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BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY NEWS: CCC Reorganizes Its Legal And Government Affairs Departments

(CelebrityAccess News Service) — Clear Channel Communications promoted Andrew Levin to the newly created position of executive vice president for Law and Government Affairs and chief Legal officer. This represents a key reorganization of the company's legal and government affairs departments.

"It is increasingly important to address corporate and public policy issues hand in hand," said Mark Mays, president and chief operating officer of Clear Channel Communications."Bringing together Clear Channel's legal and government affairs operations will allow us to do just that," he said.

Levin, an attorney and CPA, joined the company in late 2002 as senior vice president for Government Affairs in Washington, D.C. Before joining Clear Channel, he served as Democratic Counsel to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee where he specialized in telecommunications and mass media issues. Levin began his career more than 20 years ago as a financial manager for Bell Atlantic Corp., now Verizon Communications.

"Andy's unique understanding of law, business and public policy makes him the ideal person to lead the company's newly integrated team," said Mays.

"Clear Channel has a team of extremely talented and dedicated employees," Levin said, "and they are committed to becoming a world class organization in every way. I'm thrilled to play a part in that.

Reporting to Levin will be Ken Wyker, senior vice president and general counsel; Dale Head, general counsel of Clear Channel's live entertainment business; Mickey Gayler, associate general counsel for labor and employment matters and the senior vice president for Government Affairs.

Levin will relocate to Clear Channel's corporate headquarters in San Antonio, TX. –Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen

Clear Channel Entertainment To Produce Las Vegas Centennial Bash

(CelebrityAccess News Service) – Clear Channel Entertainment has been tapped by the city of Las Vegas to help it throw a 100th birthday bash on par with "The Super Bowl, The Academy Awards and The Olympics." CCE will produce the Centennial events and experiences, sell integrated sponsorship packages, handle merchandising and licensing and develop Centennial-related television broadcast rights and opportunities.

"Las Vegas is like no other city in the world and when we commemorate our birthday it will be a blockbuster," said Oscar Goodman, Mayor of Las Vegas. "Through our promotional venture with Clear Channel Entertainment, we will host a birthday party that's bigger and brighter than the neon lights on the Las Vegas Strip!"

"Clear Channel Entertainment is proud to be working side-by-side with Las Vegas to produce a 'bigger than life' birthday bash to be enjoyed by millions and millions of people from across the country and around the globe throughout 2005," said Bruce Eskowitz, president, National Sales and Marketing, Clear Channel Entertainment.

As part of Las Vegas' overall branding efforts, the city and Clear Channel Entertainment will work closely with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors' Authority (LVCVA) to entice visitors to participate in the festivities, while also providing unique and exciting sponsorship, marketing and merchandising opportunities to corporate marketers.

One big event is an exclusive major live concert featuring the music industry's hottest acts on the famed Las Vegas Strip is planned, which will also feature Vegas superstars and other special performances and appearances. The event will be broadcast nationally on television and radio and webcast around the world. –Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen

Comcast-Disney Another Doomed Media Deal?

NEW YORK (AP) — There's a familiar ring to Comcast Corp.'s proposal to take over Walt Disney Co.: Marry our media distribution channels to your programming, and great things will happen. AOL and Time Warner made similar promises when they merged four years ago, and that became a spectacular mess.

But there are important differences this time around. Creating new businesses and services is just one part of Comcast's strategy. Another part is old-fashioned takeover tactics: Strike when your opponent seems weak, and promise to run the company better than he can.

Comcast chief Brian Roberts is conscious of the ghosts of failed media mergers past, and is eager to avoid comparisons with them. The ill-fated AOL-Time Warner combination never delivered on its goals of "synergies" between media content such as movies and TV programs coupled with new ways to deliver it.

At a New York news conference Wednesday, Roberts said his management team — which had just finished integrating AT&T Corp.'s cable systems — would be setting realistic goals. "It comes down to people, execution and not getting ahead of yourself," Roberts said.

Part of what Comcast wants is simply to be bigger in an industry where size counts. Even though it has dropped "AOL" from its name and abandoned its goals of revolutionizing the media, Time Warner is still the biggest power to be reckoned with in the industry.

"We believe either balance or scale will be a strategic imperative in the increasingly consolidated media world," Merrill Lynch media analyst Jessica Reif Cohen wrote in a note to investors Thursday. "A Comcast-controlled Disney would have a more powerful seat at the media negotiating table."

