Friday, July 31, 2009


Internet writers employed at CBS studios in the L.A. area have unanimously voted to be represented by the Writers Guild of America, West. The vote was conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

"This is good news for new media writers. Congratulations and welcome to the Writers Guild," said WGAW President Patric M. Verrone. "As more and more news, sports, and promotional content is distributed on the Internet, it is essential that its writers win respect for their work and all the benefits of a WGA contract."

WGAW Union Representative Lynda Whittaker and WGAW Organizer Laura Watson worked closely with WGAW shop stewards – Kathy Kiernan, Scott Gutman, and Brett Galde – throughout the campaign. The next step for the 15 writers is contract negotiations. “We hope to reach a fair deal with CBS as soon as possible,” said Whittaker.

”I know in this ever-changing world it’s important to be heard ... and it might be cliche, but there is strength in numbers. I’m not always sure the meek shall inherit the Earth, but I know the weak don't have a chance. I applaud the Guild for making us all stronger,” said CBS web writer Alan Carter.

The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) is a labor union representing writers of motion pictures, television, radio and Internet programming, including news and documentaries. Founded in 1933, the Guild negotiates and administers contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members. It is involved in a wide range of programs that advance the interests of writers, and is active in public policy and legislative matters on the local, national and international levels. For more information on the WGAW, please visit:

Gregg Mitchell
Communications Specialist
Writers Guild of America, West
7000 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
323-782-4651 office
323-782-4802 fax
213-304-7050 cell

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Overtime - and why your low film budget should have it.

By Rachael Satlzman

Before you look at me as though I’m mad, and say ‘I can’t afford to pay overtime!’, realize that I may not be talking to you.

This is not for you Weekend Warriors who call upon the talents and resources of your close friends in exchange for coating them with homemade blood and feeding them pizza. If your friends remain enthusiastic after all you’re going to put them through – then you are doing something right.

First things first – what is overtime actually, and how does it work?
The Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into being by Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York on July 14, 1938. It set a minimum wage law (twenty five cents at the time), and a maximum number of hours worked per week (44 the first year, 40 by the third) without additional compensation.

Before this, there was no maximum number of hours, or minimum allowable wage – you could be forced to gut chickens eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, for a nickel an hour (sounds familiar, right?).

Of course this legislation was not created from kindness or love for fellow man; if you want a more in – depth story, look up ‘Muckrakers’, ‘Upton Sinclair’, and ‘The Jungle’.

What overtime means to the receiver – and this is probably the most important bit of this article.

Younger, less experienced technicians tend to get very excited over the prospect of overtime, seeing dollar signs in their eyes. The first breakdown they actually do is probably a bit of a shock.

Overtime is very heavily taxed, when you’re working on something that tracks an hourly rate (some of these little guys don’t). In fact, if you work more overtime on one project than straight pay at others, you can end up taking home far less money.

Just one link regarding how that works, since I’m not getting in depth here – that’s not what this is for.

Overtime is not really a bonus for the working stiff; it is meant as a penalty to the employer – extra cost to try and offset the potential abuse of employees. Most of that money goes back into the government pool, not to your pocket.

Somehow, rather than seeing the penalty aspect, many large employers, particularly in entertainment, have come to see it as the cost of doing business (along with meal penalties, travel, et al.). The problems with this tend to be exactly what were the issues in the first place – people getting hurt on the job, falling asleep while driving, making bad choices.

A short I worked on recently would have benefited a great deal from offering overtime. There are specific reasons for this.

First, the shoot took place over two twenty hour days. This is a bit ridiculous, and we were lucky as hell that nobody got hurt on set, or after. I ended up driving back with the DP, who kept falling asleep behind the wheel, despite my endless chatter, prodding, cold water splashes, etc.

I expect none of the other vehicles fared much better. Had we an overtime clause, it would have been less expensive for the producers to add a third day to production, rather than risk killing every crew member working on this thing due to over tired drivers.

The other highly avoidable bit was on the second day, when the production was held up for six hours while a key prop was being completed. Yes, six hours. Had we been on an hourly, rather than a flat rate, you can bet that wouldn’t have happened.

We were all fairly pissed off, and I have added an overtime clause to my low budget agreements because of situations like this.

Would I have been less angry had I been making more money? A little, I suppose. But at a rate that low, it’s not about the money. (Though my Best Boy did the math, and we all made about two dollars an hour after it was all said and done – adding insult to injury.)

Let me repeat that – it’s NOT about the money. It’s about respect. This shoot, and others like it, leave a bad impression with your crew. They say that the crew’s expertise, hard work, and safety are of little concern. It will make it more difficult to find talented crew willing to work with you, when you take advantage of them like that.

Again, this is the difference between begging your friends to help on a project, and putting up an ad to hire strangers – or even recruiting through your professional network. It’s flat out telling people that they have no value to you, and that you’re willing to exploit them, whether that is the intention or not.

So what does offering overtime on a low budget project mean?
One, it tells the crew you have your act together, and they won’t be waiting around for hours while some minor issue is addressed – or if they do, you will be trying to fix the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible. Because if you don’t, it’s going to cost you, not the crew.

It implies that you’ll have your shot list figured out, and the production will move quickly – because if you spend three hours dickering around with the setup for one line, it’s going to cost you, not the crew.

It indicates that you haven’t unrealistically overscheduled your days, have thought about potential issues in advance, and have at least thought about how long your days may end up being.

Plus, it also tells the crew that you respect them and their time, even though you can’t pay them what they’re worth. Most of these little guys offer a fraction of what a typical day rate should be – the least you can do is say ‘I understand that, and I’m trying to run as professional a ship as I can with the resources available’.

Most of the shoots I’m referring to here, pay about as well as flipping burgers. That burger guy also gets paid overtime. Yes, we do these for the love of the craft, not the money. You should at least respect your crew as much as the guy who fills your gas tank.

This will lend confidence to your crew that you know what you’re doing – of course you can’t afford to pay the overtime on a crew, so you’ve done all the preproduction you possibly can to ensure a smooth shoot. You don’t plan on exploiting them, as you can’t afford to. You won’t run twenty hour days, because you can’t afford to. You won’t go ten hours without providing a meal, because you can’t afford to.

So the next time you think ‘I can’t afford to offer overtime!’; think that maybe, you can’t afford NOT to.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tribune could exit bankruptcy by end of '09-CEO

NEW YORK, July 28 (Reuters) - Tribune Co (TRBCQ.PK) could emerge from bankruptcy by the end of this year, while the likeliest buyer of its Chicago Cubs baseball team remains the Ricketts family, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

"No plan has been put forward yet, though everybody's working on one, and I suspect that some time between now and maybe as early as the end of the year, it will exit from bankruptcy," Sam Zell told CNBC television in an interview.

Zell's interview came on the same day that Tribune's hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, reported that the company is seeking a second extension to file its reorganization plan with the U.S. bankruptcy court.
The plan is due on Aug. 4, but the company needs until November, the paper reported.

Tribune filed for bankruptcy in December after going private in a deal led by Zell that resulted in the company having $13 billion in debt.

Tribune plans to sell the Chicago Cubs and its ballpark, Wrigley Field. The Ricketts family, led by Chicago investment banker Tom Ricketts, reached a deal earlier this month to buy the team for slightly less than the original $900 million bid, a source familiar with the deal previously told Reuters. (Reporting by Robert MacMillan, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)


By Leslie Simmons
AFTRA National Manager of Communications
Summer 2009 AFTRA Magazine

Five months ago, AFTRA member Bruce Leshan, an on-air reporter for WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C., made a transition he considers inevitable, but not one he could foresee when he started in the business 25 years ago.

Leshan became a Multimedia Journalist (MMJ) for his local CBS affiliate. Also known as “one man bands,” “backpack journalists” and “video journalists,” Leshan is a cameraman, reporter, editor, producer and Web editor all wrapped up into one.

It wasn’t the easiest move for him, but one the 25-year veteran believes he had to make in order to continue doing what he loves: reporting.

“I think the change is coming and you can either embrace it or get run over,” Leshan tells “AFTRA Magazine.” “My advice is to figure out how to do it, embrace it, volunteer and just try to do it as well as you can. If you want to create a future for yourself in the new world of TV news, you’re going to have to make yourself valuable in many different ways, on many different platforms.”

Leshan’s employer, WUSA, was among the first to include coverage of MMJs in their local broadcast contract with AFTRA. The contract is just one example of how AFTRA is working both to protect reporters in the ever-evolving newsroom and ensure their continued success as the industry changes. Due in large part to the continuing emergence of new media and company orders to cut costs, multi-functioning journalists are increasingly in demand, with more and more broadcast stations lining up to follow suit.

These changes are dramatic and present AFTRA members with many questions. Union members are actively working to monitor and examine the issue as it develops and plays out in local markets across the country. They’re looking at how widespread the issue is, how broadcasters feel about the changing newsroom, how to correctly approach it and what members need and want from AFTRA.

As the newsroom continues to change, it’s critical that members have a voice through AFTRA to participate in and guide those changes and to do so through a national, coordinated strategy across all AFTRA

Currently, there are 10 stations throughout the country, including WUSA, where camera work is a regularly expected duty in an AFTRA Local contract and another eight stations where camera work is assigned in limited circumstances.

AFTRA is currently negotiating another 16 contracts where the employers are demanding extensive camera duties and Fox has indicated that it will demand camera duties at all its owned stations as their contract negotiations come up.

Recently, AFTRA members approved three contracts that include MMJ language. At WKYC-TV in Cleveland, AFTRA negotiated for 29 members, including 10 anchors, 10 reporters, five producers and four news assistants.

At KSDK-TV in St. Louis, AFTRA represented 29 members, including 15 anchors, 11 reporters, two promo announcers and one host. At WRC-TV in Washington/Baltimore, a total of 57 members were represented, including 32 on-air, 15 writers and 10 other positions.

One-man bands are nothing new. They’ve been around as long as television. What has changed is the technology that has made it much easier to shoot, report and upload a news package by one person.

In January of this year, the AFTRA Broadcast Steering Committee, a national committee of working broadcast journalists chaired by Joe Krebs, former AFTRA Washington/Baltimore Local President and co-anchor of NBC4 in D.C., established a national bargaining strategy to ensure that “something of substance” must be gained by a news unit in exchange for agreeing to MMJ proposals.

In order to gain “something of substance,” AFTRA members in a local unit are called upon to flesh out a definition of what that is and formulate a process for consultation on the “something of substance” standard as contracts are being negotiated. That standard must also be supported by staff, other locals and the BSC who are ready to assist in providing leverage, if necessary, to help a unit achieve an acceptable exchange.

At WRC, for example, members exchanged MMJ duties—with limitations—in return for explicit primary union jurisdiction over the Internet and secondary digital channels, including “content producers,” a new category of worker.

“The challenge with us is if we don’t have jurisdiction over these things, they can hire an entire staff for an entire channel and unless we have union jurisdiction, it will not be AFTRA,” Krebs tells “AFTRA Magazine.” “The biggest thing is to get union coverage in those channels.

“Another critical issue for AFTRA is for its members to decide what they want to do and how they want to confront this issue,” Krebs adds. “The sense I’ve gotten so far from the Broadcast Steering Committee in general is a slight preference toward embracing this new technology, because that’s where the jobs are going to be in the future.

“The cameras Channel 4 is going to assign us weigh a pound. The tri-pod and light taken together maybe weigh six or seven pounds,” Krebs says. “With the equipment so small, one person can get into places that a camera crew and reporter sometimes couldn’t and they don’t draw as much attention.”

But this form of working may not be appropriate in all circumstances. And while some reporters have been open to embracing this change, others vehemently believe this is not a positive development for the future of broadcast journalism.

Further, there are key issues to consider: safety, quality of reporting and appropriate training. “The only thing we can do is make sure our members are protected as best as best they can be.”

For Scott Broom, a 26-year veteran of broadcast journalism and a fellow WUSA reporter of Leshan’s, becoming a MMJ was the difference between having a full-time job with AFTRA pension and health benefits and continuing as a freelance journalist, with the risk of not getting steady work.

Broom was hired on as a “digital correspondent” just as WUSA agreed to cover MMJs in the AFTRA contract. On its Web site, the station calls him “a new kind of journalist tasked with accelerating our industry’s shift from traditional television news broadcasting to high-volume Webbased, video and text communications.”

Broom blogs about his experiences and why union members should embrace the change, rather than fight it.

“I found in my experience, the totality of my career prepared me to carry a camera and transition,” Broom tells “AFTRA Magazine.” At the end of the day, it was a matter of learning how to push buttons and not learning how to create pictures. I’ve found that actually using the camera turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be.”

Leshan agrees. Both journalists say there is a bit of freedom that comes with doing it all. But they, like Browde, see there are some sacrifices made, including sometimes the quality of a story.

“There are stories that require a tremendous amount of journalist work,” Leshan says. “If you’re driving and shooting and editing, you just don’t have the time in the day to do the old journalist stuff.”

“This is the most important part of the debate,” Broom adds. “There is no doubt that there are certain types of stories that I am less capable of getting, in terms of developing information and contacts, than I might get if I had a partner with me.”

Browde says the issue with MMJs goes back to the decades-old discussion: What’s the story? The picture or the facts? “The answer is both,” Browde says. “For those news organizations who believe the picture is the story, all of this sort of works. But when you need facts, it gets a little more complicated

Tribune Co. Seeks Extension Of Reorganization Plan

By Michael Oneal
Chicago Tribune staff reporter

Bankrupt company cites complex nature of case, Cubs sale in its 'routine' request

Chicago-based Tribune Co. has asked the court in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy case to give management four additional months to file a reorganization plan.

The parent company of the Chicago Tribune is scheduled to deliver a plan Aug. 4 but wants to extend that deadline to Nov. 30.Debtors in Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases have the exclusive right for 120 days from the date of filing to come up with a plan of reorganization.

But for the first 18 months of a case, that right is often extended. Tribune Co., which filed its case in early December last year, already has won approval to extend the deadline once.

Tribune has so far managed to work worked closely with its creditors toward a plan to reduce the nearly $13 billion in debt that crippled the company when the economy soured last year.

Citing the complex nature of the case, Tribune said in a filing it needs more time to build consensus around a plan. It also said the outcome of the pending sale of the Chicago Cubs could have a "material impact" on the plan.

"We are making significant progress in our discussions with our various creditor constituencies," said a Tribune Co. spokesman. " Our filing today is a routine request for more time."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Obama's Antitrust Chief Cracking Down Bigtime!!

President Obama’s top antitrust official and some senior Democratic lawmakers are preparing to rein in a host of major industries, including Broadcasting and Communication giants.

Christine A. Varney, the antitrust chief at the Justice Department, has begun examining complaints by the phone companies Verizon and AT&T that their rivals — major cable operators like Cablevision and Cox Communications — improperly prevent them from buying sports shows and other programs that the cable companies produce, industry lawyers said. She is also examining a settlement between Google and book publishers and authors to make more books available online.

The more aggressive antitrust policy was described in interviews with officials at the White House, the Justice Department, other agencies and Congress. It is a major policy reversal from the Bush administration, which did not prosecute cases in which some dominant companies engaged in potentially anticompetitive behavior, often because those officials maintained such behavior was not harmful to consumers.

Democrats have spent years trying to gain the support of businesses, and the policy changes under way may have long-term political implications for their party. Some companies would like to see more aggressive antitrust enforcement against their rivals, while others could be hurt by it.

Ms. Varney returned to government after working as a partner at Hogan and Hartson, a Washington law firm. During the Clinton administration she served in the White House as Cabinet secretary and a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission.

The antitrust division under Ms. Varney scrapped the Bush administration’s monopoly guidelines, which had sharply limited the government’s ability to prosecute large corporations that used their market dominance to elbow out competitors.

Now the division has opened inquiries in the financial services and wireless phone industries. The division’s wireless inquiry is looking at, among other things, whether it is legal for phone makers to offer a particular model, like the iPhone or the Palm Pre, exclusively to one phone carrier. It is examining the sharp increase in text-messaging rates at several phone companies. And it is scrutinizing obstacles imposed by the phone companies on low-price rivals like Skype.

The new enforcement policy reverses the Bush administration’s approach, which strongly favored defendants against antitrust claims. It returns to a policy that led to the landmark antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft and Intel in the 1990s.

Ms. Varney said that the Bush administration policy “lost sight of an ultimate goal of antitrust laws — the protection of consumer welfare.”
“The failing of this approach is that it effectively straitjackets antitrust enforcers and courts from redressing monopolistic abuses, thereby allowing all but the most bold and predatory conduct to go unpunished and undeterred,” she said. “We must change course and take a new tack.”

The administration is hoping to encourage smaller companies in an array of industries to bring their complaints to the Justice Department about potentially improper business practices by their larger rivals. Some of the biggest antitrust cases were initiated by complaints taken to the Justice Department.

Ms. Varney said that the administration rejected the impulse to go easy on antitrust enforcement during weak economic times.

Instead, she said, severe recessions can provide dangerous incentives for large and dominating companies to engage in predatory behavior that harms consumers and weakens competition.

“There is no adequate substitute for a competitive market, particularly during times of economic distress,” she said. “Vigorous antitrust enforcement must play a significant role in the government’s response to economic crises to ensure that markets remain competitive.”

During the Bush administration, the Justice Department did not file a single case against a dominant firm for violating the antimonopoly law.

Antitrust policy is set by Washington in two ways: by the interpretation of laws announced by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission through guidelines for the courts and private litigants, and by the enforcement cases that those agencies decide to bring.

The government’s guidelines are often cited by lawyers and given considerable weight by judges in antitrust cases, including those lawsuits that the government does not participate in.

It is not unlawful for a company to gain control of a market. It becomes unlawful if the company engages in conduct to exclude or harm competitors with no business justification.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tube Talk: Reporter James Ford leads with his heart, leaping into fray to help out cops

by Richard Huff

James Ford found himself yesterday in the unenviable moment that faces every journalist at some point.

In a heartbeat, the WPIX/ Ch.11 correspondent needed to decide between being a reporter and lending a hand to those he was covering.

He helped out.

After watching police officers and EMTs struggling to get a stretcher carrying a wounded officer into an ambulance, Ford - at the urging of, and along with, Ch. 11 cameraman Jon Fine - helped lift the guy in.

"Yes, there was a moment of hesitation," Ford admitted. "There are five, maybe six, big muscular cops trying to save the life of their comrade. They are more than capable. It was just in the heat of the moment, they couldn't get this guy in the ambulance."

It was Fine, an NYPD staffer turned IBEW Local 1212 member and WPIX cameraman, who quickly got Ford to help.

"I consider myself a reporter, and I try to be an objective observer," Ford said. "Jon Fine cut that in 20 seconds. He said, 'James, we've got to help out.' "

Ford, Fine and truck operator Christian Taussig started the morning at the Cheesequake rest area on the Garden State Parkway when assignment editor Adam Welikson called with word of a cop shot.

By the time they got to Jersey City, they knew there were more injuries and a standoff.

"I've been doing this for a while now," Ford said. "This was high-intensity. It's all happening around us. Bam. Bam. Bam."

Ford said he was surprised at how much activity they witnessed and how big the police response was to the incident.

In addition to helping the officer on the stretcher, they watched, and captured on tape, law enforcement and Jersey City Medical Center EMTs and paramedics carry more injured folks to the hospital.

Hours later, Ford said he had no regrets over crossing the journalist/participant line: "I saw that guy, and saw him bleeding from his face and his mouth, and thought, 'Wow, this is serious. This is really, really serious.'

"If it helped ... I have no idea. But there's no regret."

Random observations

* WNYW/Ch. 5 staffers were surprised yesterday when Dennis Swanson, president of Fox station operations, showed up unexpectedly at their morning news meeting to deliver a critical, occasionally brutal, appraisal of how the news operation has been working lately. He talked about the station, "Good Day New York," news in general, and how everyone should want to be No. 1. Swanson's appearance came after a poor performance by Ch. 5 amid the Jersey City shootings. His comments were seen by some as a kick in the pants and by others as uplifting.

* WCBS/Ch. 2 and Ch. 11 start sharing a helicopter tomorrow.
It's the second partnership between stations here to share chopper services as a way to cut the cost of covering news. Previously, Ch. 5 and WNBC/Ch. 4 made a copter-sharing agreement. Each station will save an estimated $500,000 a year.

* Emily Frances didn't get her mouth washed out with soap after swearing twice on Ch. 11's "PIX Morning News" - but she did get some time alone to think about the mistake. Frances got a two-day suspension from the station as a penalty for having a potty mouth.

That's some deep doo-doo.

* Meteorologist Craig Allen did double TV duty Wednesday night, delivering a forecast on WNYW/Ch. 5 at 10 p.m. and then at 11 p.m. for sister station WWOR/Ch. 9.

A spokeswoman said Allen was pressed into service after Ch. 9 weathercaster Audrey Puente got sick at 9:45 p.m.

"We have a plan that worked successfully to step up and deliver the weather," she said.

As for Allen, the extra work at night followed his usual daytime work at WCBS-AM (880).

