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Oct 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Scripps Renews Offer of Free Airtime to Political Candidates

E.W. Scripps today announced it will renew its offer of free airtime to political candidates on its nine network-affiliated stations for the 2004 elections. Under the initiative, the company said, its stations would provide five minutes of free airtime to candidates between 5 p.m. and 11:35 p.m. in the 30 days preceding the 2004 general elections-with formats to include debates, interviews, issue statements and responses to questions from citizens. Mark Kroeger, a Scripps spokesman, said the company offered similar opportunities in 2000 and 2002, which were well received. In 2002, he said, Scripps stations provided 2,192 minutes of free airtime to 241 candidates for local, state and federal office. “All of our stations are fairly creative and committed to making it work,” Mr. Kroeger said.

Other group broadcasters that have launched similar initiatives in the past include Cox Television and Belo Corp.

Byrne, Croston, Schreiber Upped at Fox: Fox has promoted four executives to VP in its ad sales department. Toby Byrne, Nancy Croston and Keith Schreiber were promoted to VP, sales. All three are based in New York and the new positions are part of the network’s restructuring plan for its New York sales office. Michael Bish was promoted to VP of Midwest Sales. He is based in Chicago.

Mr. Byrne was an account executive. He will oversee sales of network specials such as the “Teen Choice Awards” and holiday and movie specials. Ms. Croston, who was an account executive, will oversee integrated advertising sponsorships in shows such as “American Idol” and “Joe Millionaire.”

Mr. Schreiber, who was VP of Fox Interactive Sales, will be in charge of late-night sales. Mr. Byrne, Ms. Croston and Mr. Schreiber will continue to report to Neil Mulcahy, senior VP of sales.

Mr. Bish was promoted from account executive. His focus will be on developing long-term client relationships for the network. He will continue to report to Chris Enger, senior VP, sales.

NBC Promotes Three On-air Promo Veterans: The NBC Agency has promoted three on-air promo veterans to VP. Art Lopez, Brad Gensurowsky and Bill Hartnett. Mr. Lopez was named VP, media planning and production, from senior director of media planning and production on-air. Mr. Gensurowsky was promoted to VP of on-air graphic design, from creative director. Mr. Hartnett was named VP, East Coast, from a director in the network advertising and promotion department.

Mr. Lopez and Mr. Gensurowsky report to Jim Vescera, senior VP, on-air advertising. Mr. Hartnett reports to Frank Radice, senior VP, East Coast.

Fox Buys Makeover Series: Fox is jumping into the makeover game. It has bought a competitive full-life makeover series called “The Swan” from Fremantle Media. Female contestants age 22 to 38 will compete in beauty-pageant style for the title of “The Swan” after they have made over their lives with the help of plastic surgeons, hair stylists, makeup artists, style consultants, speech therapists and other life coaches. Episodes will be shot in early 2004. Fremantle Media produces the Fox hit “American Idol.”

FCC Signals Crackdown on License Renewals: Signaling its intent to take a harder line on broadcast license renewals, the Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday that it has fined 28 radio stations $3,000 apiece for violating agency public file requirements, as part of its routine review of license renewals for radio stations in Washington, D.C., Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

The fines are unusual because the vast majority of licenses have been renewed without agency ado for years. But the FCC is now signaling an intent to beef up its scrutiny — and one well-placed agency source said TV renewals will receive “similar attention” when they come up for review starting next year.

Said Ken Ferree, FCC media bureau chief: “Our decision to fine these stations reflects the seriousness of the violations and it is consistent with FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s initiative to promote and protect localism in broadcasting. The public file provides citizens with important information about broadcasters’ service to their communities. Make no mistake about it: The FCC will not tolerate less than diligent efforts to ensure the accuracy and timeliness of that information.”

NBC, Vivendi Announce Agreement: The much-anticipated marriage of General Electric’s NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment became official Wednesday, following an announcement that both companies have signed a definitive agreement, which combines the broadcast network with an entity that has interests in cable, film and television production, creating a media titan valued at $43 billion with revenues of $13 billion.

The new company, which will be called NBC Universal, will be 80 percent controlled by GE, with shareholders of VUE, which includes Vivendi Universal and Barry Diller, holding the other 20 percent. The merger, an all-equity transaction valued at $14 billion, is expected to be completed by the middle of 2004.

Per the terms of the agreement, shareholders in VUE will receive a cash consideration of $3.8 billion, of which Vivendi Universal will take home $3.3 billion, given its 86 percent ownership stake in VUE. GE will issue shares at or before the closing of the deal to fund the cash portion of the transaction. The transaction also has NBC Universal assuming approximately $1.7 billion in debt. That debt figure is more than the $1.6 billion NBC Universal said it would assume when the merger was first announced last month.

Starting in 2006 Vivendi can monetize its 20 percent stake in the new company, first being able to cash in up to $3 billion that first year, followed by up to $4 billion each year beginning in 2007.

At the closing of the deal, NBC Universal will have a 15-member board, with three seats controlled by Vivendi. NBC Chairman and CEO Bob Wright will lead the combined company, with NBC Television Network President Randy Falco in charge of monetizing programming across all the television assets. Mr. Wright also said that Jay Ireland, president of NBC Television Stations, will continue to report to him and oversee NBC’s station group.

VUE President Ron Meyer and Universal Studios Chairwoman Stacey Snider will continue their roles of running the film studio in the new company, Mr. Wright said. However, he declined to name any other executives and their roles in the new company.

GE officials said they have identified $400 million and $500 million in synergies, with up to $350 million the result of cost savings, while the balance is the result of revenue growth.

As GE and Vivendi work toward closing the deal, Vivendi will also be hard at work trying to unravel the ownership stake held in VUE by InteractiveCorp Chairman Barry Diller. The stake, held by Mr. Diller’s company and himself, is around 7 percent.

Mr. Wright said during a conference call to discuss the deal that NBC Universal and Mr. Diller will cooperate to help him sort out the ownership stakes. “We prefer to uncouple those transactions, and Vivendi has lead responsibility to do that,” he said. “Over the next number of months, he hopes to untangle that, so we can go with a more understandable shareholder base.”

Williams Named President of Ascent Media Group: Kenneth Williams has been named president and CEO of Ascent Media Group, the large post-production and media services company owned by Liberty Media. He’ll report to Bill Fitzgerald, chairman of Ascent Media Group. Mr. Williams had been chief operating officer at Ascent Media for over a year. Previously, he held senior executive positions at Technicolor Digital Cinema and Stan Lee Media. Before that, for almost 20 years, he was Sony Pictures Entertainment, rising to president of its digital studios division.

Baseball Drives Fox to Victory: A close baseball playoff game between the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins drove Fox to a nightly victory Tuesday in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. While fast affiliate ratings are inaccurate because they are not time zone adjusted, Fox scored a 12.2 household
rating and 19 share in Nielsen Media Research’s overnight metered-market ratings. That’s up 53 percent vs. the same game last year. Final numbers will be available later today.

ABC finished second in adults 18 to 49 for the night with a 4.9/13, according to Nielsen fast affiliate ratings. ABC was boosted by the final episode of “8 Simple Rules” in which John Ritter appeared before his death. It scored a 6.9/20 in the demo and 17.5 million total viewers.

The second episode of NBC’s “Good Morning, Miami” held up week to week in adults 18 to 49 and retained 89 percent of “Frasier’s” young adult audience. It tied ABC’s “Less Than Perfect” for second place after baseball with a 4.2/10 in the demo.

New ABC sitcom “I’m With Her” was down slightly in adults 18 to 49 (5.0/13) in its third outing, but pulled in more total viewers than the week before (12.2 million). CBS’s new drama “Navy NCIS” had almost identical numbers to the previous week with a 2.6/8 in adults 18 to 49 and 11.3 million total viewers.

The WB’s new drama “One Tree Hill” grew 27 percent in adults 18 to 49 week to week with a 1.4/3 in adults 18 to 49. UPN’s three new sitcoms “All of Us” (1.8/5), “Rock Me Baby” (0.9/2) and “The Mullets” (0.9/2) were all down a bit week to week.

For the night, ABC was second in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.9/13, followed by NBC (4.0/10), CBS (2.8/7), The WB (1.8/5) and UPN (1.2/3). In total viewers for the night, ABC was second with 12.1 million, followed by CBS (11.3 million), NBC (10 million), The WB (4.3 million) and UPN (2.9 million).

Cablevision to Launch Rainbow Media VOD Service: Cablevision agreed to launch a new video-on-demand service from Rainbow Media Holdings’ IFC Companies. Uncensored On Demand will be available to subscribers of Cablevision’s iO: Interactive Optimum digital platform beginning Oct. 6.

Uncensored On Demand will feature unique, thought-provoking movies, documentaries, and programming that have been literally or figuratively banned from mainstream television for a variety of social, cultural, religious, or political reasons. Programs will be grouped into various categories that viewers can access, such as, religion, politics, arts and sex.

MTV to Air New Series ‘Rich Girls’: MTV plans to launch a new series, “Rich Girls,” Oct. 28 at 10:30 p.m. The eight-episode series follows two privileged New York City teenagers: Ally Hilfiger and Jaime Gleicher. The project was brought to MTV by Hilfiger and Gleicher, who also serve as producers. “Rich Girls” documents their lives as they go to their prom, party, graduate, shop and spend the summer in New York City and travel to Mercer Island (Seattle), Greenwich, Conn., The Hamptons, Mustique, London and Nantucket.

NewsLab to Shut Down: Loss of financial backing is forcing the 5-year-old NewsLab to suspend operations. NewsLab Executive Director Deborah Potter, who is seeking other means of support for the journalism research and training center, will become executive director of the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation, which is the training and research wing of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. She replaces Rosalind Stark, who is retiring in mid-October.

The organization’s Web site, www.newslab.org, will remain online, according to the announcement posted Wednesday on the Web site. Ms. Potter will remain the contact for NewsLab while she awaits an IRS ruling that would define NewsLab’s status and clarify fund-raising options.

The Park Foundation has been the exclusive financial supporter of NewsLab, according to Ms. Potter’s posting, but has been buffeted by the economy and so could not renew its grant. While there have been offers of financial help from other sources, Ms. Potter said, “We were unable to secure the financial support necessary to keep the project going in its current form.”

“Deborah has earned the respect of thousands in radio and television journalism for showing how to strive for the highest standards in reporting and producing,” said Barbara Cochran, RTNDA president. “We feel very fortunate that she will lead RTNDF. Her reporting experience and her years as an educator make her the perfect choice to direct RTNDF’s training programs.”

Gemstar-TV Guide Hires Vest for New Position: Gemstar-TV Guide International on Wednesday said it has named Steve Vest president of government affairs, a newly created position.

Mr. Vest will oversee the company’s public policy interests before Congress, the Bush administration and the Federal Communications Commission, and will oversee the establishment of Gemstar’s first office in Washington. He reports to Christine Levesque, executive VP of communication, marketing and government affairs.

Mr. Vest joins Gemstar from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, where he was VP for congressional affairs for the past three years, developing and implementing NCTA’s public and legislative policy on issues including video competition, piracy and digital copyright protection. Before that, he was VP for government affairs at News Corp.

NCTA Will Support FCC Challenge to Broadband Ruling: NCTA National Cable & Telecommunications Association officials this morning announced they will support a Federal Communications Commission challenge to a federal appeals court decision that could force cable operators to open broadband networks to competing Internet service providers.

“We agree with one of the panel’s judges who aptly recognized this ruling as ‘positively bizarre,'” said Dan Brenner, NCTA senior VP, law and regulatory policy.

Monday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco vacated a 2002 FCC ruling holding that cable’s modem service is a new sort of information service, a classification that enabled the agency to exempt operators from requirements that force telephone companies to open their lines to competition. At the time, the FCC said its ruling would encourage cable to roll out broadband, and the cable industry says it has invested more than $75 billion in network upgrades clearing the way for high-speed Internet services that have attracted 13.8 million subscribers.

But throwing a monkey wrench into the cable industry’s business plans, the San Francisco appeals court held that cable’s broadband should have been classified as a telecommunications service, a classification that could subject cable’s offerings to the same sort of access obligations phone companies face. The FCC has already announced plans to appeal.

“I am disappointed that the court felt that it was bound by its prior decision and did not address the merits of the commission’s classification,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

But in a statement, Cheryl Leanza, deputy director of the Media Access Project, said, “Under the FCC’s [original] decision, citizens using the Internet over cable were not protected from content discrimination and they do not benefit from competition among many ISPs. Now there is a chance that citizens will be protected.”

Chris Murray, legislative counsel for Consumers Union, said, “Congress has told the FCC to let consumers use their cable system just like their telephone. Just as you can pick up the phone and dial anybody you want, consumers ought to be able to do the same thing with high-speed Internet service. The courts are simply telling the FCC to go back and obey the law.”

Charter Sues Recording Industry: Charter Communications threw its hat into the music piracy ring by filing a lawsuit against the Recording Industry Association of America, challenging the recording industry trade group’s assertion that it has the right to obtain names of Charter customers suspected of swapping songs via the Internet.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in St. Louis, followed the RIAA’s issuance of a subpoena for Charter to hand over the identities of 150 Charter customers.

The RIAA in September filed suits against 261 people suspected of sharing large numbers of songs without authorization.

Charter’s suit joins several others filed by Internet service providers claiming the RIAA’s request violates customer privacy, due process and free speech.

But an NCTA spokesman said that even if the court’s decision is ultimately affirmed, the cable TV industry won’t feel an impact anytime soon, in part because the ruling is not expected to go into effect pending appeals. NCTA also said in a statement that the FCC is free to forbear from regulating telecommunications services.

“Because a majority of commissioners have emphasized repeatedly that broadband services should develop free of regulatory restrictions, we believe it is likely that the commission would forbear from applying common carrier rules to cable modem service,” NCTA said.