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Sep 24, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Tuesday, Sept. 24

CNN, ABC downplay talk of merged news operation

CNN’s quest for a broadcast news partner to help cut news-gathering costs reached the stage where the idea of a free-standing organization made up of ABC News and CNN was discussed at last week’s AOL Time Warner board meeting, where it got a “lukewarm” reception, according to a story today in the Los Angeles Times. Both sides acknowledged today that conversations have been held but stress no deal has been done. Indeed, there were signals on both sides that no deal even seems close.

CNN News Group Chairman Walter Isaacson sent an e-mail to staffers today saying, “It’s no secret that for many years CNN has had talks with other news organizations that currently have no 24/7 cable news distribution about working together or combining assets. Many different ideas have been put forward. The strong assets, superior journalism, international distribution and news-gathering resources that are hallmarks of CNN, in combination with a strong broadcast news operation, seem to be very complementary to one another, something all sides acknowledge. Models already exist that combine broadcast and cable news networks. So the idea is intriguing and we expect that these talks will pick up again from time to time. At this time, CNN is not close to making a deal, but we will always explore scenarios that can make our journalism and business even stronger.”

According to the Times, the plan that has been under discussion involves spinning off ABC News and CNN into an entity capable of producing revenues of more than $1.6 billion annually. Since CNN would contribute some $1 billion of those, it would expect to own two-thirds to three-quarters of the organization.

The question is who would hold editorial and operational control, and that’s a question that has so far been the obstacle to CNN in its two-year quest to find a broadcast news partner.

Court moves to prime-time original programs: Court TV is moving to all-original prime-time programming Mondays through Saturdays for the first time, beginning Sept. 30.

Weeknights, “I-Zone,” original documentaries focusing on the process of investigation, will lead off at 8 p.m. “Forensic Files,” Court’s signature series, will follow with back-to-back half-hour episodes at 9 p.m., except on Wednesdays when “I Detective,” Court’s interactive sleuthing series, will be telecast at 9:30. “The Investigators,” another documentary series, will air at 10 p.m. “NYPD Blue,” an off-network staple for Court, will move from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

On Saturdays, actress and former CNN Headline news anchor Andrea Thompson will host “Saturday Night Solution,” another block of original investigative prime-time programming.”Investigative, forensic and detective subjects [have] clearly struck a chord [with the Court audience],” said Art Bell, Court TV’s executive VP of programming, calling “consistent scheduling in prime time” an important element in growing the network’s audiences. “Over the next year, as we continue to build upon the popularity of our investigative brand, we plan to launch several new original series focused on this subject matter.”

Wright to appear at DTV hearings: NBC Chairman and CEO Robert Wright is slated to testify Wednesday at congressional hearings on legislation to spur the broadcast industry transition to digital television, according to the House telecommunications subcommittee.

Also on the witness list: Richard Lewis, chief technology officer, Zenith Electronics Corp.; Michael Fiorile, president and CEO, Dispatch Broadcast Group; Michael Willner, vice chairman and CEO, Insight Communications; Lana Corbi, president and CEO, Crown Media USA; Jim Gleason, president, Cable Direct; Alan McCollough, chairman, president and CEO, Circuit City Stores; Thera Bradshaw, president, Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International; and Gene Kimmelman, senior director of public policy, Consumers Union.

Intertainer takes major studios to court: Intertainer, the Culver City, Calif.-based provider of Internet-enabled video-on-demand programming, has taken AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal and Sony Corp. of America, three of its major Hollywood studio suppliers, to court, charging them with antitrust violations and accusing them of conspiring to fix VOD prices.

Studio executives who declined to be identified countered that Intertainer is trying to win favorable terms in court for rights to studio films that it couldn’t win in contract negotiations.

The suit, filed in United States District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, claims that Sony in particular used technical and other information it gleaned from Intertainer to set up Movielink, a rival online movie distributor in which five of the seven major Hollywood studios have interests, and to make sweetheart deals with Movielink at terms Intertainer calls “onerous.” In addition to the lawsuit’s named defendants, Movielink’s partners include MGM and Paramount. Sony, AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal spokespeople all declined comment, citing their policies against commenting about ongoing litigation.

“Sony conceived Movielink, Sony built Movielink … and then used it to [try to] put us out of business,” said Jonathan Taplin, Intertainer’s CEO. “[Sony] formed [Movielink] only after they spent three years in my board room learning about [Internet protocol] distribution of movies as a board observer and as an investor. Then they cut off my supply of movies and formed their own joint venture, and the first thing they did was they made a deal with themselves for a 60/40 split, which completely invalidated every business model we had built our business on.”

Intertainer claims its original deals with the studios were for more customary 50/50 splits and that once the studios formed Movielink they pulled their films from Intertainer.

NBC in talks about ownership of Bravo: NBC and Cablevision have held discussions that could lead to NBC becoming the owner of Bravo in a deal said to be worth $1 billion. NBC currently owns 6 percent of Cablevision and 17 percent of Rainbow Media Holdings, which controls Bravo, Independent Film Channel, American Movie Classics and WE: Women’s Entertainment.

Cablevision and NBC declined to comment.

‘CSI: Miami’ brings CBS to Monday rating heights: The premiere of CBS spinoff “CSI: Miami” took over the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. (ET) Monday time period. Combined with the new season launches of CBS’s powerhouse 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. comedy lineup, the Eye Network swept up wins in adults 18 to 49, total viewers and households on the first night of the new season.

“CSI Miami” turned in a winning 8.5 rating/21 share average in the key adults 18 to 49 demo, improving 5 percent on the top-ranked lead-in double-run airings of “Everybody Loves Raymond” (8.1/18) and beating the final hour of NBC’s 90-minute “Crossing Jordan” season premiere (4.4/11) by a 93 percent margin, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data. For the 90-minute span, “Jordan” averaged 4.2/17 in the demo.

Overall, “CSI: Miami” racked up 22.8 million viewers, just below “Raymond’s” evening-high 23 million average for the hour, to hold a commanding 113 percent margin over the final hour of “Crossing Jordan’s” 10.7 million total viewers. “CSI: Miami” also appeared to edge out the last hour of ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in total viewers (16.8 million) by a 36 percent margin.

For the night, CBS took home wins in total viewers (20.3 million), households (13.0/20) and adults 18 to 49 (7.1/17), improving the latter demo by 29 percent over the year-ago Monday season openers. ABC came in second in adults 18 to 49 (6.2/15) and total viewers (14.8 million). NBC, which saw “Fear Factor’s” adults 18 to 49 scores for the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. frames grow 28 percent for the span, came in third for the night in adults 18 to 49 (4.6/11) and total viewers (10.8 million).

Fox’s two-hour “American Idol” concert special in Las Vegas had the network coming in fourth for the night in adults 18 to 49 (3.3/8) and total viewers (7.2 million).

I: Miami’ boosts local CBS newscasts, ‘Letterman’: The huge 10 p.m.-hour boost, a key goal of CBS’s scheduling strategy this season, translated to significant metered-market ratings spikes for its owned-and-operated stations’ late newscasts and for the 11:35 p.m. to 1:35 a.m. network broadcasts of “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Late Show with Craig Kilbourn.”

CBS researchers reported that CBS affiliates’ newscasts nationally posted a 30 percent increase year to year in households (9.5/17 vs. 7.3/13) in Nielsen Media Research’s overnight metered measure. CBS affiliates, typically ranked second or third in the local news races, beat the NBC affiliates’ overnight average (8.9/16) in 53 metered markets by a 7 percent margin.

Among the CBS O&O markets in 13 of the 15 metered markets (Boston and Denver ratings were not processed at deadline), the late newscasts averaged an 8.5/15 and improved 27 percent from their year-ago Monday average. Major-market news gains were startling, with KCBS-TV in Los Angeles up 100 percent (6.2/14 vs. 3.1/7), KPIX-TV in San Francisco up 73 percent (6.9/17 vs. 4.0/10) and WCBS-TV in New York up 22 percent (6.7/11 vs. 5.5/10).

Transitional strength from prime time through late news also allowed the 11:35 p.m.-to-12:35 a.m. telecast of “Letterman” (4.3/10) to improve 16 percent over its year-ago Monday average and marked the talk show’s best metered score since Dec. 3, 2001 (4.4/11). NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” still held a 23 percent advantage in the overnight household race (5.3/13), but saw a 5 percent decline. Lead-out talker “Craig Kilbourn” delivered a 1.7/7 in the metered markets, posting a 6 percent increase from its year-ago average (1.6/6) and marking its best overnight score Dec. 31, 2001 (1.8/5).

USA renews ‘Monk’: “Monk” has been renewed for a second 13-episode season by basic cable’s USA Network. The series from Disney’s Touchstone Television made history recently when Disney broadcaster ABC picked it up in a unique cable-to-broadcasting repurposing deal.

The quirky series stars Tony Shalhoub (“Galaxy Quest”) as an obsessive-compulsive detective.

Big Sunday, Monday growth for The WB: The WB’s newly billed “Big Sunday” lived up to its banner last weekend, getting record-setting evening premiere ratings from the two-hour season opener of “Charmed.”

“Charmed” helped The WB chalk up best-ever Sunday numbers in adults 18 to 34 (2.6 rating/7 share), persons 12 to 34 (2.7/8), women 18 to 34 (3.1/9) and total viewers (5.2 million), according to final Nielsen Media Research data. For its 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) Sunday airing, “Charmed” placed second in its time period in adults 18 to 34, persons 12 to 34, women 18 to 34 and women 12 to 34 and first in teens and female teens.

The second week of The WB’s new Monday lineup of “7th Heaven” and “Everwood” followed its opening week with its highest metered market ratings for a Monday since November 2000. “7th Heaven” came in third in the 8 p.m. Monday hour at a 7.0/11 household average in Nielsen’s metered market measure and won its time slot on WGN-TV in Chicago (11.8/18).

At 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., “Everwood” retained 77 percent of “7th Heaven’s” lead-in at a 5.4/8 household average, which was only off 13 percent from its previous week’s debut (6.2/9). “Everwood’s” overnight score marked the second-highest metered-market delivery in the time period since January 1998.

Some Fine Living in NYC: Fine Living, the new Scripps lifestyle network that’s just become available in New York City (on Time Warner Cable), is touting its bite of the Apple with two one-hour specials, “My Kind of Town” and “10 Best Cities to Live in America.”

“Town” airs in October and “10 Best” in November. In addition, “Born American,” a special about American culture hosted by former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, will air Oct. 21.