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Mar 26, 2004  •  Post A Comment

House Panel to Examine Satellite Rules

The House telecommunications subcommittee has announced hearings April 1 on legislation to reauthorize the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act. The law, which is slated to expire this year, sets the ground rules for satellite TV retransmission of broadcast television signals.

ABC Family Gets ‘Smallville’: ABC Family has nabbed a slate of series, including WB hit “Smallville,” movies and specials in a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution.

Among the off-net series involved will be “Smallville” as part of the multiyear deal beginning this fall. Also included will be off-net rights to WB’s reality series “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment,” the renewal of “Full House” and theatricals that include “You’ve Got Mail,” “Miss Congeniality,” “The Perfect Storm” and “Twister.”

“We are always most pleased when we are able to place programming on networks where it not only makes the most audience sense but where we believe our programs are going to have the best opportunity for success,” said Eric Frankel, president, Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution. “We believe that ‘Smallville’ and ‘Jamie Kennedy’ will be staples of ABC Family’s 2004 schedule, and by securing the rights to the family hit ‘Full House,’ ABC Family can continue the success that these series have already brought to them. We look forward to working with ABC Family on marketing these terrific shows.”

DirecTV Sells Stake in XM Satellite Radio: Continuing its effort to shed noncore assets in favor of focusing on its consumer-satellite business, DirecTV Group is selling its 5 percent stake in XM Satellite Radio to an undisclosed buyer for around $230 million.

The sale, which involves 9 million shares, puts the price at around $25.56 a share, a 6 percent discount on XM’s close Thursday of $27.11 a share.

DirecTV has decided to emphasize its television business now that it is under the control of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., and as such has been selling non-TV-related assets that were collected when the company was controlled by automaker General Motors.

Zucker Announces NBC Fall Schedule Plans: Jeff Zucker, president of entertainment, news and cable at NBC, told advertisers Friday to expect a stable schedule next fall, with three nights — Saturday, Sunday and Monday — remaining the same.

While Sunday night drama “Crossing Jordan,” which returned to the schedule with time-period-winning ratings a few weeks ago, hasn’t officially been renewed for next year, expect it to be back.

Speaking to advertisers on the set of NBC’s freshman drama “Las Vegas,” Mr. Zucker gave props to “Jordan,” hit reality show “The Apprentice,” the No. 1 new drama of the year in adults 18 to 49 “Las Vegas” and the upscale performance of reality show “Average Joe.”

Because of those four hours, “Our needs aren’t as great” as everyone expected they would be, he said, noting that NBC is in good shape on Thursdays, where it will trade nine original hours of “Friends” for 32 hours of “The Apprentice” next year.

Monday nights next year will see a new version of “Average Joe” called “Plain Jane,” which turns the tables. One hot guy will have to choose from not-so-great-looking women.

The outlook also is bright for Friday night drama “Third Watch.” While it has not been officially renewed, Mr. Zucker said the network expects to need only an hour of new programming to fill the current hole on the night.

Aside from Friday, NBC needs an hour and a half of programming on Tuesday, an hour on Wednesday and a half-hour on Thursday, which “Friends” spinoff “Joey” is a sure bet to fill.

EchoStar Reports Q4 Earnings: Satellite operator EchoStar Communications is unlikely to be more than a minority owner in any programming assets, opting instead to focus on its role as a distributor, Chairman and CEO Charles Ergen said Friday.

Pointing to the 12 percent stake EchoStar owns in the newly merged G4-Tech TV channel that Comcast acquired earlier this week, Mr. Ergen said it was likely that future programming investments would mirror that stake, provided they made sense for the company.

“Programming assets are pretty expensive, and we’d like to be an independent distributor,” he said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. “But we never say never.”

Mr. Ergen went on to say that if there was an opportunity to make a big content play, “We might consider it, but it’s not our core focus. We make a better distribution company.”

A key factor in any decision to press ahead with a big investment in content, Mr. Ergen said, would be the success of News Corp., which in December purchased a controlling stake in DirecTV.

Meanwhile, EchoStar reported that it swung to a fourth-quarter profit of $3 million, or 1 cent a share, from a year-earlier loss of $716 million, or 45 cents a share, on a 14 percent increase in revenue to $1.4 billion.

For the year, the Englewood, Colo.-based company produced a profit of $225 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $852 million. Revenue for the year climbed 19 percent to $5.7 billion.

The improved results came as the company added 340,000 new subscribers in the fourth quarter and a total of nearly 1.25 million for the year to reach more than 9.4 million.

The numbers also reflect a series of charges taken in the quarter and the year, including $51 million in the fourth quarter associated with bond redemptions. The quarter also included $56 million in cost reductions tied to a reduction in royalty obligations.

In 2002 EchoStar booked a $690 million charge tied to its failed takeover bid for DirecTV.