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Mar 22, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Fox, NBC, Viacom challenge FCC cap

Fox, NBC and Viacom Thursday, as expected, filed a joint challenge to the Federal Communications Commission rule prohibiting networks from owning stations that reach more than 35 percent of the country. The petition, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, says the ownership cap is rooted “in a bygone era” and boils the challenge down to four issues:

–Whether the FCC’s decision last year to retain the ownership cap is “ripe for review.”

–Whether the FCC acted “arbitrarily and capriciously and otherwise contrary to law.”

–Whether the FCC violated the Federal Communications Act of 1996 by not ruling the ownership cap as “no longer necessary in the public interest.”

–Whether the FCC’s decision to keep the cap violates the First Amendment.

Littlefield inks agreement with Paramount Warren Littlefield, former president of NBC Entertainment and current owner of independent production company Littlefield Productions, has severed his in-house production deal with NBC and signed a multiyear deal with Paramount Network Television. Ending a 21-year association with NBC, Mr. Littlefield will now develop and produce comedy and drama series for the Viacom-owned Hollywood studio. Mr. Littlefield originally signed two-year production pact with NBC in 1999, short after exiting as president of entertainment.

Broadcast TV ad revenues rise 12.8 percent: Local broadcast TV ad revenues for the year 2000 were up 12.8 percent compared with 1999, according to Harold Simpson, vice president of research for the Television Bureau of Advertising, who based his figures on estimates from CMR MediaWatch. Network ad revenue gained 12.6 percent and syndicated rose 6.4 percent.

The broadcast industry as a whole experienced a 12.2 percent increase for the year.

All sectors registered fourth-quarter slowdowns but still outperformed fourth quarter 1999 by as much as 6.4 percent at local stations, 5.3 percent at the broadcast networks and 4.9 percent in syndication. Overall, broadcast television ad revenues in the fourth quarter were up 5.8 percent year to year.

Wolters named exec VP at ABC: John Wolters has been promoted to executive vice president of the ABC Broadcast Group, effective immediately. He reports to ABC Broadcast Group President Robert Callahan and ABC Television Network President Alex Wallau. Mr. Wolters started at the network in 1978 as assistant corporate controller and had been the network’s executive vice president of finance since 1996.

Greg Gumbel extends contract with CBS: Greg Gumbel, who is in his fourth year as studio host of NCAA men’s basketball championship coverage and is headed into his fourth season sharing lead NFL announcing duties with Phil Simms, has signed a four-year extension of his contract with CBS Sports.

UPN raises stakes in ‘Buffy’ bidding war: Officials close to the negotiations on the renewal talks for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were playing down industry reports that UPN was close to finishing a deal to snatch the series from The WB network. But one source close to “Buffy” series producer 20th Century Fox Television confirmed that UPN has entered the “bidding process” for the 2001-02 season rights to “Buffy,” along with The WB and other unnamed networks. At one point, ABC had expressed interest in the show but passed on joining the auction, with 20th Century Fox reportedly seeking between $2.3 million and $2.6 million per episode for the 5-year-old series, sources close to both parties confirmed.

Currently, The WB is paying about $1 million per episode for the broadcast rights to “Buffy,” but WB officials have indicated the most recent offer has gone only as far as $1.6 million per episode for a renewal of the current 8 p.m. (ET) Tuesday tent pole. While it is widely apparent that The WB’s exclusive negotiating window is over, sources say the Frog Network may still have the right to match or surpass with a counteroffer vs. any competing network suitor.

UPN, The WB and 20th Century Fox declined comment on the status of the negotiations.

Smiley on the way out as ‘BET Tonight’ host: Tavis Smiley told the New York Post that he learned Wedneday from a terse fax sent to him that his contract as host of “BET Tonight” is not being renewed. “A four-sentence letter after five years of service-I’m certainly bothered by that,” the Los Angeles-based Mr. Smiley told the paper. His contract is set to expire Sept. 6.

A BET statement said the move was “a creative decision made by BET as part of our regular planning process for the new season debuting in September.” The 2001-02 lineup, with more changes to come, is scheduled to be presented to advertisers in May.

‘WhirlGirl’ might twirl to TV: Flash-animated online strip “WhirlGirl” hopes to cross over to full television distribution with a package of 26 half-hour episodes optimized for TV viewing that will be offered at MIP this year. “WhirlGirl,” launched in 1997, is the story of Kia Cross, a late-21st-century 20-something super-heroine who reluctantly becomes leader of the Helicons, a rebel movement fighting ZoneWerks, an evil empire that controls the virtual universe.

In January 1999 “WhirlGirl” became the first independently produced webtoon licensed to a major network, joining Showtime Networks’ Web site, SHO.com.

‘Survivor’ rehash drops in ratings: Featuring “never-before-seen footage” and highlights of the first 24 days of “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” the CBS reality show sank almost 20 percent in the ratings Wednesday night to its lowest levels since its Jan. 28 debut. Much of the viewer drop-off had been expected, since CBS used the “best-of” episode of “Survivor II” at 8 p.m. (ET) to make way for coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Eye Network is looking to save original episodes for its critical May sweeps finale. In its second Wednesday outing this season, “Survivor II” dropped 19 percent in total viewers (22.7 million) and 16 percent in households (13.9 rating/23 share) week to week, according to comparable Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate returns.

The household returns make the second show the lowest-rated episode since the original “Survivor’s” second episode June 14, when it posted an 11.7/21 in households (representing 11.7 million total viewers).

“Survivor II’s” rehashing also proved to be a turnoff to viewers in the adults 18 to 49 category (9.6/26), marking a 19 percent drop from last week.

Nonetheless, “Survivor II” powered CBS’s otherwise lackluster Wednesday lineup to a nightly win in adults 18 to 49 (5.1/14). In its second week leading out of “Survivor II” and third week overall, David Milch’s cop drama “Big Apple” dropped 70 percent of its lead-in at a 2.9/7 in adults 18 to 49, which was also off 6 percent from its previous Wednesday outing. Also, “Big Apple’s” 5.9/9 average in households was off 11 percent from last week’s outing (6.6/10).

Meanwhile, ABC’s 8:30 p.m. midseason cop dramedy “The Job” dropped only 2 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49 (5.0/13), marking 82 percent retention from top-ranked lead-in “The Drew Carey Show” (6.0/15). Nevertheless, ABC finished third for the night in the adults 18 to 49 (4.0/13), while NBC, similarly laden with repeats, came in an uncharacteristic second in the key demo (5.0/13). Fox, also airing repeat programming, came in fourth at a 3.9/10 average.

Much ado about nothing: Seinfeld draws so-so ratings: Despite the promotional hype for Jerry Seinfeld’s appearance on CBS’s “The Late Show With David Letterman,”aired during CBS’s NCAA tournament and “Survivor: The Australian Outback” NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” held a 42 percent advantage over the Eye Network Wednesday night. “Tonight Show” posted a 5.4 rating/14 share in Nielsen Media Research’s overnight metered markets, while “Late Show” drew a 3.8/9 household average.

In New York, Mr. Leno won the 11:30 p.m.-to-12:30 a.m. (ET) hour with a 5.2/13. WABC-TV was second with “Nightline” and “Politically Incorrect” (4.9/12). WPIX-TV was third with “Frasier” and “Coach” (3.8/9), and WCBS-TV was fourth with “Letterman” (2.4/6). In Lo
s Angeles, Mr. Leno won the hour with a 5.6/20. KABC-TV was second with “Nightline” and “Politically Incorrect” (3.3/11), and KCBS-TV was third with Mr. Letterman at a 2.9/10 average.

More house calls by ‘Doc’: After debuting two weeks ago at a record 2.0 rating nationally in household and 1.8 rating last Sunday at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET), Pax TV has made an order for eight additional episodes of “Doc,” the hour-long medical drama starring country singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

“Doc’s” latest Sunday outing improved the time slot by 100 percent in households and 218 percent in adults 18 to 49 over the previous first-quarter average generated previously by “Miracle Pets.”

SoapCity hopes to clean up with AOL partnership: SoapCity, a division of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, has formed a partnership with America Online. Under the agreement, SoapCity will provide information about soap operas on the Internet service provider’s Web portal. The content will make its debut on AOL on April 2.

Samsung sets up new set-top boxes: Samsung debuted digital set-top boxes based around Microsoft’s new Advanced Digital TV Platform at CEBIT 2001 information technology and telecommunications conference in Hanover, Germany.

The SMT-F220 boasts that it can receive and record interactive digital video broadcasts plus support broadband Internet access, video on demand, e-mail, chat, instant messaging, home shopping, home banking, networked games, a DVD/CD Player and other digital media services. Samsung will start worldwide commercialization of the digital set-top boxes in May and will initially supply them to Portugal’s TV Cabo, the leading cable operator in Portugal.

Trio game for universal platform: Ericsson, Motorola, and Siemens announced plans Thursday to develop an industry initiative to define a universal mobile games platform using existing and emerging standards. The initiative will at first focus on establishing open Applications Programming Interfaces. The companies expect to have specs available by third quarter this year.

PacketVideo inks deal: Wireless multimedia software provider PacketVideo Corp. has signed its first four game developers-the United Kingdom’s Digital Bridges, Sweden’s Picofun, Finland’s Orchimedia and Israel’s Cash-U-adding interactive games to the repertoire of content it is helping to drive to wireless devices.

“The devices are there, the networks are there, now the content and games are coming,” said Robert Tercek, president of PacketVideo’s applications and services division, noting the current 2.5G wireless protocol will be enough to get application prototypes in over the next few months.

Digital Bridges brings delivery technology, publishing and distribution to the mix-it has already signed 20 network operators. Orchimedia has four of the top five games on Sonera’s Zedaamo, the world’s leading mobile games portal.


ESPN senior coordinating producer Jay Rothman will produce ESPN’s “Sunday Night Football” next season. He succeeds Fred Gaudelli, who was named producer of “Monday Night Football” on ABC this month.


Collin Gaston to national sales manager at Clear Channel’s UPN affiliate WTEV-TV in Jacksonville, Fla., from local sales account executive.#