The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday it will decide one of the most controversial debates in the growing business of high-speed Internet service: whether cable operators must carry competing service providers over their broadband networks. Cable operators, Internet service providers and consumers activists have waged a bitter fight over the issue for six years. Cable systems have fought to block competing providers from their high-speed Internet lines, which can be used to deliver video, telephone and other digital services that compete with cable. The court’s decision is based on the FCC’s appeal of an October 2003 lower-court decision.
New NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is already on top. Williams, who inherited the anchor chair from Tom Brokaw Dec. 2, beat out rivals Peter Jennings and Dan Rather in his debut NBC evening newscast. Nightly News recorded 11.68 million viewers, beating out ABC’s World News Tonight, which counted 9.3 million viewers, and CBS Evening News, with 7.5 million viewers. In the key 25-54 demo, Williams attracted a 3.3 rating, and he beat Nightly News’ November average of 11.15 million viewers. It wasn’t quite the audience that tuned in for Brokaw’s Dec. 1 farewell: 15.4 million viewers, the show’s largest audience since January 1997.
The executive who forged DirecTV into the powerhouse it is today is leaving the company. Eddy Hartenstein has been vice chairman of DirecTV Group since News Corp. bought control of DirecTV owner Hughes Electronics a year ago. Hartenstein, 54, was the first president of the El Segundo, Calif.-based DBS operation when Hughes created it in 1990.
As expected, NBC Universal opted to keep the cable syndication deal for Law & Order: Criminal Intent inside its own corporate family, but it wasn’t exactly a sweetheart deal. The media giant’s USA Network and Bravo are paying top dollar for off-net rights to the third Law & Order, produced by Dick Wolf’s Wolf Films and NBC Universal Television Studio. The cable networks will pay about $2 million per episode for the crime drama, making it one of cable’s richest syndication deals ever. Starting in late 2005, USA will run Law & Order: CI on weekdays, and Bravo will get weekend plays.
Viacom plans to buy KOVR Sacramento, Calif., from Sinclair Broadcast Group for $285 million in cash, the two companies announced Dec. 2. The deal allows Viacom to bring one more affiliate of its CBS broadcast network into its stable of O&Os. If approved by the FCC and the Justice Department, the deal also would create the company’s ninth duopoly. Viacom already owns UPN affiliate KMAX Sacramento, a UHF station.
Spanish-language broadcaster Univision has withdrawn its lawsuit against Nielsen Media Research over the research company’s new system for measuring local TV ratings. As part of Univision’s withdrawal, Nielsen has withdrawn its own motion against the broadcaster. Univision had sued to block Nielsen from deploying local people meters (LPMs) in Los Angeles, but the rollout proceeded as planned in July.