Keep the wine on ice

Foes of deregulation were not the only ones miffed at the FCC's generally merger-friendly ownership studies last week (see story, page 10). Some communications attorneys are bemoaning the deadlines for comments and replies. With those attorneys likely having to burn the midnight oil to put the finishing touches on their arguments, particularly given the stakes involved, the Dec. 2 comment deadline—the Monday after Thanksgiving—and the Jan. 2 reply deadline could mean a harried holiday season. "That's sadistic," said one unhappy camper. The FCC says it is sticking with the dates, which are 60 and 90 days after the studies came out and just happened to fall where they did.—J.E.'s in HD

The availability of a program in HD used to be big news, worthy of press releases and excitement, but it looks like the networks are beginning to "soft-launch" HD programming. HBO decided that next year's season of Six Feet Under
(below) will be in HDTV, but don't look for it to make a big deal over it. And that came less than a week after NBC began broadcasting ER
in HDTV in a launch so soft that stations learned about it from a memo the morning of the broadcast. Even NBC executives couldn't confirm the next day that the broadcast was in HD, although station executives could.—K.K.

Nets eye rings

ABC, CBS, NBC and Turner have had meetings in Switzerland with International Olympic Committee officials to discuss the bidding process for the 2010 and 2012 games. Sources say each company pitched the IOC on how their companies could "further grow and promote the Olympics." IOC officials were also curious how each company planned to integrate new media into the coverage. Sources say it's likely the rights to the '10 and '12 games will be a package deal. Negotiations start within the next year, but the networks want to wait until at least July 2003, when the venue for the '10 games will be awarded. IOC officials promise a "completely open bidding process," says one network source, where everyone will get a chance to bid. That would contrast with NBC's 2000-'08 preemptive strike. Fox was not present but has held separate meetings with the IOC.—S.M.

Churn at Charter

So, will Paul Allen (above) save Charter? Investors pounded the cable company's stock to an all-time low of $1.41 per share after the company cautioned last Wednesday that the third quarter wouldn't come in quite as planned. (Cash-flow growth is 0.7 points short of the 13.7% promised. Horrors.) Then, on Friday, the Street was furiously buzzing that CEO Carl Vogel had resigned. (Not true.) That then shifted to rumors that CFO Kent Kalkwarf had resigned. (Not true.) Now everyone is waiting for the outcome of a meeting between Vogel and Charter megabillionaire Chairman Allen this week in Seattle. The long-scheduled meeting will have a new topic: Is Allen going to do anything more than tease investors that he might throw new money Charter's way?–J.M.H.

FCC stalemate

The agency appears deadlocked on broadcasters' digital cable carriage rights. A few weeks ago, they seemed set on a rulemaking that rejected dual analog/digital carriage during the DTV transition but tentatively concluded that stations are entitled to carriage of all free channels. Sources say the split pits Commissioners Michael Copps and Kevin Martin, who favor full carriage rights, against Michael Powell and Kathleen Abernathy, who oppose any mandate until the constitutionality of such a move is clear.—B.M.