Sony, Warner Bros. near deal with 5C manufacturers
Sony and Warner Bros. are only weeks away from signing a deal with Intel and four Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers-the so-called 5C companies-on an agreement to protect digital programming on cable and satellite from unauthorized copying and illegal retransmission on the Internet.
But ABC owner The Walt Disney Co., News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox-sister to the Fox TV network-Universal, Paramount and MGM have balked at signing. Disney and Fox in particular are concerned the agreement does not protect digital television signals broadcast over the air to viewers. The 5C companies say they don’t have the technology to do that. The manufacturers insist the agreement at least protects digital TV signals offered on cable and satellite if the programming is encrypted.
Disney and Fox say that option is expensive and will force existing DTV set owners to add decryption devices. The holdout studios prefer so-called watermarking technology, i.e. digital codes, added to programming to prevent copying, but that approach requires more research and design work.
“We still have no resolution on copyright protection for broadcast programming. I do not want the transition to digital television to mean the end of quality, free over-the-air programming,” said House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., at a March 15 hearing on DTV issues.
Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., is pleased with the progress so far. He said if all the studios sign the deal, digital TV signals would be protected in the 85 percent of U.S. homes that subscribe to cable or satellite TV. He acknowledged that DTV signals beamed over the air would be vulnerable to unauthorized copying.
PBS plans layoffs: Lower revenues, reduced underwriting, fewer video sales and a dearth of advertisers for its online sites have triggered PBS to slash about 9 percent of its work force. The network announced March 15 that it has eliminated 60 positions-20 of which were vacant-in all departments. The cuts are part of a larger, three-year strategic plan to be reviewed at PBS’s board of directors meeting here March 29.
PBS also announced that John Wilson, senior vice president for programming/East, and Jacoba Atlas, vice president for programming/West, have been appointed co-chief program executives, jointly managing the programming staff.
Mr. Wilson will oversee fund-raising-related shows and syndicated programming, children’s fare and TV scheduling.
Ms. Atlas will oversee most of the prime-time schedule, including news, public affairs, history, nature, science, fiction, performance and some documentaries.
In addition, programming vice president Pat Hunter was promoted to senior vice president, adding project management to her responsibilities. “This strategic plan and realignment involved hard choices made in the context of challenging economic realities and a dynamic media environment,” PBS President and CEO Pat Mitchell said.
ABC cancels affiliates meeting in favor of regional get-togethers: ABC on Friday scrapped its plans for the annual affiliates convention May 22-23 at which it was to play host to affiliates and their families at parent company Disney’s new California Adventure theme park. Instead of one big-ticket convention, the network will hold five “smaller, more personalized” regional meetings in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston in an effort to “increase participation and enhance face-to-face dialogue” with local station managers.
ABC’s decision follows by two days UPN’s announcement that it will substitute a five-day blitz of regional meetings with station owners and general managers for the affiliates convention that previously had been attached to UPN’s upfront presentations of fall programming in New York in May.
NBC was first to dispense with a big affiliates meeting, announcing several weeks ago that it would meeting with local stations at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in May and at quarterly regional meetings.
Fox followed with a decision to do its affiliates convention via satellite.
Luck of the Irish: NBC has made a four-episode pickup on its midseason sitcom entry, “The Fighting Fitzgeralds,” boosting its total order to 10 episodes this season from co-producers Artists Television Group and NBC Studios.
Since debuting March 6 in the 8:30-to-9 p.m. (ET) Tuesday slot, “Fighting Fitzgeralds” has averaged a 4.6 rating/12 share in adults 18 to 49 and has built on its 8 p.m. lead-in by 6 percent for its first two airings, according to Nielsen Media Research. In addition, the show has topped NBC’s Tuesday time period average this season by 24 percent in adults 18 to 49.
The extra order gives NBC enough episodes to carry “Fitzgeralds” through the critical May sweeps period and slightly beyond. Brian Dennehy stars in the show.
Phoef Sutton, Edward Burns and Brian Burns are the executive producers; Mr. Dennehy is co-executive producer.