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Fast Track

1/26/2007 07:00:00 PM Eastern

ABC Boosts Oscar Digital

Offerings include mobile and more video

By Anne Becker

With the Oscars less than a month away, ABC is supersizing its coverage on digital platforms, bolstering its online presence with more video than ever and offering exclusive awards-related content on cellphones.

Although the Academy Awards show is one of the few TV events that can still draw a big crowd—last year's averaged about 38.8 million viewers, and TV spots sold for $1.7 million—ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are heeding the call to place spots on digital media.

The network, which will air the 79th Annual Academy Awards and an hour-long pre-show Feb. 25, has substantially grown the awards' official Website, Oscar.com, with more video. New features include a weekly video diary from awards host Ellen DeGeneres, a weekly and daily online pre-show, a "Thank You Cam," with winners' first backstage comments and fashion coverage.

The site has already drawn blue-chip sponsors, including AT&T, Procter & Gamble's Olay, and Kodak. GM Corp. will sponsor one of several interactive games and promotions, according to industry sources. The GM-backed game, "Find the 79s," will award prizes for finding hidden "79s" placed throughout the telecast and submitting a list online. "Predict the Winners" offers online ballots for viewers to select their picks.

ABC has aired the Oscars for many years and in 2005 renewed a deal with the Academy to air the show through 2014. As part of the package, Disney-ABC TV Group's digital-media team builds the Oscar.com site and mobile content.

For the first time ever, the Academy will also offer free mobile content to Oscar devotees. Cellphone users will be able to access lists of nominees and winners, red-carpet photos, and pictures of Oscar shows from years past. ABC is also offering a mobile-only Oscars blog on the night of the show. Viewers can access mobile content through an Oscar WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) site or through text message.

Tribune Stations Stay in Play

Tribune's TV stations and publishing business remain in play at press time, with offers from the Chandler family (the company's largest shareholder), billionaires Ron Burkle and Eli Broad, and the Carlyle Group.

The Chandlers offered an estimated $7.6 billion. Voluble critics of Tribune management in the past, they intend to spin off the stations to shareholders. The Chandlers estimate the stations' worth to be around $4.2 billion, although management believes the value to be less. The stations include powerhouses WPIX New York, WGN Chicago and KTLA Los Angeles, along with much smaller CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates.

The Chandler family is also angling for additional seats on the board; it currently holds three. Tribune's deadline for board-member nominations is Feb. 8.

News Corp. is on board with the Chandlers for a "small stake"—estimated at $200 million to $300 million—in the Tribune publishing business, according to a News Corp. spokesperson. News Corp. seeks to cut costs at its New York Post by combining back-office operations with Tribune's Newsday newspaper.

Barrington Research analyst James Goss believes that Tribune will seek out potential bidders that have not made an offer, push those that did to sweeten their offers, or take the properties off the market. If it's the latter, he says, Tribune can bide its time before deciding to sell off stations piecemeal. "They can concentrate on the markets where they're strong," he says, "such as Chicago and maybe L.A."

Tribune, which will announce its fourth quarter 2006 earnings Feb. 8, declined to comment.—Michael Malone

'Extra' Renewed Through 2010

Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution (WBDTD) is renewing Telepictures Productions' veteran syndicated entertainment newsmagazine Extra through the 2009-10 season.

The show, in its 13th season, has been cleared in more than 95% of the country, including NBC stations in New York (WNBC), Los Angeles (KNBC) and Chicago (WMAQ). The series has also been renewed on NBC stations in Philadelphia (WCAU), San Francisco/San Jose (KNTV), Dallas (KXAS), Miami (WTVJ) and Hartford, Conn. (WVIT).

Co-hosts Dayna Devon and Mark McGrath senior executive producer Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey will all remain with the show, having signed new multi-year deals. Extra also recently added Dancing With the Stars contestant Mario Lopez as a weekend anchor.

Season to date, the show is averaging a 2.2 national household rating and a 1.4 in the show's target women 25-54 demographic. Extra will have increased competition in the category next year. It will come from inside its own corporate family as Warner Bros. rolls out the strip version of the AOL's TMZ Website.

Ben Grossman

Challenge to FCC Franchise Process Is Expected

Franchising authorities and community activists are preparing a court challenge to the FCC's recent order revamping the local-video-franchise process.

With a national video-franchising-reform bill scuttled by the network-neutrality issue, the FCC last month stepped in to make it easier for cable's competition to get into the local video business. The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the Alliance for Community Media and the Alliance for Communications Democracy say they have retained legal counsel to fight the move.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has said it would not rule out suing the commission for what some critics of the move called legislating by proxy and exceeding its authority.—John Eggerton

CBS Asks FCC To Steer Clear Of Retrans

CBS executives visited the FCC to persuade the commission not to intervene in the retransmission-consent negotiations between Sinclair and Mediacom.

The commission strongly recommended that the two parties submit to binding arbitration, but Sinclair said no.

Mediacom has asked the commission to force arbitration and is awaiting an answer. It has also asked for a full-commission review of a Media Bureau decision rejecting Mediacom's claim that Sinclair was bargaining in bad faith.

The Media Bureau says that, absent a finding of fault, it cannot require arbitration. Mediacom disagrees Some 250,000 Iowans were affected when Sinclair pulled its stations from Mediacom systems Jan. 5, and many pressured Iowa legislators—state and national—to support Mediacom.

The message from CBS to the FCC last week was that the retransmission-consent process isn't broke and doesn't need fixing. If the FCC steps in, CBS executives argue, it could set a precedent for unwanted intervention in what broadcasters say is simply a business negotiation.—John Eggerton

Univision To Kick Off Soccer Series

Univision on Feb. 18 will launch a reality series that will give one contestant a professional Major League Soccer (MLS) contract.

Sueno MLS: Chivas USA Wants You will air Sundays during the Republica Deportivo sports show. It will follow a series of tryouts as amateur players compete for the grand prize of a contract with Club Deportivo Chivas USA. Owned by popular Mexican team Chivas de Guadalajara, which is often described as the New York Yankees of Mexican soccer, Club Deportivo Chivas USA is a huge brand name in Mexican sports.

The finale is scheduled to air Sunday, March 25.—Ben Grossman

Childhood Obesity Task Force To Meet

The first meeting of the public-private task force on obesity and food marketing to kids is set for Feb. 14.

The group, called Media and Childhood Obesity: Today and Tomorrow, was launched last fall by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) with an assist from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate.

John Eggerton

Corrections

NBC Universal Television Studio President Angela Bromstad attended the University of Southern California and Southern Methodist University (1/22, Fifth Estater, p. 32).

A cover line on the Jan. 22 issue indicated that Sony Pictures Television will "skip" the 2008 National Association of Television Program Executives conference. That is inaccurate and was not reflected in the story. B&C regrets the error. For more on the conference from NATPE President Rick Feldman, please see Airtime in the upcoming Feb. 5 issue.

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