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Apr 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

FCC ruling will allow Viacom to keep UPN

Clearing the way for Viacom to keep UPN, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-1 Thursday to modify its dual-network rule. The dual-network regulation barred the Big 4 TV networks from merging with each other or acquiring UPN or The WB. It became a big problem for Viacom after the company acquired CBS last year.

With the FCC’s changes, one of the Big 4 could also acquire The WB. But the FCC retained the part of the rule that prevents the Big 4 TV networks from merging with each other. Without the FCC’s action, Viacom would have had to divest UPN by May 5 under a condition imposed when the FCC originally approved Viacom’s acquisition of CBS last year.

Viacom said in response: “We are extremely pleased that the FCC has amended its rules regarding broadcast network ownership-a decision that correctly reflects the highly competitive nature of the broadcast industry. We are encouraged by the FCC’s willingness to revisit and amend its traditional positions in light of the realities of communications in the 21st century. We hope that the commission will take additional actions in the future to rationalize other areas under its oversight.”

FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani said she dissented because she didn’t believe reducing the number of broadcast network owners would lead to greater viewpoint diversity. But in a statement, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the record had demonstrated that continued ownership of UPN by CBS was essential to the continued viability of UPN and its local affiliated stations. “The failure of this network would result in a loss of diversity,” Mr. Powell said.

Hearing set on Internet competition: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., will hold an April 25 hearing on legislation that lets the Baby Bell phone companies offer high-speed Internet access nationwide so they can compete head to head with cable broadband. Bell companies now can offer Internet access only in regions where they provide phone service. The measure, co-sponsored by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is expected to be reintroduced next week. The lawmakers support stronger competition in the broadband arena instead of so-called open-access requirements, which would force cable broadband companies to open their pipes to competing Internet service providers.

‘Link’ still strong: Continuing to defy TV critics’ expectations, NBC’s “Weakest Link” scored its highest ratings yet in its third consecutive nightly outing, scoring an across-the-board ratings win Wednesday. In the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. (ET) time slot, “Weakest Link” scored a top-ranked 7.8 rating/27 share average in adults 18 to 49, posting 37 percent growth since its premiere on Monday (5.7/16), according to comparable Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate returns.

Overall, “Link” scored its best numbers yet in households (11.6/19, up 20 percent from the debut), total viewers (17.4 million, up 19 percent), adults 18 to 34 (7.7/27, up 38 percent) and adults 25 to 54 (8.9/22, up 35 percent). Among adults 55-plus, “Link’s” 7.3/15 average last night was off a slight 6 percent from its debut (7.8/14).

Getting caught in the “Link” buzzsaw was ABC’s “Once & Again,” whose 3.8/10 in adults 18 to 49 came in a distant second and dropped 5 percent from its previous week’s outing (4.0/12). The last hour of CBS’s 21/2-hour movie “Fallen” (starring Denzel Washington) limped in at a 2.3/6 for the closing frame and 2.1/6 for the night in the key demo.

For a Wednesday night (minus “Ed”), NBC’s top-ranked 5.5/15 in adults 18 to 49 scored a 20 percent week-to-week increase. The Peacock Network’s household (9.7/16) and total viewer (17.4 million) counts were also up 10 percent and 17 percent, respectively, over the previous week.

Moving up an hour to serve as a springboard lead-in to “Link,” venerable drama “Law & Order” posted 6 percent week-to-week growth with a winning 5.7/15 in adults 18 to 49 during the 8 p.m. hour. Facing tougher competition, Fox’s “Boot Camp” reality/game show posted a 5.4/14 in adults 18 to 49 and a 6.7/11 in households, dropping 11 percent and 12 percent, respectively, from its previous week’s Tuesday (April 10) outing.

NBC opened the night on a sour note, with a repeat of “The West Wing” (3.0/10) dropping 39 percent from the previous week’s repeat airing in its normal 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. time slot. That left an opening for double runs of ABC’s midseason Damon Wayans comedy, “My Wife and Kids” (4.9/15), to win the 8 p.m. hour and post 4 percent week-to-week growth. Fox’s repeat of “That ’70s Show” (4.3/14) and an original of “Grounded for Life” (3.8/11) came in second for the hour.

Fox still posted 68 percent growth week to week (over a poorly received “Blockbuster Entertainment Awards” on April 11) with a second-ranked 4.7/13 in adults 18 to 49 for the night. Meanwhile, ABC (4.2/12) and CBS (2.2/6) were down 9 percent from last week.

DVR problems reported: Reports of two separate digital video recorder snafus hit within a week of each other. In the more recent problem, confirmed by TiVo, some of that company’s systems used by DirecTV customers rebooted repeatedly. The problem was tied to WishList requests set for automatic record that searched for programs featuring actors with single names, such as Cher or Madonna. The company said it has begun to fix the problem via a software download, which began rolling out this month and will continue through May.

Earlier, a software bug shrank hard-drive storage space on UltimateTV systems. Microsoft WebTV Networks noted that “we have discovered a pattern of usage that slowly decreases the DVR storage capacity of UltimateTV over time. This problem occurs when a customer presses ‘Erase’ during a paused or currently playing recorded program. Customers can avoid experiencing this condition by pressing the ‘Stop’ button on the remote control to stop the playback of a recorded show before pressing ‘Erase.'”

Microsoft and DirecTV will deliver an automatic software upgrade “in the near future” to eliminate the problem.

Scientific-Atlanta quarter sets record: Scientific-Atlanta reported record financial results for its third fiscal quarter, with bookings, sales, backlog and cash flow each setting all-time records. Although sales of broadband transmission products-headend products, fiber optics, etc.-were down 3 percent to $176.3 million from 2000’s third quarter, the decline was more than offset by a 119 percent increase (to ($466.1 million) in sales of subscriber-related products (set-top boxes).

More than 1.4 million Explorer digital interactive set-tops were shipped in the quarter, raising the cumulative total to nearly 6 million units. Twenty-six headends were installed, bringing the total to 241. Commercial services now have been launched at more than 200 of these sites.

Sheiffer heads Petry: Arnold Sheiffer has been named chairman of New York-based station-rep firm Petry Media Corp. Mr. Sheiffer had been serving as a director of the company and interim chief financial officer in his capacity as managing director of Sandler Capital and was instrumental in securing Petry’s recent multiyear financing.

Mr. Sheiffer’s appointment follows the announcement of other management changes at the rep firm. Tim McAuliff, formerly president of the TV Group, was upped to president and CEO and will have responsibility for all PMC operating divisions, including Blair Television and Fox Television Sales (a joint venture with Fox). Bill Shaw (Fox Television Sales), Val Napolitano (Petry) and Leo MacCourtney (Blair Television) will continue as presidents of their respective sales divisions.

Tom Burchill assumes the role of executive chairman and will focus on technological opportunities within the communications industry.

Most recently, Mr. Sheiffer was chairman and CEO of SmartRoute Systems, a position he assumed in 1999. Mr. Sheiffer is the former chief operating officer of Katz Media.

Schwarzenegger’s back in ‘Stunt Awards’: The first “World Stunt Awards,” to be telecast by ABC from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) June 16, will recognize Arnold Schwarzenegger wi
th the Taurus Honorary Award at a ceremony to be taped in Santa Monica, Calif., on May 20. The World Stunt Awards, which benefit the charitable Taurus World Stunt Awards Foundation and were created by principal sponsor Red Bull Energy Drink Co., recognizes stuntmen and stuntwomen for performances in films in 12 award categories.

Comprising more than 800 registered stunt professionals from around the globe, TWSA selects the nominees and final winners.

John Woo, best known for directing films such as “Mission: Impossible 2,” and “Face/Off” (1997), is also being honored, as recipient of the Action Movie Director Award.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications