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Feb 5, 2004  •  Post A Comment

NBC Renews ‘Apprentice’

NBC has picked up a second season of “The Apprentice,” targeted for a fall premiere date. “Apprentice” has helped lift NBC’s fortunes on Thursday nights. In three Thursday night airings the show has averaged a 9.4 rating and 23 share in adults 18 to 49, ranking it No. 3 among all shows on TV, and 19.1 million total viewers, ranking No. 6. Donald Trump will return as the boardroom uber-boss and executive produce the show with reality titan Mark Burnett.

“‘The Apprentice’ is a red-hot breakout hit for NBC and it has delivered some of the best ratings of any new show in NBC history,” said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment, News and Cable. “Donald Trump and Mark Burnett are the most potent force in television today and I’m thrilled to say that ‘The Apprentice’ will have an appointment on NBC for many years to come.”

Hughes Terminates Talks With Pegasus: DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics has ended settlement talks with satellite operator Pegasus Communications, saying that, after a year of mediation, the two companies cannot reach an agreement on when a resale pact is scheduled to end.

The decision to pull the plug on talks came after a meeting Thursday between Hughes CEO Chase Carey and Pegasus CEO Marshall Pagon.

“We believe that Pegasus has an unrealistic view of its contractual position and, therefore, of its resulting business prospects and fundamental valuation,” Mr. Carey said in a statement. “With every day that passes, both Pegasus’ significance to DirecTV and its value as a stand-alone enterprise diminish.”

The move by Hughes to end negotiations is perhaps the clearest signal yet of the new world order that exists at the company now that it is controlled by News Corp., which late last year acquired a controlling 34 percent stake in the satellite company. DirecTV and Pegasus had held court-ordered mediation talks since January 2003.

At issue is the termination date of an agreement with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, of which Pegasus is the largest member, to resell DirecTV services to rural customers in the United States.

NRTC sued DirecTV, claiming the satellite operator was circumventing the cooperative and selling satellite services directly to rural customers. The two sides reached a settlement in August, with all of the members except Pegasus agreeing to continue selling DirecTV services until 2011.

With the talks ended, Hughes said Pegasus is left with the choice of either ending its right to sell DirecTV services in June 2008 or signing on to the NRTC agreement and selling the services until 2011. Hughes said Pegasus has until March 8 to decide, after which the June 2008 termination date kicks in.

Daytime Emmys Announcement Date Moved: The daytime TV audience and industry will have to wait one day longer than they had expected to learn who has been nominated for Daytime Emmys this year. The announcement of nominations has been moved from March 3 to March 4 by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The announcements will be carried on the “Today” show on NBC, which will broadcast the Emmy Awards ceremony live from Radio City Music Hall on Friday, May 21.

Sinclair Reports Drop in Q4 Profits: Sinclair Broadcast Group has reported a 32 percent fall in fourth-quarter profit to $16 million, or 19 cents a share, vs. a year-earlier profit of $23.5 million, or 27 cents a share, hurt by a steep drop in political advertising revenue.

The television station group reported today that revenue slipped nearly 3 percent in the quarter to $192.8 million, largely the result of a 9 percent decline in broadcast revenue to $173.1 million at the company’s 62 stations.

For the year, Baltimore-based Sinclair swung to a profit of $14 million, or 14 cents a share, after reporting a loss of $574.8 million, or $6.64 a share, a year ago. The 2002 loss was the result of accounting changes taken in relation to write-downs, taxes associated with broadcast licenses and good will.

Sinclair said it lost $23 million in ad revenue because 2003 was not an election year, but added that it was able to make up more than half of the lost political revenue from its direct-mail business.

Local advertising revenue slipped nearly 2 percent in the quarter, while national ad revenue tumbled more than 18 percent. Excluding political, Sinclair said its local ad revenue was up more than 3 percent, while national fell 6 percent.

On a network-by-network basis, Sinclair said every station except the UPN affiliates reported declines in revenue, mainly due to the impact of 2003 being a nonelection year. Excluding political advertising, NBC and CBS stations posted a 7 percent gain in revenue, while Fox and ABC stations slipped 1 percent and The WB dropped 4 percent.

EchoStar Explores Mobile DVRs: Satellite provider EchoStar is exploring the possibility of developing mobile digital video recorders, a move that could help set the company apart as a product innovator.

The product is in the research and development stage. The time frame for introduction is unknown, but Carmel Group VP and senior analyst Sean Badding expects the devices to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2004.

A mobile DVR would allow users to watch content on a plane or in a hotel room, for instance. Mr. Badding expects the first versions to look like an iPod with a 3- to 4-inch LCD screen. Like a Palm Pilot or PDA, the mobile DVR could be synced into the set-top box and the content stored there would be downloaded onto the mobile device, he said.

More than 1 million EchoStar customers currently use EchoStar’s DVR service, and consumer interest in DVRs is strong. The move toward a mobile device would help position EchoStar on the cutting edge of video services during a time when it is likely to face heightened competition from News Corp.-controlled DirecTV.

“EchoStar has to reinvent itself and be ahead of the competition with new technology,” Mr. Badding said. He expects EchoStar to manufacture the device itself. “This will strictly be an EchoStar-branded mobile DVR,” he said.

It would likely sell in the $200 to $300 range from EchoStar and retailers with whom it has agreements, such as Sears and RadioShack.

A mobile DVR is a classic niche-of-a-niche product, said Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group. The device will appeal most to consumers who already have a DVR at home and as that base grows, so could the number of consumers interested in a mobile version. The Yankee Group predicts that by year-end 2007, about 24.7 million homes will own a DVR, up from 3.2 million in 2003.

Vivendi Posts Hefty Decline in Revenue: French conglomerate Vivendi Universal said today that revenue for 2003 tumbled 56 percent to 25.5 billion euros ($32.1 billion) from a year-earlier level of 58.2 billion euros, the result of asset sales, a drop in the value of sales to the United States because of the lower value of the dollar against the euro, and weakness at the company’s games and music groups.

At Vivendi Universal Entertainment, the film and television production operation currently being merged with General Electric’s NBC broadcast network, Vivendi reported a 4 percent decline in revenue to just over 6 billion euros ($7.6 billion), the result of the sale of the Spencer Gifts retail chain as well as strong results at the film and television operations, which offset lower revenues at the company’s themepark business.

The company said its television group posted a 6 percent increase in revenue, thanks to a 14 percent jump in advertising revenue at the cable networks USA and Sci Fi as well as higher subscriber fees. Television production revenues rose 4 percent, thanks to strong performances by the company’s “Law & Order” franchise.

The film studio produced a 15 percent gain in revenue for the quarter, while theme park revenue fell 5 percent.