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Feb 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Indecency Fine Increase Clears House Panel

The House telecommunications subcommittee voted unanimously today to approve legislation that would crack down on broadcast indecency by ratcheting up the fines for off-color programming.

Under the legislation, the cap on a fine for a single instance of indecency would go up from $27,500 to $275,000, and the maximum levy for a continuing series of violations would rise from $300,000 to $3 million. But subcommittee members made clear they intend to beef up the measure in the next several weeks, before it reaches a vote on the House floor, and members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled several amendments that they intend to introduce to the legislation.

Among them:

— Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., proposed an amendment that could subject entertainers and other non-licensees who commit indecent acts on air to fines of up to $100,000, and that would encourage broadcasters to adopt a code aimed at curbing off-color programming-a proposal that he and other lawmakers said they may want to extend to cable and satellite TV.

— Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, advocated passing along 90 percent of a fine for a network-originated indecency from the affiliate to the network.

— Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., proposed to base indecency fines on a broadcaster’s financial wherewithal, with the understanding that a levy could reach up to 10 percent of the station’s annual revenues.

— Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., proposed to require the Federal Communications Commission to treat instances of indecency as serious violations of a station’s public interest obligations at license renewal time.

— To make it easier for consumers to document indecency complaints, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., proposed an amendment that would require broadcasters to keep recordings of all of their programming for 180 days. Another of his amendments would extend the ban on indecent programming to “gratuitous violence that is detrimental to the health and safety of children.”

— Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., proposed an amendment that would force the FCC to hold license revocation proceedings for any broadcaster that amasses three indecency violations.

After the vote, subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., predicted to reporters the bill would be approved by Congress and on President Bush’s desk by the end of March. “Enough is enough for some of this stuff,” Rep. Upton said. “We want to do something about it, and so does the public.”

Fox Wins Wednesday: Fox won Wednesday night in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. “That ’70s Show” posted strong numbers at 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., coming in first in adults 18 to 49 (5.7/16) and total viewers (12.4 million). “American Idol” continued its streak, winning the 8:30 p.m.-to-9 p.m. half-hour with a 10.4/27 in adults 18 to 49-260 percent above its nearest competitor, NBC’s repeat of “The Apprentice.” “Idol” also won total viewers with 24.3 million.

“Idol” boosted “The O.C.,” which finished the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. hour in second place in adults 18 to 49 with a 5.0/12. ABC’s “The Bachelorette” took first place with a 5.2/12. CBS won the hour in total viewers with two “King of Queens” episodes, which averaged 12.3 million viewers.

At 10 p.m., NBC’s “Law & Order” finished first with a 6.6/14 in adults 18 to 49 and 17 million viewers.

For the night, Fox won in adults 18 to 49 with a 6.6/17, followed by ABC (4.1/11), NBC (3.9/10), CBS (3.5/9), The WB (1.9/5) and UPN (1.4/4). In total viewers, Fox won the night with 14.9 million, followed by NBC (12 million), CBS (11.1 million), ABC (9.5 million), The WB (4.4 million) and UPN (3.3 million).

EchoStar Teams With Sirius Satellite Radio, RadioShack: EchoStar formed a three-way alliance with Sirius Satellite Radio and RadioShack stores that positions EchoStar as the exclusive satellite TV brand at RadioShack stores. EchoStar will also make Sirius music programming available to most of its 9 million customers. The three entities will work together to produce advertising and marketing material. In related news, EchoStar announced it will carry free to all HD subscribers this weekend’s NBA All-Star events in HD, including a telecast of the game itself on TNT and related festivities.

Robbins Says Comcast/Disney Deal Won’t Affect Cox: Cox Communications CEO James Robbins said today that the proposed merger between Comcast Corp. and The Walt Disney Co. will not alter the direction of his cable company, which will continue to focus on distribution.

“Our mind doesn’t change one iota after yesterday’s deal announcement,” Mr. Robbins said during a conference call to discuss Cox’s fourth-quarter and year-end results, adding that his company will “stick to its knitting.”

The comments came as the Atlanta-based multiple system operator reported a fourth-quarter loss of $11.3 million, or 2 cents a share, compared with a profit of $179.6 million, or 28 cents a share, a year ago, when the company recorded gains related to changes in the fair value of investments in cellular company Sprint PCS. Revenue advanced 12 percent to $1.5 billion.

For the year, Cox reported a narrowed loss of $137.8 million, or 22 cents a share, from year-earlier red ink of $274 million, or 45 cents a share, while revenue rose 14 percent to $5.8 billion.

The improvements came as Cox’s telephone subscriber base grew by 38 percent for the year and its high-speed Internet service swelled by 48 percent. The company ended the year with 6.3 million basic video customers, an increase of nearly 1 percent.