What's more, integrating TV delivery systems into companies with movie studios isn't necessarily a bad idea. Viacom Inc., which owns the Paramount studios, has done well following its combination with CBS. Ironically, ABC has badly lagged behind other networks despite being part of Disney's big media family.

Blair Levin, a regulatory analyst with Legg Mason, says the failure of ABC says more about Disney than it does about whether integrating media content with media distribution is a bad idea. "It's not a structural issue," he said. "It's a management issue."

Comcast says it has real ways to take advantage of linking Disney's stable of sports, entertainment and animation programming to its vast cable systems. In a presentation to investors, Comcast's cable chief Steve Burke suggested video-on-demand channels keyed to special themes such as kids' entertainment.

But even before he got into the whiz-bang new business proposals, Burke also made arguments that have more to do with bare-knuckle takeover tactics than with dreams of media synergies: We can run your company better than you can.

Burke noted that ABC was a distant fourth among the major networks, and that Disney's mighty ESPN channels have lower profitability than even Comcast's own tiny Golf Channel. He also promised to restore the "energy and creative spark" to Disney's theme parks and rebuild Disney's animation business.

Comcast is hoping that its proposal won't be seen as another AOL Time Warner, or for that matter as another Vivendi Universal. That deal between a French TV and telephone company and the Universal movie studios was another disaster, and the union was dismantled by a subsequent management team. Now NBC and Universal are combining, hoping to make their own case that media integration works.

But even if Comcast wins over Disney's board, shareholders and regulators, they are sure to face opposition from an American public increasingly wary of growing media consolidation. A combined Comcast and Disney would surpass Time Warner as the largest media company in the world, with $45 billion in revenues.

It was just about two years ago that a federal court threw out long-standing rules that forbid one company from owning cable TV systems and a broadcast TV station in the same market, making a combination between a cable company like Comcast possible with Disney.

More recently, there has been a serious backlash to moves to loosen media ownership rules. On the same day that Comcast announced its offer for Disney, a federal appeals court in Comcast's hometown of Philadelphia began hearing arguments from media access groups that the Federal Communications Commission went too far in easing media ownership rules last June.

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said that Roberts and Comcast "fail to appreciate" that the widening concentration of media ownership is "a threat to American democracy."

What's more, Chester said the fact that they would announce a deal on the same day as the court hearing "suggests that they are out of touch with how millions of Americans — who opposed the recent ownership changes — feel about further media consolidation."

Disney To Buy Muppets From Jim Henson Company

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday it will buy the "Muppets" characters, including Kermit, Miss Piggy and others, as well as the "Bear in the Big Blue House," franchise from The Jim Henson Co.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal culminates a decades-long pursuit of the Muppets by Disney, which came close to acquiring the characters in 1990. The deal fell apart shortly after the death of company founder Jim Henson.

The company then was bought by German media company EM.TV, which sold it back to the Henson family last year.

The deal includes a four-year consulting arrangement with the Jim Henson Co. to provide strategic advice on the use of the characters and a three-year production deal to develop movies, television shows and other projects using the characters.

The Jim Henson Co. will retain its "Creature Shop," which builds the puppet characters, as well as the rights to its film and television library, including "Fraggle Rock" and "Farscape," among others.

The announcement is a much-needed boost for Disney, which has been under attack for weeks from ex-board members and is the subject of a hostile takeover bid from cable television giant Comcast Corp.

It is also a coup for Disney chief executive Michael Eisner, who has been attacked by some who claim he lacks management skills.

"Michael Eisner's long-standing passion and respect for the Muppets gives me and my family even more confidence in Disney as a partner," said Brian Henson, who with his sister Lisa is co-chair and co-chief executive officer of The Jim Henson Co.

Actors' Unions Approve Contract Extension

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The two unions representing big screen and television actors have agreed to a one-year extension of their current contract with studios in a deal that would give actors raises and unions the right to jointly bargain.

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists agreed to extend the labor pact that was set to expire June 30. It still requires ratification by members of both unions. If approved it would expire June 30, 2005.

The agreement gives actors a 2.5 percent salary hike and requires members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to increase contributions to the actors' health plans by a half percent.

The pact also extends union coverage to performers who appear on programs shot using digital cameras on the UPN and WB networks.

The most important gain is the right for both actors unions to negotiate jointly on all terms and conditions for primetime dramatic television production. Talks will begin in the fall on a new three-year agreement.

