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Sep 2, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Study Says Public Wants Nets to Buy More Stations

Affiliate and watchdog group representatives today blasted a network-sponsored study that claims that, contrary to the conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill, a vast majority of the U.S. public supports a network campaign to buy more television stations.

Among the study’s key findings, based on a poll of 700 Americans, is that 68 percent of the public believes the marketplace, not government regulation, should decide who owns the nation’s local TV stations-an assertion that flies in the face of a congressional effort to overturn a Federal Communications Commission decision to raise the cap on national TV ownership from 35 percent to 45 percent of TV homes.

“The American people like the choices they have and appreciate the added value that network ownership of local TV stations has brought them,” said Frank Luntz, president and CEO of The Luntz Research Companies, which conducted the poll. But Alan Frank, chairman of the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance-the group leading the industry charge to overturn the FCC’s cap decision-said the study was a “desperate” attempt by the networks to derail the campaign to roll back the cap to 35 percent. “

The American public is not going to be fooled by a slogan,” Mr. Frank said. “They don’t want four companies to monopolize what they see and when they see it.” Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy, said the study failed to explain to those surveyed how their viewing choices may have already have been limited by TV network concentration. “It’s a one-sided poll befitting a tobacco company,” Mr. Chester said. Still, the networks are already trumpeting the study findings in Capitol Hill newspaper ads and in a memo being circulated in Congress.

The study’s other key finding is that 40 percent of Americans believe that network ownership of their local station is a good thing, while 11 percent said network ownership was a bad thing and 42 percent said station ownership didn’t matter. “By a sizeable 2-1 ratio (56 percent to 26 percent), the public does not want Congress to roll back the decision of the FCC,” the memo on the study adds.

EchoStar’s Dish Network Subscribers Grow: EchoStar Communications said Tuesday that its Dish Network’s high rate of growth has propelled the satellite service’s subscriber count pass the 9 million mark.

The progress comes as Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar introduces a new satellite receiver that doubles as a digital video recorder.

Dish Network’s main rival, DirecTV, boasts 11.56 million subscribers.

DTV Transmissions Reach 201 Markets: The National Association of Broadcasters said Tuesday that 1,003 TV stations have launched digital television operations, meaning that DTV transmissions are available in 201 markets serving 99.17 percent of U.S. homes.

Food Network Subscribers Hit 80 Million: Food Network said Tuesday that it has reached the important 80 million-subscriber mark.

The cable network, which will celebrate its 10th year in November, has added more than 4 million subscribers since the start of the year, bringing the total number of homes with access to the Food Network to 80.9 million. In just the past three months, the cable channel said it has added 107 cable systems in more than 100 cities.

Since E.W. Scripps acquired the cable channel in 1997, the cable channel has added 61 million subs. “The resources dedicated to the network have enabled us to evolve and offer a wide variety of programming, which has resulted in record ratings growth,” said Food Network President Judy Girard.

Yager Announces Resignation at NAB: Jim Yager, CEO of Barrington Broadcasting, has announced his resignation as joint board chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, citing personal reasons. NAB’s executive committee is scheduled to pick a successor in a conference call this evening.

Carpenter Named VP, Executive Director of MT&R Media Center: Christy Carpenter has been named VP and executive director of the Museum of Television & Radio Media Center. Launched in 2002 by late museum President Robert Batscha, the Media Center is designed to convene top-level executives, journalists and creative talent from the converging industries of media and technology to discuss critical issues. “Christy Carpenter brings some 25 years of experience in media, politics, technology and trade association management to the MT&R Media Center, placing her in a unique position to further the Media Center’s role as the global nexus for discussions on critical communications issues,” said Frank Bennack Jr., chairman of the museum’s board of trustees.

Trained as a lawyer, Ms. Carpenter left a job with the Commerce Department in 1979 and joined Warner Cable’s QUBE system, where she remained until 1984. She subsequently worked with Prodigy Interactive Services as it created the first PC-based online service designed for the mass market and later with an electronic home shopping service developed by JCPenney. She also served as VP and group director for the international public relations firm Hill & Knowlton in New York, senior executive for public and professional services for the State Bar of California and executive VP and chief operating officer for the Wine Institute in San Francisco.

In 1998 President Clinton appointed her to the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where she served as its vice chair for two years. Earlier this year she was elected to the board of KCET-TV, the largest public television station in Southern California.

Vivendi and NBC Enter Exclusive Negotiations: Vivendi Universal and General Electric’s NBC unit on Tuesday said they have entered into exclusive negotiations to merge the broadcaster’s assets with Vivendi Universal Entertainment to create a company that would be 80 percent controlled by GE and 20 percent owned by Vivendi.

As part of the proposed deal, VUE shareholders would get $3.8 billion in cash and stock while VUE parent Vivendi would see its debt level trimmed by $1.6 billion.

The new company would combine NBC’s broadcast and cable properties, which include Telemundo, CNBC, Bravo and MSNBC, with VUE’s Universal Studios, a television production company responsible for the powerful “Law & Order” franchise, among other things, and cable channels USA, Sci Fi and Trio. NBC Chairman and CEO Bob Wright would run the new company.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the two companies said a combined company would be one of the most profitable entertainment companies in the world, boasting annual revenues of $13 billion and operating cash flow of $3 billion.

Mr. Wright, speaking on MSNBC Tuesday afternoon, said he expects to have the transaction completed within the month, and hopes to have regulatory approval for the deal by the end of the year or in early 2004.

The pact between NBC and Vivendi ends a protracted process that often drew criticism from observers and bidders who accused Vivendi of dragging out the auction process to get a higher price for the assets.

In winning the right to hold exclusive talks with Vivendi, NBC beat out Vivendi Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. An investment team led by Mr. Bronfman had made several last-minute changes to its offer to increase its chances to win the assets, but to no avail.

NBC had been seen since July as the likely winner of the derby, in part because of Vivendi Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou’s fondness for GE and its management. However, some had suggested GE might be superseded by an offer that contained cash, of which Vivendi was in desperate need several months ago.

Telemundo Adds English Closed Captioning to Shows: Spanish-language Telemundo is breaking a precedent and adding English-language closed captioning to the two shows joining its Monday night lineup at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sept. 8. The new shows, “La Cenicienta,” a reality/romance/telenovela hybrid, and “Amore Descarado,” a romantic-comedy novela that recently got equally unprecedented promos during “For Love or Money” and ‘Who Wants to Marry My Dad?” on big-sister network NBC.

Telemundo will put the English-langua
ge captions on CC1 and put Spanish-language captions on CC3.

Jim McNamara, president and CEO of Telemundo, said, “We expect these shows are going to appeal to all U.S. Hispanics. With two channels of close captioning, we’re serving the Spanish-language hearing-impaired as well as the U.S. Hispanics that speak some Spanish but predominantly English.”