News Articles

Fast Track

7/22/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Supreme Court Nominee's Media Stance

As a top Republican lawyer with A-list Washington communications firm
Hogan & Hartson for much of his career,
Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts has had lots of
big media clients.

For example, he worked on the briefs in Fox's successful challenge to the
FCC's rationale for preserving the
station-ownership cap and cable/broadcast crossownership rules. The case
triggered the FCC's 2003 ownership-regulation rewrite (now in limbo).

In 2002, he also helped News Corp.
chief Rupert Murdoch preserve his station/newspaper
crossownership waiver in New York after News Corp. bought the
Chris-Craft stations. Arguing for Fox, Roberts
helped save the FCC's weak defense of its own waiver.

And when veteran First Amendment attorney and then Hogan partner
Robert Corn-Revere was preparing his oral arguments in
the U.S. v. Playboy case in fall 1999, fellow partner and veteran Supreme Court
practitioner Roberts lent a hand, including sitting in on moot-court prep
sessions. Corn-Revere won his case, and Playboy, along with other adult cable
channels, won protection from indecency regulations.

Corn-Revere, now a partner with Davis Wright
Tremaine
, has high praise for his former partner and colleague:
“He is a terrifically talented advocate and has tremendous respect for the
rule of law and the institution of the court. He is a mainstream conservative
and not an ideologue.”

“The biggest media conglomerates are, not surprisingly, popping
champagne corks,” says Jeff Chester, of the
Center for Digital Democracy.

He wants the Judiciary Committee to
make Roberts' views on media ownership an issue. He will reach out to
committee allies—Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois,
for one—to make sure that happens.—John Eggerton

CTAM '05 Stakes Its Claim in Philly

Upwards of 3,000 cable executives are expected at
CTAM's annual conference, which runs through
Tuesday in Philadelphia. That's in cable giant Comcast's front yard, so it's not altogether
surprising that Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts
will be queried by CNN's Larry
King
on the last day of the confab. Also on the schedule:
Rainbow Media Holdings CEO Josh
Sapan
and Ogilvy & Mather
Worldwide
Chairman/CEO Shelly Lazarus. The
sports/cable connection will be explored in a session featuring
Brian France, NASCAR's chairman/CEO, and Jonathan
Kraft
, vice chairman of the NFL's New England
Patriots
. —P.J. Bednarski

Telco-Friendly Bill Passes Texas House

The Texas House of Representatives
July 17 passed a bill paving the way for SBC
and Verizon to apply for statewide franchises
to deliver statewide cable-like video franchises.

The bill, similar to one that passed in the Texas Senate the previous week, would relieve the Bells
from having to seek municipal franchises from each locality (it would also
allow power companies to offer broadband over power lines). Now the House and
Senate versions must be reconciled.—J.E.

Massive Rereg Bill Introduced

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) last week
introduced a bill that would massively reregulate the media.

Chances for its passage are nearly nil, and it should be seen more as
a shot across the bow by liberal Democrats as a Republican Congress takes up
the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Hinchey said his Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005 would fix a
“broken media system in the United States in which only a select group of
individuals get to determine what information Americans can receive via
television, newspaper, radio and other media.”

The sweeping bill, introduced July 14, would: 1) invalidate all of the
FCC's 2003 rewrite of its media-ownership
rules (an appeals court only remanded the rules for a redo) and reinstate the
newspaper/broadcast crossownership rule and the local-TV-ownership rule
scrapped in the rewrite; 2) restore the Fairness Doctrine; 3) lower the cap on
TV-station ownership from 39% (raised by Congress) back to 25%; 4) reduce the
number of radio and TV stations a company can own; 5) increase the number of
public-interest obligations on all broadcasters; 6) get rid of the UHF discount
“loophole” that counts only half a UHF station's audience reach toward
ownership caps.—J.E.

Dow Jones Exits CNBC International

Unwilling to continue sharing in the venture's ongoing losses,
Dow Jones is dumping its half of
CNBC International, leaving partner
NBC Universal with 100% of the venture.

Having flubbed earlier efforts to get into business-news networks, Dow
Jones teamed with CNBC in 1998 for its CNBC
Asia
and CNBC Europe services when
the financial markets were roaring.

But even after seven years, the ventures are losing money. Dow
Jones' share of the losses is $17 million a year. Now NBC Universal will
shoulder the $28 million or so in annual losses by itself.—John M.
Higgins

SBC EchoStar Sales Crumble

After bragging mightily about its partnership to bundle
EchoStar's DBS service with its telephone
products, SBC has dramatically scaled back
efforts to sell the satellite service. It had cut an intricate partnership with
EchoStar's Dish Network, carefully
integrating the sales and customer-service functions into its own operation.
The goal was to counter cable operators' bundling of new phone services with
their existing video products.

But, for the second quarter ended June, SBC added just 10,000 new Dish
customers. That's far fewer than the 65,000 that analysts had expected and
the 70,000-100,000 SBC had been adding in recent quarters. The plunge prompted
UBS media analyst Aryeh
Bourkoff
to issue a note on EchoStar to clients titled “Is The
Partnership Over?”

SBC had accounted for as much as 12% of EchoStar's growth, so the
slowdown will likely hurt the satellite
company.—J.M.H.

Meyer Re-Ups With Universal

NBC Universal movie chief
Ron Meyer has renewed his deal with the company,
signing a new five-year contract.

Meyer, former president of talent agent Creative
Artists Agency
, will remain president/COO of Universal Studios, in charge of the division's movie
and theme parks operation.

The significance of the move extends beyond the movie operation. Ever
since NBC bought Universal last year, Meyer has been influential at the company
and is an increasingly powerful advisor to NBC Universal Chairman
Bob Wright at a time when Wright has plenty of princes
jockeying for position, including Jeff Zucker and
Randy Falco.—J.M.H.

Media Unite On Parental Control

Veteran media critics Sens. Rick Santorum
(R-Pa.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) are lending their
support to a new, broad-based coalition that has formed to push for parental
control of TV and other entertainment content.

The Pause Parent Play (PPP)
initiative (
www.PauseParentPlay.org) will launch July 20
on Capitol Hill with a display of parental-control tools and technologies for
TV, movies, music and videogames.

The new coalition includes the same three network corporate
parents—NBC Universal, News Corp. and Viacom—behind the TV
Watch
online effort promoting the TV ratings and V-chip (Disney is still a
no-show).—J.E.

D.C. Stations Tackled Over “Redskin”

Washington attorney John Banzhaf, who helped
sue tobacco ads off the airwaves in the late 1960s, is renewing his campaign to
remove “Redskin” from the nation's broadcast vernacular, or at least
limit its use, by threatening to go after station licenses.

He has sent registered letters to the four biggest stations in
Washington—WJLA, WUSA, WTTG and
WRC—advising them of a Friday federal
appeals court decision that he says puts the Washington
Redskin
trademarks in jeopardy by “restoring the unanimous finding
by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that the word 'Redskins' was so
racially derogatory and offensive that the trademarks should be invalidated.”
The stations' renewals come up in seven
years.—J.E.

Wisdom TV Is Now Lime

The new owners of Wisdom Television
have renamed it Lime TV. CEO C.J.
Kettler
, a former Oxygen Media
exec, says her goal is to steer Wisdom away from its old positioning of
“mind, body, spirit” to a broader health and wellness pitch that would woo
the organic/yoga crowd. The network, with 6.5 million subscribers, is largely
backed by former AOL Chairman
Steve Case's private-equity fund,
Revolution.—J.M.H.

WB Will 'Lord' It Over Emmys

The WB says it will counterprogram
this year's CBS Emmy Awards
Show
on Sept. 18 by airing the broadcast premiere of
The Lord of the Rings: The Two
Towers
at the same time.

The WB received only two prime time Emmy nominations this year.
—Ben Grossman

Good News! Your Cable Bill Will Soon Be $100 a Month

Kagan Research says the average cable
bill will jump from $80 a month in 2005 to $100 by 2008 as consumers sign on
for added services. Analyst Renee Shaening says
overall cable revenues will double from $66.5 billion today to $139 billion by
2015. —Ken Kerschbaumer

NAB Supports Ratings Bill

The National Association of
Broadcasters
has come out in support of a bill that would increase
government oversight of TV ratings.

“As a matter of principle, NAB generally prefers voluntary
inter-industry cooperation to additional government involvement as a solution
to these issues. However, in the absence of voluntary resolution, we wish to
voice our support for S. 1272,” NAB President Eddie
Fritts
wrote Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.),
who introduced it. A hearing on the bill is slated for July 27.

NAB pointed to the “absence of a fully competitive market” in
advocating the legislation.

Cable's largest operator, Comcast Corp., opposes the
legislation.

The bill would require Nielsen or any
other TV-ratings system to get accreditation by the Media
Ratings Council
(MRC) for its system or any changes to its system.
The bill would also mandate accuracy in “all the aspects of audience viewing
behavior that it is intended, or is represented, to convey, using accurate
statistical methods and social sciences data.” It's a mandate that would
appear hard to enforce.

The MRC would also be required to report annually to the
FTC, FCC and
Congress. The council was created by Congress
in the 1960s, but its accreditation is voluntary not mandatory. That
accreditation has become an issue lately with the rollout of Nielsen's local
people meters, which have drawn criticism from some station groups—including
Fox, Tribune
and Allbritton—for undercounting minorities
and younger viewers.—J.E.

CNN's Hemmer Heads to Fox

Cast-off CNN anchor Bill
Hemmer
will get a berth at rival Fox News
Channel
. Hemmer, who most recently co-hosted CNN's morning show,
American Morning, with Soledad O'Brien, will be a
weekday anchor and correspondent.

He spent 10 years at CNN as an anchor and reporter. He started his TV
career as a sports anchor for WCPO
Cincinnati.

Fox is solidly out in front of CNN in ratings, but executives and
anchors from the networks often swipe at the competition.

Hemmer lost his American Morning post last month
when CNN opted to bring in Miles O'Brien. The
network offered Hemmer a spot as White House correspondent, which he rejected.
Allison Romano

 

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