in the newsroom for nearly a decade. He has given his all to the Times for far longer than that. Most of all, I’ll miss his company.”

Here is Mr. Geddes’s memo to the staff:

A man walks out of a bar . . .

I’m moving on. I’ve arrived at that magical spot where a buyout offer miraculously appears and presents me with new opportunities. Yes, yes, I know everyone says you have to do this carefully and be armed with a plan, but I don’t have one – not yet.

Frankly, I blame this lack of personal preparedness on this place. I’ve always believed The New York Times works because it is, at heart, a collective of unique individuals bound together in pursuit of great journalism. We’re about the common goal, not about jostling one another for a place in a transitory spotlight. The mission is about us, not about me or you.

We know that our vaunted pedestal is really the achievement of those who came before us, and our chief charge is to build on their legacy. While our readers and our colleagues — you —are the ultimate jury, I’ve tried over the last 15 years on the masthead to do my best to help figure out how we marshal the resources to cover the news, develop one another’s talents and secure as firm a hold as we can on our digital future.

I’ve tried to do it with both brains and heart. You’ve deserved no less, and I’m going to miss you. I’ll ache for the vibrations that the newsroom gives off when a crisis erupts and we scramble. I’ll miss helping shape new sections, launching new apps, hearing about a great story (or new ways to tell one) and seeing you in the elevators, across the floor and at the New Faces parties at my apartment.
I got into this profession partly because I wanted a job without repetition, a chance to deal with something new each day. Geez, Louise, I got what I asked for. I’ve had fun, and even on the bad days couldn’t imagine not coming into work.

But after serving four executive editors, it is time for new horizons. Jill has asked me to delay my departure for a few months to help with the masthead transition. I’m happy to do that because it will give me time to say thanks to so many of you individually.

. . . and on his arm is a wonderful woman he met inside.
Best, John

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Media Decoder Blog: Royalties for Satellite Radio Set to Rise Steadily Through 2017

Digital Notes

Daily updates on the business of digital music.

Recorded music royalties are set to rise in coming years for Sirius XM Radio, the only satellite radio service in the United States, as a result of a judgment by a panel of federal judges.

The three-judge panel, known as the Copyright Royalty Board, said in a brief statement on Friday afternoon that the rate paid by satellite radio for the use of sound recordings, currently 8 percent of the company’s gross revenue, would climb to 9 percent in 2013, and then rise 0.5 percentage point each year until reaching 11 percent in 2017. That money will be paid to SoundExchange, a nonprofit group that distributes digital royalties to record labels and musicians.

The decision does not cover royalties to music publishers and songwriters, which are negotiated directly. It also does not cover rates for Internet radio, which are in place through 2015 and work under a different, per-stream model.

Sirius’s royalty rate, the subject of nearly two years of litigation, was widely expected to rise. The last time the Copyright Royalty Board set rates for satellite radio, in late 2007, Sirius and XM were still struggling as separate companies; they merged the next year and still nearly went bankrupt before getting a $530 million loan from Liberty Media in 2009.

In their 2007 decision, the judges set rates that rose from 6 percent to their current level of 8 percent. They noted then that 13 percent represented the upper end of the “zone of reasonableness” for such rates.

Since then, the merged Sirius XM has grown substantially and become profitable. It now has more than 23 million paying subscribers. In its most recent quarterly accounts, it reported that it was holding $556 million in cash.

Last year, the company had $3 billion in revenue.

For months, Liberty Media has been increasing its stake in Sirius with the intention of taking it over; it has nearly finished that process, which must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission since it involves the transfer of broadcast licenses. Mel Karmazin, Sirius’s chief executive, announced in October that he would leave the company early next year.

The news of the royalty rates was not widely publicized until well after the markets closed on Friday. Sirius closed for the day at $2.99, up nearly 7 percent.

A spokesman for Sirius did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for SoundExchange said late Friday afternoon that her organization was still reviewing the decision.

Ben Sisario writes about the music industry. Follow @sisario on Twitter.

