Cable Operators

Shell Leaves Gemstar; Comcast Next?

12/10/2004 2:15 AM Eastern

Jeff Shell, reportedly the leading contender to become Comcast Corp.’s new programming czar, has left Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. and is being replaced as CEO by Rich Battista, officials said Friday.

In addition to Battista’s appointment, Gemstar named Anthea Disney executive chairman, a new post added to her role as executive vice president of content for News Corp. With her appointment, Lachlan Murdoch resigned his position as a Gemstar director.

Battista is a News Corp. veteran, most recently executive VP of business development and strategy for Fox Entertainment Group.

In an analysts’ conference call Friday morning, Shell said his contract with Gemstar is up in April and, during the past few months, there have been informal discussions about his future at the company.

“I’m not going to speculate on what I might be doing,” he said. “All I can say definitively is that I do not have another job … It is definitely not official that I’m going to Comcast or anywhere else.”

One year ago, Shell was rumored to be a contender to head up Comcast’s portfolio of cable networks, which includes stakes in services such as E! Entertainment Television, G4techTV and The Golf Channel. A few weeks ago, sources familiar with the situation said Shell was a leading candidate to take that Comcast slot, and he would leave Gemstar before his contract expires in April (www.multichannel.com/article/CA483365.html).

A Comcast spokesman would not comment Friday.

“After spending nearly three years at Gemstar, I’m ready to take on a new challenge,” Shell said during the Friday call. “I made the decision the day before yesterday to go in this direction, and I told the board yesterday morning.”

New Corp. owns 41% of Gemstar, and chairman Rupert Murdoch asked Shell to iron out problems at the troubled interactive-guide company. Shell did so.

“Jeff has made invaluable contributions to Gemstar-TV Guide during his tenure, successfully navigating the company through a management and corporate-governance restructuring, and he was instrumental in resolving many of its business and legal issues,” Rupert Murdoch said in a prepared statement.

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