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Unions Unite Against Merged Media

Groups plan to organize, push for public policy

Ten of the largest communications unions, representing a million workers, are banding together to provide a united front in the face of “rapid media consolidation and massive technological shifts.”

The groups plan to organize, but could also collectively bargain and push for public policy. Organizing is job one, though, says Mona Mangan, executive director of Writers Guild of America East, one of the 10 unions who said last week they were creating an Industry Coordinating Committee (ICC) under the auspices of the AFL-CIO, to orchestrate that collective response.

“This is a serious effort to coordinate the organizing activities of the unions in the entertainment industry,” said Mangan.

In a separate move, Mangan’s WGA East joined its West Coast counterpart last week to strengthen its alliance. Both unions are led by new presidents who are committed to presenting their own, more united, front to big media bosses.

Mangan says consolidation is clearly part of the strategy, but she also says members also want to ensure they are covered no matter how their content is delivered —TV, Internet, cellphone, or whatever else comes years from now.

Anticipating how technology changes job descriptions is key for union leadership. The technical unions, for instance, have gotten squeezed out of some jobs because computers—essentially anything with a keyboard—were excluded from their jurisdiction, then computers began taking over everything from editing to cameras.

“Those professionals who work in the arts, entertainment, media and telecommunications industries need a strong, united effort to address their issues in the face of ownership consolidation and unprecedented changes,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in a statement. “And today, they’re one big step closer to winning more power.”

The unions that are marshalling their forces to make sure new distribution technologies and program formats do not leave them in the lurch are Actors Equity, the American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Communications Workers of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, Screen Actors Guild, The Newspaper Guild, and the Writers Guild of America East. The WGA West is not a part of the AFL-CIO. —John Eggerton

CBS2: Network in the Works

New venture to offer entertainment fare

CBS Executive VP and DTV transition point man Martin Franks says that talks are well underway with affiliates on a digital network that would “complement or even counterprogram the mothership.”

In contrast to NBC’s weather channel and ABC’s news service, the CBS digital multicasting offering would be entertainment-oriented. Franks told an audience at the Association of Maximum Service Television annual TV conference in Washington that retrans deals with cable systems are already in place that would deliver the channel to 25 million cable households.

Franks said that he would be “surprised” if the new channel were not up and running by this time next year. —J.E.

Tribune Chief Exits

Tribune Broadcasting PresidentPatrick Mullen is exiting the company.

Mullen first joined the company in 1998 when Tribune acquired WXMI Grand Rapids, Mich., where he was VP and general manager. In Jan. 2003, he was tapped to head all of Tribune’s 26 TV stations.

Mullen had been a vocal critic of Nielsen Media Research’s controversial new electronic ratings system, the Local People Meter. The company did not name a successor.

Tribune is the country’s 5th-largest TV station group, according to B&C’s 2005 survey of the top 25 broadcast station groups. Tribune, which owns a piece of the WB network, owns mostly WB stations, plus a handful of Fox affiliates and one ABC station. —Allison Romano

Bochco Joins 'Chief’

Steven Bochco is joining ABC’s Commander in Chief as an executive producer as part of his new deal with Disney’s Touchstone Television. Series creator Rod Lurie will focus on new projects for Touchstone while maintaining an executive producer title on Chief. Lurie’s producing partner Marc Frydman, also an executive producer, is expected to remain with the show in some capacity.

The Geena Davis drama about a female president of the United States has been one of the most successful new shows this fall, garnering a 4.8/12 in the demo in its second airing on Tuesday, a 12% jump from its premiere.

With more than 30 years in the TV industry, Bochco has collected 10 Emmy Awards—six for Hill Street Blues and three for L.A. Law. He also co-created and executive produced Hooperman, Doogie Howser, M.D., Cop Rock, Murder One, Total Security, Brooklyn South, City of Angels and Philly, and served as executive producer on Civil Wars and The Byrds of Paradise.

Bochco’s latest series and first cable venture, the military drama, Over There, now airs on FX. Bochco was previously at Paramount Network Television since January 2000, after leaving 20th Century Fox Television. —Ben Grossman

Nightline Makes Big Apple Moves

ABC has decided to split Nightline production between New York and Washington as it transitions into the post-Koppel era. It will have two anchors in New York, one in Washington, and will try to work more West Coast stories into the mix.

Nightline staffers were told last week that the program will be produced from both Times Square in New York and its DeSales Street Washington studios, and will consist of four segments per show.

The show opening, which had been edited in Washington, will now be edited in New York, which some staffers in Washington felt was a signal that the show’s gravitational center was moving to the Big Apple. Nightline is not planning layoffs, according someone familiar with the network.

