Starbucks to fight tip-sharing ruling

Starbucks Corp. will not pay back its California baristas for tips they shared with shift supervisors, defying a San Diego Superior Court ruling last week.

"The ruling would take away the right of shift supervisors to receive the tips they earn for providing superior customer service," said Chief Executive Howard Schultz, in a voicemail message to employees Wednesday night. "I want you to know that we strongly believe that this ruling is extremely unfair and beyond reason."

In the voicemail, a transcript of which was released by Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500), Schultz said the media "grossly mischaracterized" the coffee chain's standard practice of allowing shift supervisors to share in tips left for baristas.

"We would never condone any type of behavior that would lead anyone to conclude that we would take money from our people," he said.

The company said in a separate statement Wednesday that there is no money to be "refunded or returned from Starbucks."

The California lawsuit was filed in 2004, and was granted class-action status in 2006. Last week, San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett ordered Starbucks to pay baristas more than $100 million in back tips and interest, saying state law prohibits managers and supervisors from taking a cut from the tip jar. A hearing is set for May 1 before Cowett on how the California tip money should be distributed.

Starbucks responded in the statement that "shift supervisors are not managers and have no managerial authority," and customers don't differentiate between the supervisors and baristas when they tip.

Cowett also issued an injunction preventing Starbucks' shift supervisors from sharing in future tips, but Starbucks said it would not comply with the order while it appeals the court decision.

Since the ruling, two similar lawsuits against Starbucks have been filed, one in Minnesota and one in Massachusetts. Both seek-class action status. In his message to employees, Schultz vowed to "vigorously defend" the company.

Shares of Starbucks dipped 45 cents, or 2.6%, to $17.17 in afternoon trading.

Barry Diller wins battle for IAC/InterActiveCorp

A Delaware judge on Friday sided with media mogul Barry Diller in his dispute with John Malone, effectively paving the way for the breakup of Internet media giant IAC/InterActiveCorp.

The decision is the latest chapter in a high-profile showdown between billionaires Diller and Malone, who has a controlling interest in IAC/InterActive. Under a 1995 proxy agreement between Diller and Malone, Malone gave Diller the right to exercise Malone's 60% voting authority.

The media moguls are battling over Diller's proposal to break up IAC (IACI, Fortune 500) into five separate companies. IAC's holdings include Ask.com, Match.com, Ticketmaster, and the Home Shopping Network. The proposal would diminish Malone's majority shareholder voting power in the spinoffs. Malone agreed that the spinoff would be a good idea, but objected to the shareholder voting structure of the spinoffs.

Delaware Chancery Court Judge Stephen Lamb on Friday upheld that proxy agreement, letting Diller vote Malone's shares in favor of the breakup

Malone contends that Diller is attempting to wrest control of IAC from Liberty Media (LINTA), which owns a majority of the company's voting stock.

Malone and Liberty had asked the court whether it could oust Diller on the claim that he breached his fuduciary duties to shareholders by devising the spinoff plan.

On that matter, Lamb concluded that "it is premature to consider the claimsrelating to the fiduciary duties of the IAC board of directors.

"The simple, inescapable fact is that the IAC directors have not yet finally authorized the spin-off," he wrote, "and have not even considered many of the essential terms of that transaction, including the voting structure of the spincos."

The ruling caps a five-day trial held earlier this month.

Diller issued a statement late Friday, expressing regret over the falling out. "I wish this hadn't happened, but it did," he said. "Now it's over and we can all get on with our work and lives."

Countdown to iPhone 2.0

Apple is gearing up for a big bump in sales of the next generation iPhone, if new production plans are any guide.

The plans show the faster iPhone will be rolling off the assembly line this summer. The initial order calls for 11 million iPhones to be built this year, with that total split between the existing 2.5G phone and the upgraded 3G phone, according to people familiar with the plan.

Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) appears to be targetting a June introduction of the 3G version of the phone, roughly a year after the original iPhone's debut. And similar to last year, Apple seems to be scheduling a limited initial supply to be followed by more phones in the fall quarter.

Observers are split on how to interpret the plans however.

Bank of America analyst, Scott Craig, who put out a research note Friday dissecting the Apple production plans, says the order indicates a significant production increase. If true, this could provide a surprise boost to the company's numbers. BofA expects 8 million iPhones will get sold this year, and if the 3G model is successful, every additional million beyond their projection translates to about $400 million in added sales and 12 cents per share - or 2% - more in profit.

But other analysts familiar with Apple's order patterns say the production reports are typically overestimated by the company, largely to keep component suppliers fully stocked should demand take off. By this reckoning, Apple will probably make about half of the 11 million iPhones the initial production plan calls for. It will probably have about one million 3G phones ready at launch and 4 to 5 million to follow later this year, says one analyst.

The curious part of the upcoming 3G iPhone introduction is just how Apple plans to handle the older iPhone. The new phone will operate on AT&T's (T, Fortune 500) faster network giving a big speed boost to mobile Internet users. The new phone will also be packed with more features including GPS navigation. Apple will clearly have a big price tag on the new phone, and observers speculate that the older version - which fetches $500 for the larger memory model - will likely get another price cut.

With two premium phones in the market, Apple is looking at a potentially robust second half sales spree. But the Cupertino, Calif. gadget giant will not have the field entirely to itself. Several phone makers are introducing touchscreen phones aimed at the iPhone this year. Sony Ericsson dazzled fans at recent gadget shows with a prototype of its upcoming Xperia phone, a touchscreen design with a slide-open keyboard. Another prototype that is a dead-ringer for the iPhone is Garmin's (GRMN) nuvifone, a GPS touchscreen device with a phone built in.

And probably the most hotly anticipated new smart phone in the wings is Research in Motion's (RIMM) 9000 BlackBerry. Though RIM acknowledges that a new BlackBerry is in the works, there have been scant few details available about its design. It will most likely include a touchscreen and easily be regarded as a sweet piece of handcandy for BlackBerry loyalists.

Take-Two rejects Electronic Arts bid

Grand Theft Auto" publisher Take-Two Interactive told its shareholders Wednesday to reject a $2 billion buyout bid from rival video game company Electronic Arts, saying it's not enough.

But in the same breath the company said it will explore alternatives, even combining with EA or other third parties, to maximize its value for shareholders. But it wants to wait until after April 29, when "Grand Theft Auto IV," the latest in the blockbuster series, hits store shelves. The game is by far Take-Two's most popular and one of the best-selling franchises in the industry.

Bid turned hostile earlier this month. The $26-per-share bid turned hostile March 13 when EA took the offer directly to shareholders. Take-Two's board had asked for 10 business days to mull over the decision and that time ran out Wednesday.

Take-Two took several steps to prevent EA from going through with a hostile takeover. It adopted a 180-day shareholders' rights agreement, also known as a "poison pill." It kicks in if an outsider acquires 20 percent of Take-Two's shares or if an existing shareholder who already owns this much buys another 2%.
Zap! Videogame takeover fight heats up

Chairman Strauss Zelnick said the rights agreement "will not, and is not intended to, prevent a takeover of the company on terms that are fair to and in the best interests of all stockholders."

Shareholder meeting moved. Take-Two (TTWO) also moved back its upcoming annual shareholder meeting to April 17 from April 10 and amended its bylaws to give shareholders more time to nominate board members.

A representative for Redwood City, Calif.-based Electronic Arts Inc. (ERTS) could not immediately be reached for comment.

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.'s shares have briefly climbed above $26 in recent weeks, but analysts are not expecting the offer to go much higher. The company said it has received other "indications of interest" since EA's offer became public last month, but there haven't been any "substantive discussions."

Take-Two said it is willing to start preliminary talks, including with EA, before April 29 under confidentiality agreements.


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AOL's plan B-ebo

Ever since Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) announced its surprise bid for Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) last month, the heat has been on Time Warner to figure out its next move for AOL, the former Web juggernaut that could be left out in the cold if its two main rivals merge.

On Tuesday, Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner's (TWX, Fortune 500) new CEO, told a media conference that the company would consider any options to sell or merge AOL. "We can't rule it out and we wouldn't," Bewkes said. "It's our obligation to try make sure that AOL exists in whatever configuration makes it the strongest and most valuable."

What to make, then, of AOL's news Thursday that it is buying Bebo, the third-biggest social networking site in the United States, for $850 million in cash? While not a game-changer in and of itself, the Bebo deal means AOL has spent close to $2 billion in the past year or so on acquisitions as it races to leave behind its tangled legacy as the 1990s phenomenon that introduced much of America to the Web.

The upbeat view is that maybe there is new life in the old cow after all - particularly in the wake of a spate of high-level executive departures in its advertising business in recent weeks.

If the latest AOL plan takes hold, the company will meld its online advertising network with the reach of its AIM instant-messaging service and a bona fide social network that has some 40 million registered users worldwide. In particular, AOL contends it has a leg up over Bebo's much bigger rivals, MySpace and Facebook, in making money out of social networking.

Additionally, Bebo helps AOL achieve another goal of increasing its presence outside of the United States - the site is particularly strong in the UK and Ireland. Double bonus: It gets the services of Bebo CEO Joanna Shields, a highly-regarded former Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) executive who joined Bebo only last year, and who has agreed to stay on.

To be sure, there is a chorus of sentiment both within and outside of Time Warner that the company needs to stop rearranging the deck chairs at AOL and the sooner it extricates itself from the Internet company - either through some kind of merger, spin-off or an outright sale - the easier it will be to generate some much-needed enthusiasm for Time Warner stock.

Its shares are down 25% in the past year after several years of moving mostly sideways. (Fortune is one small piece of Time Warner, the world's largest media company by revenue. With around $40 billion in sales, Time Warner counts everything from the Warner Brothers movie studio to CNN, HBO, People magazine and America's second-largest cable-TV company among its businesses).

The less glowing but (in my opinion) more realistic way to view AOL's purchase of Bebo is that it is the equivalent of renovating your kitchen and bathroom before putting the house up for sale because your broker tells you it will sell faster and fetch more.

Bebo lags far behind MySpace and Facebook in its sector, but is a proven brand that has succeeded in a space where AOL has talked a big game but stumbled. Two years ago, the company launched something called Aimpages which were designed to be its answer to MySpace, designed around niftily tying into people's existing buddy lists on AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM). Needless to say, we have not heard much about Aimpages since.

But in making this deal at the same time it is trying to figure out if there is a way to combine with Yahoo and thwart the Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) deal, Time Warner also gets to send the message that AOL is not standing idle.

AOL is still a big business, generating $5 billion a year in revenue from a combination of Web advertising and subscriber fees from its fast-declining (yet still lucrative) dial-up Internet access business.

The biggest move Bewkes made in the months before he took the reigns at Time Warner was to accelerate AOL's repositioning as a free Web portal business coupled with an online advertising business -- now called Platform A -- that has been molded out of various acquisitions including advertising.com and Tacoda.com. He has said that the company is working to separate the access business, which many analysts expect him to sell, from the rest of AOL.

With Bebo, the company is pursuing roughly the same strategy that it did when it launched Aimpages. The idea now is that Platform A should give the AOL portal business a leg up in generating revenue for Bebo and that - once again - there ought to be some way to fuse Bebo with the sea of 27 million worldwide AIM instant messaging users.

There are, of course, a couple of catches. One is that AOL's history of integrating acquisitions has not exactly been stellar. (For every Advertising.com, there is at least one Netscape - remember them?)

The other is that it is far from proven that instant messaging and social networking really mix. Sure, they are both things that young people spend time doing. But instant messaging is right up there with China and mobile phones among new media opportunities that are forever on the verge of generating buckets of marketing dollars.

"What they're talking about trying to do is like a country doctor trying to perform brain surgery," a top executive at a rival social networking site told me.

Maybe so. Nonetheless, Bebo gives AOL more curb appeal for whatever comes next.


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Citi Oks $102M for CEO Pandit

Citigroup Inc.'s new chief executive Vikram Pandit received $3.16 million in total compensation during 2007 - the year that started with him running his own hedge fund and ended with him at the top of the largest U.S. bank by assets.

And to convince Pandit to stay with the troubled bank while he works to extricate it from losing bets on mortgages and the now-frozen credit markets, Citigroup's board in January signed off on awards valued at about $102 million. That includes a $2.5 million retention equity award; nearly $27 million worth of stock, and 3 million options that in January were worth around $73 million.

For his six months at Citigroup last year, Pandit received a salary of $250,000, according to a Thursday regulatory filing. He received no cash bonus and no perks, but got stock and option awards in July worth $2.91 million.

After working for most of his career at the investment bank Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) and then starting up his own hedge fund, Old Lane, Pandit arrived at Citigroup in July 2007 when Citi bought Old Lane. At the time, Pandit received $165.2 million in payment for the sale of his partnership interest in Old Lane. He invested $100 million back into an Old Lane fund, where it will remain invested until July 2011, Thursday's filing said.

By mid-December, Citi's board named Pandit chief executive, about a month after then-CEO Charles Prince was ousted amid huge mortgage-related losses at the bank.

Citi ended up paying Prince more than it did Pandit during 2007. Prince received a $40 million payout from stock awards, a bonus and other benefits, according to regulatory filings. That amount does not include the 1.61 million Citi shares he already owned, his $1 million salary for 2007, or his perks for the year - which included nearly $171,000 in aircraft use.

The AP's total pay calculations include executives' salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards granted during the year. The calculations don't include changes in the present value of pension benefits, and they sometimes differ from the totals companies list in the summary compensation table of proxy statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the fourth quarter of 2007, Citigroup posted a loss of nearly $10 billion, its biggest ever, after its investments in bad debt lost $18.1 billion in value. When Pandit took the CEO spot in December, he said he would conduct a "dispassionate review" of Citi's many operations around the globe. The review, still under way, has so far included streamlining and paring back Citi's mortgage business.

Pandit was not the only executive at Citi to earn big incentive awards in January.

The filing said that in January 2008, Citigroup approved a $1.95 million cash bonus, $3.09 million in stock awards under the company's Capital Accumulation Program (CAP) and $1.95 million in retention equity awards for Win Bischoff - the Citi veteran who was named chairman of the company in December.

For Gary Crittenden - who was named CFO last February - Citi in January approved a cash bonus of $2.85 million, $4.59 million in stock awards under CAP, and $5.35 million in retention equity awards.

Meanwhile, Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) approved in January total incentive and retention awards of $19.3 million for Citi's Global Banking CEO Michael Klein; $12 million in total awards for Citi's Global Wealth Management CEO Sallie Krawcheck; $8.3 million in total awards for Vice Chairman Lewis Kaden; and $10.25 million in total awards for Vice Chairman Stephen Volk.

IBM CEO's pay up 11% to $20.9M in 2007

IBM Corp.'s chairman and chief executive, Samuel J. Palmisano, enjoyed an 11% raise in compensation to $20.9 million in 2007, a year in which the technology company increased its profits and stock price.

In a regulatory filing Monday, IBM (IBM, Fortune 500) said Palmisano, 56, was paid $1.8 million in salary and $5.8 million under a long-term incentive plan. He also got options and stock equivalents worth $12.3 million when they were issued.

Another $988,479 came to Palmisano through various perks, including $406,235 worth of travel on IBM aircraft and $516,622 in contributions to his retirement plan.

The Associated Press calculates total pay by tallying executives' salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards granted during the year. The AP total may differ from figures that companies report.

Palmisano's total of $20.9 million was up from $18.8 million the prior year. The increase came as Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM posted a 10% gain in net profit, to $10.4 billion.

IBM's stock price rose 11% in 2007.

Fed pumps more money into financial markets

The Federal Reserve on Tuesday announced yet another measure to pump more liquidity into the jittery financial markets.

The program will lend up to $200 billion of Treasurys to primary dealers, a group of 20 big investment firms, for a 28-day term. The firms can put up as collateral mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which generally are seen as safe because of an implicit government guarantee.

But in an unusual move, AAA-rated mortgage securities issued by banks will also be accepted. Many investors have shied away from these mortgage-backed securities because they fear defaults in the underlying assets will erode the value.

Coordination The effort, which is being done in conjunction with other central banks in Canada and Europe, is designed to promote trading in these markets that have frozen up, experts said. The measure allows banks to temporarily get these illiquid securities off their books.

"They are providing liquidity to keep the deterioration of that market from bringing down the broader economy," said Ian Lyngen, interest rate strategist with RBS Greenwich Capital.

Also Tuesday, the Fed announced that 82 banks submitted $92.6 billion in bids in its $50 billion auction held the day before. The Fed last week said it was increasing the auction sizes.

Lending stays slow But despite the eagerness to accept the government's "liquidity" injections, banks aren't significantly increasing their lending, experts said. In fact, some banks seem to be pulling back even further - for example, Citigroup Inc.'s (C, Fortune 500) last week said that it will scale back its mortgage business.

"It's still not enough to get the banks to loosen their lending terms," said Walker Todd, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research and former attorney and economist at the New York Fed, referring to the last week's measures.

Banks have already borrowed a total of $160 billion since the Fed started holding these auctions in December as a way to ease the credit crunch, which began last year when mortgage defaults and foreclosures began to skyrocket. Since then, the crisis has extended far beyond the residential home loans, roiling the markets for everything from municipal bonds to student loans to auto financing.

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High-cost mortgages just got cheaper

The size of loans that can be guaranteed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae was raised today by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. The new, higher loan limits will stay in effect through the end of the year, allowing the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), to buy much higher-priced mortgages in some areas of the country.

Also today, the size of the loans that the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) can insure was raised by Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Both moves will lower borrowing costs for buyers of higher priced homes, and aim to boost flagging real estate markets.
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Previously, Fannie and Freddie could only insure mortgages of up to $417,000, called conforming loans. That meant, assuming a 20% down payment, that only buyers of homes costing $521,500 or less were eligible for mortgages with GSE backing.

The new loan limits for Fannie and Freddie vary by area based on local median home prices and go as high as $793,750 in Honolulu. (For details, see table below).

Loan limits for FHA-insured loans were even lower; no more than $362,790. Now mortgages of up to $729,750 will qualify for FHA insurance.

The problem was that there are whole swaths of the nation where the typical home cost far more than that, and non-conforming or "jumbo loans" carry interest rates of about a point higher. For a $500,000 mortgage, that's an additional spending of $330 a month.

In many parts of the country prices are much higher. In San Jose, Calif, the median priced home costs nearly $850,000, according to the latest figures from the National Association of Realtors. In San Francisco, the figure is nearly $780,000; in Anaheim, Calif.; $657,000; in Honolulu $625,000; and in the New York metro area, $525,000. That means more than half the loans in those markets would not qualify under conforming loan limits.

"Families in high-cost states have been priced out of FHA-backed loans," HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said earlier today, in a speech before the Las Vegas Association of Realtors. "This has created a vacuum, filled by exotic subprime loans."

During the liquidity squeeze that began during the summer of 2007, jumbo loans became very difficult to find even for well-qualified borrowers. that made it hard to buy homes in certain regions, freezing up real estate markets.

By making it easier for buyers to get loans, regulators hope to get these markets moving again.

The new loan limits affect 71 metropolitan areas, as well as 21 counties outside of those metro areas.

Bush: 'Economy has slowed'

President Bush said Friday that "it's clear our economy has slowed," hours after a government report showed a decline in payrolls for the second straight month.

But he said the long-term outlook is good, with a stimulus package enacted last month by Congress providing support for the economy.

"I know this is a difficult time for our economy," the president said. "But we recognized the problem early and we provided the economy with a booster shot."

Bush said the effects of the stimulus package are "just starting to kick in" and that the plan will "put money into the hands of American workers and businesses."

Earlier in the day, Bush's chief economic adviser Edward Lazear said that the nation's economy could contract in the current quarter. But he added that, "we expect that the economy will get stronger, primarily in the third quarter."

The statements come after the Labor Department said employers made their deepest cut in staffing in almost five years during February, highlighting concerns that a recession is imminent.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in remarks made on the Senate floor that Americans are "burdened by an economy that is spiraling downward every day."

Reid noted that Bush does not think the economy is headed for a recession, but argues that the facts prove otherwise.

"This morning, all signs point in that direction," Reid said. "But regardless of what label we use, there is no doubt whatsoever that the American people are suffering."

Meanwhile, oil prices spiked to a record high above $106 a barrel Friday, raising concerns that higher gas prices will hurt consumers and increase inflation.

On Wall Street, stocks fell to their lowest level in nearly 18 months as recession fears continued to spook investors.

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Yahoo buys time to handle Microsoft bid

Slumping Internet pioneer Yahoo on Wednesday postponed a key deadline in a looming battle with spurned suitor Microsoft, hoping to gain more wiggle room as it tries to escape a takeover.

The Sunnyvale-based company's maneuver means that March 14 is no longer the deadline for Microsoft to nominate a slate of candidates to replace Yahoo's current board - the 10 directors who rejected the world's largest software maker's initial takeover offer of $44.6 billion.

Microsoft had already signaled it was prepared to oust the board if Yahoo didn't come to the negotiating table before March 14.

Yahoo hasn't offered a new nominating deadline. It will be set once Yahoo announces the date of its annual shareholders meeting. Microsoft will have up to 10 days after the public notice to nominate directors and begin what's known as a "proxy" battle.

"Our objective here is to enable our board to continue to explore all of its strategic alternatives for maximizing value for stockholders without the distraction of a proxy contest," Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang and Chairman Roy Bostock wrote in an e-mail sent to the company's employees.

Microsoft didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Yahoo could wait a few more months before announcing its annual meeting, which can be held as late as July 12 this year. But Yahoo is more likely to set the date within the next week or two, according to a person familiar with the company's thinking. The person wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

Top Google exec jumps to Facebook

Now it's Google's turn to be hounded by an upstart. Facebook, the popular social networking site, has lured top Google executive Sheryl Sandberg to serve as its chief operating officer.

Sandberg, who ran Google's online sales unit, is the first senior executive to jump from Google's management team to another company. George Reyes, Google's chief financial officer, announced his retirement in August, but is staying on until a successor is named.

News of Sandberg's exit comes amid a steady drop in Google shares. Since hitting a high of $747 in December, Google shares have dropped 41% as the days of hyper growth appear to have ended for the Net colossus.

Sandberg's move to the No. 2 job at Facebook was first reported by Kara Swisher on her BoomTown blog, which is run by The Wall Street Journal, and confirmed by Fortune's GoWest blogger Adam Lashinsky.

At Google, Sandberg ran the automated advertising operations for the search giant, the unit responsible for a large part of the company's profits and revenue.

Sandberg is expected to apply her deep operations skills to Facebook and transform the social networking site into a full-fledged business. She replaces Owen Van Natta, who announced his exit last month.

"The focus for Facebook is scaling," Sandberg said in an interview Tuesday. "That's what I've done at Google. Another similar challenge is building an advertising network, which I also did at Google."

Facebook has become the leading challenger to MySpace the online social networking unit of News Corp (NWS, Fortune 500). Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, who is also chief executive.

This isn't the first time Facebook has raided Google. In the last seven months, it brought in Gideon Yu, the former chief financial officer of YouTube, a Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) unit, as its CFO. Facebook also nabbed Benjamin Ling, the engineer credited with creating Google Checkout, to run its software platform.

Sandberg joined Google in 2001, three years before it went public.

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How Sony Won the HD-DVD war

The Oscars were a non-event this year for Sony - the studio took home only one gold statue - but Sir Howard Stringer was in town with plenty to celebrate.

The globe-trotting Sony Corporation chief was fresh off his company's triumph in the high-stakes, high-definition video player wars. On February 19, Stringer was en route from Tokyo to London, to attend a movie premiere and then a party for his 66th birthday, when Toshiba held a press conference announcing it would stop producing less expensive, Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500)-backed HD DVD players and would cede the battle to Sony-led Blu-ray.

It was somehow fitting that Sir Howard's next stop on his world tour would be Hollywood, because it was here that the Blu-ray battle was ultimately won. Toshiba only threw in the towel after the Warner Brothers studio decided last month to stop releasing its DVDs in both formats and go exclusively with Blu Ray. The victory was not only crucial to proving Stringer's strategy of showing that Sony's entertainment, electronics and games businesses could work together but - perhaps more critically - helped exorcise the ghosts of its failed Betamax video tape format that has haunted Sony for two decades.