Fast Track

Operator plans horror channel with Sony

Comcast Gets Creepy

Comcast and Sony Pictures Entertainment want to scare up subscribers for their first jointly owned programming service: a horror network. The ad-supported channel (yet unnamed) is slated to launch, fittingly, Oct. 31 as an Internet service and video-on-demand (VOD) on Comcast On Demand, with plans to add wireless later. There are no current plans for a linear channel.

The service is an outgrowth of the sale of MGM. Sony and Comcast, with private-equity investors, took control of the studio last year. As part of the deal, they will build cable networks using the Sony and MGM libraries. Comcast will manage any new channels under President of Emerging Networks Diane Robina. Robina and Sony Pictures Television President Steve Mosko plan to unveil the network at the NCTA National Show.

Initial content will be movie and TV thrillers. The Internet component will feature horror-film outtakes, music downloads, and original animation. The wireless channel will feature scary ringtones, sound effects and more.

Fox Goes 'On the Lot’

Fox has unveiled On the Lot, a reality-competition show from Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg that will feature aspiring directors and filmmakers vying for a DreamWorks studio-development deal.

The show will air over two nights each week and will be ready for next season. It will take film-industry wannabes from across the U.S. to Hollywood and split them into teams. Every week, each team will produce a short film from a designated genre, with one of the group members serving as director.

The films will be screened in front of a live audience and critiqued by a panel of judges. Like American Idol, viewers’ votes will determine which of the films is least popular and will be eliminated. The show is produced by Mark Burnett Productions, DreamWorks Television and Amblin Television.—Ben Grossman

Media General Buys Four NBC Stations

The station-deal market continued to show strength as Media General put a healthy valuation on four properties it agreed to buy from NBC.

The $600 million price tag comes to around 14 times trailing annual cash flow, very strong given the slack overall market for station operations and their stocks.

That’s about the amount NBC executives had hoped to fetch when they hired investment bank UBS to shop the stations three months ago. The properties are the smallest in the NBC portfolio: WJAR Providence, R.I.; WNCN Raleigh, N.C.; WCMH Columbus, Ohio; and WVTM Birmingham, Ala. An executive familiar with the deal says the auction attracted around 15 bidders, a mix of current station owners and private-equity firms.

The stations generate about $120 million in annual revenue and $42 million in average operating cash flow. That’s a 35% cash-flow margin, much lower than the 50% average for NBC owned-and-operated stations.

NBC Stations President Jay Ireland says the company is pruning the smaller stations to focus on larger markets, where it can add a station to create a duopoly, or a strong Hispanic market, where it would buy a station to bolster NBC’s Telemundo operation.

To comply with FCC ownership limits, Media General plans to sell several of its existing stations, including its CBS affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., as well as CBS outlets KWCH Wichita, Kan.; KIMT Mason City, Iowa; and WDEF Chattanooga, Tenn.

—John M. Higgins/Allison Romano

My Network TV, The CW Update

Looking to brand itself as a full-fledged network, Fox-owned startup service My Network TV is planning a morning upfront presentation for May 16 to drum up interest and bring ad dollars to its new prime time program offerings.

Its initial 13-week prime time schedule consists of two stripped telenovelas, Desire and Secret Obsessions, airing six nights a week.

Meanwhile, rival new network The CW signed seven more affiliates last week to push its coverage to 76% of the country. Four Freedom Communications stations and three Lockwood Broadcasting-owned stations will carry the network.

The Freedom digital affiliates are WWMT Grand Rapids, Mich.; KFDM Beaumont, Texas; KTVL Medford, Ore; and WLAJ Lansing, Mich. The Lockwood stations are WUPV Richmond, Va.; WHDF Huntsville, Ala.; and KTEN Sherman, Texas.

Also last week, The CW ordered a new sitcom pilot, Aliens in America, likely for midseason.

The show, from writers Moses Port and David Guarascio (Just Shoot Me, Mad About You), is a buddy comedy about a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan who lands in Wisconsin. It is expected to be a companion to Chris Rock-inspired hit Everybody Hates Chris. Both new networks plan to launch in September.—A.R.

'Behrendt’ Taps Two EPs

Veteran reality producer Dan Jbara has been named executive producer of SonyPictures Television’s upcoming fall syndicated talker, The Greg Behrendt Show.

Additionally, Janelle Fiorito, with a long list of reality and talk-show credits, will serve as co-executive producer of the strip, helmed by the relationship guru who helped pen He’s Just Not That Into You.—Jim Benson

SPJ Opposes NFL Camera Ban

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is the latest group to oppose the NFL’s decision to restrict sideline coverage of NFL games by TV stations.

In letters to NFL team owners and government officials in NFL cities, SPJ took issue with a policy the league billed as protecting game rights-holders.

The NFL told the National Press Photographers Association the move is to protect exclusive NFL video from unauthorized use on the Internet. The league, however, is notorious about controlling its image and limiting the sources of video. The league also controls post-game interviews and any antics that occur during games.

The Radio-Television News Directors Association and the National Association of Broadcasters have also expressed their strong opposition to the ban.—John Eggerton/A.R.

Lifetime Gets 'Desperate’

Lifetime is poised to pick up reruns of Buena Vista’s Desperate Housewives for about $500,000 per hour-long episode. The women’s cable network will begin running the show in fall 2008—likely stripping it on weeknights and repurposing new episodes after they air on ABC, according to a source close to the deal. Lifetime, which has not yet finalized the deal, declined to comment.

Lifetime passed on the original series before it ended up on ABC and will pay less for Housewives reruns than it did for Frasier, which recently joined its schedule in reruns. Reports put the price Lifetime shelled out for each episode of the half-hour comedy at $600,000.—A.B.

Activists Out Video News Releases

Free Press and The Center For Media and Democracy, in a complaint to the FCC, say stations have been airing corporate video news releases (VNRs) without identifying them.

The report, “Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed,” found 98 instances at 77 stations in which VNRs—36 in all—were used without identification and in some cases with station graphics added to brand the stories.

Unidentified corporate VNRs are not against FCC rules, unless they are on political or controversial topics. Most of the examples were about child safety, shopping advice, holiday stories, food tips and toys, but there were a couple of medical “breakthrough” stories provided by drug companies.—J.E.