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Comcast Now Has More Internet Customers Than Cable TV Subscribers

By Meg James, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Comcast Corp. again demonstrated that the future is indeed the Internet.

Comcast beat Wall Street estimates on Monday with first quarter profit up 10 percent compared with the year-ago period with strong gains in its Internet service business. The positive earnings came less than two weeks after the company’s planned $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable collapsed amid pressure from Washington.

Federal regulators were gearing up to block the merger, worried that Comcast could become too formidable a gatekeeper of the Internet.

“Of course we are disappointed,” Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said during an earnings call early Monday with Wall Street analysts. “It was a unique, one-off situation but really, really we have moved on.”

Roberts declined to dwell on the company’s missed opportunity. He said he had looked forward to bringing his company’s state-of-the-industry products to new markets, including Los Angeles and New York.

“The government ultimately didn’t see it the same way,” he said.

The stinging defeat came in a month when Comcast quietly hit a milestone.

The company now has more than 22 million high-speed Internet customers, surpassing the number of customers that subscribe to its packages of cable TV channels. Comcast added 407,000 Internet customers during the first quarter, which also saw a loss of about 8,000 cable TV subscribers.

Comcast may not be the largest pay-TV operator in the U.S. for much longer. If the federal government approves AT&T’s proposed $49 billion takeover of DirecTV, as expected, that company would hold the distinction of being the biggest pay-TV provider in the nation.

“Our No. 1 focus is to deliver the kind of results we have posted here today, to stay focused and not take our eye off the ball,” Roberts said later on the call.

For the quarter ended March 31, Comcast produced net income of $2.06 billion, or 81 cents a share, compared with $1.87 billion, or 71 cents a share in the year earlier period. Analysts had expected around 74 cents a share.

Revenue was up 2.6 percent to $17.9 billion.

The company also said it was increasing its share buy-back plan this year by $2.5 billion. Comcast plans to buy back $6.75 billion in shares this year.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Knight725 via Flickr

Paley Center Looking To Reinvent Itself For Digital Age

By Meg James, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — The Paley Center for Media sits in the axis of the media universe in New York.

The museum is within walking distance of the headquarters of CBS, NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox, and Time Warner. There, television leaders hobnob during industry breakfasts and historians sift through the archives of 160,000 radio and television segments. Jimmy Fallon was a regular there watching old footage when he was preparing to take over NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”

But on a typical day, Paley Center’s gleaming branch in Beverly Hills is nearly empty.

Fewer visitors have stopped in since last summer when Warner Bros. packed up its popular exhibit that showcased props from shows, such as fictional mobster Tony Soprano’s bathrobe. The building these days features photographs from CBS’ hit reality show “Survivor” and L.A. real estate investor Steve Soboroff’s collection of 28 typewriters used by artists including John Lennon and Ernest Hemingway.

Paley’s shrinking profile in Los Angeles, staff cutbacks, and uncertainty surrounding its peculiar land lease has prompted concerns that it might shut down West Coast operations. But the center is scrambling to broaden its scope and reinvigorate its Beverly Hills outpost amid massive shifts in the media landscape.

“This is an industry that is changing so quickly,” said Maureen Reidy, who became chief executive of the Paley Center last spring.

The rise of the Internet and the financial crisis forced the nonprofit museum to re-examine its mission. The proliferation of DVDs and online video sites like Hulu and YouTube have enabled people to watch old TV clips whenever they pleased and diminished the uniqueness of the center’s vast archives.

“People weren’t coming in and putting on headphones to watch old episodes of ‘I Love Lucy,'” Reidy said. “People are looking for a multimedia, interactive experience.”

When Reidy became chief executive, she was tasked with re-imagining the nonprofit museum and bolstering revenue to erase its annual operating deficit.

The organization takes in nearly $20 million a year in revenue, largely from donations and special events. According to its 2012 tax filing, the nonprofit posted a $7.5 million operating deficit. In 2013, the most recent year in which tax forms are available, Paley boosted its fundraising efforts but still reported a four million dollar operating deficit. Paley said Monday that when including the increased value of its investments, the organization “generated a surplus” in those years.

Paley’s assets, including its building in New York, were valued at $126 million in 2013, according to its IRS form.

CBS’ legendary founder, William S. Paley, created the organization in 1976 as the Museum of Broadcasting to preserve the history of radio and television. It built the New York center into a cultural destination and decided to push west in 1996.

Today, the Paley Center boasts a well-heeled board of governors that includes Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger, CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, Warner Bros. Chairman Kevin Tsujihara, 21st Century Fox Co-Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

But unlike in New York, television executives here are scattered throughout a sprawling region: Hollywood, West Los Angeles, Culver City, Studio City, and Burbank. Driving to Beverly Hills can be an hour-plus trip. Evening cocktail parties were nixed; people didn’t want to encourage drinking and driving.

And within a few years, the Paley Center’s decision to build an expensive building on land that it did not own turned into a colossal headache.

The Paley Center commissioned Richard Meier, the Getty Center architect, to design a sleek $16 million structure on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills. The museum had a long-term lease on the property owned by a family trust and managed by Bank of America.

In an odd quirk, lease payments were tied to the price of gold until the land was sold to a development group for $47.25 million late last year. The Paley Center has a nine-year lease.

“We are not going anywhere,” Reidy said. “We simply have a new landlord.”

Television executives praise Paley’s programs in Los Angeles as top-notch. For example, this month more than 20,000 television fans flocked to PaleyFest, the annual television festival sponsored by the center. The profitable event featured sneak peaks of upcoming TV show episodes and discussions with actors and writers behind such hits as CBS’ “The Good Wife” and ABC’s “Scandal.”

Tickets for the festival at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood went for $30 to more than $100 a pop.

“The PaleyFest has been very successful, and in Los Angeles events that connect with the public have done well and made money,” said Gordon Crawford, a former board member. “They need to populate the whole year with public-facing events and that will work well for them going forward.”

Reidy acknowledged that the museum still is trying to figure out how best to involve Hollywood.

To some, Reidy did not seem a natural choice to lead the nonprofit because she lacked a television or corporate fundraising background. She began her career as a certified public accountant for PriceWaterhouse, then ran the Miss Universe Organization for Donald Trump and spent five years in former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration in marketing and tourism.

But her energy has impressed board members.

“She has not only designed a new model for Paley but initiated actions that target new sources of revenue and a revitalization and greater involvement of the Los Angeles entertainment and media community,” said board member and public relations guru Dick Lippin, whose firm includes Paley as one of its clients.

Almost immediately after she took the top job at Paley, Reidy spearheaded a move to develop a multiyear business plan, and last year the group achieved a milestone by bringing in more money than it spent.

Reidy and the Paley staff stepped up fundraising efforts and introduced new programs and initiatives to broaden its scope. Now, Spanish-language media, technology, advertising, and sports programming will get prominent billing. The group recruited new board members, including Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Paley tried to reconnect in Los Angeles by sponsoring a huge gala last fall that celebrated television’s role advancing diversity, including gay rights. And this year, Reidy hopes to make family programming a bigger focus, with exhibits to make the museum a destination for parents and children.

“Our foundation is solid, but we want to take the Paley Center to the next level,” she said.

Photo: Francine Orr via Los Angeles Times/TNS

Georgia Grand Jury Indicts Allman Film Producers In Sarah Jones’ Death

By Meg James, Los Angeles Times

The producers of a Gregg Allman biopic has been indicted in the train crash that killed a film crew member.

A Georgia grand jury has indicted film producers Randall Miller, Jody Savin, and Jay Sedrish on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass in connection with the February death of camera assistant Sarah Jones.

Jackie L. Johnson, district attorney for Georgia’s Brunswick Judicial Circuit, which includes Wayne County where the accident occurred, announced the indictments on Thursday.

Involuntary manslaughter carries a potential prison sentence of 10 years, according to Georgia law. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor and carries a year’s jail sentence.

The death of Jones, 27, galvanized film crew members throughout the entertainment industry, highlighting longstanding concerns about worker safety. Last year, in a separate accident, three people died during a shoot for a Discovery Channel show when a helicopter crashed in Acton, Calif.

On Feb. 20, crew members were working on the film Midnight Rider, about the life of rock singer Gregg Allman. They were instructed to walk out on an old railroad trestle high above Georgia’s Altamaha River, where they placed a metal-frame bed on the tracks for an action scene.

William Hurt was scheduled to play Allman in the film.

As the crew prepared for a dream-sequence scene, a train came barreling toward them.

Crew members tried to pull the bed off the train tracks but were unable to. The train hit the bed frame and Jones, killing her.

In Thursday’s announcement the district attorney’s office said that Miller and Savin were the owners of Unclaimed Freight Productions Inc., which was filming Midnight Rider. Miller was also director of the film.

Sedrish was an executive producer.

Several other crew members were injured in the accident on the railroad tracks and trestle, located in Doctortown Landing.

The film’s production was suspended after the accident. Hurt withdrew from the production after Jones’ death.

The film’s producers did not have permission to film on the railway trestle itself, which is owned by the railroad company CSX.

The Wayne County sheriff’s office investigated the case. The district attorney presented the case to the grand jury on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said there would be no further comment because the case is pending.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Richard Verrier contributed to this report.

Photo: Michael Hicks via Flickr

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Disney/ABC TV Chief’s Exit Comes As A Surprise

By Meg James, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The most powerful woman at the Walt Disney Co. — and perhaps in all of Hollywood — said that she would leave her job overseeing the company’s $10-billion-a-year entertainment TV networks, leaving Disney to search for a successor in an increasingly treacherous television business.

After 18 years at the Burbank entertainment giant, Anne Sweeney surprised many by saying she would step down as president of Disney/ABC Television Group by next year to work on the creative side as a television director.

Her successor must navigate a business in transition and steer the company’s ABC network at a crucial time. The once-mighty broadcaster is in fourth place, trailing CBS, NBC and Fox in the ratings. Although all the broadcast networks have struggled amid increased competition from cable channels, over the last five years ABC’s prime-time audience has fallen nearly 20 percent.

And Disney’s networks, like all traditional television outlets, face an onslaught of competition and new online rivals, including Netflix and Amazon.

Sweeney’s planned departure also shrinks the already small number of top female executives in Hollywood. Among women who run large entertainment organizations, Sweeney had few peers — among them Universal’s Donna Langley, Sony’s Amy Pascal, CBS’ Nina Tassler, NBCUniversal’s Bonnie Hammer, Fox’s Dana Walden and DreamWorks Studios’ Stacey Snider.

Sweeney, who worked as an ABC page as a college student, said she began contract discussions with Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger last summer. She was offered a three-year contract extension, she said, but soon found herself considering something new.

“The one thing that kept banging at the back of my brain is that I’ve loved the creative process but I’ve never really been part of it,” Sweeney, 56, said Tuesday. “If not now, when?”

Some Hollywood insiders speculated that Sweeney decided to step down after it became apparent she would not be named to succeed Iger, who plans to exit in June 2016.

Sweeney waved off that suggestion, saying she was not gunning for the top job.

“Other people wanted it for me, but I didn’t want it,” she said.

Iger is expected to name a successor to Sweeney in the next few weeks to ensure a smooth handoff as ABC enters the important period of TV pilot selection and advertising sales for the new TV season.

“Anne has been a very successful executive in our senior ranks,” Iger said in a statement. “Over the years she grew our Disney Channel business into a global powerhouse … built ABC Family into a top cable network here in the U.S.; made ABC a strong, successful content creation engine; and has been a great partner in leading our industry into the digital age.”

Iger must now replace Disney’s only female head of a business unit. The company’s other five division heads are Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Thomas Staggs, Disney Interactive President James Pitaro, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn, Disney Consumer Products President Bob Chapek and Disney Media Networks Group Co-Chairman John Skipper, who also is president of ESPN.

Staggs and Disney Chief Financial Officer James Rasulo are considered the leading contenders for Iger’s job.

Sweeney’s empire includes ABC and cable channels ABC Family, Disney Channel and Disney Junior, as well as Disney’s stake in the A&E Networks. (The lucrative ESPN networks are managed separately.) She first disclosed her resignation in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

Photo: Andy Castro via Flickr