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Robert Trigaux

Why HSN erred in barring media from today's annual shareholder meeting

So let me get this straight. St. Petersburg's HSN, once again a public company based here after being spun off from Barry Diller's IAC/Interactive Corp., held its  first annual shareholders meeting Tuesday morning here in St. Pete.

Surprise: No media allowed. St. Petersburg Timesreporter Mark Albright dutifully showed up to cover the arguably historic business event and was turned away at the company guard house. Not a shareholder? Get lost.

HSN's public relations manager, Brad Bohnert, explained away the ban by saying HSN, for years prior to 2008 a subsidiary of another business, wanted to make sure it got the annual shareholder meeting "right" and so limited media access. The company, the evolution of St. Pete's Home Shopping Network, sells retail goods via the TV and the Internet, and also operates a catalog business.

Well, I beg to differ on strategy much less philosophy. A publicly traded company's shareholder meeting should be open to the business media as -- if you read the Wall Street Journal or just about any other newspaper in this country -- 99 percent of public company annual meetings are.

We understand nothing of significance happened at the annual shareholders meeting which was short and perfunctory. HSN earned $3 million in the first quarter of this year so it's not as if there's some embarrassing performance issue. HSN's stock (ticker HSNI) trades at $9.45 as of midday Tuesday, which is a big step up from the $1.40 late last year. So what's the problem?

HSN chief Mindy Grossman did telephone reporter Albright later Tuesday to try and explain the closed door policy. She said there's no requirement to allow the media. She called it pretty standard not to allow press, which is an interesting remark since I've covered annual shareholder meetings for 30 years and rarely encountered closed doors except from companies that are facing public heat. Grossman told Albright she will think about opening it up next year but, as she said, she's got a year to consider the idea.

Well, there's no requirement that this newspaper pay attention to HSN's performance or innovations or its many press releases hyping celebrity sales pitches on HSN by the likes of Paula Abdul or Serena Williams. But we do because we think it's important to report on a large public company -- especially one that's once again based here on its own and presumably wants to be more of a regional player -- that also employs lots of people in the Tampa Bay community.

It's not just about HSN. It's about Tampa Bay getting reacquainted with a reorganized company right here.

Here's hoping HSN gets more into the spirit of free market capitalism and open shareholder meetings.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:25am]


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