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May 3, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Fox Television Stations cuts ties with Petry

Coming as somewhat of a major blow to station rep giant Petry Media Corp., Fox Television Stations has elected to terminate its national sales representation agreement on the jointly operated subsidiary Fox Television Sales, effective June 25.

The termination brings to an end to what was a 15-year agreement signed in 1997 between Petry and Fox Television Stations, whose 22 owned stations are estimated to represent up to $750 million in annual ad billings.

An apparent fissure developed, according to senior-level Petry sources, over an estimated $40 million owned on the 4 percent commission structure paid to Petry as well as other operational losses. On an annualized basis, Petry claimed the rep firm earned about $30 million in commissions per year through sales, back-office traffic and administrative support.

In a letter — a portion of which was read back to Electronic Media — PMC President/CEO Tim McAuliff explained to employees the joint management of Fox Television Sales worked “disproportionately in Fox’s favor.” The letter also suggested Petry management, including Chairman Arnold Sheiffer, “tried to address some of those issues” with Fox over alleged operating deficits and back compensation due on commissions.

Jim Burke, president of Fox Television Stations Inc., declined to comment on whether or not Fox is in arrears to Petry and if any sort remuneration is due to Petry for walking away from the partnership. “I have only great things to say about Petry, and they did a nice job in helping Fox stations enhance their market position,” Mr. Burke said. “But this is a decision entirely relative our stations further maximizing our market position and performance under a uniform in-house [sales] structure.”

To that end, Mr. Burke announced that Debbie Carpenter, vice president and general manager of Fox-owned WTTG-TV in Washington has been named as senior vice president of Fox Television Sales. Ms. Carpenter effectively takes over for Bill Shaw, who had served as president of Fox Television Stations but is now expected to be re-assigned, along with other staffers, to other posts within Petry Television or Blair Television. Before the Fox Television Stations partnership, Mr. Shaw had served as president of Petry Television.

During the past five years, all of the major rep firms — including Petry and Cox Enterprises’ owned TeleRep — have been faced with downsizing operations as many of the network-owned station groups have increased their station acquisitions (under the FCC’s current 35 percent ownership cap and easing of the duopoly rules) and brought their ad sales in-house.

Fox owns 22 Fox stations but also has a $3.4 billion acquisition of Chris-Craft Industries/United Television’s 10 TV stations — of which eight are UPN affiliates, one is an NBC affiliate and one is independent — pending regulatory approvals. With 32 stations overall, estimated to be representing slightly more than 40 percent U.S. coverage recognized by the FCC, it is not immediately known if their ad sales will be lumped together with the Fox Television Sales group.

Mr. Burke cautioned there are still a number of regulatory hurdles that the Chris-Craft/United TV transaction faces, but it could be could be the subject of consideration “down the road” in terms of being merging sales operations with Fox Television Sales. It could also likely mean the closure of United Television Sales but possibly present new employment opportunities with Fox Television Sales, which may need to staff up with the departure of some Petry employees.

Petry has recently come under closer management by investment firm and principal owner Sandler Capital, which installed Mr. Sheiffer as chairman just last month. He replaced Thomas Burchill, who moved into a role as executive chairman to “focus on technological opportunities within the communications industry,” a company statement said last month.

As part of the management reshuffling, Mr. McAuliff was upped to president and CEO of Petry Media Corp., while divisional presidents continued to be Val Napolitano (Petry Television) and Leo MacCourtney (Blair Television).

Petry Media Corp.’s total billings are estimated at more than $2.2 billion, with Fox’s $750 million national spot sales tally estimated to represent 34 percent of the total. Some other major client station groups — including Gannett Broadcasting, LIN Television and Hubbard Broadcasting — could actually benefit from the end of Petry’s strained marriage with Fox, since more employees and resources could be directed toward their spot sales accounts, a PMC source suggested.

NBA digs ‘Tomb’ for promotions: The National Basketball Association is continuing its full-court promotional press with what the pro league is calling an “integrated media alliance” with NBC and Paramount Pictures built around “Tomb Raider,” the video-game-based, action-adventure, summer theatrical release starring Angelina Jolie.

The deal, the first between the league and the network to promote a new theatrical feature, calls for “extensive promotions” of “Tomb Raider” in NBA programming on NBC, as well as a tune-in promotion for the “NBA on NBC,” airing during the network’s other prime-time and late-night programming, and a “Tomb Rider” sweepstakes promotion.

Paramount is backing the entire package with a reported $10 million dollar ad buy with both the NBA and NBC. The NBC Agency will be producing both the tune-in promotion spot and the sweepstakes-promotion spot. The sweepstakes spot is set to run during NBC’s NBA telecasts, while the tune-in spot will air during other prime-time and late-night programming. “Tomb Raider” spots also will run on “NBA on NBC” through until the end of the NBA finals in mid-June.

The “Tomb Raider” deal is the latest in a series of NBA promotions utilizing the league’s various media platforms, including television, the Internet, and NBA.com TV, the league’s 24-hour digital network. Recent NBA promo partners have included American Express, Budget Rent-a-Car, Food Network, Gatorade and IBM.

Walter Liss won’t leave ABC: Recently installed ABC Television President Steve Bornstein has convinced veteran Walter Liss to stay on as president of the network’s owned stations group, according to a network spokeswoman. Mr. Liss had said in January that he intended to leave his position and the network for personal reasons. Friday was to have been the day his resignation took effect.

The search for Mr. Liss’ successor had seemed to produce no clear-cut candidates. Then, last month, Robert Callahan resigned as head of the network, and Mr. Bornstein, himself a veteran of the network and Disney-owned ESPN, was installed for the second time as the executive in charge of ABC and its 10 TV stations.

“Steve asked Walter to stay,” said a source familiar with both executives, who are said to have enjoyed a good relationship. “We are all thrilled.”

Heavy hitters step to plate for producers: Extended talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Hollywood studios were scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. (PT) Thursday amid indications that progress is being made after some of the entertainment industry’s major power brokers made personal appearances Wednesday at the negotiating table.

Illustrating the level of concern among the Hollywood studio establishment, DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg, CBS Television Network President Leslie Moonves and Warner Bros. President Alan Horn were among the power brokers attending Wednesday’s negotiating session.

WGA spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden declined to divulge details of the talks or what role the three major Hollywood honchos had in the discussions but stressed that both parties are negotiating in good faith to work out a deal.

“There are very intense negotiations, a lot of hours, a lot of work being put in with a great deal of mindfulness and concern of the community and our colleagues in the industry,” said Ms. Rhoden, as quoted in a Reuters report.

But Barry Liden, a spokesman for the studio-backed Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers group, also prov
ided a ray of hope the talks could produce a new three-year pact that could save the Hollywood production community and broadcast networks from losing untold billions of dollars in revenue.

“I think both parties are interested in trying to reach a settlement as soon as we can,” Mr. Liden said.

Wednesday’s talks marked the second full day of marathon negotiating sessions to avert a writers strike against the television and motion picture industries. Although the WGA’s contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, the union is said to be committed to negotiating with the AMPTP through the end of this week or early next week. If the talks fail, it could also threaten to derail upcoming contract talks the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have coming in June and November, respectively.

Letterman just kidding about Philbin: A spokesman for David Letterman on Thursday said the CBS “Late Show” host was just joking Wednesday night when he told guest Regis Philbin that he would leave his late-night talk show in two years and that Mr. Philbin should take over.

“It would be a blockbuster hit,” Mr. Letterman said. “You saved ABC, and you come over here and save CBS.” Mr. Philbin gave such a straight-faced rendition of the conversation during the host-chat segment of Thursday’s “Live With Regis & Kelly” that some viewers who had written off the exchange as Letterman’s joshing feared they had been asleep at the wheel Wednesday night.

Asked if Mr. Letterman, who is enjoying a new wave of critical appreciation and ratings growth, had indeed decided he would step down from his nightly post when his contract ends, the CBS host’s personal publicist said, “Dave was just joking around.”

“All aspects” of the conversation, the spokesman said, were in jest.

Peacock struts stuff Wednesday: In one of the shining spots for NBC this season, its troika of Wednesday dramas — led by “The West Wing” and “Law & Order” — held the high ground with original episodes on the seventh night of the May sweeps.

NBC’s freshman drama “Ed” started the evening on a surprising note, winning the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) time slot at a 4.1 rating/13 share average in adults 18 to 49 and posting 32 percent growth from a repeat episode last week. Coming in second were ABC sitcoms “My Wife and Kids ” (4.1/14) and “Two Guys and a Girl” (3.6/11) at a 3.8/12 in adults 18 to 49 for the hour. “My Wife” and “Two Guys” were off 7 percent and 32 percent week to week, respectively, in their half-hour blocks.

From there, NBC’s “West Wing” jumped 60 percent on its lead-in hour, posting a top-ranked 6.4/16 in the demo and improving 5 percent on its previous week’s score in the key demo. Fox’s “Boot Camp” (4.8/12) reality series showed some signs of continued erosion, with a 11 percent drop week to week in adults 18 to 49. In the 9 p.m. hour, ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show” (4.6/12) dropped 6 percent coming off a repeat episode last week, while “Spin City” (4.1/10) remained flat in the demo.

NBC’s venerable “Law & Order” (7.5/20) took the 10 p.m. hour in customary fashion, improving 25 percent week to week and 17 percent ahead of its “West Wing” lead-in. In what might be a promising turn for ABC’s struggling but acclaimed “Once and Again” (4.5/12), the show improved 13 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49 and finished second in the time period.

During the 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. span, CBS’s telefilm revival of “Murder, She Wrote” came in a distant fourth in adults 18 to 49 (1.8/5) but proved a hit with CBS’s core 55-plus adult demo (13.0/25), as expected.

For the entire evening, NBC’s top-ranked 6.0/17 in adults 18 to 49, 10.8/18 in households and 15.2 million total viewers, scored 18 percent, 13 percent and 15 percent increases over last Wednesday’s averages. ABC and Fox were tied at identical 4.2/12 averages in adults 18 to 49, marking respective 5 percent and 11 percent declines. CBS (1.9/5) came in fourth with a 27 percent decline week to week in the demo.

Pegasus wings its way to new service: Pegasus Communications Corp. today officially launched its Pegasus Express service, a two-way high-speed satellite Internet service powered by DirecPC that offers always-on connectivity to users everywhere in the continental United States.

In addition to the usual high-speed access features (Web browsing, streaming video, fast music downloading) the company claims its service offers video multicasting opportunities that are now unachievable with terrestrial Internet services, such as cable and DSL. The system’s hybrid dish also enables DirecTV subscribers to get Pegasus Express and DirecTV from one receiver.

Pegasus Express is composed of a DirecPC satellite dish antenna, satellite modem, software, plus additional hardware and accessories. It is available for $600 (which includes installation) through a network of nationwide retailers and users must subscribe for an operation fee of $69.95 per month.

Kanakaris launching wireless channel: Kanakaris Wireless announced that it will be launching the first “next-generation wireless TV channel” this summer, with previews scheduled in Cannes, France, in May at the Cannes Film Festival and MforMobile Conference. The company said AK.TV will be viewable on PocketPCs as well as on any Internet enabled device and TV. Successful beta tests of AK.TV, including a webcast of a Kanakaris Wireless studio office grand opening last week, have been completed.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications