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Sticking with AA

Enron accountant Arthur Andersen has stirred a lot of conversation among media clients of the firm. Among the Big Four nets Andersen counts News Corp. and its Fox Entertainment as clients. A source at News Corp. says the company is not formally reviewing whether to switch auditors. But "David Devoe [News Corp. CFO] could wake up tomorrow and decide to make a change," says a company source. "One call to Rupert [Murdoch, above] would do it."

Emmis Communications is doing a review of Andersen's work, but CEO Jeff Smulyan stressed it's an annual review due to take place anyway. Emmis has had a long-standing, positive relationship with the firm, he said. Other media clients include EchoStar, Univision, Sinclair, Mediacom, Adelphia, TiVo, Interep, and Radio One. "I have a relationship with Arthur Andersen going back to 1986," said Mediacom Chairman Rocco Commisso. "They have always done a good job."

An observer notes it's unlikely that anyone would dump the firm now, barring evidence of egregious misconduct, because many companies are preparing annual 10-K reports and tax forms. —S.M./J.H.

Quiet at Columbia

One key U.S. syndicated programming distributor was relatively low key at last week's NATPE Conference. Columbia TriStar Domestic Television, the Sony-owned company going through a number of structural changes, didn't grab too many headlines, and it doesn't appear the studio is going to bring out any new syndicated series in the fall, other than game show Pyramid
(below),
with Donny Osmond. Insiders say the studio is instead looking to cable, and possibly broadcast networks, to buy a number of other projects it has in development, though a renewed syndication push is not out of the question. The studio is shopping a potential late-night talk show with former Talk Soup
host John Henson and a Cops-like show with parole officers (On Parole). Columbia programmers have taped pilots on both potentials. Columbia TriStar Domestic TV executives had no comment. —J.S.

Action close on Northpoint plan

FCC staff have presented commissioners several options for deciding on Northpoint Technology's plan to create a terrestrially transmitted multichannel-TV service.

Among debated issues, sources say, are whether to pursue a market-by-market phase-in and the levels of interference the new service will be permitted to create. Sources are unsure about the biggest question: whether to grant the license to Northpoint, led by CEO Sophia Collier (above), or auction it to the highest bidder. In December 2000, the FCC indicated a preference for auctioning; Northpoint critics see no indication that the FCC is changing its mind.—B.M.

FCC weighs public-interest points

Proposals for overcoming obstacles to creation of hundreds of new radio stations will be issued by the FCC at its Feb. 14 open meeting.

The commission is looking for ways to resolve a July court decision barring the agency from auctioning broadcast licenses when noncommercial operators bid. Suggestions include banning noncommercial applicants from new commercial allotments altogether or awarding points to applicants based on several public-interest factors. Under the point system, the public broadcaster that tallied the most points would be declared the winner. If a commercial applicant scored most, noncommercial applicants would be disqualified, and an auction would determine the winner. Resolution is needed before auction of roughly 600 FM and AM allotments can be scheduled. —B.M.

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