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Mar 30, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Hinchey Introduces Bill to Roll Back FCC Ownership Cap, Resurrect Fairness Doctrine

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., late Tuesday introduced a wide-ranging bill that would roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership regulations, resurrect the fairness doctrine and break up the “monopolization of programming production and distribution.”

The major ownership provisions of the bill would roll back the cap on national TV station ownership to 35 percent of the nation’s TV homes and bar a single company from owning more than 5 percent of the nation’s radio stations.

Another major provision in the bill would resurrect the fairness doctrine, a regulation that used to require broadcasters to cover both sides of controversial issues. Another provision would bar the Big 4 TV networks from owning more than 60 percent of the programming on their prime-time schedules. That provision would also bar cable networks owned by a large operators or national broadcast TV networks from owning more than 65 percent of their prime-time fare.

‘Jaws’ Co-Writer is New WGA VP: Veteran screenwriter Carl Gottlieb has been appointed VP of the Writers Guild of America, west, the guild announced Tuesday.

The job became vacant when Daniel Petrie Jr. became president, following the resignation of Charles Holland, who had been elevated after the resignation of Victoria Riskin earlier this year. The guild will hold elections in September for new officers as part of a settlement reached last week with the Department of Labor.

The appointment through September reunites the two top officers. Mr. Gottlieb has served continuously on the guild’s board since 1983, holding the office of VP from 1991 through 1995. “Carl Gottlieb was our VP during my first service on the board, and he was on the board throughout my previous terms as VP and president,” said Mr. Petrie. “It’s an honor to be working side by side with Carl as we head into negotiations.”

Negotiations are expected to begin next week with producers for a new contract to replace the current agreement, which expires in early May.

“I thank my colleagues on the Board for their expression of confidence in appointing me to this position again,” Mr. Gottlieb said in a statement. “In recent months, becoming vice president of the Writers Guild has been like being lowered down the barrel of a circus cannon, where you sit until events blast you out into the arena. I’m happy to be here at a time when we’ve achieved a level of strength and security that provides stability to the office. But I never underestimate the explosive potential of our membership, the companies, or our times.”

Mr. Gottlieb’s breakout moment was when he co-wrote and appeared in the 1975 blockbuster “Jaws.” His other screen credits include “The Jerk,” “Jaws 2,” “Which Way Is Up?” “Jaws 3-D” and “Dr. Detroit.” He also directed and wrote “Caveman” and directed “The Absent-Minded Waiter,” a short starring Steve Martin that was nominated for an Academy Award. He’s written and directed episodic comedy series for Nickelodeon, Disney, and USA Network.

Paxson Says it Won’t Pay NBC: Paxson Communications Chairman and CEO Lowell “Bud” Paxson said Tuesday that his company doesn’t have to redeem NBC’s 32 percent stake in the broadcaster this November because it doesn’t have the money and because the terms of Paxson’s debt prohibit it from making such a payment.

“Legally, we don’t have a dispute with NBC,” Mr. Paxson said during a conference call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter earnings. “The agreements speak for themselves.”

Mr. Paxson’s comments represent the latest back-and-forth between Paxson and NBC over the fate of NBC’s 32 percent stake in the West Palm Beach broadcaster and television station owner.

Last fall, NBC exercised its right to have Paxson redeem the stake, and has told the company to pay the Big Three network by Nov. 13. However, Paxson officials believe they are not required to pay NBC, saying instead that NBC has the right to transfer the stake to a third party if it wants to dump the investment.

The value of the stake is now estimated at $557 million. Paxson said it has $100 million in cash on hand, and its debt stood at $925.6 million as of Dec. 31.

Pointing to a debt refinancing made in January, Mr. Paxson said lawyers again reviewed the NBC agreement and agreed that NBC can’t force Paxson to buy back the stake. “Yes, we have an obligation to NBC, but not an obligation to sell assets, or pay money we don’t have,” Mr. Paxson said. “They are junior to our indebtedness.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Paxson said his company’s program development initiative with NBC continues to make progress, and that it soon will announce several new shows, all of which are original and not repurposed fare.

Mr. Paxson warned that the company’s programming costs would rise as a result of the NBC relationship, but said the increase would not be significant. He added that NBC will continue to run the Pax network’s upfront efforts.

“The relationship with NBC has been really changed in the last month or so,” Mr. Paxson said.

Separately, Paxson reported a narrowed fourth-quarter loss of $51.8 million, or 73 cents a share, from a year-earlier loss of $75.3 million, or $1.16 a share. Revenue fell 3 percent to $82.4 million, largely due to lost revenue at stations that had been sold.

For the year, the company’s red ink was $146.3 million, or $2.14 a share, from year-earlier red ink of $450.7 million, or $6.95 a share. Revenue for the year fell 2 percent to $317 million.

NTA’s Management Hall of Fame Party Set for April 15: The National Television Academy’s second annual Management Hall of Fame cocktail party and dinner, once again being held in conjunction with the Television Bureau of Advertising’s annual meeting, has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 15, at the Mandarin Oriental Grand Ballroom in New York.

In this year’s group are former chairman, president and CEO of Multimedia Walter

Bartlett; former President and CEO of Capital Cities/ABC Daniel Burke; longtime Hearst executive and former head of Hearst-Argyle Television John Conomikes; the late Joe Floyd, founder and president of KELO-Land Radio & Television Stations and Midcontinent Media; former Chairman and President of Belo’s broadcasting division Ward Huey Jr.; the LBJ Broadcasting relatives of the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson; Inner City Broadcasting founder Percy Sutton; and the late NBC Sports President Arthur Watson.

Networks to Develop V-Chip PSAs: Everything viewers ever wanted to know about the government-ordered v-chip — including its existence — but were unsure of whom to ask will be coming to all TV sets near them.

Under a plan coordinated by the Advertising Council, each of the Big 4 networks will develop its own public service announcements to educate parents-approximately 80 percent of whom own a TV with a v-chip but don’t know it — about the device. The spots will air on each network and its owned stations.

The spots, of varying lengths, will direct viewers to each network’s Web site, where they can find information on the chip, ratings and links to instructions for programming the v-chip in TVs, set-top boxes and personal video recorders.

Visitors to NBC.com and Fox.com already can click on v-chip links. ABC.com currently links to www.tvguidelines.org, but the network is working on a Web page with a pull-down menu that will help viewers link directly to sites that give v-chip information by equipment make and model.

ABC will kick off its v-chip PSA run March 31 with 30-second spots scheduled during “The View” and “My Wife and Kids.” The frequency with which spots air and the length and content of the spots may vary from week to week, said an ABC spokeswoman.

The CBS.com v-chip page is still in development as are its PSAs, which are expected to begin airing on CBS and UPN within a month, said a spokesman.

NBC ran two v-chip spots featuring “Today” weatherman Al Roker in 1999 and 2000 but plans to shoot new ones that will be on the air in mid- to late-April.

Fox Broadcasting plans to continue running the v-chip spots
it has been airing for approximately six months, said a spokesman.

A second leg of the plan announced by the Advertising Council holds out the possibility of creating a common v-chip PSA that might run on all the networks.

Leno Extends Deal to 2009: Jay Leno will call NBC home for at least five more years. The top-rated late-night host, whose contract was to expire next year, signed a deal to continue hosting the “Tonight Show” until 2009. “I’m thrilled to extend my relationship with NBC,” Mr. Leno said. “We had a simple negotiation and NBC was very generous. I couldn’t be any happier.”

The new contract is said to include a salary boost for Mr. Leno, who takes in around $17 million a year. With Mr. Leno as host, “Tonight Show” has won 89 weeks in a row and 32 sweeps months in a row among adults 18 to 49. This season “Tonight” is averaging a 2.3 Nielsen Media Research rating in adults 18 to 49, up 5 percent over last year. It beats CBS’s second-place “Late Show With David Letterman” by a 44 percent margin in the demo.

“‘The Tonight Show With Jay Leno’ is the cornerstone of our late-night lineup. Jay is the undisputed leader in late-night and I am thrilled he will continue with us for at least another five years,” said Jeff Zucker, president, NBC Entertainment, News and Cable Group. “Jay’s success is a testament to his hard work and dedication as well as his team of writers, producers and crew. This is a very exiting announcement for all of us at NBC.”

HD Reaches 84 Million Homes: High-definition television reaches 84 million homes or more than three-quarters of U.S. cable homes, according to the latest data from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. That’s a nearly 125 percent increase since the beginning of 2003, when 37 million cable homes could get HD service. NCTA also said that 99 of the top 100 designated market areas now have HD programming from a cable operator. The total number of DMAs offering HDTV is 155 of 210.