DISNEY GETS STAKE IN US WEEKLY

Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — US Weekly, which has struggled in the advertising department, has found a white knight in Michael Eisner.
On Tuesday, The Walt Disney Co. and Wenner Media announced a new entertainment publishing company through which Disney has acquired a 50 percent stake in US Weekly, the celebrity-driven magazine.
Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of Disney, and Jann Wenner, chairman and owner of US Weekly, held a news conference here describing their new venture named US Weekly LLC. US Weekly will continue to be based here and managed by existing US Weekly executives. Eisner declined to divulge how much Disney invested in the venture.
Observers questioned how much influence Disney will wield over US Weekly’s editorial content and wondered whether Disney-owned projects will be given greater play in the pages.
“As far as editorial is concerned, [US] stays independent,” said Eisner, who noted that in terms of US helping Disney package its editorial on Disney’s cable and TV shows, it will be a good arrangement.
Eisner said that US Weekly will have numerous tie-ins to ABC broadcast and online activities. ABC Entertainment will develop and air an annual US Weekly-branded entertainment awards special capitalizing on the content of the magazine. In addition, “Good Morning America” will include an entertainment segment featuring a US Weekly correspondent, and “The View” will feature US Weekly-branded entertainment segments.
When asked when ABC’s “Live With Regis and Kelly” would be featured on the cover of US Weekly, Eisner joked, “Next week.” But he quickly added, “I probably had a better chance to get her on the cover if we didn’t get the deal.”
Soap opera star Kelly Ripa of ABC’s “All My Children” replaced Kathie Lee Gifford as Regis Philbin’s co-host on the morning talk show.
US Weekly was acquired by Wenner Media in 1986. Having started as a monthly, it changed to weekly frequency last March. Neither of Wenner’s other titles, Rolling Stone nor Men’s Journal, are included in this new venture.
“We didn’t ask for Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal,” said Eisner. “Number one, we wanted to start with US. We didn’t get the impression they were for sale.”
During the news conference, Wenner admitted about US Weekly, “Ad sales haven’t been that great.”
People magazine, US Weekly’s main competitor, eclipses US in the ad department. According to Media Industry Newsletter, People, with a rate base of 3.25 million, carried 458.8 ad pages through Feb. 26, while US Weekly, whose rate base is 800,000, carried 96.49.
In addition to such magazines as Discover, Family Fun, Disney Adventures and ESPN magazine, Disney also owns a 50 percent interest in Talk magazine, through its Miramax division. Overall, the company owns 275 magazines worldwide.
In response to whether Disney’s stake in US Weekly was a move to rival AOL Time Warner, which owns People, Eisner said, “Time is 75 years old and People magazine is a dominant force. This is not to compete specifically against Time Warner.”

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