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Media Decoder Blog: Online Protest of Bank Fees Gains Followers

Unhappy with the prospect of paying higher bank fees, Kristen Christian, a 27-year-old art gallery owner from Los Angeles, did more than complain to her 500 friends on Facebook. She organized a Facebook event for Saturday, Nov. 5. She called it Bank Transfer Day and urged people to move their money from large private banks to credit unions or somewhere else closer to home.

By Friday afternoon, more than 78,000 people had signed up to join her effort, which has gained worldwide attention and has been embraced by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On a new Facebook page called Bank Transfer Day, Ms. Christian, while acknowledging Occupy Wall Street’s enthusiasm for her idea, said the movement did not inspire her nor did it help her organize the campaign.

Protestors involved in the Occupy Movement have certainly helped spread the word, though. For more than a week, they have been urging supporters on their hundreds of Facebook and Twitter accounts across the country to join the effort and to also attend protests scheduled on Saturday outside some banks.

Ms. Christian said on Facebook that she was humbled by the huge response she had received for her idea, which was generated a few weeks ago.

“I believe that every dollar has the opportunity to make a difference on the local level in a banking structure that serves the community,” she said. “I work hard and live within my means. I am tired of funding the lavish lifestyles of a select few when I could be helping to create growth in my own local community.”

According to a new survey by the Credit Union National Association, more than 650,000 accounts have been opened at credit unions since Bank of America first announced a fee for debit cards on Sept. 29. Responding to an outpouring of complaints from customers, Bank of America said this week it was dropping its plan to charge a $5 fee for using debit cards for purchases.

Some credit unions are using Bank Transfer Day to attract even more new customers. On Long Island, three credit unions joined together and created a new Web site, Better Banking for Long Island, so that people could more easily find their offers for free checking accounts.

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DealBook: MF Global Securities Prices Plummet as Firm Races Toward a Sale

Shares and bonds of MF Global continued to tumble on Friday as the embattled commodities and derivatives brokerage firm raced to line up a sale of some or all of itself as soon as this weekend.

MF Global’s stock fell more than 4.5 percent by Friday afternoon, to $1.37, after having fallen below $1 earlier in the day. Meanwhile, the firm’s five-year bonds plummeted to 53.4 cents on the dollar, according to data from Trace.

And the prices of MF Global’s loans in the secondary market have also fallen, according to Reuters Loan Pricing Corporation. The firm’s extended revolving credit line maturing in 2013 has fallen to 60 to 65 cents on the dollar, while a non-extended revolver due next year has fallen to 65 to 70 cents on the dollar, the service said.

Analysts and financial industry players widely expect MF Global — which is run by Jon S. Corzine, the former Goldman Sachs chief and former New Jersey governor — to grasp for some sort of deal by the end of the weekend, after two major credit ratings agency’s downgraded the firm to junk status late on Thursday. With a credit rating that low, MF Global has likely lost clients and trading partners unwilling or unable to do business with such a low-rated brokerage.

At the same time, investors and clients were unnerved by news that the firm had tapped out its $1.3 billion revolving credit line to MF Global’s parent company. Doing so, however, helped bolster the firm’s liquidity position, at least for the moment.

Jon S. Corzine, the chief executive of MF Global, has tried to figure out ways to promote the firm's financial strengths.David Goldman for The New York TimesJon S. Corzine, the chief executive of MF Global, has tried to figure out ways to promote the firm’s financial strengths.

At the moment, MF Global is weighing a sale of its futures brokerage, known as its FCM unit, people briefed on the matter previously told DealBook. At the moment, it has identified approximately five potential buyers, one of these people said.

MF Global is exploring alternatives as well, including a possible sale of the entire firm.

“We believe MF could generate proceeds from sale of its customer asset portfolio or FCM which frees up capital,” Niamh Alexander, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette Woods, wrote in a research note on Friday. “However, we cannot quantify the cost of wind down or exiting broker positions that could offset those proceeds and wipe out equity.”

Unsurprisingly, many of Wall Street’s major players have considered making a bid for some or all of MF Global, although it is unclear whether they will actually enter talks or make an offer.

