BC Beat


With Jonathan Hemingway and John Eggerton

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'It's a Comcastrophe!' Says Shareholder

The nation's largest cable operator has gone from "Comcastic" to a "Comcastrophe," according to a major shareholder.

Comcast is under fire from one of its largest shareholders, Chieftain Capital Management, which owns 60.5 million shares or roughly 2% of the company.

In a Jan. 14 letter, the contents of which were splashed across the pages of Barron's Thursday morning, Chieftain called for more cash to be returned to shareholders through a dividend or buyback; stricter financial discipline; revised executive compensation; and, most ominously, the ouster of CEO Brian Roberts.

Chieftain would also like to see the end of Comcast's dual-class voting structure, which gives the Roberts family 33% of the vote with just 1% economic share. That, Chieftain says, is "inconsistent with 21st-century corporate governance."

Says a Comcast spokesperson, "We welcome input from our shareholders and take their views seriously…. While we have expressed our disagreement with Chieftain's perspective in the past, we will review Chieftain's most recent correspondence and will respond in due course."

Chieftain is not the only shareholder to express discontent with Comcast's stock performance, which is down about 40% from its 52-week high. The company has been slapped with several class action suits in recent weeks.

But outspoken Pali Research analyst Rich Greenfield contends, "The last thing we believe Comcast should do is drastically lever up and buy back stock as Chieftain is asking for. Like it or not, Comcast is in a 'war,' with competition escalating on existing fronts [satellite and RBOCs] and all-new fronts [Apple, wireless]."

Keeper of The Flame

Face the Nation moderator Bob Schieffer waxed nostalgic last week after learning that the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation had named him this year's winner of the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award.

Speaking with B&C about the award, which is named after the magazine's late senior Washington correspondent, Schieffer noted that his mentor at CBS, Eric Sevareid, had always said that freedom of the press was the most important of the freedoms: Without it, we could not defend the others.

But Schieffer has more in common with Sevareid than a respect for constitutional protections. When Schieffer returned to D.C. after his "interim" stint anchoring the CBS Evening News, he inherited Sevareid's old office.

"It was very meaningful to me that they gave me this office," he said. "It is also a testament to how long I have been around that nobody but me remembered that this was Eric Sevareid's office."

Time and attrition have been contributing factors to that institutional memory loss. "I am the only person in the Washington bureau left from when I came here in 1969," says Schieffer, who'll be 71 next month. "All the rest of them have gone, one place or another. We had 26 correspondents in those days. Now we have eight or nine."

Got Juice?

My, aren't we a cynical bunch!

Apparently, the steroid scandals that have rocked the sports world—and even reached the hip-hop music scene—have so jaded us that we assume everyone is juicing.

That was the reaction to a B&C report last week that NBC Universal has been testing the cast members of NBC's hit revival of American Gladiators and confirms that all are steroid-free.

Picking up on the report, AOL's TV News site polled its readers, asking: "Do you think some 'Gladiators' are juicing?" Out of nearly 13,000 respondents, 79% said, "Of course."

(I guess few people were impressed by alpha-gladiator Titan's four Mr. Natural Universe titles.)

Of course, that doesn't make it OK. In a second poll—asking "Is it okay if some 'Gladiators' are juicing?"—28% responded "Yes, this is not an official sporting event." But 72% said, "No, there's no excuse for using 'roids."

Take heed, all you pro athletes and gladiators: America is watching.