If he keeps it up at this pace, he'll soon be checking with Tour de France riders for "pick-me-up" tips.

Sudden Finale


As a sulfurous smell from the nearby mineral springs drifted past, a half-dozen dancers looked into the waning light of a cool Saturday night here recently and took their final bows as members of the New York City Ballet.

They were among 11 members of the company’s corps de ballet, some barely in their 20s, who have joined the swelling ranks of laid-off workers nationwide struggling to find new ways in the recession. They were told in February, shortly before the deadline for new contracts to be issued, that their employment would not be renewed, mainly for economic reasons. Some left soon after. Others gave their final performances the week ending July 18, as the company closed its summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The layoffs have produced a complicated set of responses among these dancers, who, since childhood, have endured grueling hours of cloistered study to achieve a remarkable level of artistry, a position at the pinnacle of the ballet world and then, suddenly, unemployment: anger mixed with grief but also a sense of new possibility and youthful optimism.

The emotions are especially acute because, more than many other workers, ballet dancers define themselves and their self-worth by their profession. Losing a job is like losing one’s identity.

“You’re just erased, as if you were never there,” said one of the dancers, Sophie Flack, 25 and an eight-year veteran of the corps. “It was the end of the life I knew since I was a little girl.”

Some, like Ms. Flack, have decided to quit dancing and go to college. Others will audition for other companies, a task made all the tougher by hard times at performing-arts institutions around the country. One, a recent mother, is moving back to Ohio, where her husband will look for a job. Another, a 21-year-old woman, plans to study costume design.

Those leaving their cosseted sphere are moving into a scary world where they have to learn about financial-aid packages and job training. They are receiving severance pay and an extra three months of union health coverage, and are generally eligible for unemployment insurance.

The layoffs, though part of the company’s cost-cutting strategy, produced a round of questioning for each individual: Did I have too many injuries? Too many outside interests that made it seem dance was not my top priority? An inability to attract the ballet masters’ favor? Was I not attending class regularly?

In short, why me?

“Everyone’s asked themselves that question,” said Darius Barnes, 21, who was let go after only one season in the corps. “You can’t possibly know.”
Mr. Barnes said he had auditioned for several companies and for Broadway shows, “but no bites yet.” He did receive a job as an understudy for a Metropolitan Opera production of “Aida” next season.

Some of the dancers also questioned why new members were being added to the corps when they were been dismissed, and why other companies had managed to find cost savings without resorting to dancer reductions.
For some, the way the layoffs were handled only reinforced the anonymity of their existence.

The corps, like the chorus in an opera, is the body of workhorses who provide the backbone for most of the repertory. Individual members often have featured roles and some may nourish hopes of achieving principal status someday. While listed in the program, they rarely receive the spotlight of soloists and principal dancers, who are often showered with flowers and recognition when they retire.

In this case City Ballet tried to keep a lid on information about the dancers, refusing to release their names or even to ask them if they wanted to be interviewed, for what it called reasons of privacy.

The ballet master in chief, Peter Martins, who was the subject of grumbling by the laid-off dancers, declined to be interviewed, although when he announced the layoffs he called the decision “the hardest thing I’ve done my entire professional career.”

City Ballet’s general manager, Kenneth Tabachnick, agreed to make limited comments on the nonrenewals. They were determined by “an extremely difficult process for everyone,” he said, and they came in the context of a $7 million deficit this year on a budget of $62.3 million and an expected $5 million deficit next year.

The reduction, he said, would save $1.2 million. He said the size of the roster would drop from an unusually large 101 — a result of relatively little attrition in recent years — to about 90. The company has also cut staff salaries, imposed a staff hiring freeze and reduced administrative spending.

Mr. Tabachnick confirmed that an undisclosed number of new corps members would be promoted from the ranks of eight apprentices, but he said the promotions would be part of a renewal of company talent vital to keeping City Ballet artistically healthy. The apprentice spots will be filled by members of the School of American Ballet, the company’s feeder, thus creating openings for new students. So the talent pipeline will continue to flow.

“Everything happens in the context of managing our business,” Mr. Tabachnick said.

Some of the dancers took their departures into their own hands. Ms. Flack took an extra-flamboyant bow after her last performance and gave herself a party. Others invited family and friends to last performances.

Six of the departing corps members agreed to speak; three declined to comment or did not respond to messages; and two could not be identified without the company’s help.

Those who spoke described a day of tears and interminable walks down the long hallway to Mr. Martins’s office in February to hear the news, frantic phone calls comparing notes and a slow acceptance of the reality.
“We just can’t afford to keep you,” Ms. Flack said she was told by Mr. Martins. And that was it.

“My first reaction was to rid myself of the ballet world,” she added, saying that her dismissal felt like receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness. “It was so painful.”

But as the news settled in, Ms. Flack said, she decided to leave dance to explore the broader world, away from a place where adult corps members are usually called girls and boys. “I feel more like a grown-up now,” she said, “more like a woman.” She said she would attend Columbia University.

A Boston-area native, Ms. Flack followed a route to the corps typical of that of many dancers. She said she had wanted to join the company since she saw her first Balanchine ballet at 11. Then came admission to the company’s School of American Ballet at 15, followed by two years of intense work and competition.

“On top of that I starved myself,” Ms. Flack said. She lost so much weight that company officials had to intervene.

She won a coveted spot as an apprentice at 17. “It was the happiest moment of my life, getting in,” she said. She described the grueling hours of classes and rehearsals, and coming home exhausted but deeply satisfied. “Wow, I lived today,” was how she described the feeling. As a more senior member of the corps, Ms. Flack earned about $70,000 to $80,000 a year at the end.

Eventually, she said, she began feeling frustrated at not being assigned more important roles. She said she approached Mr. Martins, who agreed to give her more responsibility, but nothing came of it. “That was a blow,” Ms. Flack said. In 2006 she tore a hamstring, another setback.

But Ms. Flack was also discovering a world outside the ballet bubble, moving to Greenwich Village, acquiring her first boyfriend, visiting museums.

“I never wanted to be a ‘bunhead,’ ” she said, speculating that she had been chosen to be laid off either because her attention was not totally on the company or because Mr. Martins felt less concerned about releasing a dancer with better prospects of coping with the outside world.

Another dancer, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was changing careers and did not want her layoff to become the focus of attention, said Mr. Martins had noted a lack of attendance at company class or early departures from it. “He said that I lost my spark,” she added.

Mr. Tabachnick declined to comment on the criteria for choosing who was not renewed.

Normally a City Ballet pedigree would be a big boost in finding a job at another company. But less so now. Layoffs have occurred recently at several companies, including Ballet Florida, which folded this month, and Miami City Ballet, and post-dance career counselors say requests for help are pouring in.

“There’s nowhere hiring,” said Briana Shepherd, 22, a native of Perth, Australia, and one of the nonrenewed corps members. “It’s not like I’m saying: ‘Pat on the back for getting into City Ballet. I must be talented, and I’ll go somewhere else.’ ”

But other companies have managed to make budget cuts and maintain their roster, including Boston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and American Ballet Theater in New York, where dancers agreed to forgo vacation pay and pension contributions.

The dancers’ union, the American Guild of Musical Artists, said City Ballet was well within its rights not to rehire the dancers. “We would have preferred to have a discussion about it and see if there was a way to preserve jobs, which is what we’ve done elsewhere.” said James Fayette, the guild’s New York area dance executive. “They just moved forward and were not interested in having that discussion.”

Mr. Tabachnick said comparisons to other companies should not be made, because of City Ballet’s large roster and huge repertory.

Ms. Shepherd last danced in March but stopped to recover from a torn ankle tendon, the latest in a series of injuries that kept her idle for half of her four years at the company. She said she had contemplated leaving dance in 2008 but the loss of her job coupled with the latest injury changed her mind. “That was a little bit sad,” she said. “I don’t want to end on that note. I want to make sure if I do give up ballet it’s for the right reasons.”

Ms. Shepherd said she planned to return to Perth, undergo rehabilitation and then audition in Europe. She said she sympathized with the difficult task Mr. Martins faced. “When the chips were down, he had to choose 11,” she said.

Katie Bergstrom, 25, who has been in the corps for seven years, said her dismissal proved “incredibly scary and intimidating.”

“But I feel really liberated,” she added, speaking in a Saratoga Springs diner on her day off. She had been feeling restless for several years, she said, and City Ballet’s decision was the nudge she needed to leave the company and the field of dance. She is considering becoming a yoga teacher and plans to attend Hunter College.

Like the other dancers interviewed, Ms. Bergstrom said she would chiefly miss the camaraderie of the corps — “being able to walk into the dressing room and just feel like you’re at home” — and the joy of performance. “It’s a liberating experience, the only time of the day where you just get to dance for yourself,” she added, and not for ballet masters or others judging her abilities.

Ms. Bergstrom also lamented the lack of recognition for the departing dancers. “It’s pretty pathetic,” she said, but added that she preferred to slip away quietly. She, like several other dancers, had hard words for Mr. Martins, although she acknowledged his skill at running the company and the necessity to cut costs. “Do I think he treats his dancers with respect?” she said. “Absolutely not. He has absolutely no idea who we are.”

Max van der Sterre, 23, who was also let go, said City Ballet’s entire system, with its unusually heavy workload, is based on the interchangeability of dancers, who, because of injuries, are often replaced.

“I’ve seen so many dancers come and go,” he said. “Everyone is expendable. Even principal dancers are replaceable. It’s all about the system, the end product.”

Mr. van der Sterre, whose energy keeps him constantly in motion, plans to return to San Francisco, his hometown, and seek freelance jobs before striking out on a European audition tour in the winter. He said an “amazing four years” at City Ballet helped him see the world, on tours, and gave him the capacity to absorb steps quickly.

The day after he was interviewed at the house he was renting with friends and family, Mr. van der Sterre was back on the Saratoga stage, wielding a crossbow as a huntsman in “Swan Lake.” On July 18 he took his final bow as a member of New York City Ballet.

He said he was leaving with mixed feelings: “It was really emotional to be working here and having such amazing times, and also some really hard times. It was definitely not my choice to have to leave so soon, but it is what’s happening.”

Truth be told, he added, he is happy to be free to do other work.
“It’s always nice,” he said, “to change it up.”

Tribune Co. asks bankruptcy court to allow severance, bonus payments

Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co. today filed motions in Delaware seeking U.S. Bankruptcy Court authorization to resume severance payments to individuals who left the media company before its Chapter 11 filing in December, as well as to pay discretionary incentive bonuses for 2008 to nearly 700 managers, directors and others.

Tribune Co.’s top 10 executives would not be part of the managerial pool that would split a little more than $13 million in bonus money, which the company considers part of the would-be recipients’ annual compensation as part of the normal course of business.

The median award would be $9,500 and the average award a little more than $18,000, with 84 percent of the recipients receiving payments of less than $30,000 and 70 percent getting less than $20,000.

Earlier Wednesday, before the motion was filed in anticipation of a May 12 court hearing, the Tribune Co. flagship paper Chicago Tribune reduced its newsroom staff by 53 in response to economic conditions and industry changes.

Tribune Co., which filed for Chapter 11 protection because it was struggling to manage the heavy debt taken on when it went private in late 2007, said in its motion that it is “vitally necessary to reward the participants for their extraordinary contributions during an exceptionally difficult year.”

The company implemented strategic initiatives in 2008 that are expected to generate approximately $425 million in incremental annualized cash flow.

Tribune cut its workforce by around 2,400 positions last year, or 13 percent, including more than 2,100 jobs from its publishing division and redesigned each of its daily newspapers, which it said will save $80 million annually.

According to the motion, Tribune Co.’s publishing division generated $461 million in operating cash flow last year, a margin of 16.7 percent “during one of the worst years in newspaper advertising history.” Twenty-one of its 23 television stations, along with WGN-AM 720, gained market share in 2008.

The amounts of the incentive payments were negotiated downward by several million dollars and the official committee of unsecured creditors supports approximately $12.2 million to be spread across 670 recipients, according to the motion. The committee has yet to take a position on payment of another $1.1 million for 23 people, pending review.

The motion regarding severance payments involves about $2.5 million and covers roughly 70 employees who left the company in the months before the Chapter 11 filing and stopped receiving severance payments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

TribCo Seeks Judge's OK To Pay Bonuses

Tribune Co. has asked a bankruptcy judge’s permission to implement a 2009 management bonus program for 720 employees and pay $3.1 million to nine top executives for their 2008 bonuses.

"There can be no serious debate about whether the top 10 executives have earned their 2008 [Management Incentive Plan] awards," the motion says.

The request was made in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware as part of the media company’s Chapter 11 reorganization. Tribune also asked to keep part of its motion under seal.

A Tribune spokesman declined comment Wednesday.

The proposed 2009 bonus plan already has been approved by the company's official unsecured creditors committee, its senior lender steering committee and the compensation committee of Tribune Co.'s board of directors.

Tribune Co. Chief Operating Officer Randy Michaels and Chief Administrative Officer Gerry Spector, in a note to employees, described the proposed management incentive plan as "more conservative than in past years," saying the 2009 program is in many respects consistent with the 2008 plan the bankruptcy court approved earlier this year.

In past years, falling short of goals still could mean a reduced bonus payment. The 2009 plan does not pay out unless companywide and/or business-unit operating goals are met, according to the motion. The motion does not specify what those goals are or how they compare to the company's performance in 2008 or before.

The Chicago-based media company, which in December sought protection from its creditors, wants to pay 720 managers a total of $17.5 million if the company hits certain operating cash flow targets this year, or a total of $35 million if it exceeds another threshold.

That works out to an average of $24,305 or $48,611 per qualifying employee.

The workers include the Tribune’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer and the publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Sam Zell, Tribune’s CEO, is exempt from the management bonus program, according to the court document.

The company said it needs to continue its management bonus program as “key personnel are still being called upon to surmount significant industry and macroeconomic challenges while at the same time working diligently towards a successful reorganization.”

Wednesday’s request also asked for:

An additional $3.5 million to be dispersed among a 21-member core management team if certain targets are met. That pool would grow to $7.5 million if Tribune triggers the next incentive threshold.

A discretionary bonus pool of either $500,000 or $1 million to be paid to up to 50 employees.

A $9.3-million bonus pool to pay 23 leaders of key operations if Tribune can exceed certain performance goals. A hearing on the requests is scheduled for Aug. 11.


All of this cash is for bonus payments to management while thousands of Tribune employees have been laid off, with more staff cuts pending at Tribune newspapers and TV stations across the country.

Tribune's non-management employees whom are lucky enough to still have their jobs are being offered zero percent raises, reduced pension contributions, and cuts in benefits such as health insurance.

This action is a slap in the face to the people who produce the newspapers and keep the TV stations on the air to create the income that Tribune is distributing as bonuses to management.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What's Left Without Card Check?

By Nathan Newman

David Kurtz on the front page of The New York Times asks "If you take card check out of EFCA, what's left?"

Actually, quite a lot. Let's rename the bill, the "Prevention of Illegal Firings Act" (PIFA) and it's still important labor law reform. The New York Times story David referred to cited a proposed compromise, where majority signup provisions would be dropped, but elections would be held within five days, employees could not be forced into mandatory meetings, and unions could campaign on company property during the election period. So what's that add up to in a typical election campaign.

The Union secretly collects cards, announces them and calls a snap election for five days later.

Employers are banned from coercing employees into mandatory meetings and, even better, unions get access to employer property to easily rebut employer arguments and even participate in voluntary meetings held to discuss unionization.

If anyone was fired over the next five days of the election, any court would wonder if it's not an anti-union firing, what was so terrible that the employer couldn't wait five days to deliver the bad news--so employer loses in court and owes three times lost wages to the employee, so any fired employee gets a very lucrative vacation if they get fired.

The company would also pay a penalty to the government of $20,000 per employee illegally effected.

With recognition, employers would have to negotiate a first contract or see an independent arbitrator impose a first contract - a strong incentive to the employer to bargain in good faith for a contract he or she can live with.

This is worlds away from the present situation where elections take well over a month at minimum and often far longer, while mandatory meetings and firings destroy union support and any penalties come in months and even years later for employer actions - and the costs to the employer from those penalties are so minimal that they act as no deterrence.

If anyone wants a frame for this new labor law, it's simple--cracking down on illegal corporate behavior during union elections. The bill becomes a "tough on crime" bill, pure and simple.

It's not everything labor wants and it's a dramatic compromise to placate conservative Democrats, but it would be a major improvement for workers rights if it passed in this form.

In 2nd Vote, Boston Globe Union Accepts Wage Cuts

Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — After rejecting an earlier offer, The Boston Globe’s largest union has voted overwhelmingly to approve a new contract that would give the financially struggling newspaper $10 million in concessions.

The newspaper reported that the Boston Newspaper Guild voted 366-179 to accept the deal that was hammered out after the union narrowly voted down a similar package last month.

The Guild represents editorial, advertising and business employees at the Globe.

The newspaper’s parent, The New York Times Co., imposed a 23 percent wage cut on the union after the previous contract proposal was voted down.

The new contract cuts salaries by nearly 6 percent. It also includes unpaid furloughs, a pension freeze, a reduction in health care benefits and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees. The agreement will save the newspaper $10 million through salary and benefit cuts.

“Our aim throughout our negotiations has been to achieve the necessary savings in a way that causes the least hardship for our employees,” Globe Publisher Steve Ainsley said. “We’re very pleased to have reached an agreement that accomplishes those goals.”

The Times Co. has said it needed $10 million in wage and benefit concessions from the Guild on top of $10 million in concessions it negotiated with six other unions.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Employee Free Choice Act Compromise Announced

This morning’s New York Times is reporting (subscription required) that key US Senators have reached a compromise with labor unions that will have the 60 votes needed to pass. The key provisions include a 5 to 10 day election period, providing union organizers access to company property, and banning employee meetings held by employers.

The article reports:

“Though some details remain to be worked out, under the expected revisions, union elections would have to be held within five or 10 days after 30 percent of workers signed cards favoring having a union. Currently, the campaigns often run two months."

"To further address labor’s concerns that the election process is tilted in favor of employers, key senators are considering several measures. One would require employers to give union organizers access to company property. Another would bar employers from requiring workers to attend anti-union sessions that labor supporters deride as “captive audience meetings.”

They anticipate a vote in September.

KTLA Puts Telairity BC8100 HD Encoder Into Service: First MPEG-4 Encoder for News Copters

New encoder upgrades video quality while lowering output transmission rate from 18Mbs to 12Mbs

SANTA CLARA, Calif., June 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Telairity announced today that KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, one of the nation's most distinguished local television news organizations, has successfully completed switching over its helicopter news transmissions to high definition MPEG-4 using the Telairity BC8100 H.264/AVC HD encoder.

Mounted aboard Sky5 HD, the station's flagship news helicopter, the BC8100 encoder helped KTLA switch its compression technology from the older, more data intensive MPEG-2 to the more efficient MPEG-4 format.

The Telairity encoder is the world's first MPEG-4 encoder expressly designed for aerial news vehicles, including both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

KTLA turned to TELAIRITY to design a new MPEG-4 HD encoder: a natural extension of the company equipping the station's fleet of 10 live ENG ground vehicles with Telairity's BH8100 HD MPEG-4 encoders. KTLA broadcasts over eight hours of live studio and field news per day, and virtually all in HD.

The transition of Sky5 HD from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 compression technology was triggered by the broadcast industry's permanent switchover from analog to digital technology, which was completed this month (6/15/09).

A side effect of this change has the squeezing of the available bandwidth for Broadcast Auxiliary Services (BAS), used to transmit from the field to the studio or to a remote transmission site, from 18Mbps and higher to 12Mbps and lower. With older MPEG-2 compression technology, acceptable HD video quality cannot be achieved with the reduced digital bandwidth.

According to Howard Sachs, CEO of Telairity, "We made KTLA's decision easy.

First, we had already established a reputation for exceptional value, quality, reliability, and service with our BH8100 encoder, deployed in KTLA's fleet of ENG trucks.

Second, because we control all our own encoder technology, from chip to sheet metal, we were the only company able to meet KTLA's stringent form factor and other requirements for aerial use in time to keep Sky5 HD on the air, with the digital transition set for the start of June in the LA area."

KTLA, owned by Tribune Broadcasting and a CW affiliate, was among the first stations to present high definition newscasts, beginning in 2007, and the first station to deploy advanced MPEG-4 technology for HD in its ENG vehicles.

Based on the same highly efficient, low-latency H.264/AVC encoding technology used in its other encoders, the BC8100 encoder is designed to support robust live transmissions from airborne news units. It virtually eliminates fade-out problems, allowing studio decoders to lock on to its signals nearly four times faster than other systems.

"KTLA has been with us every step of the way in the development of this airborne encoding system," Sachs added. "We thank the engineering staff for its support and look forward to the station's inclusion of our encoders as part of its everyday HD broadcast equipment package."

About Telairity

Telairity is a supplier of innovative real-time H.264/AVC (MPEG-4) video compression solutions for broadcasting, backhaul, IPTV, and related markets.

The company's unique video processing technology, based on the Telairity T1P2000 multi-core video processor and associated direct-execution AVClairity video compression software, delivers the industry's lowest latency and best price/performance for real-time H.264 video encoders today, with unique features like "instant-on" service. The company is based in Santa Clara, Calif. Further information is available at

Telairity and AVClairity are trademarks of Telairity, Inc. All other trademarks appearing herein are the property of their respective owners.
SOURCE Telairity Semiconductor

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Will Price Rollbacks by ABC, CBS, Fox Jump-start Stalled Upfront?

by Brian Steinberg

Top Networks Offer 'Obligatory' Declines, but Buyers Want 'Something Deeper'

NEW YORK ( -- The three best-performing broadcast networks have begun offering price rollbacks, the latest sign that both sides in this year's protracted upfront negotiations are slowly drawing closer on terms.

According to media buyers, ABC, Fox and CBS have begun offering slight declines in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, or CPM, a common measure in upfront discussions.

Those declines appear to be in the range of 1% to 3%, according to executives familiar with the talks. Buyers said News Corp.'s Fox is not going as negative as its rivals, citing top-draw programming such as "American Idol" and the network's Sunday-night animation lineup.

The buyers also said CBS has been trying to keep from rolling back prices, citing its ability to increase ratings in important categories in the recently completed season.

All three networks, which finished the year with stronger ratings than rivals NBC and the CW, declined to comment on the status of their negotiations. NBC has been said to be offering mid- to high-single-digit percentage decreases in CPM.

CBS and ABC have been telling buyers they don't consider pacts with NBC something they need to match, according to people familiar with the situation. With a coming fall season that includes five nights of a Jay Leno-hosted talk show that is not expected to bring in the ratings of a traditional hourlong drama, NBC has fewer prime-time ratings points to sell. That said, NBC has made some gains in the market with its cable channels, according to buyers, and some theorize that rivals worry that sitting on the sidelines for too long could give those cable outlets a chance to steal ad dollars.

The broadcast networks typically sell 70% to 80% of their advertising inventory for the fall season during upfront talks, but the roiled economy has prompted concerns from advertisers that have forced prolonged bargaining. Typically upfront talks finish in mid-June, but buyers said little business is being finalized, as advertisers press for significant rollbacks in pricing, and the overall volume of ad commitments is down.

It's unclear whether the networks' willingness to offer rollbacks will result in a quicker pace to the proceedings. The figures are "obligatory negative numbers," said one buying executive. "We're looking for something deeper than that."

The longer the palaver over pricing, however, the direr the situation becomes. If the two sides can't come to an agreement, will there be ads to support "Grey's Anatomy," "House," "CSI" and the rest of the nation's best-loved shows come the fall?

Around mid-August, media buyers say, there's a very real concern that upfront negotiations will not be able to be completed in time for the fall season. Already buyers are starting to envision a "total scatter market" for the fourth quarter, in which advertisers pay for time on an as-needed basis at a price the marketplace will bear. First- and second-quarter ad berths would be negotiated in advance, they said.

TV networks are said to be anxious not to dismiss the future value of their ad time, and have been touting the fact that an improving economy would raise prices in the fourth, first and second quarters. Advertisers, meanwhile, have taken the position that an economic recovery won't be in sight until well into 2010, and are emphasizing an inability to increase ad spending while consumers are unable to countenance price increases.

Will The Weather Channel Replace Local NBC Forecasts?: "We're Looking at That Opportunity"

by Kevin Allocca

Yesterday, during the launch presentation for The Weather Channel's new show Wake Up With Al (WUWA!), we had a chance to speak with Geoffrey Darby, the Executive VP of Programming at the network.
On the programming end, "WUWA!" could be just the first of several changes for the channel and possibly for your local NBC weatherman (or, rather, weatherperson).

We asked Darby if NBC is looking at replacing locally-produced weather segments at NBC's 10 owned & operated stations, with segments from Weather Channel meteorologists in Atlanta.

"We do that now on the radio. You can feel local on the radio," Darby said. "On TV, it's different. It's hard to feel local when you're not there. Weather is local. Weathermen you can send to the state fair."

Currently, the channel has one product in place, Weatherscan, but that's a long way from replacing local meteorologists. "We're examining it. We have to figure it out," Darby says. "We haven't yet. But there is clearly the opportunity to do that. I can tell you we're looking at that opportunity."

Darby said viewers can expect more tie-ins with NBC Nightly News and increased presence at sporting events including the Super Bowl and the Olympics, "Weather is a big deal with the Olympics and we will be a part of that."

Of course, Al Roker's new show is the first step. "Right now, this was our first priority, because Al does weather. I don't think there's another Al."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Debt-heavy Univision survives the punches, at least for now

By Meg James

The Spanish-language broadcaster has blunted blows dealt by the economic recession and the company's legal battle with programming giant Grupo Televisa, but stopgap measures aren't solutions.

When Spanish-language broadcasting giant Univision Communications Inc. was sold for $13.7 billion three years ago, the highly leveraged deal was, in the words of one veteran banker, "priced for perfection."

Given the $10 billion in debt the buyers were assuming, the slightest hiccup in the company's financial performance would have a cascading, negative effect.

The buyers, a consortium of investors including entertainment mogul Haim Saban, were counting on several factors to justify the steep purchase price: The nation's exploding Latino population and the popularity of Spanish-language programming, coupled with the promise of robust advertising growth. They expected to hold the assets for a few years and then sell them at a tidy profit.

One thing the buyers have learned: It's not a perfect world.In the two years since the buyout, the economy has collapsed, dragging down advertising to media companies. Adding to the economic distress, Univision, owner of KMEX-TV Channel 34 in Los Angeles, has been mired in a costly legal battle with its primary programming partner.

The big payday for Univision's owners, which include a group of well-heeled private equity firms, seems further away and far less certain. So instead of riding a high wave to easy profits, Univision executives have been working furiously to dig Univision out of its hole. During the last year, the broadcaster has written down assets by $5.3 billion, and some industry insiders now believe the nation's largest Spanish-language media company is worth closer to $9 billion -- slightly less than what it owes."This is about survival," said Sean Mathis, a partner at New Centurion Capital Partners, a New York investment bank that specializes in restructurings, but is not involved with Univision. "They have to service all of this debt that they put on the company, and they are not generating the cash flow they need."

In recent months, Univision has been busy putting out fires on multiple fronts to shore up its finances and to protect its programming pipeline. In January, it settled a nagging lawsuit brought by its longtime programming partner, Grupo Televisa of Mexico, which had threatened to strip Univision of its most popular and profitable shows. The resolution guaranteed Univision the right to broadcast Televisa's hugely popular soap operas, including "Cuidado con el Angel," through 2017.

Two weeks ago, Univision bought itself breathing room by refinancing $500 million in debt, pushing back the due date by three years to 2014. The extension means that Univision no longer has to worry about burning through its cash within the next two years. And during the last few months, Univision achieved one of its highest priorities --
getting cable and satellite TV operators to pay the company to carry its programming.

The agreements with Time Warner Cable Inc., DirecTV Corp., AT&T Inc. and others should bring Univision $175 million this year, and as much as $350 million annually by 2014. The cable subscriber fees helps Univision diversify its revenue and, for now, make up for the decline in ad revenue.