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S.& P. Downgrades Debt Rating of U.S. for the First Time

The company, one of three major agencies that offer advice to investors in debt securities, said it was cutting its rating of long-term federal debt to AA+, one notch below the top grade of AAA. It described the decision as a judgment about the nation’s leaders, writing that “the gulf between the political parties” had reduced its confidence in the government’s ability to manage its finances.

“The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenge,” the company said in a statement.

The Obama administration reacted with indignation, noting that the company had made a significant mathematical mistake in a document that it provided to the Treasury Department on Friday afternoon, overstating the federal debt by about $2 trillion.

“A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself,” a Treasury spokeswoman said.

The downgrade could lead investors to demand higher interest rates from the federal government and other borrowers, raising costs for governments, businesses and home buyers. But many analysts say the impact could be modest, in part because the other ratings agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, have decided not to downgrade the government at this time.

The announcement came after markets closed for the weekend, but there was no evidence of any immediate disruption. A spokesman for the Federal Reserve said the decision would not affect the ability of banks to borrow money by pledging government debt as collateral, a statement that could set the tone for the reaction of the broader market.

S. P. had prepared investors for the downgrade announcement with a series of warnings earlier this year that it would act if Congress did not agree to increase the government’s borrowing limit and adopt a long-term plan for reducing its debts by at least $4 trillion over the next decade.

Earlier this week, President Obama signed into law a Congressional compromise that raised the debt ceiling but reduced the debt by at least $2.1 trillion.

On Friday, the company notified the Treasury that it planned to issue a downgrade after the markets closed, and sent the department a copy of the announcement, which is a standard procedure.

A Treasury staff member noticed the $2 trillion mistake within the hour, according to a department official. The Treasury called the company and explained the problem. About an hour later, the company conceded the problem but did not indicate how it planned to proceed, the official said. Hours later, S. P. issued a revised release with new numbers but the same conclusion.

In a statement early Saturday morning, Standard Poor’s said the difference could be attributed to a “change in assumptions” in its methodology but that it had “no impact on the rating decision.”

In a release on Friday announcing the downgrade, it warned that the government still needed to make progress in paying its debts to avoid further downgrades.

“The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics,” it said.

The credit rating agencies have been trying to restore their credibility after missteps leading to the financial crisis. A Congressional panel called them “essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction” after their wildly optimistic models led them to give top-flight reviews to complex mortgage securities that later collapsed. A downgrade of federal debt is the kind of controversial decision that critics have sometimes said the agencies are unwilling to make.

Eric Dash contributed reporting from New York.

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Media Decoder: Elisabeth Murdoch Won’t Be Nominated to Board This Year

In a change to her father’s plans, Elisabeth Murdoch will not be nominated this year to the board of the News Corporation, a member of the board said Friday.

The News Corporation is scrambling to contain the damage from a British hacking scandal that has inspired shareholder complaints about the company’s corporate governance. Two of Rupert Murdoch’s six children, Lachlan and James, sit on the board of the News Corporation alongside him. When Mr. Murdoch acquired Ms. Murdoch’s company, the Shine Group, in February for $674 million, he said that he expected her to join them.

The News Corporation board includes 16 directors, nine of whom are considered independent, though some of the nine have longstanding ties to the company. One of the nine, Viet Dinh, who is chairman of the board’s corporate governance committee, said Friday that Ms. Murdoch had suggested to the independent directors “some weeks ago” that “she felt it would be inappropriate to include her nomination to the board” at the company’s annual general meeting, which will take place in October.

“The independent directors agreed that the previously planned nomination should be delayed,” Mr. Dinh said in a statement that was distributed by the News Corporation.

The change was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Friday afternoon. A spokeswoman for Mr. Murdoch said he declined to comment. A spokesman for Ms. Murdoch did not immediately respond.

The News Corporation’s purchase of Shine set off a lawsuit last spring on behalf of some shareholders. The suit, filed by Amalgamated Bank, asserted that Mr. Murdoch had historically operated his company “as his own private fiefdom with little or no effective oversight from the board.” The News Corporation has moved to dismiss the suit.

The board came under more attention this summer as new claims of hacking by a News Corporation newspaper, The News of the World, were exposed in Britain. The board is expected to meet next Tuesday; the News Corporation will release its quarterly earnings on Wednesday.

