Johnnie L. Roberts

Pay 2 Play

There's no shortage of comeback acts in the music business these days--Simon & Garfunkel, Duran Duran, Fleetwood Mac. Now, add Napster to the list. The online music service, which was shut down in 2001 after losing a courtroom fight with record labels incensed by its free-music-for-all ethos, is relaunching itself as a legit company to sell songs online.

Out Of Tune

The threat of a PR disaster was huge. What if, perhaps, they caught a handicapped, homebound downloader who found joy only through free file sharing--someone who would generate a lot of sympathy?

Selling Cds For A Song

50 Cent just got devalued. Responding to the music industry's prolonged business crisis, Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company, last week abruptly slashed the price on rap star 50 Cent's CDs by as much as 32 percent.

Defying All Labels

Amid the usual skinfest of top female stars at the MTV Video Music Awards last week, one artist stood out. Amy Lee, lead singer for Evanescence, the year's hottest debut rock act, strolled the red carpet in a modest skirt and top, about as rare a sighting at the show as a rap star sans rap sheet.

Beyond Definition

It's a Wednesday in June, a typical weekday for Russell Simmons--he's hellishly overscheduled with A-list invitations. Executives from the luxury pen maker Mont Blanc were honoring him for his philanthropy.

A Big Label Woos A Hit Machine

The music business has a long playlist of problems--piracy, slumping CD sales and marketing costs that are spiraling out of control. But one steady hit maker is Lyor Cohen, CEO of Island/Def Jam Records, who's poised to get the kind of courtship usually reserved for star artists.His five-year contract will expire early next year; rival Warner Music Group has quietly alerted Cohen that a top post is available, senior AOL Time Warner execs told NEWSWEEK.

Shadow Man

Long before it merged with America Online, Time Warner began holding its annual shareholder meetings at Harlem's Apollo Theater. But for the gathering this Friday, the company chose the Lans-downe Resort in Virginia, near the AOL unit's headquarters.

Reconstruction: Piece Of The Pie, Please

As the reconstruction of Iraq gets underway, a cottage industry has sprung up to facilitate the grab for war spoils. On May 5, Equity International will sponsor "The Iraqi Reconstruction Conference," where private companies, relief groups and development organizations can network with top government officials and bureaucrats overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq--an estimated $25 billion to $100 billion undertaking.

You've Got Questions

They got the message. AOL Time Warner executives knew investors weren't happy and wanted some clear answers to the company's problems. So during a four-hour presentation to Wall Street last week, company brass packed in enough announcements to fill a screen with pop-up ads.

How It All Fell Apart

Perhaps Mona Lisa, with her uncertain smile, knew something at the time that nobody else did. In the fall of 1999, an upstart group with the lofty title of the Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce had chosen the Louvre for its first conference.

All The News That's Fit To Merge

Surely there's an easier way to make money. But execs at Disney and AOL Time Warner appear determined to go the hard route, and have fixated yet again on their long-running interest in merging their respective news-gathering operations--Disney's ABC News and AOL's CNN division.

The Rap Of Luxury

Radio stations have played Busta Rhymes's latest megahit more than 97,000 times. Busta performed his ode to the pricey cognac on "The Tonight Show." And MTV and BET have aired the video version a combined 600 times.

Aol Building: Down, But Going Up

The building is going up (and up), but it isn't rising as fast as the questions about one future occupant. The AOL Time Warner Center, as it's currently named, is rising 80 stories above Central Park, a $1.7 billion, twin-tower project that was billed as an urban breakthrough marrying residential, commercial and retail space under one roof.

You've Got New Management

Avoiding "Sex" was a sure sign that the marriage of AOL Time Warner was in trouble. Last Tuesday, top company execs were supposed to show up for a welcome break from the relentless gloom of AOL's sagging stock price: premiere night for the new season of "Sex and the City," the smash series on AOL Time Warner's HBO.

Sticky Business

When President Bush came to Wall Street to jawbone chief executives about corporate responsibility, Dick Cheney, the vice president and a former CEO himself, wasn't with him.

Waiting In The Wings

Barry Diller tried to plant himself backstage last week, far from the spotlight that focused on troubles in the world of Big Media. Vivendi, the French conglomerate that includes the Universal Entertainment division that Diller has run for two months, finally booted its CEO, Jean-Marie Messier, after his ambitious plan to remake a former water utility collapsed under the weight of staggering debt and a sinking stock price.


To: Network Brass.Re: Hot Fall Pilot.So maybe this won't make the cut for the new fall shows. Too bad, since it's probably the best story line the television industry has to offer right now.

Nbc's Real Fear Factor

Coming to a small screen near you: "Kingpin," a gritty, riveting drama about a Latin American drug cartel run by the kind of murderers who mail the severed head of a drug agent to his colleagues back at the office.

The Race To The Top

Sun-splashed and blanketed with golf courses, Boca Grande, Fla., is a natural habitat for that most elite breed of American capitalism: members of the old boys' network.

Why Diller Is On Top Of The World

In the annals of american labor, show-business mogul Barry Diller has set a record for pay that's unlikely ever to be broken. By merely showing up for the first day's work as chief executive of the newly created Vivendi Universal Entertainment, Diller will collect a 1.5 percent piece of the action worth at least $275 million.

Cable's A-Team

In the never-ending attempts to convince consumers that nirvana is just one purchase away, snake-oil salesmen may have a better track record than peddlers of broadband.

Make Way For The Ceo

AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin returned with his trusted deputy Richard Parsons from a tour of Ground Zero, devastated. Not since the 1997 murder of his son had Levin appeared as shattered as he did looking over the wreckage that September morning. "He seemed to almost cry when he talked about 9-11," says Sandy Reisenbach, a Warner Bros.

Cbs's Real Survivor

As any TV executive will tell you, television is a game of numbers and gut feeling. And it was by those rules that CBS chief Leslie Moonves decided to end round-the-clock, commercial-free coverage of the 9-11 attacks after 93 hours, and to resume normal broadcasting with regular Saturday-morning fare, toy ads and all.