Sunday Bloody Sunday


It's been a torrid summer of hostile bids and dealmaking in which media-company executives — unlike our maker, who created this big bustling wonder of a universe — didn't even take the Sabbath off to rest.

Think about this: So far, all three of the summer's big deals were announced on a Sunday: Comcast Corp.'s unfriendly bid for AT&T Broadband, The Walt Disney Co.'s friendly purchase of Fox Family Worldwide Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.'s unsolicited bid for DirecTV Inc.

None of this timing is sheer happenstance. By announcing big and especially unwelcome bids on a sleepy Sunday afternoon to select outlets like The Wall Street Journal, the unwanted suitor gets to push the news out to shareholders and investors just they way it wants to: one-sidedly and unvarnished.

Let's fact it, not even the Journal
or The New York Times
are beehives of activity on a typical summer Sunday afternoon. Instead they are abandoned, desolate and dreary places. The reporters who are there — a skeleton crew at best — tend to be junior-level staffers who drew the short end of the stick and got stuck on weekend duty.

When big news comes down on a Sunday, the real beat reporters must be rung up on their pagers or cell phones and hunted down at their summer homes — albeit abodes furnished with laptop computers. And they, in turn, must scramble to find executives to comment who are also holed up in their summer camps, which are also replete with home offices.

No matter how good or plugged in those seasoned beat reporters are, they simply won't have enough time to round up the usual suspects to provide balanced reaction and commentary in time to make that Monday-morning deadline.

So what appears on that first Monday morning coverage is a yeoman-like, bare-bones, one-sided account of whatever the company on the prowl wanted to spin.

After all, the clock is ticking for Comcast and EchoStar. With their unwelcome bids, they must quickly hustle up institutional investors and win them over to their side. From the moment the first story of the unwelcome bid hits the streets, everything is in play — including the reporters who cover the deal.

Every newsgathering organization is also now in the huddle, preparing their second-day angles for their specific audiences. Hence the team-coverage approach, with every conceivable sidebar, dissecting every possible angle and nuance.

And the takeover target — especially AT&T Broadband — is left on the defensive, with a lot of explaining to do to its own institutional shareholders as it searches for a white knight to repel the unwanted bidder.

It's been rather novel watching the bear hug, a phenomenon of the '80s, come back to a marketplace that's been pretty tame in its wheelings and dealings since then.

Personally, I'd love to know which public relations savant dreamed up this whole strategy of the Sunday-afternoon leak — a move which, to date, has created generally favorable ink for the unwanted suitor.

Now we're all watching this chess game unfold, or perhaps collapse. With AT&T Broadband, white knights keep coming and going, and it seems as though every media company wants to play in what's becoming a three-dimensional chess game.

And with another laconic Sunday approaching, don't get too comfy. Odds are some other media giant is ready to announce its bear hug — or I should say grip — on some unsuspecting company.