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Universal Studios is talking to agencies about a consolidation of its film, home video and theme park media accounts, together worth some $160 million in spending.

Buying for motion pictures, the lion's share of the billings at $119 million last year, is handled by DDB Needham Worldwide, Los Angeles and New York, which also handles the theme park media business.

Focus Media, Los Angeles, handles the $30 million home video portion of the account.


Universal has tapped former DDB Needham President John Bernbach as a consultant, an appointment that doesn't bode well for the agency, which Mr. Bernbach left abruptly in 1993.

Besides hearing presentations from DDB Needham and Focus, TN Media, Los Angeles, a unit of True North Communications, has pitched Universal. True North's Foote, Cone & Belding, Los Angeles, won the creative portion of the Universal theme park account, formerly with DDB Needham, in July 1996. SFM Media, Los Angeles, is also said to have pitched Universal.

None of the shops involved would comment and Anthy Evergates-Price, Universal's senior VP-media and co-op advertising, did not return phone calls.

Universal apparently has been trying to keep a lid on the process.


"Universal is being very weird and secretive on this one," said one executive familiar with the talks. "They aren't calling it a review. They're saying to everyone, 'We're thinking about a media consolidation and, if so, [tell us] why you would be the right strategic partner for us.' "

Another executive said Universal parent Seagram Co. "has conducted this huge efficiency review within Universal, seeing if the ways they were conducting business were the most efficient ways. This is an extension of that to its vendors."


Mr. Bernbach, who has close ties to Seagram President-CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr., is said to favor giving the business to TN Media. Mr. Bernbach did not attend a Sept. 4 meeting between Universal and DDB Needham, but it is believed he will have a substantial influence over the outcome of the process.

He could not be reached at press time.

DDB Needham USA President Ken Kaess is said to have attended the Sept. 4 meeting. Page Thompson, the agency's U.S. media director and president of its Optimum Media division, and Dave Park, president of DDB Needham, Los Angeles, worked on the presentation. Mr. Kaess once headed DDB Needham's Los Angeles office and is intimately familiar with the account, insiders said.

If DDB Needham loses the Universal account, it would be a blow to its Los Angeles operation since the studio represents one-third to one-fourth of that office's billings, says one executive close to the shop.


While Focus has made a presentation to Universal, it sits in a precarious position; the company recently won media buying for DreamWorks SKG, the studio backed by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

One scenario would see Focus getting all of Universal's buying and resigning DreamWorks, though a far more likely scenario is that Focus would keep DreamWorks and retain at least the home video portion of Universal.

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