NYT pettiness: TV reporter Bill Carter confirms this morning that Jeff Zucker will replace Bob Wright as chairman and CEO of NBC Univeral. Whew! That's a relief, now that the NYT says it's so. The rest of the world picked up on the news Sunday morning when the LAT's Meg James broke the story. Amazingly, there's no mention of the LAT scoop in Carter's story (typically, major papers will acknowledge scoops from the competition, however grudgingly). Not only doesn't the LAT get a mention, but Carter cites a NYT Sunday takeout on Wright and Zucker some months ago as having "presaged" the management changeover. (I'd love to know the backstory on this one.)
Meanwhile, back in L.A.: The LAT's Meg James, who broke the Zucker story on Sunday, comes back with a 2nd day piece on how NBC parent GE likes handing over top posts to folks in their 40s. Wright is 63. GE Chairman Jeff Immelt decided to make the move now - rather than later as Wright had wished - because of several factors, including the network's lethargy in developing Web-related ideas. From the LAT:
Immelt was annoyed that NBC Universal executives weren't taking the threat and promise of the Internet as seriously as he thought they should. "You could hear the frustration in his voice," one executive said. While rivals such as News Corp. were pursuing Internet acquisitions such as the social-networking site MySpace, NBC Universal embarked on an ill-fated attempt to buy DreamWorks SKG in 2005. Wright championed the effort, but Immelt didn't think DreamWorks was worth the $1.5-billion price tag. News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch had picked off MySpace's parent company for a meager $580 million. Immelt "didn't want to overpay for yesterday's news," one former executive said.
Herbalife skyrockets: There's nothing like a fat, juicy takeover offer to put a little friskiness in your stock. Shares of L.A.-based Herbalife are up more than 21 percent this morning on word that private equity firm Whitney & Co. has offered to buy the supplier of dietary and weight-loss supplements. As of 7 this morning, the stock was trading at $40.12, which is higher than Whitney's $38 offer. That means there could be buzz about the possibility of a higher bid. Whitney's $38 a share offer on Friday was 15 percent higher than Herbalife's close that day. Tradingmarkets.com
Barbie bulks up: Well, not literally. But at the annual Toy Fair in NY, Mattel's iconic doll will be getting all kinds of jazzed-up features in an effort to keep up with a marketplace that has gone increasingly high-tech. The big news happens in the spring, when El Segundo-based Mattel introduces what it calls Barbie Girl, "the next generation of fashion doll." No details, other than it somehow ties standard fashion-doll play with the Internet. LAT
Spielberg speaks: The NYT gets around to exploring how DreamWorks is getting along as a unit of Viacom-owned Paramount. Not that it'll matter to most of the world, but the piece opens with that same tired anecdote about Paramount Chairman Brad Grey greeting the celebrity-packed crowd at the premiere of "Dreamgirls" - ticking off the DreamWorks' folks because it supposedly looked like he was taking credit. What the piece does offer is an interview with Steven Spielberg, who said there's stuff to work out during what he called "the honeymoon period." But he sounds less than thrilled over the new arrangement:
“I’m certain that had I decided not to go along with the sale of DreamWorks, we probably would have gotten less money from either bidder,” Mr. Spielberg said in an interview two weeks ago, alluding to the studio’s two suitors for the acquisition, Viacom and General Electric. “I wasn’t compelled to renew my contract. I could have just, sort of, taken the money and run, and I didn’t. I chose to stay with the studio I co-founded. At the same time, I have some bargaining power,” Mr. Spielberg continued. “I insisted, contractually, on autonomy for DreamWorks if I was going to continue under the Paramount and Viacom funding arrangement. So I take exception when the press is contacted by our friends and partners at Paramount, who refer to every DreamWorks picture as a Paramount picture. It is not the case.”
Housing's Trojan horse?: In the final three months of last year, there were 2.1 million vacant homes for sale, bringing the national homeowner vacancy rate to 2.7 percent. It's never been higher than 2 percent (the West was at 2.4 percent). The report doesn't usually get much notice, but the numbers are so big that some analysts worry about whether excess housing supply could mean further declines in new construction. The concern is that lots of those homes are owned by speculators who are stuck with properties they might have to sell for much-reduced prices. WSJ
Ad anxiety: UCLA researchers scanned the brains of five men and five women between the ages of 18 and 34 as they watched Super Bowl ads and found that one getting particular attention was the General Motors spot in which a robot is kicked off an assembly line for dropping a screw. "But they did not feel good about the message. It produced big spikes of anxiety and perhaps ... feelings of economic insecurity," said Josh Freedman, one of the researchers. The GM ad was prepared by the L.A. office of Deutsch. Reuters
Partytime at Roth: NY Post looks at the wild and crazy antics put on by little Roth Capital Partners, the Newport Beach-based underwriter that focuses on small cap issues. The Roth parties include topless models and gangsta rappers (Ludacris is scheduled in a few weeks). It's the kind of stuff the major firms have shied away from in recent years (sexual discrimination claims will do that). From the NY Post:
After its one-day New York conference at the end of September, Roth took several hundred of its clients to the mammoth Buddakan in the Meatpacking District for a Cancun-meets-Wall Street-themed lollapalooza. The primary feature of Roth's event was the presence of "several dozen" topless Asian models, with the ticker symbols of the companies Roth underwrote body-painted on. A firm spokeswoman confirmed that the women were topless, describing them as "part of a plan to help everyone unwind after a really long, hard day."