Univision's chief financial officer, Andrew Hobson, said the company's actions during the last six months had put it on a stronger footing and should allow it to weather other economic storms."Our balance sheet is now bulletproof for even the most draconian scenarios," Hobson said. "We don't feel that we have covenant risks or liquidity risks for at least another five years."Still, credit rating agencies worry that Univision could default on its loans that total $9.7 billion. "This clears the runway a little bit for them, but we still have concerns about their liquidity and their ability to make their debt amortization payments ," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Michael Altberg, who acknowledged that Univision had bolstered its position. "Before their credit amendment, they didn't have that much of a cushion." Barclays Capital debt analyst Andrew Finkelstein said Univision executives did "exactly what they needed to do for now."

But Univision's challenge in the next few years, he said, will be to increase revenue -- a difficult task during an economic recession. "So now it's clear sailing for them until 2014, which should give them enough time to grow their business and cash flows and make their balance sheet work," Finkelstein said. Nonetheless, he said Univision must "show growth in their business" to support its capital structure.

Univision's predicament is not all that unusual for a company sold in a leveraged buyout at the top of the market. In 2006, Univision's then-controlling shareholder, billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio, orchestrated a bidding war for the company. The Spanish-language broadcaster had been showing dramatic growth, along with the Latino population. Univision's upside seemed unlimited.

On one side of the auction was Televisa and investor companies, including Cascade Investment, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates' asset management firm. On the other was Saban, who has made a fortune owning the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and, later, through selling a stake in the Fox Family cable channel to Walt Disney Co. He was joined by private equity firms Providence Equity Partners, Madison Dearborn Partners, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Texas Pacific Group.

To claim the prize, the Saban group agreed to pony up $12.3 billion as well as assume $1.4 billion in existing debt. The four private equity firms each contributed about $900 million, and Saban chipped in $300 million.

Bank loans made up the remaining $10 billion needed to take the company private.Saban, now chairman of Univision, declined to comment for this article.

The buyers figured they could drive up the value of Univision for a quick sale, within five years, by improving areas of the company that they felt had been insufficiently mined: requiring cable and satellite TV operators to pay for carriage of Univision's two broadcast networks, and raising the prices charged to advertisers for commercial time.

Then the recession hit and ad rates fell."Univision had been raising its rates for many years," said Hector Orci, co-chairman of Los Angeles advertising firm La Agencia de Orci & Asociados. "They thought they would continue with business as usual, but now business as usual has become minus 5%."

So instead of taking in more ad revenue, Univision's owners saw the collapse of the auto industry, one of television's biggest advertisers.

Retailers and banks, also major buyers of radio and TV commercials, sputtered too. In 2009's first quarter, Univision's revenue skidded 12% to $410.3 million.

"We think we've hit bottom there. Now we see a more stable environment," said Joe Uva, Univision's chief executive. "As the economy starts to improve, we are poised to take advantage of that."

But media veterans speculate that Univision would be hard pressed to refinance its loans again -- not to mention selling the company -- if it waits until 2014, when the bulk of the debt must be repaid.

By that time, the broadcaster will have only three years remaining on its programming agreement with Televisa, which expires at the end of 2017.

Few buyers would be willing to pay a premium for a company that could suddenly be without its most important source of programming.

And without Televisa's shows, Univision's value is in doubt.

"Their strategic plan has to include what to do after 2017, and that means developing more original programming," Orci said. "But that's going to be a huge investment. There are a hundred failures on the way to find that one big hit. But they have to figure that out in the next couple of years, or they will be in trouble."

Local News Service (LNS) Will Cause ENG Crew Layoffs

The stated goal of the Local News Service (LNS) is to cut costs at multiple stations in each market by limiting the number of crews going to cover standard news events and free them up for more substantial stories.

Each station contributes personnel and gear to the pool in the form of photographers, assignment editors, talent, ENG equipment packages, and trucks. An independent managing editor determines the stories to be covered each day by the Local News Service and arranges the collection and delivery of footage for each participating station.

Conceptually, the press conference, mayoral address, and the ribbon-cutting type of pre-scheduled events don't require five different camera crews. According to management, those freed-up resources can do much more good when redirected toward stories that have a lasting impact on the community.

In reality, since the service officially began in New York on June 22, LNS crews are being dispached not only to scheduled pressors, but to breaking news for WNYW, WWOR, WNBC, WCBS, and WPIX as well. This concept is just another way to cut staff at the stations by allowing the elimination of up to 75% of union ENG crews at each shop.

The managements at WNYW, WWOR, WNBC, WCBS, and WPIX have joined together for their mutual benefit in their efforts to shrink their staffs and weaken their collective bargaining agreements.

The broadcasting unions can do no less if we are to stop the eroding of our jurisdiction, wages, conditions, and benefits. IATSE, IBEW, and NABET-CWA must band together for our own mutual benefit.

As Benjamin Franklin said; " We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. "


Bob Daraio

Tribune Co. profitability continues to deteriorate

By: Ann Saphir

(Crain’s) — Tribune Co.’s financial picture deteriorated even more this year as declining advertising sales continued to hammer the newspaper industry, the Chicago media conglomerate’s bankruptcy filings show.

The company is much less profitable than before its filing in December and is burning through cash, financial statements for the first five months of the year show.

Tribune’s revenue declined about 23% in the first half of 2009, according to an estimate by Chicago-based Morningstar Inc. analyst Tom Corbett, who reviewed the company’s financials.

“They are just like every other newspaper company I am looking at,” Mr. Corbett said. “They are seeing vertiginous losses in ad sales and their profitability is suffering from having fixed costs.”

Nationally, newspaper ad sales declined almost 30% in the first quarter, Mr. Corbett said. Tribune doesn’t report profit, but a Crain’s analysis of cash flow shows the company had an 8% profit margin for the first few months of the year, which is less than half the 19% margin it boasted in the first half of 2008.

Tribune is “still profitable, but significantly less so than last year,” Mr. Corbett said.

The profit decline may add to the pressure on CEO Sam Zell to seal a deal on the Cubs, which went on the block more than two years ago. A bid led by Chicago bond salesman Tom Ricketts for around $850 million has been held up by disagreements over broadcast rights.

Selling the team would bring in cash that could help pay off Tribune’s $12-billion debt, an important hurdle before the company can restructure its liabilities and emerge from bankruptcy.

As a private company in bankruptcy, Tribune publishes far less financial information than it did last year as a publicly traded one, making comparisons difficult.

Instead of revenue, the company reports operating receipts, which were down 14% from the beginning of the year to $1.36 billion as of May 31. Despite the drop in operating receipts, the company took in $112 million more in cash than it spent between January and the end of May, bankruptcy filings show.

The company is cash-flow positive and has more cash on hand today than it did when it filed for bankruptcy protection, a Tribune spokesman said. He declined to provide any details on ad sales or circulation trends this year but acknowledged that there is more pressure on the business.

“Since going private, we have re-engineered many of our existing products and introduced new ones, expanded our local news programming, dramatically reduced our expenses and positioned the company to succeed in the face of an extremely difficult ad environment and a worsening economy,” the spokesman said.