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Does screen bias go both ways?

5/14/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Should ABC be forced to promote The WB's Buffy, the Vampire Slayer during Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Or pick up Warner Bros. romantic comedy pilot Fortunate Son this fall season? Or suggest news surfers go to CNN's Web site, not just ABCnews.com?

You might say no. But that is, in part, the kind of access ABC and its parent Walt Disney are seeking to impose on Time Warner and America Online.

Disney wants to flatten many of the promotional advantages a combination of the Internet and entertainment companies such as AOL-Time Warner, would have in exploiting its portfolio of products.

Those are the same advantages, of course, Disney exploits by using its broadcast stations to carry its ABC network, which carries Touchstone TV-produced shows, which promotes Disney-owned Web sites.

The network fired the latest round in its comments filed last Thursday to the FCC, raising the issue of "screen bias." That's AOL-Time Warner's means to favor its own content on AOL's home page or Time Warner Cable's on-screen TV program guides.

Disney/ABC implores the commission to allow outsiders access on a "non-discriminatory" basis.

"The Commission simply cannot run the risk of any one company securing a position as the dominant keeper of the broadband pipe, the guard at the broadband gate, the master of broadband's content and interactive services and a principal beneficiary of broadband's economic proceeds," Disney pleads.

Since CNN presumably won't have to cut a check to become AOL's news provider, should the FCC allow the dozens or hundreds of other providers to get access without charge as well? Or allow all of them buttons on the home page? Disney/ABC offers no detailed suggestions.

Eliminating cross-promotion would wound the golden goose. Morgan Stanely Dean Witter media analyst Richard Bilotti said that if the FCC somehow could prohibit a movie studio from being promoted on a sister cable network "the entire construct of media conglomerates comes apart."

Time Warner responds that it will willingly carry a mix of content from all sorts of providers. Doing otherwise, it explained, would repel surfers and viewers from AOL, WB and HBO.

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