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Aug 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

AT&T, Comcast plan further talks on Broadband

Comcast Corp. soon will begin discussions with AT&T Corp. on its original $58 billion stock offer for AT&T Broadband. A source close to AT&T said the board is looking for a revised offer, since it unanimously rejected Comcast’s original bid, which included the optional acquisition of AT&T’s stakes in Time Warner Entertainment and Cablevision Systems. “AT&T will only engage in discussions if there is a signed confidentiality agreement and a serious proposal to discuss,” the source said.

AT&T has provided Comcast officials with confidentiality agreements, although nothing has been signed yet. Similar agreements have gone out to AOL Time Warner and other interested parties, presumably to keep suitors from speaking to each other. AT&T declined comment.

Comcast officials maintain their “full and fair” offer for AT&T cable would be free of regulatory concerns and doesn’t need sweetening, though Comcast president Brian Roberts Wednesday said he is willing to move on other considerations, such as acquiring and then reselling AT&T’s stakes in Time Warner Entertainment and Cablevision. Mr. Roberts also said Comcast is “committed to the cable telephony opportunity.”

Sources say AT&T would want a telephony service pact to be part of any cable system sale. “We see no reason to change the bid at this point … if something else materializes, we’ll worry about it then,” Mr. Roberts said.

During an earnings call with analysts Wednesday, Mr. Roberts said Comcast’s stellar second-quarter financial and new-services returns demonstrate how it successfully and rapidly can roll out new digital video and data services over a combined 22 million subscriber footprint and still reach its aggressive cash flow growth targets. Comcast increased its targets for full-year digital cable subscribers to 2.2 million, up from an initial forecast of 2 million at the end of 2001. It also upped its year-end target for 950,000 high-speed data subscribers, up from an original target of 750,000 data subscribers at year-end.

Comcast beat analyst estimates that reported 16 percent growth in second-quarter operating cash flow to $700 million on a 20 percent rise in revenues to $2.2 billion. The company’s cable unit reported a 13 percent rise in operating cash flow to $560 million on a 9.7 percent rise in revenues to $1.3 billion. Comcast’s content business posted 21 percent operating cash flow growth on 15 percent pro forma revenue growth in the period. Comcast reiterated its full-year guidance for 12 percent to 13 percent cash flow growth on 10 percent to 12 percent revenue growth, even though that will require the company realizing 12 percent revenue growth during the second half of this difficult economic year.

Late Wednesday, AT&T’s single-largest shareholder, John Malone, registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell an additional 115,300 shares of AT&T stock valued at $2.4 million. He has been gradually selling off his stake and has said a sweetened Comcast bid is in order.

Fox ‘s Tuesday ratings fall: Fox’s attempt to build a reality/alternative TV beachhead on Tuesday night faltered as its second week of “Murder in Small Town X” dropped 28 percent in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic Tuesday night. “Small Town’s” 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. run posted a 2.9 rating/9 share average in adults 18 to 49, finishing second in the time period despite repeat programs airing on the other Big 4 networks, according to Nielsen Media Research fast national data.

“Small Town X” was also down 10 percent week to week in adults 18 to 34 (3.5/12 vs. 3.9/13), 17 percent in households (3.9/7 vs. 4.7/8) and 18 percent in total viewers (6.0 million vs. 7.3 million).

On the other end of the spectrum, CBS’s “Big Brother 2,” which is moving to a 9 p.m. (ET) start on Aug. 7, took the 8 p.m. hour in adults 18 to 49 (3.6/13), adults 18 to 34 (4.2/15) and adults 25 to 54 (3.7/11). Its adult 18 to 34 score represented a 24 percent week-to-week increase and gave it its best Tuesday night score in the demo compared with the original “Big Brother’s” run last summer.

NBC, a big winner in its first major foray into reality programming, saw a repeat of “Spy TV” slip 12 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49 (2.9/10) at 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. NBC’s lead-out sketch comedy “The Downer Channel” also took a major 28 percent week-to-week downturn in adults 18 to 49 (2.1/7 vs. 2.9/9).

Nevertheless, NBC won the evening in adults 18 to 49 (3.0/9) by a nose over Fox (2.9/9), thanks to “Dateline NBC’s” winning 3.7/11 score (up 11 percent week to week) at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. ABC came in third for the night (2.8/8), followed by CBS (2.4/8).

HBO Family putting kids first this fall: HBO’s 24-hour family programming channel, HBO Family, is turning the lens on children and teen-agers this fall, premiering “Kindergarten,” which examines the lives of 5- and 6-year-olds, and “Freshman Year,” which takes a look at ninth-graders.

Topics examined on the 13-episode “Kindergarten” include losing teeth, time outs and being shy, while the 14-part “Freshman Year” follows a dozen teen-agers as they make the transition to high school in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley.

Also on the fall schedule at HBO Family are such reality-based looks at the kid experience as “30 by 30: Kid Flicks,” a half-hour show where kids age 8 to 18 are the filmmakers; “Planet Twelve,” a look at what really matters to 12-year-olds; and “Middle School Confessions,” an exploration of the inner lives of adolescents, hosted by actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Among the many returning and new animated series on HBO Family this fall is “Animated Tales of the World,” featuring folk tales from 26 countries around the globe.

CNN producer arrested for Internet sex crime: Alan Audet, a longtime producer at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters, was arrested early Tuesday and charged with using the Internet to entice a minor into engaging in sexual activity. The federal charge carries a potential sentence of 15 years.

According to information from the FBI office in Atlanta, members of the agency’s Innocent Images Task Force passed themselves off as a 13-year-old girl during two days of chat room exchanges with Mr. Audet, 44, who was arrested when he went to meet the “young girl.”

Mr. Audet’s most recent assignment has been as the executive producer of Bill Hemmer’s new 6 p.m. weekdays newscast. A spokeswoman for the news network said, “As a matter of company policy, we do not comment on personnel issues.”

George to produce pilot for Viacom: Terry George, creator of CBS’s freshman drama “The District,” has signed with Viacom Productions to write, produce and direct a fall 2002 drama pilot being considered by CBS. A spokeswoman for Viacom, which is the parent owner of CBS, would only divulge that Mr. George is working on an “ensemble” drama, but she offered no other details.

Mr. George, who will continue to executive-produce “The District” (co-produced by Studios USA and CBS Productions), also has a previous credit as writer and director of the HBO telefilm “A Bright Shining Life.” In 1994, Mr. George was nominated for an Academy Award in co-writing the screenplay for “In the Name of the Father” with Jim Sheridan. He went on to write “Some Mother’s Son” with Mr. Sheridan. His upcoming feature writing credits include “Hart’s War” (starring Bruce Willis) and “Trust” (starring Catherine Zeta-Jones).

‘Big Brother 2’ vacating family hour: Coming off its strongest ratings of the summer among adults 18 to 34, CBS’s “Big Brother 2” is being moved from the 8 p.m. (ET) hour to a 9 p.m. time slot starting Tuesday, Aug. 7, due to the network’s concerns that content may be inappropriate for the so-called “family hour.”

The 9 p.m. start will also apply to “Big Brother’s” airings on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Moving down to the 8 p.m. hour in place of “BB2” will be repeats of dramas “JAG” on Tuesdays and “The District” on Saturdays, while first runs of newsmagazine “48 Hours” will take the leadoff slot on Thursdays. “Touched by an Angel” repeats will take 8 p.m. Saturday turns on Aug. 25 and Sept. 1

A CBS spokesman said the network made the decision after “internal discussions,” and the move was not the result of external pressure from politicians, watchdog groups and TV critics (see next item). “BB2” has been a target of growing criticism — including from the Parents Television Council — for the knife-wielding incident (which did not make it into the show’s airing) that led to the eviction of Justin Sebik on July 11.

Timing of the schedule change is also somewhat opportune, given that CBS will be taping and hosting “The 3rd Annual Family Friendly Program Awards” Thursday in Los Angeles, where many blue-chip advertisers that are members of the Family Friendly Program Forum will be in attendance. CBS will broadcast the awards show at 8 p.m. Aug. 10.

The move comes on the heels of “BB2” scoring a personal-best 4.2 rating/15 share average in adults 18 to 34, improving 24 percent week to week and beating the original “Big Brother’s” previous mark in the demo last summer, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data.

“Big Brother 2” will still be seen in some 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. runs. The show will move from Thursday, Aug. 23, to Wednesday, Aug. 22, because of an NFL preseason game and will run at 8 p.m. to make room for CBS’s 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. Aug. 22 airing of the “Miss Teen USA 2001 Pageant.” The Tuesday, Sept. 11, broadcast of the show will move to 8 p.m. and will be followed by the “Second Annual Latin Grammy Awards.” On Aug. 18 and Sept. 8, “BB2” will be pre-empted entirely by an NFL preseason football telecast and the U.S. Open tennis championship.

Washington’s war on Hollywood heats up: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., publicly signed an open letter urging the six major broadcast networks to adopt a prime-time family hour. The letter was signed at a Capitol Hill press conference during which the watchdog Parents Television Council released a new study showing that violence, profanity and vulgarity are on the rise between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., when kids are usually watching in sizable numbers. The group examined 200 hours of network prime-time programming during the 2000-2001 season and compared its findings to its last prime-time study in 1998. While sexual scenes dropped 17 percent, references to sex were far more explicit and included discussion of oral sex, genitalia and pornography.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lieberman said the Federal Communications Commission, which routinely fines radio stations found to be in violation of its indecency laws, should consider similar enforcement against TV networks. Both lawmakers praised CBS for airing the fewest explicit scenes per hour but blasted UPN for having the most “offensive” incidents per hour, including the most profanity and violence. NBC had more sex in its programming than any network, followed closely by ABC. The senators support an antitrust exemption for the networks so they can collaborate on a code of conduct. PTC launched a $3.2 million campaign today to urge the networks to adopt a family hour and will run ads, meet with corporate sponsors and publicly shame advertisers to get its message across. Among the programs the lawmakers and the watchdog group find troublesome: “Boston Public” on Fox, “Dawson’s Creek” on The WB and “WWF Smackdown!” on UPN.

New York headed for public broadcasting duopoly: The board of WLIW-TV, a Long Island-based public television station, has agreed to merge operations with Manhattan’s WNET-TV. While reducing costs by eliminating back-shop operations, both stations will retain their individual public identities. One of the provisions of the deal, which faces state and federal regulatory approvals that could take from six to 18 months, is that Educational Broadcasting Corp. — WNET’s parent company and the licensee of the two stations — will fund production and promotion of WLIW programming for and about Long Island.

TNN scores record ratings with WWF telecast: TNN’s telecast of the World Wrestling Federation’s “Raw Is War” on Monday was the network’s most-watched telecast in its 18-year history, with 7.6 million viewers tuning in. The telecast peaked in its final segment with 9.2 million viewers watching the return of wrestler and action star The Rock. “Raw Is War” also delivered to TNN its highest household rating of 2001. The two-hour telecast achieved a 5.68 rating, up 15 percent from the average since the series launched on TNN in September 2000.#

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications