Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

Fast Track

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Telcos Score Big on House Franchising BillHubbard Launches
Network

Senate prepares to weigh in Reelz will cover the A to Z of
movies

The House of Representatives passed a
bill last week that would ease telcos' entry into the TV business by
establishing a nationwide franchising system.

The bill, which could give more oversight to the FCC, is far less
restrictive than current rules governing cable operators, which must seek
approval from local governments. If the bill becomes law, all video players
could eventually seek a national franchise.

The bill, passed by a vote of 321-101—including a majority of both
Republicans (215-8) and Democrats (106-92)—made good on a promise by
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman
Joe Barton (R-Texas) that video franchise
would pass in the House.

In a big victory for the phone companies, a strong network-neutrality
amendment introduced by Sen. Ed Markey
(D-Mass.) was defeated 269-152, with all but 11 Republicans voting against and
58 Democrats joining them.

A vast majority—353-58—opted for an amendment by
Lamar Smith (R-Texas), which says simply that
granting FCC authority to adjudicate network-neutrality complaints does not
affect applicable antitrust laws.

Two-thirds of Democrats voted for the amendment, as well as all but
one Republican. One disappointed Democrat suggested that voting for it was a
way to appear to have supported net neutrality without having to do so.

Amendments adopted also provide a means to resolve franchise-fee
disputes; give localities more muscle in consumer-protection complaints; boost
to $750,000 per day the penalty for denial of access to service because of
income (it had been $500,000); and confirm the FCC's ability to add cable
phone service (VoIP) to those who must pay into a fund (the
Universal Service Fund) to help underwrite
communications services for rural and underserved areas.

Barton also amended the bill to clarify what constitutes a franchise
area and to say that franchisees must comply with existing cable regulations,
save those excepted in the new bill.

The Senate plans to hold a hearing June 13 and a markup June 20 on its
version. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman
Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has said he may amend
his latest draft after seeing the House bill. Congress has until the end of
July to get a bill to President Bush, although it could pass in lame-duck
session.

Cartoon Makes Summer Splash

For the first time, Cartoon Network
will run primetime premieres of original series six nights a week this summer.
Beginning June 12, Cartoon will debut an episode of one of its homegrown series
at 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and fill nearly all primetime hours with
originals, rather than the library content previously programmed.

At 7 p.m., Cartoon will debut episodes of original series such as
Camp Lazlo;
Ed, Edd n
Eddy
and Squirrel Boy, which joins in July. The rest
of prime will feature reruns of Cartoon originals, except for 9:30 p.m.
episodes of Xiaolin
Showdown
, a series that ran on Kids
WB
.

Until 1999, the Turner-owned network
programmed about 99% of prime with library content from the
Time Warner Animation Library: classics
including Tom and Jerry
and Scooby-Doo. To
promote its summer shows, it's launching a multimillion-dollar campaign, its
biggest ever, say executives, devoted to the popular characters in its
original.—Anne Becker

Dozier Returns To U.S. for Treatment

CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier,
who was critically injured on Memorial Day in a roadside attack in Iraq,
returned to the U.S. last week for more treatment.

Dozier sustained severe head and leg injuries in the attack that also
killed two CBS News crew members, soundman
James Brolan and cameraman
Paul Douglas. She will be treated at
Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland,
where ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug
Vogt
were treated.—Allison
Romano

Tribune Sticks to $2B Buyback Plan

Amid board turmoil and speculation that it will spin off its TV
stations, Tribune Co. vowed to proceed with a
planned $2 billion stock buyback.

The plan—which accounts for a massive 25% of the company's
shares—was thrown into doubt after the company disclosed that it is opposed
by the Chandler family, which sold the
Times Mirror Co. to Tribune in 2000 in
exchange for stock in the company.

The Wall Street
Journal
reports that the three directors appointed by
Chandler Trust want Tribune to spin off or sell its TV-station division, which
contributes around 27% of the company's $5.5 billion in revenues.

Tribune said in a statement that the plan was “approved by a clear
majority of its board of directors as being in the best interests of all
shareholders.” The buyback is scheduled for June 26.—John M. Higgins

Grogin Upped at Fox

Fox Broadcasting's
Scott Grogin has been promoted from VP to
senior VP, corporate communications. He continues to oversee business and
tactical communications strategies and serve as primary liaison to trade,
financial and business media.—Ben
Grossman

Hubbard Launches Network

After seven years of gestation, Hubbard
Broadcasting
is finally getting a startup cable network on-air that
will focus on the movie world.

Reelz Channel (previously dubbed
Moviewatch) is slated to launch in September with an enormous subscriber base
of 26 million homes. Most cable networks start with fewer than 10 million homes
and spend a few years trying to build their base and struggling to lure
advertisers.

But Reelz could come out of the gate already at the level considered
large enough to attract attention from some advertisers.

Reelz aims to cover movie-related subjects and include actors,
directors, behind-the-scenes looks at new and older pictures, and reviews. It
will be less overtly celebrity-oriented than E! and less arty than IFC.

Stanley E. Hubbard, son of Hubbard
Broadcasting founder Stanley H. Hubbard, has
been working on the channel for years, hiring former CBS and USA Network
executive Rob Perth as president back in
1999.

Reelz secured deals with DirecTV and
Insight Communications in 2003, but Hubbard
says that he didn't want to launch the channel until he secured broad
distribution.

“Where a lot of these new networks get into trouble is, they launch
before they have critical mass,” Hubbard says. “We've held on because the
idea is right; the industry is ready for it.”

Reelz will be slotted on digital tiers and will be almost entirely
dependent on advertising, with cable operators paying small or no license fees.

Quick Turn for 'Anatomy'

Buena Vista Television (BVT) was
silent last week, but cable execs say it has added a repurposing window to
Grey's
Anatomy
that, starting in January, will allow the
Touchstone hit drama to run on cable a few
days after its ABC run.

Bids for the repurposing and off-net rights for
Anatomy closed Friday; BVT is said to have
been seeking $2 million per episode under an all-cash, four-year licensing
deal—with no cap on the number of seasons.

The syndication deal would start in 2009, with the repurposed episodes
obviously airing sooner than that.

Some in cable think the final episodic price will be closer to
$700,000, while others estimate that it could end up at more than $1
million.

BVT's Desperate
Housewives
recently went to Lifetime for a 2008 start at $500,000 per episode. BVT
initially sought $1.2 million for the Marc
Cherry
hit without a cable repurposing window, which was added
later.

The Disney syndicator is looking to
target Anatomy at Turner networks or USA,
ABC Family and, perhaps, Oxygen; it has also approached cable buyers about
acquiring off-network episodes of cancelled ABC sitcom Hope &
Faith
.—Jim
Benson

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