Briefly Noted

Mar 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

AMPTP says union is being `unrealistic’
After the Writers Guild of America broke off six weeks of labor negotiations Thursday with the Hollywood studios and networks, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said the union was being “unrealistic” in its demands for residual increases and on other economic issues.
After the talks collapsed, Nick Counter, AMPTP president and chief negotiator, said the studio-network alliance proposed a net income increase of $30 million over the next three years, with the new contract effective after the May 1 expiration of the current deal. He said instead that WGA negotiators proposed a net income increase of $112 million in residuals, or 40 percent, over three years.
“It is unrealistic, even in the best of years,” Mr. Counter said. “The talks have been conducted professionally, but we are so far apart on the economics to where the difference is almost $100 million on the table.”
But John Wells, president of WGA West, countered with his own numbers suggesting the union’s package would grant writers an additional $60.9 million in residuals over three years, an increase of 11.3 percent of the total residuals collected by the WGA (averaged over the term of the next contract).
“When we include our proposals for increases in minimums [initial compensation] and pension and health to these gains in residuals, the total cost of our economic package to all the companies over three years would be $99.7 million,” Mr. Wells said. “This represents an average annual increase in total compensation to writers of 2.7 percent.”
PBS ahead of the interactive curve
PBS plans next month to begin trials of the nation’s first digital terrestrial (over-the-air) interactive programming broadcast.
Scheduled to begin March 27, PBS will add program-related enhancements to its one-hour “Scientific American Frontiers” show. The enhanced streams will provide additional information about the program provided by PBS as well as information customized to local audiences and inserted by the local broadcasters.
The enhancements will be encoded and distributed via satellite to seven member stations: WETA-TV, Washington; KOPB-TV, Portland, Ore.; NJN-TV, New Jersey; MPBC-TV, Lewiston, Maine; TPT-TV, Twin Cities Public Television, Minneapolis/St. Paul; WHYY-TV, Philadelphia; and KQED-TV, San Francisco. A test market of 250 viewers will tune in and make their assessments.
Geocast’s time for datacasting is past
Geocast Network Systems is winding down its business of facilitating datacasting-the use of broadcasting signals to transmit high-speed data to PCs and other devices. According to an inside source, failure to get bridge financing for a pending $40 million deal with a marquee customer was the last straw.
The 2-year-old service was backed by Hearst-Argyle Television, Belo and Allbritton Communications. Its applications were being tested by KNTV, San Jose, Calif.; KBWB-TV, San Francisco; KCRA-TV, Sacramento, Calif.; and WJLA-TV, Washington.
Rival datacast enabler iBlast is among the contenders for Geocast’s engineering staff and assets. Geocast’s backers say they’ll continue to look at other datacasting opportunities.
AT&T cutting debt by selling cable systems
AT&T Corp. is paring down its colossal $46 billion in debt by shedding cable systems and other telecom properties it sees as nonessential to its core business. AT&T’s Broadband division started the selling spree last week by unloading a handful of its rural-based systems to Mediacom Communications Corp. for $2.28 billion in cash. Last week, AT&T sold its 10 percent stake in Japanese wireless telephone company Japan Telecom Co. Ltd. for $1.35 billion. A day later, AT&T Broadband turned around and swapped cable systems with Charter Communications in a $1.79 billion deal.
Mediacom’s cash bought cable systems in Georgia, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, totaling 840,000 subscribers, which double its size to 1.6 million subscribers. Roughly 50 percent of the systems are 550 MHz to 860 MHz. Charter, in its deal, gets AT&T’s St. Louis-based systems, which serve 574,000 subscribers, and systems in Alabama, California and Nevada.
WLWT anchor donates kidney
Lisa Cooney, noon and 5:30 p.m. anchor at NBC affiliate WLWT-TV, Cincinnati, made news in her market when she donated a kidney in January to Assistant News Director Sally Macy’s brother-in-law, whom she met only once. Although it wasn’t a February sweeps stunt, WLWT did continue to do follow-up pieces during the book, airing interviews with both Ms. Cooney and the recipient. Ms. Cooney returned to the anchor desk for the first full week of February sweeps.
WLWT News Director Ken Jobe said Ms. Macy’s brother-in-law’s kidneys started to fail and he was undergoing dialysis when Ms. Cooney donated her kidney.
The station used the opportunity to raise awareness on the issue of organ donations. WLWT will air a half-hour documentary on the issue in prime time during April coinciding with National Organ Donation month.