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BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY NEWS: The Chabon Group Selected To Develop National, Local Radio Programs

(CelebrityAccess News Service) – The Chabon Group in Nashville is working with Tuned-In Broadcasting – WRLT
Radio, an AAA format station to develop national and local programs, including a national radio syndication program for Lightning 100's Sunday Night Live and their Team Green program.

During fourth quarter, Lightning 100 plans to run its own monthly concert series and a music festival in 2005. For more information, contact Jeffrey
Chabon at 615-308-3959 or e-mail: — Jane Cohen and Bob Grossweiner

Time Warner Returns To Quarterly Profit

NEW YORK (AP) — Time Warner Inc., the world's largest media company, swung back to a profit in the fourth quarter of 2003 after reporting a $44.9 billion loss in the same period a year ago because of write-downs at its AOL unit, the company reported Wednesday.

Time Warner earned $638 million, or 14 cents a share, in the three months ending in December. The year-ago loss was equivalent to $10.04 per share. Excluding one-time items, adjusted earnings per share were 15 cents, even with the estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Revenues rose 6 percent, more than some analysts had been expecting, to $10.9 billion from $10.25 billion a year earlier, led by gains in its movie unit and cable TV business.

The company, whose vast holdings include the Time Inc. magazine family, HBO, CNN and AOL, said it expects earnings in each of its segments to grow faster in 2004 than last year, except for New Line Cinema, which had a blockbuster year in 2003 with the latest "Lord of the Rings" movie.

Excluding the effects of write-downs and other one-time gains and losses, the company's operating income edged lower to $2.39 billion from $2.43 billion in the same quarter a year ago. All segments posted stronger results except AOL and Networks, which includes CNN, HBO and TNT.

The company's stock was off 64 cents, or 3.4 percent, at $18.17 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

AOL remained a weak spot, as revenues declined 7 percent in the quarter. Operating earnings in the division swung back to a profit of $301 million compared with a loss of $33.14 billion a year ago due to the write-off.

AOL continued to lose subscribers in the quarter, but at a slower rate. Subscribers declined by a net 399,000, below the 688,000 it lost in the previous three-month period.

As of the end of 2003, AOL had 24.3 million subscribers in the United States, down 2.2 million for the year. AOL is struggling to hold on to members who use dial-up services in the face of competition from low-priced highspeed Internet service providers.

Time Warner excluded results from its music division, Warner Music Group, which it has agreed to sell to an investor group led by Edgar Bronfman Jr., the former head of Seagram Co.

After receiving the $2.6 billion in cash it expects to get from that deal, the company will reach its goal of reducing its overall debt to about $20 billion almost one year ahead of schedule. Time Warner's debt stood at $25.8 billion at the end of 2002.

CEO Dick Parsons said the company was pleased with the results, particularly achieving its debt-reduction goals ahead of time.

"One year ago I said 2003 would be a reset year. I'm pleased to say that we're past that," Parsons told analysts on a conference call. "2004 is really about driving this company forward."

Parsons has been working to slim the company down, reduce debt and regain the trust of Wall Street following the disastrous decline in its stock price after the merger with AOL, which was announced at the height of the Internet bubble in early 2000.

For the full year, net earnings were $2.64 billion or 57 cents a share, compared with a loss of $98.7 billion, or $22.15 a share, in 2002, which also included large write-offs to reflect declines in value since the AOL-Time Warner merger.

Adjusted operating earnings, which exclude one-time gains and losses as well as depreciation and amortization, rose 7 percent to $8.81 billion from $8.24 billion.

Annual revenues rose 6 percent to $39.57 billion from $37.31 billion.

Gambling Co. MGM Mirage Sees Profit Surge

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Profit more than doubled at gambling giant MGM Mirage in the latest quarter, boosted by strong visitor levels and guest spending at its casinos.

The Las Vegas-based company, second only to Caesars Entertainment Inc. in the industry, reported fourth-quarter net income of $91.7 million, or 62 cents a share, up sharply from the previous year's $39 million, or 25 cents a share.

Earnings per share from continuing operations rose to 38 cents from 27 cents, excluding various costs like preopening and startup expenses, restructuring costs and property transactions.

The adjusted results beat the average forecast of 29 cents a share in a Thomson First Call survey of analysts.

Revenue rose about 6 percent to $1.08 billion from $1.02 billion, due to strong casino revenue in all markets and increased spending by guests in non-gaming areas.

MGM Mirage noted that the increase was especially strong given that a remodeling of the Bellagio put 17 percent of the hotel's standard rooms out of service during the quarter.

For full-year 2003, MGM Mirage reported net income of $243.7 million, or $1.61 a share. That was down 17 percent from $292.4 million, or $1.83 a share in 2002.

