There may be another flurry of new late-night shows joining the battle for ad dollars in the lucrative daypart. Fox is on the prowl for a show. Executives there have written off Conan O'Brien. They had hoped to lure him from NBC but think he's a shoo-in to re-sign with NBC. Sources say Fox has also considered Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and ABC's Bill Maher, whose contract is up shortly. Affiliates aren't crazy about either, saying they'd prefer someone newer and "edgier." Columbia TriStar has a development deal with Talk Soup's John Henson (above) and wants to develop a late-night show around him.—S.M.
Let's do launch
While most ad-sales operations are limping, AOL Time Warner's cable operation is burning up the track. Local ad sales were up more than 40% in the fourth quarter, thanks to new cable nets. Like other MSOs, Time Warner Cable adds revenue by seeking "launch support" from new nets, essentially committing to local avails on the system. With Time Warner rolling out digital cable in a big way, networks have a lot of ads. "I'm surprised they treat it as ad sales," said one media analyst. "There's a difference between marketing support and selling real advertising." The treatment is spelled out in AOL's SEC filings.—J.M.H.
The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network has taken its protest against EchoStar beyond the streets of Washington. NAN, which says the company is "insensitive to the needs of the African-American community" because its Dish Network isn't carrying the Word Network, protested outside EchoStar CEO Charlie Ergen's house in Denver last week. Ergen offered the National Action Network a time when they could get together and talk, but NAN leaders rejected that time, saying it didn't fit into their schedule, according to sources.—P.A.
While Fox News Channel and CNN wage their cable news war, MSNBC is looking for ways to open a second front. One strategy: Stop sharing two popular programs, The News With Brian Williams
and Hardball With Chris Matthews,
with co-owned CNBC. "It's not appointment viewing. It's triplecasting, and it doesn't help MSNBC in a direct ratings war," said MSNBC President Erik Sorenson. By year-end, The News
could become MSNBC property, while Matthews would be exclusively a CNBC player.
That said, Sorenson could lose his franchise player if NBC taps Williams to succeed Tom Brokaw whenever Brokaw retires (his contract is up this summer).—A.R.
Several major broadcasters are waiting to find out if one of their proposed radio mergers will be approved or designated for a lengthy round of hearings before an FCC administrative law judge. Clear Channel, Cumulus and Nassau Broadcasting are among those with deals stalled by the FCC for more than a year under a controversial practice aimed at preventing undue concentration in local markets.
In November, FCC commissioners approved sales of 62 radio stations, clearing most of a backlog of license transfers caused by the so-called "flagging" policy, which subjected deals to added scrutiny when they would place the majority of a market's ad revenue with one or two owners. For five deals, pending more than a year, that the commissioners could not resolve, the agency's Mass Media Bureau was ordered by Feb. 8 either to recommend their approval or urge their review before an FCC judge. Affected markets are said to include Charlottesville, Va.; Columbus, Ga.; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Trenton, N.J.; and Starkville, Miss.
Many in the industry say the FCC wants to designate at least one deal for hearing because the FCC has no clear policy for ruling on flagged mergers and a judge's ruling could go a long way toward setting a consistent guideline.—B.M.