MediaFile

Karmazin, Ergen and Malone: paper tigers?

When media moguls duke it out, what’s their battleground? Newspapers, evidently.

For the past week, EchoStar boss Charlie Ergen and Sirius XM radio’s CEO Mel Karmazin have been doing battle on the pages of two venerable dailies, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The Journal had a head start on the story, reporting how Ergen had started buying up Sirius debt in an attempt to force the satellite radio company into a deal. Then, it revealed how Ergen had actually made an offer to buy Sirius, which Karmazin rejected.

While the rest of the media was digesting all this, out came the Times with a story that said Sirius was preparing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, which could come within days. It had even hired bankruptcy experts, the Times wrote. The Journal quickly swatted that idea down, saying:

“The hiring of bankruptcy and restructuring advisers, while not surprising given the company’s financial predicament, doesn’t mean a filing is imminent.”

It refined that idea in a story Wednesday night, taking a direct swipe at the Times’ reporting:

For better or worse, here comes Ticketmaster/Live Nation

Will it survive? That’s the main question looming over today’s official news that Live Nation will indeed buy Tickemaster Entertainment, a deal that has been much in the news this week.

Already, Sen. Charles Schumer, a member of the Judiciary Committee and Democrat from New York, has called for a federal probe into Ticketmaster’s relationship with resale subsidiary TicketsNow (a relationship that was roundly criticized recently when fans tried to buy Bruce Springsteen tickets) and said a merger with Live Nation “must be viewed skeptically).

As the New York Times recently pointed out, the deal will mark “an early test of the Obama administration’s views on concentrated corporate power, particularly in an area with potentially stark implications for consumers.”

Buzz builds for Kindle 2

Reuters and others are reporting that Amazon.com is expected to unveil a new version of the Kindle electronic reader on Monday.

While the Kindle is a tiny part of Amazon’s web retail business, it gets a ton of buzz, and a new version has been much speculated about on the web.  The question is whether mainstream consumers are really ready to buy it, particularly in the current economic environment.

“We think Kindle will be an interesting product which the high-end consumers love, particularly investment bankers traveling in from Connecticut,” Bernstein Research’s Jeffrey Lindsay says in the Reuters story. ”We don’t think it will be a large penetration object any time soon.”

Thinking about EchoStarSiriusXMSatelliteRadio Inc.

Because of a big upcoming debt payment — and a stock price of about 14 cents a share — Sirius XM Satellite Radio finds itself in quite a predicament.

This, apparently, hasn’t been lost on EchoStar’s Charles Ergen, who may be getting ready to take over the company.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ergen has recently acquired part of a $300 million tranche of Sirius debt that matures on Feb. 17: “Sirius recently converted part of the debt to equity, reducing the total debt outstanding to about $175 million. It isn’t clear whether Mr. Ergen participated in the exchange, however. Mr. Ergen could also be buying up senior bank debt, due in May, which trades thinly on the over-the-counter market.”

Pay TV: Shelter from the storm?

Safe haven. Two magical — and mysterious — words. Cable and satellite companies didn’t fit the safe haven bill in 2008, but 2009 just may be there year.

According to a Reuters story out today, “cable and satellite service providers now hold the promise of strong free cash flow growth as they retain old customers but spend less on deploying set-top boxes and digital video recorders due to a fall in new subscriber growth.”

Remember, however, that before the economy fell apart, a number of investors considered the pay TV industry “recession proof.” The argument went that even in the toughest of times, Americans would stay home and watch TV, saving money on trips to movies or out to dinner.

Sirius brings back hip hop; still owes $1 bln

Sirius XM Radio has got a lot of big issues: a huge debt load; its deflated stock price; the auto industry — its biggest source of news subscribers — is hurting; and consumers are shying away from consumer electronics this holiday season.

The company planned to address some of those issues today at its shareholder meeting, hoping to win the right to issue 3.5 billion shares and launch a reverse stock split. Those moves may not fix all of its woes.

But the company has at least addressed one other festering problem. They are bringing back Monie Love in January.

Video games defy economic gloom

U.S. shoppers are still spending in a big way — they are just not buying cars, plane tickets, clothing, etc. But they are buying video games.

While most media segments try to maintain stability during today’s economic turmoil, the video game industry keeps on growing, with U.S. video game hardware and software sales up 10 percent last month according to NPD, fueled by record sales of Nintendo’s Wii console and DS hand-held system.

Nintendo’s Wii console sold over 2 million units in November, up from over 800,000 in the previous month.

from Summit Notebook:

Mattresses and pillows, a diversified portfolio

With financial markets in turmoil and the U.S. economy in recession, we asked top entertainment and sports executives at the Reuters Media Summit for some investment advice.

Our question: "If we gave you $50,000, where would you invest?" One rule: They couldn't pick their own company. But then we thought $50,000 was too little for well heeled executives, so we switched it to $50 million. But that seemed excessive. After all, we're talking about personal investments -- so we settled on giving them a cool $1 million.

Here's what they said:

"In a pillow ... You might look at the energy sector, you might see what happens with gold. I've got cousins who work in the banking industry. When I asked them, they told me put it in my pillow. That is your answer."
-- Havas's MPG Chief Operating Officer Steve Lanzano

Mel says lost Sirius/XM channels worth every penny – to bottom line

If you’re an old Sirius or former XM subscriber who lost one or more of your favorite channels after the two satellite radio companies merged earlier this year, CEO Mel Karmazin has a message for you: Tough luck, it’s for the greater good.

Karmazin told reporters at the Reuters Media Summit in New York that the two companies had taken the best of breed in each music channel genre from either Sirius or XM as part of a $400 million cost saving drive.

“We’re going to pick the best channels,” said Karmazin. “We’ve gotten hundreds of people who hated it and claimed they were going to cancel. So we’ve analyzed all the cancellations since the rationalization…It’s hard for me to understand what they don’t like.”

from Summit Notebook:

Karmazin does it for love, not $

Sirius XM Chief Executive Mel Karmazin is a serial monogamist when it comes to stocks. No matter where he's worked, from Viacom to Sirius, he only buys stocks in those companies, he told the Reuters Media Summit in New York on Wednesday.

Lately, at Sirius, "every dime I've taken in has been spent buying stock," he said. To show his fidelity, he wears special cufflinks in his shirtsleeves. One says "XM." The other says "Sirius."

Otherwise, he steered clear of stocks in the past decade or so, opting for tax-free municipal bonds or treasury bills. "So I have been a terrible investor because if you look at the past 12 years, my portfolio has only grown... 3 percent a year. If you look at stock market at that period of time, I've left an awful lot of money on the table. Over the last year... I've done ok compared to where a lot of people were."