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Nov 5, 2003  •  Post A Comment

D.L. Hughley to Host ‘Liar’

Comedian D.L. Hughley has signed to host “Liar,” a game show for CBS based on a United Kingdom format. In the show, six contestants claim to have had a common experience but five of them are lying. It’s up to the audience to decide which of the contestants is telling the truth. If the audience chooses the right person, they share the cash prize. If not, the last liar standing wins the money. Mr. Hughley is best known for starring in his own TV series “The Hughleys.”

“Liar” is a co-production between FremantleMedia North America and Reveille Productions. Ben Silverman and David Lyle are executive producers. H.T. Owens is co-executive producer. The “Liar” pilot is currently in pre-production and is being piloted for early 2004.

Murdoch Addresses Fox’s Fall Woes: News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch admitted Wednesday that Fox’s new season is off to a rocky start, but said the television network has enough arrows in its quiver to overcome these early challenges.

Buffeted by a number of challenges, including weak-performing “The Next Joe Millionaire” and the high-profile failure of the new series “Skin,” Mr. Murdoch, speaking during a fiscal first-quarter earnings call, acknowledged the concern building over the network’s early stumbles. “You are not alone,” he told investors. “Every network on American television shares that concern.”

However, Mr. Murdoch stressed that it is early in the game and promised that the network would “gain strength with the return of ‘American Idol’ in January.”

Further, the company said that its coverage of the baseball playoffs exceeded expectations, though the impact of the strong ratings for the playoff games and the World Series won’t be revealed until the release of the company’s fiscal second-quarter results next year.

For the fiscal first quarter ended Sept. 30, News Corp. on Wednesday said that it posted a 160 percent surge in fiscal first-quarter profit to $422 million, or 29 cents per American Depository Receipt, from $162 million, or 12 cents per ADR, a year ago. The increase was fueled by hearty DVD sales of television shows along with robust results for cable channels FX and Fox News Channel. Revenue climbed 22 percent to $4.6 billion.

Much of the strength of News Corp.’s quarterly results was directly linked to Fox Entertainment Group, of which News Corp. owns nearly an 81 percent stake. Fox Entertainment reported an 87 percent jump in profit to $401 million, on an 18 percent jump in revenue to $2.8 billion.

The results at Fox Entertainment were linked to strong performance at 20th Century Fox Television, which racked up higher syndication profits from initial releases of the series “Angel” and “Judging Amy,” as well as higher DVD sales for series such as “24,” “The Simpsons” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The unit recorded a 217 percent jump in profit to $333 million, while revenue increased 42 percent to $1.25 billion.

The company’s cable networks recorded a 14 percent jump in revenue to $596 million on a 23 percent increase in profit to $102 million, driven by strong ad sales growth at Fox News Channel and subscriber additions at the regional sports networks. Those advances helped offset a rise in programming fees at the FX Channel associated with the hit series “Nip/Tuck” as well as FX’s cancellation of “Lucky” and “Orlando Jones.”

Fox Television Stations overcame a decline in political advertising spending to record a 1 percent increase in revenue and a 6 percent rise in profit to $221 million, largely through gains in market share.

The Fox Network posted a widened loss for the quarter to $41 million, from year-earlier red ink of $8 million, as the network saw a 20 percent decline in prime-time ratings, took write-downs associated with the cancellation of “The Ortegas” and “Cedric The Entertainer Presents” and felt the impact of the absence of “American Idol” from the lineup. Revenues fell 7 percent to $394 million.

The WB Orders Full-Season of ‘One Tree Hill’: The WB gave a full-season order to Tuesday night drama “One Tree Hill.” “Tree,” produced by Tollin/Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television, got off to a rocky start after a disappointing debut, but it has since grown to be the fourth-highest-rated drama on TV in female teens, averaging a 4.6/17. The WB picked up the show because of the growth in the female teen demo and because they are happy with the direction of the show.

“‘One Tree Hill’ has grown creatively each week with broadening characters and emotionally resonant story lines,” said WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin. “It’s also a show that is generating that elusive thing called buzz, and we believe it has a chance to become one of the most significant series on our schedule for many years to come.”

FCC May Move to Strengthen Sponsor ID Rules: FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein on Wednesday advocated launch of an inquiry to determine whether the agency should beef up its sponsorship identification rules-regulations that require broadcasters to disclose sponsored programming.

Among other things, Mr. Adelstein said he is concerned about allegations that some TV stations are selling interview slots on their news shows and other programs, with disclosures limited to brief mentions in a program’s closing credits. “The public deserves to know who is trying to persuade them,” Mr. Adelstein said in a speech to the Federal Communications Bar Association. “We need to determine whether the public is being deceived, thinking a story or product review was broadcast on its own merit when in fact it was a paid commercial advertisement or a cross-promotional plug for the media company’s other products.”

In a Nov. 3 letter, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also asked that the Federal Communications Commission look into the “pay-for-play” practice. An FCC spokesman said the questions about pay-for-play are relevant to proceedings already being conducted by an agency task force.

Bolster Retires From NBC: Bill Bolster, who ran CNBC during its explosive growth years and who overhauled WNBC-TV to make the NBC flagship station a more efficient revenue-producing machine, is retiring from NBC 12 years after joining the network. Nearing 60, he said, seemed “like an ideal time to stop and draw a breath.”

Speaking today from his home in Naples, Fla., he said he intends to “relax from down here now” and indicated that after an appropriate time he would be interested in serving on some company boards. Taking such a role, he said would not have been appropriate had he remained the chairman and CEO of CNBC International, a role he took on in 2001, when Pamela Thomas-Graham succeeded him as president of CNBC. CNBC International is a joint venture of CNBC and Dow Jones.

A highlight of his time with NBC, he said, was being able to turn CNBC into a window onto the business and financial world. “We made it in real time and were able to educate everyone, from the 401k consumer to the individual investor,” he said. He also cited taking WNBC “from being local to being a big deal” as its president and general manager from 1991 to 1996.

Prior to running WNBC, Mr. Bolster was president of Multimedia Broadcasting, based in St. Louis. He moved into station management after starting his broadcasting career in 1965 as an on-air announcer and salesman at KDYH radio in Dubuque, Iowa.

Lawmakers Urge Hastert to Allow Ownership Vote: A bipartisan coalition of 205 representatives today urged House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R- Ill., to drop a legislative blockade by the House’s GOP leadership and permit a vote on a resolution to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership deregulation. But a spokesman for the speaker said the request of the coalition-which includes 11 Republicans-has not changed the GOP leadership’s mind. “As far as I know, no vote will be scheduled,” said John Feehery, a spokesman for Rep. Hastert.

More Comcast Systems to Get Hallmark Channel: Hallmark Channel and Comcast Cable today said they reached an agreement that will put Hallmark on additional cable Comcast cable systems. Comcast was the only major cable o
perator with which Hallmark did not have a corporate carriage agreement. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Hallmark Channel, launched in August 2001, is already in 56 million homes.

John Cleese to Host Food Network Special: Former Monty Python member John Cleese will host a Food Network special titled “John Cleese on Wine for the Confused.” The special will be shot at Mr. Cleese’s Santa Barbara, Calif., ranch and is scheduled to appear next fall. Food Network has also ordered new episodes of several series, including “Top 5,” “Iron Chef,” “FoodNation,” “Boy Meets Grill,” “Sara’s Secrets” and “Into the Fire.”

Mediacom Swings to Profit: Growth in the number of subscribers using its high-speed data service helped cable operator Mediacom Communications swing to a third-quarter profit, even in the face of stiffening competition from satellite.

The Middletown, N.Y.-based operator of cable systems in small and midsize markets reported a third-quarter profit of $1.9 million, or 2 cents a share, compared with red ink of $39.9 million, or 33 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue climbed more than 7 percent to $251.1 million, while operating income before depreciation and amortization climbed 4 percent to $101.1 million.

Much of the improvement resulted from Mediacom’s addition of new digital cable and high-speed data customers. High-speed data subscribers climbed 27,000 to 261,000 during the quarter, while the company added 8,000 digital cable customers to reach 393,000 subs.

The company reported positive free cash flow in the quarter of $1.9 million after reporting negative free cash flow of $61.4 million a year ago. Company executives projected they would continue to produce positive free cash flow going forward now that the company has completed its system upgrades.

Like other cable operators, particularly those that operate in smaller markets, Mediacom continues to face competition from satellite operators launching their local-to-local services in the cable operator’s markets.

However, the company hasn’t resorted to aggressive promotions to drive sales. Instead, company officials said they will rely on a strategy of bundling video with high-speed data and telephony to drive subscriber growth.