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Committed to the First Ammendment 12/21/2003 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Avoiding a Press-Release War

Add a disheveled Saddam Hussein being treated by a doctor, though it looked more like a veterinary examination, to the TV images now burned into our collective consciousness. It was powerful television.

But before too many backs get patted, remember that this video was courtesy of the military, not a journalist. Hussein's capture was big news, but we're not sure we can say the same for what was essentially an endlessly looped video press release.

We can't blame any media outlet for running the footage, of course. It was a no-brainer. Perhaps it was also necessary for the military to tape the examination of Hussein. Still, we have some qualms. Was the media used for the public humiliation of a prisoner of war for propaganda purposes? Did we really need to see the swab to know that we had ample opportunity to take DNA? What images of Hussein did we not get to see?

Broadcasters with dwindling resources and budgets must resist the temptation to take the easy route and rely on handouts from the government. We were encouraged by reports last week that some stations were showing a healthy skepticism toward the military's feed of "news" and footage from the postwar front, dubbed "C-SPAN Baghdad."

There remain many more images in Iraq, both hopeful and disturbing, that deserve airtime. They are more likely to come from independent videographers than Pentagon PR guys.

We're as happy as anyone that Hussein was caught. (Was it just a coincidence that our spell-checker asked to change "Saddam" to "sadist"?) We'll also be relieved when there are similar mug shots of Osama Bin Laden. But too much has happened and has yet to be resolved to delight too much over the pathetic images that Rumsfeld made available and TV made virtually inescapable last week. Postwar is hell.

The DVD Factor

A new force is descending on the TV business: the DVD. According to John Higgins's page-one story, DVD sales of popular TV shows are now more than $1 billion and rising. This means more than just G5 leases for those already overindulged Hollywood types. This means that potential DVD revenue is a growing factor in what TV shows are developed, what shows are scheduled, and what shows are canceled. How big a factor is commensurate with total DVD revenue, which is to say modest now but possibly huge if sales stay on their current track.

What makes it all so interesting is that what is popular on TV is not necessarily what's popular on the DVD rack at Best Buy. This fact, as our story points out, could lead to Fox's sticking with Family Guy, even though its ratings are sagging. Inexplicably (at least in our minds), Family Guy
is the top DVD seller.

The revenue here is new, but the concept isn't. Hollywood producers and network schedulers have been factoring potential syndication revenue into their programming choices for years. We see the impact on TV grids every day.

So be careful what DVDs you buy during your last-minute holiday shopping. You just might be programming the 2004-05 season.

March