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May 6, 2002  •  Post A Comment

NCTA kicks off with optimistic cable industry forecasts

Competition may be up and stock prices may be generally down, but it’s “sunny skies ahead” for the cable industry, as Brian Roberts, president, Comcast Corp., put it at the Big Picture panel that officially launched Cable 2002, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual convention, now under way in New Orleans.

The reason for the optimism: the broadband and digital technology with which cable intends to fend off satellite competition, entice subscribers to pay for new services, such as high-speed Internet access and video-on-demand, and grab a piece of the huge, and hugely lucrative, telephony market.

Even Richard Parsons, incoming CEO of AOL Time Warner, who has seen the value of his company’s stock cut in half, since it was formed almost a year and a half ago, was optimistic. “It’s true business is far more competitive now,” Mr. Parsons said, but “we have far more to offer, and the market is expanding.”

Despite the talk on Wall Street that AOL TW might shed some of its businesses, particularly America Online or some or all of its cable systems, Mr. Parsons said there is no “analytical reason” to think that “disaggregating” the company will result in greater shareholder value than the present combination. “All of [our] businesses are roaring, with one exception,” he said, referring to the America Online unit.

One of the issues that AOL TW has to sort out is how America Online’s narrowband dial-up service fits in relation to Time Warner Cable’s broadband Roadrunner service. One of the technological fixes that Mr. Parsons believes will come to AOL’s rescue is video instant messaging, which he said would be a reality in about a year.

Asked if the debt-laden balance sheets at his and other consolidating media companies have been “cleaned up enough” so capital can be deployed elsewhere, in particular in technological investments, Mr. Parsons replied, “For the industry as a whole, the answer is no.”

“Everyone’s stock options are down,” Mr. Roberts said. In “this industry, we’ve seen this before.”

One of the other challenges facing the industry as it rolls out high-tech services is that “business models are not stabilized,” said Frank Dangeard, co-chairman, Thomson Multimedia, and the first-ever executive from a hardware manufacturer to address an NCTA national-show general session. “This debate comes back every 12 months,” he said, referring to which box and which screen will offer which high-tech service and to whether all new and present media services will be converged in one location in the home. He proposed that one year from now when the cable industry gathers in Chicago, the operators and programmers return with a specific list of trials and tests of various services and various payment and other models that they have undertaken.

“We can’t be too aggressive in rolling out these new modern services,” said Michael Willner, president and CEO, Insight Communications, “whether it’s digital, interactive, high-speed broadband access to the Internet or even telephony.”

“At the end of the day,” Mr. Dangeard cautioned, “the consumer will have to ask for it.”

World Wrestling Federation to ‘Get the ‘F’ out’: What was once the World Wrestling Federation has confirmed that the company has officially changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment. The branding shift will take place over a five-month span and is due to an ongoing courtroom battle with the World Wildlife Fund over the use of the “WWF” name.

Already the company’s Web sites reflect the changes, and a new logo will be introduced Monday night on TNN. Linda McMahon, CEO of WWE, said the name change provides a distinct and unencumbered global identity that will further cast World Wrestling Entertainment as an integrated entertainment and media company.

Insiders say the company will launch a campaign titled “Get the ‘F’ out” as a way to incorporate the changes with mainstream audiences.

NBC gliding to May sweeps win: NBC dominated the first 11 days of the May sweeps (April 25 through May 5), with a commanding 39 percent lead in adults 18 to 49 over second-place CBS and 13 percent growth year to year. Meanwhile, The WB is rebounding nicely with 6 percent growth in adults 18 to 34 and 14 percent in adults 18 to 49 from the year-ago May sweeps period.

Feeding off a bevy of 75th anniversary-themed specials, including Sunday night’s three-hour fete in New York, NBC is gliding along with a 5.4 rating/15 share average among adults 18 to 49 — marking a 13 percent spike from last year’s 4.8/14 comparable 11-day track for the May 2001 sweeps. In addition to firming up a convincing 2001-02 season win in adults 18 to 49, NBC’s 4.8/15 in adults 18 to 34 holds the top ranking over Fox’s 3.5/11 by a handsome 37 percent margin during the sweeps.

Also, NBC’s top-ranked 13.7 million total viewer average during the sweeps marks a 19 percent increase year to year and 8 percent advantage over CBS’s second-ranked head count (12.7 million). NBC is even up 8 percent to a second-ranked 2.6/10 average in the teens demo during the sweeps-to-date period.

Meanwhile, all of the other competing Big 4 networks are contending with double-digit year to year percentage losses. CBS’s 3.8/10 score in adults 18 to 49 is down 14 percent, followed by Fox’s 3.5/10 dipping 13 percent and ABC’s 3.3/9 slipping 11 percent.

UPN, a network which has been bragging about almost 20 percent increases in most key young demos this season, is unexpectedly down 6 percent in both adults 18 to 49 (1.6/4) and adults 18 to 34 (1.6/5) during the sweeps. UPN’s 1.6/6 average in teens is also down 30 percent from last May’s 2.3/8 average.

The WB, though, could be considered as one of the comeback stories of the May 2002 sweeps, with its 1.6/4 in adults 18 to 49 moving up 14 percent year to year. The Frog’s 1.7/5 score in adults 18 to 34 (overtaking UPN) is also up 6 percent from the year-ago sweeps while its 3.7 million total viewers is up 16 percent over the comparable span.

PBS, APTS strike digital deal with Insight Communications: The Public Broadcasting Service and the Association of Public Television Stations have entered into a preliminary agreement with Insight Communications whereby the digital signals of PBS stations in markets with Insight systems will be carried on the local digital tier of cable service.

