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Mar 10, 2004  •  Post A Comment

CBS Says It’s Near Deal for EchoStar to Resume Carriage of Dropped Stations

CBS Television Executive VP Marty Franks told federal lawmakers Wednesday that EchoStar Communications was “very close” to signing a deal that would clear the way for the satellite operator to resume carrying the signals of CBS television stations in 16 markets. EchoStar dropped the Viacom-owned CBS stations-and 10 of the company’s cable networks-March 8 in a dispute with Viacom over a carriage contract.

During congressional hearings on satellite TV issues, several lawmakers made clear that they want the two companies to work out their differences in time to ensure that EchoStar’s 1.6 million subscribers in the CBS station markets have access to NCAA basketball tournament games. CBS has TV rights to the games, which begin this month. Without a deal, lawmakers fear a backlash from irate constituents. “March Madness is going to turn into March Anger if EchoStar and CBS don’t sit down at the bargaining table and get this worked out,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa. Added Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. “Let’s cut to the chase and see if we can’t get an agreement.” In response, Mr. Franks, who was testifying for CBS at the hearing, said, “The marketplace is well on its way to resolving this dispute.” EchoStar spokesman Steve Caulk said, “We are working as hard as we can to get it done as soon as we can.”

ANA to Examine Revising Upfront Process: The Association of National Advertisers said Wednesday it will form a committee to study making changes in the national television upfront buying process. ANA President Bob Liodice announced the decision after Jon Mandel of Mediacom and David Verklin of Carat called on advertisers to lead the effort to reform the upfront during Wednesday’s ANA Television Advertising Forum. Among the changes that have been proposed are moving the upfront to the fourth quarter when client ad budgets are set, instituting an opening and closing bell to keep negotiations from dragging into the wee hours of the morning, and eliminating the “integration charge” the networks receive for handling commercials. The ANA released the results of a study that showed 56.6 percent of the marketers surveyed said they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied with the process. The survey also found that 47 percent of advertisers agreed or strongly agreed that network pricing is unfair.

Nielsen Developing New Meter: Nielsen Media Research said it is working on a low-cost meter that is small enough to be mailed to and from its diary-market sample participants. The reusable meter is about the size of a letter, recognizes the codes broadcasters insert in their programming and holds about a week’s worth of data. Nielsen chief research officer Paul Donato said the device will be field tested during the summer, but it wasn’t clear whether it would replace or supplement diaries for gathering demographic data.

‘Cracking Up’ Debuts Strong: With the help of an expanded “American Idol” lead-in, new sitcom “Cracking Up” gave Fox its highest-rated scripted series premiere in almost a year among adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. “Cracking Up” scored a 5.2 rating/13 share in adults 18 to 49 and 11.4 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

“Cracking Up” benefited from the 90-minute “Wild Card” edition of “Idol,” which scored a 10.7/28 in adults 18 to 49 and averaged 24.5 million viewers. Not only did it win its time slot, but facing mostly reruns on the other Big 4 networks, it outperformed the other three networks combined by 39 percent in adults 18 to 49.

“Cracking Up” gets another airing tonight after “Idol” before moving to its regular time slot on Monday at 8:30 p.m.

UPN’s reality hit “America’s Next Top Model”-which was up against the last half-hour of the expanded “Idol”-aired a clip show last night, which scored a 2.8/7 in adults 18 to 49 and 5.7 million viewers. Viewers obviously switched over after “Idol,” with its adults 18 to 49 rating rising from a 2.1/5 to a 3.4/8 from the first half-hour to second half-hour. It also grew from 4.6 million viewers to 6.8 million viewers half-hour to half-hour.

For the night, Fox won in adults 18 to 49 with a 9.3/24, followed by NBC (3.3/9), ABC (3.0/8), CBS (2.1/6), UPN (1.9/5) and The WB (1.2/3). In total viewers, Fox won with 21.2 million, followed by CBS (9.4 million), ABC (8.6 million), NBC (7.5 million), UPN (4.3 million) and The WB (3 million).

Universal Music, DirecTV Sued Over Allegedly Stealing Uncensored Music Channel Idea: A Los Angeles start-up company filed a lawsuit Tuesday against DirecTV and Universal Music Group, alleging they stole its idea for an uncensored music channel.

The company, Uncensored Music Network, is seeking reimbursement for $49.8 million in lost financing and $10 million per month in lost profits, as well as a court order blocking Universal Music and DirecTV from launching the channel.

Uncensored Music sought an injunction against the companies when it filed its lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, but the request was denied. A judge has set a hearing date of April 13.

A Universal Music spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit. A DirecTV spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment.

At issue is a claim that Universal Music and DirecTV, after allegedly having received copies of Uncensored Music’s business plan for an premium uncensored music video channel, used the plan as the basis of the launch of their own uncensored music channel, to be called 1AM, short for First Amendment. The lawsuit further charges that Universal Music and DirecTV were partnering with adult video production company Vivid Entertainment Group to launch 1AM.

Uncensored Music alleges that the actions of Universal Music and DirecTV, combined with 1AM’s alleged ties to Vivid, created so much confusion in the marketplace that it lost its financing and is losing an estimated $10 million in profits as a result.

A spokeswoman for Vivid said the company had no ties to 1AM.

A key factor in the lawsuit is a Los Angeles Times article that ran in January describing Universal Music and DirecTV’s venture. However, people familiar with the companies said that article overstated the companies’ plans and that after initial discussions in December both companies decided the abandon the idea.

ABC Orders ‘Practice’ Spinoff for Fall: ABC will close “The Practice” in May but open a new one next season. “The Practice” will end its run May 16, after eight years. However, executive producer David E. Kelley has signed on to create a new legal drama set at a high-end civil law firm, where some characters from “The Practice” will go to work. The new firm will be introduced on the current “Practice” at the end of this season.

ABC and Mr. Kelley haven’t said which characters will participate in the “Practice” spinoff, but sources said they would like James Spader, who joined the cast this season as ethically challenged lawyer Alan Shore, back for the new show. Mr. Spader hasn’t signed on to the new project, but the pickup is not contingent on his participation.

Comcast, Rainbow Ink Carriage Pact: Rainbow Media today struck a deal with cable giant Comcast that includes long-term carriage of the AMC cable channel and extends the life of carriage agreements with Fox Sports Net Bay Area, Florida and New England. Financial terms of the pact were not released.

As part of the agreement, Rainbow’s sports networks will soon broadcast all home games in the Fox Sports Net markets in high definition.

The high-def component bolsters the number of HD channels Comcast is offering subscribers. On Tuesday, the cable company inked a deal with NBA TV in which some games will be broadcast in high definition.