Execs say Granite will make KNTV an NBC affiliate
Granite executives told analysts in an earnings call Tuesday that the revised affiliate fee payment schedule NBC has agreed to-along with an interim secondary affiliation and increased programming, promotion and advertising support-is evidence of NBC’s commitment to convert independent KNTV to its San Francisco area affiliate Jan. 1.
A new $205 million senior credit facility led by Goldman Sachs & Co. that Granite was to close on Tuesday allows it to make an immediate $28 million payment to NBC and then defer the start of regular payments until Jan. 1, 2003, after Granite has the benefit of increased revenues from the outlet. KNTV will immediately begin promoting itself as “NBC to be” and “NBC 3,” in reference to the station’s carriage on the area’s AT&T cable systems.
The new bridge loan also will be used to repay a previous $114 million loan. Granite reported a 23.6 percent decline in broadcast cash flow to $40 million on a 7 percent decline in net revenues to $140 million in 2000.
Eisner, Iger share Disney Net plans: The Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner shared the stage with President Bob Iger at the company’s annual meeting Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas, where they told shareholders about plans to allow broadband-connected consumers to rent movies on its movies.com Web site for $3 a shot, creating a new revenue stream.
Tom Staggs, chief financial officer, said, “While we are not projecting a significant turnaround in advertising, we do sense that the ad market is firming somewhat.” He said earnings-per-share growth would be in single digits this year, not including one-time charges.
Linda McMahon: XFL not doomed: World Wrestling Federation Entertainment President Linda McMahon denied Tuesday that the WWFE is doing anything but “prudent” evaluation and tweaking of the XFL, the ratings-starved five-week-old football league it co-owns with NBC.
Ms. McMahon disputed the fatalistic “spin” of a report published Tuesday on comments she made Monday at Bear Stearns’ annual media investment conference in Florida.
Asked point blank whether WWFE would consider pulling the plug on the XFL, Ms. McMahon said, “I said, ‘Look, we’re good business people.’ I said, ‘We’re certainly committed to the XFL, to building this brand and building this franchise, but we will certainly, at the end of the season, take a look to see what the consumer’s appetite is for this product, and we will be evaluating how we will proceed.'”
Ms. McMahon said the research was conducted last weekend, when the XFL’s ratings on NBC and UPN fell by 8 percent and 14 percent, respectively, from the previous weekend, setting new lows for the league.
She said the survey questions were designed to see what people do and don’t like about the XFL and what kind of changes in the game and the broadcasts might bring them back to the TV set.
“We think it’s certainly prudent that we’re evaluating everything on a week-by-week basis just as we do with our other business endeavors,” she said Tuesday, pointing out that not all the XFL news is negative.
“Tickets sold exceed our business plan,” she said from Washington, where “WWF Raw Is War” was taped Monday night, “WWF Smackdown!” was to tape Tuesday night, and Ms. McMahon was invited to attend the swearing-in of Elaine Chao as President Bush’s new secretary of Labor.
“Licensing and merchandising are tracking right on pace with our business plan, so there are a lot of good business stories about the XFL. The ratings, of course, are the biggest issue right at this point, and we need to improve the ratings,” Ms. McMahon said.
Turner Networks now under Kellner: WB founder and CEO Jamie Kellner has been named chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting, a new integrated and expanded empire that includes The WB, CNN and the other Turner Broadcasting cable properties.
The stunning realignment-orchestrated by Bob Pittman, co-chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner-was announced Tuesday morning. It includes the abrupt exit of Turner President and Chief Operating Officer Steven Heyer “to pursue other interests” and the decision that Terry McGuirk will “step back from a direct operating role” at the company for which he has worked for more than 28 years.
Mr. McGuirk, who was chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting, becomes vice chairman and will work with Mr. Kellner on issues related to the consolidation of a networks group that includes some of TV’s best-known and most enduring brands and that has the mandate to maximize the value of the “natural synergies” of those brands with coordinated marketing, sales and promotion.
Mr. Kellner, who helped found Fox Broadcasting, launched The WB in 1993 as a joint venture with the Tribune Co.
“He is a true entrepreneur,” said Mr. Pittman in the announcement. “This move puts us in a better position to super-serve all of our constituencies.”
The realignment marks the end of the Ted Turner era, said more than one observer. The founder of Turner Broadcasting, who has had little to do as AOL Time Warner vice chairman, said in the announcement that he could not have built his empire without Mr. McGuirk. “I’m pleased he’s remaining with the company, and I’m excited that we’re recruited Jamie into the new CEO role,” Mr. Turner said.
The WB recently promoted Jed Petrick to president and COO.
‘Queen’ to lose crown: Without the Fox owned-and-operated stations in the bag in the major markets, sources say Telepictures Distribution has let the studio space for sophomore talk show “Queen Latifah” expire without the required renewal. In addition, the strip has not opted to pick up contracts for members of the key production staff for another season. The series had been on the bubble, but with Twentieth and the Fox O&Os experimenting with regional launches, the talk show-the lowest-rated among the veterans-looks to be laid to rest without an outlet in the major markets. A Telepictures spokesman would not comment on the future of the show.
‘Bette’ canceled: After a much-ballyhooed launch in October, CBS has decided to cancel its struggling Bette Milder sitcom. The last episode of “Bette” is scheduled to air at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the unheralded debut of Robert Hays as Ms. Midler’s new TV husband, replacing Kevin Dunn.
Series producer Columbia TriStar Television had shot 18 out of 22 episodes CBS licensed for the series. Outside of Wednesday’s show, there is one other produced episode which will not likely make it to air. Despite the marquee power of Ms. Midler, “Bette” had been sinking steadily in the ratings, averaging a little under a 3 rating in the adults 18 to 49 demo and about 9 million total viewers a week.
NBC renews ‘Frasier’: After several months of negotiations, NBC has secured a three-year renewal for its 9 p.m. Tuesday comedy staple, “Frasier,” with Paramount Network Television. It has been reported that “Frasier” has been earning $5 million per episode this season. NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa declined to confirm that figure, but did reveal that the per-episode increase was in the 10 percent range.
If “Frasier” falls within the $5.5 million to $6 million per episode range, it would be close to par with what 8 p.m. Thursday staple “Friends,” is earning.
Jeffrey Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment, said the network is a “solid bet” to keep “Frasier” in the 9 p.m. Tuesday time slot-after initially taking heat for moving it from “Must See” Thursday at the beginning of this season. As it turned out, “Frasier” has become a Tuesday night tentpole-a similar Tuesday position it held several years ago-for aspiring freshman sitcom “Three Sisters.”
Kelsey Grammer, the star of “Frasier,” said the three-year series renewal (going through 2003-04 season) was part of a “personal goal” to reach at least 11 years on the “Cheers” spinoff. He also expressed a willingness to go beyond that if the Peacock Network renewed it beyond the new term.
Before closing the licensing deal, Paramount was rumored to be using Viacom sister company CBS as potential leverage since NBC did not have a “self-dealing” clause worked i
nto the previous contract, as Mr. Sassa acknowledged. He also said NBC now has the right of first-refusal in future negotiations. Other provisions Mr. Sassa confirmed in the deal were the rights to three or four runs on show’s 24 episodes each season. That would compare with the typical two-run deals on most series and marks a concession by Paramount, which has had “Frasier” repeats in syndication for the last three seasons.
Mr. Sassa also said NBC would not be on the hook for paying license fees during potential strikes by the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild, which could threaten to cease production this summer. Mr. Sassa also thanked Paramount Television Group Chairman Kerry McCluggage and Paramount Network President Gary Hart from holding “cordial” talks and resisting any “negotiations in the press” during the prolonged discussions.
‘West Wing’ to Bravo: Rainbow Media’s Bravo Network has won cable’s off-network sweepstakes for NBC’s “The West Wing.” Bravo, which beat out cable rivals A&E Network and Turner Network Television, gets the exclusive cable TV rights of “West Wing” from Warner Brothers Domestic Cable Distribution starting fourth quarter 2003. Bravo will pay Warner Bros. $1.2 million per episode, according to sources close to the negotiations. Bravo gets the rights to all episodes produced through 2009.
GSN game for five new series: The Game Show Network has greenlighted five new original series: “Shoot for Love,” “Hell, Yes I’m a Redneck,” “Billboard Living,” “E-Match” and “Grab the Mic.” The five shows, which will feature interactive components, will launch this spring.
‘Sopranos’ ices high ratings: HBO’s ubiquitous ad campaign for “The Sopranos” paid off big time for the pay network, with the third-season premiere episode jumping 65 percent from last year’s season’s premiere. According to preliminary overnight figures in 49 markets monitored by Nielsen Media Research, the 9 p.m. (ET) premiere averaged a 7.9 rating and 12 share.
Nationally, the third-season premiere of “The Sopranos” on Sunday night posted a 6.6 rating and 10 share, representing 6.7 million households, according to Nielsen Media Research. That compares with the 5.6 rating and 8 share the series earned for its second-season premiere in January.
Thomson shipping new receiver: Thomson multimedia announced that it has begun shipping the RCA-DirecTV receiver with UltimateTV service from Microsoft Corp. to retailers this month. The RCA DWD490RE (suggested retail price $399) combines a built-in hard-disk drive with two DirecTV digital satellite tuners, enabling digital video recording (35 hours) of two shows at a time (or watching one show while taping another), picture-in-picture reception, Internet access, and interactive TV in a single integrated receiver. It also incorporates an electronic program guide that allows consumers to access up to 14 days of DirecTV program listings. A deluxe $449 version includes an 18-inch-wide dish/antenna; an optional wireless keyboard is also available.
Retailers include Circuit City, Best Buy, Radio Shack, The Good Guys and Ultimate Electronics. The systems will be available online through www.rca.com.
Nick’s ‘tweens’ ratings jump: Ratings for Nickelodeon’s newly installed Sunday night “tweens” block have increased 80 percent among kids 9-14 from a year ago. Its March 4 premiere averaged a 4.2 Nielsen Media Research rating, representing 798,000 viewers, among tweens.
National Geographic uncoils snake special: The National Geographic Channel is running a five-hour documentary special on snakes of the world titled “5 Days of Snakes.” The series will run March 19-23 at 8 p.m. (ET).
Roughly 42 percent of the nation’s cable systems report having launched digital cable and 21 report having launched high-speed data/cable modem service in the past year, according to “State of Cable & Broadband 2001,” published by market research firm Horowitz Associates. … The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund will honor Lifetime Television President Carol Black as one of the 25 most influential women in American business during a ceremony in New York on March 15.#
WHO IS NEWS Tamar Hacker to director of documentary specials, A&E Network, New York, from senior producer, PBS’s “American Masters” documentary series. Marc Juris to executive vice president and general manager, American Movie Classics, New York, from senior vice president, original programming, packaging and production, AMC.#