News

Live From New York: Turmoil

9/19/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

The week that began in New York with the Lehman Brothers failure was one for keeping things in perspective. Seeing on television all those Lehman workers walking out of the building with boxed-up personal items can have that effect.

In cable as in other businesses, work went on, things got done — rather actively in New York, as it was Diversity Week, which sometimes used to be called Hell Week. Discovery Communications went public with a bell-ringing ceremony at the NASDAQ stock exchange on Thursday, a day after that exchange's composite index fell about 5%. “We didn't pick the date,” Discovery executives pointed out. Apparently for technical reasons but symbolic for the week, one Discovery issue fell 16% on day one, another rose 25%, and one stayed the same.

The same day, near Union Square a little farther downtown, religious programmer Trinity Broadcasting was showing off a newly restored 1850s vintage theater where it has installed high-definition cameras and built a studio for its signature show, Praise the Lord, with a skyline background officials were comparing favorably with the one on David Letterman's stage. Trinity is debt-free, founder Paul Crouch was saying proudly, and wants to buy distressed broadcast stations and enter new geographic markets and seek cable carriage for its five networks (soon to be six with an HD outlet). Trinity's buying a station in Denver and another in Columbus, Ohio, officials said. The New York theater cost about $15 million to buy a couple of years ago and another several million to fix up.

“We're ready to just take New York by storm,” said Paul Crouch Jr., the network group's chief of staff. “There are a lot of people who need the Lord in this part of the world.”

While stock markets roiled, Goldman Sachs held its annual Communacopia Conference, a media-investment showcase. Media stocks shared the pain during Wall Street's gyrations last week, although Cablevision Systems was the only cable operator to initially suffer much because it's been thought to be considering asset sales.

On Thursday, CEO James Dolan said at Communacopia that Cablevision was “less likely” now to sell assets anytime soon. His stock got hammered. Then it recovered, along with the rest of the market, when government plans to possibly take bad loans off banks' balance sheets hit the news.

Diversity Week activities — the NAMIC conference, the CTAM New York blue-ribbon breakfast, the WICT New York executive women's luncheon — were well-attended, including the centerpiece Walter Kaitz Foundation fundraising dinner Wednesday night.

The dinner raised $1.7 million for groups pushing to diversify the work forces of cable operators and programmers. But it's ending a 25-year run as a Manhattan event and, for me, the night's most poignant moment came near the end when Kaitz executive director David Porter rhetorically asked whether everyone would be at next October's dinner in Denver. A conversational buzz lingered in the room for a little while.

Next year? How about if we just take it a week at a time.

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