Thin-skinned media bigwigs trade insults, Microsoft and Yahoo continue to make eyes at each other across the boardroom table, and a mysterious, rich felon moves into the Plaza … all in today's roundup of media, finance, law and real-estate news.
• Steve Schwarzman found yet another way to stiff his investors, using the GSO deal as an elaborate cover to buyback shares of Blackstone without the typical benefit a buyback program gives to other shareholders. No wonder the Chinese, who have lost $1 billion on Blackstone, hate him. [DealBook/NYT]
• Bank of America bought Countrywide Financial, the huge mortgage company teetering at the edge of bankruptcy, for $4 billion in stock. Some observers worry the deal will take the bank down, but considering Countrywide was worth $30 billion before the mortgage meltdown, it may yet make B of A CEO Ken Lewis a king. [Deal Journal/WSJ]
• Merrill Lynch will likely take a $15 billion write-down next week, far in excess of the $12 billion some already bearish analysts had predicted. John Thain is looking to rescue the bank with still more foreign investment capital, but with the Senate getting anxious, that stream dry up. [NYT, NYP]
Many of you may not know Dan Cooper. He's a sort-of-disgruntled former employee of the Fox News Channel who worked through its launch in 1996 and 1997 (according to his Website, he helped figure out how to get "truly local weather to be placed in a 'bug' in the corner of the screen"). He's been writing a book about the experience, called Naked Launch, which is apparently pretty scathing to FNC co-creator Roger Ailes. Jossip hears that he's about to set part of his criticism on his Website later today, including this gem:
The best thing that ever happened to Roger Ailes was 9/11. Even Roger Ailes, Machiavellian as he was, couldn’t have dreamed up anybody as fabulous as Usama bin Laden (Allah told Roger to spell it Usama), or UBL, as Fox News called him. Because somebody up there, or down there, loved Roger, 9/11 happened on his watch. It gave him the opportunity to throw gasoline on the bonfire he had already set to scorch and destroy traditional liberal values. For those of you under 50, the United States once had liberal values. There was even such a thing as liberal Republicans. That’s enough of that, because I know talking about the Devil’s spawn and blond big-boobed temptresses is far more interesting. But hang on a bit.
On 9/11 and Ailes, well, duh. But we kind of love Roger Ailes for what he's done with the Fox Business Network of Joy and for being so unashamed about everything Foxy. Still, "Devil's spawn" and "big-boobed temptresses"? We'd totally buy a book about him if it were written in the voice of Anne Rice!
Former Roger Ailes Confidant Dan Cooper is Ready to Spill Blood [Jossip]
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Did anybody else notice the funny timing of the New York Times' attack coverage of Fox Business Network? On January 4, Jacques Steinberg and Brian Stelter wrote a story called "Few Viewers for Infancy of Fox Business," in which the two television writers tore down the new channel for getting only about 6,000 viewers during the day. "By contrast, Fox Business’s chief competitor, CNBC, attracted about 283,000 viewers each weekday," the story explained, going on to accuse FBN of having "bravado" during their launch. "Thus far, at least, CNBC would seem to have easily eluded Fox’s crosshairs," the writers cackle. The numbers were based on secret Nielsen ratings for the new channel that only CNBC and FBN had paid to receive. On the same day, there were severalotherstories on the topic, with less gleeful Schadenfreude. And since, in those stories, a Fox rep spoke with reporters, it's probably a safe bet that they didn't cooperate on the Times story. In other words, they probably didn't leak the unpublished Nielsen ratings: CNBC most likely did. Now, it's pretty easy to understand wanting Rupert Murdoch and Fox to fail. But the aggression in this story was put into a surprising new context yesterday when it was announced that CNBC and the New York Times are starting a content-sharing partnership that has been in the works for a while. From the Reuters story reporting the collaboration:
The deal also gives the Times and CNBC access to each other's breaking business news as Rupert Murdoch's News Corp prepares to fight them both with the nascent Fox Business Network cable channel and the recently acquired Wall Street Journal.
• Despite Roger Ailes's declaration that Fox Business Channel would start a “revolution” against rival business channel CNBC, this war appears to have petered out after a skirmish: Only about 6,300 people a day, on average, watch the babes of FBN, compared to the 283,000 who tune in to CNBC for that dreamy hunk Charlie Gasparino. [NYT]
• Let the stunts begin! David Letterman plans to shave off his beard on the air next Monday: "Can we get a guy in here Monday to shave me? Now, a good guy, because the last time we did this, I looked like—when he was done, I looked like I'd been in a knife fight." No word yet on whether Conan O'Brien, who's writers unlike Letterman's are still on strike, will lose his whiskers. Meanwhile, Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel turned down Colbert's invite to appear on his show, showing solidarity with the strikers. [NYDN, NYO]
• The Writers Guild is facing its own little labor problem: The East Coast branch's internal staff claims that the contract they signed back in October was later changed without their permission. Let's see, what's that word … something writers always love. Oh, right, irony. [NYP]
On Wednesday night when we ran into Mel Brooks at the Fox Business Network launch party, he told us that he was still making "nips and cuts" to his new Broadway show, Young Frankenstein, which is in previews right now. "It's going in the right direction," he assured us, jollily. But apparently Mel is painting a rosy picture. In today's Post, Michael Riedel reports that Brooks and the Frankenstein crew are panicking because lead actor Roger Bart's back problems are going to prevent him from taking the stage in most performances. He has a talented understudy, but Riedel's source (someone ridiculously nicknamed "Deep Abby Norman") says that producers are looking for a more famous lead. Eddie Izzard and Hugh Jackman have both been mentioned. We're guessing, though, if he happened to ask Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes at the FBN party for their thoughts, they'd have given the same advice we will: Pick whoever is the hottest.
Decision Is Spinal [NYP]
Earlier:Fox Business Network: The Victory PartyREAD MORE »
Last night's launch party for Fox Business Network had so many media and business moguls, you couldn't throw a canapé without mussing up the rug of some very important dude. Seriously, our throats were burning from inhaling the perfume of wealth and success. In one corner of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur, Liz Smith chatted with Mel Brooks and Harvey Weinstein. (Apparently, Harvey loves the channel. "I love Roger Ailes," he said, though he would not tell us what he liked the best or whether he ate Money for Breakfast.) In another corner, Oscar and Annette de la Renta greeted Regis and Joy Philbin. And kingly in the middle of it all, like a pair of samurai and their husbands, were Rupert Murdoch, Les Moonves, Julie Chen, and Rupert's wife, Wendi Deng. "Wendi, we love your bracelets!" we cried in unison, suddenly morphing into Blair's sidekicks in Gossip Girl. "They were only twenty dollars," she exclaimed. Wow, we thought. Wendi is so down-to-earth! "But this wasn't," she laugh-cackled, flashing us her index finger, which was adorned with what looked to be the actual Hope Diamond.
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So the numbers are in, and it looks like Fox Business Network and its ruthless cadre of joy buccaneers has made a dent on the cable finance-news market. Well, the numbers aren't quite in – FBN won't be officially tracked until next year. But it looked like during their first week on the air, audience numbers for rival CNBC dipped noticeably Monday through Thursday across a wide range of indicators. This is great news for Roger Ailes, who was probably only planning on measuring the network's success on how much it damaged CNBC, his former home, anyway. CNBC did make strides in the coveted 25 to 54 age demographic, but this is where their pragmatism will get in the way. A slight positive in a wash of negative news on CNBC would be treated as a defeat. On FBN, it would be a win, win, win!!
Viewership Dips, But Key Demo Gains During Four Days After Fox Business Network Launch [Multichannel]
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Last night moguls and media types gathered to celebrate the revamp of Business Week. Henry Kissinger, Dylan Lauren, Atoosa Rubenstein, and Alexis Stewart (Martha's daughter) all rallied at Guastavino's to toast editor-in-chief Stephen Adler. Michael Eisner praised the redesign and then got down to business with us about — what else? — the Fox Business Network."When you have Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes doing a project, you can’t discount it," he told us. "So I suspect it will be competitive and successful." Eisner reminded us that he has his own show on CNBC, a network he thinks is "pretty entrenched and well done." "I think it will be a long time before they’re taken over the way CNN was taken over by Fox News," he said. "It's not really analogous."
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The Economist makes a good point today. Why, if CNBC is distributed into 90 million homes and the fledgling Fox Business Network has only barged its way into 30 million, is the old network so worried? CNBC is already doing what FBN claims it will try to newly achieve — that is, bringing business news to the common man and taking a pro-business approach. Since both FBN and CNBC were shepherded into life by Roger Ailes himself, Fox will obviously face a major problem differentiating itself, let alone improving upon the formula. But will that even matter? As the mag points out, a rising stock market tends to be good for ratings, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is at a new record high. Plus, the subprime crisis in August gave CNBC its best numbers in half a decade. If that all continues, there might be enough demand for both networks to flourish. Now that wouldn't be any fun, would it?
A New Business Channel Takes on General Electric's CNBC [The Economist]
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When we saw the Wall Street Journal interview today with Fox Business Network overlord Roger Ailes, we were excited to learn more about the soon-to-debut channel. So when we began to flip through, we were less than delighted that all we read about was CNBC. Ailes began his interview with the WSJ's Rebecca Dana by saying, "I think the CNBC Fox Business Network so-called rivalry could be overblown." And then he went on to rant about his former network for much of the rest of the interview. "They've embraced capitalism suddenly," he chortles. "They've put on shows: what? Capitalism's good! What a plan." Oh, har. If this is the kind of muckraking journalism we can expect from FBN, we'll definitely tune in! After the jump, more on what FBN's Roger Ailes has to say about — what else? — Another network.
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• Murdoch is hinting heavily that he'll take WSJ.com free, but Dow Jones CEO Richard Zannino doesn't think it's such a great idea. [WSJ]
• Well, we'll be — Portfolio pulling down pretty good ad pages. [NYP]
• Roger Ailes, former CNBC president now with Fox Business Network, making many CNBCers interested in switching teams. It may be many things, but it won't be boring! [NYO]
Leave it to Rupert Murdoch, the T-Rex of media moguls, to accuse one of his competitors of enabling pedophilia on the Internet. “If you want to extort a young girl on Facebook, it will be very easy,” the 76-year-old chairman of News Corp. — which owns Facebook rival MySpace — claimed this morning at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia XVI Conference. “You can’t on MySpace,” he added, touting the security features of his Web operation as superior to those of Brand X. Nervous laughter rippled across the packed crowd of capitalists at the Grand Hyatt, where Murdoch kept flashing a toothy grin — less an expression of happiness than an animal threat-gesture. “Everybody laughed at me when I bought MySpace [for $580 million in July 2005],” he added, “and now it’s worth 25 times” what he paid for it.
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• Atlantic owner David Bradley sent ponies to Jeffrey Goldberg's kids to help lure him away from The New Yorker. Seriously. [WP]
• Just before the Dow Jones deal went through, the Bancrofts voted to double this quarter's dividend for themselves [NYP]
• Murdoch and Ailes's next move? All-out war? (Wait, they're not at war with everyone else already?) [Newsweek]
Today's Times turns our attention to the ethically fraught friendship between Rudy Giuliani and Fox News Channel honcho Roger Ailes: Giuliani had employed Ailes as a media consultant, lobbied for him later, and officiated at his wedding. Once, Rudy even gave him an issue of Wine Spectator! It could thus be reasonably inferred that Roger owes him one. Cue the chart that conclusively proves that Giuliani is getting disproportionate amounts of screen time on FNC: 115 minutes to date, compared to Mitt Romney's 91. There are two underlying assumptions we find a little strange about the Times' alarm over this. First, the thesis that a Republican front-runner, whoever he may be, needs to be best buddies with Ailes to skew FNC's sympathies toward him; and second, that these sympathies can be "skewed" to begin with — which accidentally validates FNC's claims of impartiality in matters that don't involve Rudy. Sure, Romney may have gotten only 91 minutes on Fox News; John Edwards had six.
In Fox News, Giuliani Finds a Friendly Stage [NYT]
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