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Nov 20, 2003  •  Post A Comment

‘Monk’ Heads Back to ABC

ABC will replace the canceled “L.A. Dragnet” with repeats of USA cable network’s hit show “Monk.” “Monk” will air on Saturdays at 10 p.m., starting Jan. 17. In a unique deal with USA, ABC has the ability to air reruns of the Touchstone Television-produced “Monk.” ABC, which first aired reruns of “Monk” over the summer two years ago, picked up the rights to rerun the second season as well.

Disney’s Iger Blasts Cox Strategy: Walt Disney Co. President Robert Iger called the public criticism by Cox Communications of ESPN’s programming fee increases “a negotiating ploy on their part” that could be damaging to the negotiations the programmer has with other large programmers.

Speaking Thursday during the company’s fiscal-year 2003 earnings call, Mr. Iger said ESPN and Disney’s preference is to avoid negotiating new affiliate agreements in public, but that “Cox has been so public it was imperative for us to respond … to our customers.” He said Cox has misrepresented the factors leading to rising cable rates, adding that cable operators’ push to offer new technologies over cable, such as telephony, digital cable and video-on-demand, are a more likely driver of rising cable sub fees.

Cox, whose contract with ESPN expires at the end of March, has been the most vocal of the multiple system operators about rising programming fees, and has blamed high cable subscription rates squarely on programming rates that Cox said have risen faster than inflation. After remaining largely silent on the matter, ESPN recently began to fight back in a bid to tell its side of the story.

Mr. Iger’s comments came as the ABC parent reported a 3 percent increase in profit for the 12 months ended Sept. 30 to nearly $1.3 million, or 62 cents a share, vs. slightly more than $1.2 million, or 60 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue for the 2003 fiscal year climbed 7 percent to $27.1 billion.

For the fourth quarter, Disney’s profit surged 137 percent to $415 million while revenue rose 5 percent to $7 billion.

The company said strong results at its film studio and television properties helped offset declines in Disney’s theme parks and resorts business.

The media networks division, which includes Disney’s broadcast and cable assets, reported a 12 percent jump in revenue to $10.9 billion for the year and an 8 percent rise to $2.6 billion for the quarter, largely on the strength of a stronger advertising market and higher cable affiliate fees, which offset higher programming and production costs at the broadcast level. The company noted that its broadcast of the Super Bowl earlier this year helped the bottom line, while the coverage of the Iraqi war hurt.

At the cable level, higher affiliate and advertising revenue was partially hurt by sports programming costs associated with broadcasts of National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball games and higher programming costs at ABC Family. The company was also hurt by start-up costs at Disney Channel Japan, which added up to $10 million in the 2003 fiscal year and are expected to cost the company another $25 million in the 2004 fiscal year.

Liberty Announces Debt Reduction Plan: John Malone’s Liberty Media late Thursday answered an often-asked question about what it might do with its treasure trove of cash, announcing that it would use its significant cash reserves and cash flow to pay down $4.5 billion worth of debt by 2005.

Through a multistep process of redeeming, repaying and retiring debt, the Englewood, Colo.-based cable programming giant said it will trim $2.5 billion of consolidated debt by the end of the year, followed by the reduction of another $2 billion over the next two years. Thanks to a series of acquisitions, including a majority stake in shopping channel QVC, Liberty’s debt now stands at around $18 billion compared with $7 billion at the end of 2002.

Liberty said it plans use its cash to redeem $1 billion of three-year floating rate notes used to acquire the 56.5 percent stake that had been owned by QVC; repay more than $900 million of bank debt held by wholly owned Liberty subsidiaries; and retire $600 million of other outstanding corporate indebtedness.

The additional $2 billion in debt to be cut will be financed by cash on hand, cash flow from operations and sales of nonstrategic assets. Plans also call for Liberty to refinance $1.2 billion of $1.9 billion of debt scheduled to mature in 2006 with longer-maturity instruments.

Liberty said its debt will fall to approximately $11.9 billion by the end of the year (excluding debt of UnitedGlobalCom, which Liberty is in the process of acquiring) and to $9.9 billion by the end of 2005.

TiVo Reports Narrowed Loss: Digital video recorder company TiVo said Thursday that it narrowed its third-quarter red ink to $7.4 million, or 11 cents a share, from a year-earlier loss of $11.5 million, or 23 cents a share, as the company recorded significant subscriber growth on its own and through its relationship with DirecTV.

The San Jose, Calif., company said revenue for the period soared 73 percent to $43.3 million, driven by substantial growth in service revenues and technology revenues.

The company said its overall subscription growth during the third quarter grew fourfold to help the company reach the 1 million-subscriber milestone. TiVo added nearly 59,000 new service subscriptions-double the growth reported a year ago. Additionally, TiVo’s partnership with DirecTV to distribute DVRs to the satellite operator’s customers generated 150,000 new subscriptions in the period.

Looking ahead, TiVo projected its relationship with DirecTV would continue to drive new subscriptions and has led the company to revise upward its 2004 subscription growth numbers. It now projects total subscriptions to rise to nearly 1.38 million, up from previous guidance of 1.27 million. TiVo said it expects two-thirds of its new subscriptions to come from DirecTV customers.

Vargas Named ‘World News Tonight Sunday’ Anchor: Elizabeth Vargas is now the permanent anchor of ABC News’ “World News Tonight Sunday.” Ms. Vargas succeeds Carole Simpson, whose 15 years in the chair ended in late October when she was named an “ambassador” for ABC News in classrooms.

Ms. Vargas’s new assignment will not mean less work. She is expected to continue as a substitute anchor for Peter Jennings on weeknight “World News” and on “Good Morning America” as a co-anchor of “PrimeTime Monday” and as a correspondent for ABC’s newsmagazines.

When Ms. Vargas left NBC News for ABC seven years ago she had her eye on succeeding on “Good Morning America,” but for her professional fans, her newest assignment confirms that her strength is in hard news. Indeed, it was her anchoring of the fast-breaking Elian Gonzalez story that won her an Emmy in 2000.

Nielsen Excludes Texas Station: Nielsen Media Research has taken the rare step of delisting a station for an entire sweeps after KZTV-TV, the CBS affiliate in Corpus Christi, Texas, ignored Nielsen’s repeated “requests” to stop airing promos in which the station’s anchors were superimposed onto the photo of the TV set on the front of Nielsen’s diaries.

“This is the action we have to take,” said a spokeswoman for Nielsen, which prohibits such activities because it believes they can affect viewing artificially.

Dale Remy, general manager of the station, which is owned by Eagle Creek Broadcasting, was said to be traveling and unavailable for comment about the Nielsen complaint.

Nor was there any immediate information about where KZTV ranks in Corpus Christi, a five station market that is the 129th-largest in the country.

As a result of Nielsen’s action, all ratings data for KZTV will be excluded from all reports containing information collected for the November 2003 Corpus Christi ratings book. Tuning and viewing to KZTV will be included, however, in the reported HUT and PUT data. Ratings data for other stations and cable operators in the Corpus Christi designated market area will not be affected.

ABC Stations Announce Digital Multicast Plans: Walter Liss, president of the ABC Owned Television Stations, announce
d Thursday that the company plans to have multicast operations on the digital TV frequencies of all 10 of the company’s stations “in the near future.”

The company has been experimenting with multicast operations on KFSN-TV, its Fresno, Calif., station, for more than a year, offering three programming streams that feature HDTV, local news and public affairs, and weather programming. In a Nov. 20 letter to the FCC, Mr. Liss said the company now plans to extend the multicast operations to its nine other markets, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

Mr. Liss said the multicast offerings would help spur the transition to DTV by giving consumers incentive to buy digital TV sets. But to really get the transition rolling, he said, cable operators would have to be required to carry all of the free DTV programming streams that broadcasters offer.

“We believe that when cable operators carry a DTV signal [whether pursuant to must-carry or retransmission consent arrangements], the cable operator should not block the customer’s reception of any portion of the DTV signal that the customer otherwise could receive for free,” Mr. Liss said.

TV One Added to Basic Cable Channel Package: TV One, the new channel partly owned by Comcast and targeting African American adults, will be added to the operators basic channel package in major markets comprising 2.2 million subscribers in Atlanta, Detroit and Flint, Mich., as well as Comcast’s entire Atlantic division, which includes Washington and Baltimore.

TV Land, Nick at Nite to Launch Family Dinner Campaign: TV Land and Nick at Nite plan to launch a public service campaign encouraging families to have dinner together, just as families did in so many classic TV shows. TV Land and Nick at Nite have created four new public service announcements that will begin airing on Thanksgiving Day. Larry Jones, general manager of TV Land and Nick at Nite said the campaign will be backed by more than $6 million worth of on-air promotion. Former “The Cosby Show” star Malcolm-Jamal Warner appears in the spots.

‘Bachelor’ Drives ABC to Victory: “The Bachelor” finale dominated last night, pushing ABC to easy wins in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. An average 18.5 million people tuned in to watch Bachelor Bob choose Estella over Kelly Jo, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. “Bachelor” scored a first-place 8.7/21 in adults 18 to 49, beating NBC’s “The West Wing” and “Law & Order.”

“The Bachelor” finale was up from the spring edition finale, which posted a 7.2/17 and 15.1 million total viewers, but was lower than “The Bachelorette” finale, which had an 11.9/28 and 25.9 million viewers, earlier this year.

Fox’s “The O.C.” held up well against the competition with a 4.1/10 in adults 18 to 49-up 8 percent over the previous week. It finished third in its time slot, almost beating “The West Wing,” which had a 4.2/10. “The O.C.” also helped Fox claim a second-place finish for the night in adults 18 to 49 (4.5/11), beating NBC (4.3/11).

CBS’s “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” didn’t do much at 10 p.m. to attract viewers, scoring a third place 3.7/9 in adults 18 to 49 and 9.4 million viewers. That’s down from the 3.9/9 in the demo and 10.5 million viewers it pulled last year.

For the night, ABC won adults 18 to 49 with a 7.3/18, followed by Fox (4.5/11), NBC (4.3/11), CBS (3.2/8), The WB (2.4/6) and UPN (1.4/4). In total viewers, ABC won the night with 16.2 million, followed by NBC (13.5 million), CBS (10.4 million), Fox (9.1 million), The WB (5.2 million) and UPN (3.3 million).

Stern to Run DirecTV: Mitchell Stern, who has been chairman and CEO of Fox Television Stations Group for a decade, has been singled out to run DirecTV when News Corp.’s acquisition of the satellite television provider is complete in the next few weeks, according to published reports.

Lachlan Murdoch, the News Corp. deputy chief operating officer and elder son of News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch, would assume more day-to-day control of the 35-station group that has, along with the New York Post, been under his oversight and in which he has been schooled by Mr. Stern.

A News Corp. spokesman declined to comment on the reports.

News Corp. hopes to complete the $6.6 billion purchase of a controlling 34 percent stake in DirecTV parent Hughes Corp. by year’s end.