May 18, 2022

Media Decoder Blog: Comcast Buys Rest of NBC in Early Sale

The G.E. sign was not lit hours after Comcast's purchase announcement. The G.E. sign was not lit hours after Comcast’s purchase announcement.

8:53 p.m. | Updated Comcast gave NBCUniversal a $16.7 billion vote of confidence on Tuesday, agreeing to pay that sum to acquire General Electric’s remaining 49 percent stake in the entertainment company. The deal accelerated a sales process that was expected to take several more years.

Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast, said the acquisition, which will be completed by the end of March, underscored a commitment to NBCUniversal and its highly profitable cable channels, expanding theme parks and the resurgent NBC broadcast network.

“We always thought it was a strong possibility that we’d some day own 100 percent,” Mr. Roberts said in a telephone interview.

He added that the rapidly changing television business and the growing necessity of owning content as well as the delivery systems sped up the decision. “It’s been a very smooth couple of years, and the content continues to get more valuable with new revenue streams,” he said.

Comcast also said that NBCUniversal would buy the NBC studios and offices at 30 Rockefeller Center, as well as the CNBC headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Those transactions will cost about $1.4 billion.

Mr. Roberts called the 30 Rockefeller Center offices “iconic” and said it would have been “expensive to replicate” studios elsewhere for the “Today” show, “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and other programs produced there. “We’re proud to be associated with it,” Mr. Roberts said of the building.

With the office space comes naming rights for the building, according to a General Electric spokeswoman. So it is possible that one of New York’s most famous landmarks, with its giant red G.E. sign, could soon be displaying a Comcast sign instead.

When asked about a possible logo swap on the building, owned by Tishman Speyer, Mr. Roberts told CNBC, that is “not something we’re focused on talking about today.” Nevertheless, the sale was visible in a prominent way Tuesday night: the G.E. letters, which have adorned the top of 30 Rock for several decades, were not illuminated for an hour after sunset. But the lights flickered back on later in the evening.

Comcast, with a conservative, low-profile culture, had clashed with the G.E. approach, according to employees and executives in television. Comcast moved NBCUniversal’s executive offices from the 52nd floor to the 51st floor — less opulent space that features smaller executive offices and a cozy communal coffee room instead of General Electric’s lavish executive dining room.

Comcast took control of NBCUniversal in early 2011 by acquiring 51 percent of the media company from General Electric. The structure of the deal gave Comcast the option of buying out G.E. in a three-and-a-half to seven-year time frame. In part because of the clash in corporate cultures, television executives said, both sides were eager to accelerate the sale.

Price was also a factor. Mr. Roberts said he believed the stake would have cost more had Comcast waited. Also, he pointed to the company’s strong fourth-quarter earnings to be released late Tuesday afternoon, which put it in a strong position to complete the sale.

Comcast reported a near record-breaking year with $20 billion in operating cash flow in the fiscal year 2012. In the three months that ended Dec. 31, Comcast’s cash flow increased 7.3 percent to $5.3 billion. Revenue at NBCUniversal grew 4.8 percent to $6 billion.

“We’ve had two years to make the transition and to make the investments that we believe will continue to take off,” Mr. Roberts said.

The transactions with General Electric will be largely financed with $11.4 billion of cash on hand, $4 billion of subsidiary senior unsecured notes to be issued to G.E. and a $2 billion in borrowings.

Even with the investment in NBCUniversal, Comcast said it would increase its dividend by 20 percent to 78 cents a share and buy back $2 billion in stock in 2013.

When it acquired the 51 percent stake two years ago, Comcast committed to paying about $6.5 billion in cash and contributed all of its cable channels, including E! and some regional sports networks, to the newly established NBCUniversal joint venture. Those channels were valued at $7.25 billion.

The transaction made Comcast, the single biggest cable provider in the United States, one of the biggest owners of cable channels, too. NBCUniversal operates the NBC broadcast network, 10 local NBC stations, USA, Bravo, Syfy, E!, MSNBC, CNBC, the NBC Sports Network, Telemundo, Universal Pictures, Universal Studios, and a long list of other media brands.

Mr. Roberts and Michael J. Angelakis, vice chairman and chief financial officer for the Comcast Corporation, led the negotiations that began last year with Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, and Keith Sharon, the company’s chief financial officer. JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Centerview Partners and CBRE provided financial and strategic advice.

The sale ends a long relationship between General Electric and NBC that goes back before the founding days of television. In 1926, the Radio Corporation of America created the NBC network. General Electric owned R.C.A. until 1930. It regained control of R.C.A., including NBC, in 1986, in a deal worth $6.4 billion at the time.

In a slide show on the company’s “GE Reports” Web site titled “It’s a Wrap: GE, NBC Part Ways, Together They’ve Changed History,” G.E. said the deal with Comcast “caps a historic, centurylong journey for the two companies that gave birth to modern home entertainment.”

Mr. Immelt has said that NBCUniversal did not mesh with G.E.’s core industrial businesses. That became even more apparent when the company became a minority stakeholder with no control over how the business was run, according to a person briefed on G.E.’s thinking who could not discuss private conversations publicly.

“By adding significant new capital to our balanced capital allocation plan, we can accelerate our share buyback plans while investing in growth in our core businesses,” Mr. Immelt said in a statement. He added: “For nearly 30 years, NBC — and later NBCUniversal — has been a great business for G.E. and our investors.”

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Media Decoder Blog: In Wake of Restructuring, NBC News President Quits

Steve Capus, right, with Pat Fili-Krushel, told employees in an e-mail that it was an “extremely difficult decision to walk away.”Charles Sykes/NBC Steve Capus, right, with Pat Fili-Krushel, told employees in an e-mail that it was an “extremely difficult decision to walk away.”

8:30 p.m. | Updated

The longest-serving president of any of the three network news divisions, Steve Capus of NBC News, stepped down from his position on Friday, six months after Comcast restructured its news units in a way that diminished his authority.

Pat Fili-Krushel, chairwoman of the NBCUniversal News Group, said in a brief telephone interview on Friday that she would “cast a wide net” while searching for a successor to Mr. Capus. In the interim, the leaders of the news division will report directly to her.

Ms. Fili-Krushel became Mr. Capus’s boss last July when Steve Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, consolidated all of NBC’s news units — NBC News, the cable news channels MSNBC and CNBC, and its stake in the Weather Channel — under a new umbrella, the NBCUniversal News Group. Mr. Burke asked Ms. Fili-Krushel, one of his most trusted lieutenants, to run it, while keeping Mr. Capus and the heads of the other units in place.

Ms. Fili-Krushel worked early in her career at HBO and Lifetime. A veteran of the Walt Disney Company, where she helped program ABC, and  Time Warner, where she was an administrator, she is by her own admission not a journalist.  But now she is, by default, the highest-ranking woman in the American television news industry — not just at the moment, but in the history of the medium. The heads of the news divisions at ABC and CBS are men, as are the heads of the Fox News Channel, CNN, and Bloomberg.

Ms. Fili-Krushel has kept a low public profile, but has been a forceful presence behind the scenes, recently moving from her office on the 51st floor of 30 Rockefeller Center, near Mr. Burke’s, to a new one on the third floor, where NBC News is based. On Friday, she said she had spent her first six months “learning, listening and getting to know the players here.” She called the News Group an “unbelievably strong organization.”

Though Mr. Capus’s exit saddened many at NBC News on Friday, it came as little surprise. He had previously reported directly to Mr. Burke, but after the restructuring he reported to Ms. Fili-Krushel, and he made no secret of his unhappiness with the change. His contract had a clause that allowed him to leave in the event that he no longer reported to Mr. Burke, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement at NBC, and he decided to exercise that right after months of contemplation. The people insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized by the network to speak publicly.

Mr. Capus told Ms. Fili-Krushel of his intent to leave last Friday. It is likely that he would have left sooner, but a series of major news stories kept him busy late last year — including Hurricane Sandy, the presidential election and the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Mr. Capus also oversaw the network’s response to the kidnapping of Richard Engel and an NBC News crew in Syria last month.

“It has been a privilege to have spent two decades here, but it is now time to head in a new direction,” he wrote in an e-mail to staff members on Friday afternoon.

Mr. Capus guided NBC through a revolutionary time in news-gathering and distribution. He maintained the news division’s profitability, managed tensions between NBC News and its increasingly liberal cable channel MSNBC, and fostered new business ventures like an in-house production company and an annual education summit. Last year, he unwound an old deal with Microsoft to give the news division complete control over its Web site, now named, for the first time.

Ms. Fili-Krushel wrote in a separate e-mail to staff members that “NBC News is America’s leading source of television news and Steve has been a big part of that success.”

NBC News is the producer of the most popular evening newscast in the country. But its single biggest source of profits, the morning show “Today,” fell to second place last year, behind ABC’s “Good Morning America,” for the first time since the 1990s. The decline caused widespread anxiety inside the news division and speculation that Mr. Capus would be relieved of his duties.

Inside NBC, both Mr. Capus and the executive producer of “Today,” Jim Bell, received much of the blame for the botched removal of Ann Curry from “Today” last June, which worsened the show’s already tenuous position in the ratings. Ms. Fili-Krushel was put in charge just a few weeks later.

Mr. Bell was replaced at “Today” last fall and is now the executive producer for NBC Olympics. Savannah Guthrie is now the co-host of “Today,” and Ms. Curry is a national and international correspondent for the network, but is rarely seen. Mr. Capus’s exit was seen by some at the network as the last shoe that had to drop.

In his e-mail to staff members, Mr. Capus called it an “extremely difficult decision to walk away,” noting that he started at NBC as a producer 20 years ago this month. He did not make any mention of what he would do next. “Journalism is, indeed, a noble calling, and I have much I hope to accomplish in the next phase of my career,” he wrote.

“Today” continues to lose to ABC’s “Good Morning America” among total viewers, but lately it has won a few weeks in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic that advertisers covet.

“NBC Nightly News” has more successfully fended off ABC’s “World News,” despite an aggressive push by ABC. Mr. Capus said, “NBC News has grown in all key metrics — from ratings and reputation to profitability.”

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Time Warner, Trying to Trim Its Excesses, Goes Back to Basics

To him, the company’s corporate headquarters in the gleaming towers of the Time Warner Center is an “indulgence,” a giant reminder of past mistakes made by one of the world’s largest media companies. “There was a burgeoning overhead reaching $500 million a year, including this edifice you’re sitting in,” Mr. Bewkes said.

Time Warner, one of New York City’s largest commercial tenants, is now studying how to consolidate most of its four million square feet of office space. That probably means finding a new headquarters in a less expensive part of Manhattan and vacating the Time Warner Center, the Time Life building at Rockefeller Center and many of its remaining 13 New York-area buildings. The company estimated that cutting back on its real estate footprint could save as much as $150 million a year.

The real estate moves are part of a larger effort to slim down a company that many investors say they believe became bloated during the acquisition frenzy of the last decade, when media companies raced to acquire expensive Internet companies. The failure of the 2000 AOL-Time Warner merger, widely considered one of the worst corporate marriages of all time, and other debacles like News Corporation’s $545 million loss on MySpace, have motivated companies to rebalance.

“For every action there’s an equal or opposite reaction,” said Benjamin Swinburne, an analyst with Morgan Stanley. “The conglomerate-building of the 2000s, which peaked with AOL-Time Warner, well, this is the reaction.”

Barry M. Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Warner Brothers, said the trend toward major corporate expansion pushed companies “to tack on new businesses that were kind of adjacent.” That strategy, he said, “defused efforts rather than focusing them.”

These lessons have taken hold under Mr. Bewkes at Time Warner, which owns Time Inc.; HBO; Turner Broadcasting stations like CNN, TNT and TBS; and the Warner Brothers studio. The company will also consolidate shared services like human resources and information technology. Some departments will be relocated to other parts of the New York area and states like Florida that offer tax incentives.

The cost-reduction measures are expected to save $500 million annually starting in the next several years, and are meant to help Time Warner afford a bigger investment in content — the television shows, movies, sports and news that drive revenue. Spending on content has jumped 7 percent annually since 2008 as Time Warner has shed costs in other areas, the company said.

“The idea is to take money being spent on insignificant things out and put it into significant things which are programming, journalism and digital translations of our products,” Mr. Bewkes said.

On Wednesday, Time Warner will release its third-quarter profits. In the second quarter, which ended in August, the company reported its highest growth rate since 2007 and revised earnings up slightly for the year.

The slimming down at big media companies is partly a matter of survival. In recent years, fast-growing Internet companies like Groupon, Facebook and Netflix, recent bumps notwithstanding, have made old media companies seem stodgy and oversize, and with sagging stock prices to prove it. Costly mistakes have compounded the problem and accelerated the desire to shed assets that are not core to their businesses.

Mr. Bewkes took over Time Warner in 2008 and the next year spun off Time Warner Cable. Also in 2009, he completed the spinoff of AOL and vowed to make Time Warner a purely content-driven company. He dissolved NewLine, the 40-year-old movie production company, into Warner Brothers, which resulted in roughly 600 layoffs. In 2003, as chairman of Time Warner’s entertainment and networks group, Mr. Bewkes brokered the $2.6 billion sale of the Warner Music Group.

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Media Decoder: MSNBC’s Chris Licht to Join CBS News

11:52 a.m. | Updated | Chris Licht, the behind-the-scenes member of the “Morning Joe” band, is leaving MSNBC and becoming the vice president of programming at CBS News.

Mr. Licht’s hiring was announced by CBS News on Thursday morning. At CBS, he will try to inject new energy into the network’s long-troubled morning show, “The Early Show,” and develop other programs and projects. Though the morning show will be his “first focus,” Mr. Licht said in an interview, “I will be doing whatever I can to help.”

Mr. Licht is part of a reboot by CBS News — the third-place network news division — at a time when Katie Couric is leaving and Scott Pelley, a “60 Minutes” correspondent, is replacing her on the “CBS Evening News.” Along with a new anchor, the news division has a new chairman, a new president, new bosses on several of its programs, and a plan to pump up its hard news credentials.

A departure from MSNBC by Mr. Licht has been the subject of much speculation in the television news business for several weeks. He was a creator and is the executive producer of “Morning Joe,” the free-wheeling talk show that is envied by competitors for its A-list bookings and for the chemistry between Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and the regulars that join them on their set at Rockefeller Center.

On “Morning Joe,” Mr. Licht often pops up on camera in the control room to read viewer e-mails and joke with Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski. Inseparable is an apt word to describe the trio.

Departing MSNBC, Mr. Licht said, was “unequivocally the hardest decision I’ve ever made.” But he has harbored an interest for years in having a broader executive role at a network, and NBC, the leading network news division, did not need the help the way CBS does.

“That’s whats exciting about this job,” he said. “It’s not ‘Hey, come protect the status quo.’ It’s ‘Hey, come here and let’s try new things.’ And you have the freedom to do that.”

David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, said in an interview that Mr. Licht would start at CBS on June 6.

“Whats interesting about what Chris has accomplished in recent years is that it’s different,” Mr. Rhodes said, referring to “Morning Joe.” “There’s been too much energy spent in all of TV basically trying to mimic the 1995 ‘Today’ show. I think we can do something different. I think people want something different.”

Does that mean Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski will someday join Mr. Licht at CBS? As soon as Mr. Licht started having job interviews, people started asking the question — even in the middle of the interviews. “Every place I interviewed, there was a desire expressed — ‘Boy, we would sure love to have Joe and Mika,’ ” Mr. Licht said. Two weeks ago the Web site Mediaite said that CBS was trying to recruit the hosts along with Mr. Licht.

“It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t surprise me that those rumors started, because people generally know how tight we are,” Mr. Licht said.

Mr. Rhodes stated flatly: “Chris is being hired for Chris.”

Asked whether he would want to hire Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski, Mr. Rhodes said, “Look, Joe and Mika are under contract at NBC. From what I understand, it’s a contract that has a while left to run. Joe and Mika are great talent, and if they were available, we would obviously be interested in talking to them. And that goes for a number of people. But from what I understand right now they remain under contract.”

The end date of the contracts is unknown. Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski recently started working with the Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, of William Morris Endeavor, according to two people with knowledge of the relationship. Asked to confirm the relationship last week, Mr. Emanuel wrote in an e-mail message, “No commitment,” and declined to elaborate.

Mr. Licht said of the possibility of the pair joining CBS, “Look, when their contracts are up, if that’s the right move for them, that would be fantastic.” He continued, “This was not, ‘Hey, go to CBS so we can come too.’”

Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, said Thursday that Alex Korson would replace Mr. Licht as the executive producer of “Morning Joe.” He also named Ann Edelberg the senior supervising producer. “Alex and Ann have been driving forces for the show’s success and I’m confident that they will continue to make ‘Morning Joe’ the most talked about morning news program,” Mr. Griffin wrote in an internal memorandum.

Mr. Griffin added, “I also want to take this opportunity to thank Chris Licht for his leadership. Chris has had an impressive career at MSNBC – as the executive producer of both ‘Scarborough Country’ and ‘Morning Joe.’ I wish him good luck with his new role at CBS.”

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Norio Ohga, Who Led Sony Beyond Electronics, Dies at 81

The cause was multiple organ failure, the company said in a statement.

Mr. Ohga was the principal architect of Sony’s move beyond its stronghold of sleek consumer electronics gear and into music and movies. The biggest steps came when Sony bought CBS Records for $2 billion in 1988 and, a year later, Columbia Pictures for $3.4 billion.

At the time, when Japan Inc. seemed unstoppable, those acquisitions — along with a Japanese real estate company’s purchase of most of Rockefeller Center — were symbols of Japan’s rising economic power and wealth. There was worried talk of the Japanese commercial “invasion” and the loss of American “cultural assets.”

But to Mr. Ohga the goal was a kind of industrial synthesis, marrying Sony’s technical wizardry in electronics with the West’s talent in entertainment. In a statement, Howard Stringer, the current chief executive of Sony, said it was Mr. Ohga’s vision that drove “Sony’s evolution beyond audio and video products into music, movies and game, and subsequent transformation into a global entertainment leader.”

Still, Mr. Ohga wanted to do more than expand Sony’s corporate empire. Linking electronics and entertainment, in his view, would increase the value of each and secure a lucrative future for Sony. “Hardware and software are two wheels on a car,” he explained repeatedly over the years.

There were good years in Sony’s media businesses. But the real payoff from the electronics hardware and the entertainment software, each lifting the sales of the other, proved elusive. When Mr. Ohga spoke of software, industry analysts say, he was thinking of the kind that comes from Hollywood, not Silicon Valley.

The vision Mr. Ohga championed for years, those analysts say, has come to fruition at Apple, in a different guise. That company, they note, has combined beautifully designed devices, like iPods and iPhones, with software for making media easy to consume and buy.

Apple does not own music companies or movie studios, but it controls an online marketplace where media are purchased.

“Sony was a great product company, and Ohga made it better,” said Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But Sony did not really get software or the Internet. That wasn’t Ohga’s domain.”

Born on Jan. 29, 1930, in Numazu, 80 miles west of Tokyo, Norio Ohga grew up in affluence, the son of a wealthy lumber trader. As a child he had pleurisy, an inflammation in the chest, so during the war years he was exempted from working at the nearby military factories, where many Japanese youths labored. Instead, he practiced the piano and took singing lessons.

“By the time I was 18 I knew I wanted to be a vocalist,” Mr. Ohga said in an interview with The New York Times in 1990. “So just after the war, I had to come to Tokyo.”

Mr. Ohga enrolled in the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, and soon demonstrated his strong voice and his forceful opinions about a tape recorder that had just been introduced by the company that would become Sony. Mr. Ohga wrote a letter to Sony’s co-founder, Akio Morita, detailing the machine’s shortcomings for professional musicians and singers.

Mr. Morita, fascinated by the aspiring opera singer’s technical knowledge, met with him and signed him up as a part-time consultant. In 1954, Mr. Ohga left for West Germany to study music and to start a professional singing career that led to performances throughout Europe and Japan. Yet Mr. Morita kept Mr. Ohga on the payroll and stayed in touch.

In 1957, when Mr. Ohga married Midori Matsubara, a pianist he had met in Germany, Mr. Morita and Sony’s elder co-founder, Masaru Ibuka, attended the wedding.

Mr. Ohga eventually surrendered to Mr. Morita’s persistence. He joined Sony as a full-time employee in 1959.

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The Media Equation: A Native Son Revitalizes His Paper

It was the only company that Mr. Klingensmith, an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, had ever worked for. After three decades, including stops at Sports Illustrated and Time, he was on the short list to become the next chief executive. When the job went to Ann Moore, he hung in for a while as executive vice president in charge of strategy and acquisitions. “It was a real job, it just wasn’t a very fun one,” he said.

So in 2008 at the age of 55, he took early retirement. He could have gone to work at any publisher in Manhattan, but instead, after a short time as a consultant, he moved to Minneapolis to become the publisher of The Star Tribune.

It wasn’t a move to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The newspaper had been through years of upheaval, churning through bankruptcy, publishers and lots of layoffs.

But what could have been a quixotic last fling has turned into something far more impressive: The Star Tribune is adding readers — the Sunday circulation grew 5.7 percent in the last audit and will most likely be up again a bit in the audit that will be out in few weeks — the business is making money and, get this, distributing money from its profit-sharing plan to its employees.

It helps that Mr. Klingensmith is a local boy. He grew up in “friendly Fridley,” a suburb of Minneapolis, and he is a serious Twins fan. He traded deeply paneled rooms with a view of Rockefeller Center and its fabled skating rink for a fourth-floor office festooned with Twins memorabilia and a view of the staff parking lots, one of which is decorated with a statue of Joe Mauer of the Twins, a local hero, and another of Lucy from Peanuts, reading a newspaper.

Even Lucy probably notices that it’s a smaller newspaper than it used to be. Once a reliable moneymaker for the Cowles family, The Star Tribune was sold to McClatchy for $1.2 billion in 1998. As the midsize newspaper business tumbled, The Star Tribune became a drag on earnings for McClatchy and it was sold to Avista Capital Partners for $530 million at the end of 2006.

The private equity firm loaded $500 million in debt on the property just before revenue dropped by almost half. There were extensive layoffs, interim publishers, and in January 2009 the newspaper, the nation’s 15th largest, filed for bankruptcy. Like Mr. Klingensmith, I grew up reading the newspaper and I found it gut-wrenching to watch.

The newspaper ended up in the hands of its creditors, including the investment firm Angelo, Gordon and Company, which also has stakes in the Tribune Company and Philadelphia newspapers.

By the time Mr. Klingensmith said yes to the publisher’s job at the start of 2010, $500 million in debt had been reduced to $100 million in the reorganization, costs were way down because of the cuts, and revenues from both advertising and circulation had begun to crawl back.

The reason the company had profits to share is that while ad revenue was down 9 percent in 2010, it was far less than the 15 percent that had been budgeted. According to David Brauer,  who covers the paper for MinnPost, a local news site, the difference yielded more than $30 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2010. And daily circulation has remained essentially flat even though the price of the daily newspaper was raised to 75 cents from 50 cents in May. The Sunday newspaper, which did not increase in price, has gone from a low of about 477,000 in September 2009 to 504,600 in September 2010, according to audit reports.

“When I was talking to them about the job, I looked at the financials and thought it had a good shot,” Mr. Klingensmith said. “I actually thought that newspapers have a lot more life in them than they get credit for.”


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