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Jul 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

MSO Chiefs: Rebrands Are ‘Frustrating’

A panel of MSO executives speaking on Tuesday at the CTAM Summit in Seattle criticized cable networks that opt for rebranding – even if the result is a better network.

“It’s not all about ratings,” said Lynne Costantini, VP of programming for Time Warner Cable. “We’re not in the business of leasing channels to programmers. When we do a deal with a programmer, it’s with a specific content in mind to appeal to a specific demographic.”

Ms. Costantini said networks will often enthuse about their improvements to operators, while an operator’s main concern is whether the rebranding violates the content clause of the network’s contract.

“I want to buy a Volkswagen … and you show up in a Cadillac,” Ms. Costantini said. “I don’t want a Cadillac.”

Patrick Esser, executive VP of Cox Communications, agreed.

“We make a conscious decision when we select a channel, and it frustrates me when networks decide to go through this metamorphosis,” said Mr. Esser.

When programmers are found in violation of their content clause, the execs said private discussions typically ensue. After the panel, Mr. Esser and Ms. Costantini declined to comment whether TNN’s rebrand to Spike TV, or AMC’s switch to a commercial-supported format, were violations of their contracts. Both execs also declined to answer whether either MSO was considering dropping Spike TV.

House Vote on Ownership Deregulation Expected: In what could be a major boost to the effort to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership deregulation, the House of Representatives was expected to approve an appropriations bill this evening that includes a rider that would roll back the cap on national TV ownership to 35 percent.

In almost two hours of debate on the House floor this afternoon, key lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle said they would have preferred to push a rollback of FCC’s deregulation further. But in a 254-174 vote, the House rejected an amendment offered by Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and David Price, D-N.C., that would have extended the rollback to include the FCC’s relaxation of its TV duopoly rule and its newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership prohibition.

Several lawmakers expressed concern that the Hinchey amendment would amount to a “poison pill” that would kill the rollback initiative altogether by overreaching. “It will load up the camel and break the camel’s back,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., who introduced the rider to roll the national cap to 35 percent, which was adopted by the House Appropriations Committee last week.

Rep. Obey also said he believed that by limiting the amendment to the cap, he could get enough votes in the House to discourage the White House from following through on veto threats.

The leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee have already endorsed similar initiatives to overturn the FCC. But ultimate congressional resolution of the issue is still at least a month away because the Senate Appropriations Committee isn’t planning to vote on companion legislation until after Congress returns from its summer recess in September.

In a statement, the watchdog Consumers Union said the House vote demonstrated that the strategy of the House Republican leadership and White House to protect all of the FCC’s “Draconian media ownership rules is dead.”

CNBC Re-Signs Kernen: CNBC has re-signed popular on-air stocks editor and “Squawk Box” team member Joe Kernen for at least five more years. Mr. Kernen was among the talent CNBC acquired when it merged with FNN in 1991.

Michigan Court Will Not Review ‘Jenny Jones’ Ruling Reversal: “Jenny Jones” is off the hook. The Michigan Supreme Court will not review a ruling that reversed a $29.3 million award against the strip stemming from the murder of former guest Scott Amedure. The court said it was not “persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed.”

Last October the state court of appeals reversed a 1999 jury verdict that found the distributor liable for Mr. Amedure’s murder following an on-TV encounter between the victim and Jonathan Schmitz, who has since been convicted of the murder and is serving a 25- to 50-year sentence. The appeals court said that people connected with the show had no way of foreseeing Mr. Schmitz’s violent actions.

Strong Named NBC Enterprises Sales VP: NBC Enterprises has named Eric Strong as VP, Eastern syndication sales, for the company. Mr. Strong will be based in New York City and joins NBC Enterprises from Sony Pictures Entertainment, where he most recently served as VP of Eastern sales. In his new position Mr. Strong will oversee all day-to-day first-run and off-network sales for NBC Enterprises in the Eastern region.

Spike TV Launches August 11: After undergoing one of the most publicly debated and costly rebranding efforts in television history, TNN will relaunch as Spike TV on August 11. The premiere night programming will include “Party With Spike,” an event originally taped for the net’s previous launch date at the Playboy Mansion, and “Road To SlamBall,” a one-hour look at the extreme team sport.

“We’re thrilled that the first network for men is proceeding under the banner of ‘Spike TV’,” said Albie Hecht, president, Spike TV. “Beginning today and continuing for the remainder of men’s lives we will be building our home base with new programming and specials that speak to a wide range of men’s interests.”

In other Spike TV programming news, the net also announced “Zero to Sixty,” a daily one-minute report on the automotive industry, and the documentary “Go Inside: Animal House,” which will air in August.

Moonves Expects Deal Between UPN and Fox Stations: Negotiations between UPN and News Corp. for a group of Fox stations to renew their affiliation agreements with UPN are going “extremely well,” said CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves at the Television Critics Association press tour today in Hollywood.

“We expect to have a new deal with the Fox stations,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect any problems.

Mr. Moonves and UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff delivered the message that UPN has improved its schedule flow and will be a much stronger network this year. Ms. Ostroff pointed to the success of reality series “America’s Next Top Model” as an indication that with the right programming, targeting the 18 to 34 demo can work for the network.

“Top Model” has already been renewed for a second edition and could be ready in time for November sweeps, Ms. Ostroff said.

However, some critics questioned how much of an improvement the schedule really is this fall, since it is still hampered by wrestling, which interrupts the week on Thursday, and two hours devoted to a Friday movie.

Mr. Moonves said it would have been “dumb” to get rid of the Friday movie and launch more new shows, because they are already launching five new shows in UPN’s 10 hours of prime time. When CBS gained full control of UPN, they inherited a schedule that includes a successful wrestling franchise that makes it necessary to work around it.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Mr. Moonves said. “We’re trying to evolve into a network.”

Anyone who thinks they can turn a network around in one year should take a look at ABC, he said.

Also at UPN’s press tour:

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith made an appearance to tout the sitcom “All of Us,” which they created and executive produced. Both of them will make guest appearances on the show, Mr. Smith said. Ms. Pinkett Smith will play lead actor Duane Martin’s sister, who comes to town to check out his new fiancee, while Mr. Smith said he will do a three-episode arc as the first post-divorce boyfriend of LisaRaye’s character.

“All of Us” tested so well with audiences that a CBS executive suggested it could air on CBS. Mr. Moonves said that while the notion was brought up, “It deserves to be on UPN.” The show was developed by UPN, which Ms. Pinkett Smith said they chose to go to because they were the most excited about the show of all the networks they pitched.

UPN will kick off its new season on Wednesday, Sept. 10, before th
e traditional broadcast network premiere week, with the premieres of “Enterprise” and “Jake 2.0.” On Thursday, Sept. 11, UPN will try to capitalize on the “WWE Smackdown!” audience by running the series premiere of “The Mullets” after a 90-minute “Smackdown.” The Monday, Tuesday and Friday night lineups premiere during the week of Sept. 15.

Showtime ‘Family Business’ Pickup: Showtime has given a second-season pickup to “Family Business,” the late-night series that is the hardest-core reality show on television.

The half-hour series follows boyish entrepreneur Adam Glasser, his mom Lila and his cantankerous cousin Stevie as they go about the family business, which just happens to be the production of hard-core adult videos. Mr. Glasser stars in, directs and produces the videos himself.

Mr. Glasser is, in fact, well known to adult-video aficionados as “Seymore Butts,” the persona he adopts in front of and behind the XXX-rated camera. The series is executive produced by Arnold Shapiro and Allison Grodner (“Big Brother”). The second season is set for an early 2004 premiere.

Burks, Hayden Upped at Showtime: Showtime Networks has promoted Patrick Burks to executive VP, cable distribution, and Tom Hayden to executive VP, direct-to-home.

Both men will report to Mark Greenberg, executive VP, corporate strategy and communications, whose responsibilities have been expanded to include oversight of the sales and affiliate marketing areas as well as the direct-to-home business. Jeff Wade, who left his post at the company for health reasons, had headed these areas.

MGM Won’t Overpay for Vivendi Assets: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian on Tuesday said his company would not overpay for Vivendi Universal’s U.S. entertainment assets, emphasizing that a purchase would have to be “accretive in creating wealth” for MGM shareholders for him to sign off on a sale.

Mr. Yemenidjian, whose $11.5 billion offer for Vivendi Universal’s film, television and cable assets is believed to be the highest on the table right now, also said that if MGM was unsuccessful in purchasing the Vivendi assets he will recommend “sharing [MGM’s] wealth” with the company’s shareholders.

What form that rewarding of shareholders might take was unclear, Mr. Yemenidjian said during a conference call to discuss the company’s second-quarter results. However, he said traditionally he has preferred rewarding shareholders by making tender offers for their shares at premium prices.

MGM is one of six bidders-the others include Liberty Media, General Electric’s NBC unit, Viacom and investment teams headed by Vivendi Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. and oil billionaire Marvin Davis-vying for the Vivendi assets.

The comments came as the company said its sale of its 20 percent stake in Cablevision Systems’ Rainbow Media Holdings unit contributed to widened second-quarter loss of $133.6 million, or 55 cents a share, compared with year-earlier red ink of $121.8 million, or 48 cents a share. Revenue rose 45 percent to $487.7 million.

The widened loss was the result of a $93.1 million loss booked on the sale of its Rainbow stake, which MGM sold back to Cablevision for $500 million a few weeks ago.

MGM officials said the company remained ahead of projections in generating cash flow for the quarter. However, they warned that the third-quarter cash flow numbers would be negative due to the costs of releasing the film “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde” earlier this month.

On the television production side, Vice Chairman Chris McGurk said the studio had broadened its programming base with shows such as “Dead Like Me” on Showtime as well as new seasons of syndicated series such as “She Spies.” The company said it also has plans to launch TV series based on MGM films “Legally Blonde,” “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “Barbershop.”