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Oct 11, 2001  •  Post A Comment

ABC, Al-Jazeera in pact

ABC News signed a non-exclusive deal to swap video and share resources with Al-Jazeera television, the Qatar-based news organization that has suddenly become famous as the preferred outlet for Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban.

CNN last weekend had inked a deal that was supposed to guarantee it a six-hour embargo on material from Al-Jazeera, the only news organization operating with the Taliban’s blessing from Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul.

On Sunday, after the U.S. launched its attack against targets inside Afghanistan, all U.S. news organizations grabbed Al-Jazeera’s feed-including a chilling message from bin Laden-claiming fair use.

For two days, Al-Jazeera threatened ABC, CBS, Fox News, NBC News and MSNBC with legal consequences for what it called “piracy” of its footage. Finally, CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson brokered a truce by telling his U.S. counterparts that CNN would agree to sharing video of compelling news events, but not enterprise projects in which CNN was involved. And CNN said that Al-Jazeera had only been rattling legal sabers out of loyalty to CNN.

ABC News’ deal, signed Thursday by executive Bob Murphy in Qatar, allows Al-Jazeera access to ABC NewsOne video and vice versa. The two organizations may also share some equipment and uplinks (ABC has one in Northern Afghanistan, while Al-Jazeera’s in Kabul is invaluable).

“We insisted that it be non-exclusive,” said a spokesman.

CBS News, which has counted Al-Jazeera among its NewsPath subscribers, also is in talks about a reciprocal agreement.

NBC News had been in conversations with Al-Jazeera prior to last weekend, but a spokeswoman was unable to say whether those talks had resumed.

ABC axes ‘Joan,’ shuffles Tuesday: ABC is moving quickly to bolster its sagging Tuesday lineup, canceling comedy “What About Joan,” moving “Bob Patterson” to Wednesday and promoting “NYPD Blue” into the 9 p.m. (ET) Tuesday time slot starting Nov. 6.

“Blue” had originally been scheduled to return next month in the 10 p.m. Wednesday time slot (in a time-sharing arrangement with “20/20”) but will now be moving an hour earlier on Wednesday compared with its 10 p.m. Tuesday slot last season.

In a move that is sure to please series creator Steven Bochco, who had earlier voiced dismay over “Blue’s” Wednesday slotting, ABC executives think the historical ratings muscle of the cop drama will bolster prospects for Mr. Bochco’s struggling legal drama “Philly” in the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. Tuesday slot.

“Let’s just say that Bochco is doing his happy dance,” joked one ABC executive, who requested anonymity. “Blue” will temporarily fill the 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. slot on Nov. 6 with a two-hour season opener, with “Philly” set to return to its 10 p.m. slot on Nov. 13.

To make room for “Blue” in the 9 p.m. slot, ABC is moving “Spin City” an hour earlier to an 8:30 p.m. start coming out of “Dharma & Greg’s” 8 p.m. lead-in.

In the meantime, “Bob Patterson,” which dropped 33 percent in the adults 18 to 49 ratings for its second outing Tuesday, will be getting a stronger 9 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. lead-in from “The Drew Carey Show,” say ABC sources. The Jason Alexander vehicle will take over the 9:30 p.m. Tuesday slot from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” which keeps its 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Thursday double exposures.

An ABC source said as a result of the changes, “20/20” will not go on its planned hiatus.

“What About Joan,” starring Joan Cusack, proved to be a capable midseason player last season but had dropped 29 percent with Tuesday’s personal-low 2.5 rating/6 share average compared with its 3.5/9 adults 18 to 49 score for the season opener Oct. 2, according to Nielsen Media Research data. With “Patterson” dropping 33 percent week to week (2.9/7 vs. 4.3/10) from its premiere, ABC’s Tuesday lineup hit a season-low 3.3/8 in adults 18 to 49 on the night.

“There were some problems that we recognized right away. It wasn’t working, and we are moving aggressively and quickly in making what we think are the necessary fixes,” the ABC source said. “We also believe in [‘Bob Patterson’] immensely and think that its teaming with ‘Drew’ will give a much stronger, compatible lead-in.”

Still up in the air is whether newsmagazine “20/20” — or another edition of “PrimeTime” — will hold the 10 p.m. Wednesday berth come December, when “Blue” was originally slated to take the time slot. Entertainment sources say it will be up to ABC News which newsmag will fill the closing Wednesday slot into the new year.

ABC says it is still going forward with moving “Thieves” an hour earlier to an 8 p.m. Friday start (at the end of “Mole II’s” run in December), followed by “Once & Again” and “20/20.”

FCC says public broadcasters may sell ads on DTV channels: The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-1 on Thursday to clear the way for public broadcasters to sell commercials on at least some of their digital TV frequencies. Under the new rules, which FCC officials said were intended in part to help public broadcasters underwrite the cost of making the switch to DTV, noncommercial stations will continue to be required to offer at least one DTV channel of commercial-free programming. But the regulations will also permit some of the public broadcasters’ remaining DTV channel capacity to be earmarked for subscription TV services that include ads — with the federal government getting a 5 percent cut of the gross revenues.

At deadline, the National Association of Broadcasters had no comment on the initiative, which invites public broadcasters to share in ad revenues that commercial station members have traditionally had a lock on. John Lawson, president and CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations, said public stations would use the revenue to “to provide a new generation of digital educational services.” But FCC officials made clear that nothing in the agency’s rules would prevent them from offering sitcom reruns, or whatever else they might prefer.

Some of public broadcasting’s strongest advocates in Washington, meanwhile, were expressing fear that the new commercial freedom could alienate key industry support. “The FCC’s decision in my view may have the effect of accelerating the creeping commercialism in this national treasure — undermining its financial support with viewers and with congressional appropriators,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Added FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, the agency’s only sitting Democrat and sole dissenting vote: “Permitting advertisements on the digital spectrum of public television is contrary to statute, contrary to the will of Congress and contrary to the mission of public television.” But FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, defended the agency’s new regulations: “Public television will continue to do in the digital age what it has done so well in the past: serve the public interest by producing superb noncommercial educational programming.”

NBC announces Telemundo acquisition: As expected, NBC has announced that it will acquire Telemundo Communications Group, the nation’s No. 2 Spanish-language broadcaster, from its current owners, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Liberty Media and a consortium of financial investors.

The deal is valued at $1.98 billion, half in cash and half in GE stock. NBC will also assume debt at closing estimated to be $700 million.

The agreement underscores the importance of the burgeoning Spanish-language marketplace to advertisers. In recent years, Telemundo has dramatically expanded its share of the Spanish-language market by programming to both younger viewers and to those from Hispanic countries outside of Mexico. Univision, Telemundo’s ratings-dominant rival, has historically depended on Mexican-heritage viewers, who make up the biggest single block of Spanish-language TV viewers.

Telemundo President and CEO Jim McNamara and Chief Operating Officer Alan Sokol will continue in their positions following completion of the transaction. Mr. McNamara will report to Andrew Lack, president and COO of NBC.

Telemundo assets that are part of the deal include Telemundo’s national network, reaching 88 percent
of the Hispanic TV universe; 10 owned-and-operated full-power stations, including stations in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Chicago; and Telemundo’s two cable networks, the recently launched Mun2, aimed at the younger Hispanic demographics, and Telemundo Internacional.

‘Ananda’ names Armour executive producer: David Armour, a veteran producer of the “Ricki Lake” and “Queen Latifah” talks shows, has been named executive producer of King World’s freshman talker “The Ananda Lewis Show,” filling show runner slots being vacated by Jose Pretlow and Mary Duffy. According to a source close to the show, Mr. Pretlow is leaving due to an unspecified “family considerations” while Ms. Duffy is being transferred to a program development position within King World.

Prior to joining “Ananda,” Mr. Armour most recently was executive producer and creator of the talk/game/reality show pilot, “Put It to the Test,” for Studios USA/ZOO Productions and was creator of “Reality Check” for New Line Television. Mr. Armour’s most prominent credits came co-executive producer of “Queen Latifah,” where he also worked under an overall development deal with Warner Bros.’s Telepictures syndication unit. Before that he was co-executive producer of Columbia TriStar’s “Ricki” talk show.

To date, “Ananda,” which is cleared in 198 markets representing 91 percent U.S. coverage, has been averaging a 1.2 rating in households after two weeks on the air, according to the Nielsen Syndication Service report (Sept. 17-30, 2001). However, in the most recent NSS report, “Ananda’s” 1.1 rating for week of Sept. 24-30 represented a 15 percent drop from her previous premiere-week 1.3 rating nationally.

‘America Most Wanted’ entering radio realm: Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted,” as it dedicates a special episode Friday night to the manhunt for terrorists at the request of President Bush, has also led series distributor Twentieth Television to enter an exclusive arrangement with TotalMedia Communications to bring the show to radio stations nationally. Under the agreement, TotalMedia Communications will have exclusive rights to develop and distribute “AMW” programming to local radio stations in the U.S. and Canada.

“The national reach of radio, coupled with its immense local impact, will only enhance ‘AMW’s’ mission to help provide law enforcement with leads to bring criminals to justice and find missing persons,” Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television, said in a statement.

“‘AMW Radio’ will take full advantage of radio’s immediacy and its ability to move people into action,” added Frank Murphy, president of TotalMedia Communications. “The radio program will also have access to ‘AMW’s’ outstanding investigative resources.”

The “AMW Radio” programming will be produced on a daily basis, focusing on topical and breaking news stories. A Web element may also be included, linking radio station Web sites to the ‘AMW’ national Web site. The “AMW Radio” national and local Web sites will also include photos of suspects, details on cases as well as links to local law enforcement sites.

“AMW Radio” will be produced in cooperation with RLR Associates. RLR’s Vice President Gary Rosen, who developed the concept of radio application for the brand concluded, “Radio is a natural extension for the ‘AMW’ brand.”

“AMW Radio” is expected to be in distribution in early 2002.

‘Ed,’ ‘West Wing’ put NBC on top Wednesday night: It may not have had the hype of last week’s terrorism-themed special episode of “The West Wing,” but NBC’s 8 p.m. (ET) Wednesday stablemate “Ed” opened its season by improving the time slot 31 percent from its year-ago average (with “Titans”). The strong opening from “Ed” helped NBC win the night in adults 18 to 49 by a 57 percent margin over second-place ABC.

“Ed’s” 4.6 rating/12 share average in adults 18 to 49 just narrowly edged out ABC’s comedy tandem of “My Wife & Kids” (4.4/12) and “According to Jim” (4.5/12) for the hour (4.5/12), according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data. On a comparable fast national basis week to week, “MW&K” and Jim Belushi-led “According to Jim” were down 10 percent and 20 percent, respectively, from their scores in adults 18 to 49.

“Ed” boosted NBC’s 9 p.m. time slot by 53 percent in the key demo over what finale episode of “Lost” garnered in the slot last week (3.0/8). The Tom Cavanagh-led dram only came in second to CBS’s “60 Minutes II” in households (8.8/14 vs. 8.2/13) during the hour.

From there, the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. regular season opener of “West Wing” dominated the frame in adults 18 to 49 (8.7/21), households (15.0/23) and total viewers (23.2 million), down by expected single-digit percentages from last week’s ripped-from-the-headlines terrorism special. “The Drew Carey Show” (5.4/13) and “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” (4.7/11) came in second in the frame, giving ABC something to cheer about with 10 percent and 6 percent growth week to week, respectively. After a brief spurt of growth last week, CBS’s “Amazing Race” reality competition again dropped 5 percent in adults 18 to 49 (3.8/9) and 3 percent in households (5.8/9) week to week.

Holding true to form, NBC’s 10 p.m. run of 12-year-old “Law & Order” also dominated the time slot in adults 18 to 49 (8.5/22), households (14.5/24) and total viewers (22.1 million), down by single percentage points from last week’s “West Wing”-fueled stunting. CBS’s “Wolf Lake” posted a bottom-ranked and personal-low 2.4/6 in adults 18 to 49 (down 11 percent week to week), possibly placing the werewolf-like series on the endangered species list.

For the night, NBC improved a slight 1 percent in adults 18 to 49 (7.2/18), due in large part to “Ed’s” healthy opening. Coming in second in adults 18 to 49 was ABC (4.6/12), which was down 2 percent from last week. CBS’s 3.1/8 was down 6 percent. Fox, whose American League Game 1 playoff between the Oakland As and New York Yankees, came in with bottom-ranked scores in adults 18 to 49 (2.8/7), households (5.8/9) and total viewers (8.2 million) for the 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. portion of the game.

Mainframe teams with Hawk for sports-based cartoon: Mainframe Entertainment, a creator of computer animation for television, has entered into a co-venture with Tony Hawk, a professional skateboarder who will executive produce an extreme sports-based cartoon in development for the broadcast and cable networks.

Creators are looking to feature a lead character based on the skateboarder, as well as a group of kids who look up to him and become involved in various capers. The teen-based, computer-generated comedy will revolve around an extreme sports-based theme and feature many of Mr. Hawk’s stunts and tricks.

Mr. Hawk, 33, is best known for his “900” (a mid-air 360 degree somersault done 21/2 times), which existed only in theory until he landed it at the summer 1999 X-Games and then again at MTV’s Sports & Music Awards. The first and second editions of Mr. Hawk’s Pro-Skater games for Sony PlayStation were the top two best sellers in 2000. He has appeared in commercials and campaigns for Got Milk?, the Gap, Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, AT&T and Gatorade.

Mainframe Entertainment is best known for its production of the former network series “ReBoot.” Since 1994, the company has had six computer-animated television series on air in the North American market and is currently in production on “Max Steel,” “Barbie in the Nutcracker” (a direct to video feature), two original “ReBoot” TV movies and recently produced 40 half-hours of the “Heavy Gear” television series.

Baseball ratings rising for Fox Sports Net: Fox Sports Net’s 17 regional networks and Madison Square Garden Network, in which it is a partner, saw local ratings for 24 of Major League Baseball’s 28 teams’ regular-season baseball games rise a collective 10 percent compared to the 2000 season. The combined average in metered markets was a 3.3 Nielsen rating. The Seattle Mariners, who won the American League West, were the highest-rated MLB team on any regional sports network, with an average 14.9 rating on Fox Sports Net Northwest, a 58 percent incr
ease year to year. Seven other teams set FSN ratings records. The most extreme ratings growth was the 161 percent increase accomplished by the Minnesota Twins, which averaged a 4.9 rating. “To experience double-digit ratings growth for MLB on our regional networks, in an era of 300 channels and more viewer choices contributing to declining sports ratings, is a strong testament to baseball’s hometown strength and long-term value,” said FSN President Tracy Dolgin.

‘Imus’ gets five-year deal with MSNBC: MSNBC has signed a new five-year deal to simulcast Don Imus’ WFAN radio show, “Imus in the Morning,” from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. (ET) weekdays on the cable-news channel.

E.W. Scripps sees profit drop: Despite revenue increases of 16 percent and 9 percent at Home & Garden Television and the Food Network, respectively, E.W. Scripps said third-quarter profits fell 36 percent to $22.6 million and revenue dropped 16 percent to $342.1 million. A 56 percent decline in broadcast cash flow was a major factor for the Cincinnati-based company, which owns 10 TV stations — nine of them network affiliates who ran 36 consecutive hours of commercial-free coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — and 21 daily newspapers and cable networks.

Television loses millions of ad dollars post-terrorist attacks: After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when almost all of television went to commercial-free news coverage for at least part of the week, network, spot and cable television lost a combined $313.2 million in advertising revenue in one week, according to data gathered by CMR, a Taylor Nelson Sofres company.

For the week of Sept. 9 through Sept. 15, the broadcast networks lost $188.4 million, or 49 percent of weekly revenue; spot in the nation’s 75 largest markets lost $93.2 million, or 30 percent of weekly advertising revenue; and ad-supported cable networks, which were the least affected, lost $31.6 million, or 16 percent of weekly revenue, according to CMR.

UPN beats WB in Wednesday ratings race: The season premieres of The WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” and “Felicity” opened to modest returns as UPN’s “Enterprise” proved to be the tentpole behind UPN’s 39 percent ratings advantage over the Frog Network on Wednesday night.

In the 8 pm. (ET) hour, “Dawson’s” posted a 4.2 rating /6 share household average in Nielsen Media Research’s metered markets, down 19 percent from a year-ago 7 share average, but improving the slot by 17 percent over The WB’s week-ago airing of “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” movie (3.2/5). However, UPN’s “Enterprise,” in its third weekly bow, turned a fetching 7.1/10 household average, which was down 9 percent from its score last week (7.4/11), but held a 41 percent advantage over “Dawson’s.”

Things didn’t go as well for UPN in the lead-out 9 p.m. hour, where “Special Unit 2’s” 3.7/5 household score dropped 48 percent of “Enterprise’s” lead-in and dropped 17 percent from its week-ago average (3.9/6). “SU2” is also off 44 percent in share from “Star Trek: Voyager’s” year-ago average (9 share).

Also at 9 p.m., “Felicity” posted a 3.5/5 overnight score, dropping 29 percent from its year-ago 7 share average in the time period. However, “Felicity” did maintain 83 percent retention coming out of “Dawson’s” lead-in.

For the night, UPN’s 5.4/8 household mark held a 39 percent advantage over The WB’s 3.9/6 score. On a year-to-year basis, UPN is up 14 percent in share (from a 7 share), while The WB is down 14 percent (7 share).

Showtime sponsoring Alternative Media Festival: Online auteurs may want to upload their latest computer animation to Showtime’s alt.sho.com, where they can enter the cable network’s second annual Alternate Media Festival, with 10 winners collecting cash as well as an online development deal for the grand-prize winner. It works like this:

The Alternative Media Festival is open to anyone in the United States, 18 or older, who can create and upload their original electronic submissions in QuickTime (.mov), Flash (.swf), Director Shockwave (.dcr), Windows Media (.asf, .avi), MPEG-1 (.mpeg, .mpg), Java Applet (.jar), HTML (.htm, .html), Animated GIF or RealVideo (.rm). A $10,000 prize will be awarded in each of 10 categories: action/adventure, comedy, documentary, drama, experimental, family, sci-fi, thriller/horror, toys/games, and a new category to showcase and encourage work from women creators. An additional $20,000 and a development opportunity will be awarded to the entry deemed BestSHO. Submission deadline is Jan. 4, 2002.

The judging panel includes Chris Wedge of Blue Sky Studios, who is directing the computer-animated feature “Ice Age,” for Twentieth Century Fox Animation; Eric Radomski, executive creative director of animation at Film Roman, who heads up the company’s animation development; animator Doug Dooley, who is currently working on Pixar Animation Studios’ “Monsters, Inc.”; and Yvette Kaplan, who served as supervising director for “Beavis & Butt-head.”

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications