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May 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

FTC takes back power to review media mergers

The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Justice Department last night abandoned a controversial agreement in which the FTC had ceded its media merger review authority to Justice. The about-face comes after months of pressure from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., who threatened to slash funding and jobs at the agencies and hold a hearing on the matter if the agreement wasn’t dropped.

Sen. Hollings viewed the arrangement, which made Justice solely responsible for evaluating the antitrust implications of media deals, as a Bush administration effort to weaken government scrutiny of communications mergers. Electronic Media reported over the last two months that the FTC was looking to get out of the accord and was seeking Justice’s approval to do so.

In a statement last night, Justice Antitrust Division Chief Charles James said opposition from Hollings forced the decision. But he also insisted the agreement “was good public policy that was working to make antitrust enforcement more effective.” Also last night, both agencies sent letters to Senate Commerce saying they were abrogating the agreement. Sen. Hollings called the developments “appropriate” and pledged to continue to work with FTC and Justice on their concerns about the merger review process.

NBC predicts near-record ratings margins for May sweeps: With the end May sweeps two days away, NBC, as expected, is running away with close to its widest margins of victory in the adults 18 to 49 ratings and other key demographic measures for the sweeps period and for the season. Meanwhile, CBS also claimed to be making young adult inroads, most notably at the expense of Fox and ABC’s somewhat diminished returns in the key demos this season.

Based on in-home viewing data from Nielsen Media Research, NBC executives are projecting the Peacock Network will win the season at a 5.3 rating average among adults 18 to 49 (up 10 percent over its 2000-01 average). In particular, NBC’s West Coast programming chieftains Jeff Zucker and Scott Sassa claim the Peacock will have a 33 percent cushion over second-place Fox’s 4.0 rating (down 11 percent year to year) — marking NBC’s second biggest victory margin since the advent of Nielsen’s People Meters in 1987.

While NBC researchers expect CBS to finish the 2001-02 season with a third-ranked 3.9 rating (down 2 percent from last year), CBS Television President Leslie Moonves predicts the Eye Network will come in second in adults 18 to 49 at north of a 4.0 rating. NBC is also projecting that ABC will finish fourth at a 3.6 rating in adults 18 to 49 (down 18 percent).

NBC says it will have won six of the last seven seasons among adults 18 to 49. Additionally, the Peacock also claimed the 2001-02 campaign among adults 18 to 34, adults 25 to 54, households and total viewers. NBC was up in all of those categories and is the only major network up in any of them.

On a current season-to-date basis (Sept. 24, 2001-May 20, 2002), NBC’s 5.3 rating/14 share (up 10 percent) leads Fox’s second-ranked 4.0/11 (down 11 percent) among adults 18 to 49. CBS holds the third ranking in adults 18 to 49 at a 3.9/10 average (down 3 percent), while ABC’s 3.6/10 is still down by a hefty 18 percent. Taking out all sports (including NBC’s Winter Olympics) and specials, regularly scheduled series programming on NBC still holds a 28 percent advantage over second-ranked CBS (5.1/14 vs. 4.0/10).

Nevertheless, Mr. Moonves suggested it is still a “neck-and-neck” race between CBS and NBC for the most total viewers. Among regularly scheduled programming, NBC’s 12.79 million viewers (up 3 percent) holds an approximate, razor-thin 50,000-viewer advantage over CBS 12.74 million head count (up 3 percent) this season. NBC is predicting it will own about a 300,000-viewer advantage over CBS when the traditional end of the season comes at the close of the May sweeps.

When including all sports programming (particularly NBC’s Olympics telecasts in February), NBC’s 13.5 million total viewer average (up 17 percent) holds a larger 10 percent margin over CBS’s 12.3 million (down 2 percent).

During the May sweeps period alone, where NBC’s eighth-season finale of “Friends” posted season-highs among all series in adults 18 to 49 (17.0 rating/44 share) and total viewers (34.9 million) last Thursday, the Peacock is projecting its 5.5 rating average in adults 18 to 49 will hold a commanding 37 percent lead over CBS’s 4.0 rating (even year to year). As the only network claiming to be up vs. the year-ago May 2001 sweeps, NBC also predicts Fox will be down 9 percent (at a 3.9 rating) while ABC will slip 11 percent (3.4 rating) once the current sweeps period wraps up Wednesday night.

Veteran L.A. anchor dead: Jerry Dunphy, one of the signature on-air figures of Los Angeles area broadcast news, has died at the age of 80.

Mr. Dunphy, whose career as an L.A. anchorman spanned four decades, was best known for the trademark line with which he began each broadcast: “From the desert to the sea to all of Southern California.”

He had been hospitalized since suffering a heart attack, his third, outside his condominium last Wednesday, and word of his death led the 10 p.m. news at his station, KCAL. “Los Angeles has forever changed tonight, because Jerry Dunphy will never come into your home again,” anchor Pat Harvey said, fighting back tears, the Associated Press reported.

After a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Corps in World War Two, during which he flew on 29 bombing missions, Mr. Dunphy began his broadcasting career at a Wisconsin radio station in 1947.

Mr. Dunphy joined what was then called KNXT, and is now KCBS, the CBS owned-and-operated station in the Los Angeles market, in 1960, launching “The Big News,” the nation’s first one-hour newscast.

In all, Mr. Dunphy, whose full head of white hair was instantly recognizable to TV viewers in the market, anchored newscasts at three Los Angeles stations during his career. In addition to KCAL and KCBS, Mr. Dunphy also was the senior anchor at KABC, ABC’s L.A. O&O. In 1983, while at KABC, Mr. Dunphy and a female companion were shot outside the studio during an attempted robbery.

As word of his death flashed across Southern California television screens, KCAL posted a farewell message from the Dunphy family on its Web site:

“From the desert to the sea to all eternity, we bid our Father a fond farewell,” the message read.

Effron takes live programming post at MSNBC: Post-Newsweek Stations VP Mark Effron has been named vice president of live programming at MSNBC. He will report to MSNBC President Erik Sorenson effective June 10. Mr. Effron succeeds Ramon Escobar, who has become increasingly involved in the integration of recently acquired Telemundo into NBC.

Mr. Effron has overseen the news operations of Post-Newsweek’s six stations for the last six years. He has remained based in Hartford, Conn., where he had previously spent nine years at WFSB-TV as news director and station manager. When Mr. Effron joins MSNBC, he will be relocating to New Jersey.

MSNBC recently brought aboard Editor in Chief Jerry Nachman, former WNBC-TV news director and New York Post editor in chief, and has branded itself as “America’s NewsChannel.”

“The job really sounded exciting and interesting,” said Mr. Effron. “That’s a seat at the table I really wanted to be at.”

Showtime greenlights ‘Soldier’s Girl”: “Soldier’s Girl,” a fact-based TV movie about a young soldier who was beaten to death in 1999 because of his romance with a beautiful transgendered nightclub performer, has gotten the green light from Showtime.

Troy Garity will play the young soldier, and Lee Pace will play the nightclub performer. Shawn Hatosy will play the young soldier’s hostile roommate. Frank Pierson will direct the film, which is a Bachrach/Gottlieb production.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications