November 29, 2021

Zalaznick, Once a Programming Force at NBCUniversal, Is Leaving

Lauren Zalaznick, whose leadership at Bravo turned that cable network into a lucrative asset for its parent, NBCUniversal, is leaving the company, Steve Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, told the staff in a memo released on Friday.

Because Ms. Zalaznick had already been moved away from control of Bravo and several other divisions she had led, including Oxygen, the Style network and Telemundo, to an amorphous position overseeing new business opportunities, mainly on the digital side, her departure was not seen as surprise inside the company.

NBC’s decision to release the news not in an official announcement but rather through a memo — and on a Friday afternoon — signaled the company’s desire to simply move on without calling undue attention to Ms. Zalaznick’s departure.

In his memo, Mr. Burke merely mentioned Ms. Zalaznick’s leaving and praised her contributions. No reason for her departure was included. But longtime NBC executives — who insisted on not being identified because the memo was intended to be the only company comment on the move — suggested that the departure was a result of an internal power struggle with NBCUniversal’s other top cable entertainment executive, Bonnie Hammer.

In February, Mr. Burke promoted Ms. Hammer to a position overseeing all NBC cable entertainment properties, including those previously led by Ms. Zalaznick.

The new role assigned to Ms. Zalaznick never seemed a perfect fit, several executives who worked with her said, because her strengths were on the operational side of the business, running entertainment networks, with an emphasis on quirky, creative ideas.

Those served her extremely well at Bravo, which she turned into a center for pop-culture programming, identifying and marketing hits like “Project Runway,” “Top Chef” and the many iterations of “Real Housewives.”

Ms. Zalaznick offered no comment. Nor was any mention made of her specific plans for the future. But one senior NBC executive, who has worked with Ms. Zalaznick, described her as upbeat about future moves. “She will pop up somewhere,” the executive said. “And it will be in an operational job that has something to do with pop culture. That’s where she shines.”

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Hubert Burda Media Blazes a Digital Trail

The German publisher of the magazine, Hubert Burda Media, takes a similarly practical approach to its own business. While there is plenty of fashionable talk in the publishing industry about the digital future, Burda has already stitched together a strong Internet arm.

Burda, which publishes more than 250 magazines worldwide, including the German editions of Elle, InStyle and Playboy, reported last week that its sales had surged 12.6 percent last year. And while the company is still best known for print publications like the German newsweekly Focus and the celebrity magazine Bunte, digital sources account for fully half its revenue.

Unlike many publishers that have tried to build digital units on the back of existing brands, Burda has looked to new businesses, many which were started from scratch or added through acquisitions, and some of which are far removed from the company’s traditional line of work. Those include social networking, Internet dating, travel reviews and even cat food — sold online, of course.

“We think differently about our value proposition,” Paul-Bernhard Kallen, chief executive of Burda, said during an interview at a technology conference the company convened in Munich last week. “You can’t take your existing properties online, but you can take a way of thinking online.”

That way of thinking was set out by the company’s namesake, who ran Burda from the late 1980s, when he prevailed in a power struggle against two brothers, until 2010, when he retired at the age of 69. Hubert Burda has handed over day-to-day control to Mr. Kallen, a former McKinsey Co. consultant and chief financial officer, and has handed stakes in the business to two of his children, who are in their 20s, but keeps a watchful eye over the business.

Mr. Burda is a regular at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was trained as an art historian and is married to one of the best-known actresses in Germany, Maria Furtwängler. He brought his eclectic interests and cosmopolitan flair to a family-owned printing business that was long based in the provincial town of Offenburg, in southwestern Germany.

Offenburg is far from the catwalks of Milan or Paris, and magazines like Burda Style, formerly known in Germany as Burda Moden, are steeped in the stolid, thrifty values of small-town Germany. Burda may have its roots in knitting, but Hubert Burda did not stick to it. He was an early believer in the Internet, investing in Europe Online, a European version of America Online, in the early 1990s. That venture failed, but subsequent Burda Internet investments have done better.

