Mergers and musical chairs - Broadcasting & Cable

Mergers and musical chairs

Media combos, budget cutbacks shake up networks' D.C. lobbying offices
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Drastic changes in media companies are being mirrored in the offices of their Washington lobbyists.

Both newcomers and industry veterans alike are facing hard choices in a world of mega-mergers and network cutbacks. The result: Only one network, NBC, still has a dedicated representative. Other network lobbyists represent a host of media interests as part of larger entertainment conglomerates.

"In some ways, it is healthy for integrated telecommunications players to start competing with each other on all levels," says one industry source. "That's the place we want to be."

Two veteran players-Viacom's Marty Franks and Time Warner's Timothy Boggs-recently had to face career decisions when their employers were acquired.

Franks, who had headed CBS' Washington operations for more than a decade, found himself edged out of the Washington scene in May after Viacom's purchase of CBS became final. Although the Viacom and CBS merger was made possible largely through Franks' work persuading the FCC to scrap a rule that prevents companies from owning TV and radio stations in the same market, Viacom brass decided to consolidate control of the Washington office in the hands of Viacom Senior Vice President Carol Melton.

Melton now heads an office that includes congressional lobbyists Dede Farrell and Gail MacKinnon and FCC lobbyist Anne Lucey. Farrell is the only person Melton recruited personally, taking her away from the National Association of Broadcasters 21/2 years ago. Lucey transferred to Viacom's Washington office from corporate headquarters in New York for personal reasons. And MacKinnon moved over to Viacom after the company closed CBS'Washington office, where she used to work with John Orlando.

Orlando, formerly chief of staff for Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and a lobbyist with Timmons & Co., is leaving CBS.

Meanwhile, although Franks has been taken off the Washington beat, he remains Karmazin's chief lieutenant and has been named senior vice president of Viacom Corp. and executive vice president of CBS Television.

Boggs announced his decision to leave Time Warner June 23, the same day AOL and Time Warner's stockholders voted to approve the two companies' mega-merger. Boggs had survived two Time Inc. mergers-the first with Warner Inc. in 1990, the second with Turner Broadcasting in 1996.

"After 18 years and three mergers, who can blame Tim for moving on?" asks Melton, who worked for Boggs for 10 years before winning the job as head of Viacom's Washington office three years ago. "He's done his job brilliantly, and Time Warner ought to be plenty grateful."

While Boggs says this latest merger presented him with a needed opportunity to make some life changes, sources say that, once AOL Chairman Steve Case and Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin announced in May that AOL Executive Vice President George Vradenberg would take the top spot in Washington, it wasn't long before Boggs decided to leave the company rather than stay on in the No. 2 slot.

Up on Capitol Hill, News Corp.'s Washington office is down to one person: FCC lobbyist Maureen O'Connell. Former News Corp. head lobbyist Peggy Binzel and her lieutenant, Steve Vest, both have moved to the National Cable Television Association. Vest announced his departure from News Corp. at the end of June, starting as vice president of congressional affairs for NCTA last week. Vest reports to NCTA Senior Vice President Pam Turner, who in turn reports to new Executive Vice President Binzel.

Sources say Binzel and Vest, like Boggs, left when a new executive was tapped to head the Washington office.

Last January, News Corp. dubbed Bob Quicksilver, FOX president of network distribution. Quicksilver started at FOX as executive vice president of network distribution last July, reporting to then-Fox Television President Larry Jacobson. Jacobson left FOX to head USA's Ticketmaster unit late last year, and Quicksilver was promptly named president and put in charge of D.C., as well as other areas.

At Disney, change came slowly. Disney Vice President Billy Pitts eventually left his job after Preston Padden was named to head the company's Washington office after being reassigned from his job as president of ABC Television in July 1998. Pitts chafed under Padden, having run the office on his own for several years.

Pitts is taking time off to decide his future, while Padden has hired Mitch Rose, former chief of staff for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), to replace him. Padden snatched Rose from MCI WorldCom's Washington office, where he had worked for all of two weeks.

Padden just hired Marsha MacBride away from FCC Commissioner Michael Powell to replace departing Diane Davidson, Disney's FCC counsel.

That leaves NBC, which is owned by General Electric. But unlike its growing media brethren, NBC seems to be retrenching. Two years ago, it cut its Washington office down to only VP Bob Okun, dropping 15-year-veteran Terry Mahony, who has since died.

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