Briefly Noted

May 7, 2001  •  Post A Comment

FCC to consider cross-ownership rule

The Federal Communications Commission is slated to launch rulemaking proceedings May 10 to consider axing a regulation that bars broadcasters from acquiring daily newspapers in their markets.

Re-examining the need for the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule has been a priority for FCC Chairman Michael Powell. But the rulemaking, according to a source, is expected to permit comment on a range of options, including whether to eliminate the regulation altogether, modify it or keep it on the books.

Bonnie Hammer heads up Sci-Fi Channel

Bonnie Hammer has been named president of the Sci-Fi Channel, a new position at the USA Cable division.

Most recently, Ms. Hammer was the Sci-Fi Channel’s executive vice president and general manager. Before that she was senior vice president of programming for the Sci-Fi Channel and for USA Network’s original productions and was responsible both for programming and scheduling the Sci-Fi Channel and for developing original programming for both Sci-Fi and USA.

The new title, announced on the eve of the Sci-Fi Channel’s upfront presentation in New York, recognizes Ms. Hammer’s contribution to the channel’s increased slate of original programming, which includes the upcoming “Taken,” a 20-hour miniseries from DreamWorks Television. Before joining USA, Ms. Hammer was a programming executive at Lifetime Television.

NCTA convention attendance falls

The number of exhibitors and overall registration are down for the June 10-13 Chicago convention for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, formerly known as the National Cable Television Association. The reason for the 15 percent drop from last year is primarily economic, according to Robert Sachs, NCTA president and CEO.

“It’s directly attributable to what’s happening in the economy, particularly in the technology sector,” Mr. Sachs said at a news conference last week in Washington. Mr. Sachs said that among the heavy hitters to pull out in recent weeks was Cisco Systems, which had slotted 3,000 feet on the exhibition floor.

“There were some dot-coms at last year’s show that are no more,” Mr. Sachs said. Still, Mr. Sachs said the association has signed 248 exhibitors who are using 282,000 square feet of space. He also said the association is projecting overall attendance of about 30,000-down from the slightly less than 33,000 on hand for last year’s event.

The NCTA’s name change, first announced in February, reflects cable’s transformation from a one-way video provider to a competitive supplier of advanced, two-way services, including digital video, high-speed Internet, cable telephony and interactive TV, the organization said.

GM, News Corp. talk about consolidating units

Discussions are proceeding between General Motors and News Corp. about combining GM’s Hughes Electronics Corp. satellite-distribution subsidiary and News Corp.’s Sky Global Networks satellite-distribution subsidiary into a single globe-girdling behemoth.

Hughes brings DirecTV, with about 10 million subscribers in the United States, to the table, and Sky is a presence on four continents-Asia, Australia, Europe and South America.

As always with a potential combination such as this, operational control is one of the key outstanding issues. The head of News Corp., Rupert Murdoch, who is usually a reliable source, has said he would not do any transaction that didn’t vest that control in his hands. Control is also a factor on the other side of the table in these talks: Hughes CEO Michael Smith is known as well for being an executive with an affinity for keeping the levers of power firmly in his own hands.

In a statement confirming that the talks are going forward, GM seemed to allude to that and other deal-breaker issues, saying, “There can be no assurance that the parties will reach an agreement regarding such a transaction, or that if an agreement is reached, any conditions to the transaction would be satisfied or that a transaction would be consummated.”

CNN Newsource transmits digital feeds

Syndicated service CNN Newsource began transmitting its feeds in a digital format April 30. During May, the Newsource feed will be run digitally and in analog. After May 30 the analog feed will cease to exist. To prepare for the ultimate switch, subscriber stations have been provided with two digital receivers-one will lock on the main feed (Channel 1) while the other switches between channels 2 and 5 as needed.

O’Brien heads to CNN

Former ABC News correspondent Tim O’Brien has been signed by CNN Business News and CNNfn to report on money matters-particularly for “Moneyline With Lou Dobbs”-from his home base of Washington.