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Sep 12, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Thursday, Sept. 12

FCC won’t revive broadcast-cable rule

Removing any ambiguity about the ability of broadcasters to merge with cable TV systems, the Federal Communications Commission today announced that it will make no effort to resurrect a regulation that has long barred broadcast-cable combinations in the same market.

“It’s finished,” said Ken Ferree, chief of the FCC Media Bureau. When vacating the regulation early this year, a federal appeals court held that the agency had failed to adequately justify it. The court also expressly said that the agency was free to attempt to resurrect the regulation even though the prospect of the court changing its mind about the rule was a long shot.

“We did not propose breathing new life into it,” Mr. Ferree said at a briefing for reporters, though he added that some kind of limits on media industry consolidation might be placed on the agency’s books later. He also said the court had handed down a mandate confirming that the rule is off the books.

“The rule does not exist right now,” Mr. Ferree said.

The FCC’s decision came to light when observers noted that the broadcast-cable cross-ownership prohibition wasn’t mentioned when the agency voted 4-0 earlier today to launch a massive review of its other media ownership rules. Among the regulations that are subject to the review are rules that bar broadcasters from owning stations reaching more than 35 percent of the nation’s TV homes and prohibit radio and TV stations from buying daily newspapers in their markets.

Other rules subject to the review prohibit the Big 4 TV networks from merging with each other and affect radio ownership. FCC officials said the agency plans to release for comment within the next several weeks 10 studies about the impact of deregulation and media consolidation. Those are supposed to serve as the basis for whatever action the agency takes on the regulations.

Under the game plan, the FCC is supposed to be in a position to vote on what to do about the rules by spring.

On the subject of broadcast-cable mergers, representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association had no comment at deadline. But Blair Levin, telecom and media analyst for Legg Mason, predicted that the elimination of the rule would eventually result in the merger of a major cable TV company and a broadcast network. “Here’s what the FCC said: ‘We’re moving the line,'” Mr. Levin said. “Here’s what they didn’t say: where the line is and how firm it will be.”

New management team for AOL division: Jon Miller will take a more hands-on role as chairman and CEO of America Online, with its division management team, was announced Thursday.

Ted Leonsis, the division’s vice chair and an AOL veteran, will be second in command, overseeing operations. Joseph Ripp, the chief financial officer, moves into the vice chairman slot, overseeing network infrastructure and technology operations. Mike Kelly, former chief financial officer of AOL Time Warner, moves from America Online chief operating officer to head AOL International. Radio veteran James de Castro, president of AOL Interactive Services, will be part of a senior strategy council that includes Mr. Miller, Mr. Ripp, Mr. Leonsis and Don Logan, chairman of AOL Time Warner’s media and communications group.

The new team will focus on taking AOL’s content and services to the next level. Following other former America Online executives who have left in the wake of accounting probes, Jan Brandt, former vice chair and chief marketing officer, steps down but remains a part-time advisor.

Viewers turn to Fox News on 9/11 anniversary: Nielsen ratings for coverage of the Sept. 11 anniversary on the broadcast networks will not be available until Friday, but data for the cable news networks showed that Fox News Channel was the cable channel of choice for total day (an average of 1.004 million viewers) and in prime time (an average of 1.751 viewers).

CNN averaged 922,000 viewers for total day and 1.481 million viewers for prime time. MSNBC averaged 316,000 viewers for total day and 277,000 in prime time. CNN Headline News averaged 276,000 viewers for total day and 309,000 in prime time. CNBC averaged 259,000 for total day and 293,000 in prime time.

Vivendi chief in U.S. for meetings: Jean-Rene Fourtou, the new chief executive of Vivendi Universal, addressed staffers in New York Thursday on his first trip to the United States as he continues to sort through the sale of noncore assets and potential spinoff of Vivendi’s entertainment assets.

He meets in Los Angeles Friday with Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, and other Vivendi Universal Entertainment and Universal studio executives.

As first reported in EM, Vivendi officials have begun talks with NBC, Liberty Media Group and others about its entertainment assets. The Vivendi Universal board will discuss ways to rearrange and sell assets and reduce debt at a meeting Sept. 25, after which it will announce its plans to Wall Street investors.

NBC’s Williams keynotes Murrow, RTNDA awards: NBC flagship-anchor-in-waiting Brian Williams will be the keynote speaker Oct. 7, when the Radio-Television News Directors Association honors winners of the 2002 Edward R. Murrow and RTNDA/Unity awards at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York City.

In addition to Mr. Williams, the RTNDA will feature CBS News’ Charles Osgood and Bob Simon, Univision’s anchor Maria Elena Salinas, ABC News’ Robin Roberts and CNN’s Paula Zahn as presenters.

Fox and Yahoo! in promo deal: Fox Entertainment Group and Yahoo!, the Internet portal, will include initiatives for Fox Broadcasting and FX in a newly announced extension of their online promotional relationship.

Fox television series that will get the Yahoo! Promo push include “The Bernie Mac Show” and “24,” both returning series, and new series “Fastlane,” “Firefly” and “John Doe.” FX series getting the promo push include “The Shield,” returning for its second season, and “The Pentagon Papers,” the fact-based original cable movie starring James Spader and Alan Arkin, set for a Dec. 15 debut.

Upcoming Fox theatricals in the promo mix include “Daredevil,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Solaris” and “X-Men 2.”

As part of the deal, Fox and FX will provide Yahoo! with exclusive video material from the various Fox series and films.

The drama of sports has a new goal line: ESPN is looking to produce its first-ever scripted, dramatic series, with a mid-summer 2003 debut targeted. The weekly, one-hour sports-themed program will be produced by ESPN Original Entertainment, and its content, production personnel and performers are all under discussion.

What has been decided is that new series will be launched with a two-hour pilot episode, that it will be followed by 10 one-hour shows and that it will air on Tuesday nights. Beyond that, the network is “currently discussing concepts with many talented producers and writers,” Mark Shapiro, ESPN senior VP and general manager, programming, said in a statement.

“It’s wide open,” a network spokesman said.

Mr. Shapiro told Electronic Media that he had “over 20” scripts currently in hand, with pitches coming in from writers, producers and actors, and that they included such subjects as “what its like to be on the inside of an NFL team during the season, what its like to be on the inside of a minor league baseball team, the ins and outs of high school football.”

The general plan for a dramatic scripted series is part of an ESPN push into new genres and formats, including original movies, reality-based shows, documentaries and game shows, all appealing to younger and casual sports fans.

The goal is for ESPN to telecast approximately 10 percent of its schedule in the “supplementary” new genres and brand extensions. “We will stay true to the spine of our core programming plan, which is live events, news and information,” Mr. Shapiro said. “Stories get people invested. The more people get invested, the longer they watch.”

NBC, Silver to do movie idol talent search: NBC Stud
ios is teaming with noted action filmmaker Joel Silver and reality series producer GRB Entertainment to produce a casting-based talent search — tentatively titled “The Next Action Star” — intended to place a winning man and woman as stars in the upcoming NBC telefilm “Hit Me” (tentative title).

During the course of 10 one-hour episodes, the producers of “Next Action Star,” projected for broadcast in summer or fall 2003, will be scouring the country for prospective stars.

“Hit Me,” a teleplay being written by Jeff Welch, is the first prime-time telefilm from Silver Pictures Television. It will feature an “adrenalin-fortified story line that will not only challenge the new stars physically, but will put their on-screen charm and charisma to the test,” NBC said in a statement.

UPN’s synergy ‘Trek’: UPN is going to air the world premiere of a special two-minute theatrical trailer for the Paramount Pictures feature film release “Star Trek: Nemesis” with the second-season premiere of its “Star Trek” prequel “Enterprise” on Wednesday, Sept. 18 (8 p.m. to 9 p.m., ET).

Along with the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. series premiere of modernized version of “Twilight Zone” that night, UPN viewers will learn how to enter a contest to win a trip to Los Angeles to attend the star-studded premiere of “Star Trek: Nemesis,” courtesy of StarTrek.net and Paramount Pictures. UPN and Paramount Pictures are both divisions of Viacom.

“Star Trek: Nemesis,” the tenth film in the enduring “Star Trek” franchise, arrives in theaters on Dec. 13.

Hair upped at Viacom: Princell Hair has been promoted to VP of news for the Viacom Television Stations Group, reporting to group chief operating officer Dennis Swanson. Mr. Hair had found his roles in flux during group management and duopoly changes. He’d left Hearst-Argyle’s WBAL-TV in Baltimore to be group director of news under former executive VP of news Joel Cheatwood, who is now focused on duties as WCBS-TV news director. Mr. Hair also had been news director of KCBS-TV, a role that became moot in mid-summer when Nancy Bauer Gonzales was named news director of the KCBS-KCAL duopoly.

Deushane to run Granite group: John Deushane will become chief operating officer of Granite Broadcasting’s eight-affiliate station group in January. Mr. Deushane, an 11-year Granite veteran and the group’s Midwest regional VP, will succeed Bob Selwyn, who will become full-time “senior operating adviser to the board of directors” and will continue to be a member of the board.

Mr. Deushane was general manager of Granite’s WEEK-TV in Peoria and general manager of KSEE-TV in Fresno before being assigned regional duties.

“John Deushane brings great sales intensity to the COO position,” said Granite Chairman and CEO Don Cornwell.

Mayberry promoted at Fox Networks: Del Mayberry, a senior-level accounting and finance executive at Fox-affiliated companies for more than 18 years, has been promoted to executive VP and chief financial officer for the Fox Networks Group.

Mr. Mayberry will continue to oversee finance, information systems, network operations/commercial administration and human resources for the Fox Broadcasting Co., as well as finance, information systems and human resources for Fox Digital. His new responsibilities will add oversight of finance and information systems for the Fox Cable Networks Group (which includes FX, Fox Sports Net and its 21 owned or affiliated regional sports networks), Fox Movie Channel, Fox Sports World and Fox Sports World EspaÒol, among others.