Under the agreement, announced Monday at the National Cable Television Association convention in New Orleans, 31 public television stations are eligible for carriage on Insight cable systems. Public television secured its first digital carriage agreement with Time Warner Cable in late 2000. The agreement with Insight gives PBS stations digital carriage accessible to 1.4 million customers of Insight, the nation’s ninth-largest cable operator largely serving TV viewers in Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

PBS and APTS negotiated the agreement in principle on behalf of stations in Insight markets to ensure carriage of digital signals as stations begin to make the transition to digital broadcasting. Negotiations were directed by a joint committee of the APTS and PBS boards, guided by PBS President and CEO Pat Mitchell and APTS President and CEO John Lawson. Michael Willner, president and CEO of Insight, represented the cable owner in the negotiations.

Peacock wins Sunday with 75th anniversary special: NBC’s three-hour 75th anniversary celebration ate up the competition Sunday, enabling the Peacock to win the night and beat second-place Fox by 68 percent in the adults 18 to 49 demo race.

Lighting up New York’s 30 Rockefeller Center for the 8 p.m.-to-11 p.m. (ET) celebration, NBC’s party scored across-the-board wins, most notably in adults 18 to 49 (7.7 rating/19 share) and adults 18 to 34 (6.3/18), according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data. Overall, the NBC celebration — featuring a mix of Peacock’s past and present series stars and classic show clips — raked in 20.4 million total viewers and a 12.7/20 household rating for the three-hour span.

The special also got a good jump start from th
e last hour of NBC Sports’ NBA Game 1 playoff matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, which generated top-ranked scores in adults 18 to 49 (3.5/12) and adults 18 to 34 (3.4/14) in Nielsen’s early measure.

For its 7 p.m-to-11 p.m. span of prime time, NBC took home top honors in adults 18 to 49 (6.7/18), beating Fox’s second-ranked average (4.0/11) by 68 percent for its 7 to 10 p.m. rotation. NBC also beat CBS in households by 30 percent (10.9/18 vs. 8.4/14) and total viewers by 39 percent (17.2 million vs. 12.3 million).

CBS got off to good start with “60 Minutes” winning the 7 p.m. hour in households (8.4/16) and total viewers (12.2 million), but saw its 1.9/7 in adults 18 to 49 come in third for the frame. From there, a fresh episode of “Touched by an Angel” (1.5/4) and the two-hour telefilm “Little John” (2.9/7) came in last in adults 18 to 49.

Fox also appeared negatively impacted by the Peacock’s party, with double-runs of “King of the Hill” (2.1/8, 3.0/10) coming in second among adults 18 to 49 for 7 p.m. hour, while “The Simpsons” (5.6/17) proved to be the only half-hour to beat NBC in the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. frame. “Malcolm in the Middle” (5.3/14) came in second to NBC during the 8:30 p.m.-to-9 p.m. span while “The X-Files” — counting down to it series finale — dropped about 20 percent of its lead-in by coming in at a second-ranked 4.1/10 average in adults 18 to 49.

ABC got off to a slow start with its “Wonderful World of Disney” presentation of “Stuart Little” squeaking out a third-ranked 2.0/6 average in adults 18 to 49. The limited reception also led “Alias” (3.6/9) and “The Practice” (4.8/12) to below-average receptions among adults 18 to 49. ABC finished the night with a third-ranked 3.1/9 score in adults 18 to 49.

McGowan promoted at Discovery: Bill McGowan has been promoted to executive VP and general manager for U.S. ad sales and global integrated partnerships, Discovery Communications.

Mr. McGowan, who joined Discovery in 1991, was most recently executive VP of ad sales, Discovery Networks.

“As we enter a new upfront season, Bill will be in place to consolidate all of our U.S.-based ad sales and other related media sales opportunities under one roof,” said Judith McHale, president and chief operating officer, Discovery Communications.

In his new position, Mr. McGowan will continue to oversee all aspects of Discovery Communications’ U.S.-based ad sales efforts and now also will manage the global ad sales team in New York, which will coordinate with the international ad sales teams of Discovery Networks International to execute global advertising deals. His responsibilities also include management of all Discovery Communications’ ad sales offices in New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles, as well as ad sales for the recently announced digital and on-demand services, including Discovery HD Theater and Discovery on Demand.

Mag Rack, Insight sign distribution deal: Mag Rack, the niche-oriented video-on-demand service from Cablevision’s Rainbow Media, has signed a long-term distribution agreement with Insight Communications, the nation’s ninth-largest multiple system operator.

The deal is the first carriage agreement for Mag Rack outside of parent Cablevision, the seventh-largest MSO, which reaches approximately 3 million cable subscribers in the New York tri-state area. Insight will become the first MSO to give Mag Rack a national launch and will providing the service as a value-added feature to all of its digital, VOD-enabled subscribers beginning this summer.

Mag Rack’s 25 so-called “video magazines” target hobbyists and other passionate, self-identified interest groups, including motorcyclists, astronomy buffs, birders, vegetarians, wine lovers, Shakespeare fans, American Catholics and others.

Mag Rack’s magazines targeting Catholics recently added programming that addresses the church’s current sexual-abuse scandal. By the end of the year, Mag Rack expects to be offering up to 40 video magazines.

Bergen to host reality series for Oxygen: Candice Bergen will host “Candice Checks It Out,” a new weekly half-hour reality series premiering this fall on the Oxygen network.

The series follows on “Exhale With Candice Bergen,” Ms. Bergen’s first series for Oxygen. Ms. Bergen will visit off-beat non-celebrities in their own environments, among them a pet psychic, a hip-hop DJ and a phone-sex operator.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications