NBC gets down to biz as Dow deal gets done

NEW YORK — NBC and Dow Jones & Co. expect the marriage of the Euro and Asian business-news channels will trim losses, while bolstering both with the imprimatur of Dow’s Wall Street Journal.

The deal, formally announced Tuesday after months of talks, calls for Dow’s Asia Business News and European Business News to be merged with CNBC channels in both regions under the CNBC umbrella, with the combined networks to be jointly owned by both companies and operated by a committee of NBC and Dow Jones execs.

In addition, NBC will pay Dow a “significant” license fee to use Dow-supplied news and staffers on those channels, on Internet sites and a desktop video service, and on CNBC’s U.S. network, to be rebranded as “a service of NBC and Dow Jones” during daytime hours.

The “global alliance,” as NBC president Bob Wright grandly termed it, “brings together two of the most recognized business-news brands under the CNBC banner.” It helps CNBC overseas and in the U.S., where its 65-million subscriber base makes it far more established than Time Warner’s CNNfn, and “gives Dow Jones a TV platform for their content,” after Dow’s failed experiment with WBIS New York, a similar business-news service it had hoped to develop as a stand-alone national rival to CNBC.

Responding to market rumors, Wright said NBC parent General Electric never discussed an outright purchase of Dow.

Dow last year lost $48 million on its TV operations, which also included startup costs for WBIS, and expects similar losses this year. NBC is said to have lost $40 million last year on its own overseas forays, a figure that includes general entertainment services that will remain separate from the new Dow alliance.

At least some of those losses will persist, despite the former competitors’ new partnership.

“The merger isn’t going to turn these overseas businesses profitable in the next six months,” Dow prexy Peter Kann said. But it should erase red ink “sooner than if they had remained separate entities.”

After eliminating overlap, the new CNBC Asia channel will reach 9 million households, with more available through part-time carriage, while CNBC Europe will reach 15 million homes. The NBC-Dow deal is expected to close in the first quarter of next year, with tentative plans to relaunch CNBC soon thereafter.

Under a unified sales organization, the two companies will offer new ad packages that include the regional networks as well as other assets like the Journal and NBC’s separate overseas entertainment channels. Some content from the newspaper’s interactive edition will be made available on the MSNBC Web site jointly owned by NBC and Microsoft, and the MSNBC Business Video desktop information service, in which Dow will gain a minority stake.

Affiliates of cable operator Tele-Communications Inc., which had owned 30% of European Business News and 50% of Dow’s Asian channel, were bought out of their interests and will become passive minority investors. A TCI Intl. exec said the company received a $25 million note in exchange for its Asian interest.

In Asia, 60% of CNBC’s 250 employees will lose their jobs as a result of the merger, and the surviving channel will be based at Dow’s studio in Singapore rather than CNBC’s Hong Kong base. The Asian channel will be run by Paul France, who ran Dow’s service there, while the combined European channel will be headed by Allan Horlick, who had headed CNBC there. Each will report to a new board made up of NBC and Dow execs.

“There will be a fair amount of pain equally distributed around the block,” NBC News president Andy Lack said, although only 10 Dow staffers will be pinkslipped. Lack and CNBC president Bill Bolster, who had overseen NBC’s foreign programming and business interests, respectively, now will limit their roles to membership on the new operating boards.

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