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Nov 19, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Congress Ready to Roll Back Station Cap

The Federal Communications Commission rules passed in June that increased the percentage of U.S. TV homes any one broadcast company can reach from 35 percent to 45 percent would be rolled back for at least one year under a tentative agreement reached Wednesday by a conference committee from the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

“It’s in,” said a U.S. Senate source. “It looks like it will stay in.”

The move by Congress to roll back the controversial station ownership cap to 35 percent will not be finalized until work is completed on the large end-of-year omnibus spending bill, which will probably be by the end of this week.

The legislation then would have to be signed by President Bush, whose staff has vocally threatened a veto if the cap rollback is included, before becoming law. The president strongly supported the new FCC rules.

Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said: “We are pleased that the 35 percent cap rollback provision is part of the omnibus bill but until this thing is signed into law, this is not a done deal.”

When the FCC enacted the new rules on strict party lines, with the three Republican members voting for the change, there was an outcry from consumer groups and some lawmakers, who are concerned that increasing concentration of media will make fewer points of view available in each local market.

Although the White House has threatened to veto the entire bill, a number of sources said they would be surprised if the president actually did veto the bill, which also provides funding for a number of other government agencies.

Viacom Inc., which owns CBS, and News Corp., which owns Fox, already own enough stations to exceed the 35 percent cap. However, they are not expected to be forced to sell any stations. The change will only affect acquisition of new stations.

The rules have been in limbo since September, when a federal appeals court in Philadelphia put them on hold pending a judicial review.

Bochco Signs With CAA: Prolific TV producer Steven Bochco has signed with Creative Artists Agency for representation in all areas. Mr. Bochco, who created such hits as “NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law,” “Hill Street Blues” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” has never been represented by a talent agency before.

Mr. Bochco also recently published his first novel, “Death by Hollywood,” through Random House. He remains a literary client of Janklow & Nesbit Associates in New York. His attorney is Don Walerstein of Rohner & Walerstein.

CBS Puts Michael Jackson Special on Hold: With Michael Jackson facing arrest and $3 million bail as a result of new child molestation allegations, CBS has decided to postpone the “Michael Jackson Number Ones” concert special that was scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26, the last night of the hard-fought sweeps period.

“Given the gravity of the charges against Mr. Jackson, we believe it would be inappropriate at this time to broadcast an entertainment special,” said a statement from the network Wednesday afternoon. “However, we are very mindful that Mr. Jackson is innocent until proven guilty. We will consider broadcasting the special after the due process of the legal system runs its course.”

There was no immediate word on how CBS would fill the Thanksgiving eve hour, timed to coordinate with the release of Mr. Jackson’s latest album.

It is the second time in this sweeps period that CBS has been forced to scramble at the last minute to fill holes in its prime-time lineup.

“The Reagans,” a four-hour docudrama about ailing former President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, was yanked less than two weeks before its Nov. 16 and 18 airdates.

NASA, NAB Blast Powell’s Conclusion on Station News: The Network Affiliated Stations Alliance and the National Association of Broadcasters on Wednesday accused Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell of misleading Congress by asserting that network-owned TV stations do better news than independently owned affiliates.

Mr. Powell made the assertion in an Oct. 20 letter to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in defense of the agency’s controversial decision to raise the cap on national TV ownership to 45 percent of the nation’s TV households-a move supported by the networks and vehemently opposed by the affiliates. In a letter Nov. 19 to Sen. McCain, NASA Chairman Alan Frank and NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts said Mr. Powell’s assertion was based on a discredited agency staff study that failed to correct for market size in comparing network owned-and-operated stations with independently owned affiliates.

“The record demonstrates that affiliates outperform network O&Os in terms of news quality [awards] and provide a comparable quantity of local news,” the NASA and NAB chiefs said in their letter. “Correcting for market size and using the awards selected by the staff study as a proxy for quality … independently owned affiliates outperform O&Os.”

Added Mr. Frank and Mr. Fritts: “The commission should explain why it refuses to address or even acknowledge the need to correct for market size in evaluating local news and why it continues to rely on and cite a staff study that has been discredited by parties on both sides of the issue. Until it does so, Congress should give no weight to the statement in the chairman’s Oct. 20 letter to you ‘that network owned-and-operated stations served their local communities better with respect to local news production.’ In fact, the record shows the reverse is true.”

A spokesman said Chairman Powell had no comment.

UPN Brings Back ‘Top Model’: UPN will bring “America’s Next Top Model” back on Tuesday, Jan. 13. The second edition of the 10-episode reality series will air from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. “Top Model” follows a group of 12 girls competing to win a modeling contract while living together in New York. Supermodel Tyra Banks created the series and executive produces it with Ken Mok. Judges for this edition of the series are Ms. Banks, former supermodel Janice Dickinson, “Jane” magazine senior fashion editor Eric Nicholson and photographer Nigel Barker.

‘Survivor’ Reunion to Air Dec. 14: The “Survivor: Pearl Islands” live reunion show will be broadcast live from Los Angeles on Dec. 14 on CBS. The network previously announced that the show would take place live in Panama City at the Arco Chato. However, that venue partially collapsed earlier this week, making it impossible to do the show from there. The reunion show will air from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) immediately following the two-hour finale.

Lions Gate, Fox in on the ‘Con’: Lions Gate Television has a development deal with the Fox Network for a pilot script based on Lions Gate Films’ “Confidence.” The series, written by “The Dead Zone’s” Craig Silverstein, would follow a team of con artists as they pull off one huge con over the course of a season.

Kevin Beggs, president of programming and production for Lions Gate Television, announced the deal as part of a larger development slate of hour-long dramas and long-form projects. The development slate reflects what Mr. Beggs describes as a “hit ’em where they ain’t” strategy – inexpensive, high-quality dramas at the weblets and cable channels, where the larger production companies could not afford to work.

Lions Gate also has orders for a pilot script from The WB and for two scripts for UPN. The WB pilot script, “Raintree,” is described as a modern-day “Seabiscuit,” about a misfit city girl who finds her soulmate in a failed racehorse on an idyllic ranch in the country. For UPN, Lions Gate is developing “The Point,” a supernatural teen drama, and is teaming with Mandalay Television to produce “Fly Girls,” about two young actresses who discover they have the superpowers of the characters they play on a cheesy TV show.

Also in development is “Dark Network,” a six-hour miniseries for FX about the international underground network that connects drugs and arms smuggling to terrorism. Jim Manos of “The Shield” is attached.

Lions Gate is already going into production on three projects. For ABC Family, it is produ
cing a two-hour television movie executive produced by Britney Spears and her mother, Lynne, and loosely based on their life story. For Sci Fi, Lions Gate is teaming with Hallmark Entertainment Distribution and David Kirschner to make “5 Days to Midnight,” a miniseries about a man who receives the police report on his own murder five days in advance. Additionally, casting is under way on a one-hour pilot for Lifetime, “The Coven,” about a group of witches living in a suburban community and a woman who must return there to take care of her orphaned niece.

ESPN Launches Fee Campaign in Cox Markets: ESPN on Wednesday launched the first phase of a campaign in Cox Cable markets aimed at telling its side in its dispute with the cable operator over license fees that could result in the network being removed from cable or being placed on an extra-cost tier. ESPN launched www.keepespn.com, a Web site that ESPN said provides the facts, answers frequently asked questions and provides an opportunity for consumers to receive information on alternative providers if Cox carries through on its threat to “let ESPN go dark.”

The launch of the Web site coincides with a similar media campaign consisting of newspaper ads and radio spots in Cox’s top 10 markets. “Regrettably, Cox’s campaign of threats and misinformation compels us to set the record straight and give consumers facts, not rhetoric,” said Sean Bratches, executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing for ESPN. “The excellent value of the expanded basic cable package Cox subscribers get at around $40 a month is at jeopardy if Cox rips ESPN out of it.

The simple fact is that consumers will get less value from their cable package and have to pay more to receive less. ESPN carries ad-supported cable’s highest-rated series and over 65 different sports, including the four major professional sports leagues.”

Mr. Bratches said putting ESPN on a tier would not help consumers. “Very significant technical and economic realities associated with tiering and a la carte would end up costing consumers more,” he said. “Subscribers who don’t have set-top boxes [more than half of the cable universe] would be forced to pay an additional monthly fee for boxes [one per TV set] to receive ESPN and other popular services. The loss of ad sales revenue would be substantial, and the resulting loss would be borne by cable subscribers.”

EchoStar Launches Anti-Cable Promotion: EchoStar Communications on Wednesday launched its latest salvo against the cable industry, an advertising and marketing campaign designed to tap into a cable subscriber base that is increasingly restive over soaring rates and urging those consumers to “stop feeding the pig” that is cable. Using television, print, radio and a newly launched Web site, www.StopFeedingThePig.com, EchoStar’s consumer satellite service, DISH Network, said it is using good-natured humor to highlight the rising cost of cable subscriptions and showcase EchoStar’s service as a low-cost alternative.

The DISH Network’s all-digital basic satellite service starts at $24.99 a month and includes 50 channels. EchoStar also noted that it plans to freeze its basic subscription rates through January 2005. Cable, meanwhile, has seen its rates climb 40 percent in the past five years, EchoStar said, citing a Federal Communications Commission report, which stated the average cable bill surged 8.2 percent between July 2001 and July 2002, up from a 7.6 percent increase in the previous 12-month period. By comparison, the consumer price index rose 1.5 percent during this period, EchoStar said.

Campbell Named President of WPVI: Rebecca Campbell, a local programming executive at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia since 1997, has been promoted to president and general manager of the ABC-owned station.

Ms. Campbell’s appointment, effective Nov. 19, was announced by Walter Liss, president of the ABC Owned Television Stations. She succeeds J. David Davis, who was promoted to president and general manager of WABC-TV in New York, the flagship ABC-owned station, in October.

“With 20 years of solid experience in local television programming — and especially given her outstanding track record as WPVI-TV’s programming head and thorough knowledge of the market — Rebecca Campbell is well-suited to lead our Philadelphia station,” Mr. Liss said.

Ms. Campbell got her start as a college senior in 1983 at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, where she was a production assistant for a local children’s show hosted by Dennis Miller. She later was a local programming producer at WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Pa., and a senior producer for “PM Magazine” at WGAL-TV in Lancaster, Pa., where she rose to program manager before joining WPVI-TV in 1997 as programming director. Most recently she was WPVI’s VP of programming.

CSTV to Acquire OCSN: CSTV: College Sports Television agreed to acquire the Official College Sports Network from Student Advantage Inc. OCSN builds, hosts, maintains and markets official Web sites for more than 145 college athletic departments, conferences and related associations. It also operates CollegeSports.com, the most-trafficked Web site devoted exclusively to college sports news and information. OCSN attracted 7.5 million unique users and generated more than 167 million page views in October.