Breaking News Archives

Mar 5, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Tuesday, March 5, at 10:30 a.m. (PT); last updated at 4:25 p.m.

Diller gets bigger stake in Vivendi Universal

Jean-Marie Messier is so pleased with the integration efforts Barry Diller is overseeing at the merging Vivendi Universal Entertainment that he wants to give him a little something extra. Mr. Messier told analysts during a 2001 earnings call Tuesday that Mr. Diller’s “first priority is the strong, aggressive integration and organic growth in our TV and film businesses in the U.S.”

Mr. Diller will have a 1.5 percent interest in Vivendi Universal Entertainment — and sole ownership of USA Interactive — when the transaction closes in April. “I think, from what I am seeing of Barry’s commitment, I would be inclined to add something that he has not requested so far in terms of options at either the VUE or the VU level,” Mr. Messier said.

Mr. Messier said that although anticipated U.S. media deregulation is “welcome,” he does not expect that it is going to create a short-term wave of transactions in the United States. “We could not imagine using our shares for any kind of transaction in the current market,” he said. Vivendi Universal announced a 12.6 billion euro ($11 billion) write-down related to accounting rule changes in amortization that have resulted in even bigger write-downs at other media companies.

Granite will sell or swap smaller WB affiliates: Granite Broadcasting will aggressively seek to swap or sell its WB-affiliated smaller stations for larger market, news-oriented Big 3 affiliated outlets after it completes its sale of KNTV to NBC, executives told analysts Tuesday during a 2001 earnings call. The company said its results exceeded expectations primarily due to the strong performance of KNTV — which recently became the San Francisco Bay area’s NBC affiliate — in addition to group cost controls.

Granite said its first-quarter revenue should increase as much as 59 percent from a year ago as cash flow soars to more than $13 million, compared with $684,000 a year earlier. Granite Chairman Don Cornwell said NBC’s pending arbitration with Paxson Communications should not impact the KNTV transition. But, “if the deal were to fall apart and we were able to continue owning it, I would be delighted,” he said.

Comcast has cash to cover AT&T merger debt: Comcast Corp. executives told attendees at the Bear Stearns Media Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. that they will have a funding pool of $16 billion available to cover up to $14 billion in debt, which will attached to AT&T-Comcast when the cable operations merge later this year. They also reaffirmed the planned sale of AT&T’s 25 percent stake in Time Warner Entertainment, valued at about $10 billion, to help pay off debt. Also, Comcast said it has achieved an estimated $5 per subscriber revenue boost by assuming control of the high-speed Internet service formerly provided by Excite@Home.

Bush strips FTC of media merger review power: The Bush administration proceeded with a controversial plan Tuesday to strip the Federal Trade Commission of its authority to review media mergers, stirring strong accusations from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C. “I believe this is in violation of appropriations law, which states that we be consulted. For some reason, this administration doesn’t like government,” he said. “It’s a tricky way to forgo consultation. We have our tricks too.”

The plan consolidates all media reviews under the Justice Department, which critics say means less scrutiny for some transactions because the FTC has considerable expertise reviewing complicated cable- and Internet-related combinations.

FTC Chairman Tim Muris disputes those claims. “A comparison of the relative expertise of the agencies within specific sectors of this industry further demonstrates that the DOJ is better situated to conduct these investigations,” he said. He thinks much of the FTC’s experience reviewing cable mergers is outdated. “The majority of the FTC’s cable investigations involved only horizontal issues and did not present the complex vertical issues raised by media mergers in the last few years,” he said. The plan also makes sweeping changes to the government’s review of mergers in other industries.

The administration initially tried to announce the plan in January but backed off when Sen. Hollings raised concerns. After several weeks of discussions among staffers with Sen. Hollings and the two agencies, the White House quietly announced the new policy Tuesday morning in a press release, even though the talks had not been concluded. “Under the law, they’re supposed to submit their restructuring proposal to Congress,” said Sen. Hollings, who heads an appropriations panel that funds both Justice and the FTC. Both Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., chairman of the Senate antitrust subcommittee, and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, ranking GOP member on the antitrust panel, support the administration’s effort.

Koppel argues ‘Nightline’s’ success, profitability in op-ed piece: ABC News’ late-night newsman Ted Koppel, argued in an op-ed piece for the New York Times Tuesday that the advent and growth of 24-hour cable news channels had not diminished the relevance of “Nightline.”

In addition to contributing to the network’s “commitment to operate in the public interest,” Mr. Koppel wrote, “we have also helped pay the rent. Conservatively speaking, ‘Nightline’ has earned well over half a billion dollars for a succession of corporate owners over the years. The program continues to be profitable to this day.”

