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Oct 16, 2003  •  Post A Comment

FCC Seeks Documents From News Corp.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday asked News Corp. to supply the agency with the Fox affiliation agreements for 10 of its affiliated stations as part of the FCC’s review of the company’s acquisition of DirecTV.

The FCC did not explain why the information might be relevant to its merger review. But sources following the deal speculated that agency officials may want to investigate allegations that the affiliation agreements run afoul of FCC regulations.

News Corp. was declining comment. But Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy, said, “While obtaining the affiliation agreements is important, we have no confidence that the commission will be analyzing the complaint that Fox has pressured affiliated stations to turn over their digital spectrum to the network.”

Scripps Expresses Interest in Tribune’s Stake in Food Network: Media company Tribune on Thursday offered little indication whether it would hold talks with E.W. Scripps about selling to Scripps its 29 percent stake in cable channel Food Network.

“Tribune Co. is happy with our partner and is pleased with the Food Network’s performance,” a spokeswoman said, in response to questions about whether Tribune would be willing to sell its stake in the channel.

The cable channel, which now reaches 82 million homes and has been a strong performer for Scripps, vaulted into the spotlight Tuesday after Scripps CEO Kenneth Lowe said he’d like to bring Tribune’s minority interest in Food Network into Scripps. “Tribune has been a good partner, but there will come a time that it makes sense for us to own all of Food Network,” Mr. Lowe said during the company’s third-quarter earnings conference call.

While a transaction bringing the channel under a single owner appears not to be imminent, Wall Street for some time has been pressuring media companies to simplify the ownership structures of cable channels with multiple owners. Among those seen by observers as potential candidates for ownership restructurings is A&E Network, E! Entertainment and ESPN.

FCC Warns TV Stations to Launch DTV Operations: The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday that it is warning NBC-owned WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I., and six other commercial television stations that they could lose their digital TV construction permits if they don’t launch DTV operations soon. Under the FCC’s DTV transition regulations, all of the nation’s commercial TV stations were supposed to have begun DTV operations no later than May 1, 2002. But many, citing a variety of difficulties, have received deadline extensions from the agency.

In a statement Thursday morning, the FCC announced that it will not grant WJAR and six other stations additional reprieve, giving them notice of the fact in official letters of admonishment. The other stations are Emmis Communications’ WVUE-TV in New Orleans; Northwest Broadcasting’s WICZ-TV in Binghampton, N.Y., and KMVU-TV in Medford, Ore.; Granite Broadcasting’s WKBW-TV in Buffalo, N.Y.; and Puerto Rico stations WSJU-TV, San Juan, and WDWL-TV, Bayamon.

Ken Ferree, FCC media bureau chief, told reporters that any of the stations that haven’t launched DTV operations within six months will face fines. Stations that haven’t started their DTV operations within a year could lose their permits to construct DTV stations, he said. “Admonishment is a serious thing,” Mr. Ferree said. The FCC also said that it granted six-month deadline extensions to 104 commercial DTV stations on grounds that their requests were “warranted and [that] they showed progress on construction of their facilities since the grant of their last extension.” The FCC also said that 1,061, or 81 percent of all commercial stations, are currently on the air with a DTV signal.

Mandalay to Produce Reality Show: Peter Guber’s Mandalay Entertainment is teaming with Davenport-Licata Entertainment and daredevil Russ Wicks to produce a new reality show called “American Speedfreak.” The show will chronicle Mr. Wicks’ attempts to break several world speed records. About six episodes are planned.

“In ‘American Speedfreak’ we have a show that explores a man driven to do the near impossible, the extreme dangers he faces, and the ways he overcomes them,” said Art Davie, a Mandalay executive producer. “It’s the kind of show that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.”

A spokesperson for the show said a distributor has not yet been attached.

James Garner Joins ‘8 Simple Rules’: James Garner is joining ABC’s sitcom “8 Simple Rules” as a recurring character. Mr. Garner will play Cate’s (Katey Segal) father, who helps the family deal with the death of John Ritter’s character, Paul Hennessy. Production on new episodes will resume Monday, Oct. 20. The first post-hiatus episode will be expanded to one hour and will be broadcast in November.

NBC, CBS Change Thursday Night Lineup: NBC and CBS are replacing original episodes of their powerful Thursday night scripted series tonight with repeats, in response to what’s expected to be the highly rated Major League Baseball playoff Game 7 between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees on Fox. Both networks would rather save their original episodes of scripted series than risk taking a big ratings hit on them against the baseball game.

NBC will air repeats of “Friends,” “Scrubs,” “Will & Grace” and “ER” in their regular time slots and a repeat of Tuesday night sitcom “Whoopi” at 9:30 p.m. CBS will replace originals of “CSI” and “Without a Trace” with repeats from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. “Survivor” will run an original episode at 8 p.m.

ABC has no plans to change its schedule tonight, airing originals of “Threat Matrix,” “Extreme Makeover” and “PrimeTime Thursday.”

ESPN Promotes Godleski: ESPN has promoted Christine Godleski to VP and general manager of ESPN Outdoors, overseeing all aspects of the company’s outdoors initiative, including BASS, the worldwide authority on bass fishing; the ESPN Great Outdoor Games; and more than 1,400 hours of outdoor television programs. Ms. Godleski was director of operations for the past two years.

K2 Pictures to Produce ‘Smoking Gun’ Awards: Court TV named K2 Pictures as the production company for the network’s second Smoking Gun special. “Smoking Gun TV” will be a half-hour year-end awards show highlighting thesmokinggun.com’s best work. It will premiere Tuesday, Dec. 16.

Sapp and Strahan to Star in ‘NFL Total Access’: Football stars Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan will appear each Thursday night on NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access,” a weeknight prime-time show debuting Nov. 4.

Fox Wins Wednesday: Fox decimated the competition Wednesday night with Game 7 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins. It was Fox’s highest-rated League Championship game ever and the highest-rated on any network in at least 10 years in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. The baseball game gave Fox its highest-rated night in five months among adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. Final national numbers for baseball won’t be available until later today.

Among the non-baseball competition, ABC ranked highest for the night in adults 18 to 49 (4.2/11) and was just edged out by NBC in total viewers (10.5 million to ABC’s 10.1 million), according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” (4.3/12 and 11 million viewers), “It’s All Relative” (4.2/11 and 10.3 million viewers) and “The Bachelor” (5.7/14 and 11.8 million viewers) were all the top-ranked entertainment programming in their time slots in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. New sitcom “Relative” retained 98 percent of “Wife and Kids'” 18 to 49 audience, its best retention yet.

Up against baseball, NBC aired an original episode of “Ed,” which finished fourth in its time slot in adults 18 to 49 (2.4/7), getting beaten by The WB’s “Smallville” (2.7/7). NBC chose to replace “West Wing” with a “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” repeat at 9 p.m., which finished third in the time slot with a 4.0/10. NBC also put on a repeat “Law & Order” (4.8/12) at 10 p.m., which st
ill beat its original competition of ABC’s “Karen Sisco” (2.7/7) and CBS’s “Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.” (2.0/5).

For the night, Fox won adults 18 to 49 with a 9.3/24, followed by ABC (4.2/11), NBC (3.7/10), The WB (2.6/7), CBS (2.1/5) and UPN (1.1/3). In total viewers, Fox won the night with 24.3 million, followed by NBC (10.5 million), ABC (10.1 million), CBS (7.9 million), The WB (5.6 million) and UPN (2.7 million). Fox’s numbers will change when national figures become available because fast affiliates are not time zone-adjusted for live sporting events.

Tribune, New York Times Report Third-Quarter Results: A pair of newspaper and television station groups reported mixed third-quarter results for their broadcast divisions Thursday, with Tribune’s unit recording a gain in revenue and a decline in operating profit, while the New York Times stations reported slippage in both categories.

Tribune, which owns 26 TV stations and holds a stake in both the Food Network and the WB Network and owns the Chicago Cubs professional baseball team, said its broadcasting and entertainment division reported a 6.5 percent rise in revenues to $419 million, while operating profit fell 2.1 percent to $134 million.

Within that division, Tribune’s television stations posted a 5.4 percent increase in revenue to $327 million, while expenses climbed nearly 10 percent, due in part to the impact of the acquisition of two stations, one in St. Louis and one in Portland, Ore.

Those numbers contributed to the company’s overall 3.4 percent increase in revenue to $1.4 billion, while profit for the quarter sank 23 percent to $182.3 million, or 56 cents a share, from a year-earlier level of $236.8 million, or 76 cents a share.

Meanwhile, the New York Times’ eight-station group reported a 6.4 percent decline in third-quarter profit to $34.8 million, while operating profit tumbled nearly 30 percent to $7.5 million, largely attributable to a steep decline in political advertising spending in the quarter, which came in at $1.6 million vs. $5.8 million a year ago.

Those results contributed to the overall company’s 15 percent decline in third-quarter profit to $50.1 million from a year-earlier profit of $59 million. On a per-share basis, profits were 34 cents a share compared with 39 cents a share a year ago.

Showtime Orders Six Episodes of “Bob and Rose”: Showtime Networks acquired a new series, “Bob and Rose,” from Carlton International. The six episodes about a romance between a gay man and a straight woman, will begin appearing on Showtime Women Oct. 22. The series is written by Russell Davies, writer and creator of the British “Queer as Folk,” the basis for Showtime’s series of the same name.

WSVN-TV Gets Huge Ratings from Baseball: Fox may not be thrilled with the Florida Marlins’ beating the Chicago Cubs to get into the World Series, but Fox’s affiliate in Miami must be. Game seven of the National League Championship Series generated a 39.9 rating for WSVN-TV, up 10 points from Game 6.