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May 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

FCC postpones debate on cross-ownership

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday yanked its planned review of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban from the agenda of its public meeting Thursday because two of the four commissioners are divided on how to proceed.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell promised House lawmakers only a month ago he would initiate a rulemaking in May to review the restrictions, which bar entities from owning both a newspaper and television or radio station in the same market. The FCC has made some exceptions to the ban, but industry sources say they need clarification on what combinations the agency deems permissible. Some broadcasters have been anticipating a relaxation of the rules ever since Mr. Powell, a Republican, made his comments. But Commissioners Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a Republican, and Gloria Tristani, a Democrat, were prepared to vote against the rulemaking because they don’t think it adequately reflects their views. Mr. Furchtgott-Roth wants the ban repealed because he thinks it’s outdated, but Ms. Tristani wants it retained to protect the diversity of viewpoints in communities.

Mr. Powell and Commissioner Susan Ness, a Democrat, fall somewhere in the middle. They want to explore all sides of the issue and would consider eliminating the ban in situations when it is no longer justified. To avoid a 2-2 deadlock, Mr. Powell opted to pull the agenda item. At deadline it was unclear whether the commissioners might reach a consensus and move ahead with the proceeding “on circulation,” i.e. behind the scenes and without a public meeting.

Another possibility is that the FCC will simply wait until a new batch of commissioners is in place, given that Ms. Ness and Mr. Furchtgott-Roth have already announced plans to leave. There has also been speculation that Ms. Tristani will step down from her post. Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold confirmation hearings on a new set of commissioners next week, creating an opportunity for further debate on the issue.

Carsey-Werner-Mandabach shifting its NATPE focus: Carsey-Werner-Mandabach Distribution will go international at next year’s National Association of Television Program Executives convention. The distributor will change its approach to the market, according to Bob Raleigh, president of the syndicator — much like the moves made earlier this year by Warner Bros., which pulled out of the annual convention because of costs and a declining attendance of domestic buyers.

The company has opted to use a smaller booth next year to be used mainly for international sales, while much of the domestic sales force will take suites at the Venetian Hotel, where Warner Bros. will be present with its domestic sales force.

“We have decided on a reduced physical presence on the floor, which will mainly focus on our international sales,” Mr. Raleigh said. “Our domestic force will be located either in the hotel or be on the road. It’s purely a more effective means for sales in this day and age.”

Mr. Raleigh and Warner’s Domestic Television Distribution President Dick Robertson were vocal at this year’s NATPE convention, questioning the cost-effectiveness of the conference with budget cutbacks and consolidation limiting attendance of local station managers.

Foxx inks deal with Nick: Actor/comedian Jamie Foxx has signed a feature development deal with Nickelodeon Movies, the theatrical-feature division of the kid-friendly cable network.

The one-off deal calls for him to star in, co-write and executive produce “We Do,” a family comedy about a bachelor who is afraid of commitment but marries a woman with a large extended family. Mr. Foxx is managed by Marcus King and Jaime King of King Management and represented by Michael Gruber & Rick Kurtzman at Creative Artists Agency.

Second Spanish-language network to launch: A second Univision-owned Spanish-language network is expected to be up and running by January now that Univision Communications’ proposed $1.1 billion cash acquisition of USA Broadcasting’s 13 full-power stations as well as USA’s minority interest in four additional stations, has been fast-tracked by the Federal Trade Commission, which has granted Univision and USA’s request for early termination of the waiting period called for under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.

Though still subject to approval by the Federal Communications Commission, the deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2001.

The new network will target the 40 percent of Hispanic Spanish speakers who do not watch Spanish-language TV, according to a spokesperson.

The wholly owned USA stations are in many of the largest urban markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, Tampa, Fla., Houston, Cleveland and Orlando, Fla. The minority-owned stations are in San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis and Washington.

Lack upped to president, COO at NBC: Andrew Lack will become president and chief operating officer of NBC and a member of parent company General Electric Co.’s Corporate Executive Council effective June 4. The announcement was made by Bob Wright, who has been NBC president and chief executive officer since 1986. Mr. Wright will take the new title of chairman and CEO.

The executive shift will free Mr. Wright — who will continue to have Sports, Olympics, CNBC International and NBC staff operations reporting to him — to concentrate on the network’s parent company, where legendary Chairman Jack Welch is scheduled to turn over the reins to President and Chairman-elect Jeff Immelt later this year.

Reporting to Mr. Lack, who had been described as longing for a new challenge for some time, will be Entertainment, NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, NBC Stations, Operations, Sales and Affiliate Relations — all divisions headed by executives he knows well.

Mr. Lack’s successor as president of the news division is expected to be the well-liked Neal Shapiro, executive producer of “Dateline NBC,” although that announcement is not expected until later in the week.

After 17 years as an award-winning producer at CBS News, Mr. Lack joined NBC as president of a news division bloodied by self-inflicted wounds, the most serious of which had been the incident involving the staging of a fire for a “Dateline” story questioning the safety of GM trucks.

Mr. Lack quickly brought order — and expansion — to the division, turning “Dateline” into a multinight franchise, making MSNBC a news channel that capitalizes on NBC News’ star stable and adding the third hour of “Today.”

“Andy is an astute manager with a keen programming sense,” Mr. Wright said in a memo to NBC staff Tuesday.

“I want to make it clear that I will remain extremely involved at NBC,” wrote Mr. Wright, who also will continue as vice chairman and executive officer of GE. “But as Jeff Immelt takes over the helm of GE, one of my key duties becomes providing Jeff and GE’s top leadership with advice on broadcast and media.

Baby Bell bill in committee: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will meet Wednesday to consider legislation offered by panel Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., that’s designed to make the Bell phone companies more competitive against cable in the high-speed Internet access business. The bill, which lifts restrictions on Bell provision of broadband, is triggering considerable opposition from lawmakers who don’t want the Bells deregulated until they open their monopoly markets to competition.

Texas delegation boosts Northpoint plan: A bipartisan group of 26 Texas congressmen, urged the Federal Communications Commission Monday to move quickly to approve Northpoint Technology’s pending plan to offer a wireless video and data service nationwide. Northpoint says it would carry local signals and cable channels and provide high-speed Internet access. But Northpoint wants to share spectrum with direct broadcast satellite services, which insist the upstart would cause interference for their customers. Northpoint has connections to the Lone Star state; Chula Reynolds, one of its founders, is a Texan and the company has tested it
s system in the state.

‘Boston Public’ beats ‘Weakest Link’: Fox swept up Monday night, the 12th day of the May sweeps, with rookie “Boston Public” picking up 20 percent in adults 18 to 34 and 6 percent in adults 18 to 49 week to week. According to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate ratings, “Boston Public” won the 8 p.m. (ET) hour in adults 18 to 34 (5.3 rating/16 share) and in adults 18 to 49 (5.1/15), beating CBS’s comedies and NBC’s “Weakest Link.”

In some good news for NBC, “Weakest Link’s” second-ranked 5.0/15 average in adults 18 to 49 grew 19 percent week to week, virtually recapturing the 20 percent-plus loss in the demo in its previous week’s airing. “Link’s” 5.4/14 in adults 25 to 54 and 6.9/13 in adults 55-plus also scored 15 percent and 10 percent gains week to week.

That would be the only bright spot for NBC. The closing installment of the two-part miniseries, “The Judge” (starring Chris Noth), dropped 40 percent of adults 18 to 34 (2.5/7) and 30 percent of adults 18 to 49 (3.2/8) from what “Dateline” and “Third Watch” averaged in the 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. block last week.

NBC finished the night in a third-place tie with ABC in adults 18 to 49 (both at 3.8/10 averages), the latter of which aired a repeat of the movie “Air Force One.” NBC was down 16 percent week to week, while ABC slid 21 percent from the previous Monday’s airing of “Armageddon” in the key demo.

Fox, which saw “Ally McBeal” down by 12 percent in adults 18 to 34 (5.2/14) and 6 percent lower in adults 18 to 49 (5.9/14), came out even week to week at a winning 5.5/15 average.

CBS’s 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. comedy lineup — “King of Queens” (4.5/14), “Yes, Dear” (4.3/12), “Everybody Loves Raymond” (7.0/18) and “Becker” (5.8/14) — improved 17 percent for the week in adults 18 to 49 during the two-hour span (5.4/14). And drama “Family Law” improved 11 percent in adults 18 to 49 (4.0/11), giving CBS a competitive second-place finish in adults 18 to 49 (4.9/13) for the evening, up 14 percent week to week.

Nubla drives over to KNTV: Independent station KNTV, San Jose, Calif., hired cross-town NBC affiliate KRON-TV’s traffic reporter Christine Nubla. She starts Wednesday. In January, KNTV will become the NBC affiliate in that market as KRON becomes an independent station.

Ratings ‘Heaven’ for WB show: The second Monday of the April 26-May 23 May sweeps proved to be charm for both The WB’s and UPN’s prime-time slates.

The WB’s “7th Heaven” posted a healthy 6.2 rating/9 share household average in Nielsen Media Research’s metered markets, holding even with its previous week’s average at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET).

But in a troubling sign for the fate of 9 p.m. lead-out “Roswell” — which is riding on the bubble in regards to a potential cancellation — the sci-fi series retained only 61 percent of its lead-in by posting a 3.8/5 household average. Still, “Roswell” held about even with its week-ago score in the time period.

Meanwhile, UPN’s 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. comedy duo of “Moesha” (3.3/5) and “The Hughleys” (3.2/5) posted 11 percent share improvement over previous week household averages. In the 10 p.m. hour, “The Parkers” (3.5/5) and “Girlfriends” (3.6/5) held even with previous share levels.

For their 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. prime-time schedules, The WB’s 5.0/7 household average held a 47 percent advantage over UPN’s 3.4/5 prime-time score — the latter of which was up 25 percent week to week.

Crime.com executes new plans: Crime doesn’t launch as a 24-hour cable channel until later this year, but Crime.com does have two “countdown cams” already trained on the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is scheduled to be executed at 5 a.m. (CT) May 16. A clock above the window for the streaming video is counting down the seconds to the execution by lethal injection.

In addition, to the Web cams positioned to offer round-the-clock streaming video of the activities of protesters, media and curiosity seekers outside the prison, the site is inviting users to post opinions about the rare federal execution. Other site offerings include a link to the Oklahoma City National Memorial’s official Web site, survivor testimony, the first chapter of “American Terrorist,” the biography of Mr. McVeigh written by Lou Michael and Dan Herbeck and a timeline from the blast through a “detailed rundown” of Mr. McVeigh’s final hours.

Vanguard Awards unveiled: The National Cable & Telecommunications Association announced the recipients of this year’s Vanguard Awards. AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin and Insight Communications Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Kelly will be recognized with the Distinguished Leadership Award.Sean Bratches, ESPN senior vice president for affiliate sales and marketing, and Tracy Lawrence, senior vice president and general manager for Fox Family Channel, will receive the Young Leadership Award. Home Box Office Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Bewkes gets the nod for programmers; Norval Reece, principal at Kane Reece Associates, wins the award for associates and affiliates. The science and technology award goes to Michael Hayashi, vice president for advanced engineering at Time Warner Cable.

The awards will be presented by Joe Collins, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable and chairman of the NCTA board of directors, on June 13, at a special ceremony and luncheon during NCTA’s 50th annual convention and International Exposition in Chicago.

Terra Lycos sees loss: Internet portal Terra Lycos on Tuesday reported a net loss for the first quarter that ballooned to 174 million euros despite a 60 percent gain in pro forma revenues. It had recorded a loss of 253 million euro for all four quarters of last year. The company also announced it would it would cut its work force by 15 percent.

WHO IS NEWS

Seth Skolnik to senior vice president, business development, Paramount Digital Entertainment, from vice president, development and e-commerce.

Alan Buckman to station manager and director of sales at KCBS-TV, Los Angeles, from director of sales, KPIX-TV, San Francisco.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications