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Sep 26, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Thursday, Sept. 26

AOL TW may sell stakes in Comedy Central, Court TV

AOL Time Warner is in talks to sell its 50 percent stakes in the cable channels Comedy Central and Court TV, as the company indicated it would last month. Viacom, its Comedy Central partner, and Liberty Media, its Court TV partner, are logical buyers. However, AOL time Warner is talking to other interested parties. Analysts estimate the total value of each of the networks, which have more than 70 million subscribers, at about $2 billion. AOL Time Warner Chief Financial Officer Wayne Pace confirmed the talks during a presentation at the Merrill Lynch media and entertainment conference Thursday in Los Angeles. The company also is selling other non-core businesses and seeking partners for its AOL Latin America operation, in which it has a 41 percent stake. Mr. Pace said the company expects to complete its internal review of AOL’s accounting practices by mid-October. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission continue their independent probes.

Gemstar reports $954 million loss: Gemstar-TV Guide International reported a preliminary second-quarter loss of $954 million, hurt by the writedown of the value of TV Guide, which it acquired in 2000. The company may be delisted from NASDAQ because it missed an Aug. 14 deadline to file audited second-quarter results, which it still has not reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission. An internal investigation recently resulted in a $20 million reversal in 2001 sales and the reclassification of $2.7 million in advertising revenues. The company’s independent auditor, KPMG, has not yet signed off on Gemstar’s audited quarterly report.

Ad turnaround seen for big media firms: Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen reports that the “big news” from her annual media and entertainment conference is the advertising turnaround for bigger media companies. “There are signs of a very strong turnaround with strong growth across various businesses. While we had anticipated this, it seems to be happening much faster and stronger than expected,” she said in a special note to clients. She cited that Viacom’s TV station pacings are up about 25 percent, and Fox reports pacing up in the mid-20s percent range. The Los Angeles conference is closed to the press.

Alexander replaces Sherman at NAB: Marcellus Alexander has joined the National Association of Broadcasters as executive VP of the Television Department. Mr. Alexander, previously VP and general manager of Viacom-owned CBS affiliate KYW-TV in Philadelphia since 1998, replaces Chuck Sherman, who recently relinquished the position to become full-time head of the NAB Education Foundation. Before his stint at KYW, Mr. Alexander was VP and general manager of Viacom-owned CBS affiliate WJZ-TV in Baltimore from 1989-98. Mr. Alexander also is on the board of the National Association of Television Program Executives. He assumes his new duties Oct. 7.

Driver on road to NBC series: NBC has signed an exclusive series development deal with Oscar nominee Minnie Driver (“Good Will Hunting,” “Return to Me”) to headline a new comedy or drama series for launch in the 2003-04 season.

“NBC is excited to be in business with Minnie Driver, whose star qualities translate in any medium,” Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment, said in a prepared statement. “Her crossover appeal, marquee value and winning personality make her a natural to star in her own NBC series.”

Representing Ms. Driver in the deal was International Creative Management talent agency.

‘West Wing’ gives NBC ratings win: After winning its third consecutive outstanding drama Emmy last Sunday, NBC’s two-hour, fourth-season opener of “The West Wing” propelled the Peacock Network to sweeping wins in adults 18 to 49, households and total viewers Wednesday night.

The two-part season opener of “The West Wing” from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., ET, posted highs for the night in adults 18 to 49 (6.6 rating/17 share), adults 25 to 54 (8.3/17), total viewers (18.0 million) and households (12.0/19), according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data. However, compared with its official hour-long opener last season (on Oct. 10, 2001), “West Wing” is tracking 25 percent erosion in adults 18 to 49 (from an 8.8/21), 24 percent in total viewers (23.6 million) and 22 percent in households (15.3/23).

Meanwhile, the season opener of ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” posted a 5.6/17 in adults 18 to 49, holding a 47 percent margin of victory over Fox’s second-ranked “The Bernie Mac Show” (3.8/11), which was down 16 percent from its previous week’s premiere in fast nationals (4.5/14) in the anchor Wednesday time slot. “My Wife’s” second half-hour at 8:30 p.m. moved up 14 percent from the lead-in frame to a 6.4/17 in adults 18 to 49, holding a 64 percent advantage over Fox’s second-ranked “Cedric The Entertainer” (3.9/11), which settled 13 percent from its previous week’s series premiere (4.5/13).

During the 8 p.m. hour, NBC’s “Ed” came in third among adults 18 to 49 (3.8/10). CBS’s “60 Minutes II” turned in a fourth-ranked 2.4/7 in adults 18 to 49 for the hour.

From 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., the finale of “Big Brother 3” bolted 129 percent ahead of its lead-in hour in adults 18 to 49 to finish with a second-ranked 5.5/14 in the key demo. “BB3,” which had the housemates voting for Los Angeles native Lisa Donahue as the $500,000 grand prize winner over Danielle Reyes, had its best-ever scores in adults 18 to 34 (5.2/14), adults 18 to 49 and adults 25 to 54 (6.2/14). “Big Brother 3’s” 12. 9 million total viewers held a 47 percent advantage over ABC’s second-season premiere of “Bachelor II” at a head count of 8.8 million viewers in the 9 p.m. hour. “Bachelor II,” coming off of a strong spring/summer 2002 run, turned in a fourth-ranked score in adults 18 to 49 (4.0/10). Fox’s 9 p.m. drama “Fastlane” improved 9 percent in adults 18 to 49 (4.1/10) from its lead-in hour (3.8/11). “Fastlane” held hour to hour in total viewers (8.05 million vs. 8.03 million).

In the 10 p.m.-hour battle of competing medical dramas, ABC’s “MDs” held a narrow 6 percent edge over CBS’s “Presidio Med” in adults 18 to 49 (3.4/9 vs. 3.2/9). “Presidio Med,” though, beat “MDs” in total viewers (8.8 million vs. 7.8 million) and households (6.4/10 vs. 5.3/9).

For the night, NBC won in adults 18 to 49 (5.5/10), total viewers (15.4 million) and households (10.3/17). ABC came in a much-needed second in adults 18 to 49 (4.4/12), followed by Fox (4.0/10) and CBS (3.7/10).

New African American cable channel under discussion: A new cable network for African American viewers is under discussion, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Alfred Liggins III, the CEO of Radio One, a radio broadcaster that targets black listeners, is in talks with unnamed cable companies about the new channel, according to the report. Mr. Liggins has investors on board and is actively looking for carriage agreements, the AJC reports.

Weather Channel gets ratings storm: The stormy weather of hurricane season is bringing sunny ratings to The Weather Channel. With news aswirl with tropical storm and Atlantic hurricane reports, TWC’s “Your Weather Today” started off the week with a 0.6 average rating from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Monday, almost doubling the average for the period in the quarter to date.