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Fast Track

Cartoon Network Chief Resigns

Jim Samples is casualty of marketing campaign fallout

By Anne Becker

Cartoon Network chief Jim Samples has resigned on the heels of a major marketing blunder at his network.

Samples, Cartoon executive VP/general manager, said he felt “compelled to step down,” effective immediately, due to the campaign that caused much of the city of Boston to shut down. He had been at the network's parent company, Turner, for 13 years.

“I deeply regret the negative publicity and expense caused to our company as a result of this campaign,” Samples wrote in an internal memo to colleagues.

The campaign, devised with outside agency Interference, featured light boards with characters from Cartoon's late-night block Adult Swim placed under bridges and in other public places. It caused the Boston officials to shut down roads and sent police and Homeland Security officials scrambling to deal with the signs.

The company was forced to issue several apologies and agreed, along with Interference, to pay a $2 million fine to the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office. The city of Chicago also plans to bill the network's parent, Turner Entertainment Group, for the cost of removing the signs, according to newspaper reports.

“It's my hope that my decision allows us to put this chapter behind us and get back to our mission of delivering unrivaled original animated entertainment for consumers of all ages,” Samples said.

Cartoon Network has yet to name Samples' replacement. Until it does, the network's senior team will report to Turner Entertainment Group President Mark Lazarus.

“Jim's decision to leave his post is a reflection of his regard for the business he helped build and the people he trusts to move it forward,” said Lazarus in an internal memo to colleagues. “He has our respect, appreciation and sincere best wishes.”

Samples' resignation comes at an unfortunate time for Cartoon. On Feb. 14, senior executives from the Atlanta-based network plan to make their annual upfront presentation of new programming and advertising opportunities to media buyers and the press in New York.

Lazarus says that he will be on hand at the upfront to deliver the company's sales message in place of Samples.

The company has been making a concerted effort to separate the Adult Swim-branded programming from the kid-targeted Cartoon Network fare in the minds of buyers, a process that was not helped by Cartoon Network references in countless stories about the Adult Swim marketing gaffe.—Additional reporting by John Eggerton

Industry Forces To Partner On DTV Education

The major broadcasting, cable and consumer-electronics associations are preparing to announce a joint DTV education campaign, probably on Feb. 14.

A spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association confirms that the industries have formed a coalition of those three associations and others to help the FCC and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) get the word out about the Feb. 17, 2009, switch from analog to digital TV and the government-subsidized converter-box program for viewers' analog-only sets.

The industries have already pledged to spread the word, with the National Association of Broadcasters forming a task force to oversee its transition education effort, but they have now decided to team up to do it.

The NAB and the Consumer Electronics Association teamed once before on a DTV/HDTV campaign, but split up acrimoniously. The NAB and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association differ on various DTV-related issues, including conversion of the DTV signal to analog and multicast must-carry. But all have been called on to help, and have agreed to do so, by a cash-strapped NTIA given only $5 million by Congress for a campaign. This year, that would have been enough for about two spots in the Super Bowl.

—John Eggerton

Murdoch Pledges Faith in Digital

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch expects his digital businesses, including MySpace and gaming Website IGN, to grow to 10% of News Corp.'s total revenue in three to five years, up from around 1% at present. “It's certainly the biggest profit driver we have,” he said.

Murdoch was equally bullish on doing content deals with providers of cellphone service, pointing out that there are two to three times as many cellphones as computers. “All the telephone companies are looking for content,” he said. “We think there's huge opportunity.”

Speaking at McGraw-Hill's Media Summit, Murdoch also revealed plans for Fox's long-awaited business channel. Launching in the fourth quarter, the channel will be more business-focused than CNBC, he said, and more upbeat: “They leap into every scandal. There's an atmosphere to [CNBC] that's negative.”

Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News and the Fox TV Stations, will oversee Fox Business Channel, with help from Fox executives Kevin Magee, Neil Cavuto and Alexis Glick. The channel will initially be carried by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and DirecTV, among others. Some 30 million subscribers are currently lined up.

Murdoch declined to offer programming details beyond saying, “Everything we do, CNBC immediately will copy.”

Says a CNBC spokesperson, “We're certainly not surprised at our alleged competition's typical onslaught of lies and propaganda. Bring it on. ”

—Michael Malone

Republicans To Meet With FCC's Martin

Republican legislators on the House Telecommunications Subcommittee are planning to meet with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in advance of their Feb. 15 FCC oversight hearing with all five commissioners.

According to a memo from ranking member Fred Upton (Mich.) to Republican subcommittee members, the “member-only” meeting to discuss the hearing will be at 3 p.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building on Feb. 13.

“The FCC chairman regularly meets with members of both Houses of Congress,” says commission spokeswoman Tamara Lipper.

An FCC official says the chairman had reached out to both sides of the aisle in advance of the hearing.

—John Eggerton

MyNetworkTV Ranks Below Syndication

Telenovelas' ratings are lowest on the chart

By Jim Benson

Ratings for MyNetworkTV (MNT) are already among the lowest on any broadcast or cable network. But the struggling network is also languishing at the bottom of the syndication chart.

In their primary selling demo of adults 18-49, MNT's six-nights-a-week runs of anglicized telenovelas have been pulling lower numbers than every series containing national barter time this season. The soaps occupy Nos. 123 through 150 on the ratings chart, behind all 122 syndicated shows.

The highest-rated—Wicked, Wicked Games and Fashion House—topped out at a 0.4, the same as the No. 122 show, NBC Universal's Martha Stewart.

MNT President Greg Meidel, a syndication vet who was brought in last month to clean house, has moved to limit the soaps' runs to two nights a week in March and one by fall.

But MNT's dismal performance has already contributed to parent News Corp.'s reported plunge in operating income for its TV operations, a 63% slide to $112 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31.

Last week brought reports that MNT was hemorrhaging $2 million a week. That's more than three times what The WB surrendered in its final year.