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Jun 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Cable fighting high sports programming costs

The cable TV industry’s public relations campaign against soaring sports programming costs won a high-profile endorsement Tuesday from AT&T. “Sports inflation has gone through the roof,” AT&T Broadband President and CEO Dan Somers said during a panel at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s convention in Chicago. “We need to relook at this.”

In a subsequent press conference, Mr. Somers said he wanted to see if the industry could agree on its own to put the kibosh on sports rights increases. But if that doesn’t work, he said he would agree to governmental assistance. “Sports inflation has to be dealt with,” he said.

However, NCTA President and CEO Robert Sachs said there was no easy solution to a problem that many operators blame for the rate increases they pass along to consumers. “The root of the problem is players’ salaries,” Mr. Sachs said in an interview. “It’s an easier problem to identify than fix.”

In a convention session Monday, Charter Communications President and CEO Jerry Kent reiterated his proposal to check programming costs with legislation that would require sports networks to allow operators to offer sports channels out of basic tiers on an a la carte basis.

Kahl promoted at CBS: Kelly Kahl, a 51/2-year CBS programming executive, has been promoted to executive vice president of program planning and scheduling at CBS Television, as announced by Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS. Mr. Kahl, who will continue to report to Mr. Moonves, is moving up from senior vice president of program planning and scheduling, a position he has held since August 1998.

In his position, Mr. Kahl oversees all scheduling of prime-time series, special, and television movies and miniseries. Mr. Kahl played an integral role in the strategic move of “Survivor: The Australian Outback” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” to Thursday, a move that catapulted the Eye Network to a first-place finish for the evening in the household ratings and total viewers during the recently completed May sweeps.

Among Mr. Kahl’s other key scheduling moves were the transfer of “JAG” to Tuesdays, and the relocation of the hit comedy “Everybody Loves Raymond” to the highly competitive 9 p.m. (ET) Monday slot.

Mr. Kahl joined CBS in January 1996 as CBS Entertainment’s vice president of scheduling, following three years as director of network research at Warner Bros. Television. Mr. Kahl joined Lorimar Television in 1990 (before Lorimar and Warner Bros. Television combined operations) as a research intern and quickly rose through the ranks as research analyst and then manager before assuming responsibility for the department in 1993.

‘Fear Factor’ premiere attracts eyeballs: Love or leave it, when it came to contestants being entombed with rats or jumping between the roofs of moving trucks, NBC’s big leap into reality TV with the premiere of “Fear Factor” Monday night paid big dividends in young-adult demographic ratings.

Opening the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) time slot, “Fear Factor’s” 5.1 rating/17 share average in adults 18 to 49 marked about a 50 percent jump from what “Dateline” averaged in the same hour last week (3.4/11), according to comparable Nielsen Media Research fast national data. The outrageous stunts program, which some TV critics have found only slightly less dangerous than MTV’s often reviled “Jackass,” reached a 5.3/19 score in adults 18 to 34.

“Fear Factor’s” strong young-demo lead-in allowed “The Weakest Link” to post a 15 percent increase in adults 18 to 49 (5.9/16) compared to its previous week’s score. “Link,” which has also been getting heavy promotion through a pair of 20-minute truncated editions appearing at half-time during NBC’s NBA championship telecasts, also improved 16 percent in adults 18 to 49 over “Fear Factor’s” score.

Indicating that “Fear Factor” is largely a younger-skewing show, the program’s household (7.4/13) and total viewer scores (11.8 million) were about flat with “Dateline’s” measure in both categories (7.8/14; 11.9 million viewers). Meanwhile, like “Fear Factor,” “Weakest Link” swept household (9.1/15), total viewer (13.6 million) and demo wins in the 9 p.m. hour.

With a 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. repeat of “Third Watch” winning the hour in adults 18 to 49 (3.6/10), NBC unseated perennial Monday winner CBS in both adults 18 to 49 (4.9/14 vs. 3.5/10) and households (7.4/13 vs. 7.3/13) for top honors on the evening. NBC improved 29 percent in adults 18 to 49 week to week, while CBS, with repeats all evening, was down 17 percent.

Japanese cartoon coming to Kids’ WB: Kids’ WB has linked with kids series licensor 4Kids Entertainment, a global marketer of “PokÈmon,” to quickly usher in the Japanese anime series “Yu-gi-oh?!” for Kids’ WB’s Saturday morning lineup this fall. Similar to the pedigree of “PokÈmon,” “Yu-gi-oh?!” is currently one of the top-rated kids series airing on TV Tokyo in Japan, where the show is produced by NAS (Nihon Ad Systems).

“Yu-gi-oh!” is based on a comic book series that follows the adventures of Yugi, a smaller-than-average high school student who is an easy target for bullies. When his grandfather, a local game shop manager, gives him an ancient Egyptian riddle called the “Millennium Puzzle,” Yugi pieces it together and then unexpectedly becomes the powerful Game King, an alter ego. When Yugi gets into sticky situations, the Game King takes over and helps Yugi’s friends defeat their monster rivals.

Kids’ WB! jointly launched PokÈmon with 4Kids Entertainment on network television in Feb., 1999, with robust ratings in the United States not seen since Fox Kids Network’s early introduction of “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” in the mid-’90s and the syndication run of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in the ’80s. Due to this success, 4Kids Entertainment was tapped by “Yu-gi-oh! author Kazuki Takahashi to exclusively manage the property’s entire licensing program in the United States and across the international marketplace.

A representative for Kids’ WB! said that a time slot had yet to be identified for “Yu-gi-oh?!” on the network’s Saturday morning lineup, with 26 episodes of the half-hour series set for delivery next fall.

Allison to join TNT NASCAR team: Liz Allison, the widow of 1987 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year Davey Allison, manager of Davey Allison Licensing, former officer of the Winston Cup Racing Wives Auxiliary, brain-injury activist and author, has been named as part of TNT’s NASCAR team. Ms. Allison will report on the personal side of the NASCAR world and do live interviews during Busch Series and Winston Cup races on TNT, which will share the property during the second half of the NASCAR season, which got off to a hot start on Fox. Ms. Allison will also write for NASCAR.com. She makes her television debut July 8 at Watkins Glen.

CNN Headline News adds staff: CNN Headline News, which is under renovation, has hired Kris Osborn, formerly of Fox News and Channel One, as a general assignment anchor. Also, Alisha Davis, who has reported for Newsweek magazine and been Africa bureau chief for International Business magazine, has been appointed cultural and entertainment anchor. Both will be based at CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

NFL Wild Card games to hit prime time this winter: NFL Wild Card play will make its prime-time debut Saturday, Jan. 5, 2002, on ABC. The doubleheader, which has begun at 12:30 p.m. (ET) and 4 p.m. in the past, will start at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. this winter.

Execution brings in viewers: All three cable news networks experienced a dramatic spike in viewership Monday for the two hours leading up to the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. CNN lead with an average 1.0 rating and 888,000 viewers from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m(ET), followed by Fox News Channel (0.7 rating, 529,000 viewers) and MSNBC (0.6 rating, 458,000 viewers).

Peak viewership for CNN was a 1.3 and 1.176 million viewers from 8:24 a.m. to 9 a.m. Fox peaked with a 1.0 rating and 709,000 viewers from 8:28 to 8:52 a.m. MSNBC’s peak was a 0.8 rating and 596,000 viewers from 8:25 a.m. to 9 a.m.

In contrast, the 7
a.m.-to-9 a.m. weekday averages for the month to date show CNN with a 0.2 rating and 153,000 viewers, followed by Fox (0.3/212,000) and MSNBC (0.3/198,000).

Powell warns cable MSOs: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, who somersaulted onstage at the NCTA convention Tuesday — literally — warned multiple system operators that excessive greed about digital must-carry and such issues as giving competitors fair access to their customers could spur a regulatory backlash.

According to the chairman’s analysis, cable is now in an enviable financial and public relations position. But complaints from consumers and competitors could quickly undermine its standing. “How well you can serve consumers will be vital,” the chairman said.

‘CBS Evening News’ scores ratings win: The “CBS Evening News With Dan Rather” averaged 8.29 million viewers the week of June 4-8. With NBC’s NBA coverage disrupting “Nightly News” two nights in the Mountain and Pacific time zones and ABC’s NHL coverage doing the same to its “World News Tonight” last week, CBS ranked as the most-watched flagship newscast for the first time since the week of July 13, 1998.

Nunan leaving UPN: UPN’s head of programming Tom Nunan, whose contract expired earlier this year, is leaving the network in what insiders are describing as a mutual and amicable decision. Mr. Nunan, an alumnus of Fox who oversaw development for that network before spending two years in charge of development for NBC Studios, joined UPN in 1997 as executive vice president of entertainment.

Talking broadband at NCTA: “The Path of Big Returns,” Tuesday’s general session at Cable 2001, the annual NCTA convention now under way in Chicago, was so wide-ranging as to be positively broadband. Highlights follow:

A pay-per-view/video-on-demand deal with a multiple system operator for the approximately 900 titles in the “Biography” program library is “about two lawyers away” from completion, according to Nickolas Davatzes, president and CEO, A&E Television Networks. That means look for the deal to be done sometime in the fourth quarter of this year.

Mr. Davatzes offered the prospective deal as an illustration that VOD, which the cable industry agrees is coming soon to a TV near you — no matter where you live — will be about more than just movies.

Eventually, viewers will be able to call up their favorite series episodes and big-ticket sporting events too. But currently, Hollywood is balking at making the VOD deals the industry needs, with Paramount, Disney, Universal, Columbia and MGM among the holdouts, according to one of the “Big Returns” moderators.

“There are concerns in Hollywood about their current business model being challenged by this new delivery method,” noted Michael Willner, president of Insight Communications, who added that the studios’ “holdback of product” is causing “buy rates” to go down where VOD is currently available at Insight.

Hollywood will come around to cable’s VOD proposition, said AT&T Broadband President and CEO Dan Somers, who assured the audience it was just a matter of rollout. “When you have 12 million, 15 million homes connected, you don’t think the studios are going to want to talk to us?” he said.

Speculation about the future of AT&T Broadband itself, which the parent company is set to spin off later this year, has been intense. “We are not for sale,” Mr. Somers said unequivocally, though he responded to a question about whether C. Michael Armstrong, chairman and CEO of parent company AT&T, would step into the leadership position of AT&T Broadband after the corporate split by saying only that Mr. Armstrong would “remain chairman [of AT&T] through the breakup.”

Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of Microsoft TV, denied his company was interested in buying AT&T Broadband. Microsoft will remain a software company, he said. “We are not going to own wires, not going to own content.”

Microsoft’s $5 billion investment in AT&T was simply to “foster” broadband, he added. “We are a software company that believes that broadband networks increase the value of the software,” he said.

Mr. DeVaan also highlighted the value of advanced digital set-top boxes, which the cable industry so far has mostly spurned as costly and unnecessary. “In the long run, that device [i.e., the advanced box] maximizes the revenue opportunity for cable operators,” he declared.

Asked if the advanced boxes would be deployed “in our lifetime,” he replied with a quip that drew appreciative audience laughter: “How long do we expect to be alive?”

The current digital box that is the de facto industry standard is just fine, said Maggie Wilderotter, president and CEO, Wink Communications, who enumerated its capabilities: 200 to 300 channels of programming, electronic programming guides, interactive TV capabilities, VOD capabilities, cable modem and Internet access.

Mr. Davatzes also offered technology-minded cable operators a warning: The consumer must be brought along carefully to accept the new high-tech options. “Behavior modification will take time,” he cautioned. “Technology chasing a marketplace is an invitation to disaster,” he added.

He had another warning for programmers who are proliferating their new digital networks: “What we did to the broadcasters,” he said, “we are now doing to ourselves.”

Timberman steps up at Studios USA: Sarah Timberman, previously an executive vice president of series development at Columbia TriStar Television, has been named president of Studios USA Programming. In her new position, Ms. Timberman will oversee all comedy drama and long-form and reality programming and will report to David Kissinger, president of USA Television Production Group.

Current series within the Studio USA’s network stable include “Law & Order” (NBC); “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”(NBC); and “The District” (CBS) as well as new series “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (NBC) and “The Agency” (CBS); and midseason series “The (Mis)Adventures of Fiona Plum” (The WB), “Trial & Error” (NBC) and “In Search Of …” (Fox).

At Columbia TriStar Television, where she served as executive vice president, series development since 1999, Ms. Timberman oversaw the development and production of “Family Law” (CBS), “Dawson’s Creek” (The WB), and “Party of Five” (Fox). She also shepherded such 2001-02 season series as “The Guardian” (CBS), “What Are You Thinking?” (NBC), “The Tick” (Fox) and “Pasadena” (Fox). She was promoted to executive vice president after serving as senior vice president, drama development from1996-99.

Prior to Columbia TriStar, she served as vice president at Lewis Chesler Productions, where she oversaw all series and telefilms for HBO Showtime and Lifetime. Prior to that, Ms. Timberman was an assistant editor at Random House publishers in New York.

“[Ms. Timberman] has exceptional taste and judgement as demonstrated by the many distinctive and successful series she has developed,” said Mr. Kissinger in a prepared announcement. “Under her leadership I’m sure that Studios USA is poised for a time of enormous growth and creativity.”

“I’ve known David for years, and have been constantly impressed by his intelligence, creative passion and personal integrity, all of which are reflected in the outstanding group of producers and executives that he has assembled,” Ms. Timberman said. “I’m looking forward to both the challenges and opportunities that face an independent studio, and hope to keep Studios USA the kind of place where creative people can do their best work.”

UPN to show MGM films: UPN has struck a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to air 57 MGM feature films on Saturday afternoons starting Aug. 4. Under the 50-50 partnership, MGM will manage the national ad sales and split 50 percent of the revenue with UPN (the affiliates get the other 50 percent) and also will secure clearances in non-UPN markets, which represent some 14 percent of the country. The titles in the package include “Three Amigos” and “Rocky V” to the “All Dogs Go to Heaven” series and “Hoosiers.”

Chicago teams bring in viewers: WB affiliate WGN-TV, Chicago, earned a 13.7 Nielsen Media Res
earch rating and 34 share on Sunday afternoon during the interleague Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs game. It was the highest-rated Cubs/Sox game since interleague play began in 1997, up 19 percent from last year’s game.

Scripps executive to retire: Jim Hart, vice president of E. W. Scripps Co. and senior vice president of the company’s stations division, Scripps Howard Broadcasting, will retire on July 1. A replacement has not yet been named.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications