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Mar 21, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Senate OKs low rates for political ads

In a setback for broadcasters, the Senate Wednesday overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that requires television stations to offer politicians rock-bottom rates for political ads.

The measure, crafted by Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., and Sen. Jon Corzine, R-N.J., passed 70-30 after lengthy debate. Existing law requires TV stations to make ad time available to politicians at the lowest unit charges. But station ad rates vary depending on the time of the year and daypart.

As a result, some stations charge lowest unit rates during campaign season that are higher than their lowest charges at slow times of the year. The amendment requires TV stations to offer politicians the absolute cheapest rate they’ve offered all year.

It also closes a loophole that lets stations pre-empt political ads-as long as they air sometime during the same day-if other entities agree to pay more for the time slots. The pre-emptions have forced some politicians to buy ads at higher rates to guarantee they air in prime time and won’t be relegated to the wee hours of the morning. The National Association of Broadcasters opposes the amendment, which it says will result in more candidate ads and a “bureaucratic and organizational nightmare.”

Among the measure’s supporters is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who said it would help to end the “money chase” that corrupts the political process. “I think it is not only fair but long overdue,” she said of the amendment.

Among those opposed is Senate communications subcommittee Chairman Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. “How many other industries are we asking to lower their rates on the services they perform for the sake of political activity?” he asked rhetorically. He said it’s unfair for Congress to meddle in the pricing decisions of TV stations.

Block, Raponi promoted: Cox Television has promoted Jeff Block from station manager to vice president and general manager at Fox affiliate KTVU-TV, Oakland, Calif., and Tom Raponi from station manager at independent station KICU-TV, San Jose, to vice president and general manager. They will report to former KTVU General Manager Kevin O’Brien, who retains his title as Cox’s executive vice president of Television Independent Group/Fox.

Media buyers give strong grades to Fox: “What a difference a year makes” was the view of several media buyers coming out of Fox’s 2001-02 season development presentation late Tuesday in Los Angeles. In her first programming presentation to advertisers, Gail Berman, president of Fox Entertainment Group, screened more than a dozen clips from a roster of 15 scripted comedies, eight dramas and five alternative series-with almost two-dozen of those series already being readied on a strike contingency basis for next fall.

As Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group, noted, Fox came out of last year’s upfront presentation heavy on brooding sci-fi dramas and short on a solid long-term strategy, but quickly rebounded with the strong launches this season of “Boston Public,” “Dark Angel” and “Grounded for Life.” That came on top of the midseason rebound in the 1999-2000 season as three comedy franchises-“Malcolm in the Middle,” “Titus” and “That ’70s Show”-hit a ratings stride in the young adult demos.

Given the across-the-board teen and young adult momentum this season and during the February sweeps, buyers especially hailed Mr. Grushow’s and Ms. Berman’s pledges to focus on solidifying Fox’s only weak links, Thursday and Friday nights. Ad buyers were particularly upbeat about several “edgy” comedies-the sock puppet-led “Greg the Bunny,” Chuck Lorre’s interactive “Nathan’s Choice,” Judd Apatow’s college-bound “Undeclared” and Andy Richter’s fantasy-adventure “Anything Can Happen.”

“It seems Fox is one of the few networks that has continued to have success planting these edgy, younger-skewing comedies like ‘Malcolm’ and ‘Titus,’ and they just appear to be on the track in terms of developing this latest crop of Fox-branded comedies,” said John Rash, senior vice president and director of national broadcast buying for Campbell Mithun. “Anything can happen from the show’s first concept to its actual execution, so it is a bit early to prognosticate which comedy will break out-judging from just short presentation tapes.”

Buyers also appeared impressed with early production clips from “Emma Brody,” a female coming-of-age drama set at a U.S. embassy and shot in London, and “When I Grow Up,” a romantic comedy from “Moonlighting” creator Glenn Gordon Caron. Other dramas that appeared to gain some early favorable reviews from buyers were “24,” a drama (starring Kiefer Sutherland) about an elite team of CIA agents looking to crack an assassination plot against the U.S. president, as well as a pair of prime-time soaps, “Pasadena” (starring Dana Delany) and “American Soap,” which Ms. Berman said is going to be shot in a single-camera cinema veritÈ style.

In the drama department, Ms. Berman said the intent is to continue to build on broad female-appeal shows such as current Fox hits “Ally McBeal,” “Dark Angel” and “Boston Public.” After the presentation, Ms. Berman hinted that “Emma Brody” could be a strong candidate for one of the hours on Thursday or Friday, presumably for a 9 p.m. (ET) start to prevent it from going opposite either NBC’s top-rated “Friends” or “Providence” in the opening hours of each respective evening. Comedies or alternative reality series could play heavily in filling the opening hours on Thursday and Friday nights, but Ms. Berman declined to speculate this far in advance of Fox’s May upfront scheduling announcements.

On the alternative series front, Ms. Berman placed a last-minute addition of “Endgame,” a hybrid reality/drama in which 10 contestants must solve a murder mystery played out by a group of actors. “It is sort of like rolling ‘Twin Peaks,’ ‘The Real World’ and ‘Tamara’ [a Hollywood mansion murder mystery] all into one show,” Ms. Berman said, adding that the show will include an interactive, online tie-in with viewers over the Internet.

Additionally, with “Temptation Island II” set to return next fall-and with “Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction,” “Love Cruise,” “In Search Of …” and “Reno 911” set to join longtime Saturday reality staples “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted”-Ms. Berman proclaimed the network has a “strike-proof” schedule for at least the first three to four months of next season.

In fact, scripted series orders and production have either commenced or been completed on new series “Greg the Bunny,” “Undeclared,” “When I Grow Up,” “The Tick,” and “Love Cruise,” as well as on backup series “Family Guy” and “Night Visions” and incumbents “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “That ’70s Show,” “Grounded for Life” and “Futurama.” That could help carry Fox through a protracted writers and/or actors union strike. Also working in Fox’s favor are the Major League Baseball playoffs airing through part of October and Super Bowl XXXVI airing in January.

IRS move eases News Corp. purchase: The Internal Revenue Service has taken a step toward eliminating one of the hurdles to News Corp.’s acquisition of 10 Chris-Craft Industries stations by ruling that the stockholders of Chris-Craft, BHC and UTV would not have to pay taxes on the News Corp. shares they receive in the transaction. Still to come are rulings on the subject from agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department. Stockholders on both sides of the sale will vote at meetings set for April 24.

AOL, Ticketmaster link up: America Online and Ticketmaster have signed a multiyear agreement to provide Ticketmaster’s AOL subscribers one-stop access to tickets to more than 350,000 events and 5,000 venues across the United States. In addition, Ticketmaster’s local city guides will offer Moviefone’s movie information and ticketing. And Ticketmaster will provide personal ads on AOL’s Love@AOL, while Ticketmaster’s Match.com service will be offered across AOL, AOL.com, CompuServe and Netscape.

KNTV changes markets: P
oised to be the NBC affiliate in San Francisco on Jan. 1, 2002, Granite-owned KNTV, San Jose, Calif., announced today that the FCC has approved KNTV to be officially classified in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose market, the fifth-largest market in the country. In November, KNTV was redesignated from the Salinas-Monterey, Calif., market by Nielsen Media Research. Although the move guarantees must-carry rights on cable, Granite had already negotiated a deal with AT&T.

DoubleClick trims 205 jobs: Digital marketing solutions company DoubleClick will cut its work force by 10 percent-205 jobs-by the end of the second quarter, focusing mostly on reductions of its media business, which is expected to provide less than 20 percent of the company’s revenue in 2001. In January, DoubleClick said revenues from its media business would narrow to 30 percent ($43 million) from 35 percent ($46 million) during the first quarter.

Digital Oscar content offered: Oscar.com, a co-production of ABC.com and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is offering content via wireless Internet-ready phones to subscribers of AT&T Digital PocketNet service. Oscar.com Wireless gives subscribers daily updated content, the Oscar.com “Predict the Winners” game, weekly trivia, nominee highlights and the Oscar.com Quote-of-the-Day.

Sekani in WWFE corner: World Wrestling Federation Entertainment has hired Sekani to grapple with more than 40 years of footage from its wrestling series, pay-per-view events, home video and other properties and design an “end-to-end” strategy for cataloging, storing and managing WWFE’s archives. Sekani also will be assessing the condition of material in some containers that haven’t been opened in years and which may be in need of restoration, in addition to digitization.

According to WWFE, in the long run the company is positioning itself for the video-on-demand era, and in the short run is better positioned to amortize the video it creates each week and to create a cost-effective archive.#

NBC tops Sports Emmy noms: NBC earned 23 Sports Emmy nominations to top the list of nominees announced Wednesday by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which will hand out the gold statuettes at a black-tie dinner April 16, at New York’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

ESPN and Fox shared the second spot on the list with a total of 20 nominations each, followed by ABC (16 nominations), CBS (11), ESPN2 (nine), HBO (six) and TNT (four). CNBC, CNN/SI, Discovery Channel, ESPN Classic and MSNBC had one nomination each.