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Apr 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Lieberman legislation to target industry

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., will introduce legislation Thursday that arms the Federal Trade Commission with the authority to crack down on Hollywood studios, music labels and video game manufacturers that market violent images and lyrics to kids.

The agency has said it can’t take action against such companies under existing regulations. But the bill also gives these industries an escape route from regulation: They can avoid FTC penalties if they adopt their own rigorous “codes of conduct” and enforcement strategies for the codes.

So far, the senator is having trouble getting other lawmakers to co-sponsor his bill. At deadline, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.; Sen. Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, had all declined to be original co-sponsors but may back the bill later on. A source said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., was still deciding whether he would appear at the press briefing with Sen. Lieberman.

Meanwhile, the FTC will release a status report on the marketing of violent and vulgar content to kids at 10 a.m. (ET) Tuesday on its Web site, www.ftc.gov. The agency released a larger report last fall on the subject that outraged lawmakers and forced Hollywood to adopt voluntary steps to curb the marketing of grisly images to youngsters. Sen. Lieberman has said Tinseltown’s plan doesn’t go far enough.

Microsoft, NBC merge Web finance units: In a move to cut costs and do more with less, Microsoft Corp. and NBC said they will merge their MSN MoneyCentral and CNBC.com operations into a more comprehensive personal finance Web site by summer. The move has been expected for some time as the five-year partners seek to combine their resources to create more powerful niche services built on their successful MSN.com model.

As it does with MSNBC.com, Microsoft will manage the site from its Redmond, Wash., offices. CNBC MoneyCentral, as it will be called, will not initially carry any special charges or subscription fees for its combined 16 million monthly unique users. An editorial board representing both companies will manage the site’s content. Advertising sales will continue to be handled by the MSN and MoneyCentral organization that now handles that task for Microsoft.

GM-News Corp. satellite-merger decision looms: Early signs are that all went well Monday between News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and the General Motors board, which has not yet decided whether to accept the mogul’s offer to merge his sprawling global satellite operations with GM’s Hughes Electronics subsidiary, which controls the DirecTV satellite service.

As expected, Mr. Murdoch took his case directly to the GM board. Sources said a decision could be made as early as this week. It was not known at press time whether Mr. Murdoch offered to sweeten the premium he proposed for holders of the Hughes tracking stock or of GM stock in exchange for new shares of News Corp.’s proposed Sky Global satellite entity, which is expected to go public later this year.

If his proposal is rejected, Mr. Murdoch could seek to expand News Corp.’s 7 percent stake in rival Echostar Communications to have more of a foothold in the U.S. satellite market. Hughes management is seeking to maintain control of the merged satellite entity, in which News Corp. would have a minority stake. Hughes Chairman Michael Smith is said to prefer a plan to spin off DirecTV as an independent company that would partner with Sky Global but maintain its autonomy. GM is seeking an estimated $9.5 billion for its stake in Hughes, sources say. Microsoft Corp. is expected to invest $3 billion and John Malone’s Liberty Media as much as $1 billion in the new satellite entity. News Corp., GM and Hughes declined comment on the meeting.

Fritts: dropouts not hurting NAB: The bailouts of the major TV networks from the National Association of Broadcasters hasn’t “diminished or demoralized” the organization. At least that was the central message that Eddie Fritts, NAB president and CEO, had Monday for broadcasters during the opening session of the NAB convention in Las Vegas.

“I can say with absolute confidence that we have the means and the members to continue the fight,” Mr. Fritts said. He also praised ABC-the only representative of the Big 4 TV networks that remains on board as an NAB member.

Fox Broadcasting Co., CBS, and NBC have all bailed out because the association’s affiliate-dominated board has forced the association to fight a network effort to win deregulation to buy more TV stations. Said Mr. Fritts, sounding a hopeful note, “At the end of the day , our internal issues will be resolved, one way or another.”

Panel focuses on broadcast spectrum: Broadcast industry advocate MSTV celebrated its 45th year with a keynote at the National Association of Broadcasters session in Las Vegas from Sony Electronics’ Deputy President (and Sony Broadcast and Professional Co. President) Ed Grebow, and a panel discussion about what should happen to the broadcast spectrum.

Mr. Grebow, among other things, noted an issue where Sony and MSTV disagree: a government mandated tuner requirement for digital television sets. “We need to reduce the cost of consumer entry into digital television, not increase it,” said Mr. Grebow, pointing out that the 78% of the viewers who have cable or satellite TV receivers or other technologies don’t need them.

Another point of disagreement was content protection. Mr. Grebow believes that the digital transmission content protection strategy worked out between Sony and four other manufacturers will suffice to protect content providers as well as support the right of the public to record and time-shift over-the-air broadcasts. He noted that Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. already stated their support of the content-protection technology and that other studios appear ready to support the effort.

As for spectrum, Brian Fontes, vice president of federal regulations for Cingular Wireless pointed out that wireless carriers would prefer spectrums in the 1710-1850 and 2500-2690 MHz ranges to the 700 MHz bandwidths now held by analog broadcasters that the government wants to auction. The alternative bandwidth is more in line with global wireless standards. Jay Kitchen, president and CEO of the Personal Communications Industry Association, agreed.

The comment triggered Lowell Paxson, chairman of Paxson Communications Corp., to comment, “Let’s just give them the 1710 and 1850 and stop having these panels.”

It’s a notion that Marsha McBride, chief of staff to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, indicated could not happen because of congressional statute for the sale of the 700 bandwidth.

All panel members predicted that Congress would become more involved in the spectrum concerns. The first auction-of UHF TV channels 60-69-is scheduled for September.

NAB, CEA link: The National Association of Broadcasters and Consumer Electronics Association on Sunday announced their intent to launch a joint program promoting DTV in the fall. Additional details about the effort, including its budget, are still subject to discussion, according to CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro.

“This promotional effort will both educate consumers about the benefits of digital and high-definition television and serve as a reminder that DTV’s time has come,” added Eddie Fritts, NAB president and CEO, in a statement as the association’s convention in Las Vegas.

‘Buffy’ to slay on UPN: UPN won the bidding over The WB Network for the 2001-03 rights to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” reportedly agreeing to pay $2.3 million to $2.35 million per episode in each of the two years of the licensing deal with 20th Century Fox Television.

CWI to sell ‘Mission’ overseas: Carsey-Werner International, a division of Carsey-Werner-Mandabach LLC has been tapped by “Survivor” Executive Producer Mark Burnett to represent his newest reality series, “Combat Missions,” in the international marketplace, Carsey-Werner International President Herb Lazarus said Monday. The series stars “Survivor” veteran Rudy Boesch and is scheduled to premier
e in the United States this fall on the USA Network.

WHDH’s Carrigan on the way out: Mike Carson, general manager at NBC affiliate WHDH-TV, Boston, announced that an agreement on the extension of anchor Kim Carrigan’s contract could not be reached and her last day was Friday. The station will announce her replacement at a later time.

Ms. Carrigan was hired in 1994, when Joel Cheatwood was running the news division of that station. She has been anchoring the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts with Randy Price. Before WHDH, Ms. Carrigan worked at WHO-TV, Des Moines, Iowa.

Panasonic in video transmission business: Panasonic announced it was getting into the Asynchronous Transfer Mode distribution business, demonstrating a prototype real time, wide area network system that uses ATM technology to transmit content made with its signature DVCPRO equipment. The company said its new AJ-NP500 interface unit enables “lossless transmission of studio quality video signals up to high definition” (for both 1080-i and 720-p formats).

Set-top maker’s first 50 years: Scientific-Atlanta kicked off a six-month celebration of its 50th year in business today with the shipment of its 6 millionth Explorer digital set-top box. To commemorate the occasion, an Explorer 2100 set-top box model was presented to Time Warner Communications in Orlando, where the first interactive TV trials eight years ago paved the road for today’s interactive TV services.

AP adds 50 ENPS customers: The Associated Press announced that another 50 broadcasters chose its Electronic News Production System as their new newsroom computer system. ENPS is now an integral part of more than 340 newsrooms in 32 countries. Among the latest advocates are Emmis Communications, Fisher Broadcasting, Hearst-Argyle Television, Raycom Media, Sunrise Television Group and Time Warner Cable’s Local News Group, which selected ENPS as a core technology for New York City’s New York 1 News and future 24-hour local news channel launches.

The Force is with Sony: Hallmarks of Sony’s “Anycast” press event on Sunday included a testimonial by George Lucas and announcements of its Concadia Solutions consultancy services (a joint venture with Accenture, formerly Arthur Anderson); creation of a state-of-the-art digital news production/asset management system for Belo’s broadcast and print operations; and the launch of its XPRI networked nonlinear editing system-the first of which was bought by America Media Group. XPRI scales from standard definition to high definition TV formats and works with either baseband or MPEG compressed signals.

Separately IBM and Sony Electronics announced the installation and delivery of a newly designed and engineered digital asset management system, created to help CNN digitize its vast videotape library. The five- to-seven-year, $20-million project will put CNN’s 21 year videotape archive online.

ITV tech: Mixed Signals Technologies announced the launch of ITVsentry, ITVfirewall and ITVauto to manage, deliver and audit ITV services. It reported that Turner Entertainment Networks is currently upgrading its series of Mixed Signals’ VBIsentry units to the new ITVsentry units.

Making streaming pay: Digital Island announced a new media content management solution to deliver streaming media content online and monetize that content into new revenue streams. The Footprint Media Manager has already been picked up by Clear Channel Internet to deliver its first Internet pay-per-view Webcast: live and on-demand videos of the band O-Town.

Triveni Digital, iSurfTV partnership: Program guide Interactive TV technologies developer iSurfTV has partnered with Triveni Digital to develop a multimedia data delivery solution for interactive program guides. A prototype is being demonstrated in Triveni Digital’s Booth 3349 in the Las Vegas Convention Center at this week’s National Association of Broadcasters conference.

Swedes get in the Two Way TV game: U.K. Interactive TV games developer Two Way TV is $17 million richer, thanks to a new minority shareholder: Swedish investment house SMI Media Invest. The niche investment fund is focused on new and dynamic companies in the digital interactive TV sector across Europe. The investment will fund Two Way’s continued roll out across all digital television platforms, including satellite.

Omneon shows new technology: Omneon Video Networks is demonstrating technology at the National Association of Broadcasters convention that enables the real-time transmission of video and audio over Internet Protocol networks, using Gigabit ethernet and the IEEE 1394 standard set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The technology is one step closer to enabling TV facilities to use a packet switching backbone (which is now used mostly for standard computer data transmission) to send audio and video instead of more traditional routing schemes.

The company also announced that the BBC chose Omneon’s Networked Content Server System for two projects as part of its plans to expand its play-out infrastructure at Television Centre in London.

Terayon receiver displayed: Terayon Communication Systems is debuting its high-definition TV DTE-7585 integrated receiver, which would let cable television operators receive an off-air broadcast from a local broadcaster and convert it into a usable format. The technology is on display at NAB this week at OpenTV’s Booth S3542 and at Terayon’s Booth E5142 at the Sands in Las Vegas.

New name for Vertigo: Canadian automation and interactive production company Vertigo Multimedia has announced it is changing its name to VertigoXmedia.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications