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January 2009 Archives

Are Upfront Bashes Obscene?

January 30, 2009 10:42 AM

CBS said Thursday that it would go on with its annual upfront ad sales presentation at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan in May, as usual.

CBS Upfront

At first blush this sounds insensitive, if not downright obscene, given that every day we read about seemingly unending staff reductions and hiring freezes, as well as pay and bonus freezes, at just about every media company.

But these annual dog-and-pony shows put on by the broadcast and cable networks are becoming tamer by the year, as they should given the media business’s continuing downward decline.

So I say let the show go on. After all, you have to spend money to make money, and these presentations are very pragmatic. It’s an opportunity for a network to strut its stuff to a large, captive audience in one venue.

And CBS, at least, has a strong story to tell. But will the other networks, like the fourth-place NBC, hold upfront bashes as well?

And the biggest question is, should they?

Why Bug Congress for DTV Delay?

January 28, 2009 10:54 AM

With the delay of the digital transition from Feb. 17 to June 12 looking almost certain, there is one underlying reason to do it: The networks simply won’t risk another ratings drop during their new seasons and would rather wait until reruns air after the May sweeps.

The Senate voted unanimously for the delay on Monday and the measure awaits likely approval in the House. From there it hits President Barack Obama’s desk for approval to a delay he already has said he supports.

Where do you stand on delaying the DTV switch? Make your voice heard in TVWeek's online poll. Click here to take the survey.

The delay likely will strain the already tense relationship between the networks and their TV station affiliates. TV stations by and large want to pull the switch as planned, saying they will lose millions of dollars if they need to carry the digital and analog signals until June.

But what’s the big deal? Apparently TV stations who have already received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to switch to digital in February still plan to do just that, regardless of the outcome of the vote.

Now that’s going to be interesting, depending on how many TV stations opt to do that, and in the process create real marketplace confusion.

That begs the question of whether those TV stations that have FCC approval should be allowed to switch to digital on Feb. 17.

You decide.

Obama Inaugural Committee Says ‘No You Can’t’

January 19, 2009 12:38 PM

HBO's Inaugural Coverage

I couldn’t believe my ears while watching CNN on Saturday and its coverage of the pre-inaugural ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial.

The event of the days was a free, star-studded concert for those in town for this momentous time in history, the swearing in of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama. But plenty of people at home could not see it if they didn’t have a computer or were not subscribers to pay cable channel HBO.

While the concert was going on, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer repeatedly told viewers at home that CNN would not be covering the concert because its sister network HBO had the exclusive rights.

What kind of inclusiveness is that? And there’s more. HBO was not alone in making an exclusive media deal, having paid $2.5 million for the exclusive on the concert, according to published reports.

The Walt Disney Co. paid $2 million for two events that will run exclusively on its Disney Channel and the ABC network. Disney gets exclusive coverage of a children’s concert tonight on the Disney Channel. ABC, meanwhile, gets exclusive broadcast rights to air the first of the 10 official balls tomorrow night.

To me, this defies Obama’s mantra “Yes we can.” For viewers without cable television, it sure sounds more like “No we can’t.”

Support of DTV Transition Delay Grows

January 16, 2009 10:14 AM

I don’t know what’s so magical about June 12, but that’s the new date set by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, for the conversion of analog to digital signals.

Again, not to sound like a broken record, I’m all for the delay.

Separately, the House Appropriations Committee recommended earmarking another $650 million to fund the transition, which is looking more and more like it will not happen on Feb. 17 as originally planned.

This is all good stuff.

Yesterday, according to published reports, even Nielsen, the ratings giant, told its members that the TV industry simply was not ready to pull off a seamless transition.

Let’s face it: There were plenty of missteps along the way. Back in December, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which administers the DTV converter-box coupon program, notified Congress that it was about to run out of money.

Great move: According to USA Today, the message fell on deaf ears. Congress was not in session.

And just two weeks ago, when the NTIA actually did run out of money, leaving 2.1 million people who wanted the $40 coupons on a waiting list, that’s when all the angst grew.

Yep, our government at work again.

Why the Digital Transition Must Be Delayed

January 9, 2009 10:34 AM

This past summer I met a savvy and frugal college graduate. Having just landed his first job, he had no cable television in his first apartment.

DTV Converter Box Coupon

He also landed one of those $40 coupons to buy a digital converter box being offered by bricks-and-mortar retailers as well as online.

After extensive research, he found that most of the retailers were selling the boxes for $80, not the $40 he said the government had led him to expect. But he bought one anyhow, choosing not to subscribe to cable, a more costly proposition.

But there are millions of TV viewers who didn’t get one, and for now they cannot. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is empty-handed, having spent its $1.34 billion budget, and has started a waiting list for those who still need coupons.

Clearly the country, in the throes of a deep and long recession, is not ready for this transition. The nation’s new unemployment figures came out today, showing a 7.2% loss of jobs last month.

Clearly people without jobs and without cable should not be pressured into subscribing to cable if they can’t get one of these coupons.

Read More »

CBS First to Buy Ad on New York Times’ Front Page

January 6, 2009 11:37 AM

The New York Times

If we didn’t know for sure how bad things in the media economy are, the New York Times, the venerated gray lady of newspapers, sold its first front-page ad to CBS Television. The ad runs at the bottom of the page, spanning all six columns.

As a longtime editor and journalist, I’ve had a history of battles with publishers who wanted to cross what has become an ever-blurring line between church and state. Not that this example is a blur of that line, for the CBS ad is clearly marked as an ad.

I know a lot of journalists who are decrying the NYT’s decision, but I’m not one of them. Clearly media’s economics need tweaking during this pervasive recession, and if that ad keeps newspapers alive and prevents future job losses, I’m all for it.

I’m sure this was a difficult decision for the Times, which is already mortgaging its real estate in New York and selling its 17% ownership in the Boston Red Sox.

And for CBS, this was a coup. Am I wrong?