Thursday, December 20, 2007

Weapons of Mass Zellstruction

Are you really all that surprised?

Did you expect anything less from Sam Zell?

He positioned Boy Kevin Martin’s FCC hackarama to give him what he wanted – and one day later word comes down that soon-to-be-Chairman of the Tribune Corp. Zell is taking out Dennis FitzSimons and making the socially maladjusted Randy Michaels the new Chief Executive Officer of the Tribune Company.

(Don’t cry for Fitz. He jumps with a $38 million golden parachute.)

The Trib should rename the position for the CEO formerly known as Bennie Homel. How about Chief Executive Butcher? Prince of Darkness? The Executioner?

It’s obvious that Zell bringing Michaels in was premeditated. Some would say premeditated murder considering what the company will look like once Zell finishes parting out the joint.

How about that? These poor souls at the Trib Corp. will now be working for a CEO with the social skills of a loan shark.

It’s hard to say who’ll be worse off – those that get downsized or those that don’t.

You thought I was joking on November 30th when I said the layoff and buyout lists were being prepared?

In fact, Zell and Michaels are already one step ahead. They’ve even wrapped up the invites to their next golden parachute club jump.

They’ll build it on paper, they’ll profit from it, and you’ll eat it. Money is always more fun to spend when it belongs to someone else.

Why should Zell worry about that cool $10 billion in debt? Follow this scenario. For starters, the Trib will unload the Cubbies for a cool billion - at least.

Don’t believe Zell is bringing back the AM-FM-TV-newspaper ownership era. He did this deal to sell off as many papers as he can. They’ll market their L.A.Times, Newsday, and a few others for far more than they're worth to some suckers. That’s a few more billion there.

Zell knows that there are those concerned about the future of newspapers. They’re the ones working for them.

You have to hand it to Zell. He’s trapped four banks: JPMorgan, Merrill, Citigroup, and Bank of America to move with him on this deal. It can’t go south because they’d lose around a half billion.

Question: How many times can these institutions go to the Chinese for a bail out?

Someone’s always out there gullible enough to buy their hype. But Zell and Michaels are two peas in a pod. Add two more and you’ll have the media equivalent of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

One of the crown jewels in the Trib’s new media division is Career Builder. No, that’s not a joke but it will be.

Let’s look at what the world the surviving Trib employees will live in.

Start with their new version of HR? When in doubt, just alter the records, or tear them up.

Telling dirty jokes and degrading women while not mandatory, will be strongly recommended.

Maybe Michaels will start wearing that rubber penis around his neck again?

Computer records? Hard drives were made to be fried.

Video-tracked news. Who needs local anchors when you can take one with a low cut top, match her with Jerry Springer, and feed the world?

Your local Cleveland weather will now delivered from Grand Rapids.

Dallas will do Houston.

L.A. will cover San Diego to Seattle.

Here’s a new concept: re-running actualities. All fires, shootings, murders and unemployment lines look alike.

Why use a stink of human camera crew when you can just rerun stock footage of storms, accidents, cats in a tree, an arrow shot into a duck’s wing? You see one, you see them all.

You need cute? Run stock footage of puppies or kittens in a box.

Sports? A touchdown is a touchtown, a goal is a goal, a home run’s a home run. Just superimpose a logo. Big deal.

Per Inquiry? Per hour.

How much you want to bet that Zell scarfs up Oak Hill's Broadcast Media TV stations, too? That’s the company Michaels just came from. Some theorize that Zell parked him there.

History repeats itself. Minutes after the TeleCom bill was passed in early ’96, Michaels, then with Jacor. bought up maximum eight-station clusters in Denver and Cincinnati. Even if eight was the cap, that didn’t stop him from going over and above. In San Diego he bought 12 by skirting the law and adding four stations from across the border to legally stay within the cap even though his salespeople were selling time on all twelve.

He was considered a real genius – and he was. He loaded up on stations, spun everything off to Clear Channel, lived like a Mays off of their fat, and when he got caught charging his private flights to his own private charter company for top of the rate card, all they could do was park him and pay him until they could get rid of him.

I’m all in favor of high-energy, take-no-prisoners aggressive competition if the end result includes an improved growth product. That’s not what this is.

Sure, he’ll jazz up and shake up the TV industry. But, like Clear Channel, he and his cronies have all the fun and, in the end, it’ll be others cleaning up his mess and paying off his debts.

I know there are those that feel Michaels has good intentions. Pol Pot, Pinochet, Stalin, and Slobodan Milosevic, just to name a few, had their followers too.

You should’ve heard the messenger from Fox TV address the troops when he announced that Broadcast Media, Randy's pre-Zell, was buying their station in Cleveland.

He said “I’m sorry” twenty-two times.

How are their benefits? “I’m sorry.”

How safe is my job? “I’m sorry.’

What about local news? “I’m sorry.”

Need I continue?

I hear Michaels is planning to move the whole Trib op to Melrose Park. The strip joints are better there.

Here’s the new business plan for the TV and cable side. Strip it to the bone, suck out the marrow and sell it to some unsuspecting idiot by way of the greater fool theory. There’s always a greater fool than you willing to pay even more than they did for something that’s not worth half as much.

You would be correct, sir, in your prediction that the guy that did the most to destroy radio now has TV to kill.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

John - You didn't say it so I will. You indirectly predicted a Zell-Michaels reunion in your 12/3 blog.

Anonymous said...

So if Zell is selling off the newspapers, why did he need Martin to get this new cross-ownership rule?

Anonymous said...

No I am not surprised. Zell had motives in place. I hope the TV industry is smarter than radio and does not follow Randy Michael's lead in changing the TV business. We have had enough "experts" do damage already.

Anonymous said...

Sam Zell is the angel of death for anyone working at the Tribune Corp. The older you are the less likely you will survive.

Randy Michaels sounds like a real bastard.

Anonymous said...

"Here’s the new business plan for the TV and cable side. Strip it to the bone, suck out the marrow and sell it to some unsuspecting idiot by way of the greater fool theory. There’s always a greater fool than you willing to pay even more than they did for something that’s not worth half as much."

That's the philosophy for broadcasting in total now that the private equity groups have turned their greedy guns to the radio/tv biz. The PEQ's exist for one reason: make as much money for investors in as little time as the business-friendly tax code allows. Then get the heck out. Collateral damage is someone else's problem. That's how you afford a beach house in Florida. Gotta love capitalism!

Anonymous said...

"Pretty soon now
Y'know I'm gonna make a comeback
And like the birds and the bees in the trees
It's a sure-fire smash
I'll speak to the masses through the media
And if you got anything to say to me
You can say it with cash
'Cause I got the trash and you got the cash
So baby we should get along fine
So give me all your money
'Cause I know you think I'm funny
Can't you hear me laughing
Can't you see me smile ..."

-Joe Jackson

Been there done that with Michaels said...

When will the house of cards fold. I have to believe these deals are going to come to a close. Banks and other institutions cannot be pleased to read how Zell trapped those banks into the deal. Like anything else Randy Michaels touches (and look at his track record carefully) it's always worth less in the end that it was before he put his fat little fingers on the product. Michales must have one hell of a public relations firm behind him. Same with Zell.

Gaylel said...

Lawd Jesus, I had a feeling that Zell had to get that man and for what?

People, look for the quality of Journalism to go down. It already has when Tribune aquired, especially the Los Angeles Times.

Stay tuned to see what this man and his puppet will do next.

Pascal said...

John, I just found your informative blog while reading your "Buzzard Book" blog. As a "former" fan of radio I agree with your assessment of today's media.

If the radio and TV industry only knew like you that it is not the i-Pod, XM and Sirius and video games that caused us to reduce or completely eliminate "terrestrial radio" from our lives. It is the decline in quality.

The industries must be run by the world greatest narcissists.

The message to the media industry is that all you have to do is improve the product and not underestimate the intelligence of the consumer.

Why radio would merge with newspapers is beyond me? They are even in worse shape than radio and TV. I get my news on line from many sources so I can shape my own viewpoint. Newspapers have been out of my world for over a decade.

Thank you for your informative blog and thank you for writing "The Buzzard" memoir.

Anonymous said...

"Why radio would merge with newspapers is beyond me?"

You don't understand. No one in radio wants to buy newspapers. It's the other way around.

If people could understand the real purpose of this idea, they'd be in favor of it. Having major newspapers like the Washington Post or the New York Times owning radio is a good thing. It puts people who know community service back into broadcasting, and challenges radio-only companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus. It diversifies radio ownership, which radio needs right now. Companies like Microsoft and Apple aren't going to buy radio stations. But Hearst and other newspaper companies would.

Anonymous said...

"Why radio would merge with newspapers is beyond me?"

You don't understand. No one in radio wants to buy newspapers. It's the other way around.

If people could understand the real purpose of this idea, they'd be in favor of it. Having major newspapers like the Washington Post or the New York Times owning radio is a good thing. It puts people who know community service back into broadcasting, and challenges radio-only companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus. It diversifies radio ownership, which radio needs right now. Companies like Microsoft and Apple aren't going to buy radio stations. But Hearst and other newspaper companies would.