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Sep 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

SAG/AFTRA and Advertisers Reach Agreement

Eager to avoid a repeat of 2000’s protracted negotiation and strike, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists reached a tentative three-year agreement with the advertising industry after one day of face-to-face talks.

The agreement comes after a series of discussions that preceded the meeting between the performers guilds and the Association of National Advertisers/American Association of Advertising Agencies Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Union Relations that were aimed at ensuring a quick agreement.

“We have contributed to the momentum of economic recovery for our industry and have helped to ensure that everyone keeps working,” read a statement by the chief negotiators.

The agreement will go to SAG/AFTRA’s Joint National Board of Directors on Sept. 29. If approved, a joint referendum will be mailed to union members in October.

Also, SAG members have re-elected Melissa Gilbert as guild president. Ms. Gilbert won with 50 percent of the vote, beating out former SAG Treasurer Kent McCord. The newly combined position of secretary-treasurer was won by James Cromwell.

Messier Dealt a Setback: A federal judge in New York on Wednesday blocked deposed Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Marie Messier from collecting a $23 million severance payment that a New York state judge had ordered Vivendi to pay.

The decision, which stemmed from a request made last week by the Securities and Exchange Commission to put the payment in an escrow account, is the latest chapter in what has become a protracted battle between Mr. Messier and Vivendi in both New York and Paris over the terms of his dismissal in July 2002.

The state judge had ruled on Sept. 11 that Vivendi must adhere to an arbitration panel’s ruling ordering the French company to pay Mr. Messier the severance. However, the SEC last week asked a judge to block the payment while Vivendi and Mr. Messier are under investigation for accounting misdeeds and misleading investors about the financial health of the company.

For its part, Vivendi has maintained that it is not obligated to pay Mr. Messier the severance, claiming that the payment never received approval by the company’s board of directors.

Viacom News Has Impact on Media Stocks: Word that a weaker-than-expected recovery in local advertising sales was forcing media giant Viacom to revise downward its full-year operating income and revenue growth projections, along with declines in the broader stock market, hit media stocks hard Wednesday, with companies of virtually every stripe posting declines.

Viacom’s announcement sent its shares declined more than 3.5 percent to close at $38.90 Wednesday. But it was the station groups that found themselves among the hardest hit in the media sector, as investors predicted Viacom’s woes would extend to companies with heavy exposure to local advertising markets. Shares in Emmis tumbled more than 4 percent to $18.83 a share, while Young Broadcasting recorded a 3.6 percent drop in its per-share price to $19.50. Gray Television’s stock price fell 3 percent to $11.58 and Tribune shares slipped more than 1 percent to $45.87.

By comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.6 percent to 9,425.51, while the NASDAQ Composite Index sank 3 percent to 1,843.70.

Broadcast wasn’t the only sector hurt by the declines. Large media companies felt the pinch as well, with Vivendi Universal’s American depository receipts slipping 1 percent to $17.95, despite reporting a narrowed loss for the first half of 2003. News Corp.’s ADRs slipped 0.6 percent to $33.85, while Time Warner’s stock declined 3 percent to $15.76 and Walt Disney Co. shares dipped 2 percent to $19.81.

Among the multiple system operators, segment leader Comcast saw its shares sink more than 3 percent to $30.57, while Cox Communications’ stock price fell 2.5 percent to 32.25.

Graham Norton Inks Deal With Comedy Central: Comedy Central is teaming up with British talk-show host and comedian Graham Norton in a two-year deal that has Mr. Norton hosting a talk show, performing in his own stand-up special and assuming hosting duties on the cable network’s series “Reel Comedy.”

The Irish-born Mr. Norton received a 13-episode commitment for an hour-long variety/talk show that will be similar in format to his British talk show “So Graham Norton,” which aired on Channel Four in the United Kingdom and was repurposed in the United States on BBC America. Mr. Norton’s as-yet-untitled program is the first hour-long show produced by Comedy Central.

Mr. Norton’s production company, So TV, will produce the talk show, with Mr. Norton and Graham Stuart serving as executive producers.

In addition, Mr. Norton will star in an hour-long stand-up comedy special and will host four installments of “Reel Comedy,” which profiles comedic films.

MTV Promotes Ignjatovic to Music and Development VP: MTV Networks on Wednesday promoted Jesse Ignjatovic to VP of music and development, making him responsible for developing projects with music talent as well as long-form music-based programming for MTV. Based out of MTV’s Santa Monica, Calif., office, Mr. Ignjatovic will also oversee the network’s West Coast production team on all MTV and development efforts.

Mr. Ignjatovic joined MTV in 1992 straight out of college and began in the network’s so-called news and docs department, working on specials and series, including “Ultra Sound” and “Diary.” In 2000 he joined the music and talent department, where he co-created “mtvIcon” and “mtvJammed.”

Season Premiere of ‘8 Simple Rules’ Scores for ABC: The season premiere of “8 Simple Rules… for Dating My Teenage Daughter” helped propel ABC to victory last night in the adults 18 to 49 demo. The first of three episodes filmed before star John Ritter’s death, it scored a whopping 6.8 rating/21 share in adults 18 to 49 and 16.9 million total viewers to make it the most-watched show of the night, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

ABC finished 11 percent ahead of second-place NBC in adults 18 to 49 (4.5/12). “8 Simple Rules” provided a nice lead-in for new sitcom “I’m With Her,” which won its time period in adults 18 to 49 (5.6/16) by 70 percent over Fox’s second-place “Paradise Hotel” and in total viewers (13.1 million), edging out the second half of CBS’s new drama “Navy NCIS,” which had 13 million viewers.

“Navy NCIS,” a spinoff of former time slot occupant “JAG,” finished fourth in its time slot in adults 18 to 49 with a 2.6/8, but had a strong showing in total viewers with 12.4 million, good enough for second place in the time slot.

NBC’s premiere of “Law & Order: SVU” dominated the competition at 10 p.m., coming in first in adults 18 to 49 (5.3/14) and total viewers (13.4 million). “SVU” won its time slot by a 36 percent margin in adults 18 to 49 over ABC’s second-place “NYPD Blue” and gave NBC a 29 percent increase over its year-ago premiere week number.

NBC’s 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. comedies didn’t fare as well. In week three, “Whoopi” fell to a 2.9/9 in adults 18 to 49, down 22 percent vs. last week, and “Happy Family” pulled a third-place 3.2/9, down 6 percent from last week.

“SVU” and a one-hour “Frasier” at 9 p.m. were enough to help NBC eke out a nightly victory in total viewers, just beating CBS with 12.2 million to CBS’s 12 million.

The WB had a disappointing night, with new drama “One Tree Hill” finishing dead last in adults 18 to 49 with a 1.0/2, topped by UPN’s comedies “Rock Me Baby” and “The Mullets,” which combined for a 1.1/3. “One Tree Hill,” which replaced ratings hit “Smallville” in The WB’s Tuesday lineup, managed to draw only 2.8 million viewers, a 35 percent drop-off from lead-in “Gilmore Girls.” “Gilmore” was hurt in the young-adults demos by the strong showing for “8 Simple Rules.” “Gilmore” had a 1.8/5 in adults 18 to 49 and was beaten in the second half-hour by UPN’s “All of Us,” which had a 2.0/6.

ABC won the night in adults 18 to 49 with a 5.0/13, followed by NBC (4.5/12), Fox (3.1/8), CBS (2.7/7), The WB (1.2/3) and UPN (1.2/3). NBC won the night in total view
ers with 12.2 million, followed by CBS (12 million), ABC (11.9 million), Fox (6.7 million), The WB (3.1 million) and UPN (2.7 million).

Cablers Warned to Curb Rates or Risk Reregulation: Disputes about programming costs could result in reregulation for the cable TV industry. That was the dire warning issued Wednesday by Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable.

“Very public squabbles over program deals may well invite drastic regulatory response,” Mr. Britt said at a luncheon hosted by the Washington Metropolitan Cable Club. “We need to exercise judgment and a dose of moderation when dealing with business partners.”

Mr. Britt, who is also chairman of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, didn’t single out any particular cable companies for criticism. But some operators have been publicly blaming the escalation in cable rates on rising programming costs over the past couple of years, even inviting government scrutiny.

As if in response, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has asked the General Accounting Office to probe the rate increases. But according to Mr. Britt, it would behoove the entire industry to try to put a damper on rates on its own. Mr. Britt said the debate about programming costs has heated up in part because multichannel TV is now purchased by almost 90 percent of consumers, leaving the video side of the business little room for growth.

“The rapid growth in basic subscriber levels we were achieving just five or 10 years ago is no longer possible,” he said. “It is unrealistic to assume that cable operators and DBS providers can absorb double-digit programming costs increases.”

Unfortunately, said Mr. Britt, “That reality is not yet reflected in everyone’s five-year business plan. And it’s not just a few programming networks whose economic models face these problems. It also goes further up the chain to producers, talent and sports teams, whose own business models rely on growth projections that are no longer realistic.”

Mr. Britt also said that a government-mandated shift to a la carte cable pricing — one of the primary regulatory concepts currently being batted around on Capitol Hill — could result in consumers paying more for fewer services.

“I favor consumer choice,” Mr. Britt said. “However, the marketplace, not government mandate, is the best insurance for that choice.”

In just such a marketplace resolution, Comcast and Liberty Media’s Starz! Encore cable networks earlier this week announced that they had ended a legal fight over programming fees and signed a pact that calls for Comcast to pay Starz! on a per-subscriber basis instead of the flat fee that Starz! wanted.

‘The Twilight Zone’ Moves to Syndication: New Line Television is set to bring the last year’s version of the cult classic “The Twilight Zone” to syndication. The contemporary adaptation of the series aired on UPN last season, hosted by Forest Whitaker. The 44 episodes of the anthology series will be offered with a flexible option, allowing affiliates to air the program as single half-hour episodes or as two half-hours back-to-back. Station partners can start airing the programs as early as June 2004, with the series being offered on an all-barter basis for a 15-month window.

WorldLink, Carsey-Werner Ink Advertising Deal: WorldLink has teamed up with Carsey-Werner-Mandabach Distribution in an exclusive advertising sales agreement for the high-profile, off-net “Carsey-Werner Comedy Block” and for the series “Cosby.” Under terms of the agreement, WorldLink will oversee all advertising sales activities of the “Carsey-Werner Comedy Block,” featuring the nationally syndicated off-net sitcoms “Roseanne” and “Grace Under Fire.” The Monday through Friday programming block will debut, predominantly in daytime time periods, this fall in 78 percent of the country.

‘Lady of Soul Awards’ Scores in African American Households: Tribune Entertainment’s annual syndication special “Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards” generated a 11.5 prime-time rating in African American households during its recent broadcast window, placing the 2003 awards show in the top five among all network prime-time programs in the demographic for the week of Aug. 25 to 31.

In addition, the special significantly increased its ratings year to year with minority women, registering an 8.4 in Women 18 to 49 (4 percent increase from 2002) and an 8.5 in Women 25 to 54 (6 percent rise from last year).

The 2003 “Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards” was co-hosted by Aisha Tyler, Heather Headley, Arsenio Hall and Tyrese and aired on over 90 percent of African American U.S. homes.

Urban Latino TV Gets Renewed: Urban Latino TV has announced that the weekly half-hour culture and lifestyle series targeting young English-speaking American Latinos has secured renewals in key U.S. markets and increased distribution from 35 million homes to 42 million homes, reaching over 82 percent of U.S. Hispanic Homes. Stations renewing Urban Latino TV include KABC-TV, Los Angeles; WCBS-TV, New York; WBBM-TV, Chicago; and WBFS-TV and WFOR-TV, Miami, among others. In addition to the renewals, significant markets were added to the roster, including several top 25 Hispanic markets such as Phoenix (KASW-TV), Tampa, Fla. (WMOR-TV), Philadelphia (KYW-TV) and Corpus Christi, Texas (KZTV-TV).

UPN Renames ‘Enterprise’: UPN has changed the official title of Wednesday drama “Enterprise” to “Star Trek: Enterprise.” The name change was made to give the show a stronger connection to the “Star Trek” franchise, according to UPN. The title change takes place today.

Crystal Returns to Host Oscars: Billy Crystal will host the “76th Academy Awards” Feb. 29, 2004, on ABC. It will be the eighth time Mr. Crystal has hosted the show. He hosted the show for four years in a row starting in 1990, and then returned to host the show in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

Vivendi Says It’s Close to Signing With NBC: Vivendi Universal executives said Wednesday they are probably a few weeks away from signing the contract that would link their Vivendi Universal Entertainment unit with General Electric’s NBC division, and that final approval from regulators in the U.S. and Europe would come in the second quarter of next year.

Following the deal, Vivendi executives said, the French conglomerate will be well on its way toward trimming its debt to around 5 billion euros ($5.7 billion) by the end of 2004 from current levels of around 13.7 billion euros ($15.7 billion).

“We will have 17 billion euros [$19.5 billion] in revenues by the end of 2004, our net debt will be under 5 billion euros; we will be a very profitable company,” Vivendi Chairman and CEO Jean-Rene Fourtou said through a translator.

Vivendi earlier this month agreed to conduct exclusive negotiations with NBC to combine the broadcast network’s assets with VUE to create a new company that would be 80 percent controlled by GE and 20 percent owned by Vivendi.Mr. Fourtou’s comments, made during the Paris-based company’s first-half 2003 earnings call, came as the Paris-based company reported a narrowed third-quarter loss of 313 million euros ($359.1 million), due in large part to the strength of the results at the VUE operation. A year earlier, Vivendi’s red ink was 11.49 billion euros, largely due to goodwill write-downs of 11 billion euros. For the first six months of 2003, the loss was 632 million euros ($725.1 million) vs. a year-earlier loss of 12.3 billion euros.

Revenue, meanwhile, tumbled by 60 percent in the quarter to 6.1 billion euros ($7 billion), and by 58 percent to 12.4 billion euros ($14.2 billion) for the first six months of the year. The decline was largely attributable to the sale over the last year of several businesses that contributed revenue to the company. Those asset sales helped trim the company’s debt levels from a massive 35 billion euros a year ago to the current 13.7 billion euro level.

Meanwhile, VUE saw its operating income surge 47 percent to $537 million for the first six months of the year, thanks to strong sales of DVDs and robust ticket sales of films “Bruce Almighty” and “2 Fast 2 Furious.” Revenue slipped 5 percent to $3.1 billi
on, largely due to a weaker U.S. dollar.VUE’s television business saw its operating income fall 7 percent for the six-month period, mainly due to higher investments in original programming.

Univision Debt Rating Upgraded: Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s has raised the debt rating of Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications to BBB-minus from BB-plus following regulatory approval for its $3.5 billion all-stock acquisition of Hispanic Broadcasting. The rating agency also upped Univision’s outlook to stable.

S&P based its decision on the dominance Univision will have as a result of combining its television broadcasting assets with Hispanic Broadcasting’s radio operations. The rating agency also noted that by having both TV and radio business lines, Univision will diversify its cash flow and can leverage its relationships with advertisers. In addition, the company can take advantage of the burgeoning advertising market aimed at Hispanics.

‘Playbook’ Names Lead Analysts: NFL Network said Wednesday it has named former NFL wide receiver Sterling Sharpe and former offensive lineman Glenn Parker as lead analysts for the new network’s prime-time show “Playbook.”

The show, which launches Nov. 4 at 10 p.m. (ET), has already signed former defensive back Solomon Wilcots as the show’s host. The program, which runs Tuesday through Friday, will focus on the week’s football games, with analysis of the matchups. One key feature, the network said, will be its use of team-supplied footage. The program will also provide tips and analysis to viewers participating in NFL Fantasy Football.

NFL Network will launch Nov. 4 and already has secured carriage on DirecTV’s basic service, which reaches nearly 11.6 million customers.

Viacom Trims 2003 Outlook: Viacom said Wednesday that a weaker-than-expected recovery in local advertising markets has forced the media titan to revise downward its 2003 guidance for revenues and operating profit, though the company is still on track to set records on both fronts.

The company, whose assets include CBS, MTV and Paramount Studios, now estimates that full-year revenue will rise in the mid- to high-single digits vs. earlier guidance of high-single-digit growth.

Operating income is projected to grow by mid- to high-single digits, compared with earlier forecasts of double-digit increases.

Viacom said that “while the economic recovery has translated into robust national advertising sales growth, the pace of recovery in local advertising markets going into the fourth quarter is not as rapid as had been anticipated.”

However, Viacom said it remains on target to set records for revenues, operating income and net earnings and continues to forecast strong growth in 2004, thanks to an improving economy, an increase in political spending and CBS’s coverage of the Super Bowl.

TBS to Begin West Coast Feed Monday: TBS said Wednesday it remains on target to begin transmitting its West Coast feed starting Monday at 9 a.m. The cable channel will be transmitting its contact via the satellite galaxy 1R, transponder 16.

With the exception of a few occasions, TBS said its programming will be identical to the East Coast feed-just three hours later. Live sports programming will air simultaneously on both feeds.

Affiliates in the Central and Mountain time zones will continue to receive feeds from the East Coast.

Holt, Brown Named Co-Hosts of ‘Weekend Today’: NBC News is expected to finally make it official Thursday that Lester Holt and Campbell Brown are the permanent co-hosts of “Weekend Today.” Mr. Holt became a favorite with viewers and critics during the war in Iraq and seemed a natural to succeed David Bloom, who died of natural causes while covering the war, on NBC’s popular weekend morning show. Ms. Brown, who has been assigned to the White House since early 2001, has been a frequent fill-in since Soledad O’Brien jumped to CNN to co-host “American Morning.”

Those who have become so addicted to the hard-working Mr. Holt that they need a Holt fix every day of the week and weekend may be happy to hear that “Lester Holt Live” will continue from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays on MSNBC for at least the time being. Eventually, however, he will have to get at least a day or two off from his weekday commitment.

UPN Extends Deal With Nine Fox Stations: Viacom-owned UPN has extended its relationship with nine affiliates owned by Fox Television Stations for what was described as a multiyear period under a deal that is retroactive to Sept. 1, 2003. The new affiliation agreement secures UPN outlets in the three top markets — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, where WWOR-TV, KCOP-TV and WPWR-TV, respectively, are part of Fox-owned duopolies — and an overall reach of 24 percent of the country’s TV homes. Among the other large markets covered by the new affiliation agreement are WDCA-TV in Washington; KTXH-TV in Houston; WFTC-TV in Minneapolis; KUTP-TV in Phoenix; WRBW-TV in Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Fla.; and WUTB-TV in Baltimore.

Mitchell Stern, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Stations, said in the announcement: “This new agreement extending our UPN affiliations is a perfect fit with our business and operational plans, especially since in eight of these nine markets we have duopolies.”

Mr. Stern’s statement indicates that despite much speculation during the past year that Fox might pull some key legs out from under UPN’s future by pulling crucial stations out of the UPN pack, the Fox-owned affiliates appear to be committed for at least three years. Spokespeople for the principals refused to discuss details of the agreement.

“It means that UPN programming will be available to our audiences and our advertisers during the 2003-04 season and in the years ahead, providing valuable continuity and stability,” Mr. Stern said. He added that the Fox station group welcomes “the opportunity to build on the equity of this new agreement in each of our markets.”

Leslie Moonves, chairman and CEO of CBS, which operates UPN, said: “These Fox stations are an outstanding group and a very important part of the UPN affiliate family. We are excited and enthusiastic about UPN’s future, and a key component of that future is this extension of our affiliation agreements with these Fox stations. We look forward to working with Mitch Stern and his Fox Television Stations colleagues to grow our business together.”

Court TV Launches Online Bookstore: Court TV on Wednesday said it is teaming up with Barnes&Noble.com to launch an online bookstore that feature nonfiction books, best-selling novels and films that have investigation themes similar to those the cable channel is emphasizing.

The site will feature various novels, including “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown and “The King of Torts” by John Grisham. In addition, customers can purchase films, TV series and documentaries, including the first three seasons of “The Sopranos” and the movies “Panic Room” and “Changing Lanes.”

The site, www.courttv.com/bookstore, is a continuation of the network’s effort to extend the brand onto the Web. Court TV has a Web site for the channel at www.courttv.com, as well as Web sites TheSmokingGun.com and CrimeLibrary.com.