News Articles

Fast Track

11/24/2006 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Comcast, Disney Ink Wide-Ranging Deal

Stations, cable networks and on-demand are
covered

Walt Disney Co. has signed a 10-year distribution
pact with cable operator Comcast that covers the
ABC owned-and-operated stations, as well as Disney's cable
networks and on-demand content. The media giant also has sold its 39.5% stake
in E! Networks to Comcast for $1.23 billion.

The deal covers the 10 ABC O&Os as well as Disney Channel, ABC
Family
, Toon Disney,
ESPN, ESPN2,
ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN HD and
increased carriage of SOAPnet. Comcast has
agreed to launch ESPN Deportes, a stand-alone
Spanish-language sports network, and formalized its agreement with Disney over
carriage of ESPN2 HD. Comcast is also now the
sole owner of E! Networks, which includes E!
Entertainment Television
and Style
Network
.

A significant component of the deal, first reported in
The Wall Street Journal,
is on-demand content. For the first time, Comcast will have access to Disney
movies for its On Demand video-on-demand (VOD) service, which will cost $3.99
for new releases and $2.99 for library content. Moreover, starting next fall,
ABC will be making its primetime and news content available for free through On
Demand. This is the first time the broadcast network has provided its content
to cable VOD customers, although ABC has had success selling shows online at
99¢ apiece through Apple's iTunes service.

"This is one of the broadest distribution agreements in the history of
our company," says Disney President/CEO Bob
Iger
.

Several ABC primetime series, including Lost and Desperate Housewives and two new
shows, will be offered free by Comcast in ABC O&O markets the day after
initial broadcast.

Under the agreement, Comcast also plans to add certain shows from
Disney Channel, SOAPnet, Toon Disney and ESPN libraries to Comcast's VOD lineup
in markets where those channels are offered. The two companies will also make
promotional material from the Disney-ABC Television
Group
available on Comcast's Web portal,
www.comcast.net.

The ABC shows will initially run with the same commercials as the
broadcast version, says Disney spokesperson Katina
Arnold
, adding that ABC "has the option to experiment with new
models for this format." That could theoretically consist of pre-roll or
post-roll ads, such as the GMC ads that
CBS is placing in its on-demand content for Comcast. Comcast
is not yet testing dynamic ad-insertion, which in the future is expected to
allow targeted and constantly updated ads to be placed alongside VOD
content.

VOD movies will be available from Walt Disney
Pictures
, Touchstone and
Miramax.

NewsLab: More Ads Than Coverage

Talk about a landslide: Midwest TV-station evening and late newscasts
averaged 1 minute and 43 seconds of campaign coverage versus 4½ minutes
of paid political ads in the 30 days before the midterm elections.

That is according to a study by the University
of Wisconsin
's NewsLab for its
Midwest News Index, an ongoing study of local TV news in Minnesota, Michigan,
Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.

That election coverage was up "considerably" from the initial study of
the same set of newscasts on 28 network affiliates for the previous 30 days
(Sept. 7-Oct. 6), according to the study.

But the study also said that most of the coverage (68%) was devoted to
so-called horse-race issues like polls and campaign strategies rather than to
policy (17%).

And there was even some spillover of political advertising into the
news hole, with more than 10% of the stories at least mentioning and some
focusing on political ads.

The study was backed by media consolidation critic The Joyce
Foundation
, whose VP Larry Hansen
says the findings are troubling.

He says it shows that most people were getting their campaign
information from ads—many of them "outlandish and negative"—rather than
from hard-news stories. "In the end," he says, "well-funded candidates and
local broadcasters win while voters, most candidates and democracy lose."

The National Association of
Broadcasters
took aim at the announcement: "Once again, University
of Wisconsin NewsLab researchers demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of
how broadcasting works and how viewers get their news," says NAB spokesman
Dennis Wharton.

"Local stations air political coverage during many dayparts, and not
just in the narrow time frame of weekday evening newscasts. By failing to
acknowledge the totality of free airtime freely given by
broadcasters—including morning news, noon news, weekend
public-affairs—programming and televised debates," he says, "these
researchers do a huge disservice to the academic community."—John
Eggerton

Sesame Workshop Helps Military Families Cope

CPB, with help from Wal-Mart, is
funding a Sesame Workshop special,
When Parents Are
Deployed
, to help parents and caregivers deal with the
effect of their military deployment to Iraq on children.

The half-hour show, which will premiere Dec. 27 at 9 p.m. on
PBS hosted by Cuba Gooding
Jr.
, is targeted at adults.

In announcing the new series, Sesame Workshop said that more than
700,000 kids will be separated from their mother or father over the holidays.
The special will work in the storyline of the deployment of
Muppet Elmo's father to Iraq with interviews
with, and stories of, military families.

The special is an offshoot of the Workshop's partnership with Wal-Mart
on an educational-outreach kit, Talk, Listen, Connect:
Helping Families During Military Deployment
, which was targeted at
helping kids cope with the situation. The kits are downloadable at the Sesame
Workshop Website. —John Eggerton

NBC Assuming New 'Identity'

When it comes to TV, game shows have still got game.
NBC will trot out new entrant Identity for five nights Dec.
18-22. The show, from Ben Silverman's
production company, Reveille, will be hosted by
Penn Jillette of the popular offbeat comedy
duo Penn & Teller.

NBC says the show, which will air each night at 8 p.m. ET, tasks a
contestant with sizing up a group of strangers in an effort to try to match
their identities. Top prize will be $500,000. —Ben
Grossman

Verizon Raises Price of FiOS TV

Verizon has boosted the price of its FiOS TV system
by $3.04 to $42.99 for new subscribers, while holding to the price of $39.95
for its current subs.

Verizon spokesman Cliff Lee says the
price change, the first since the service launched in September 2005, reflects
the additional value of almost 20 more channels.

The increase takes effect in Virginia on Jan. 14 and later in January
for subscribers in New York, Texas, Massachusetts, California and Maryland.

There will also be some lesser increases of $1-$2 for premium channels
like HBO and for some sports and movie
services, plus a hike of a few pennies for video-on-demand.—John
Eggerton

Corrections

Hilary Estey McLoughlin is president of Telepictures. She was
incorrectly identified in "Syndicators Bet on Game and Court Shows"
(11/20).

Steve Gahler is promoted to VP/station manager/director of sales, KSTW
Seattle. The city was incorrectly identified in Fates (11/20).

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