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Jan 21, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Liberty Increases Stake in News Corp.

John Malone’s Liberty Media became the largest shareholder in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Wednesday, purchasing an additional 9.15 percent stake in the media company with a combination of cash and share swaps.

Englewood, Colo.-based Liberty said it paid $693 million cash and swapped 21.2 million nonvoting American depository shares for 48 million voting ADS’s.

The sale gives Liberty a 17 percent stake in News Corp. and makes it the largest single shareholder in the media company, with 48 million voting ADS’s and 210.8 million nonvoting ADS’s. The deal also gives Liberty the second-largest voting stake in News Corp., behind Mr. Murdoch’s.

In the past year Liberty has been boosting its stake in News Corp., purchasing nearly 27 million ADS’s. As part of Wednesday’s deal, Liberty said it was simultaneously buying 22 million voting ADRs and entering into a hedge on 38 million voting ADS’s.

Stiffer Indecency Penalties Introduced: Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., introduced legislation Wednesday to jack up the maximum fine for an indecent broadcast from $27,500 to $275,000. The maximum fine for a “continuing violation” would be raised from $300,000 to $3 million. FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently complained that the existing cap on indecency fines was too low to discourage off-color broadcasts.

“When broadcasters start to feel the pinch where it hurts, in their wallets, they will start to think twice about indecency on the airwaves,” said Rep. Upton, who has scheduled hearings to review the FCC’s indecency enforcement policies for Jan. 28. Said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., “We intend to move that legislation quickly in hopes of sending a signal to broadcasters that enough is enough.”

Oxygen to Launch Original Comedy Series: Oxygen is launching an original situation comedy produced by Oxygen co-founder Carsey-Werner-Mandabach. The series is the first Carsey-Werner-Mandabach production made specifically for cable and will premiere this April.

The buddy comedy chronicles the lives and loves of two 20-somethings who move from Minnesota to Los Angeles. The show stars Joy Gohring and Bree Turner. “This series is everything that we love-it’s edgy, young and outrageous,” said Debby Beece, president of programming at Oxygen. “Carsey-Werner-Mandabach are the masters of the situation comedy and we are delighted to make a home for their newest venture in prime time on Oxygen.”

Swanson Promoted at Fox: Betsy Swanson, a 15-year veteran executive of the Fox-owned stations group, has been promoted to executive VP and CFO of Fox Television Stations Inc.

“Betsy’s promotion is recognition of her invaluable contributions to the growth and success of our company. Her work and diligence overseeing the financial areas for the stations have resulted in strong operating efficiencies and quality financial reporting,” said Lachlan Murdoch, News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, who is overseeing the 35-station group.

Ms. Swanson served as senior VP of finance for the stations and the Fox Regional Sports Networks since 2000 and was named VP of finance in 1992. In 1990, Ms. Swanson was appointed station manager for Fox-owned KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City. Ms. Swanson joined Fox in 1988 as director of financial planning and reporting for Fox Television Stations.

Opatut Resigns from Food Net: Food Network Senior VP of Programming and Production Eileen Opatut resigned last week to pursue other opportunities. Ms. Opatut’s departure comes on the heels of news that Food President Judy Girard is leaving the network to head Shop at Home, which like Food is owned by E.W. Scripps. No replacement for either executive has been named.

‘Monk’ Hits a Series High: Friday’s episode of “Monk” on USA Network earned its strongest showing in the history of the series with a 4.6 household rating, a 3.2 rating in the adults 25 to 54 demographic and a 2.4 in adults 18 to 49. On average, 6 million viewers in 4.1 million homes tuned in to “Monk” Friday night, making the episode the most watched of any original scripted series on basic cable since the premiere of “Dead Zone” on USA in June 2002. “Monk” also was the highest-rated program on basic cable Friday night and remains the highest-rated scripted series on basic cable.

‘American Idol’ Scores Again for Fox: “American Idol” turned in another stellar performance for Fox Tuesday night. It scored an 11.9 rating and 31 share in adults 18 to 49 and 27.2 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. That’s about on par with the show’s Monday night debut.

Once again, “Idol” appeared to bite into The WB’s audience. “Gilmore Girls” scored a 1.8/5 in adults 18 to 49 and 4.9 million viewers.

At 9 p.m. (ET), all the networks except The WB and UPN aired the State of the Union address. UPN did well with “America’s Next Top Model” pulling a 2.1/5 in adults 18 to 49 and 5 million viewers. It beat The WB’s “One Tree Hill,” which had a 1.8/4 in adults 18 to 49 and 4.5 million viewers.

Numbers for the night may change when final national numbers come in because of adjustments for the live State of the Union address and the Democratic response. For the night, Fox won adults 18 to 49 with an 8.2/21, followed by NBC (2.5/7), ABC and CBS (2.2/6), The WB (1.8/5) and UPN (1.6/4). In total viewers, Fox won with 18.5 million, followed by CBS (8.8 million), NBC (7.6 million), ABC (6.8 million), The WB (4.7 million) and UPN (3.9 million).

Bravo HD+ Extends its Reach: NBC Cable Networks said its Bravo HD+ service is now available to 1.4 million customers. It is carried by Insight in several Midwest markets, Cox Communications, GCI Cable Inc., Mediacom Broadband, Patriot Media Communications, Blue Ridge Communications and Service Electric Cablevision. “Bravo HD+ provides consumers with a truly unique viewing experience,” said David Zaslav, president of NBC Cable. “As sales of HD televisions increase, so will the demand for HD programming.”

Hallmark Adds Half-Million Subscribers: Hallmark Channel said it will be adding more than a half-million subscribers this month, with launches in markets served by Cox Communications and Comcast Cable. Cox will be launching Hallmark in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Okla., Jan. 23. Cox has more than 500,000 subscribers in those cities. Comcast is launching the channel in Savannah, Ga., and Little Rock, Ark. Comcast has 176,000 subscribers in those cities.

Showtime Acquires Rights to ‘Tribute’: Showtime Networks acquired the world premiere rights to “Tribute,” a new documentary that will air on Showtime under the SHO Exposure programming banner in April. The film focuses on the subculture of tribute bands that imitate successful rock bands such as Kiss, Judas Priest, the Monkees and Queen. “Tribute” is directed by Kristine Curry and Richard Fox, who also serve as producers. Steve Soderbergh is executive producer.

Super Bowl Spots 90 Percent Sold: A week and a half before the Super Bowl, CBS has sold 90 percent of the spots in the broadcast. Advertisers at this point are American Legacy, Anheuser- Busch, AOL, Buena Vista Pictures, Chrysler, Cialis, Disney Pictures, Expedia, FedEx, Frito Lay, Gillette, General Motors, H&R Block, IBM, Levitra, MasterCard, Mitsubishi, Monster.com, ONDCP, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Philip Morris, Reebok, Sony Pictures, Staples, Universal Pictures, Visa and Warner Bros.

Davidson Named HBO Exec VP of Sales: Steve Davidson will return to Home Box Office as executive VP of affiliate sales effective Feb. 2. Mr. Davidson will be responsible for directing HBO and Cinemax’s sales to affiliated cable systems and satellite providers, and for managing special market distribution nationwide. In 2002, Mr. Davidson left HBO to co-found Sports Media Group LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in the formation and operation of regional sports networks. He has remained involved with HBO as a consultant.