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Jan 28, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Viacom Stations Group Acquires ‘Elder Show’

Telepictures’ hour-long syndicated talk show “The Larry Elder Show” has been acquired by the Viacom Television Stations Group for a fall 2004 launch.

The multi-topic series will be hosted by author and radio and TV personality Larry Elder, who hosted sister company Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s short-lived “Moral Court” during the 2000-01 season.

The Viacom stations signed on for the strip include duopoly stations in Los Angeles (KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV), Philadelphia (KYW-TV and WPSG-TV), San Francisco (KPIX-TV and KBHK-TV), Boston (WBZ-TV and WSBK-TV), Dallas (KTVT-TV and KTXA-TV), Detroit (WWJ-TV and WKBD-TV), Miami (WFOR-TV and WBFS-TV) and Pittsburgh (KDKA-TV and WNPA-TV), the CBS station in Chicago (WBBM-TV) and the UPN stations in Atlanta (WUPA-TV), Norfolk, Va., (WGNT-TV) and New Orleans (WUPL-TV).

The announcement was issued jointly by Dennis Swanson, executive VP and chief operating officer, Viacom Television Stations Group; Dick Robertson, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution; and Jim Paratore, president of Telepictures Productions and executive VP of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.

The Smoking Gun, NBC News Team Up for Breaking News: When The Smoking Gun has particularly juicy news to break, it may wait to do so exclusively on “Today” or “Dateline NBC” under a new agreement between NBC News and Court TV, which owns The Smoking Gun. NBC News and The Smoking Gun will work together on news stories, using the court documents, photos and other materials that have made thesmokinggun.com a popular Web site since its launch in 1997. The site’s founders, William Bastone and Daniel Green, also will make appearances on NBC’s morning show and magazine.

“As we head into what will be a year of high-profile trials and a constantly evolving political landscape, to have the investigative resources of The Smoking Gun to bolster our own gives us an incomparable edge,” said NBC News President Neal Shapiro in the Tuesday announcement.

Flock to Resign From CNN: Jeff Flock, CNN’s Chicago bureau chief and correspondent and one of the news network’s founding reporters, has told CNN he is resigning.

“We’re sorry to see him go and wish him the best of luck,” said a spokesman for CNN, who said Mr. Flock’s departure is expected in a few weeks.

Mr. Flock had been bureau chief in Chicago since 1985, but under a sweeping reorganization announced by CNN/U.S. executive VP and general manager Princell Hair last week, Mr. Flock was one of several correspondent-bureau chiefs stripped of the administrative titles and duties in order to be “freed up to do what they are so good at.” Mr. Hair also replaced popular Washington bureau chief Kathryn Kross with David Bohrman, the founding executive producer of “NewsNight With Aaron Brown,” who is now VP of news and production/Washington bureau chief.

In a note posted internally at CNN, Mr. Flock said, “I wish I could argue with the wisdom of the reorganization. The truth is I think it makes perfect sense. No one knows better than me how tough the bureau chief/correspondent job has been. The new leaders of the regional bureaus are the network’s best. Frankly, I haven’t felt as good about the future of CNN in years.”

Mr. Flock praised CNN management and colleagues and said, “For the 24 years of my CNN career, what’s been best for the network has generally been best for me. And while the reorganization is definitely right for CNN, I have chosen to say goodbye. The reasons are personal, not professional. I just want everyone to know I couldn’t have received better treatment from my bosses. You have given me something I suspect many who get into my line of work are really seeking, which is to be loved and wanted and appreciated. Those are the very best of gifts.”

CBS Stands Ground Against Super Bowl Ad Complaints: In response to recent advocacy group complaints over CBS’s rejection of specific TV advertising for the Super Bowl, CBS has issued a statement saying little has changed in the way it views advocacy ads: It doesn’t air controversial ads about issues on which there are conflicting points of view.

The organization MoveOn tried to buy a spot critical of President Bush for the Super Bowl broadcast, but CBS rejected the ad. MoveOn complained that CBS was violating its own policy by allowing Super Bowl messages aimed at curbing drug abuse (from the Office of National Drug Control Policy) and smoking (from the American Legacy Foundation).

CBS responded; “CBS is unaware of responsible groups that advocate drug abuse and smoking by minors, so it is hard to understand how these laudable efforts would constitute ‘controversial issues.'” CBS has said it has rejected hundreds of advocacy ads over the years, including ones from Mobil Oil and W.R. Grace Co. and from groups focusing on gun control, abortion, and on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Sony Q3 Profits Drop: Consumer electronics and media giant Sony said Wednesday that its fiscal third-quarter profit sank 26 percent to 92.6 billion yen ($873.2 million), as costs associated with the company’s massive restructuring and declines at the company’s Sony Pictures Entertainment offset gains at the company’s consumer electronics operations.

Revenue at the Tokyo-based company rose just shy of 1 percent to 2.32 trillion yen ($21.9 billion).

The company’s pictures unit, which includes film and television operations, recorded a 30 percent drop in revenue for the quarter to 181.1 million yen ($1.7 million), hurt by lower home-entertainment revenues and difficult comparisons created by the presence of the blockbuster “Spider-Man” in the year-ago quarter. Operating income for the period tumbled 82 percent to 5.6 million yen ($52,824).

AFL-CIO Issues Study of Clear Channel: Broadcaster Clear Channel Communications’ dominance in broadcasting, coupled with business practices designed to boost the company’s profitability, are hurting workers and consumers and are a clear symbol of the negative impact of station ownership deregulation, a report sponsored by a labor union group says.

Much of the report, released Wednesday in San Antonio to coincide with a Federal Communications Commission field hearing on media ownership, focuses on Clear Channel’s massive radio and live entertainment businesses, each of which are market leaders, with a particular emphasis on the company’s labor policies-especially those related to union labor. San Antonio-based Clear Channel owns more than 1,200 radio stations and 135 live-entertainment venues.

The company receives little criticism for its practices in the television realm, though the report notes that Clear Channel, which now owns 39 TV stations, has plenty of room to expand its ownership of TV stations.

The 80-page study, titled “The Clear Picture on Clear Channel Communications Inc.,” was commissioned by the AFL-CIO on behalf of several media and entertainment unions, including the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). It was conducted by Cornell University and examined issues ranging from the company’s management approach to running its radio stations to the political contributions of Clear Channel’s management.

The report concludes that Clear Channel pays such close attention to the bottom line that the company shortchanges localism. It also asserts that as a regular business practice the company has beefed up its lobbying efforts at the municipal and federal levels, and that it supports conservative viewpoints in “a deliberate strategy to curry favor with conservative decision-makers in Washington, D.C.”

Clear Channel had not issued a statement in response to the study’s findings by late Wednesday afternoon. However, a source close to the company said the study’s findings were little more than a rehashing of gripes against the company that have been heard for years.

Herzog to Leave USA, Lead Comedy Central: USA President Doug Herzog is leaving the network to rejoin Comedy Central as its head after the completion of the NBC-Vivendi Universal merger, sources said. Mr. Herzog will re
place Larry Divney, who is retiring to spend more time with his wife at a farm he recently bought, according to a Comedy Central spokesperson.

Mr. Herzog was one of several executives whose jobs were in flux because of the NBC-Vivendi combination. He was vying with Jeff Gaspin, president of Bravo and executive VP, alternative series, specials, long-form and program strategy, at NBC, for the top spot at NBC Cable.

It was apparent that Mr. Gaspin, who once worked under Mr. Herzog at Viacom, was going to get that post, sources said. Though he was offered other high-level positions at the combined NBC-Vivendi, Mr. Herzog opted for the Comedy Central job. Mr. Herzog will run the network from California, unlike Mr. Divney, who was based in New York.

Bush Administration Endorses Indecency Penalties: Lending its support to an effort to crack down on off-color broadcasts, the Bush administration today endorsed legislation that would jack up the maximum fine for airing an indecency from $27,500 to $275,000. “As stewards of the public airwaves, broadcasters have a statutory obligation to serve the public interest,” said Donald Evans, secretary of the Department of Commerce, in a Jan. 28 letter to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. “By increasing the applicable penalties tenfold, the bill you have proposed will empower the Federal Communications Commission to punish violations of our indecency laws with meaningful fines.”

At congressional hearings this morning, Rep. Upton made clear that the bill, which also would raise the maximum fine for a continuing series of indecent broadcasts from $300,000 to $3 million, is being put on a legislative “fast track,” and may be beefed up to encourage license revocations for habitual offenders. “Should we have a policy of three strikes and you’re off-off the airwaves?” the lawmaker said.

In his letter to Rep. Upton, Mr. Evans said the Bush administration also backs amendments to the bill that would make clear that indecencies on children’s TV programming would be punished by the maximum available penalties. “While it is not the role of government to dictate the content of broadcast programming, existing laws are meant to protect families and children from being inundated with obscene and indecent broadcasts,” Mr. Evans said.

Tribune Q4 Profits Increase: Publishing and broadcasting company Tribune booked a 75 percent gain in fourth-quarter profit to $338.4 million, or $1.06 a share, compared with a year-ago profit of $193.5 million, or 61 cents a share, as the company saw advertising at both its 13 daily newspapers and 26 television stations climb during the quarter.

Revenue at the Chicago-based company rose 3 percent to $1.47 billion.

For the year, Tribune said its profit more than doubled to $891.4 million, or $2.78 a share, from year-ago levels of $443 million, or $1.38 a share, on a 4 percent increase in revenue to $5.6 billion.

The company’s broadcasting and entertainment unit, which includes TV stations and interests in professional sports teams, reported revenue gains for both the quarter and year, as the company’s WB-affiliated television stations saw smaller ratings declines in both households and adults 18 to 34 than the overall network, of which Tribune owns a 22 percent stake. Revenue for the quarter rose 4 percent to $353 million, up from a year-earlier figure of $339 million. For the year, the station group’s revenue jumped 8 percent to $1.6 billion.

‘Idol’ Powers Fox to Big Win: Week 2 of “American Idol” gave Fox its biggest-ever total viewership and young-demo performance in the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Tuesday time slot, steamrollered the competition and set up Fox for a big nightly win that included a dramatically improved “24.”

“Idol’s” 12.8 rating and 32 share in the 18 to 49 demo added up to more 18 to 49 viewers than the combined total for the five other network programs on at the same time, according to preliminary data from Nielsen Media Research.

“24” notched its best 18 to 49 performance in more than eight months (5.1/12) and was significantly improved in 18 to 34 and teens. “24’s” total viewership (11.4 million) was up 21 percent from its season average (9.4 million).

For the night, Fox cruised with an average of 9.0/22 in the demo and 20.3 million viewers.

NBC’s “Tracy Morgan” (1.8/5 in the demo, 5.4 million viewers) and a repeat of “Whoopi” (1.8/4 in the demo, 5.7 million viewers) proved particularly susceptible to “Idol,” tying The WB’s “Gilmore Girls” (1.8/4, 4.6 million) in the demo.

For the night, ABC averaged a distant second in the 18 to 49 demo with a 3.6/9 and an average of 9 million viewers. NBC was a distant third in the demo with a 2.9/7 and a deep fourth in total viewers with 6.6 million. Not far behind NBC in the demo was CBS (2.5/6), which finished second in total viewers (10.5 million viewers) for the night. “Top Model” (3.5/8, 7.2 million) helped UPN strut to a 2.4/6 for the night, followed by The WB (1.6/4, 4.2 million).

Time Warner Reports Positive 2003 Results: Time Warner Chairman and CEO Richard Parsons Wednesday declared the company victorious in regaining its financial strength, calling 2003 a “reset year” in which the company achieved all of its goals, including paring down its debt load to $20 billion nearly a year ahead of schedule.

Mr. Parsons said the company generated $3.8 billion in free cash flow in 2003, positioning the company to begin looking at acquisitions this year following 2003’s efforts to dump assets, including its DVD manufacturing business and its music group.

He said that Time Warner management will “begin to look outside the company for promising investments,” and at internal opportunities that can boost revenue. He cited as an example of the latter the company’s plans to make telephony service available to all cable customers by year-end.

His comments came as the media titan reported that it swung to a fourth-quarter profit of $638 million, or 14 cents a share, vs. red ink of $44.9 billion, or $10.04 a share, a year ago. Revenue for the 12-month period grew 6 percent to $10.9 billion.

For the year, the New York-based company said it recorded a profit of $2.6 billion, or 59 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $98.7 billion, or $22.15 a share. Revenue in 2003 climbed 6 percent to $39.6 billion.

The company said every business unit except its troubled online division, America Online, posted revenue gains, led by gains at the company’s filmed-entertainment unit.

Time Warner’s largest division, Time Warner Cable, saw its revenue rise 9 percent for both the quarter and the year, as the unit reported strong subscription growth due to the popularity of high-speed data and digital video services. The company said the cable operations swung to an operating profit of $377 million for the quarter and $1.5 billion for the year, compared with year-earlier losses of $10.1 billion and $9 billion, respectively.

Meanwhile, the company’s networks division, which includes its cable channels as well as the WB network, reported a 4 percent rise in fourth-quarter revenue and a 10 percent jump for the year, largely due to higher subscription rates at the Turner networks and HBO. The group also saw advertising revenues rise and realized incremental revenue from ancillary sales of HBO series. Operating income for the year.

However, the networks group saw its operating income fall 11 percent in the quarter to $545 million and 2 percent to $1.8 billion for the year, in part due to lower ratings at the WB network.