Clear changes channel

JAM Prods. a possible buyer of spinoff

NEW YORK — Last month, Houston-based radio and advertising conglom Clear Channel Communications announced that it would divest itself of its theater and live-events arm, Clear Channel Entertainment.

Miles Wilkin, chief operating officer of the new company, immediately announced new titles and duties for longtime execs Scott Zeiger and Steve Winton that only further clouded the situation. Many observers were left to ponder the difference between Clear Channel Entertainment and Clear Channel Entertainment Prods. Broadway types who co-produce with Clear Channel didn’t have a clue.

Now, out of the Windy City, blows speculation that JAM Prods. is a possible buyer of the spinoff pending the stock price. Sources at JAM have confirmed there is “very real interest” in taking over its biggest competitor.

Chi-based and privately held, JAM Prods. is a concert presenter of rock and pop. Broadway people, however, are more familiar with the legit division, JAM Theatricals, an above-the-line producer on “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which previously invested in such Gotham-based productions as “The Retreat From Moscow,” “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” “Avenue Q,” “De La Guarda” and “Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance.”

In addition, JAM Theatricals produces “Second City” in Las Vegas and runs Broadway subscription series in more than 30 venues, most of them in secondary markets on the West Coast. Unlike other concert presenters who might be interested in acquiring the new CCE, JAM already has a theater operation, so Clear Channel would give it access to primo venues.

Whichever way Clear Channel goes, its execs have their work cut out for them. While the company currently takes a producer credit on a whopping 12 Broadway shows, it is only one of 19 producers on the 2004-05 season’s biggest hit, “Spamalot.” In the past, Clear Channel’s investment money has translated into a cozy nesting arrangement in which Broadway shows invariably book their theaters on the road.

But Clear Channel is only one player in the mix on “Spamalot.” In fact, its major competition on the road, the Independent Presenters Network, has invested more in the mighty Monty Python tuner and gets credit above Clear Channel on the title page.

Lead “Spamalot” producer Bob Boyett has already made his intentions clear: “There will be auctions in every city.” And it is expected that IPN will go head-to-head with Clear Channel in several markets to land “Spamalot.”

There’s even more upstart competition. Back in the 1990s, Clear Channel bought out a large number of independent presenters who signed a variety of no-compete agreements. Those contracts are now expiring. Cleveland’s Belkin Prods., for instance, is just one presenter about to make a grand return to the biz.

And if that weren’t problematic enough, big shows have increasingly gone into Clear Channel theaters, not under lucrative guarantees that give the venues most of the overages but with four-wall agreements that essentially rent the space.

No wonder the Clear Channel people have been saying in Houston, “We have a problem.”

Chris Jones in Chicago contributed to this report.

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