Capital Watch


CBS Passes NASA Muster

The Network-Affiliated Stations Alliance has written a letter to FCC Chairman Powell to say that CBS is now in its good graces. In its original filing of March 2001, NASA asked the commission to investigate the Big Four networks' relationship with their affiliates and what NASA considered abuses of their power over stations. "CBS has conferred with its affiliates and amended its affiliation agreements so as to bring them, in NASA's judgment, into conformance with the commission's rules," wrote NASA Chairman Alan Frank. NASA also took the opportunity to ask the FCC to get on with resolving the inquiry, saying that the case before it is "clear and compelling." Reportedly, CBS was pleased to hear of NASA's decision but has not altered its positions.

Push Shoves Sinclair

The Rainbow/Push Coalition has told the FCC it believes Sinclair Broadcast Group attempted to "corruptly influence" Maryland's recent gubernatorial election by providing free helicopter service to Republican candidate, now Governor-elect Robert Ehrlich. As a result, it says, the FCC should reverse its approval of recent Sinclair TV-station purchases. The Rainbow/Push brief, reported by the Baltimore Sun, which broke the story of a major Sinclair shareholder's helicopter use, called the alleged undue influence on the campaign and the candidate "evidence of disqualifying conduct" as regards holding broadcast licenses. The group also said Sinclair was behind a letter-writing campaign by three congressmen, including Ehrlich, to sway the FCC regarding the purchases. The FCC rebuked the congressmen for writing the agency without notifying other parties in the case. Sinclair officials could not be reached for comment.

ACA: Retrans 'Abuse' on Rise

The American Cable Association, which asked the FCC in October to investigate what it said was ongoing retrans-consent abuse by major broadcast groups, has filed a supplemental report arguing that such abuse, particularly in small markets, is on the rise. The ACA represents small, independent cable operators. It cites 11 examples, saying abusers use their market power to "force 'take-it-or- leave-it' tying arrangements and other unreasonable and costly terms on small cable operators." Cited more than once was Disney's insistence on carriage of its SoapNet and the move of Disney Channel from pay to basic as conditions of carriage.

Responding to the complaints, Disney Executive VP Preston Padden pointed to Disney's stand-alone cash option (70 cents): "I saw a report that TNT is asking 77 cents. We put a couple of billion dollars in programming on the screen, TNT a few hundred million. Sounds like a bargain to me. If any cable operator chooses the cash option, they have no obligation to carry any Disney services whatsoever. [Cable operators] are in the business of selling consumers our programming, and they don't want to pay for it in any way—cash or carriage of other services. They want it free so they can sell it to people. There is something wrong with that."

Matthews a Hit in D.C.

In the battle of the weekend public-affairs programs in the hometown of the talking heads, the winner was Chris Matthews—and syndication. NBC Enterprises' Chris Matthews Show
hit a season-high 6.3/16 on WRC-TV Washington the week of Dec. 9-15. (6.3/ 16). It was tops in its Sunday 10 p.m. time period, beating network shows Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday
and This Week. Nationally, the show, produced by NBC News, has doubled its household rating to a 2.0 since its premiere.

TNT Christmas in Washington

President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and a record number of presidential-family members joined AOL Time Warner Chairman Steve Case and CEO Richard Parsons Dec. 15 at the taping of TNT's (née NBC's) Christmas in Washington special. The president's appearance in the event, including joining in the final carol of the evening, has been a tradition in Washington for two decades. The show was hosted by Dawson's Creek's Katie Holmes and included the music of Brooks & Dunn, Alison Krauss, Brian Setzer, Lee Ann Womack, Dr. John and Yolanda Adams.