LA Times Names Former DirecTV Head Hartenstein As Publisher; Zell Says LAT’s A Keeper

The embattled newspaper Los Angeles Times has named Eddy Hartenstein, the former head of DirecTV, as its new publisher, a story first broken by DHD last month. He will fill in the position left vacant when David Hiller resigned on July 14, after parent Tribune began implementing the latest round of staff cutbacks at the paper.

Hartenstein said that Zell approached him a month ago. He said his new boss made no demands concerning future staff cuts…Zell “basically said, ‘You’re the publisher and CEO. It’s yours to run,’ and that was pretty much it.” He then asked Zell if he wold keep the paper or sell it…The answer “was a strong, affirmative ‘Yes. This is a keeper.’ ” Words spoken too soon?

Hartenstein has never run newspapers, though he is considered the father of satellite TV industry. He led DirecTV from its inception in 1990 until late 2003. More recently, he was the CEO of a SPAC called HD Partners Acquisition Corp., a company that raised about $150 million to buy companies in the media, telecom or entertainment sectors, but dissolved earlier this year, according to SEC filings.

Nikki Finke: “OK, so why Hartenstein for LA Times publisher? I’m told it’s because he understands subscription-based product and new media distribution after taking DirecTV from zero to 12.5 million subscribers despite very stiff competition from cable.”

LAT’s own story puts the challenge for him in perspective: Whether Hartenstein’s success at building a business from scratch translates to a declining industry that’s under assault from a range of newly sprouted competitors remains to be seen. Those who have worked with him say he’s adept at choosing effective lieutenants, which could help compensate for his lack of publishing experience.

Staci adds: And how did he push that subscriber base up at DirecTV? For one, with exclusive programming — for instance, spending nearly $3 billion for exclusive rights to NFL out-of-market football over the course of the contracts signed while he was there. Hartenstein is a very bright guy (an aerospace engineer so almost literally a rocket scientist) but it’s going to take a very different formula at the LAT given beyond-tight purse strings and the lack of a natural competitor like cable. One possible similarity: at Hughes, the emphasis was on large satellites until Hartenstein convinced the board to go small and personal with what became DirecTV (NYSE: DTV). Can he find a way to do that kind of re-imagining for the LAT?

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