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Music Channel Ready To Rock

Universal looks to challenge MTV

Record company Universal Music is in
talks with EchoStar Communications Corp. to
create a challenger to MTV called
International Music Feed (IMF).

The new network could emerge from attempts to resolve a fight between
the two companies.

Industry executives say Universal is hoping to finalize a deal in time
to make a big push at the National Cable &
Telecommunications Association’s
annual convention in April.

Court documents show that the companies have stopped preparing for a
trial in favor of settling the suit that Universal filed in January 2005. On
the eve of IMF’s scheduled launch that month, EchoStar refused to add it to
the lineup of its Dish Network DBS
service.

Universal secured an injunction last April, forcing EchoStar to add
the network while they continued to fight it out in court. IMF has secured no
additional distribution. Universal and EchoStar would not comment.

The channel is led by Andy Schuon,
the onetime head of music programming for MTV. He got squeezed out in 1997, and
has bounced between radio and record-company ventures, including defunct
iTunes-wannabe Pressplay.

Record executives have long dreamed of owning a music-video channel on
which they’d showcase their artists and address music fans’ hunger for the
videos that MTV has moved away from. Previous efforts have been snagged by
antitrust issues and the fear that labels would put the best videos on their
own channels ahead of rival networks.

IMF will feature an array of international artists, including Latin
and Indian, and a hefty dose of American artists on various Universal labels,
such as Black Eyed Peas.

The dispute centers on a failed $1.5 billion investment in EchoStar by
Universal parent company Vivendi Universal in
2001, which gave Vivendi five channel slots on Dish Network. Vivendi’s go-go
days quickly ended and the company sold its stake back to EchoStar at a $500
million loss.

Its once ambitious channel plans faded, with IMF the sole
survivor.

KPMG Sees Phone Price Squeeze

Big telephone companies are trying to boost revenue by introducing
products and services, but many consumers may be unwilling to shell out money
for them, according to KPMG LLP, the audit,
tax and advisory firm.

That’s the conclusion of one of two new telecom studies by the
consulting arm of KPMG titled Consumers and
Convergence
, slated to be unveiled March 20 at the
TelecomNEXT conference in Las Vegas.
“Attempting to exploit converged services purely to squeeze more cash from
consumers on a traditional subscription model will not work,” says Carl
Geppert, a partner in KPMG’s Communications and Media Practice, in a summary
of the studies. The study say the firms must develop new business models.

One study surveyed telecom executives; the other queried 3,600
cellphone customers around the world. Among North American consumers that
responded, 37% said they would not pay a premium over and above their current
bill for converged services, and another 20% indicated that they would spend
only up to 10% more than their current bill. Geppert says in the report,
“Service providers should use enhanced and bundled services to deepen
customer relationships and allow other parties to reach users, delivering a
loyal subscriber base that is attractive to advertisers and digital commerce
partners.”—J.M.H.

CW, My Network TV Grab More Affils

The CW expanded its reach to 66% of
the U.S. last week, adding 27 stations Thursday, including a 10-year
affiliation deal with Pappas Telecasting
(encompassing six broadcast and three digital cable outlets) and 18 stations in
midlevel and small markets.

Meanwhile, Young Broadcasting’s
KRON San Francisco abandoned its status as an
independent station, agreeing to become an affiliate of Fox’s My Network TV.

KRON is the biggest My Network TV outlet so far not owned by the Fox
Television Group. San Francisco is the sixth-largest market.

My Network TV also announced it had added stations in 13 markets,
including ACME Communications’
KASY Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M., in the 46th
market.

With the clearance, My Network TV is now cleared in 52 markets
throughout the U.S., representing 51% of the nation. The network launches Sept.
5.

The deal is a further blow to Granite
Television
, whose KBWB San
Francisco is losing its affiliation with the demise of The WB but is losing out on a deal with either
successor, The CW or My Network TV.

The CW, which has already secured affiliation agreements in 19 of the
top 20 markets and 26 of the top 30, struck agreements with Pappas Telecasting
for WTWB Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem,
N.C.; KFRE Fresno-Visalia, Calif.; KPWB Des
Moines-Ames, Iowa; KXVO Omaha, Neb.; KWBL Lincoln–Hastings-Kearney, Neb.;
KREN Reno, Nev.; WLGA Columbus, Ga.;
KWUB (cable) Yuma-El Centro, Ariz.; and
KWPL (cable) North Platte, Neb.

The stations are in the No. 47, 56, 73, 75, 103, 112, 127, 170 and 209
markets, respectively, representing 2.6% of total U.S. TV households. WLGA is
the sole UPN affiliate; the other eight are affiliated with The WB.

None of the Pappas deals involve CW Plus (which covers markets 100 and
below), but the individual stations in the bottom markets were cleared as part
of an overall deal with CW Plus.

Meanwhile, two weeks after inking a deal to carry The CW on one of its
three stations in South Bend, Ind., Weigel
Broadcasting
is committing a second outlet to My Network TV. The
company’s independent WAAT will become a My
Network TV affiliate. To play off its branding, Weigel will change the
station’s name to WMYT.

