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Jul 24, 2001  •  Post A Comment

House gets tough on marketers of violent, graphic content

On the eve of a Wednesday morning Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on media content, a movement is afoot in the House to crack down on those who market graphic and explicit movies, games and music to kids. Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced legislation Monday that arms the Federal Trade Commission with the authority to penalize movie studios, record labels and video game companies that peddle violent, sexual or profane content to youngsters. The bill is identical to legislation that Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate panel, has already offered in the upper chamber.

“If you are going to have a rating system, PG, R, adult, whatever it may be, then let us make that, if it is adult-rated, you do not advertise in preteen and teen-age magazines and on movies that are G-rated and do not market it on TV programs that are primarily aimed at children,” Rep. Osborne said in a floor speech. Sen. Lieberman is exploring the idea of a universal ratings system for television, movies, music and video games. Curley retiring from Ackerley Group: Denis Curley is retiring as co-president and chief operating officer of The Ackerley Group as of Aug. 13. Chris Ackerley has been named Ackerley Group president.

Mr. Curley has been with Ackerley for more than 15 years and has shared the presidency since 1997. He oversaw the group’s pioneering Digital CentralCasting strategy that allowed clusters of stations to share resources. He will be a member of the Ackerley board and will be a consultant to the company.

Mr. Ackerley has spent the last 18 years in various leadership roles in the company founded by his father Barry. He was named co-president and board member in February 2000.

AT&T makes case for retaining cable system control: AT&T Corp. and AT&T Broadband officials in a midday conference call Tuesday made a case to investors and Wall Street analysts for retaining control of the companies’ cable systems — or at least selling them at a much higher premium if it ever comes to that.

AT&T officials vowed to attain $500 million in run rate cost-savings by year-end and earnings growth to meet or exceed industry benchmarks within three years. They also expect unlevered positive free cash flow by the end of 2003. The company said it is committed to its integrated services approach to cable, which lowers acquisition cost and churn.

With AT&T’s digital video business growing 49 percent, high-speed data up 23 percent and telephony up 68 percent, company officials said their cable telephony business will turn profitable within nine months. It is angling to be the industry leader in earnings (cash flow) and average revenue per subscriber, which is currently at $55.34 per month. It also vowed to turn its basic cable subscriber growth from a negative to a positive this year.

Although AT&T Broadband President Dan Somers would commit only to 3 percent margin gains in 2001, he said the company’s two-year margin improvement within two years exceeds anything promised by Comcast Corp., whose recently rejected bid for the broadband unit was based on the notion that it can operate AT&T Broadband more efficiently and profitably.

AT&T acknowledged that The Walt Disney Co. also is studying whether to make a bid for the broadband operations. AT&T Chairman and CEO Michael Armstrong said the special session with investors and analysts conducted Tuesday was not to flesh out higher bids for the broadband unit. “Having been shut down by all the proxy filings, exchange offerings and spinning of companies, we really hadn’t shared with our shareholders what we were doing to make this business more valuable,” Mr. Armstrong said.

“We thought before we go into the end of our strategic and financial assessment of our options that it was appropriate to let people know what we’ve done, what we’re doing and where we are going with the business. We had no more complicated agenda than that.”

AT&T Broadband, which Mr. Somers says has “turned the corner,” Monday reported better-than-expected second-quarter revenue growth of 13.7 percent to $2.57 billion and earnings margin growth of 5 percentage points to 23.4 percent from 18.3 percent in the first quarter, achieved primarily through aggressive cost cutting. AT&T Broadband has eliminated about 10,000 jobs during the past six months, generating $156 million in savings, and plans an additional 3,000 job cuts through year-end. The company also plans to cut corporate overhead in half to $250 million. Broadband earnings in the second quarter grew 33 percent to $500 million, excluding restructuring charges.

AT&T Broadband was a bright spot in an otherwise down quarter for AT&T Corp., which posted a second quarter loss of $149 million, or 5 cents per share, on 3 percent lower revenue of $13.3 billion. A year earlier, AT&T reported a profit of $1.77 billion, or 53 cents per share. AT&T said it expects similar financial returns in the third quarter. AT&T said that excluding one-time charges, its continuing operations earned 4 cents per share, down more than 90 percent from the 47 cents per share a year ago.

Thomas-Graham new head of CNBC: Effective immediately, day-to-day control of CNBC is passing from Bill Bolster to Pamela Thomas-Graham, 38, whose promotion is a score for diversity in the network’s corporate ranks.

The announcement of the move, described as the next step in the succession plan that has been in place since February, was made by NBC Chairman and CEO Bob Wright and NBC President and Chief Operating Officer Andrew Lack.

Mr. Bolster’s new title is chairman and CEO of CNBC International, and he will be focused entirely on overseas expansion. He will report to Mr. Wright, who is considered an ally, instead of Mr. Lack, who is not considered a fan of Mr. Bolster.

