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Jul 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Disney could emerge as AT&T Broadband bidder:

CNNfn is reporting Wednesday that Walt Disney Co. could emerge as a serious bidder for AT&T Broadband since Disney has been asked to head a consortium of competitive cable companies who want to counter Comcast Corp.’s recently rejected bid. However, investment bankers point out that a joint bid for AT&T Broadband would be complicated from a regulatory, financial and ownership standpoint. Further, the conservative Disney is not likely to launch a second major acquisition, having agreed to buy Fox Family Worldwide for $5 billion earlier this week. Some analysts believe Disney is more likely to pursue single or group TV station acquisitions.

Disney President Bob Iger said earlier this week the company is still in the market for acquisitions and is eyeing AT&T Broadband. He and AT&T Chairman Michael Armstrong both publicly referred this week to previous plans to go salmon fishing — a casual meeting that could lead to some mutual dealings between the company. While anything is possible, analysts who know the companies say they are not holding their breath. News Corp. gets FCC approval to buy Chris-Craft stations: The Federal Communications Commission Wednesday announced its approval of News Corp.’s $5.35 billion acquisition of Chris-Craft Industries’ 10 TV stations. As expected, the deal was conditioned on the media giant divesting enough of the properties to come into compliance with agency ownership restrictions. But the FCC also provided waivers of up to two years to divest.

Without any divestitures, the transaction would give News Corp. interests in TV stations reaching 41 percent of the nation’s TV homes. That’s a problem because the FCC’s existing rules cap ownership at 35 percent. But under the agency’s order, approved by a 3-2 vote (with the FCC’s two Democrats dissenting), News Corp. will have at least one year to come into compliance — the clock doesn’t start ticking until after a pending network lawsuit seeking to ax the caps is resolved by the federal courts.

Also as expected, the FCC gave Fox up to two years to hold the New York Post, its WNYW-TV and Chris-Craft’s WWOR-TV in New York. That combination is a concern because the FCC’s rules generally bar broadcasters from buying a daily newspaper in their station service areas — and News Corp. already has a waiver to own the Post and WNYW.

Under a deal with the Department of Justice, News Corp. is expected to sell KTVX-TV in Salt Lake City to Clear Channel Communications. In a statement, Democratic FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani alleged that her GOP colleagues’ approval of the deal demonstrated “the lengths the commission will go to avoid standing in the way of media mergers.” But GOP FCC Chairman Michael Powell said her assertion was “not only offensive but absurd.” All 50 states now allow cameras in courtrooms: A ruling released Wednesday by the South Dakota Supreme Court to allow electronic coverage of its oral arguments means that cameras now are allowed in courtrooms in all 50 states. The ruling, signed last week, takes effect immediately. Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said that the South Dakota move and the decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court in April to allow camera coverage of its hearings (and to consider cameras in the state’s appellate courts), in addition to new legislation in both houses of Congress to open federal courts to TV and radio coverage “all give us great hope that Americans will soon have direct access to the third branch of government in every state and at the national level, too.” V-chip study: Only about 17 percent of the 40 percent of parents in the United States who now own TV sets equipped with v-chips use the technology to block programming with sexual or violent content, according to a study released by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation last week. Nonetheless, the study found that 56 percent of parents that have a set equipped with the new technology use the v-chip’s content ratings to make decisions about what to allow their children to watch. In addition, the study found that 53 percent of the parents who own sets equipped with v-chips weren’t aware that the sets included the blocking technology. Kathryn Montgomery, who as president of the watchdog Center for Media Education was one of the major proponents of v-chip technology, said the study’s findings weren’t that bad. “This stuff takes awhile, especially since the industry hasn’t done a very good job of promoting it,” she said. “It’s my hope that they will do a better job [of promoting it.]” In response, Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said, “We created PSAs to educate the public on v-chips and the rating system, and we know they ran all over the country.” Doyle signs development deal with NBC Studios: NBC Studios has signed a two-year development deal with writer-producer Tim Doyle (“Roseanne,” “Ellen”) to create and develop new comedy series. Mr. Doyle is the co-executive producer of the upcoming comedy series “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” ordered for Fox’s midseason schedule. He had also been executive producer of ABC’s new fall show “Bob Patterson,” but was recently released from the show over creative differences with producers and star Jason Alexander. Previously, Mr. Doyle also served as executive producer on the former ABC comedies, “Ellen,” and “Grace Under Fire,” as well as supervising producer on “Roseanne.”

Diller says USA Networks still on acquisition trail: Barry Diller, USA Networks chairman and CEO, told analysts in a conference call Wednesday morning that his company is still on the acquisition trail and will continue to aggressively invest in original content despite a weaker-than-expected advertising market and intensified competition. “We’ve got what we need to conduct the strategy that we have outlined,” Mr. Diller said. “At the same time, we’re serial killers here. We can’t help ourselves about opportunity. If there is an opportunity, as you have seen us do, we will follow it … and in the near term, there are some other opportunities.” USA’s upfront market was down more than 20 percent overall, with pricing declines in the low to mid-teens. However, advertising comprises only about 15 percent of USA’s total company revenues, officials said. USA Networks, which recently announced that it is acquiring Microsoft Corp.’s Expedia Internet travel service, reported a narrower second-quarter loss, citing growth at its flagship USA Cable service, television studio production, Home Shopping Network and Ticketmaster operations. The company reported a loss of $7.5 million, or 2 cents per share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $27 million, or 7 cents a share, on a 20 percent rise in overall revenues to $1.37 billion. That beat analysts’ consensus estimates. USA Networks reported a 28 percent rise in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to $249.3 million from a year earlier $194.4 million pro forma. USA’s cable networks’ revenue and cash flow grew 4 percent and 16 percent, respectively, well ahead of most competitors. Miller to continue as NBC Agency president: John Miller has signed a multiyear contract extension to continue as president of The NBC Agency. In an announcement made by Scott Sassa, president of NBC West Coast, Mr. Miller and Vince Manze will continue to serve as co-presidents of NBC Agency. “John Miller is, quite simply, one of the best in the business,” Mr. Sassa said in a prepared statement. “He has made major contributions that have helped make NBC the No. 1 network and kept us on top. In addition, he is an executive who is respected by everyone at NBC and also by his peers in the field of advertising and promotion. We are very happy that John and Vince Manze will be on hand to play key roles in our future success.” Emmy Awards presenters confirmed: Kelsey Grammer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sela Ward, Marg Helgenberger, William Petersen and David Copperfield have been confirmed as presenters for “The 53rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.” The show, to be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, w
ill be broadcast live from Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium on Sunday, Sept. 16 (8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET), on CBS. Don Mischer is executive producer of “The 53rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards,” which are presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Mr. Mischer also announced that Emmy Award-winning designer Steve Bass will be the production designer for the awards show. Mr. Bass’ recent credits include production designer on the upcoming 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Medals Plaza, “My VH1 Music Awards,” “Action Sports and Music Awards” for ESPN, and “Robotica” for The Learning Channel.

NBC gains rights to 10 years of ‘Golden Globes’: NBC has renewed the broadcast rights to “The Golden Globe Awards” with a new 10-year deal beginning with next year’s 59th annual ceremony on Jan. 20, 2002.

The Peacock Network claims the awards show, staged by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and produced by dick clark productions, has exhibited ratings growth exceeding 500 percent since it became an annual event on NBC six years ago. Last January, “The 58th Annual Golden Globe Awards” attracted a 9.9 rating/22 share in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic (up 9 percent compared to the previous year’s show) — placing it as one of the top three award shows along with the Academy Awards’ Oscar telecast and the Grammys. Overall, NBC estimates that 47.3 million people watched at least a portion of the last broadcast.

In sealing the renewal deal, Jeff Gaspin, executive vice president of alternative series, long-form and program strategy, said in a prepared statement that the Peacock is “proud of its association with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Dick Clark Productions. We’re thrilled with our success in building the Golden Globes into a major television event.”

Dick Clark and Barry Adelman are the executive producers of the “Golden Globes” telecast, with Al Schwartz and Ken Shapiro serving as producers. Ron Weed is co-producer. The WB appoints new programming execs: The WB Network has announced the following key appointments in its programming department: Michael Roberts has been named senior vice president of current programming; Keith Cox comes aboard as senior vice president of alternative programming; and Tal Rabinowitz was named manager of comedy development.

As part of the second step of re-organization of the Frog Network’s programming department undertaken by Jordan Levin, the president of entertainment for The WB, the newest moves come on the heels of three other major promotions: Carolyn Bernstein was elevated to senior vice president of drama development; and Tracey Pakosta and Mike Clements were named co-senior vice presidents of comedy development.

Mr. Roberts, who will be reporting to John Litvack, executive vice president of current programming and primetime scheduling, most recently served as executive vice president of new media company kpe and previously spent 10 years in the feature films development department as Walt Disney Pictures. He has worked on such top-grossing films as “Top Gun,” “Children of a Lesser God,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Three Men and a Little Lady,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Man of the House,” “Simon Birch,” and “Mighty Joe Young.”

Now reporting to Mr. Levin, Mr. Cox spent the past three years as senior vice president of creative affairs with the network series producers Greenblatt Janollari Studios (which has an exclusive production deal with Fox Television Studios), and was previously director of comedy development at Warner Bros. Television.

At the WBTV studio arm, Mr. Cox developed several shows for NBC’s “Must-See TV” Thursday night lineup with Bright-Kauffman-Crane Productions, as well as “The Jamie Foxx Show” and “Baby Blues” for The WB. Mr. Cox began his career as part of the original team that launched the fX for Fox, where he was director of programming.

Ms. Rabinowitz, who will be reporting to Mr. Clements and Ms. Pokosta, comes to The WB from ACME Television, which produces The WB’s upcoming freshman comedy “Reba” (starring Reba McEntire). ABC awards New Talent scholarships: ABC Wednesday announced the 10 recipients of this year’s New Talent Development Scholarship and Grant Program, an outreach/diversity program designed to nurture and support aspiring writers, directors and filmmakers from diverse backgrounds. The grants program, overseen by Carmen Smith, president of talent development programs and community initiatives, are provided to high school and college students and members of nonprofit institutions by providing support to aid in the development of new creative ideas or complete existing creative projects.

This year’s Scholarship and Grant honorees are:

— Aurora Aguero, for a proposed six-part miniseries based on the book “Macho!” by Victor Villasenor.

–John Akahoshi, for his film project “Battlefields,” the story of hundreds of Japanese Americans interned during WWII.

— Julie G. Cho, for her program entry entitled “Color of Law,” the story of two newly assigned FBI Civil Rights Division investigators working for the Hate Crimes Unit.

— Christa Dickey, for her story “Until Death Do Us Part” which deals with a couple’s invincible love being challenged by tragic mistakes and haunting secrets.

— Paul Francis, for his film “Malfunction,” the story of a black teenager’s struggles to make the football team of an exclusive boarding school.

— Mohammed Kamara, for his film project “Angels and Imams,” which deals with the issue of an immigrant coming to the United States.

— Joyce Y. Lee, for her film proposal “My Secret Wish,” in which a family ghost comes to the aid of a young Chinese-American woman.

— Nicole Roberts, whose submission — “Ricky” — is the story of what could happen when a misdirected spray of perfume causes rival fragrant spritzers to fall in love.

— Sherwyn Smith for his script “Ghetto Paradisio,” a romantic comedy with a bit of a twist.

— Billy Sorrells, III, a recent graduate of L.V. Hightower High School in Texas, for “Billy Speaks the Scope,” a talk/variety/open forum television show that puts everyday students under the “microscope” to applaud and address their achievements.

These recipients will each receive $20,000 in the form of scholarships/grants to help finance their winning submission. They will also be paired with an executive mentor for the 12-month grant period and will take part in a three-day workshop that showcases their finished project at the end of the program.

The New Talent Development Scholarship and Grant Program is just one of several key programs that ABC Entertainment has instituted to help develop and nurture new creative talent. Other notable endeavors include The Walt Disney Studios and ABC Entertainment Writing Fellowship, a program conducted in conjunction with the Writers Guild of America; and The ABC/DGA Television Directing Fellowship, a joint program between ABC Entertainment and the Directors Guild of America. Lieberman’s uniform ratings system idea criticized: Entertainment industry executives Wednesday told Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., that his idea of a universal ratings system for television, movies, video games and music is untenable. William Baldwin, president of the Creative Coalition, a Hollywood group, warned that uniform ratings are a “one size fits all” approach to varied forms of entertainment. “The solution should not come in the form of regulation or any direct or indirect form of censorship,” he said at a hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, headed by Sen. Lieberman.

“We’re dealing with vastly different art forms,” Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti said, adding “Music is for the ear. Movies are not.” GOP Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, ranking minority member on the panel, said Congress can’t legislate content because that would violate the First Amendment. Sen. Lieberman, a longtime champion of family values and a likely presidential candidate in 2004, is “interested” in uniform ratings but wants these industries to adopt them voluntarily. “I’m not talking about any legislation or government censorship today,”
he said.

Reality shows battle for Tuesday night win: Tuesday nights have become a battle of alternative series formats this summer.

Back with an original episode at 8 p.m. (ET), NBC’s “Spy TV” edged out the first half-hour of CBS’s “Big Brother 2” in adults 18 to 49, while the Eye Network show gained in the next 30-minute frame over NBC’s downbeat opening bow of “The Downer Channel.” Fox’s 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. premiere of “Murder in Small Town X” had smooth sailing against repeat programming on the other networks, winning the hour in the adults 18 to 49 and adults 18 to 34 demographics, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data.

“Small Town X,” a faux murder mystery set in a small community in Maine, turned in a 3.6 rating/10 share in adults 18 to 49 and a 3.9/13 in adults 18 to 34 to give Fox 64 percent and 63 percent improvements, respectively, over its summer-to-date (May 28-July 17) average in the time period. It was also the highest-rated unscripted alternative series in adults 18 to 49 for the night, outperforming “Spy TV,” “Big Brother” and ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Overall, “Small Town X” posted 38 percent growth in households (4.7/8) and 52 percent in total viewers (7.3 million).

NBC’s “Spy TV” posted a 3.3/11 in adults 18 to 49 to hold a narrow 3 percent edge over CBS’s opening frame of “Big Brother” (3.2/11), with both series holding even with week-ago rating levels. However, “Big Brother” grew 13 percent in the succeeding half-hour to a 3.6/11 in adults 18 to 49 and finished the hour with a 3.4/11, down 6 percent from its week-ago average (3.6/12).

ABC’s “Millionaire” owned the 8 p.m. slot in adults 18 to 49 (3.5/11), households (9.0/16) and total viewers (12.7 million), with a 3 percent week-to-week increase in the 18 to 49 demo. NBC, on the other hand, saw “Downer Channel” register a fourth-place 2.9/9 average in adults 18 to 49, down 38 percent from a “Friends” repeat that scored a 4.7/8 in the 8:30 p.m. Tuesday time slot.

Overall, Fox won the evening in adults 18 to 49 (3.3/10), improving 32 percent over its week-ago 2.5/8 average. NBC and ABC tied for second with 3.2/10 averages, while CBS came in fourth (2.6/8). Each of the Big 3 networks was essentially flat or slightly down from last week. FitzSimons becomes president, COO at Tribune Co.: Dennis FitzSimons has been promoted to president and chief operating officer of Tribune Co. John Madigan, who has been chairman, president and chief executive officer, will continue as chairman and CEO.

Mr. FitzSimons, 51, has been with Tribune for nearly 20 years, the last nine as president of Tribune Broadcasting, which he grew from six stations to 22, making it the fourth-largest station group in the country.

In another move, Jack Fuller, president of Tribune Publishing, has been elected to the company’s board of directors. Watson retires from ABC News: Washington-based George Watson is retiring from ABC News after 38 years as correspondent, producer, executive and, most recently, senior contributing editor for “World News Now,” the network’s overnight newscast, and ABC Radio. Mr. Watson’s final commentary, the subject of which is retirement, is scheduled to air early Thursday morning, the day before his 65th birthday. Meade joins CNN Headline News team: Robin Meade, most recently a news anchor at NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in Chicago, is joining the weekday anchor team at CNN Headline News, which is spiffing itself up for a relaunch Aug. 6. Ms. Meade, an Emmy winner who was a 1993 Miss America semifinalist as Miss Ohio, will report to Headline News after Labor Day.

CTAM Summit ends with awards presentation: Honors were bestowed at Tuesday’s morning sessions of CTAM’s annual Summit, which ends Wednesday in San Francisco. John Sie, founder, chairman and CEO of Starz Encore Group, received the Chairman’s Award, and Josh Sapan, president and CEO, Rainbow Media Holdings, received the Grand Tam Award.

The “Around the World in 30 Seconds” campaign that has distinguished CNN Headline News was singled out for a CTAM 25th anniversary award. That veteran tagline is due to be retired in favor of “Real News, Real Fast,” when Headline News revamps on Aug. 6.

Both Mr. Sie and Mr. Sapan used the occasion to recall cable’s watershed event in the early 1970s, when HBO became the first satellite-delivered national cable service and the business was changed forever. Now, they said in their respective speeches, cable stands at the verge of another such sea change.

The advent of the digital set-top box, said Mr. Sapan, is “an opportunity as big as the one that occurred 25 years ago.”

“Cable on demand” is the “next plateau,” said Mr. Sie. “May the best business model [transactional or subscription] win.”

In CTAM’s Tuesday afternoon session, attendees got another look at the possibilities of the broadband future courtesy of Rick Belluzzo, president and chief operating officer of Microsoft Corp., who demonstrated a beta version of the company’s XBox game system, which, he said, was designed with broadband- and Internet-enabled multiplayer interactivity in mind.

“A persistent high-speed [Internet] connection” is a “basic assumption” of Microsoft’s business scenarios for the future, Mr. Belluzzo said. “Broadband is key,” he added. “We’re betting a lot of our strategy on broadband.”

On Oct. 25, Microsoft is expected to launch Windows XP, its latest operating system, designed to operate multiple devices, facilitate digital photography and offer improved music and video software, among other capabilities, in a “connected home” with a high-speed Internet connection. Microsoft is backing that launch with a marketing campaign costing in excess of $1 billion, Mr. Beluzzo said, urging cable’s assembled marketers to get on the bandwagon with their own campaigns tying broadband to XP. ‘Rugrats’ special rakes in ratings: Nickelodeon’s 10th anniversary “Rugrats” special, “All Growed Up,” which aired Saturday, July 21, stood tall in the ratings with a 70 share among kids ages 2 to 11 in the 81-million-household Nickelodeon universe, becoming the highest-rated program in the network’s history and the highest-rated kids show ever on cable TV.

Moreover, the “Rugrats” special won its time period overall, beating not only the cable competition but the broadcast networks as well in households and in adults 18 to 49, earning a 5.8 household rating and 12 share. The previous Nick ratings record holder was also a “Rugrats” episode, which aired in January 1999.

The “Rugrats” special becomes the No. 2-ranked basic-cable program of the year thus far, trailing only TNT’s “Crossfire Trail,” the Tom Selleck western that aired last January.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications Top of page