There will likely be some attrition anyway, with staffers joining former executive producer Tom Bettag and anchor Ted Koppel, who are leaving to hang out their shingle as an independent news/documentary team. A source on the conference call to announce the moves said that the rehires from that attrition would mostly be in New York. In July, James Goldston, senior producer of prime time specials and investigative reports for ABC News, was named to replace Bettag. —J.E.

Change In The Weather

When a cable network loses its chief, it can typically mean stormy weather. But the Weather Channel says the sun is shining on its new general manager.

Wonya Lucas, previously head of marketing and strategy development for the network, was recently named general manager of the Weather Channel Networks; President Patrick Scott announced his retirement last week. Lucas was instrumental in overseeing the re-branding this spring.

The promotion was the latest effort by the network to boost its brand and image beyond temperature and forecasts. Earlier this year, the network adopted the slogan “Bringing Weather to Life,” branching out into what it calls viewers’ weather-related experiences and emotions.

“It’s not just about hot, cold, wet, dry. People have a bigger relationship with the weather,” says Lucas.

For example, when Weather Channel anchors took to the field during hurricane season, the network outfitted them with new rain jackets for the storms that followed, courtesy of L.L. Bean, which had just become the official Weather Channel clothier. Home Depot, another major network advertiser, sponsored a five-segment how-to series about home improvement on Weekend View, a weekly lifestyle series that launched Oct. 1. The online travel company Orbitz will sponsor a series of contests on the program. Other Weather Channel partnerships include deals with Best Buy, Transitions Optical and Paramount Pictures.

The approach has paid off with steady growth in advertising revenue. In 2003, the network pulled in $118.3 million in ad revenue, according to Kagan Research. It climbed to $129.5 million in 2004, and $143 million is the projected revenue for this year.

The cash flow has enabled the network to increase its original programming. A series of specials profiling weather conditions across the country called Weather Top 10 premieres Nov. 27, and natural-disaster documentary series It Could Happen Tomorrow starts in January. —Anne Becker

FCC Makes It Easier To Complain

Penny Nance, the anti-indecency activist now consulting the FCC on policy, has launched a Web site at the commission that will make it easier for viewers to complain about indecent broadcasts.

The new site (fcc.gov/eb/oip/welcome.html) at press time was not yet easily accessible from the mothersite—fcc.gov. Nance says they are still working out some “techno-kinks,” but that it will be “easily accessible” from both the home page and the Enforcement Bureau section.

She described the effort as a new, user-friendly Web site that explains the complaint process, as well as the laws on obscenity and indecency. It doesn’t so much provide new information, as aggregate it in one place and link to the online complaint process

“The FCC launched its new site in order to educate the American public about the law but also to be more responsive to the American public’s concerns on indecency in broadcasting,” Nance told B&C. “The FCC believes the new Web site will make the indecency complaint process consumer-friendly, transparent and expeditious.”—J.E.

Judge Judy To Rule Through 2010

In a deal that is believed to be worth $30 million-$35 million annually, Paramount Domestic Television Thursday announced that Judge Judy Sheindlin, host of the top-rated court strip Judge Judy, has extended her term on the bench for another four years, through the 2009-2010 season.

Paramount has also locked up Judge Joe Brown, whose program ranks No. 2 among court shows, with a new four-year pact, according to Barry Weiner, the agent who brokered the deal.

Sheindlin’s show, which began its 10th season last month, has been the No. 1-rated court show for more than 470 consecutive weeks. The program premiered in September 1996 and still ranks as one of the highest-rated shows in national syndication. —Jim Benson

Comcast-NHL Deal Puts Puck in ’Net

Comcast and the National Hockey League are giving the cable operator’s 7.7 million broadband customers exclusive access to NHL games over the Internet.

Live streams of games from the 2005-2006 season will be available starting Oct. 5.

Comcast’s broadband customers can watch two live NHL games every day (up to a total of 300) through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Games will also be available on-demand on Comcast.net for 48 hours after broadcast. —Joel Meyer

Correction

In the Oct. 3 Airtime (“In Katrina’s Wake, Need for a New Guard,” page 32), author William F. Baker meant to refer to the Educational Broadband Service. Because of an editing error, it came out as the Emergency Broadcasting System.

NCTA Convention To Atlanta

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has decided to move its 2006 convention from New Orleans to Atlanta. It will have to move up the dates from May to early April (April 9-11).

The 2007 show will be in Las Vegas, but NCTA pledged to return to New Orleans in 2008.

NCTA’s Kyle McSlarrow said the decision to pull out of the flood-ravaged city came after discussions with city leaders about the town’s readiness.

Exhibit space assignments, which had been on hold since Hurricane Katrina, will begin at the end of this month.—JE

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