Fast Track

Shows are positioned as educational fare
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Buena Vista Will Syndicate 'Lizzie,’ 'Even Stevens’

Buena Vista Television is taking Hilary Duff and Shia LaBeouf into broadcast syndication this fall.

The Disney syndication company has positioned Disney Channel stalwarts Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens as meeting the FCC’s requirements for stations to program three hours of educational fare per week. The programs are being sold on an all-barter basis.

The award-winning Lizzie McGuire premiered in 2001, becoming Disney Channel’s top-rated series with kids 6-11 and 'tweens 9-14. Starring Duff, the comedy chronicles a girl’s efforts to survive seventh grade.

Even Stevens, which has also won awards and stars LaBeouf and Christy Carlson Romano, is a comedy showcasing the lives of the two youngest members of an upper-middle-class family.

Liberation To Sell Library at NATPE

Seeking to capitalize on new digital delivery formats, music entrepreneur Jay Boberg is heading to NATPE Jan. 24-26 in Las Vegas with an eclectic library ranging from old TV series like Daniel Boone to the theatrical The Return of Superfly.

Boberg, co-founder of independent music label I.R.S. Records and former president of MCA Records, acquired Los Angeles-based Liberty International Entertainment for an undisclosed sum with the backing of private-equity firm Clarity Partners LP. The company has been re-branded Liberation Entertainment.

The library of more than 250 films and 2,400 hours of episodic television and concert programs will be targeted toward the TV and home-entertainment markets.

Boberg has partnered with former Liberty International Chairman Irv Holender, now Liberation’s vice chairman. Sam Mandel is COO, having joined from Time Warner Global Marketing, where he was senior VP of entertainment business development.

Longtime entertainment executive Aldy Damian has been tapped as executive VP, and veteran syndication executive Stan Justice will head domestic distribution as senior VP.

“It’s the potential our library holds for the new digital delivery formats that makes this acquisition so exciting,” says Boberg. “We plan to be very aggressive in acquiring additional copyrights and libraries by providing an environment that is respectful of content creators and rights owners.”—J.B.

Disney Preschool Web Site Joins Broadband Ranks

Walt Disney Internet Group is expected to launch a subscription broadband service for preschoolers Jan. 17, the first broadband network based on Disney Channel programming. Playhouse Disney Preschool Time Online will charge an annual fee of $49.95 for customizable interactive games, puzzles and activities hosted by popular characters on shows in Disney’s preschool programming block, Playhouse Disney, which launched in 1999.

Disney joins a growing roster of cable networks launching broadband sites, which take advantage of high-speed Internet connections and improved video-compression technology to offer a TV-like experience online and reach viewers on another screen. Both E! and Bravo announced plans for new broadband sites at last week’s Television Critics Association press tour. A recent Jupiter Research report projected that the number of U.S. households with broadband access will more than double by 2010 to 69 million.

While other cable networks’ broadband sites are largely streaming video content, parents can customize the Playhouse Disney site for their 2- to 5-year-olds based on educational strengths and personal preferences, such as their favorite colors. The site, www.preschooltime.com, will be updated every two weeks with new activities whose difficulty level can be adjusted based on each child’s performance.

The site marks Disney Channel’s latest effort to expand its preschool block beyond TV. Playhouse Disney characters are featured on consumer products and as attractions and characters in Disney theme parks. It will be hosted by “Bear” from Playhouse Disney’s Bear in the Big Blue House and feature characters from such shows as JoJo’s Circus and Mickey Mouse and Pals.—A.B.

Starz Signs IPTV Deals

Starz Entertainment Group has signed a number of carriage-agreement deals with IPTV provider Optical Entertainment Network (OEN), which plans to provide Internet Protocol video, high-speed data and voice services to 1.6 million households in the Houston market through a fiber-to-the-home service called Fision.

All 13 Starz and Encore channels will be offered to Fision subscribers, along with Starz HDTV and Starz On Demand as part of OEN’s premium-service offerings.—Glen Dickson

PBS’ Mitchell To Head TV/Radio Museum

PBS President Pat Mitchell will join the Museum of Television & Radio March 15 as president/CEO.

In addition, Christy Carpenter, a VP of the museum, has been named executive VP.

Mitchell’s contract with PBS expires in June, but she tells B&C that the search committee expects to have a candidate to replace her by the PBS board meeting in February.—J.E.

ErinMedia Files Second Suit Against Nielsen

Startup ratings company ErinMedia filed a lawsuit against ratings giant Nielsen Media Research Jan. 11 in Florida District Court in Tampa, alleging that false advertising by Nielsen is undercutting its business.

It is the second recent lawsuit that ErinMedia, which is building a service that would track TV viewership from data on cable set-top boxes, has filed against Nielsen. The earlier antitrust suit alleges that Nielsen’s monopolistic practices are inhibiting ErinMedia from starting up business and signing clients.

ErinMedia is asking the court to award unspecified damages. Nielsen had no comment.—Allison Romano

Graboff Named President of NBC U TV

Marc Graboff has been named president, NBC Universal Television, West Coast, overseeing day-to-day operations and administration for NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal TV Studio (NUTS).

Under a new reporting structure, Graboff, formerly executive VP of the NBC Universal Television Group, reports to Jeff Zucker, recently elevated to the group’s CEO post.

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and NUTS President Angela Bromstad will continue to report directly to Zucker on all creative and programming matters but will report to Graboff on all business, operational and administrative functions.—J.B.

Lifetime Launches Drop-Dish Campaign

Women’s net Lifetime has begun a five-city ad blitz to try to get Dish Network subscribers to switch to DirecTV and is getting help from DBS, cable, telco and even broadcast partners.

Locked in a bitter carriage dispute with the network (see Money Talks, page 17), Dish parent EchoStar on Dec. 31 dropped Lifetime and its movie network from Dish’s 12-million-subscriber DBS operation.

The Lifetime campaign asking viewers to “Take Back Your Lifetime” and “Switch From DISH,” includes TV, radio and print ads in Houston; Orlando, Fla.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Greenville, S.C. The broadcast partners include Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, Bright House, the broadcaster-backed multichannel DTV service USDTV, and Verizon’s FiOS multichannel video service.

Lifetime also sent an “open letter” to Dish CEO Charlie Ergen from 50 women’s groups, including the National Organization of Women and YWCA, asking that the networks be restored.—John Eggerton

Correction

Nielsen’s new measurement of same-day DVR viewership showed small increases but not as small as reported in a Flash item “No TiVolution at Nielsen” (1/9, p. 11). ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on Jan. 1 registered 40,000 more viewers, not 40. Likewise, all the other single- or double-digit increases noted were actually in thousands.

USA Renews 'Monk’

USA picked up a fifth and sixth season of its original hit series Monk, as well as rights to strip the show beginning in 2008, the network announced at its Television Critics Association press tour presentation.

The NBC Universal cable network has ordered 16 episodes for each of seasons five and six and will strip all six seasons, a total of 93 episodes, beginning in 2008. The show, about an obsessive-compulsive detective, is produced by NBC Universal Television Studio in association with Mandeville Films and Touchstone Television.

USA also unveiled a pilot for Underfunded, a one-hour drama about the Canadian Secret Service. Mather Zickel, best known on TV for his role on Comedy Central’s Reno 911!, has signed on for the starring role.

The network is also at work on The Great American Christmas, an unscripted holiday movie from Gary and Julie Auerbach, whose Go Go Luckey! production company produced MTV hit drama/reality show Laguna Beach and A&E’s current hybrid Rollergirls. Christmas, which is about six dysfunctional families during the holidays, is scheduled to run in December.

USA’s average 1.25 million viewers 18-49 in prime during the fourth quarter made it the top general- entertainment cable network.—A.B.

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