Mr. Dinh’s statement on Friday about Ms. Murdoch concluded, “Both Elisabeth and the Board hope this decision reaffirms that News Corp aspires to the highest standards of corporate governance and will continue to act in the best interests of all stakeholders, be they shareholders, employees or the billions of consumers who News Corp content informs, entertains and sometimes provokes every year.”

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Media Decoder: Christina Norman Dismissed as Chief of OWN

OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network Christina Norman, left, with Oprah Winfrey and David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Communications, celebrating the start of OWN on Jan. 1, 2011. Ms. Norman is exiting the channel.

2:10 p.m. | Updated | In an admission of dissatisfaction with the ratings for the 4-month-old OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, the head of that channel, Christina Norman, has been dismissed, the channel said Friday.

Effective immediately, Peter Liguori, the chief operating officer for Discovery Communications, will take over the channel on an interim basis, through the rest of the year, if not longer.

Discovery and Ms. Winfrey jointly own and operate OWN. The decision to dismiss Ms. Norman was made by the board that oversees OWN in the last few weeks, according to a person with direct knowledge of the decision.

The shakeup comes amid disappointment at Discovery and at OWN about low ratings for most of its programming. On a total day basis, OWN is barely outperforming the channel it replaced, Discovery Health, despite hundreds of million of dollars of investment.

David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Communications, acknowledged last week that the channel has had a “slower start” than expected.

In an e-mail message to the staff at OWN on Friday, Ms. Winfrey said that Ms. Norman’s “hard work, passion and leadership were instrumental in getting OWN on the air,” but added, “Given all that we have to do, the OWN Board felt it was necessary that we have a different kind of leadership in place for the next phase of OWN’s growth.”

Before becoming the Discovery COO in 2009, Mr. Liguori was the president of entertainment for the Fox Broadcasting Company.

Mr. Liguori said in an interview Friday afternoon that “this a natural transformational moment” for OWN.

He said he would apply the lessons of the last four months to new programming going forward. One lesson, he said, has been that straightforward how-to shows and darker subject matter don’t work as well as shows that are more clearly entertaining. Going forward, he said, “I think you’re gonna see more joy on the network.”

“Every single one of Oprah’s shows should be purposeful,” he emphasized. “But the price of entry for that purpose — that show’s intent, its message, its takeaway — is that you are entertained.”

Asked to elaborate, he said, “It’s going to be compelling characters, storytelling with stakes, and then at the end of the show, you realize you have learned either some moral or practical lesson.”

Ms. Norman did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. She was the second chief executive of OWN, having taken over in January 2009 while the channel was trying — and at times struggling — to start up.

While Ms. Winfrey provided the live-your-best-life vision for the channel, it was Ms. Norman, a former president of MTV, who executed on that vision. She said in a prepared statement Friday, “As I move on to my next challenge, I am confident the strong foundation we have built will position the network to achieve great things.”

OWN is being closely watched in the television industry because it bears Oprah’s imprimatur and because steering viewers to a new channel is almost always a struggle. Adding to that struggle, Ms. Winfrey is not regularly appearing on the channel yet because she is busy winding down her syndicated talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The final episode of the talk show will be shown on May 25.

Citing the end date, Ms. Winfrey wrote in her e-mail message, “I will soon be able to turn my full energies to working with you all.” She added, “I remain confident that the vision/mission that we established for OWN will be achieved — and we will do it together — as a team.”

OWN executives had planned to start Ms. Winfrey’s next show, called “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” sometime in the fall. But Mr. Liguori said Friday that the start date would now in January 2012. She will taking a vacation after her syndicated show ends, he said, and then turning her attention to what exactly she wants “Next Chapter” to be.

“Big ideas, especially one from Oprah, shouldn’t be microwaved, they should be slow-baked,” he said.

Despite the ratings shortfalls, OWN is expected to be profitable in its first year. Mr. Zaslav reiterated last week that Discovery is “fully committed to the brand.”

“As we said in the beginning, it’s a long-term play building a channel,” he said.

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