Fast Track

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New MTV Mantra: “We're Not Cable”

Christina Norman, the new president of MTV, already has a mantra: “MTV is not a cable network.”

Norman's mission at the Viacom network is to evolve MTV into a programming service on whatever means its audience wants to it, including basic cable, video-on-demand, cellphones, PCs, iPods or anything else that comes along. Her boss and predecessor, MTV Group President Van Toffler, sees MTV transforming slowly from a TV-centric model to what he clumsily calls “content multiplatform-centric.”

MTV executives believe that their young audience will move to new platforms earlier and more aggressively than devotees of other networks. That means it may have the greatest opportunities of any TV network. Simultaneously, MTV may face the greatest losses if its audience moves before the network does.

“We're standing at the crossroads in terms of where the audience is going,” Norman says. This is the motive behind the network's push of new broadband service MTV Overdrive.

Norman's appointment marks her return to MTV. Before becoming general manager—and later president—of VH1 in 2002, she was senior VP for marketing, advertising and on-air promotion on MTV, MTV2 and MTV.com. She took over VH1 following its plunge in ratings after Behind the Music faded. She freshened up VH1's staple—nostalgia clips shows—in offerings like I Love the 90s and 100 Most Wanted Bodies.

Replacing her will be Tom Calderone, executive VP of music programming and talent for MTV and MTV2. Since 1998, that job has put him in charge of packaging music videos and live-music programming, which seems to be in short supply on VH1. Calderone plans to tweak VH1 in part by increasing the presence of music.

Cablevision Sues Over Stadium

Cablevision filed another suit to block construction of a $2.2 billion football stadium in Manhattan, this time challenging state-controlled Empire State Development Corp. for approving the construction. The stadium would compete with Cablevision's nearby Madison Square Garden for concerts and other live events. In New York State Supreme Court, Cablevision charges that the economic-development agency shouldn't have approved the project because the financial plan is inadequate and the latest design is far different from what the agency saw in the first stage of its review last November. Cablevision has also sued the transit agency that owns the stadium site.

Time Warner, MSG Settle Sports Spat

Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Cablevision's Madison Square Garden Networks have settled their rate dispute and cut a multi­year carriage agreement to return MSG Network, Fox Sports Net New York and three other Fox Sports digital networks to Time Warner Cable systems in the New York area, effective last week.

TWC systems in the New York City area and upstate New York carried the networks beginning Monday, May 9, in time for the Mets/Cubs game to air on Fox Sports Net New York. Details were not disclosed.

MSG Networks and TWC had been engaged in a spat since last summer over the cost of carriage for the regional sports networks. Time Warner pulled the channels from area systems July 31, leaving some 2 million subscribers without Mets games—except for a few on WPIX and Fox Broadcasting's WNYW, which had the broadcast game-of-the-week contract. MSG Networks and TWC permanently resolved the issue with help from New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

'Affair' Adds Stations

Twentieth Television has cleared A Current Affair in 10 additional markets, bringing the half-hour strip's clearances to 54 markets representing 60% of the country. Twentieth is aiming for a full national rollout of the revived syndicated newsmagazine, hosted by Tim Green, by January 2006.

Gearing up for a fall launch of Affair are CBS affiliates WTKR Norfolk, Va., and KVIQ Eureka, Calif.; Fox affiliates WTNZ Knoxville, Tenn., KVRR Fargo, N.D., KQDS Duluth, Minn., and KCVU Chico-Redding, Calif.; and NBC affiliates KVOA Tucson, Ariz., and KDLT Sioux Falls, S.D.

Cox, Newhouse Won't Play On Discovery Spin

Liberty Media will spin its 50% stake in Discovery Communications to shareholders without the participation of fellow Discovery shareholders Cox and Advance Newhouse. Liberty Chairman John Malone acknowledged during an investor meeting that Cox and Newhouse had declined his invitation to contribute their 25% stakes into the soon-to-be created publicly held Discovery Holdings. Neither Cox nor Newhouse wants to surrender their veto power over major decisions at discovery, something that would be required if they swap their stakes for stock in the publicly traded Discovery Holdings.

HBO To Pack Up 'Carnivale'

HBO will not renew freak-show series Carnivale for a third season. The Depression-era, good-vs.-evil drama ran for 24 episodes and ended its second season in March. The final episode wrapped up most loose ends but introduced a cliffhanger that left the door open for possible renewal. The show, created by Daniel Knauf, earned strong reviews and a handful of Emmys but did not generate the buzz of the network's other dramas, The Sopranos and Deadwood.

Dennis Miller Says So Long to CNBC

Dennis Miller, host of Dennis Miller, became the latest to exit a CNBC talk show.

CNBC President Mark Hoffman says he had bumped Miller out of its 9 p.m. ET daily time slot, planning to rerun Mad Money With Jim Cramer instead. The final episode airs Friday. Miller has been on the network since January 2004, but the audience never grew substantially, averaging just 100,000 total viewers last week.

Miller's exit follows that of Tina Brown, who is ending her weekly show, Topic A With Tina Brown, which got even weaker ratings.

Senator Seeks Softer VNR Rules

TV stations won't be required to reveal the source of government-produced news packages if the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee gets his way.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is pushing a less restrictive alternative that would require the government to disclose its role in producing the news packages but would not require stations to pass the information along.

During a hearing on video news releases, Stevens said a bill sponsored by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) infringes on broadcasters' free-speech rights by dictating how they craft news reports. That bill would require government agencies to include disclaimers visible during the entire length of a pre-packaged report that notify viewers they are watching a government-prepared report. Stevens' opposition could all but doom the measure because he controls which bills come to a vote on his panel.

Instead, he wants to make permanent a less intrusive temporary VNR alternative sponsored by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), which was put in place earlier this month. That provision simply requires government agencies to disclose their involvement in a disclaimer included in the report. Broadcasters, however, would have no obligation to run the disclaimer when their newscasts air. Byrd's measure expires Sept. 30.

Peacock Files Claim Against Pax

NBC Universal filed an arbitration claim last week against Paxson Communications, claiming Pax has breached contractual agreements. Last month, Paxson, run by CEO Lowell “Bud” Paxson said it was cutting its entertainment programming and would load up on infomercials, drawing heavy protest from 32%-owner NBC Universal.

“Paxson's intention to terminate its network, national and local sales agreements with NBC Universal, and its desire to abandon its sales operations and advertiser-supported television network, violates the clear terms of those agreements,” NBC Universal said in a statement. Having repeatedly expressed its objections with Pax's board of directors and management, NBC says, it has “no other option but to file this claim.” In February, ailing Paxson axed 50 staffers, mostly from its programming department.

Azcarraga Resigns From Univision

In a sign of increasing friction at Univision, major backer and programming supplier Emilio Azcarraga resigned as vice chairman of the U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster. Azcarraga is chairman/president of Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa SA, which supplies the bulk of Univision's prime time programming, including its staple telenovelas. Part of the discontent stems from Univision CEO Jerrold Perenchi's decision to name Ray Rodriguez president/COO without Azcarraga's consent. Azcarraga owns about 10% of Univision's stock, and Televisa owns another 10%.

CNN Gives Away Streams

CNN will ditch its $4.95 monthly charge for its broadband video-streaming service starting June 20 and give it away. Susan Grant, executive VP of CNN News Services, says CNN originally took the video behind a subscription wall in 2002 because the costs associated with serving up video were too high. Today, she says, that has changed. “The cost of bandwidth has dramatically decreased, and we can afford to serve it,” she says. “We also have an advertiser market that is excited to support the free video.” Among the offerings will be a two-minute newscast called “Now in the News” produced by CNN.com staff. This fall, expect CNN to roll out an adjunct to the free service in the form of a premium pay service.

E!'s Summer Slate

E! will premiere five original series and eight specials this summer. June series Fight for Fame tracks five aspiring actors trying to get signed by a Hollywood agent, and Party @ The Palms showcases revelry at the Vegas hotspot. July's Kill Reality follows reality-TV stars working and living together while shooting New Line's upcoming horror flick The Scorned. In August, Cattle Drive transplants kids of famous people to a ranch, and The Girls Next Door chronicles life at the Playboy Mansion.

MPAA Sues TV Pirates

Hollywood's legal crackdown on Internet piracy is expanding to illegal TV-show downloads. The Motion Picture Association of America last week filed lawsuits against six popular Web sites responsible for the illegal swapping of TV shows by 100,000 people daily. This is the first time MPAA's ongoing crackdown has targeted TV-oriented sites. Previously, the crackdown focused on sites specializing in movies. MPAA said TV-show piracy increased by 150% in the past year. Each of the six sites relies on BitTorrent technology to greatly accelerate download speeds. “On these sites, anyone in the world can download entire television seasons in a single click,” says MPAA President Dan Glickman. The sites being sued are ShunTV, Zonatracker, Btefnet, Scifi-Classics, CDDVDHeaven and Bragginrights.

Correction

After 38 years at WLS Chicago, 4 p.m. news anchor Joel Daly retired May 6. In a May 9 story, the veteran was misidentified.

Clarification

An article (May 9, page 30) on Grass Valley's introduction of the Turbo, the company's new digital disk recorder should have included comments from independent industry sources. The headline was meant to convey the competitive nature of the digital-disk and VTR market and not Grass Valley's standing in the marketplace.

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