1. Borrowin' Bernie Strikes AgainBernie Ebbers wants more money from MCI ( MCIP).
Yes, we know. Dog bites man.
Ebbers, of course, was the CEO on whose watch some person or persons at MCI -- then known as WorldCom -- committed an $11 billion accounting fraud. Whether Ebbers himself is one of those fraudsters is slated to be decided in a trial starting next month.
What is more certainly known is that Bernie had a particular talent for enjoying WorldCom's largesse when most employees couldn't. He did, after all, borrow more than $400 million from WorldCom in low-interest loans at a time when the company cut back on free office coffee. And when WorldCom went bankrupt, thanks to the downward spiral in which Ebbers led it -- well, employees lost upwards of $1 billion in retirement savings. But when Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Ebbers wants MCI to pay his legal bills -- up to $2 million and counting -- were we outraged at his chutzpah? Nah. However his trial turns out, Ebbers is way in the hole and he isn't coming out. To cut off his money right now is like refusing the proverbial last cigarette to a man facing a firing squad, on the grounds that he really should quit smoking.
|Microsoft Sounds |
Jammin' with Bill Gates
2. Must Try to See TVWe can't help it. We still can't stop giggling whenever somebody tries to convince us that Microsoft ( MSFT) software soon will be the lifeblood of our home entertainment system.
One reason is that we've heard it all before. We heard it in 1993, when Microsoft and Intel ( INTC) demonstrated Windows for cable television set-top boxes. We heard it in 1995, when Microsoft made a big investment in Comcast ( CMCSA). And we heard it in 1999, when Microsoft made an even bigger investment in AT&T ( T).
The other reason we're amused is that Microsoft doesn't seem to understand what an uphill battle it faces in convincing folks it's a paragon of reliability. Maybe you think it's reliable. But consider the recent experience of Microsoft's own Moshe Lichtman, corporate vice president of Microsoft's TV Division. Last week, Lichtman was at Goldman Sachs' prestigious Communacopia conference in New York City, explaining how Microsoft's IPTV multichannel video system was on its way to being the lifeblood of our home entertainment system. And guess what? In the middle of the presentation, Lichtman's demonstration of this cool system crashed. It froze. He had to abandon it. The day before, we noticed that the Hyatt's cool information displays were marred by a Microsoft error message. To be sure, the fault may not lie in Microsoft's software. But the difficulty of diagnosing Windows problems only fuels our skepticism. We fear the day when a cable software glitch pre-empts the last innings of a World Series game. There are errors enough in baseball -- who needs a fatal one from Microsoft?
3. I'd Rather Be President Than RightWe just learned a new lesson from Disney's ( DIS) contentious shareholder meeting back in March: You can be right, and it still won't matter. We're talking about executives Susan Lyne and Lloyd Braun, both of whom were in charge of turning around ABC's struggling prime-time schedule. They spoke reasonably eloquently about the three parts of their turnaround plan. Part One was to get costs in order. Part Two was to improve the schedule, bit by bit, night by night. And Part Three, essentially, was to pray for a hit show. We were fascinated. These were entertainment executives who were given their jobs presumably because someone thought they could methodically create success in Disney's TV operations. And here those execs were, admitting that a key part of that success was just plain luck. You have to just plug away, and hope that if you plug away long enough, the gods will smile upon you.
|Knew Their ABCs |
Two former execs won the ratings game
"In time, we will get a little lucky somewhere and find that mega-hit," said Braun at the shareholder meeting. "A single true hit would make a remarkable difference," Lyne said.
Both were right. ABC got lucky this fall, with new shows Desperate Housewives and Lost. And ABC's prime-time fortunes indeed appear to have turned around. But neither Lyne nor Braun are around to run their victory laps; Lyne got pushed out last spring, and Braun, seeing writing on the wall, departed voluntarily. Yes, they were right. Fat lot of good it did them.