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NBC’s Rogers takes post as Primedia CEO

Publisher eyeing Web work

NEW YORK — NBC exec VP Tom Rogers, the architect of NBC’s cable and Internet strategies, has been named chairman and CEO of Primedia, the publisher of New York, Seventeen and Modern Bride.

In hiring Rogers, who is also prexy of NBC Cable, Primedia is hoping to better leverage its myriad publications into the new media world.

“The magazine industry has been under-delivering with the Internet,” Rogers said. “I’ve been somewhat surprised how little the magazine industry has done in this regard.”

Primedia, a publicly traded company controlled by the leverage buyout firm of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., is also banking that the high-profile Rogers will rescue Primedia’s sagging stock price.

The departure of Primedia’s former chairman, William Reilly, was partly attributed to the company’s poor stock performance. Reilly resigned from Primedia in July, and left in early September.

“We are confident that Tom will be most effective in bringing a whole new focus to Primedia, and in working with us to create greater value for our shareholders,” said Henry R. Kravis, a director of Primedia and a founding partner of KKR.

Street smiling

Wall Street cheered Primedia’s appointment of Rogers on Monday. The company’s stock rocketed 20% to close at $13.19 in heavy trading.

A 12-year veteran of NBC, Rogers was brought in by NBC president Robert Wright to expand the network’s holdings into cable. NBC’s cable holdings now include the wholly owned CNBC and investment stakes in MSNBC, A&E, the History Channel and Rainbow Media, which controls AMC, Bravo, MSG Network and Fox Sports New York.

Rogers was also an early proponent of NBC’s expansion into new media and the Internet. Rogers’ division was responsible for a number of web investments. These will soon trade as a separate public company called NBCi.

Rogers, regarded as a crafty and aggressive negotiator, also engineered NBC’s recent agreement to buy a 32% stake in Paxson, the largest TV station owner in the U.S.

Rogers said he was enticed to join Primedia because the company’s many targeted publications and some TV assets — such as Channel One, a commercially supported TV program that is aired in 12,000 schools — lend themselves to Internet and other new media extensions.

Primedia’s other titles include Chicago, Soap Opera Digest and American Baby.

“The biggest issue is figuring out how to tie the traditional media elements to the new media, how to create the bridges and get people to work together,” Rogers said.

Palace intrigue

NBC insiders said Rogers had been looking for a new opportunity since it become clear he was not a likely replacement for Wright, although Rogers denied there was ever any talk within NBC or parent GE about his being on track for such a position.

Last year, Rogers — with Wright’s permission — unsuccessfully tried to put together an investment group to purchase Court TV.

Rogers was also attracted to Primedia because he has been given an undisclosed equity position in the company.

Lack of options

Although Rogers’ division negotiated dozens of Internet deals where it watched young Web entrepreneurs pocket lucrative stock options, NBC employees were unable to participate in such plans. This has led to an exodus of execs from Rogers’ division seeking stock options at Internet companies.

Primedia, which has more than 7,000 employees, had sales of $1.5 billion in 1998, and generated cash flow (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $330 million.

NBC will make an announcement within the next week about NBC’s cable and new media leadership, an NBC rep said. Insiders said that there is no obvious internal choice at NBC to replace Rogers.