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Program access preserved

Cable program access rules could remain in place for up to five more years under a staff recommendation to FCC commissioners.

The fate of those rules, set to expire Oct. 5, may be decided at the commission's June 13 meeting. Under the access requirements, networks owned by cable-system operators must sell their programming to satellite-TV distributors and overbuilders. EchoStar and DirecTV say the decade-old rules allow them to obtain the programming necessary to compete with cable monopolies. The cable industry doesn't like them and, led by Cablevision Chairman Chuck Dolan, is fighting to scrap them now.

FCC staffers concede DBS has enjoyed enormous growth, but say cable operators still have sufficient market power to deny them programming. Consequently, they are recommending commissioners revisit the rules in the next two to five years. —B.M.

Upfront sales

NBC got the network upfront ad-sales market moving late Thursday, and, by late Friday, sources were reporting that the peacock web was roughly 50% sold out at cost-per-thousand rates of 8% to 10% higher than last year, when the network took mid-single-digit price cuts. Sources confirm that a lot of NBC's early business was for autos and movies. The WB is more than half sold out at rate increases of 14% to 16%, sources say, adding that the weblet's upfront take will far exceed $500 million this year, vs. $475 million a year ago. CBS started selling Friday and was receiving rate hikes in the 9% to 13% range. ABC is talking to buyers about 4% to 6% rate hikes; no word at deadline whether it's getting them. Fox was reportedly 25% sold by late Friday but no word on pricing.

Raleigh responds

Bob Raleigh, president of Domestic TV Distribution for Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, responded last week to the widespread rumors of his imminent departure: "I've heard them too," he quipped. Raleigh concedes the company is "in the process of making decisions" about the future structure of the domestic syndication division. But he is under contract through the fall and his focus is on the fall off-network launch of That
'70s Show

in 97% of the U.S. (which will include a big promotional tie-in with rock group Kiss). The recession has been tough on the entire industry and C-W-M recently cut its workforce by 25%, including about a third of its syndication-sales staff. It lost one show on the networks in the new season shuffle—That '80s Show
—but still has Grounded For Life
and That '70s Show
on the air. C-W-M has the right business model to remain viable in syndication, says Raleigh. Stay tuned.—S.M.

Free to set their rates

The success of DBS and some cable overbuilders, is allowing more incumbent cable franchises to free themselves of local regulation of basic rates by proving they face effective competition in their market.

A funny thing is happening, however. Rather than applying for FCC approval, franchises that believe they qualify are simply changing rates. If competitors or consumers complain, then the incumbent operators argue effective competition. That is the case in the Los Angeles area, for example, where Altrio Communications complained about Adelphia's cost-cutting in in Altrio neighborhoods. And there's more to come as DBS and overbuilding grows. Freed of basic-rate oversight, incumbents are allowed to advertise uniform rates across their clusters rather than charging separate levies set by the communities' authorities.—B.M.

Tower termination

The Metropolitan Television Alliance, comprising 11 New York TV stations and charged with the task of getting a new tower built for over-the-air broadcasters, didn't renew the contract of lead consultant Doug Land. Whoever replaces him will have one tough job: Finding a place to build it. Dr. Bill Baker, WNET president, says that the MTVA hopes to fill the vacancy within two weeks. They'd like a lawyer-- with a TV background.–K.K.

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