Westlake ankles top post at U TV

Group likely to shift to motion-picture division, insiders say

Blair Westlake, a 19-year U veteran, has resigned as chairman of Universal Television & Networks Group.

Sources said U parent company Vivendi offered Westlake the post of president of Canal Technologies in France, but that he turned it down because the job did not include oversight of the European cable nets that he helped to create, including 13th Street: The Action & Suspense Channel and Studio Universal.

As part of the reorganization post-Westlake, insiders said the TV & Networks Group is likely to shift over to the motion-picture division and report to Rick Finkelstein, prexy-chief operating officer of the division, and chair Stacey Snider. Westlake reported directly to Ron Meyer, president and COO of Universal Studios.

In an interview, Westlake, 46, boasted about his successful stewardship of international networks like 13th Street and Studio Universal (plus U.K. net the Studio), turning a $100 million investment in these nets into an asset that some analysts have valued as high as $1.5 billion, he said.

During his tenure, Westlake engineered lucrative agreements with such broadcasters as RTL in Germany, TF1 in France, England’s BSkyB and Television Espanola in Spain.

But domestically, Westlake’s division lost a number of its successful TV programs to Barry Diller’s Studios USA when Edgar Bronfman Jr. bought U four years ago and sold its TV arm to Diller. Universal has set up a relatively small syndication operation.

Westlake’s term at Universal included top executive posts in U’s homevid and pay TV divisions. He became chairman of the TV & Networks Group in December 1997.

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