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May 11, 2001  •  Post A Comment

CBS, Fox in best shape, analysts say

Wall Street on Friday was declaring Viacom (owner of CBS) and Fox the winners of what analysts expect will be a slow-to-start and sluggish upfront advertising market. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Lehman Bros. were among the investment bankers issuing reports Friday saying Viacom and Fox will benefit from high program ratings, strengthened demographics and bundled broadcast and cable programs. Analysts expect advertising upfront commitments to decline 10 percent to 15 percent from last year’s highs, with inventory sales hovering around 65 percent to 70 percent.

Big 3 revenues flat: First-quarter prime-time revenues for the Big 3 broadcast networks were flat at $2.9 billion, according to the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association. Combined prime-time revenues rose 2.6 percent to $1.4 billion, while combined news revenues fell nearly 10 percent to $207 million, and children’s revenues plummeted more than 30 percent to $12 million from the previous year. Morning news saw the biggest gain, of 6.5 percent to $159 million in revenues. Even with the January Super Bowl telecast, combined sports revenues rose a mere 1.9 percent to $742 million.

Comcast buys 110,000 customers: In its continuing quest of AT&T Broadband systems, Comcast Corp. said it will pay $500 million cash to acquire 110,000 customers of AT&T in Baltimore. That translates to $4,545 per subscriber.

Mike Smith might exit Hughes: Although News Corp. President Peter Chernin did not respond this week to press questions about the fate of Hughes Electronics Chairman Mike Smith, analysts say they expect Mr. Smith to leave in the event News Corp. completes its proposed acquisition of Hughes. Mr. Smith recently failed in an effort to raise a counterbid in tandem with another media partner that would have kept him in control of a publicly spun-off Hughes and its DirecTV unit.

Microsoft conducts interactive tests: Microsoft Corp. announced the completion of its first deployment of cable-based interactive TV services for trial. Guinea pig Globo Cabo of Brazil will begin testing Microsoft TV Basic Digital middleware this month using 250 Samsung digital set-top boxes in the city of Sorocaba. If all goes well, Globo Cabo plans to add other services powered by additional Microsoft TV products, including Microsoft TV Advanced, Microsoft TV Server and Microsoft TV Access Channel Server.

Globo Cabo intends to deploy at least 600,000 digital set-top boxes during the next five years, joined by Microsoft TV and interactive TV software provider NDS Group Plc.

Tribune Media buys stake: Tribune Media Services announced Friday that it bought a majority interest in TV Data Technologies, a Glens Falls, N.Y.-based provider of programming information and editorial features to media and entertainment companies.

The terms of the agreement were not disclosed. The company said that the investment will enable the new combined entity to compete both domestically and internationally against rivals such as Gemstar-TV Guide International. TV Data already has international agreements and relationships in South America and the United Kingdom.

Forum-funded ‘Raising Dad’ slated for fall: One of at least three series that was funded by the Family Friendly Programming Forum and went to pilot is making the schedule in fall 2001: the sitcom “Raising Dad,” for The WB’s 9:30 p.m. (ET) Friday time slot.

“Raising Dad” stars Bob Saget (formerly of ABC’s “Full House”) as a teacher and single father with two daughters. The Forum, a consortium of about 40 advertisers, fronted script funding for the Paramount Network Television pilot, which was created and executive-produced by Jonathan Katz (formerly of Comedy Central’s “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist”) and John Markus (“The Larry Sanders Show”).

Meanwhile, “Murphy’s Dozen,” a Warner Bros. Television-produced pilot that received Forum funding, is being considered for potential midseason entry, according to a source close to The WB. The Frog Network was the first beneficiary of Forum script funding, with the successful planting of “Gilmore Girls” as a critically received 8 p.m. Thursday hit.

Porn issue heats up VOD launch in L.A.: AT&T Broadband is planning to soon introduce video on demand to digital cable subscribers in the Los Angeles area. But in preparing the new service, the multiple system operator must contend with the issue of whether to offer Vivid On Demand’s Hot Network — a pornographic content channel airing programming that is considered more sexually explicit than the shows run on the Playboy and Spice channels.

A consortium of religious organizations that controls about 3 million shares of AT&T stock has been lobbying the MSO to distance itself from the adult network. Such a challenge isn’t likely to impact the cable operator’s plans in Los Angeles, which houses the seat of the nation’s porn industry in the San Fernando Valley. But the cultural dispute may become a nuisance for AT&T as it rolls its VOD services out in other markets. ACTV Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President Richard Yelen, who helped develop Cox Communications’ pay-per-view strategy when he served as the cable operator’s director of cable TV marketing before joining ACTV, thinks that AT&T should stick to its adult-programming guns.

“There are ways to have it and not flaunt [it],” Mr. Yelen said. “If you put it out there, you don’t have to do any heavy marketing. … At the end of the day, AT&T has a business to run.”

‘Dark Angel’ might move to 9 p.m. Friday: To shore up its Friday schedule, sources say Fox is considering moving 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) Tuesday drama “Dark Angel” to a 9 p.m. Friday time period berth. According to a source close to Fox, it’s thought the modestly received freshman “Dark Angel” could benefit more from a “Police Videos” lead-in at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. The potential insertion of “Dark Angel,” which is produced by 20th Century Fox Television, could spell a cancellation for struggling freshman midseason “X-Files” spinoff, “The Lone Gunmen.” A spokesman for Fox declined to confirm a potential move of “Dark Angel” or “Lone Gunmen’s” potential cancellation, saying only that the schedule was still up in the air as late as Friday.

Although “Roswell” was not listed in The WB’s preliminary schedule plans last week, network officials declined to confirm if there has been a cancellation of the 9 p.m. Monday drama. A spokesman for The WB said moderately rated “Roswell,” which is produced by 20th Century Fox Television, could still be in consideration for a midseason run during the 2001-02 season.

On the heels of The WB losing 20th and Regency Television’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to UPN in last month’s bidding war for the 2001-02 rights, there has been rampant speculation that if The WB let “Roswell” go, UPN would snatch up its rights for a scheduling slot next season. Meanwhile, WB officials have confirmed that “Buffy’s” current 9 p.m. Tuesday companion, “Angel” (also produced by 20th and Regency), will return to The WB’s same time slot next fall.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications