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May 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Baby Bell broadband bill approved in committee

The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed legislation Wednesday night offered by panel Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Rep. John Dingell, R-Mich., that lets the Baby Bell phone companies build out Internet backbone so they can compete head to head against cable in the broadband arena. The measure passed 32-23 after more than seven hours of contentious debate.

The bill was revised in an effort to appease critics who think it’s too favorable to the Bells. For example, under language added Wednesday, the Bell companies would have to continue providing open access to competing Internet providers, but only for three years. The bill was also amended to require the Bells to deploy high-speed Internet access to rural and underserved areas, but critics said the requirements don’t go far enough.

The measure still faces hurdles — the House Judiciary Committee is seeking to review it, a move Rep. Tauzin opposes. The congressman will now bring his bill up for a floor vote in the House before the August recess.

WGA boards OK deal: The West Coast and East Coast director boards of the Writers Guild of America unanimously voted Wednesday to approve last week’s tentative three-year contract with the Hollywood studios and broadcast networks. The next step is to mail ballots to the WGA’s 11,000-plus members. The ballots must be returned by June 4. Members of the guild can also vote at June 4 ratification meetings set up at Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif., and at WGA East’s offices in New York.

The rank-and-file WGA scribes are expected to ratify the new pact. There has been positive support for the new contract, which is estimated to garner writers $41 million in additional residual and minimum scale fees over the three-year term. However, the settlement was significantly lower than the $100 million-plus increase the union had sought for its membership.

Yet there were some key creative rights issues the WGA won on the film side from the new pact struck with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers group representing the Hollywood studios and networks.

Next up for the AMPTP is a May 15 date to begin negotiations with the 135,000-plus performing members of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, whose contracts expire July 1 and Nov. 15, respectively. The performing unions, which are expected to cooperatively negotiate their next contract, are seen as possibly backing off on some major residual and minimum scale increases in lights of the modest concessions gained by the WGA during the current economic slump.

Bureau chief Lathen to leave FCC: Federal Communications Commission Cable Bureau chief Deborah Lathen announced Wednesday that she will resign her post on May 18. She had said a few months ago she planned to leave the FCC this year.

Ms. Lathen was appointed to her position three years ago by former Democratic agency Chairman Bill Kennard. She headed the bureau at a time of tremendous industry consolidation and conducted merger reviews for the unions of America Online with Time Warner, AT&T with Media One and AT&T with TCI. She also oversaw implementation of a law designed to boost the competitiveness of satellite TV against cable.

But she leaves at a time when the FCC has unfinished business regarding digital must-carry, broadband deployment and cable ownership restrictions.

Ms. Lathen did not announce her plans for the future but did say she will rest from a job that has been “all-consuming.” FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, praised Ms. Lathen for her hard work and “remarkable contributions.”

Chernin sets qualifications for UPN partnership: News Corp. President Peter Chernin says his company will not agree to equity partnership of UPN as long as Viacom maintains operational control of the upstart network, which Viacom executives have said they would do.

“I wouldn’t see us being an investor with them having operating control. I’m not sure I see us an investor in there [UPN] anyway. We have had some talks with them, and we have looked at some numbers. Honestly, we are sort of scratching our heads right now. I’m not sure I would anticipate anything,” Mr. Chernin told the press and analysts during an earnings call Wednesday morning. While News Corp. “likes UPN,” it may opt simply to be “a good supportive affiliate,” without having to finance its losses, he said.

News Corp. recently extended by two years the UPN affiliation of the Chris-Craft Industries stations it is acquiring in New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix in exchange for Viacom licensing Fox-produced “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for UPN.

However, talks continue with Viacom about many things, including station swaps.

On other fronts, Mr. Chernin predicted Fox will do well in a “wild” upfront that will start late and move quickly. He also said he saw no threats from EchoStar or other would-be DirecTV suitors, since as News Corp. finalized plans to merge its global satellite holdings with the domestic satellite service.

“One of the attractions to General Motors [parent of Hughes Electronics, which owns DirecTV] is the apparent lack of regulatory hurdles [to] our offer,” he said. News Corp. said its fiscal third-quarter operating income was $356 million on $3.3 billion in total revenues. Its cable programming unit posted a 25 percent gain in cable cash flow, although earnings were down in filmed entertainment and were flat in television.

Sorkin honored: After veteran producer David Brown presented the International Radio and Television Society Foundation Award to “West Wing” Executive Producer Aaron Sorkin in New York today, the NBC hit’s creator thanked a long list of people, from NBC executives and “Wing” collaborators to “my friend and my lawyer, who’s been getting a bit of a workout lately.” There was a spurt of tentative laughter from the crowd at what was the only reference to Mr. Sorkin’s arrest last month on suspicion of possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana and rock cocaine.

All the speeches were short and often sweet.

Mr. Brown, who produced “A Few Good Men” when it was just Mr. Sorkin’s first long play that would turn into a big-screen blockbuster, started his introduction by saying, “I’ll skip to the bottom line: I love Aaron Sorkin” … and ended with a declaration that “I’m honored to call him my colleague and best friend.”

Fellow honoree, “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert, was introduced by his boss, Andrew Lack, who only Tuesday was promoted from NBC News president to NBC president and chief operating officer. Mr. Lack called “Meet,” the network’s longest-running show and the leading Sunday newsmaker show, a “ceremony.” He extolled Mr. Russert’s non-TV virtues, including “his pathetic support of the Buffalo Bills.”

After doing a lightly accented imitation of frequent guest James Carville in an anecdote about the Democrat whirlwind and his Republican wife, Mary Matalin, Mr. Russert listed predecessors and role models and included himself as one of the “temporary custodians” of “a national treasure.”

“Saturday Night Live’s” Darrell Hammond and Will Ferrell were introduced by freshly elevated NBC Chairman and CEO Bob Wright, who said the comic chameleons had “helped shape the campaigns” of 2000 with their impersonations of Al Gore, George W. Bush and an ensemble of other political characters.

Mr. Wright’s joke about the similarity between Mr. Gore and a still photo got a laugh that rivaled those by the restrained Mr. Hammond and Mr. Ferrell who said the catch phrase “strategery” that was adopted by the Bush administration, evolved from his own inability to pronounce the word.

Dressed in his trademark T-shirt and casual jacket, “Total Request Live” host Carson Daly introduced his boss, Judy McGrath, MTV president and MTV Group and chairman of MTV interactive music.

She set up one of the longest elements of the awards ceremony: a montage that reduced MTV’s 20-year impact on pop culture and the music industry to an MTV-style blur.

ABC wins Tuesday: Backed by a celebrity edition of “Who Wants
to Be a Millionaire” as the springboard for its Tuesday lineup, ABC stole the evening from perennial winner Fox in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic. ABC finished Tuesday night with a 13 percent increase week to week at a top-ranked 5.2 rating/14 share to hold a similar 13 percent margin over second-place Fox (4.6/13), which was down 4 percent week to week, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

“Millionaire” kicked off the 8 p.m. hour with a 4.8 /14 in adults 18 to 49, a 25 percent increase over its previous week’s score (3.7/11). The game show also finished just a tenth of a point off Fox’s comedy hour (4.9/15) of “That ’70s Show” (5.1/16) and “Titus” (4.7/13).

Meanwhile, NBC’s “The Fighting Fitzgeralds” (2.5/8) finished fourth in the key demo at 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., but it did manage a 25 percent increase that might possibly merit it second thought for a fall pickup next season. NBC’s departing “3rd Rock From the Sun” (2.9/8) managed a 26 percent increase in its May sweeps-ending series run.

At 9 p.m., ABC’s “Dharma & Greg” held all of its “Millionaire” lead-in with a 4.8/12, improving 9 percent week to week. NBC’s “Frasier” won the half-hour frame at a 6.0/16 but dropped 20 percent from a 7.2/19 average last week in adults 18 to 49.

Also continuing to be a positive midseason story for ABC, “What About Joan” (starring Joan Cusack) held 96 percent of its “Dharma & Greg” lead-in, scoring 4 percent week-to-week growth at a second-ranked 4.6/11. NBC’s “Three Sisters” (5.1/13) won the frame, marking 85 percent retention of the “Frasier” lead-in but dropping 2 percent week to week.

Fox’s “Dark Angel” drama (4.3/11) finished a competitive third in the 9 p.m. hour, posting 10 percent week-to-week growth.

Firming up ABC’s hold on the evening, “NYPD Blue” (6.2/16) closed the 10 p.m. hour with a typical win, drawing on a 13 percent increase week to week in adults 18 to 49 viewing. CBS’s “Judging Amy” (4.4/11) finished a competitive second, growing 22 percent from its previous Tuesday performance.

Getting similarly capable performances from “JAG” (3.3/10) and “60 Minutes II” (2.3/6), CBS finished fourth on the evening (3.3/9) by growing its adult 18 to 49 ratings by 10 percent. NBC, on the other hand, dropped a slight 2 percent with its third-ranked 4.1/11 average in the key demo.

More pain for ‘Chains’: UPN’s attempt to revive its “Chains of Love” reality series with the 8 p.m. insertion of “Seven Days” as a lead-in fizzled Tuesday night. In taking over “Chains'” opening Tuesday position, “Seven Days” registered a 1.8 rating/3 share household average, dropping 25 percent in share from last week, according to Nielsen Media Research metered market data.

At 9 p.m., “Chains” posted 39 percent growth from its lead-in but was largely flat compared with its own week-ago household average in the 8 p.m. slot. But “Chains'” overnight score did improve 50 percent in share over what the canceled drama “All Souls” averaged in the 9 p.m. time slot last week.

The WB’s 8 p.m. run of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (4.7/7) held a commanding 161 percent household ratings advantage over UPN’s “Seven Days” in the time slot last night. UPN has acquired the 2001-03 broadcast rights to “Buffy” from series producer 20th Century Fox Television.

In the closing 9 p.m. hour, “Buffy’s” stablemate, “Angel” (4.6/7), scored 98 percent retention of its lead-in and improved 17 percent in share from its previous week’s outing. Next week (May 15), The WB will be holding its fall 2001 upfront scheduling presentation to advertisers, where it is expected the Frog Network will renew 20th Century Fox’s “Angel” for another season.

Ad business changing fee structure: The advertising-agency business is moving slowly but inexorably away from its traditional fee structure, which is based on a percentage -of -the- billing-based fee structure, usually 15 percent, and toward performance-based compensation, according to a new study by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).

That study finds that in a three-year period (1997-2000) billing-based compensation declined from 35 percent of all agreements between agencies and advertisers to just 21 percent, while performance-based “incentive” agreements rose from 30 percent to 35 percent. (Incentive-based agreements were just 19 percent of all agreements in 1994, according to the ANA.)

Incentives are most often linked to sales goals (73 percent), agency performance reviews (58 percent) and brand/advertising awareness goals (50 percent), according to data collected from the study’s 136 corporate respondents. While the use of incentives continues to grow, the rate of increase slowed during the past three-year period, according to the ANA. The study was conducted for the ANA by Jones Lundin Beals, a Chicago-based advertising management consultancy.

“The consistently growing interest in incentive compensation indicates increasing advertiser demands for improved accountability and value for their agency compensation dollars,” said David Beals, president and CEO of Jones Lundin Beals.

E! announces eight new shows: On the verge of upfront, E! Entertainment Television has unveiled a slate of eight new series targeted at its core 18 to 49 audience and the advertisers looking to reach them. The new shows, announced by Mindy Herman, president and CEO of E! Networks, are all produced in-house and will debut either this fall or in early 2002. They are:

— “Totally True TV Tales,” a daily half-hour of true TV dish that goes behind the scenes of your program favorites (set for fall 2001).

— “Rank,” a weekly half-hour countdown show in various entertainment-related categories, such as sexiest, meanest, best and worst, debuting this fall with “The Sexiest Men in Entertainment” (this fall).

— “Making It,” a series of one-hour reality documentaries for this fall that follow aspiring hopefuls as they try to make it in Las Vegas (showgirls), Hollywood (actors) or Miami (models).

— “The Women Of …,” a series of specials profiling stuntwomen, action-adventure film actresses and the women of “Sex and the City,” among others ( this fall).

— “Assignment E!,” a weekly newsmagazine hosted by Jules Asner and Steve Kmetko, premiering in the first quarter of 2002.

— “Star Style,” a weekly look at celebrities as they have evolved through time and eras of fashion, with profiles of Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer, among others (2002).

— “Close Encounters,” a weekly half-hour “by fans for fans,” who get to meet their favorite celebrities, in person and online (2002).

— “E! POV,” a “straight, cinema-verite-style” weekly look at a celebrity’s day, as recorded by the celebrity using, employing a digital camera provided by the network (2002).

Though all the new shows are produced in-house by E!, the network does take pitches, Ms. Herman said. “We would like to work with outside production companies breaking new genres,” she said. “Let’s say we did a traditional variety show, or let’s say we did a more elaborate game show or we did a sitcom. We’d obviously want to pull in expertise from the outside.”

A year from, when E! announces its fall 2002 and early 2003 schedule, Ms. Herman predicted, there will be shows from outside producers working in these other genres. “We’ll see a much broader mix between traditional nonfiction and game-reality-variety-comedy,” she added. “No type of programming is off-limits.”

Fraud probe centers on ex-KDVR executive: According to the Denver Post, prosecutors launched an investigation yesterday into investment fraud conducted by the former managing editor of Fox-owned KDVR-TV, Denver. The district attorney’s office in Denver received a complaint that Scott McDonald, 28, solicited loans and investments from some Denver news media personalities, public relations executives and a city government spokesman. Mr. McDonald, who left the station April 20 citing “private reasons,” told the Post he “approached friends and colleagues with what I thought was a good moneymaking proposition.” He said about $100,000 in investments and loans was involved.

The Post states KDRV consumer reporter
Tom Martino plans to sue his former colleague, accusing him of fraud and failure to repay a $50,000 loan. Mr. McDonald told the paper KDVR sports anchor David Treadwell and reporter Will Jones also invested money with him.

Scientific-Atlanta sets out set-top plans: Scientific-Atlanta outlined its set-top box strategy Wednesday at the annual conference of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers and debuted two new devices. The company’s plan includes a network computer that supports HDTV (the Explorer 3100 device), a home gateway for high-speed Internet access and connectivity with other home electronic devices (Explorer 4100), and a home media server equipped for personal video recording. The two new devices and SA’s Explorer 8000 home media server (which was announced last year) are scheduled for production this year.

‘Real World’ to reel off 11th season: Before “Survivor” there was “The Real World,” MTV’s decade-old “reality” foray into the group dynamics of demographically desirable strangers thrown together in unusual communal circumstances. The 11th season of the series, premiering in January, will travel to Chicago, according to the network. Casting of the latest group of seven castaways in the urban jungle is nearly complete.

“The Real World 10” is in production in New York City and will debut in July. The show is produced by Bunim-Murray Productions.

XM launches second satellite: XM Satellite successfully launched its second satellite, Roll, and received its first signal this morning at a ground station in Perth, Australia. Its first satellite, Rock, is scheduled to begin broadcasting in mid-May — preparing for commercial service late this summer.

BSkyB writes off new media portfolio: British Sky Broadcasting has written off the entire value of its “new media” portfolio to zero at a cost of L16 million ($22.7 million), according to today’s released report on third-quarter results. BSkyB also noted its purchase from Matsushita had increased its stake to 80.1 percent in British Interactive Broadcasting Holdings and the company plans to make the venture the centerpiece of a new division within BSkyB called Sky Interactive. The resulting reorganization is expected to result in a loss of about 300 jobs, according to some reports.

Elsewhere, BSkyB reported interactive TV revenues for the period at L60 million, of which L55 million was related to betting via the telephone, the PC and interactive television.

DoCoMo sees $3 billion profit: Japan’s largest wireless phone operator, NTT DoCoMo, reported a net profit of more than $3 billion for the fiscal year ended in March, despite signs of an economic downturn. Net profit rose 45 percent to more than $3.01 billion for the year.

ACTV receives three patents: ACTV was awarded three patents to fix the problem of video switching delay between digital video signals, regardless of whether such signals are selected at the cable headend, on the digital set-top box, or on storage devices such as servers or DVDs. The patents have implications for digital television applications, particularly customized digital television video content and targeted advertising. The patents cover 114 claims and bring to 22 the total number of issued patents held by 12-year-old ACTV and its subsidiaries.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications