Meg James

AT&T says it plans to keep top Time Warner managers

Most media mergers end with the old regime getting shoved out the door. But AT&T’s top executive says he plans to keep in place much of Time Warner’s management team.

AT&T unveiled its blockbuster $84.5-billion acquisition of Time Warner this weekend, and the heads of both companies — AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson and Time Warner Chairman and Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes — quickly said that maintaining the executive ranks of the media company would be a priority. “I made it clear to Jeff that the talent that he assembled was a really important part of this deal,” Stephenson said. “And it was going to be really critical that we have continuity in the team that he has built.” Senior Time Warner executives — including Warner Bros. Chairman Kevin Tsujihara in Burbank (CA), HBO Chairman Richard Plepler in New York, and Turner Chairman John Martin in New York -- should be breathing easier. And Bewkes expects to hang around for some time, too. “We have both been really focused on keeping all of the Time Warner executives — the business executives and the creative executives — going forward for the long term,” Bewkes said.

Time Warner takes a 10% stake in Hulu, boosting it to compete with Netflix

Media giant Time Warner has agreed to take a 10% stake in Hulu, becoming the fourth major media company to put its weight behind the increasingly popular online video-streaming service. The deal better positions Hulu to compete with industry leader Netflix by bulking up Hulu’s supply of high-quality programming. The move also accelerates Time Warner’s foray into video streaming, coming more than a year after the company launched the stand-alone HBO Now service to attract consumers who are not inclined to subscribe to a traditional cable TV package. Time Warner also owns the prominent Turner Broadcasting cable channels CNN, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network. “This investment fits our strategy like a glove,” said Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes.

Hulu, which is headquartered in Santa Monica (CA), was launched nearly a decade ago by NBCUniversal, now owned by Comcast, and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. Walt Disney Co. later joined Hulu. Disney, NBCUniversal and Fox each own 30% of Hulu, giving Time Warner the smallest stake. Time Warner pledged about $583 million for its piece, which values Hulu at nearly $6 billion.

LA Mayor Garcetti seeks FCC review of Dodgers channel impasse

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is asking the Federal Communications Commission to examine the stalemate between Time Warner Cable and other pay-TV operators that's prevented much of the region from watching Dodgers baseball this season.

Mayor Garcetti stopped short of asking the FCC to demand resolution of the Dodgers channel impasse as a condition for the government's approval of Comcast’s purchase of Time Warner Cable. But the mayor did ask the FCC to delve into programming disputes and "determine why the problem has not been resolved already, and then ask Comcast to show that the merger would alleviate, and not exacerbate, problems of this sort."

Mayor Garcetti also asked the FCC to require Comcast to continue to follow so-called net neutrality guidelines to treat all Internet traffic equally. He also requested that the FCC encourage Comcast to increase its commitment to provide low-cost Internet service to more low-income families.

DirecTV, Dish Network to vie for political cash with customized ads

For the first time, satellite broadcasters will be jockeying with other media outlets for a share of political spending that could top $3 billion in 2014.

Satellite TV giants DirecTV and Dish are using digital technology to match voter registration information with subscriber homes, and are now offering political campaigns the ability to send targeted ads to select households. For example, politically conservative satellite customers might see a TV commercial for a Republican candidate, while their liberal neighbor gets an ad for a Democrat.

With more than 55 million homes now equipped with DVRs, pay-TV companies increasingly are experimenting with so-called addressable advertising.

Time Warner is girding to fight Murdoch's takeover offer

Time Warner Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes is in an uncomfortable position: The cross hairs of Rupert Murdoch. With Murdoch and his 21st Century Fox team are banging on the door, top TW management is "very resolved" to fend off Murdoch's advances.

Analysts are not so certain that's the case. Wall Street clearly expects Fox to sweeten its offer. Murdoch might even be willing to go as high as $100 a share, according to Wells Fargo Securities senior analyst Marci Ryvicker. That would place the deal's value at $91 billion.

The key question, according to veteran media analyst Michael Nathanson, is: "At what price is 21st Century Fox willing to walk away?"

Nielsen concludes LA radio ratings probe; Univision not sanctioned

Nielsen said it has concluded an investigation into tampering of Los Angeles radio ratings, but stopped short of sanctioning Univision Communications for unethical conduct by a former station executive.

Dramatic swings in ratings in 2014 were primarily isolated to Univision's KSCA-FM (101.9) Spanish-language radio station, Nielsen said after its review of the tainted data. The measurement firm said the breaches did not substantially affect audience levels reported for other stations in the nation's largest radio market.

The probe into possible ratings manipulation was launched after KSCA morning show "El Bueno, La Mala y El Feo" leapfrogged to the No. 1 slot over big names such as KIIS-FM (102.7) morning host Ryan Seacrest. The big jump rattled radio circles because strong ratings help stations fetch more money from the nearly $1 billion spent in LA each year on radio commercials and promotions.

Nielsen found that a high-ranking Univision executive at KSCA had access to several of the devices used to collect listening data. That violated Nielsen's rules, and Univision fired its program director for the alleged misconduct; no other station employees were reprimanded.

LA radio stations were notified that Nielsen would not reissue ratings for 2013 or the first quarter of 2014. Nielsen said there "were minimal differences in the estimates for the overwhelming majority of other stations in the market" and did not discipline Univision.

CEO Brian Roberts bulks up Comcast for the future

Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive of Comcast, is looking to fortify his company for an increasingly competitive era. He believes that the $45-billion takeover of Time Warner Cable will help do that, particularly as major technology companies -- including Google, Apple and Amazon -- try to crowd into America's living rooms to control the TV-watching experience.

He still needs the blessing of federal regulators, who are expected to decide soon. If they approve, Comcast would be a dominant provider of cable TV and Internet service -- an increasingly vital connection for tens of millions of families -- along the nation's East and West coasts. It would gain 7 million subscribers and claim two major pieces on the chessboard, Los Angeles and New York, an audacious move even for a company known for its daring bets.

Comcast would command the major population centers: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco. In Los Angeles, Comcast would become the sole cable TV operator, with reach into nearly 1.8 million homes. The deal would complete Comcast's transformation into a national company from a regional cable operator, all of it done without having to dig trenches and extend its fiber lines through every state.

"Something closer to world domination" was how veteran cable analyst Craig Moffett described Comcast's ambitions.

Nielsen ratings scandal widens; Univision executive implicated

Nielsen has widened its investigation into a ratings scandal in Los Angeles and uncovered evidence that a Univision Communications radio executive allegedly has been manipulating the ratings.

The measurement giant confirmed that the Los Angeles ratings scandal was larger than the company first thought.

Nielsen has sought to downplay the incident by saying there was only one problematic household in Nielsen's audience pool in Los Angeles. However, acting on a tip from a radio station insider, Nielsen widened its probe.

Nielsen determined that there were problems with a second house that participated in the sample audience. Nielsen discovered that an executive with Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications had access to Nielsen measurement devices called portable people meters.

“Subsequent to last week’s announcement about the delay in Los Angeles PPM Radio data, Nielsen has learned that a media affiliated household participated in the Los Angeles sample," Nielsen said, calling the breach "a serious violation of data integrity standards."

CEO Steve Burke brings turnaround at NBCUniversal

NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke, who acknowledges being a bit of a taskmaster, is in unfamiliar territory. He took over the top job at a time when NBC Entertainment was hemorrhaging $600 million a year. Now the network is poised to end the current prime-time season on top among coveted 18- to 49-year-olds -- the first time in 10 years that it will finish in first place in the ratings war.

The television networks are beginning to sell their commercial time for the upcoming season in the annual advertising auction known as the upfront market. Advertisers are expected to commit as much as $11 billion for network TV time, with about $8.5 billion of that earmarked for prime-time shows. NBC hopes to strengthen its lineup even more this fall with the addition of new shows including the political thriller “State of Affairs” and the romantic comedy “Marry Me.”

The ad market in 2014 has been weaker than expected, so NBC's dramatic improvement strengthens its hand in negotiations. NBC hopes that its newfound edge will help it grab ad dollars away from ABC, CBS, Fox and other competitors.

NBC's prime-time spots had been selling at a discount to the rates at CBS, Fox and ABC, which enabled the other networks to collect $500 million to nearly $1 billion more a year in revenue. Burke is determined that NBC will make strides in closing the revenue gap during this ad market.

Viacom buys Britain's Channel 5 Broadcasting for $760 million

Media company Viacom has significantly expanded its international footprint by buying television outlet Channel 5 Broadcasting in Britain.

Viacom -- which owns cable channels MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central -- said it has agreed to pay nearly $760 million to British press baron Richard Desmond for the over-the-air channel.

Several other US media companies had been interested in Channel 5, which launched in 1997 as Britain's fifth public broadcasting service. The channel notches more than 42 million viewers a month.

“The acquisition of Channel 5 accelerates Viacom’s strategy in the UK, one of the world’s most important and valuable media markets,” Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said in a statement announcing the move. "We believe we will be able to invest in even more programming for Channel 5," Dauman told analysts. He said Viacom would pay cash for the channel.