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Apr 27, 2001  •  Post A Comment

DemandVideo future in doubt

The future of video-on-demand content aggregator DemandVideo appears uncertain as the venture-backed business struggles to line up its third round of funding. A final decision on the company’s fate should be made next week, according to sources close to DemandVideo. The company has recently been in talks with several television studios about the possibility of licensing those studios’ content for VOD purposes, as was originally reported by Electronic Media (“Video on demand to tap TV,” April 23).

DemandVideo employees were told abruptly late last week that the company may have to suspend operations if additional financing can’t be lined up. If DemandVideo closes its doors, the collapse would be somewhat surprising given the cable and satellite industry’s bullishness on VOD and the experience of DemandVideo’s management team.

CEO Richard Hercules worked during the mid-’90s on some of the first American VOD trials at telco Bell Atlantic. During the past couple of years, DemandVideo has raised about $25 million in venture capital-with most of those funds coming from lead investors JP Morgan and Com Ventures.

Kelly out, Meidel in at Paramount Domestic Television: Paramount Domestic Television is undergoing a major shift in its organizational structure. The company will likely bring in Greg Meidel to head worldwide television, while current co-president Frank Kelly and programming executive Bobbee Gabelmann will likely depart. Mr. Kelly would probably receive a production deal after his departure.

Mr. Meidel was formerly an executive at Universal Studios before departing to form Massive Media Group.

Meanwhile, fellow Paramount Domestic Television Co-President Joel Berman will probably be bumped up the ladder, overseeing the division.

Mr. Kelly and Mr. Berman oversaw Paramount as co-presidents since September 1997. This fall, the unit will launch weekly movie review series “Hot Ticket” and relationship strip “Rendez-View” to stations for the fall.

However, the company had a rough year after seeing the cancellations of the controversial talk show “Dr. Laura” and “Real TV.” The studio was also unable to get a Caroline Rhea talk show off the ground, despite its being well-cleared, and suffered from disappointing ratings for the off-network launches of “Spin City” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

NBC shows gain on ‘Survivor’: Just as viewer buildup was expected for CBS’s next-to-last airing of “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” NBC’s “Must See TV” showed renewed life on the first night of the May sweeps (April 26-May 23).

In the preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate ratings, “Survivor’s” 17.2 rating/28 share household average marked a 1 percent decrease from its previous week’s airing. The 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) Thursday staple’s latest household tally is tracking about 4 percent lower than the original “Survivor’s” next-to-last episode (airing Aug. 16) in households (17.9/32).

Thursday night’s preliminary count of 26.0 million total viewers was off 6 percent from last week and 9 percent lower from the 28.6 million head count for the original “Survivor’s” 8 p.m. Wednesday run last summer. It should also be noted that the inaugural “Survivor” did not face the stiff competition from NBC’s original run “Must-See TV” series during “Survivor II’s” current spring run.

In the key adults 18 to 49 demographic, “Survivor’s” 10.6/30 average last night marked a 7 percent decrease from the previous week (11.4/31) as NBC’s second-ranked “Friends” (7.9/23) and “The Weber Show” (5.7/15) were up 5 percent and 12 percent week toweek, respectively.

During the 9 p.m. hour, CBS’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” won the frame in adults 18 to 49 (8.7/21) but was down 6 percent week to week in the key demo. NBC comedies “Will & Grace” (8.7/22) and “Just Shoot Me” (8.3/20) posted a second-ranked 8.5/21, posting a 16 percent week-to-week increase, which may have played a role in narrowing “CSI’s” lead in the hour.

In the closing 10 p.m. hour, NBC’s “ER” took the top spots in adults 18 to 49 (12.4/32) and households (17.2/28), increasing 7 percent and 5 percent over last week in the two respective categories. However, “ER’s” 25.0 million total viewers were off from “Survivor’s” evening-best head count.

For the evening, NBC won adults 18 to 49 (9.2/24) while increasing 9 percent week to week. CBS (7.7/20) dipped 6 percent but still beat NBC in households (12.6/20 vs. 12.3/20) and total viewers (19.4 million vs. 18.1 million). However, the Peacock Network still saw 4 percent and 6 percent increases in those categories week to week, respectively.

Fox, airing “World’s Worst Drivers” (2.5/7) and “Surviving the Moment of Impact” (3.2/8), finished a distant third in adults 18 to 49 (2.9/7) for the evening but posted an 81 percent increase from the previous week. ABC came in fourth at a 2.6/7 in adults 18 to 49, down 4 percent week to week.

‘Gilmore Girls’ boosts ratings: In one of the toughest time periods in television, The WB’s “Gilmore Girls” came back with an original episode and posted 50 percent share growth week to week in the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) Thursday time slot. The critically acclaimed “Gilmore Girls,” whose pilot script was funded by the Family Friendly Programming Forum consortium of advertisers, posted a 3.7 rating/6 share household average in Nielsen Media Research’s metered markets to kick off the first night of the May sweeps (April 26-May 23).

The news got even better for The WB at 9 p.m., with “Charmed” (4.7/7) improving 27 percent on its lead-in and holding almost even with the second hour of UPN’s “WWF Smackdown!” (4.9/7).

Over its full two hours, “Smackdown!” gave UPN a 4.4/7 average in prime time, performing even with its previous week’s average. The WB finished with a 4.2/6 household average, up 20 percent in share week to week.

Interactive ‘VIP’: Columbia TriStar Television Distribution’s syndicated action hour “VIP” is about to go interactive after a deal with Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment’s Interactive TV unit, Sony Online Entertainment, Ultimate TV and sponsor Coca-Cola. The first of four episodes is scheduled to air Saturday, followed by viewings May 5, 12, and 19.

Fans will be provided four enhanced options: “Vital Stats” (synched-to-show items about the series and cast), “Eye Spy” (a synched-to-show quiz), “My Vote” polls and the “VIP Club” online store, and an opportunity to chat with fellow fans. Advertisers will have more than 30-second spot buys; interactive ads include a loyalty-points program in which players compete for prizes.

OpenTV sees loss: OpenTV Corp. reported a pro forma net loss of $3.6 million for the quarter ended March 3 (vs. a $2.4 million loss for first quarter 2000) despite a 104 percent increase in revenues from 2000’s first quarter to $22.4 million. On a reported basis, the company’s net loss for the quarter was trimmed to $130.9 million (compared with $30.7 million. As of March 31, OpenTV had cash, cash equivalents and marketable debt securities of $226 million.

Earlier, rival Liberate Technologies posted a pro forma loss (excluding special charges) of $8.9 million for the quarter ended Feb. 28 vs. the $12.1 million recorded for the quarter ended Feb. 29, 2000. Revenues were for the quarter ended Feb 28, 2001, rose 92 percent to $14.4 million.

GM merger in fast lane: The General Motors board of directors at a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, May 1, is expected to consider News Corp.’s proposed merger of its satellite operations with its Hughes Electronics’ DirecTV satellite unit. Sources say there was positive response to News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s personal presentation of his plan to GM officials in Detroit on April 23. The original details remain unchanged: News Corp. would acquire a 35 percent stake in the new publicly traded company but would control daily operations. Microsoft Corp. could contribute up to $5 billion and John Malone’s Liberty Media up to $1 billion in the new venture, which Hughes Electronics is seeking to control. ABN-Amro analysts Peter Shorthouse said GM needs cash, has few other lucrative
options for its satellite unit and has “operational logic” for the move, which he gives a 75 percent chance of succeeding.

Clear Channel bearish: Clear Channel Communications told investors Thursday it will not provide any guidance for its financial performance the remainder of the year and lowered its second-quarter forecast. The company said its first-quarter loss widened to $309.2 million, or 53 cents a share from a loss of $39.4 million, or 12 cents a share, a year earlier due to higher expenses and continuing integration and other acquisition-related issues. The San Antonio-based company accounts for 20 percent of U.S. radio advertising.

Five more years for Powell: President Bush Friday announced his intention to give Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell a five-year extension of his term. Without the extension, which was expected, Mr. Powell’s term would have expired June 30, 2002. Mark Buse, a top aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently said the lawmaker wants to hold confirmation hearings for the extension on Mr. Powell’s term at the same time the Senate Commerce Committee considers President Bush’s three pending nominations for FCC vacancies.

‘Souls’ in purgatory: After just two airings, UPN has placed midseason drama “All Souls” on an “indefinite broadcast hiatus,” a UPN spokesman confirmed. The 9 p.m. (ET) Tuesday drama, produced by Aaron Spelling Television, averaged a 1.1 rating/2 share in adults 18 to 49 and around 1.5 million total viewers over its two airings, according to Nielsen Media Research. “All Souls” also dropped almost 40 percent from lead-in “Chains of Love.”

At press time late Friday, the UPN spokesman said it was still to be decided what program would fill “All Souls'” 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. time slot. With only four unaired episodes remaining from the six-episode order of “All Souls,” the rep said the show could reappear as a summer or midseason entry but is essentially a cancellation.

Later bloom for ‘Roses: CBS and Paramount Network Television have rolled the pilot sitcom “The Seven Roses” from fall to a midseason 2002 development project. “Seven Roses,” which has already cast a Brenda Blethyn and Kristin Chenoweth, has reportedly had difficulty casting a male lead, and Paramount felt it should extend development time on the Brits-take-over-a-New England-inn comedy, according to Tvtracker.com. Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan are executive producers.

Digital funding OK’d: The Association for Maximum Service Television board has voted to earmark up to $1.5 million of association funding and to try to raise an additional $2.5 million to launch a broadcast industry effort to improve ATSC/8-VSB, the nation’s digital TV standard. An MSTV representative said additional details of the plan are still under consideration.

Microsoft sued: Microsoft has been sued for allegedly violating a digital rights management patent issued to InterTrust Technologies Corp. The patent was issued to InterTrust, a Silicon Valley Internet services provider, Feb. 6. InterTrust filed a patent infringement complaint Thursday against Microsoft in federal court. The company claims it holds 18 patents in the field of digital rights management, with 40 others pending. The suit seeks an injunction and monetary damages.

Internet job losses rise: After two consecutive months of declining dot-com job-cut announcements, April’s figure surged 84 percent over a 9,533 posting for March to a record 17,554 layoffs, according to outplacement agency Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The agency tallied 51,564 dot-com cuts during the first four months of this year.

Hogan grapples with idea of new wrestling league: Former World Wrestling Federation star Hulk Hogan is in talks with Universal Studios to start a new wrestling federation to compete with the WWF, sources said. Plans call for live event tapings at Universal Studios, Orlando, Fla., with a possible television outlet on the USA Network. Mr. Hogan is involved in a lawsuit with former World Championship Wrestling owner Warner Bros. after an incident that took place at a pay-per-view event a year ago.

Since then, WWF President Vince McMahon has purchased the WCW and has targeted a mid-June launch date on TNN as a grand reopening for the federation.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications