Channels a la Carte?
The Federal Communications Commission, which had opposed the idea of letting consumers buy cable TV channels individually rather than in packages, is about to do an about face. A fresh study ordered by Kevin J. Martin, the new FCC chairman, has found that consumers could pay less while getting more of the programming they really want -- including wholesome "family" entertainment, which Martin is particularly interested in. He also warned cable providers they must reduce indecency and violence, or face tougher regulation.
Royal Ahold, the Dutch parent company of Giant Food, agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle a class-action shareholder suit stemming from an accounting scandal at its Columbia-based hotel and restaurant supply unit, U.S. Foodservice. Last month, seven former suppliers of U.S. Foodservice pleaded guilty to charges that they inflated promotional allowances, which helped Ahold to overstate earnings by more than $1 billion. The accounting problems are the latest setback in Ahold's stumbling efforts to become a major player in the U.S. grocery market.
Crunch Time for Calpine
Electric power generator Calpine ousted its two top executives, including founder Peter Cartwright, and is considering a bankruptcy filing. The company is under pressure from aggressive hedge funds that hold the majority of its debt, which they have structured to give them an advantage in any bankruptcy reorganization. Some hedge funds have also taken "short" positions in Calpine stock, and would doubly benefit from a bankruptcy. Many of the funds have also sued Calpine over use of proceeds from recent asset sales.
A federal judge took a step closer to silencing BlackBerry devices in the United States because of patent violations by the Canadian firm that makes them, Research in Motion. A proposed $450 million settlement with the patent holder, Alexandria-based NTP, collapsed. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court said it would hear a case involving online auctioneer eBay, which was found to have willfully violated a patent of another local firm, MercExchange. The Patent Office continued its own reexamination of the two protracted disputes.
The Energizer Investor
A busy week for Carl C. Icahn, Muscular Investor. Turning up the pressure on Time Warner's management, which he characterized as "mediocre," Icahn said he would mount a proxy fight to gain control of the media company's board. He hired the investment bankers at Lazard to help in the effort. Icahn also announced he will spend $1.2 billion to gain control of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which he thinks should be sold to a larger chain. Icahn already owns 9.3 percent of Fairmont, which operates 88 luxury hotels.