Ms. Thomas-Graham’s new title is president and CEO of CNBC. She will report to Mr. Lack and oversee all of the channel’s domestic operations, from programming to brand synergy.

Mr. Bolster, known as much for his take-no-prisoners management style as for his business successes, had run NBC’s flagship station WNBC-TV, New York, before being named president of CNBC in 1996. He became chairman and CEO of the financial channel in February, when Ms. Thomas-Graham was promoted from president and CEO of CNBC.com to president and chief operating officer of CNBC.

Ms. Thomas-Graham joined McKinsey & Co. in 1989 and by 1995 had become the management consulting firm’s first black woman partner. She led McKinsey’s media entertainment practice until taking over CNBC.com in 1999. Bohrman takes on CNN producer role: David Bohrman, who left CNN in August 1999 amid headlines and rancor about the end of his tenure as the executive vice president of CNNfn, is back in the CNN family as of Tuesday as senior executive producer of a New York-based prime-time news show being developed for Aaron Brown.

Mr. Bohrman and Mr. Brown first worked together in the early ’90s at ABC News, when Mr. Bohrman was executive producer of the then-quirky, cult-fave overnight newscast “World News Now,” which Mr. Brown and Lisa McRee co-anchored.

Jennifer Bloch, a producer previously assigned to “Crossfire,” will be executive producer of segments in Mr. Brown’s show.

Mr. Bohrman had been spotted at CNN headquarters in Atlanta recently (EM, July 9). After leaving CNN in the wake of the exit of Lou Dobbs, who returned to CNN to try to restore the luster to “Moneyline” last spring, Mr. Bohrman made a failed attempt to save Pseudo.com from the dot-com trash heap. More recently, he was a consultant to TechTV, the Vulcan Ventures-owned cable channel devoted to technology. CBS schedules early ‘Race’ rollout: Surviving an onslaught of “Big Brother” questions, CBS Television President and CEO Leslie Moonves unveiled an accelerated fall schedule rollout, including the Wednesday, Sept. 5, premiere of big-budget reality series “The Amazing Race” for the Eye Network’s 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) time slot. It had been expected that the bulk of the networks’ schedules would be somewhat stagge
red to counteract Fox’s October run of the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series.

Mr. Moonves told TV critics, assembled for the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., that the earlier-than-anticipated scheduling of “Amazing Race” had been “pre-determined” before NBC confirmed last week that its competing travel-adventure series “Lost” will be starting on the same night at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., as first reported in the July 16 issue of Electronic Media.

In the reality genre, the first new series concept to make its debut is often considered by viewers and critics as the series that sets the mold for those to follow. This time, it will be “Race” and “Lost,” albeit in different time periods. The shows will nonetheless be facing other scripted series competition for the hearts and minds of viewers.

“It [‘Lost’] had no influence in our scheduling,” Mr. Moonves said after CBS’s presentation. “Actually, we were more concerned about getting an earlier start on ‘West Wing,’ which, from what we understand, won’t be as far into its production cycle and won’t start until several weeks or more after ‘Amazing Race’ debuts. At least, it could give us a better chance to build early sampling, because ‘West Wing’ is a formidible, great competitor.”

Additionally, Mr. Moonves has slated “Survivor: Africa” for a Thursday (9 p.m. to 10 p.m.), Oct. 11, start, with the third edition of the hit reality series likely to end on Jan. 10, 2002. Mr. Moonves also confirmed that there will likely be 13 episodes — rather than the typical 14 episodes of originals — to fit four semifinalist contestants into the “finals” installment.

The interval between “Survivor III” and “Survivor IV” is also being shortened, with Mr. Moonves saying it is highly likely the latter will launch right after the February sweeps, which is when NBC will dominate the schedule with its telecast of the 2002 Winter Olympic games from Salt Lake City. With production already starting in Africa on “Survivor III,” it will mean that executive producer Mark Burnett will conceivably have to turn around production of “Survivor IV” by the end of the year.

Taking into the account the tighter turnaround, Mr. Moonves said it is likely that much-ballyhooed trial celebrity version of “Survivor” will likely have to wait until the 2002-03 season or later.

Repeated questions popped up from the critics over the knife-wielding incident on “Big Brother.” However a more recent alleged incident, where housemate/bar owner Michael (no last names are divulged) reportedly propositioned now-evicted housemate Autumn for oral sex in exchange for him not voting her out, also cropped up the press cropped up during CBS’s TCA session.

Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Entertainment, said she did not see or hear the alleged oral sex proposal, which may have been included in CBS.com’s uncensored, subscription-only video streaming feed. “First of all, these are just simply allegations. I have not heard from the producers of something like that actually happening, and obviously it would not have been something to make broadcast,” Ms. Tellem said, in light of CBS having a standards and practices executive on site of “Big Brother’s” house set.

Mr. Moonves and Ms. Tellem said they felt that “Big Brother’s” executive producer, Arnold Shapiro, acted appropriately in immediately evicting New Jersey bartender Justin Sebik from the house after he held a knife to the neck of female housemate Krista. Mr. Moonves said Mr. Sebik had “cleared” all psychological and criminal background checks and that there was no previous indication of aggressive behavior from the banished contestant.

Ms. Tellum also indicated that the practice of allowing housemates alcohol as a “reward” has not been discontinued, but the show’s producers are looking to reduce the amount of “stocked” booze that contestants can stash in the house.

As for CBS’s remaining series rollouts, the youth-targeted, ensemble drama “Wolf Lake” will debut Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 10 p.m., later going against NBC’s hit drama “Law & Order.” CBS’s Monday lineup, which stays intact except for the special preview of “The Ellen Show” (starring Ellen DeGeneres) at 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., kicks off Sept. 17. “Becker” re-takes its 9:30 p.m. Monday slot Sept. 24. Tuesday kicks off the following night, featuring the 9 p.m. drama premiere of “The Guardian,” sandwiched between “JAG” and “Judging Amy.”

On Thursday night, CBS is keeping mum on its 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. starter until “Survivor: Africa” takes over in October, but the network has “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and the new CIA-based drama, “The Agency,” unspooling on Thursday, Sept. 20. Friday’s lineup starts Sept. 21, with “The Ellen Show” leading off the night. The Saturday and Sunday night premieres follow on successive nights (Sept. 22 and 23), featuring the debuts of “Citizen Baines” and “The Education of Max Bickford” both holding featured 9 p.m. time slots, respectively. In light of Disney/ABC’s acquisition of Fox Family Channel, Mr. Moonves said it was a “great” move, but CBS did not necessarily feel any pressure to repurpose any prime-time series for shared cable runs on Viacom-owned sister network TNN.

CBS already has sold a back-end (repeat) run of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” to TNN for a record $1.6 million per episode, but Mr. Moonves noted that doesn’t trigger until fall 2002, after the series has run on CBS for two full years.

Mr. Moonves was also asked if, with the amount of consolidation among Viacom divisions such as UPN, the Paramount Television Group and the MTV Networks, he had any interest in picking up oversight of any of those divisions. He said he was not interested, because he has his own “little network” to be concerned with.

On the subject of advertisers backing out from nonfamily-friendly shows recently, such as Procter & Gamble, who has said it is not interested in advertising on “Big Brother,” Mr. Moonves said, “That’s OK. Advertisers pick the shows that they’re most comfortable with. We are getting more 18- to 24-year-olds with that show than we are used to getting. It is a lot easier when you have safer shows, but you just sort of shift the money around, and we’re doing fine.”

Cucci named Comedy Central COO: Comedy Central has promoted John Cucci to chief operating officer. He will report to Larry Divney, president and CEO of the network. Mr. Cucci previously served as executive vice president and chief financial officer for the cable channel.

In his new position, Mr. Cucci’s responsibilities will include oversight of the network’s licensing and merchandising operations as well as home video, broadcast syndication and other ancillary and new business opportunities. He will continue to directly oversee the company’s finance, corporate strategy, information technology and facilities groups and will also be indirectly involved in all aspects of the company’s ongoing operating activities.

Mr. Cucci has been at Comedy Central since the company’s inception in 1991, when he joined as vice president and controller. Schuler delivers optimistic forecast at CTAM: While the financial markets are correcting, “consumers are more engaged than ever,” AOL Chairman and CEO Barry Schuler told attendees in a Monday keynote address at the annual Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) Summit, now under way in San Francisco.

Mr. Schuler’s upbeat address was essentially a State of the Web and Future of Broadband report in which he urged attendees to look beyond near-term problems.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “Every house is going to have broadband. I won’t tell you when, but it will.” In that broadband future, according to Mr. Schuler, technologies will be “interoperable,” the delivery of industries ranging from telephony to music, publishing and advertising will be transformed by the Internet, and there “may be tens of thousands of channels.”

One sign of the change that is coming, Mr. Schuler said, is that veteran Warner Bros. film executive Terry Semel is now running Web portal Yahoo! “What an opportunity” for the cable industry, he said of
what he called the coming “Age of Transformation.”

Driving the mass adoption of the cable industry’s cable-modem technology, he said, will not be the desire of consumers for high-speed Internet access. Instead, cable modems will allow “households to become multi-use Internet households.”

Currently, AOL has 30 million subscribed households, Mr. Schuler said, with an average of 2.3 persons per household. But fully 75 percent of those households have only one computer, so the battle for screen time — to check e-mail, play games, etc. — is on. “Demand is growing” for high-speed home networks to which people can hook up multiple computers and other devices, he said. That is the demand that will drive the mass market for cable modems, Mr. Schuler predicted.

Key corporate media attributes for success in the coming Age of Transformation, Mr. Schuler said, will be subscriber relationships, great brands, powerful marketing capabilities, highly scalable network operations, home installation capability and a transformational mind-set.

That was a message that CTAM’s attendees wanted to hear.#

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications