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Dec 14, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Posted Friday, Dec. 14, at 11:35 a.m. (PT); last updated at 5:05 p.m.

NBA, ABC make television deal

Los Angeles-The Walt Disney Co. reached a deal with the National Basketball Association to carry games on ABC and ESPN starting with the 2002-03 season, AdAge.com reported late Friday. Disney is said to be working out a deal worth more than the reported $1.3 billion that NBC made as a final offer. “We’re still having conversations,” said an ESPN spokesman. NBC’s deal with the league expires at the end of the current season.

Meanwhile, AOL Time Warner reached a separate deal with the NBA to carry games on Turner Broadcasting System’s TNT. AOL TW plans to remodel CNN/SI into less of a sports news network and more of an ESPN competitor, AdAge.com said. CNN/SI is expected to carry 100 NBA games in the 2002-03 season. That network, which may be rebranded AOL Sports, will be 50 percent owned by the NBA and 50 percent by AOL TW.

Both the Disney and Turner contracts are expected to be signed soon. Turner, NBC, and NBA spokesmen declined comment.

KNTV-TV talks gain momentum: There were indications late Friday that discussions about NBC purchasing KNTV-TV, the Granite-owned San Jose station scheduled to become an NBC affiliate on Jan. 1, were suddenly on a fast track to conclusion. Young Broadcasting, which owns KRON-TV, the San Francisco station losing its NBC affiliation, had hoped to convince NBC to buy the station doomed to become an independent Jan. 1, but NBC would not consider offering more than half of Young’s $800 million-plus asking price. The most recent speculation puts NBC’s bid for KNTV in the neighborhood of $200 million to $250 million. A source familiar with the NBC-KNTV talks said the deal could be done by Monday.

Vivendi seals stake in EchoStar: Vivendi Universal and EchoStar Communications say their new eight-year, broad-based strategic partnership works for them — but will it work for Barry Diller and his USA Networks?

That’s what industry analysts and press were feverishly sorting out Friday in the wake of Vivendi’s announced $1.5 billion equity stake in EchoStar — and, eventually, the merged EchoStar-DirecTV — which will give the media giant an assured U.S. platform for new branded channels it plans to launch with its own programming and Canal Plus interactive technology. That technology will be integrated into EchoStar’s next-generation advanced set-top boxes, which are expected to soon reach 4 million combined EchoStar-DirecTV homes annually.

EchoStar Chairman Charlie Ergen said the $1.5 billion and a new $700 million high yield offering, combined with bank debt, will offset a $5.1 billion bridge loan made to secure its proposed acquisition of Hughes Electronics and its DirecTV unit. Mr. Ergen, who said the deal remains on track, said he is giving Vivendi assured carriage of its new channels, revenue sharing in its content and technology platforms, and a share of subscriber fees. Vivendi would have an 11 percent interest in EchoStar, but less than a 5 percent interest in a merged EchoStar-DirecTV entity. Vivendi’s investment is not contingent on EchoStar completing its acquisition of DirecTV.

In conference calls with industry analysts and press, Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Paul Messier sounded more tentative than he has all week about the status of his negotiations with USA Networks’ Mr. Diller, warning more than once that it is uncertain a deal will materialize. Mr. Messier said the EchoStar distribution deal — the only one of its kind Vivendi Universal will do, provides all the U.S. distribution the company seeks for its content and technology. However, it will seek commercial carriage agreement with cable operators to carry its new branded music, game and film channels, which will premiere next year, and will continue to work one way or another with USA Networks, in which Vivendi Universal has a 41 percent stake.

Until Friday morning, a deal seemed imminent between the two companies that would merge the TV and film production and distribution assets of USA Networks and Vivendi Universal into a stand-alone company that would be owned by Vivendi Universal but managed by Mr. Diller. There are concerns that key executives at Universal are balking at the suggestion they would have to answer to Mr. Diller.

Mr. Diller is seeking assurances he will be able to operate with enough autonomy, although he would have to answer to Mr. Messier. On another important note, Mr. Diller would be majority owner and control his remaining interactive assets (including Ticketmaster and HSN) in a company renamed USA Interactive. Vivendi Universal has been set to pay as much as $12 billion for USA’s TV and film assets, more than half of which Mr. Diller would use to buy back Vivendi’s stake in his company. Midday on Friday, there was no clear reading on where the negotiations or talks stood. Before Vivendi’s EchoStar announcement Friday, a Vivendi-USA deal had been expected to be announced as early as next week.

Reality not dead, say nets: Development of reality programming, a genre taking some lumps in the ratings lately, is still steaming ahead at the broadcast networks. At NBC, which still has been experiencing some ratings success with “Fear Factor” and “Weakest Link,” is said to have other almost a dozen alternative series in active development. NBC is said to have licensed the rights to “Battle of the Network Stars,” a campy series of 19 celebrity-driven athletic specials that previously aired on ABC (1976-88) and was hosted by the late Howard Cosell. Trans World International, a TV sports production/distribution company owned by sports management firm International Management Group, is said to own the rights to “Battle of the Network Stars,” but company officials were not available to confirm if TWI was leasing the air time on NBC for future airing on the network.

Talent agency sources say NBC may also be interested in a revival of the former network game show “Let’s Make a Deal” (ABC 1963-77; NBC, 1989-91). “Let’s Make a Deal” had been in development last summer for a potential, future syndication run. NBC officials and NBC spokespeople were unreachable for comment on the status of alternative series development.

Nielsen to meter N.C. markets: Nielsen Media Research has selected the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson market as one of the next two to be metered in 2002, Electronic Media has learned. The market is the 35th largest DMA in the country. Asheville is in North Carolina; the other three cities in the market are in South Carolina.

Cable execs to depart: Two senior cable ad-sales executives are leaving their posts. At A&E, 16-year veteran Ron Schneier, executive VP, sales and marketing, will be leaving in March with the intention of joining either an independent film company or taking another entertainment/media-company post.

At Court TV, eight-year veteran Gig Barton has left to pursue other interests, according to a network statement. He has been replaced by Charlie Collier, who has been appointed executive VP, advertising sales. Mr. Collier was previously at Oxygen Media, where he was senior vice president for ad sales, and before that he was an ad sales VP at A&E.

WB’s ‘Birds of Prey’ on deck for next fall: Teen heartthrob Clark Kent from The WB’s breakout “Smallville” could have a companion in Batgirl in a new drama called “Birds of Prey” in development for the Frog Network next season.

“Birds of Prey” will feature three young females — ranging from their late teens to late 20s — that will re-invent the crime fighting lore behind the Batgirl character and her two “helpers” popularized in the D.C. comic books and former ABC series (1965-68), according to Mike Tollin, executive producer of “Smallville” and partner in Tollins/Robbins Productions.

“Certainly, we think [“Birds of Prey”] would hit the sweet spot of The WB’s core demographics [females 12 to 34],” Mr. Tollin said. “There is no other commitment other than to make the pilot this spring, but The WB has indicated it could be scheduled with ‘Smallville’ or used to springboard another night on their schedule.”

The sla
ted fall 2002 entry, Mr. Tollin said, is being developed jointly among Tollin/Robbins, Miller-Grough Productions, Warner Bros. Television, D.C. Comics and The WB. Laeta Kalogridis, a screenwriter who penned “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” is attached to write the pilot script for “Birds of Prey,” which will be executive produced by Mr. Tollin, Brian Robbins and Joe Davola.