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Feb 21, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Broadcasters making deal to clear channels 60 to 69

A few broadcasters that occupy channels 60 to 69 on the analog television spectrum are near agreement with wireless phone companies on a plan to clear the band for wireless use, Paxson Communications Chairman Lowell “Bud” Paxson told the Federal Communications Bar Association in a speech today in Washington.

Paxson has aligned with Univision, Pappas Telecasting, Shop at Home and others on the plan. The FCC is supposed to auction the spectrum Sept. 30. But there’s speculation the auction won’t garner much revenue because broadcasters don’t have to vacate the frequencies until 2006 or later in markets where 85 percent of viewers don’t have access to digital TV signals.

Under the plan, several incumbent broadcasters would vacate the spectrum early-Mr. Paxson said his 19 analog TV stations would clear the band in 2003 or 2004-boosting the value of the spectrum so more money can be raised. In exchange, these broadcasters would receive compensation from the wireless companies.

An industry source emphasized that some broadcasters with major stations on the band will not enter into any deals to vacate early. Some incumbents want the plan to be contingent on FCC approval of must-carry rights for digital TV stations on cable channels. The FCC has tentatively concluded it will not require carriage of both a broadcaster’s analog and digital feeds. Nor does it expect to require carriage of multicast digital signals.

Mr. Paxson isn’t seeking dual carriage, but he does want must-carry requirements for his planned multicast signals. He said if DTV must-carry isn’t in place by the auction, broadcast station squatters will remain on the band. The plan will be released in two to four weeks to the FCC and lawmakers.

The proposal raises complicated questions about the availability of the analog signals to be cleared from the band. Mr. Paxson said his analog stations vacating the band would have to be carried by cable. That’s because the FCC requires cable companies to carry the main digital feed of any broadcaster that doesn’t operate in analog or has returned its analog spectrum to the government. All commercial stations must be operating in digital by 2002. Public stations have until 2003.

The Paxson stations would be down-converted to analog for carriage on cable systems. But viewers who receive Paxson stations for free, using over-the-air antennas with their analog sets, appear to be out of luck. Mr. Paxson said he’ll “take care of them” but didn’t explain how. It’s also unclear how viewers who rely on free access to the other analog signals that will be cleared from the band would receive them.

Meanwhile, Mr. Paxson called upon FCC Chairman Michael Powell to hold a series of hearings to get DTV-which has been delayed by a host of regulatory and technology issues-back on track.

NBC ‘disappointed’ in XFL: The head of NBC’s affiliates advisory board said today that though three weeks into the maiden XFL season is too early to jump to any fatal conclusions, “I think everyone is disappointed” in the performances on the second and third weekends of the football league co-owned and -packaged by NBC and World Wrestling Federation Entertainment.

“Everybody is concerned about the fast decline in the ratings,” said Jack Sander, executive vice president of media operations for Belo. The company has two NBC affiliates in the Pacific and one in the Mountain time zone, where the question is not where the ratings roller coaster will take the network and its affiliates but whether it might have a negative impact on local programming if it runs long-which happened in the first two weeks.

“The overrun issue is almost as important as everything else. … Being able to do your news is very critical-and being able to do it on time is important,” said Mr. Sander, who said if there is not a significant improvement in Saturday night XFL ratings, Western stations might ask the network to allow them to show the game on tape delay.

For a second XFL season to be viable, Mr. Sander said, the ratings will have to bounce back to between a 3.5 and a 4.5, the latter being what the network had projected for Saturday nights. The XFL NBC broadcast opened huge with a 10.3/17 but had dropped to 3.1/6 last Saturday.

“I don’t think it can work at last Saturday’s levels,” Mr. Sander said. “Nobody would say we could live with that.”

An NBC Sports spokesperson had no immediate comment on Mr. Sander’s statements.

Burnett countersues Stillman Mark Burnett, creator and executive producer of CBS’s “Survivor” series, has filed a countersuit against ex-contestant Stacey Stillman seeking at least $5 million in punitive damages.

Ms. Stillman, a San Francisco-based attorney, filed a suit Feb. 5 claiming that Mr. Burnett manipulated “Survivor” contestants to vote her off the island early in the original summer 2000 run of the series. The countersuit, filed Tuesday, alleges she breached a confidentiality agreement and committed extortion and defamation and made disparaging remarks.

In the counterclaim, filed in Los Angeles, Survivor Entertainment Group (SEG), charged that Ms. Stillman had “launched a campaign, based on extortionate threats and demands” by allegedly circulating a written solicitation to the other 15 contestants of “Survivor” in this letter, part of which reads: “What are you thinking in terms of how much to extort? I’m thinking [one-third] of the ad revenue from the town hall [reunion] show plus a party afterward, plus travel and accommodations for one guest for each of us.”

The suit also says that after the other “Survivor” contestants declined to join the suit, Ms. Stillman went on a “solo extortion effort, seeking millions of dollars and career opportunities from SEG, CBS and others.”

Specifically, Mr. Burnett’s countersuit claims that due to Ms. Stillman’s “intentional misconduct,” SEG “suffered and will continue to suffer special damages in the form of loss of revenue and profits from the reduction in the public interest in and ratings of the program.” But attorneys for Mr. Burnett were unreachable for comment on advertising industry sources’ repeated estimates that “Survivor” increased its national ad sales threefold from an estimated $59.2 million last summer (according to Competitive Media Reporting) to over $180 million for the current airings of “Survivor: The Australian Outback.”

In a voice-mail greeting left on her phone message service late Tuesday, Ms. Stillman stated that Mr. Burnett “breached my agreement” by deliberately manipulating the outcome of the tribal voting to banish her from the island early into the show.

“Knowing this, I had to come forward, and Mark’s $5 million lawsuit is just a blatant attempt to scare me away,” Ms. Stillman said. “I stand by my claims, and the witnesses are ready to testify.” A pretrial hearing date has been set for July 13 in Ms. Stillman’s filing in San Francisco.

Brown exits ‘Today’: Longtime Hollywood correspondent Jim Brown likely has made his final scheduled appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. Mr. Brown opted to leave rather than agree to a mid-_contract renegotiation that would have guaranteed him fewer pieces at reduced rates. Mr. Brown said Michael Bass, the interim “Today” executive producer, had tried to convince him to continue his 27-year relationship with the show, but Mr. Brown said, “I don’t think so. I think this is the time to leave.” Although Mr. Brown reported on Oscar nominations Feb. 13, he won’t be part of NBC’s coverage of Oscar night on March 25 because the window on what had been a two-year contract closes March 4, he said. As for where we might next see Mr. Brown, stay tuned. “As they say, I have nothing in sight.”

Tristani to leave FCC: Regulator Gloria Tristani has confirmed plans to step down at the Federal Communications Commission before the end of the year. An aide today said the Democrat is expected to return to her home state of New Mexico and consider a run for political office.

Ms. Tristani’s departure, which has long been anticipated, leaves President George W. Bush with four FCC seats to fill. Michael Powe
ll, who was recently named as the agency’s chairman, will be the only Clinton administration holdover on the five-member panel.

House digital hearings set: The House Energy and Commerce Committee has tentatively slated hearings March 15 on digital TV’s rollout. Ken Johnson, a committee spokesman, said one key topic will be the difficulties that smaller-market stations are having meeting the 2002 deadline for getting their DTV signals on the air.

“For many stations in America, there simply isn’t a business plan that works for digital,” Mr. Johnson said. “Somehow we’ve gotten off track and in some way we need to get back on track.”

The Senate Commerce Committee announced Tuesday that it will also be holding DTV hearings March 1.

Napster’s $1 billion plan: Music file-sharing service Napster said today it is willing to provide major record labels with $1 billion in payments over five years for nonexclusive licenses on its music files. To provide the record industry with the payments, Napster would switch from a free to a fee-based service, the company said.

The announcement was Napster’s latest effort to settle a legal dispute with the record industry. Last week, the record industry won the latest court battle, which has fueled speculation that the Napster service in its current form will not continue.

“We made public our business model and technology today in hopes that the recording industry will meet us at the table to come to a resolution that benefits artists and consumers alike,” Napster CEO Hank Barry said in making the announcement.

Cartoon plans four new animated series: The Cartoon Network will launch four new animated series this year, produced at its new Burbank, Calif., animation studios, network officials announced today. Series include “Samurai Jack,” “Time Squad,” “Justice League” and “Grin & Evil.” Cartoon also ordered 110 new episodes of existing series, including “Powerpuff Girls” and “Dexter’s Laboratory.”

XFL ratings still in a slump: There was more bad XFL ratings news Wednesday. The ratings for Sunday’s game on TNN: The National Network were down 50 percent from the premiere on TNN the previous weekend.

Still, the XFL’s delivery Sunday of a 1.2 household rating-which translates into 919,000 homes and 1.3 million viewers-was 118 percent higher than the cable network’s first quarter to date in the 4 p.m.-to-7 p.m. (ET) time slot, and the 18 to 49 ratings were up 221 percent over the quarter to date. “For us, it’s still a ratings win,” a spokeswoman for the cable channel said.

ABC News in second place: The evening news ratings seesaw tipped again and put “ABC World News Tonight” back in second place for the week of Feb. 12-16. With combined viewership of the three network flagship newscasts down 3 percent from the previous week, “NBC Nightly News” ranked first with an average 10.7 million viewers (down 8 percent from the previous week and 3 percent year to year) and “World News” averaged 9.8 million viewers (up 2 percent week to week but down 10 percent year to year). “CBS Evening News” finished third with an average 9.4 million viewers (down 3 percent week to week and up 3 percent year to year).

ABC, BBC expand partnership: ABC News and the BBC are extending their ongoing program partnership with the launch of “BBC America’s WorldWatch” on ABC’s “World News Tonight.” ABC will run the BBC news segment periodically throughout the year.

‘NBA Inside Stuff’ appeals to youth: While the NBA wrestles with questions about its eroding fan base, its official TV magazine, “NBA Inside Stuff,” on NBC is making a direct appeal to the next generation with a contest to find a 12- to 17-year-old to be an on-air correspondent for one show.

Wannabe Ahmad Rashads and Summer Sanderses (the executive producer/host and co-host respectively) have to capture their hoops savvy, creativity and personality on videotape (no longer than 30 seconds). The tapes must arrive by March 19 at “Show Us Your STUFF!,” P.O. Box 1590, Secaucus, N.J. 07094. The winner is expected to be announced by mid-April.

‘Motorcrossed’ gets a 3.1: The Disney Channel’s premiere telecast of its original movie “Motorcrossed” on Feb. 16 posted a 3.1 rating representing 2.1 million homes, according to Nielsen Media Research. Among kids 6 to 11, the movie posted an 8.5 rating and 1.4 million viewers.

CNN invests more time in ‘Capital’: CNN is expanding its long-running Saturday night political talk series “The Capital Gang” to one hour starting Feb. 24.#


Meredith Wagner to executive vice president of public affairs and corporate communications, Lifetime Television, New York, from senior vice president.

A&E promoted three executives in its A&E Internet division: So-young Park to e-commerce director, from e-commerce manager, Internet division, A&E, New York. Also Gloria Ehrenberg to director of the Internet Affiliate Network from manager of new project development; and Andrew Wise to director of finance, from divisional financial manager.

Lou Tilley to co-anchor, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, CN8, in addition to host and executive producer, “Lou Tilley’s Sports Connection.”#