Showbiz analyst leaves behind research role

NEW YORK — Longtime Wall Street showbiz analyst Tom Wolzien will ankle the daily research grind next month to launch a media and communications strategy unit at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., his firm of nearly 14 years.

Wolzien is well known on Wall Street and in media circles for his trenchant research. One of his recent reports focused on major unanswered questions in Time Warner’s settlement with the Dept. of Justice and proposed settlement with the SEC, which were wildly applauded by most analysts and investors.

While acknowledging progress in that report, he said the big open issue involves the possibility of future restatements of AOL’s results for 1999 and 2000 — before the Time Warner board and shareholders voted to approve the merger. “… The merger exchange rate was based on those revenue numbers, and that’s important because the ongoing civil litigation will have more arguments (and arguably a larger settlement) if it is found that the revenue numbers were bogus.”

Wolzien’s new operation, where he’ll work with colleague Mark Mackenzie, will explore the “the rapid evolution of consumer media and all related distribution, hardware, software, content, retailing, marketing and advertising businesses,” he said.

“I don’t think anybody’s looked at it before … I do the companies, but about 50% of my time has been spent doing this thematic stuff, trying to find ways to look at the broader sector. It’s not like we can say, ‘These are the trends, so buy this stock or that stock.’ But we can say that, as a trend, it will help these guys and hurt those guys,” Wolzien said.

He sees the successful unlocking of content from transport as a key shift. “When we had vinyl records, music was pressed into the disc. With the CD — we didn’t realize it — we were allowing the easy separation of the notes from the physical (disc). It brought us piracy,” he said.

Piracy threat

Digital compression, cheaper storage and other factors now put video at risk “And if the guys who own the media companies don’t get their heads out of the sand it’s going to bite them the way it bit music,” he said.

Bernstein analysts Michael Nathanson and Drew Borst will take over coverage of U.S. media congloms.

Before joining Bernstein, Wolzien spent 16 years at NBC in positions ranging from White House field producer for NBC News to exec producer of various national news programs and VP of worldwide news operations. As senior VP of NBC’s Cable Division, he was part of the team that helped start CNBC.

Wolzien began his career as a news reporter-photographer and producer for television stations in Denver, Green Bay and St. Louis. He is a graduate of the U. of Denver, and, after completing officer candidate school, served as officer-in-charge of an Army combat photography unit in Vietnam.

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