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Mar 24, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Writers Guild Settles With U.S. Department of Labor

The Writer’s Guild of America expects to start talks with producers on a new contract very shortly now that a U.S. Department of Labor investigation has been completed, according to an announcement by the guild late Wednesday.

The guild said that after an independent investigation, the DOL has concluded, as did the guild itself, that former President Victoria Riskin had been ineligible to run in the 2003 election. Ms. Riskin resigned in January. She was replaced by Charles Holland, who resigned last week after questions were raised about certain claims he had made on his resume. He was replaced by Daniel Petrie Jr.

The guild said it held a special meeting of its board on Tuesday, where the directors voted to accept the DOL findings and enter into a settlement with the DOL. As part of that settlement, the guild will hold new elections for officers on September 20, 2004.

“We’re gratified that the Labor Department has essentially confirmed that our last election was conducted properly and that the guild’s response to the election protest was also handled correctly,” said Mr. Petrie in a prepared statement. “We completely agree that holding a new election for president is the best way to validate the voting rights of all guild members.”

Mr. Petrie said in a letter to guild members that they expect to begin negotiations on a new contract shortly, and will be providing members with information and an opportunity to attend a forum where all relevant issues will be discussed.

“So now, let’s put all distractions firmly behind us,” Mr. Petrie wrote to guild members. “It is impossible to overstate how crucial it is that we go into these negotiations strong and united. The membership’s overwhelming support of the Pattern of Demands for Negotiation of the 2004 MBA got us off to a good start. If we can maintain this level of unity, I am confident we will be able to get the kind of agreement that we deserve.”

Cablevision Comments on Impact of YES Ruling: Cablevision Systems said today that the elimination of its regional sports tier will cause a monthly price increase of its expanded basic cable service by 95 cents to reflect an arbitration panel’s order that the cable operator carry the YES Network.

“This is a disappointing ruling for customers who wanted to choose whether or not to pay for the Yankees on cable,” Cablevision President and CEO James Dolan said in a statement. “This ruling is a significant step backward that ignores the consumer’s desire for fairness and choice, core principles that were the basis of Cablevision’s dispute with YES.”

Cablevision Wednesday lost its carriage battle with YES after a three-member arbitration panel ruled the cable operator had to carry the sports channel on its most popular pricing packages, killing Cablevision’s hope of carrying the network only on a sports tier available only to those subscribers who specifically wanted the channel.

As part of the ruling, the cable operator said it is eliminating its regional sports tier, which included YES, MSG and Fox Sports Net New York, and subscribers’ ability to receive each channel on a standalone basis.

Now all three channels will be available on every package except its base service, called broadcast basic.The new carriage will result in Cablevision raising by 95 cents the monthly price for its expanded basic cable service to cover a portion of the expenses incurred with carrying YES on a wider basis. Mr. Dolan pointed out that the company itself will absorb “most of the cost of carrying YES in an attempt to keep prices reasonable despite this ruling.”

Customers who have premium packages that already include the three regional sports networks won’t see their rates increase.

Cowell Denies Obscenity Charge: “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell said the charges that he deliberately made an obscene gesture during Wednesday night’s live broadcast are much ado about nothing. Web site The Drudge Report today posted photos of Mr. Cowell today that show him leaning his face on his middle finger. In a statement released by Fox, Mr. Cowell denied that he was making an offensive gesture.

“I certainly would never make a gesture like that toward Paula or on national television,” Mr. Cowell said. “Sometimes I lean on my index finger. Sometimes a different finger. Sometimes two at the same time, or, God help me, even the whole hand. I never even thought about it until now.”

Comcast Reveals Compensation of Key Executives: A Securities and Exchange Commission filing shows that top executives at cable giant Comcast were rewarded handsomely in 2003 for their work integrating the cable systems formerly owned by AT&T Broadband and successfully creating the 21 million-subscriber cable titan.

According to a proxy statement filed Wednesday, Comcast President and CEO Brian Roberts saw his total remuneration rise 12 percent to a total of more than $8.6 million from a 2002 figure of nearly $7.7 million, thanks in large part to a boost in his base salary to just over $2 million from a year-earlier level of $1.2 million.

Mr. Roberts’ bonus of $6 million remained unchanged between 2002 and 2003, while compensation related to things such as life insurance, interest on deferred compensation and payments to cover tax liabilities grew somewhat in 2003.

Stephen Burke, Comcast executive VP and president of Comcast Cable, received the financial equivalent of a hearty pat on the back for his work in successfully merging the AT&T systems with Comcast’s legacy systems ahead of schedule. Mr. Burke’s total remuneration soared more than 373 percent to $6.8 million from a year-earlier level of $1.4 million.

Fueling that surge were a boost in his base salary to nearly $1.7 million from $991,105 a year earlier, and a significant increase in his bonus to nearly $5.2 million from $1.2 million a year ago.

Meanwhile, Ralph Roberts, Comcast’s founder and chairman of the executive and finance committees, saw his total remuneration decline 56 percent in 2003 to $5.8 million from a year-earlier level of $13.1 million.

Cablevision Loses Arbitration Ruling in Dispute With YES: The YES Network scored a huge victory today when an arbitration panel ruled that cable operator Cablevision must carry the sports channel in its most popular cable package for six years.

The unanimous ruling by the three-member panel dashed the hopes of Cablevision executives, who had been pushing to place YES on a sports tier.

YES issued a statement describing itself as “grateful to the arbitration tribunal for its careful and timely award, which will greatly benefit the public and sports fans throughout the region.”

Officials from Cablevision did not immediately return calls for comment.The ruling ends a years-long battle between the sports network and the cable operator over fees Cablevision was to pay to carry the channel, which provides broadcasts of New York Yankees games and sporting events.

In 2002, Cablevision balked at the YES Network’s demand for a monthly $2-per-subscriber fee to carry the network to Cablevision’s 3 million subscribers and pulled the channel from its lineup, preventing Cablevision customers from watching popular Yankees games. In protest, many subscribers fled to satellite services such as DirecTV.

In 2003, the two sides reached an agreement just before baseball’s opening day to carry YES for a year. As part of the deal, Cablevision agreed to pay YES a $1.95-per-subscriber monthly fee or $4.95 a month for a sports package that also included MSG Network and Fox Sports Net New York. YES and Cablevision also agreed to bring the matter to an arbitration panel.

Despite losing the overall battle, Cablevision was able to point to one win. Sources say the six-year contract requires Cablevision to pay YES a monthly per-subscriber fee starting at $1.85, short of the $2 fee YES was demanding and less than what Cablevision was paying under the temporary pact reached last year.

YES officials declined to discuss the details of the pact.

‘Top Model’ Finale Scores for UPN: The season finale of UPN’s “America’s Next Top Model” f
inished second in its time slot in adults 18 to 49 last night with a 2.8 rating/7 share, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. It faced tough competition from the second hour of Fox’s juggernaut “American Idol,” which pulled an 11.7/29 in the demo.

“Top Model” drew 6 million total viewers in the hour, finishing fifth, right on the heels of ABC’s “According to Jim”/”Less Than Perfect” reruns (6.3 million) and NBC’s reruns of “Frasier” and “Scrubs” (6.6 million).

The two-hour “Idol,” which scored an 11.3/29 in adults 18 to 49 and 26.6 million total viewers, gave Fox its second-highest-rated Tuesday night in the network’s history.

For the night, Fox won in adults 18 to 49 with an 11.3/29, followed by ABC (2.7/7) and NBC (2.7/7), CBS (2.4/6), UPN (1.9/5) and The WB (0.8/2). In total viewers, Fox won the night with 26.6 million, followed by CBS (9 million), NBC (7.7 million), ABC (7.4 million), UPN (4.3 million) and The WB (2.1 million).

E! Announces ‘Scream’ Reality Series: E! is teaming with “Fear Factor” producers Joel Klein and David Hurwitz for a new reality show in which contestants re-enact stunts from famous films. Called “Scream Play,” the one-hour series was announced today by Lisa Berger, senior VP of programming development for E! Networks.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Joel and David, true pioneers of the genre, on this exciting new series that combines our favorite moments in entertainment with reality,” Ms. Berger said. ‘Scream Play’ offers a fresh new approach to reality that is sure to have a special appeal to fans of entertainment.”

E! has ordered 13 episodes of the series, which will debut in June.

Roy Disney Demands Tallies from Shareholders Vote: Disgruntled Walt Disney Co. shareholder and former director Roy Disney kept the heat on the media company Wednesday, asking Disney officials through his lawyer to release voter tally information for Disney employees who voted at the March 3 annual shareholders meeting that led to CEO Michael Eisner being stripped of his chairman’s title.

In a letter submitted to Disney’s legal department, Mr. Disney’s lawyer David K. Robbins said there are rumors that the anti-Eisner vote was as high as 70 percent among Disney employees with 401(k) plans that have stakes in Disney. If such a large number of employees want Mr. Eisner removed it would bolster already strong support for Mr. Disney’s campaign to oust the executive.

At the same time, Mr. Robbins and Disney officials are locked in debate over whether Disney has the tally at all. Disney executives told Mr. Robbins they do not have the requested data. However, Mr. Bobbins has alleged that Fidelity, the massive investment company that administers the Disney 401(k) plan, said it provided Disney with the anti-Eisner vote among employees. The Disney 401(k) plans that Fidelity manages have a total of 28 million Disney shares.

Some 43 percent of the votes cast at the shareholders meeting to re-elect the Disney board withheld support for Mr. Eisner-the highest vote of no confidence recorded in modern corporate history.

Disney’s board of directors responded by stripping Mr. Eisner of the chairman title, but kept him on as CEO to ensure stability at a time when the company is under attack from a hostile takeover bid by cable operator Comcast.

Mr. Eisner’s detractors have not been mollified by the separation of the chairman and CEO titles. They complain that Mr. Eisner should be ousted entirely from the company and have expressed displeasure at the appointment of presiding board member George Mitchell as non-executive chairman, especially after Mr. Mitchell received a 25 percent no-confidence vote from shareholders.

Tom Ridge Named RTNDA Keynote Speaker: Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge will deliver the keynote address at next month’s RTNDA@NAB, the Radio-Television News Directors Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas. Mr. Ridge is slated to speak and take questions at the group’s opening session, which starts at 7:15 a.m. April 19 at the Las Vegas Hilton.