“They created business models and did pioneering stuff that others didn’t think of,” said Steffen Burkhardt, a media researcher at the University of Hamburg. “They understood that in order to generate revenue for their journalism, they needed to have something to sell.”

Like other publishers, Burda operates Web sites linked to its print titles. But in Burda’s portfolio, those play a secondary role. The real money is in new sites that often do, indeed, have something to sell.

Take Zooplus, a Web site about pets. Zooplus lets people post pictures of their puppies or seek advice about a vet. It also lets them buy dog food or cat litter — and Germans have been doing so in droves. In 2011, Zooplus generated €245 million in sales, a sizable chunk of Burda’s €2.2 billion in total revenue.

“We are not shy about e-commerce,” Mr. Kallen said. “Our theory is, follow the consumer to the point of sale.”

Other Burda Internet businesses have a similarly commercial orientation. They include HolidayCheck, a competitor to TripAdvisor; Chip, a German gadget review site; and ElitePartner, an online dating service. Last year, Burda took a majority interest in Xing, a social network for professionals that has more members than LinkedIn does in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

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Debt Contagion Threatens Italy

But the contagion that started in the euro zone’s smaller countries is suddenly moving to some of its largest. As Greece teeters on the brink of a default, the game has changed: Investors are taking aim at any country suffering from a combination of high debt, slow growth and political dysfunction — and Italy has it all, in spades.

In recent days, Italy has become Europe’s next weak link after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, harmed in particular by a power struggle between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his finance minister, Giulio Tremonti. The dispute threatens to turn the euro zone’s third-largest economy, after Germany and France, into one of its biggest liabilities.

On Monday, the Italian government struggled to rein in the tensions, as fears rose that political paralysis could make it harder for Italy to embrace the austerity demanded by outsiders to reduce one of the highest debt levels in the world. European policy makers also sought to figure out how they would put out a bigger fire if Italy were to succumb.

Those jitters hit stock markets on Monday not just in Italy, where the major index fell nearly 4 percent, but across much of Europe as well, with the markets in France and Germany off more than 2 percent each. The United States was affected, too, with the Standard Poor’s 500-stock index down about 1.8 percent on European debt fears and worries about the showdown in Washington over raising the United States debt limit.

“Italy is too big to fail,” said Moisés Naím, a senior associate in the international economics program at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. “If Italy really gets hit by contagion because of political mismanagement, it would be a threat not only to the euro zone, but to the global economy.”

Political soap operas in Italy — especially those featuring Mr. Berlusconi — are nothing new. Nor do they usually matter much to financial markets, even after the debt crisis hit Europe. The widespread problems in Italy’s economy, which has been sluggish for the better part of a decade, also rang few alarm bells.

What’s more, Italy’s banks are sound; they never speculated in a housing bubble. The current annual budget deficit is low, at about 4.6 percent of gross domestic product. And while Italy issues the largest amount of bonds of any euro zone country, Italians own about half the debt, making it less vulnerable to the follies of financial markets.

But with interest rates rising, Italy’s economy is not growing fast enough to cover an accumulated debt load of 120 percent of gross domestic product, the second-highest in Europe, after Greece. The International Monetary Fund expects growth to pick up only slightly, to 1.3 percent in 2012.

In a sign of how quickly things have turned against the country, the stock market regulator imposed emergency rules on Monday against speculation after shares in Italian banks slumped for a fifth consecutive session. The cost of insuring Italy’s sovereign debt against default surged to a record high, and the interest on its 10-year bond leaped to a record 5.67 percent.

While that is still well below what Greece pays, analysts say Italy will have serious problems if its borrowing costs exceed 6 percent.

“Italy is a banana republic that didn’t depend so much on foreign capital in the past, but now it does, and markets are less forgiving,” said Daniel Gros, the director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. “Italy is in the danger zone; that is quite clear now.”

Italy tends to function best in crisis management mode, analysts say, and Mr. Berlusconi has begun to acknowledge the seriousness of the dangers facing the country after a phone conversation with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Sunday.

Today, Mr. Berlusconi “understands the risks objectively because the situation is dramatic,” said Stefano Folli, the chief political columnist for the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

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