Revenue for 2003 rose 2.4 percent to $4.3 billion from $4.2 billion.

Shares of MGM Mirage were at $40.82 in midday trading Wednesday, up 37 cents, or 0.9 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange.

New Version Of Napster Increases Choices For Digital Music Consumers

(CelebrityAccess News Service) – Napster has introduced an updated version of its service, enabling owners of some of the most popular portable digital audio devices available, including Creative's NOMAD Zen line, the Dell Digital Jukebox and Rio's Cali and Nitrus, the ability to seamlessly drag-and-drop tracks from Napster directly to their portable device without leaving the Napster application. The integration of these devices within the Napster service allows consumers to choose the device that best suits their needs and budget without sacrificing the benefits of simple and seamless transfer of music. With its continued support of the Samsung Napster YP-910GS, Napster is now integrated with over a dozen portable devices, some of which retail for under a hundred dollars, and is compatible with a total of 60 devices.

"It is extremely important to Napster that the digital music experience is easy and fun for all music consumers," said Mike Bebel, Napster's president and COO. "Integrating so many popular devices with the service allows us to make that goal a reality for the millions of consumers who use these leading portable devices."

"Napster's focus on consumer choice as the nucleus of their digital music service ensures that music fans will have high-quality experiences that fit their individual needs," said Dave Fester, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Media Division. "Many different devices from a variety of manufacturers are available today that support WMA, making it easy for Napster customers to get the combination of a great device, a superior music service and a flexible, high quality music format."

Napster's updated version of the service allows Premium members to purchase tracks in bulk, reducing the cost per track to as little as 80 cents. Members can choose to buy packs of 15, 25 or 50 tracks for $13.95, $21.95 and $39.95, respectively. Members of Napster's Premium Service enjoy unlimited listening to full-length songs, unlimited downloading on three computers and access to Napster's interactive radio and message boards for $9.95 per month.

"Digital music consumers want to have options when it comes to buying and listening to music, so Napster offers its users the opportunity to tailor their digital music experience to their lifestyle," said Bebel. "We have always enabled consumers to select from the largest selection of music available online via either a store or a premium subscription service, so we're pleased to extend our commitment to choice by adding track packs and additional portable device integration." download the Napster application from . –Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen

Ex-Disney Board Urges Vote Against Eisner

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former Walt Disney Co. board members Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold urged stockholders Tuesday to cast a protest vote against four directors, including chairman and chief executive Michael Eisner, at the company's annual meeting.

In a letter addressed to shareholders, the pair said voting against the directors March 3 will send a message to the board that widespread changes are necessary.

"We are launching our 'No' campaign in an effort to improve the long-term financial health of the company, to restore shareholder value, to return the quality of its products and services to a level that will yield sustainable growth," the letter states.

Gold said he and Roy Disney do not expect the targeted directors to be replaced. No alternative slate was offered.

"My goal is that a sufficient number will withhold their vote to send the board a message that the shareholders are unhappy with Michael and unhappy with their ability to hold Michael accountable," Gold said.

Gold said the letter will be sent to the 12,000 people who have signed up at a Web site established by him and Roy Disney to promote their cause. Larger investors will also receive copies. Gold also intends to meet in the coming weeks with those investors as well as organizations that monitor corporate governance issues.

Disney spokesman John Spelich said the letter contained factual errors intended to mislead shareholders.

"We trust and respect our shareholders to distinguish truth from fiction," he said without providing further details.

The letter came on the same day the Disney company received a number of Oscar nominations, including one for Roy Disney and Dominique Monfery, who produced the short animated film "Destino."

Disney and Gold resigned from the board late last year and launched a campaign to oust Eisner, who they said has been mismanaging the company and has failed to formulate a viable long-term strategy.

Roy Disney is the son of company co-founder Roy O. Disney and the nephew of Walt Disney.

In their letter, the two said shareholders should vote against the re-election of Eisner, George Mitchell, Judith Estrin and John Bryson.

Mitchell is the board's presiding director, responsible for holding separate meetings of the board away from company management.

Roy Disney and Gold said Mitchell had opposed their efforts to separate the office of board chairman and chief executive. The two also questioned his independence because he once served as a paid consultant to the company.

The two object to Estrin because as chairwoman of the board's compensation committee for the past two years, she "engineered what we believe were excessive total compensation packages for the company's top five executives."

Bryson is being opposed because he was counted as an independent director when he joined the board two years ago, despite what Disney and Gold say were conflicts of interest.

Bryson's wife is an executive at the Lifetime cable channel, which is half-owned by Disney. He was stripped of his independent status earlier this year by the board.

Shares of Disney are up 4 percent since the beginning of the year. Shares fell 27 cents to close at $24.13 on the New York Stock Exchange.


On the Net:

Roy Disney protest site

Walt Disney Co.