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Feb 18, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Fox Stations Snare ‘Raymond’

Under the eye of new Fox Television Stations Chairman Lachlan Murdoch, the Fox owned-and-operated stations are about to go two-for-two. The station group has snagged the second-cycle rights to King World’s off-net hit “Everybody Loves Raymond” away from Tribune with a five-year deal with episodes set to air beginning in March 2008.

Among the new markets where Fox will air the show will be New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Houston. Incumbent Fox markets renewing the strip are Minneapolis, Baltimore and Washington.

“Last week’s renewal of ‘Seinfeld,’ one of our key building blocks, helps us in our duopoly strategy to have all the A-list product possible,” Mr. Murdoch said. “Our strategy behind the ‘Raymond’ acquisition is two-pronged: to add more A-list product to our sitcom arsenal while also shifting significantly the market share. “

“Raymond” has a season-to-date household rating of 5.7, which makes it the third-highest-rated sitcom in syndication, after “Seinfeld” and “Friends.” Last week, the Fox group renewed Sony’s “Seinfeld” for a third cycle, keeping the series on the station group through 2011.

Kellner Warns of Too Much Reality: Former WB chief Jamie Kellner said Wednesday that the broadcast networks’ heavy reliance on reality programming and procedural crime dramas is overloading viewers and could be the reason behind this season’s ratings decline.

“Reality shows are disrupting viewing habits, especially with men,” Mr. Kellner said during a conference call to analysts to discuss the fourth-quarter results of his station group Acme Communications, adding that networks run the very real risk of turning off viewers completely as they tire of reality shows.

Mr. Kellner said a similar risk exists with the proliferation of procedural crime dramas, which he said “viewers can’t tell apart.”

Speaking about the sharp ratings decline that has befallen The WB, Mr. Kellner said the ratings trouble is something that should be expected when there is a management shift. Garth Ancier was named chairman of the network in September, following Mr. Kellner’s departure.

“Whenever there’s a change in senior management, you would expect to see some problems,” he said. “I have great confidence in Jordan [Levin, The WB’s entertainment president] and Garth.”

Meanwhile, Acme reported a fourth-quarter loss of $7.2 million, or 43 cents a share, about the same as the company’s year-ago red ink, as revenue rose 9 percent to $11.2 million.

The company said ratings gains at its nine television stations helped turn broadcast cash flow positive to $678,000 in the quarter from a year-ago negative cash flow figure of $36,000.

For the year, Acme swung to a profit of $75 million, or $4.47 a share, from a year-earlier loss of $56 million, or $3.34 a share. Revenue for the 12-month period surged 20 percent to $43.3 million.

Insight Signs Reality Central: Reality Central will be carried by Insight Communications, the company announced today.

Insight is the first MSO to sign the much-publicized start-up network. The cable operator serves 1.4 million customers, but how many will receive Reality Central is unclear. The current agreement calls for the network to be carried on digital channels.

The network, headed by President and CEO Larry Namer and Chairman Kay Koplovitz, intends to show original and repurposed reality content.

“The positive feedback we’re receiving proves that the cable community recognizes the entertainment force of nature that is reality television and wants to be a part of it in a novel way,” Ms. Koplovitz said.

Reality Central, which faces competition from the similarly themed network Reality TV, has delayed its planned spring launch until later this year.

ABC Family Channel Interviewing for Top Programmer: There is no shortage of candidates interested in the top programming job at ABC Family Channel — despite Comcast’s takeover bid for the channel’s parent, The Walt Disney Co.-according to Anne Sweeney, president of the ABC Cable Networks Group.

Filling the top job from outside is part of Ms. Sweeney’s plan to clean house at the channel.

ABC Family lost its president, Angela Shapiro, after the channel was made part of Ms. Sweeney’s division last October. Its VP of programming, Linda Mancuso, died of cancer in December.

The new channel’s management will be modeled after that of the Disney Channel. Executives responsible for original entertainment and marketing will report to the president of programming.

After Ms. Mancuso’s death, Ms. Sweeney hired executive search firm Carlsen Resources. She has already interviewed 12 candidates and had four back for second interviews. More candidates may be interviewed, said Ms. Sweeney, who was interviewed in New York during a reception for the new Jetix action-adventure block on ABC Family and Toon Disney.

Ms. Sweeney said she hopes to have a top programmer in place by the time the network conducts upfront meetings with advertisers next month.

During the upfront meetings, Ms. Sweeney and the new chief programmer will lay out the new strategic direction for ABC Family, Ms. Sweeney said. That strategic direction has already been approved and is supported by top Disney management, including CEO Michael Eisner, she said.

Shortly after being acquired for $5 billion, ABC Family became home to a number of repurposed ABC programs. Ms. Sweeney said that being a second home for ABC shows was not “a big enough idea” and would not be an important part of the ABC Family mix. Instead, the channel will embrace the “Family” part of its name, though she declined to go into detail.

Some Disney insiders said Rich Ross, president of entertainment at the surging Disney Channel and one of Ms. Sweeney’s top executives, was her top choice to run ABC Family. But Mr. Ross apparently turned down the job. “I have the best job in television,” said Mr. Ross, who was also at the Jetix event.

As part of the ABC Cable Networks Group, ABC Family will share some functions with the other channels in the group. Last week, Disney Channel executives Gary Marsh and Michael Healy were given oversight of ABC Family film projects.

Comedy Central Readies Three New Series: Comedy Central said it will premiere three new series in the third and fourth quarter of 2004. One show features a U.K.-based sketch comedy group, the Hollow Men. Another is a strip called “Crossballs,” which spoofs the debate show format. The third show is “Odd Todd,” an animated series that follows the plight of a modern-day unemployed character.

‘Great Rivers Expedition’ to Run Feb. 25: Outdoor Life Network will televise “Outside Magazine Presents: The Great Rivers Expedition” Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. The program, narrated by actor and conservationist Edward Norton, chronicles a historic whitewater adventure that took place in China’s Yunnan Great Rivers region led by Mr. Norton’s brother, Jim, an experienced adventure guide.

Hispanic Cable Net to Launch July 19: A new cable channel targeting the Hispanic market, VOY Network, announced that it plans to launch July 19. The channel is led by Andrew Thau, president and CEO. Mr. Thau previously was senior VP, operations and network development, at Fox Cable Networks and Fox Sports International. The management team also includes Lucia Ballas-Traynor, head of programming; Jon Dubin, head of advertising sales; and Cathy Rasenberger, who will oversee VOY Network’s distribution within the cable and satellite community.

Yemenidjian Touts MGM’s Merger Potential: MGM Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian is touting his company as an ideal merger partner, pointing out that the studio has no debt, is cash flow positive and possesses a vast film library that, if merged with the right company, could prove to be a formidable media force.

Speaking to analysts during the company’s quarterly earnings conference call Wednesday, Mr. Yemenidjian said that while the proposed Comcast-Disney merger would force “everyone to evaluate where they stand,” the key will be to execute merger deals “that make sense.”

As far as MGM is concerned, “As a partner with any other com
pany that has a similar business as MGM, you basically have some very meaningful opportunities for cost reductions and revenue enhancements,” Mr. Yemenidjian said.

Meanwhile, MGM reported a 3 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit to $60.2 million, or 25 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $58.7 million, or 24 cents a share. Revenue dropped 13 percent to $543.1 million, as film and television revenue declined in the quarter.

For the year, the company posted a widened loss of $161.7 million, or 66 cents a share, from red ink of $142.2 million, or 57 cents a share, a year ago.

Actors Agree to Extend Contract: The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have reached an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to extend their current contract for an additional year. The contract was set to expire June 30. The deal will go to a vote before SAG and AFTRA members within the next 30 days. Key provisions include a 2.5 percent minimum salary hike, a provision to allow SAG and AFTRA to jointly negotiate for future contracts and expanded guild coverage of performers in digitally produced programs on UPN and The WB.

“This agreement keeps actors working and makes significant gains in areas that matter most to our membership: equal pay for equal work, a raise in pay, a strengthened health plan, network salaries for WB and UPN actors and broader coverage for background performers,” said SAG President Melissa Gilbert.

AMPTP President Nick Counter added: “Of paramount importance was to keep the industry operating, without fear of interruption or a work slowdown.”

The unions and producers will begin full negotiations on a new three-year agreement this fall.

WWE Q3 Profit Drops: World Wrestling Entertainment on Wednesday said it swung to a fiscal third-quarter profit despite posting a decline in revenue for the period, attributable to fewer live events, declining attendance and lower advertising revenue.

Stamford, Conn.-based WWE recorded a profit for the three months ended Jan. 23 of $8.9 million vs. a year-ago loss of $16 million, or 23 cents a share. Revenue sank 15 percent to $79.1 million.

WWE attributed the results to a reduction in overhead as well as lower costs associated with holding one fewer pay-per-view event during the quarter compared with last year.

However, fewer PPV events cut into the company’s revenue figure, with revenue for PPV events falling to $13.2 million from $21.2 million a year ago. The company also had fewer PPV purchases in the most recent quarter vs. a year ago, with PPV buys slipping to 800,000 from 1.3 million in the 2003 quarter.

Live event revenues were also down, slipping to $11.7 million from a year-earlier figure of $16 million, largely the result of producing 74 events in the most recent quarter compared with 79 a year ago. Domestic attendance clocked in at 4,000, down from 4,300 a year ago, while international attendance dropped to 8,700 from 9,100 during the same period.

Television advertising revenue was also down, slipping to $11.7 million from a year-earlier figure of $17.5 million. The company blamed a new carriage agreement with UPN for the “SmackDown!” series, in which UPN now sells the advertising inventory for the show and pays WWE a rights fee. However, the company said that decline was partially offset by higher ad revenues from its Spike TV programming.