Mr. Koppel also wrote that it was “perfectly uIn addition to contributing to the network’s “commitment to operate in the public interest.”nderstandable that Disney would jump at the opportunity to increase earnings by replacing ‘Nightline’ with the more profitable David Letterman show.”

It was Mr. Koppel’s first public comments on the unexpected turn of events that has been making headlines daily since The New York Times broke the news last week that ABC was in serious negotiations with Mr. Letterman.

Born of 1979’s Iran hostage crisis and expected to “come in a respectable third” in what was then a three-way late-night race, “Nightline” has done much better than that in ever more competitive times, Mr. Koppel wrote. “Over the past 22 years we have been, and continue to be, a consistent, competitive second.”

ABC News was not commenting on the op-ed piece, the ongoing corporate turmoil or reports that Disney President Bob Iger met privately on Monday in Washington with Mr. Koppel.

But an insider at the network said ABC and Disney management were growing more and more livid that throughout “this entire woe-be-me” scenario the press had been focused only on the possibility that “Nightline” might lose the 11:35 p.m. slot while little or no attention was paid to the fact that the network has said it wants to work with Mr. Koppel to develop other program platforms, including prime time.

“We want to keep both Ted and his staff as part of ABC News,” the network insider said, adding that such “magnanimous” offers are more than most people — especially those as well compensated as ABC News stars — are afforded.

Cokie Roberts confirms plans to leave ‘This Week’: ABC News released a statement Tuesday confirming Cokie Roberts’ decision to stop down as co-anchor of “This Week” after elections this fall.

As for the possibility that Claire Shipman, who left NBC News last year to become senior national correspondent for “Good Morning America,” may be a shoo-in as Ms. Roberts’ successor, an ABC News source familiar with the situation said there had been no such conversations with the Washington-based correspondent.

Ms. Roberts, 58, said that she has been talking about stepping back from “This Week” and weekend work since she renegotiated her contract a year and a half ago. She said her two-year contract was written “very specifically … to that effect” and that she has had “very productive conversations” with ABC News President David Westin. “A week or two ago I sat down with David and reminded him I wasn’t kidding. I don’t want to work weekends,” she said.
“I have grandchildren at opposite ends of the Earth. I need to see them more.”

She said she wouldn’t walk away from “This Week” on her preferred target date, which is reportedly sometime after fall elections, if no successor had been identified. And retirement isn’t what she has in mind, said Ms. Roberts, who added that she has a book contract, a role as a news analyst for National Public Radio, and a syndicated column she writes with husband Steven V. Roberts — a professor at George Washington University and contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report. She also said she intends to keep working for ABC News.

Velez-Mitchell joins KCBS-TV: Former KCAL-TV anchor Jane Velez-Mitchell was on the air as of today as a general assignment reporter for KCBS-TV, Los Angeles.

Weir looking at opportunities other than sports: Popular KABC-TV anchor Bill Weir has told local newspapers he wishes to pursue other opportunities outside sportscasting once his contract is up, which some say is in September.

‘Good Day Live’ officially going national: After much speculation in recent weeks, Twentieth Television finally made it official Tuesday: “Good Day Live” is set to go national. The syndicator will now complete what was once a slow rollout by entering the national marketplace, with some stations potentially airing the strip as soon as this summer.

The distributor earlier announced that seven markets, including Washington, would air the show beginning March 18, joining the core six stations that launched the show last December.

“Increased interest from the marketplace and a strong need for something original indicated to us that the time was right to offer the show up to stations and audiences across the country,” said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television.

CBS comedy lineup wins key Monday demos: CBS’s sitcom-fueled Monday evening lineup captured the evening in adults 18 to 49, households and total viewers, but NBC appeared to biting on the heels of Fox’s repeat comedies and sagging “Ally McBeal” franchise.

For the 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) span, CBS’s comedies — “King of Queens” (5.3 rating/14 share), “Yes, Dear” (5.5/14), “Everybody Loves Raymond” (7.8/18) and “Becker” (5.6/13) — captured every half-hour among adults 18 to 49, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data. That was enough to help CBS win the night in adults 18 to 49 (5.1/13) by a 4 percent margin over second-ranked NBC (4.9/12).

NBC’s “Fear Factor” scored a competitive second-ranked average in adults 18 to 49 (4.8/12) for the 8 p.m. hour, while ABC’s “My Wife & Kids” (3.2/9) and “Wayne Brady” (3.1/8) put their network in third place for the hour. Fox subbed the hour — normally held by the capable “Boston Public” — with only modestly rated repeat turns for “Bernie Mac” (2.8//8) and “That ’80s Show” (2.6/6).

That left an opening at 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. for NBC’s “Third Watch” to turn in a second-ranked 4.8/11 in adults 18 to 49 — marking its best demo score and first-time victory over Fox’s “Ally McBeal” (4.4//10). ABC’s “The Chair” game show short-circuited at a bottom-ranked 2.0/5 in adults 18 to 49 for the hour.

NBC’s freshman drama “Crossing Jordan” picked up on the momentum by winning the 10 p.m. hour (5.1/13), improving 6 percent on its “Third Watch” lead-in.

“Jordan” also took the hour from CBS’s “Family Law” in households (8.8/15 vs. 7.4/12) and total viewers (12.9 million vs. 10.3 million). ABC’s struggling but critically received “Once and Again” came in last among adults 18 to 49 (2.7/7), households (4.5/7) and total viewers (6.1 million) for the closing frame.

CBS first in households, but NBC wins week in 18-49s: For the first full-week (Feb. 25-March 3) free of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics — and encompassing the last three days of the February sweeps — NBC, as expected, held the momentum over hard-charging CBS, which was feeding off the 8 p.m. (ET) Thursday premiere of “Survivor: Marquesas” and Feb. 27’s Grammy Awards.

NBC, banking on healthy initial rating returns for the midseason sitcom premieres of “Watching Ellie” and “Leap of Faith” last week, saw its 5.3 rating/14 share average among adults 18 to 49 hold a 13 percent edge over CBS’s second-ranked 4.7/12 for the week ending March 3, according to Nielsen Media Research. NBC won four evenings last week — Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday — as well as finishing second on Monday and Wednesday among adults 18 to 49. On Saturday, NBC’s repeat presentation of the Warner Bros.-produced theatrical “U.S. Marshals” gave the Peacock unexpected wins over typically dominant Fox in adults 18 to 49 (3.9/11), households (6.4/11) and total viewers (10.2 million).

Led by “Friends'” typically top-ranked 13.2/33 score in adults 18 to 49, NBC had five other sitcoms — “Leap of Faith” (9.9/23), “Will & Grace” (9.2/22), “Just Shoot Me” (8.3/19), “Frasier” (7.2/17) and “Watching Ellie” (7.1/17) — among the seven top-ranked sitcoms last week. However, Hollywood watchers are earnestly watching to see if “Ellie” and “Leap of Faith” can hold up in the ratings in subsequent airings.

As for the other networks among adults 18 to 49, Fox finished with a 3.2/10, followed by ABC’s 3.2/8, UPN’s 1.8/4 and The WB’s 1.6/4.

CBS, meanwhile, recaptured households (9.1/15) and total viewers (14.0 million), marking the 13th time in this season’s 23 weeks that it won both those of those categories. CBS got its major households spikes from Wednesday’s “The 44th Annual Grammy Awards” (11.9/19) as well as Thursday’s “Survivor: Marquesas” (13.0/20) and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (17.1/26).

NBC came in second in households (8.7/14) and total viewers (13.3 million), followed by ABC (5.8/9, 8.9 million), Fox (5.2/8, 8.5 million, UPN (2.5/4, 4.0 million) and The WB (2.5/4, 3.9 million).

Brokaw to moderate tech industry summit for MSNBC: The dramatic turmoil in the tech industry over the last year and Internet security issues underscored by the events of Sept. 11 will be among the topics on the table as Tom Brokaw moderates “Silicon Summit III” on MSNBC from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 17.

The program, which will originate live from the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York, has booked Microsoft President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Belluzzo; Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos; Chairman and CEO of Sony Corp. of America, Howard Stringer; Ted Waitt, founder, chairman and CEO of Gateway; Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks, and Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel Corp.

CBS previews ‘9/11’: CBS on Monday night unveiled a still somewhat rough cut of “9/11,” Sunday’s two-hour presentation of the attack on the World Trade Center, at Manhattan’s Museum of Television and Radio. The documentary tells the story of Sept. 11 through the eyes of firefighters whose entire engine house survived and the filmmakers who had been following them for a documentary about firemen.

Wholly sponsored by Nextel, which intends to fill seven minutes and 30 seconds of commercial time with public-spirited messages, “9/11” is light on depictions of the carnage of the day. The New York Fire Department’s beloved chaplain, Mychal Judge, listed as the first official casualty of the day, is identifiable only in a still shot. It is heavy, though, on colloquial profanities that become almost nonstop in some of the most stressful moments captured by brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet.

Susan Zirinsky, the executive producer of “48 Hours” who oversaw the packaging of some 180 hours of video shot by the Naudets (who released 20 seconds showing the impact of the first hijacked airliner with Tower 1 on Sept. 11), said the language was “much discussed” because it is “uncharted territory.”

Ultimately, she said, it was decided that “it’s a living, historical document.”

Scott, Ryan extend WNYW-TV contracts: WNYW-TV’s 10 p.m. co-anchor Rosanna Scott has signed on for three more years at the Fox-owned New York station. Also, WNYW morning co-anchor Jim Ryan of “Good Day N.Y.” has signed on for two more years.

Court TV rebrands: Court TV is rebranding under the tagline “Join the
Investigation,” with a renewed emphasis on investigations as exemplified by the network’s signature “Forensic Files” series.

The cost of the campaign, set to begin the first week of April, is pegged at $16 million by the network and will include on-air image spots, trailers in movie theaters, and a multimarket promotional tour by the network’s Mobile Investigative Unit, as well as a relaunch in the advertising trades.

Studios team up on new versions of popular sci-fi series: Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Television Studios have entered into a production alliance with Synthesis Entertainment to develop revived versions of the sci-fi series “Lost in Space,” “The Time Tunnel,” “Land of the Giants” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.”

The agreement also provides for potential feature films and merchandising based upon the four series, originally produced by the late Irwin Allen under the auspices of 20th Century Fox Television. Synthesis producing partners Kevin Burns and Jon Jashni will serve as executive producers and creative architects on future incarnations on behalf of Irwin Allen Properties and Space Productions. Mr. Allen’s widow, Sheila Mathews Allen, will also serve as producer on the projects.

“The Time Tunnel, which originally aired on ABC from 1966-67, is already in the pilot development stage as potential Fox Broadcasting Co. series for the 2002-03 season. The sci-fi drama, about a secret government project gone awry, is being directed by “Malcolm in the Middle’s” Todd Holland and written by Rand Ravich (“The Astronaut’s Wife”), who will both join Mr. Burns, Mr. Jashni and Andrew Lazar as executive producers. The project is a co-production between 20th Century Fox Television and Regency Television, the latter a co-venture with Fox Television Studios.

NBC has similarly commissioned “Lost in Space,” the original version of which ran on CBS from 1965-68, as a potential TV movie and back-door pilot for a future series. The telefilm will be produced by Fox Television Studios through its Fox TV Pictures unit and is being written by Brent Maddock and Steve Wilson (“Tremors” and “Short Circuit”) based upon an original story by Mr. Burns.

Fox Television Studios and 20th Century Fox Television will also join Synthesis in further developing media opportunities for “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” which originally aired on ABC from 1964-68, and “Land of the Giants,” which ran on ABC from 1968-70, for midseason 2002-03 at the earliest.

The pact also renews Twentieth Television’s domestic distribution rights to the 83 original episodes of “Lost in Space.”

NBC puts arena football on its roster: Despite its experience with the WWF’s short-lived attempt at made-for-TV football with the XFL, NBC Sports is not giving up on the idea of hot-house football. NBC Sports and the Arena Football League have agreed to become revenue sharing partners in a deal that starts with a two-year commitment beginning with the league’s 2003 season, which will be shifted to start in early February.

NBC will televise 15 AFL regular-season games, all postseason games and the championship game, scheduled for June 22, 2003. The games will air live on Sunday afternoons with as many as four regional telecasts each Sunday. NBC Sports, which has the option to renew the contract in perpetuity, will share in revenues dereived from enhanced value of the AFL franchises, which will number 20, eight of them in top 10 U.S. TV markets, by kickoff day on Sunday, Feb. 2.

Broadband milestone: For the first time, more Web surfers have accessed the Net via broadband than by narrowband. That benchmark in the future of media and the evolution of the Internet was passed in January 2002, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

Broadband, one of the technological pillars upon which the cable industry has staked its future, and the key to media convergence, has also passed the critical 50-percent mass, with broadband surfers tallying 1.19 billion hours, accounting for 51 percent of the 2.3 billion hours spent online during the month of January. Broadband usage in January was up 64 percent on a year-over-year basis, while time spent online by narrowband surfers decreased three percent from 1.18 billion hours to 1.14 billion.

Nearly 21.9 million at-home surfers accessed the Internet via broadband connection in January, up 67 percent and accounting for 21 percent of the total online at-home population. During the same period, the at-work broadband population rose 42 percent, to 25.5 million office workers, compared to 18 million the year before, reaching 63 percent of the Internet office population.

“Broadband usage has hit mainstream,” said Jarvis Mak, senior Internet media analyst for Nielsen//NetRatings.#

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications