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New Hearst unit gets Sikes on line

The Hearst Corp. yesterday unveiled plans to form a New Media and Technology Group and said it has nabbed former Federal Communications Commission chairman Al Sikes to direct the venture.

Sikes will start his New York-based job March 29. He said yesterday he will be “looking at ways we can marry the creative aspects of Hearst companies with the new medium,” including digital compression, electronic publishing, high-definition TV and video dialtone.

Video dialtone refers to a new telecommunications delivery systemforged by the Sikes FCC that envisions allowing telephone customers to access video programming and other information via phone lines.

The well-diversified Hearst owns minority stakes in cable channels Lifetime, ESPN and Arts & Entertainment as well as six TV stations and production and distribution units.

The Hearst job should be a good fit for Sikes, a former Missouri radio broadcaster who had a controversial four-year reign at the FCC before retiring Jan. 19.

Sikes’ FCC tenure was marked by an unusual amount of ill will among the five commissioners — which many D.C. observers attributed to Sikes’ unwillingness to compromise — along with Sikes’ steadfast enthusiasm for cutting-edge technological telecommunications advancements.

No lobbying allowed

Federal law bars Sikes from lobbying the FCC for a year after he leaves office, and the former commission chairman said yesterday he has no lobbying plans.

“That’s not part of my job description,” he said, though he added he would not mind returning to the FCC for visits “from time to time.”

Hearst hikes Sikes

Sikes said he will earn “considerably” more at Hearst than the $ 120,000 -per-year salary he pulled down as FCC chairman, but he declined to be more specific. Hearst prez and CEO Frank A. Bennack Jr. said Sikes’ FCC experience with technology makes him “the ideal executive to lead this new venture.”

Sikes, who said he began job discussions with Bennack about three months ago, will report to Bennack and Hearst chief operating officer Gil Maurer.

Recovery from cancer

Sikes, 53, recently suffered a bout with prostate cancer but yesterday pronounced himself fully recovered.

In addition to the cable channels and TV stations, Hearst owns six radio stations, the Hearst Book Group, a TV distribution company, a newspaper comics and features division, 13 consumers magazines, 17 newspapers and various business publications.

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