Previously, SAG and AFTRA negotiated separately and often signed contracts with different levels of benefits, then competed against each other for who would represent actors on particular television shows.

"Most importantly, this extension locks down the right for SAG and AFTRA to negotiate all primetime dramatic programming together, giving the unions unprecedented leverage that we have not had since the advent of television," SAG President Melissa Gilbert said in a statement.

The extension was agreed to in order to avoid the kind of work slowdown that happened several years ago when negotiations went on past the contract expiration. Then, studios rushed productions in anticipation of a strike, which never came. The backlog of movies and TV shows already filmed caused a subsequent months-long work slowdown.

Free VIP Experience For New 21 Year Olds Visiting Vegas

LAS VEGAS (CelebrityAccess News Service) – Move over whales, Vegas has set its sights on Comping a new group of VIPs: brand new 21 year olds!

To turn the trend of “hitting 21 in Vegas” into a tradition, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has proclaimed that henceforth all 21st birthdays be known as BlackjackBirthdays, while Vegas properties have put together an exclusive VIP Experience worth over $500 for these new adults to enjoy.

“After all, what better place to celebrate turning 21 than the town that turns on 21?”
– Christina Almeida, Associated Press, where the Pass can be
purchased for $21, announced today that it is giving away 100 VIP Passes to anyone with plans to celebrate their 21st birthday in Vegas before April 30th, 2004. Passes will be given to the first 100 people to fax proof of name, age, mailing address, phone number and travel plans to 520-393-8132.

The Pass includes a variety of Comps including VIP entrance and no cover to nightclubs such as House of Blues, Coyote Ugly, Bikinis and Drai’s-After Hours, free show admissions to Crazy Girls and Showgirls of Magic for the guys and Thunder from Down Under for the girls. Add in the free food and extra surprises and these lucky new 21 year olds will get the chance to indulge themselves in a Vegas that’s usually reserved for celebrities and high rollers. –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers

Dera & Associates Renamed, New Partners Named

(CelebrityAccess News Service) — Joe Dera, founder and chief executive of Dera & Associates Public Relations Inc., has formed a new partnership with longtime associates Chris Roslan and Eileen Campion, renaming the firm, Dera, Roslan & Campion, Inc. Public Relations.

Roslan and Campion will share the title of president and managing partner and will report directly to Dera. The move is designed to reflect the continue growth of the firm and the contributions Roslan and Campion have made to that success.

Dera & Associates was founded in 1989 as a full service public relations firm with a strong emphasis on music and television campaigns. During its initial tenure, the firm handled campaigns for David Bowie, National Geographic Television, CNBC, Ray Davies, Paul McCartney, The History Channel International, ZZ Top, Angel/EMI Classics, Ringo Starr, Manhattan Records, UB40, the late Robert Palmer, Clint Black, Duran Duran, Foreigner and The Biography Channel.

Under Roslyn's leadership, the entertainment and corporate divisions have expanded to include a diverse group of clients, including campaigns for Angel/EMI/Manhattan Records, Arista Associated Labels/BMG/RCA Victor, Sparrow Label Group/EMI CMG, Metropolitan Entertainment, Metropolitan Talent, AEG Live, Narada, American Gramaphone, Epic/Sony, Curb Record Group, Luis Palau and Zondervan. Roslan holds a bachelor's degree in music management and began his career at Rogers & Cowan, where he worked in the Corporate Entertainment and Music divisions. Following Rogers & Cowan, he was the head of publicity for Continuum Records, launching album campaigns for Charlie Watts and Ron Wood, as well as Kid Rock and Roger Daltrey. Roslan also handled campaigns for Patty Loveless and Restless Heart, along with supermodel Niki Taylor and the entire roster of IMG Models, prior to joining Dera & Associates in 1994. He is also an adjunct professor of the music business at various metropolitan area colleges.

Campion has taken the firm's core television business, which includes campaigns for Scripps Network, HGTV, National Geographic Television, Warner Bros. Television and DIY Network, to new levels of national exposure. She has also made the firm a leader in the promotion of large format films, handling the Oscar-winning campaign for The Old Man & The Sea, Haunted Castle, and
Destination Cinema's Lewis & Clark. The company was also the media muscle behind WGBH/Nova's critically acclaimed release of Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. DRC, Inc. is currently promoting the giant screen film, Bugs! –Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen

Nashville Star Selects Judges For Its Second Season

(CelebrityAccess News Service) — The producers of Nashville Star, the grassroots talent search series to find the next country music superstar, have finalized the judges' panel for the second season, which will premiere on March 6 from 10:00 – 11:30 PM (ET/PT) on USA Network.

Returning as a judge this season will be Tracy Gershon, senior director of A&R and Artist Development at Sony Music Nashville. Joining her on the panel are country radio personality Billy Greenwood and singer/songwriter duo The Warren Brothers.

"We're confident that we've put together a panel with expertise and experience in all aspects of the music industry," said Nashville Star co-executive producer H. T. Owens. "From songwriting to performing, from music publishing and record label experience, and navigating the complex and exciting world of country radio, these people know how to get the job done and what to look for in the next 'Nashville Star.'"

Gershon's tenured career in the music industry has included work as a concert promoter for Avalon Attractions, senior director of Creative Services at Backstreet/MCA Records, artist manager, and song plugger and director of creative services for EMI Music. In 1989 Gershon was hired by SONY/ATV/TREE Music to run the pop division as well as exploit the country catalogues, and she was appointed senior director of Talent Acquisitions in 1992. In 1995 she became vice-president of A &R at Imprint Records, where she was responsible for the signings and development of all artists on the roster. In 1998, Gershon joined the Fitzgerald-Hartley Management Team as a partner in the High Seas Music Publishing Company and the Gershon Music Group, focusing on special projects such as album compilations, soundtracks, music supervision, and film opportunities.

In August of 2002, Gershon was hired as an A&R consultant for Sony Records, working with New York, Los Angeles and Nashville. At the label's Nashville division, she began work on Nashville Star. Her consultancy efforts eventually led to an invitation from the show's producers to become one of three on-camera judges for the series. Gershon served as executive producer on Nashville Star winner Buddy Jewell's first album for Columbia Records.

Greenwood is a well-known voice at country radio, hitting the airwaves middays on The Big 98 WSIX FM in Nashville, afternoons on KSD "The Bull" in St. Louis, and evenings on WSSL in Greenville, SC. He has been working in country radio for thirteen years, starting in Sedalia, MO, and eventually working at stations including WKKX "Kix 106.5" in St. Louis and WQDR in Raleigh. He received the A.I.R. (Achievement In Radio) award for "Best Afternoon Show in St. Louis," as well as the Major Market Air Talent of the Year award from the Missouri Association of Broadcasters.

For the past five years in a row, the Warren Brothers (Brett and Brad) have been nominated as Country Music Association's Vocal Duo of the Year. They are also three-time Academy of Country Music Award nominees. The singles that introduced them to country audiences include "Guilty," "Better Man," and "That's the Beat of A Heart," a duet with Sara Evans from the Where the Heart Is soundtrack. The Warren Brothers have opened for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on their Soul to Soul tour and The Dixie Chicks on their Wide Open Spaces tour. The Brothers wrote the recent Lynyrd Skynyrd hit "Red, White and Blue" as well as Tim McGraw's "Who Are They?" The Brothers can be seen in the upcoming motion picture, Small Town Saturday Night. In addition to the feature film, the brothers just shot a pilot for CMT for a reality show based on them and their career. Outside of their on-camera accolades, 429 Records will release their new album, Well-Deserved Obscurity, in stores on April 6.

In its first season, Nashville Star featured live performances by twelve finalists, who were judged by industry professionals and the television viewing audience as they played cover songs, sang original compositions and performed each week live with a band to vie for a recording contract with Sony Music Nashville.

In the second season, the finalists will once again compete for a recording contract with Sony Music Nashville. A total of eleven finalists will be selected from a group of twenty who will perform during the premiere episode. The judges will select ten with the television viewing audience voting to determine the eleventh finalist.

Cameras will capture their live performances, as well as the behind-the-scenes drama and humor that develop as they live together in a house in Nashville for the duration of the competition. The show will continue to be broadcast live from the BellSouth Acuff Theatre in Nashville.

Nashville Star is produced and distributed by Reveille, an independent studio based at Universal, founded by Ben Silverman (The Restaurant). The show is executive produced by Silverman, George Verschoor (The Real World) and his production company, Hoosick Falls Productions. H.T. Owens is the co-executive producer. Jon Small (Garth Brooks Live From Central Park, Billy Joel Live at Yankee Stadium) is producing with his production company, Picture Vision. The show was created by Reveille's Ben Silverman, H.T. Owens, and Mark Koops in conjunction with George Verschoor. –Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen