AT&T, FCC at odds over MediaOne
An AT&T spokesman today said the company had agreed to provide the Federal Communications Commission with details about its proposed acquisition of MediaOne Group that a top agency official alleged the company had been threatening to withhold. In a Wednesday letter to AT&T, FCC Cable Services Bureau Chief Deborah Lathen said Betsy Brady, AT&T’s vice president of federal government affairs, had said the phone giant would not provide the FCC with a variety of data the agency had been requesting–including an accurate subscriber count for systems in which MediaOne has interests–until the agency determined whether to give the phone giant a waiver. “I am writing to request that you reconsider,” said Ms. Lathen. AT&T spokesman Jim McGann attributed the unusual conflict to a misunderstanding. “We felt they had the information,” said Mr. McGann. “They’ve asked for it again. They will have it today.” Among those warning against reading too much into the conflict was Andrew Schwartzman, president of the activist Media Access Project, which is challenging the merger at the FCC. “They [AT&T] press the FCC to the limit and sometimes embarrass them by being so difficult,” Mr. Schwartzman said. “But the FCC seems to accommodate them anyway.”
ABC butt of Clinton jokes: ABC News’ controversial interview of President Bill Clinton by actor Leonardo DiCaprio was a subject of the president’s jokes at last night’s Radio Television Correspondent’s Association dinner. With the theme from “Titanic” playing in the background, Mr. Clinton joked that “ABC doesn’t know whether Leo and I had an interview, a walk-through or a drive-by.” ABC News has tried to recast the interview, done for a special on the environment that may air later this month, as somehow different from a hard-news interview after staffers objected. “Don’t you newspeople ever learn? It isn’t the mistake that kills you. It’s the cover up,” the president joked. An ABC spokesperson said a final decision on how or if the interview will be used has not yet been made.
CBS renews eight series: CBS renewed five dramas and three comedies for next season. Monday night comedies “Everybody Loves Raymond” (17.2 million viewers season to date), “The King of Queens” (13.2 million) and “Becker” (15.2 million) all received 24-episode orders, as did “JAG” (14.6 million), “Judging Amy” (14.1 million), “Touched By an Angel” (17.5 million), “Nash Bridges” (11.6 million) and “Walker, Texas Ranger” (12.2 million).
Paxson proposing changes in must-carry rules: Paxson Communications Chairman Lowell “Bud” Paxson was pitching a compromise proposal on digital must-carry rules at the FCC that would limit a cable operator’s carriage obligation to either a broadcaster’s analog or digital signal, at the broadcaster’s option. Under the proposed regulation, cable systems that have the technical capacity to carry all of a broadcaster’s digital multicast offerings would be required to do so. Cable operators without the capacity would only have to retransmit the broadcaster’s main broadcast offering on the digital signal on the same slot that previously carried the analog signal. In a letter to the FCC, Mr. Paxson said the proposed regulations could also make it easier for broadcasters on channels 60 through 69 to move off their analog assignments when the agency begins auctioning off the rights to those on June 7. At deadline, the National Cable Television Association was declining comment on the proposal on grounds that it had yet to review it. But a source close to the issue said the proposal appeared to be getting favorable review at the FCC. “The commissioners see this proposal as somewhere in the middle of the extremes, and they’re looking for something in the middle,” the source said.
Layoffs coming at KRON-TV: At a staffwide meeting Wednesday at KRON-TV, San Francisco, General Manager Amy McCombs announced a preliminary list of staffers who would be fired before Young Broadcasting takes over. Ms. McCombs also told the staff she would be leaving the station at that time. According to the San Francisco Chronicle–which is owned by Chronicle Broadcasting, the same company that owns KRON–there are 12 employees on the list. Ms. McCombs said she has not seen the list and could not confirm how many would be terminated, but said it does not include on-air talent, who are members of American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. Closing of the acquisition has been delayed by a civil lawsuit against the Chronicle.
NPR opposition to radio service disappoints Kennard: FCC Chairman Bill Kennard expressed disappointment today that National Public Radio backs legislation gutting the agency’s plan to create low-power FM radio service. “I am surprised that an organization which has done so much to promote opportunities for Americans to be heard on the airwaves would join with the special interests in curbing this new service,” said Mr. Kennard, who had promised NPR its radio reading services would not be harmed. Meanwhile, in a letter today to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Mr. Kennard sought to delay a floor vote on the bill. He said the measure is premised on misleading technical arguments and would reduce the number of microradio stations by 75 percent. NPR supports the bill, which passed the House Commerce Committee last week, because it addresses interference concerns. It lets the FCC issue microradio licenses if there’s no interference with full-power radio stations and mandates testing in up to nine markets. NPR President and CEO Kevin Klose said the measure “takes a carefully balanced approach.”
Charlotte stations to share Panther games: WSOC-TV and WAXN-TV, Charlotte, N.C., are the new official stations of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Two preseason games will be on WSOC and two will air on WAXN. WAXN will also replay all four preseason games. WSOC will carry a show with second-year coach George Seifert on Saturdays for 20 weeks. On Sundays, right after the 11 p.m. news, WSOC will air a sports show featuring the Panthers. Both shows start in August.
`Felicity’ time slot shift scores for WB: The WB’s sophomore series “Felicity” got a boost with its debut in a new time slot Wednesday at 9 p.m. (ET). The series, which moved from Sunday nights, scored the best ratings among women 18 to 34 in that time slot since November sweeps, with a 3 Nielsen Media Research rating. “Felicity” also gave the time slot its best numbers since November in women 18 to 49 (2 rating) and adults 18 to 34 (2.1). “Dawson’s Creek” also saw a ratings bump among females 12 to 34 (3.9), women 18 to 34 (3.5) and adults 18 to 34 (2.6). “Felicity” replaced first-year series “Roswell,” which moves to the post-“7th Heaven” slot on Monday nights next week.