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Nov 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Thursday, Nov. 21

FCC’s Copps prepared to hold ownership hearings

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps today said he plans to hold a series of field hearings on proposals to ease agency media ownership restrictions, whether Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell comes along for the ride or not.

“This is potentially the most important, the most valuable, information we’re going to get,” said Mr. Copps, the agency’s sole sitting Democrat, at a briefing for reporters in Washington.

Under a massive proceeding launched earlier this year, the FCC is poised to relax or eliminate many of the regulations that limit concentration of ownership in the media.

At the time the proceeding was announced, Mr. Copps asked Mr. Powell to commit to public field hearings intended to ascertain what citizens outside industry and the Washington Beltway think about the case for further deregulation. But according to Mr. Copps, the chairman’s reaction has been “unenthusiastic.”

“I would do hearings by myself if I have to,” Mr. Copps said.

At deadline, Mr. Powell had not returned telephone calls. But sources speculated that Jonathan Adelstein, who was recently confirmed to a second Democratic seat at the agency, will join Mr. Copps after officially stepping in as a commissioner. Rumor has it that Kevin Martin, one of the agency’s GOP commissioners, might also attend.

Mr. Copps said he hopes to launch the first sessions in January. At deadline, a source close to the issue said two venues are already in the works: New York and Los Angeles.

“We hope to encourage forums across the country where Mr. Copps and the other commissioners can speak,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy. “There’s no question that Michael Copps is the de facto real chairman at the FCC. He is proactively taking his public responsibilities seriously.”

Murdoch defends Ailes memo: A controversial memo that Fox News head Roger Ailes wrote to President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11, which is described in “Bush at War,” Bob Woodward’s latest book, was “absolutely” proper, the act of a patriotic American who would have sent such a memo to a Democratic president as well, Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., told reporters after the Fox Entertainment Group’s annual shareholders’ meeting, held today in Manhattan.

In the memo, Mr. Ailes reportedly urges President Bush to respond as harshly as possible to the terrorist attacks or risk losing the support of the American people.

Mr. Murdoch, who is also chairman and CEO of FEG, 85 percent owned by News Corp., contrasted Mr. Ailes’ actions with those of Rick Kaplan, former CNN president, who, Mr. Murdoch said, stayed overnight in the White House during the Clinton administration and offered President Clinton advice on dealing with the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Asked whether he was suggesting that CNN was not fair and balanced and was tinged with liberalism, Mr. Murdoch replied: “Absolutely.” Mr. Kaplan has called the contention that he advised President Clinton “completely untrue,” a CNN spokeswoman said.

Mr. Murdoch’s report to the sparsely attended shareholders’ meeting was largely upbeat. “The health of Fox Entertainment Group could hardly be better,” he said, singling out the Fox Broadcasting Co. as the one area in FEG that had faltered and the 35-station-strong owned-and-operated group, which includes nine duopoly markets, as the “single most profitable” area of FEG.

As for his plans regarding DirecTV, Mr. Murdoch would only say that he is not now in talks with Hughes, and that while the Hughes direct satellite unit would be a “strategically very sound” addition to News Corp., “It’s not essential.”FBC has “endured a difficult year,” he said in his formal chairman’s review, with increased programming costs, lowered ratings and a soft ad market combining to “seriously hinder results.”

Fox Broadcasting should get a “boost” in the back of the season from “American Idol 2,” which will premiere in January, Mr. Murdoch said. In the longer term, there is an “extensive and expensive” plan to turn the broadcast network around, he said, though he did not offer specifics.

Union jurisdiction at the Los Angeles and New York duopolies has just been settled, Mr. Murdoch noted. Previously, the two stations in each market had worked under different union jurisdictions. From now on, the two L.A. stations will be under NABET rules; the two New York stations will be IATSE.

On the cable front, Mr. Murdoch said the cable group’s operating earnings were up 110 percent over last year and that the National Geographic Channel, which FEG owns with National Geographic Television, will launch on Time Warner Cable in the all-important New York market on Dec. 18.

On the subject of escalating sports rights, Mr. Murdoch declared that he would rather drop a sport than pay more for rights.

As for the possible ABC News/CNN merger, Mr. Murdoch was scathing. It would be “great,” he said. “It would weaken both.”

‘Bachelor’ powers ABC to nightly win: ABC had its highest-rated night among adults 18 to 49 in 31/2 years thanks to the two-hour season finale of “The Bachelor.” “The Bachelor” decimated its competition-including NBC’s “West Wing” and the much-hyped “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” on CBS-scoring a 12 rating and 28 share among adults 18 to 49 from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) and drawing 26 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast national data. ABC led the time period in the demo by 122 percent over second-place NBC, which had a 5.4/13 from its combo of “West Wing” and “Law & Order.”

Head-to-head against the “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show,” which pulled a third-place 3.9/9 in the demo from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., “The Bachelor” outscored it by 179 percent. The fashion show also finished in third place in total viewers (10.5 million) and households (7.2/11) and didn’t do much to help the network attract younger viewers. CBS finished fourth among adults 18 to 49 for the night with a 3.0/7.

ABC won the night in adults 18 to 49 with a 9.7/24, followed by NBC (5.1/13) and Fox (3.3/8). That gave ABC its third consecutive Wednesday night win, beating second-place NBC by 90 percent. Among total viewers for the night, ABC finished first (21.8 million), followed by NBC (15.4 million), CBS (8.4 million) and Fox (7.7 million).

Management changes at MediaVest and SMG: Laura Desmond, CEO of SMG Latin America, has been named CEO of MediaVest USA, and Donna Salvatore, the current CEO of MediaVest, is moving to the post of chief investment strategist. Ms. Salvatore will report to Ms. Desmond.

Nancy Mullahy, president of SMG Mexico, will fill the Latin American CEO post. All three management changes are effective Jan. 3, 2003.

As chief investment strategist, Ms. Salvatore will develop brand-centric cross-platform opportunities and focus on several key clients, including Proctor & Gamble and Kraft, according to a Starcom MediaVest Group statement.#