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May 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Fox Declares Sweeps Victory

Fox Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow declared a sweeps victory in adults 18 to 49 with one day left to go on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. Fox and NBC are tied at a 4.4 rating in the demo, but even NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker conceded that tonight’s three hours of Law & Order celebrating the series’ 300th episode would be no match for Fox’s finale of American Idol and said that Fox would win the sweeps.

Mr. Zucker said NBC will end the season in first place among adults 18 to 49 for the third year in a row. Fox and The WB are the only two networks showing growth in May over last year, with Fox up 19 percent and The WB up 6 percent.

However, May sweeps took a back seat to the notion of profitability, which was raised yesterday when CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves declared that CBS is the most profitable network in prime time. “The money is coming in here just fine based on 25 to 54 and based on older demographics,” he said. “I’d rather have my bottom line than the four other networks that are shooting solely for 18 to 49.”

He also said CBS is more profitable than NBC on Thursday nights because while NBC may bring in more ad money on that night, CBS’s shows aren’t as expensive as NBC’s — a claim Mr. Zucker vehemently opposed.

“Just because Les says something doesn’t mean it’s true,” Mr. Zucker said.

Mr. Zucker said NBC’s prime-time schedule is by far more profitable than those of the other networks and told reporters to look it up in a report issued by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter analyst Richard Bilotti. He even gave out the page number and Mr. Bilotti’s phone number.

Fox Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow later jumped into the fray, saying the entertainment division combined with the sports division is not profitable at Fox, but if one isolates the entertainment division, it is profitable on its own.

He also found a way to capitalize on Mr. Moonves and Mr. Zucker’s war of words. “Never one to miss an opportunity, we decided to put a new special in development starring Les and Jeff called Man vs. Beast,” he joked. “It’s up to you guys to decide who’s who.”

At ABC, Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun would only say that ABC is doing better financially this year than last. “This is going to be a very profitable division for this company and in really short order,” he said.

Mr. Braun would not say whether he knew that the majority of the cast of The Practice would be leaving the show when ABC picked up the drama for another year. ABC paraded cast members who won’t be on the show next year on stage at its upfront presentation in New York last week. He said he has talked with creator David E. Kelley and has heard his plans to reinvigorate the show. “We are on the same page with this show,” Mr. Braun said.

Over at The WB, Entertainment President Jordan Levin said the biggest surprise for the network was that it was in growth mode in May, up 6 percent. “We were really shooting to be flat this May,” he said.

Mr. Levin also took on the issue of profitability. “our bottom line is our bottom line, and the bottom line is profitable right now,” he said, pointing out that UPN — a network Mr. Moonves also oversees — has huge amounts of debt, has dicey station affiliation negotiations coming up and has shown the greatest losses year to year of any broadcast network.

UPN is down across the board, including adults 18 to 49 (down 17 percent) and adults 18 to 34 (down 11 percent).

‘Idol,’ ’24’ Finale Boosts Ratings for Fox: The season finales of American Idol and 24 delivered for Fox last night, easily ranking as the No. 1 and No. 2 rated shows of the night in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. Idol scored an 11.2 rating and 31 share in adults 18 to 49 and 25.7 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research national data. That’s the highest share ever for the show among adults 18 to 49. The finale 24 also had its best numbers ever in adults 18 to 49, with a 6.4/16 and total viewers with 14.2 million.

NBC took a big hit for the night with its key demo of adults 18 to 49 getting beaten by The WB. The WB averaged a 3.1/8 for the night vs. NBC’s 3/8. Gilmore Girls’ season finale (2.6/7) beat NBC’s repeat of Most Outrageous Game Show Moments (2/6). The season finale of Smallville (3.6/9) beat NBC’s sitcom combo of Frasier and Watching Ellie (3.5/9).

At UPN, the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had its best ratings in persons 12 to 34 (2.7/8), adults 18 to 49 (2.7/8) and total viewers (4.9 million) since November 2002. Buffy’s final farewell finished in third place in adults 18 to 34 and persons 18 to 34 behind only Idol and The WB’s Gilmore Girls.

Buffy also helped boost the premiere of reality series America’s Next Top Model, which scored the best ratings of the season in the time period in women 18 to 34 (2.6/6) and women 18 to 49 (2/5). It scored a 1.5/4 in adults 18 to 49 and pulled in 2.9 million viewers.

For the night, Fox won in adults 18 to 49 with a 8.8/23, followed by ABC (4/11), CBS (3.3/9), The WB (3.1/8), NBC (3/8) and UPN (2/5). In total viewers, Fox easily took the night with 19.9 million, followed by CBS (12.5 million), ABC (9.9 million), NBC (8.3 million), The WB (6.5 million) and UPN (3.9 million).

Ryan’s Hope: ‘Idol’ Host Coming to Syndication: It doesn’t yet have a title. Or a set format. But Twentieth Television is convinced it will have something big when Ryan Seacrest comes to syndication next January. The distributor confirmed today that the American Idol host will hit the airwaves five days a week in a live one-hour program.

“Ryan’s appeal has helped to make American Idol one of the biggest success stories in network television,” Twentieth Television CEO Bob Cook said in a statement. “We’re tremendously excited to bring Ryan’s unique talent and style, which has been an instant hit with prime-time audiences, to daily television.”

The show is described by Mr. Seacrest as a combination of “the newsmagazine and variety show to bring a hybrid of entertainment and information to America.”

“There’s a huge audience of entire families across the country that are as hooked on pop culture as I am,” Mr. Seacrest said. “The bottom line is that there isn’t a daily, live show that satisfies that craving.”

Sources said Fox Television stations likely will serve as the core launch group for the program, though it’s not clear which stations are on board.

Mr. Seacrest also will serve as executive producer of the new show. He is also host of TNN’s Ultimate Revenge and has hosted series such as Click. He also hosts weekday radio show Ryan Seacrest for the Ride Home on Los Angeles station KYSR-FM.

L.A. Signs On For ‘King’-Size Debut: Sony Pictures Television locked up the final crucial market for the fall syndication debut of The King of Queens. The studio says Fox Television Stations in Los Angeles (KTTV and KCOP-TV) have agreed to carry the show, which is produced by Hanley Productions and CBS Productions in association with Sony. The hit sitcom is now cleared on stations representing 98 percent of the country.

The show previously had been cleared for fall on WNYW-TV in New York and WCIU-TV in Chicago.Last year Sony sold exclusive cable-TV rights to Queens to TBS, in a six-year contract reportedly valued at $425,000 an episode in license fees. TBS will begin airing the hit sitcom in 2006.

Bronfman to Bid for Vivendi Universal: In the latest chapter in the Vivendi Universal saga, Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. is said to be leading a team of investors preparing to make a bid for Vivendi Universal Entertainment, the music, television and film division of the troubled French media company, according to press reports.

Mr. Bronfman has reportedly lined up Cablevision Systems as well as investment banks Merrill Lynch and Wachovia Securities for a bid for all of VUE’s assets, which include cable channels USA and Sci-Fi, the Universal Studios film studio and theme park, and television production operations for TV shows such as the Law & Order franchise.

Under a scenario being floated, Cablevision
would contribute several of its cable channels to VUE’s USA and Sci-Fi cable channels in exchange for a 25 percent to 33 percent stake in the new company formed by Mr. Bronfman. Merrill Lynch is said to have an advisory role and could potentially take a stake in a newly formed company.

The news of Mr. Bronfman’s bid was first reported in the Wall Street Journal.Officials at Cablevision and Merrill Lynch did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

A spokesman for Wachovia Securities, meanwhile, said the Charlotte, N.C.-based investment bank agreed to provide debt financing to any deal put forth by Mr. Bronfman.Mr. Bronfman was not available for comment.

Vivendi Universal issued a statement saying that the management and board duties of both Mr. Bronfman and his father, Edgar Bronfman Sr., have been suspended as the family prepares its bid on the VUE assets.

Vivendi Chairman and CEO Jean-Rene Fourtou has long made it clear that he is keen to sell the entertainment assets, saying he thought it was impossible to run a Hollywood studio from the Paris headquarters. On top of that, the VUE assets, which observers say is worth nearly $16 billion, would provide a debt-laden Vivendi with a nice injection of cash.

Any bid Mr. Bronfman makes would join an already long list of companies said to be interested. At present, only one bid is on the table-one from a consortium of investors that includes oil billionaire Marvin Davis to buy the entire VUE operation for $20 billion, including the assumption of $5 billion in debt.

However, companies that have at least considered some of the film and TV assets includes studio MGM, Viacom, General Electric’s NBC and John Malone’s Liberty Media. Few are thinking about the music division, which has suffered amid a broader contraction in music sales. A wildcard in all this could be Barry Diller, who owns a stake in VUE and has put potential suitors on notice that he will thwart any deal that doesn’t maximize the value of the VUE assets.

If successful, Vivendi Universal Entertainment will have come full circle on what can be best described as a rough trip. Mr. Bronfman acquired the Universal assets in 1995 when his family’s liquor company, Seagram, bought MCA from Japanese conglomerate Matsushita. Vivendi then paid $34 billion to acquire the entertainment assets in 2000.

Gemstar-TV Guide Focuses on Improvements: Gemstar-TV Guide International has set out “to fix the nuts and bolts of the company,” improving the company’s corporate governance policies and internal controls since a new management team was brought in last November, CEO Jeff Shell said Tuesday at the company’s annual meeting.

“We did a lot of work below the hood of the company,” said Mr. Shell, who was named CEO last October following the departure of Henry Yuen. “We have a ways to go, but we have gone a long way toward building a good foundation for going forward.”

Mr. Shell said the company is pressing ahead with plans to focus on cash-generating businesses, including the relaunch of the TV Guide publication and inking a distribution deal with multiple system operator Cox Communications for the TV Guide Channel. The company is also examining the state of its interactive program guide service to determine what’s next for an operation that Mr. Shell described as a “strong and powerful business.”

Pasadena, Calif.-based Gemstar hit a patch of rough road late last year after the Securities and Exchange Commission launched a probe of the television program guide company’s accounting practices under Mr. Yuen and former Chief Financial Officer Elsie Leung. Both Yuen and Leung have since been forced out of the company. The SEC investigation continues.

Those troubles meant that much of the annual meeting was spent explaining the state of Gemstar’s businesses and what plans are under way to rebuild it.

Among the steps taken was the adoption of a new corporate governance policy that complies with federal regulations dictating corporate behavior, as well as expanding the board of directors to include more independent members. The company also tightened its cost and revenue controls to more effectively manage the company’s books.