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November 16, 2012

When NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke named Pat Fili-Krushel to oversee the company's news operations in July, the appointment caught many by surprise. While a veteran of television, Ms. Fili-Krushel was a relative newcomer to news. But four months on, the 58-year-old has made her presence felt as chairman of NBCUniversal News Group. She played a key role in this week's shake-up at "Today," persuading Mr. Burke to sign off on the ouster of executive producer Jim Bell despite his previous reluctance, say people familiar with the situation. "It was less dramatic than that," Mr. Burke said, but didn't go into details.

Mr. Bell was succeeded by his deputy, Don Nash, while another news executive, Alexandra Wallace, was brought in as overseer of the morning show. Mr. Bell will produce NBCUniversal's Olympics coverage. For NBC, a turnaround at "Today" is crucial. The morning show has long been a hugely valuable part of the broadcast network, dominating the ratings for 16 years. But starting early in 2011, its ratings began to soften, and earlier this year it lost its lead to ABC's "Good Morning America." "I don't think the show is broken. It needs to evolve," Ms. Fili-Krushel said in an interview. "People wake up with their smartphones, that's their alarm so when you are presenting the 'Today' show, we have to keep that in mind." She says she wants the show's pacing to be faster, among other changes. But "Today" isn't the only problem facing NBC News. The long-dominant "NBC Nightly News" has lost ground over the last year to rivals "ABC World News" and "CBS Evening News." NBC's new newsmagazine "Rock Center with Brian Williams" has been moved to a number of different time periods and has had trouble finding an audience.

Mr. Burke played down these issues. "I think you'll find the gap between Brian Williams and the competition is very healthy," he said. Overall, he added, NBC News is "clearly the premier news organization in the U.S." NBC has been spending a lot in prime time to get out of the doldrums, with some success. For the first time in years, prime time has won the ratings race in recent weeks for the coveted 18-49-year-old demographic. These challenges put the spotlight on Ms. Fili-Krushel, a confidant of Mr. Burke since their time working together at Walt Disney Co'.s ABC in the late 1990s. Mr. Burke went on to run the cable operations of Comcast Corp., being elevated to oversee NBCUniversal after the cable operator bought control of it at the start of last year.

Ms. Fili-Krushel left ABC and ended up at Time Warner Inc., where she oversaw human resources, among other administrative duties for several years. Her roots are in women's programming. She was senior vice president of programming and production at Lifetime before joining ABC. There she climbed from president of daytime, where she introduced the daytime talk show "The View" to head of the television network, supervising everything from prime time to network news. Her new job is a newly created role overseeing both the broadcast news operation and its cable cousins, MSNBC and CNBC. Mr. Burke has engineered similar broadcast-cable alignments elsewhere at NBCUniversal, such as at sports. "What I wanted to do is...to organize groups of businesses under people I have a lot of trust in," said Mr. Burke. When asked about qualifications for the news job, she said that in overseeing the ABC television network she had responsibility for ABC News. She added that at NBCU, "I have three strong business leaders running day-to-day."

Mr. Burke acknowledges Ms. Fili-Krushel isn't a news journalist. But "her job is a group executive," with a mandate to "bring all the news assets together." Lately, she's gotten a crash course in the news business. On election night, she sat with NBC News president Steve Capus as he greenlighted the network's decision to call the election for President Barack Obama-before rival TV outlets. "It was great to watch it all," she said. NBC won the ratings for the night. Now that she is through the "Today" show drama, she says she can focus on other things, from how to integrate broadcast and cable networks resources to "the future." "I think the future is all about: how do we drive the second screen and social media?" she said. "You can't look at television shows and digital separately anymore," she said.

Part of Ms. Fili-Krushel's job will also be keeping the peace between several executives accustomed to running their own fiefs, among them Mr. Capus, MSNBC chief Phil Griffin and CNBC boss Mark Hoffman. Their names occasionally come up in media chatter involving the next head of CNN. But for now, she says there won't be any more "Today"-like turmoil in the months to come. At the moment, she's on a bit of a listening tour. "I'm spending a lot of time getting to know everyone," she said. "I'm still in an exploration phase." Wall Street Journal


Google Inc. has held talks with satellite-TV provider Dish Network Corp. in recent weeks to partner on a new wireless service that would rival the networks of wireless carriers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, according to people familiar with the discussions. The talks between Dish and Google aren't advanced and could amount to nothing, one of the people said. Google is just one of several companies that Dish has held talks with recently, and the discussions with other potential partners are also at an exploratory stage, said the people familiar with the discussions. It is unclear which other companies are discussing a potential partnership with Dish. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

Dish has said repeatedly over the past year that it wants a partner in building out a wireless network with the wireless spectrum-the airwaves that can be used to provide mobile phone and Internet services-it has acquired since 2008. In an interview Thursday, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen declined to comment on Google specifically, but said some of the potential partners he has considered include companies "who would like to be in the industry" and currently don't have a wireless business. He added that it would be easier for Dish to partner with a company that already has wireless towers and related infrastructure for transmitting data, among other expertise in the business. The discussions are the latest move by Google to expand its ownership of the infrastructure that brings the Web to personal computers and mobile devices, including the pipes that connect people's homes to the Internet.

This week, Google began installing fiber-optic cable to homes in Kansas City, Kan., as part of a high-speed Internet and video service that competes with incumbents such as Time Warner Cable Inc. and Dish. Google hopes to expand the service around the country, according to people familiar with its plans. The Mountain View, Calif., company has also begun making its own smartphones and tablets through its Motorola unit, and it owns Android, the most-used mobile operating system for smartphones that helps ensure its search engine and other services will be preinstalled on mobile devices. Many of Google's moves to directly oversee the way people access the Web are driven by a belief: that faster Internet download speeds at home and on mobile devices mean people can use more Google services such as Internet search, Gmail and YouTube video, translating into more revenue for the company. "From Google's perspective, it wants people to watch 10 hours of YouTube a day on their devices, and what hurts them is [wireless carriers] restricting capacity," said Walter Piecyk, a wireless-industry analyst at research firm BTIG.

While Google doesn't have expertise in wireless infrastructure and doesn't control spectrum, the company has cash-more than $45 billion at the end of September-which could be used to help build a new network. Meanwhile, Dish is awaiting regulatory approval to use its spectrum to launch a wireless service to complement its satellite TV offering. In June, Dish's Mr. Ergen named T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel Corp. as possible partners, but both companies have recently unveiled merger plans with other companies. Analysts have said AT&T Inc., which last year dropped a $39 billion deal to buy T-Mobile after regulators blocked it, would be another logical partner for Dish. Representatives of AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile declined to comment.

Most of the spectrum Dish has is designated for satellite use. Dish has asked the Federal Communications Commission to allow it to use the spectrum for a solely ground-based cellphone network. The FCC denied Dish a needed waiver last March, opting for a yearlong deliberation process that has yet to reach completion. For Dish, having potential network partners lined up as the FCC deliberates shows its commitment to building a wireless network, rather than flipping the spectrum-worth several billion dollars-to a buyer immediately upon gaining approval, some people familiar with the discussions said. They add that Dish is discussing partnerships that are similar in nature to Sprint's long-term contract with LiqhtSquared Inc. to share networks and costs. That deal got killed after the FCC said earlier this year it would block LightSquared from operating its network.

Lawrence Behr, founder of Lawrence Behr Associates Inc., which gives technical support to wireless-network operators, said it could take three to five years before Dish and its partners could roll out a nationwide wireless network. By gaining some control of wireless spectrum, Google could push to increase Web traffic speeds on mobile devices. Google also could ensure the availability of new services such as Google Wallet, a mobile payments system that currently is blocked by AT&T and Verizon. In 2008, Google dabbled in wireless spectrum by bidding billions of dollars in an auction of spectrum offered by the FCC. After losing to Verizon and AT&T, Google took a $500 million stake in mobile broadband provider Clearwire Corp. Earlier this year, it sold off the same stake for $66.5 million. Wall Street Journal


As News Corp.'s Fox Sports unit prepares to spend billions of dollars to keep television rights to the Los Angeles Dodgers, one has to wonder if the media giant has any pangs of regret over selling the team in the first place. News Corp. owned the Dodgers from 1998 to 2004. It paid $350 million to get the team from the O'Malley family and sold it for $430 million to Frank McCourt, who earlier this year sold it to private equity firm Guggenheim Partners for $2.1 billion. Now, if Fox Sports wants to keep the Dodgers on its Prime Ticket cable channel here, it will likely have to pay an average of at least $150 million a season. When McCourt still owned the team, Fox Sports made an offer of $3 billion for a 20-year deal. Fox Sports is nearing the end of its exclusive negotiating window with Guggenheim Partners for a new TV agreement. Waiting in the wings if Fox Sports can't get a deal done is Time Warner Cable, which already snagged the rights to the Lakers away from Fox for its new channel, SportsNet.

A potential battle for the Dodgers was no doubt a motivating factor in Fox Sports' efforts to secure a minority stake in the YES Network, the sports channel owned by the New York Yankees. The last thing Fox Sports wants is to see Time Warner Cable get a piece of YES. Also, should Fox lose the TV rights to the Dodgers on top of the Lakers, having a stake in YES is not a bad consolation prize. No price has been put on the YES deal yet, but the estimates of the channel's value run to at least $3 billion. If Fox Sports is acquiring stakes held by Goldman Sachs and other equity partners, it will probably cost north of $1 billion.

Hindsight is always 20/20. When News Corp. owned the Dodgers, it was losing about $50 million a year on the team. Sports rights were only wildly out of control then and not completely insane as they are today. The team wasn't a good fit with the rest of the company and fans didn't like News Corp. ownership, especially after it traded star player Mike Piazza. But as Fox Sports prepares to write a number with nine zeroes on it to show to Guggenheim, someone in News Corp.'s accounting department with a long memory will probably be rolling his eyes. Los Angeles Times


Tom Smith, the former coal-company owner from Armstrong County, spent at least $6.78 of his own money for each of the votes he got on Nov. 6 in his losing bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. Smith put $16.5 million of his own money into the race and raised $3.8 million from donors, according to Federal Election Commission records that are current up to Oct. 17. We'll know when annual campaign-finance reports are filed on Jan. 31 if Smith spent more of his fortune. Smith spent at least $17.4 million of the cash he raised, putting his overall cost per vote at $7.18. Casey raised $9 million and spent $8.7 million as of Oct. 17, putting his price per vote at $2.99. If the price stings for Smith, maybe this will help: The Hartford Courant last week determined that Republican Linda McMahon dumped $83.40 per vote - serious cash - into her pair of unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut in 2010 and 2012. Philadelphia Daily News


Today is the deadline for Gov. Tom Corbett to tell the federal government whether Pennsylvania will be setting up a health insurance market under President Barack Obama's health care law. Corbett administration officials have said that they've put off development of the online exchange because too many questions about its cost and other operational details remain unanswered by the federal government. The new insurance exchanges will allow households and small businesses to buy a private health plan, and many will get help from the government to pay their premiums. Under the law, states that can't or won't set up exchanges will have theirs run by the federal government. But states considering a partnership with the federal government to run their exchanges have until mid-February to make a decision. Harrisburg Patriot-News

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