Weigel operates an unusual triopoly in the market. WB affiliate
WMWB will become a CW station this fall, and
the company also owns the local ABC outlet, WBND.

—Jim Benson/Allison
Romano/J.M.H.

Discovery, NBC End Kids-Show Pact

Discovery and NBC are disbanding their partnership to program the
Saturday-morning Discovery Kids on NBC
programming block. Beginning in the fall, the Discovery-programmed and
-produced block of shows will no longer run on NBC. Instead, they will run
solely on the Discovery Kids channel, which is
in 43 million homes.

The two companies had had a four-year agreement for NBC to run the
kids shows, and both decided not to renew it, according to a Discovery
spokesperson who characterized the decision as “completely mutual” and
“based on the needs and priorities” of both parties.

Discovery, she said, will devote the resources previously spent on the
block to programming Discovery Kids. No word yet on what NBC plans to run on
Saturday mornings in the fall.—A.B.

Total Ad Spending Up 4.2% In 2005

Total advertising expenditures climbed 4.2% in 2005 over the previous
year, with Internet, Spanish-language TV and cable leading the way. Network and
spot TV, however, lagged behind.

The hottest ad category was online (jumping 23.3%), followed by
Spanish-language TV (up 16.9%) and cable (11%), according to a new report from
Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Network TV declined 1.5%, while spot TV in the top 100 Nielsen markets
was basically flat at 1% and off slightly in markets No.101-210, dipping 1.5%
from the previous year.—A.R.

Cartoon Captures 'Fantastic Four’

Cartoon Network will air
Marvel’s new animated
Fantastic
Four
series, which is targeted for a fall debut.

The series will be co-produced by Marvel and Moonscoop (Cartoon’s Code
Lyoko
). Fantastic Four, about
four superheroes, will combine 2D and 3D animation. The four—Mr. Fantastic,
Human Torch, The Invisible Woman and The Thing—were the subject of a 2005
theatrical film and a 1960s animated TV series.—J.E.

'Housewives’ Take Bite Out of Crime

The
Sopranos
’ sixth-season premiere attracted 9.5 million
total viewers and a 19.2 rating/25 share among HBO viewers, according to Nielsen
Media Research
. That was down from the show’s fifth-season
premiere in 2004, which earned 12.1 million total viewers and a 12.5 rating/18
share.

While the show still attracts a lot of buzz, it’s now competing
against ABC’s Desperate Housewives on Sunday
nights.—A.B.

NBC Greenlights 'Kidnapped’

NBC gave an early greenlight to 13
episodes of new serialized drama Kidnapped for the fall schedule. NBC
Entertainment President Kevin Reilly says the
network now has three new series commitments.

Kidnapped, starring
Dana Delany and Timothy
Hutton
, centers on the kidnapping of the son of a wealthy New York
couple. The entire season follows the kidnapping.

The show is from Sony Pictures
Television
and 25C Productions.
Executive producers are Jason Smilovic
(Karen Sisco), Michael
Dinner
(Invasion),
Sarah Timberman and Carl
Beverly
.—Ben Grossman

Indecency Bill Awaits Valenti Report

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman
Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) says he will not decide
when or how to proceed on a Senate version of a bill boosting
FCC indecency fines until after he hears from
Jack Valenti. Valenti, the former
Motion Picture Association of America
president, who is devising a campaign to revamp TV ratings and promote parental
control of content, is scheduled to report to the committee in late April or
early May.

An aide says Stevens will “wait and evaluate how well the industry
solutions [such as family-friendly tiers] and the FCC’s current regulations
are working.”—J.E.

Crawford Moves Up At ABC News

Sonya Crawford has been tapped as an
ABC News network correspondent. The move was
announced last week by ABC News President David
Westin
.

In her new role, Crawford will be an overnight and early-morning
anchor for World News Now and
World News This Morning, along with
Good Morning America and digital channel
ABC News Now. She will continue to be based in
Washington.

Previously, Crawford was a reporter for NewsOne, ABC’s affiliate news service. She joined the
network in 2002. Prior to that, she was a reporter and substitute anchor for
KNBC Los Angeles.—Rebecca Stropoli

NCTA, Disney Blast À La Carte

The National Cable & Telecommunications
Association
and Walt Disney Co.
unveiled their own independent à la carte studies last week refuting
FCC Chairman Kevin
Martin
’s study released last month.

“We’ve been to à la carte, we know it doesn’t work,”
said Preston Padden, executive VP, government
relations, for Disney.

Martin’s study was itself a refutation of an earlier FCC study that
concluded that mandating à la carte, or per-channel cable service, would
upset cable’s economic model without producing the purported benefits. The
Martin-commissioned study concluded, instead, that the original study was
flawed and that à la carte was workable.

Ovcr the year that the FCC chief has been in office, he has pushed for
family-friendly cable tiers and à la carte offerings to allow parents to
better control the programming that comes into their home, particularly the
“indecent” content that activist groups have been complaining loudly about,
as well as the price of that programming.

Padden pointed to a banner behind him—at a press conference at the
National Press Club releasing the
studies—that read “À La Carte: Consumers Pay More for Less.”

—John Eggerton

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