Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

Fast Track

ATAS mails IRS warnings this week
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All Stars on the Hook

When reports surfaced last week about the dreaded letter from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) reminding Emmy presenters that they must pay taxes on gift bags, some stars may have thought they were off the hook.

Only a small percentage of presenters received the letters, so ATAS isn’t footing the federal, state and local tax bills for the gifts—valued at $27,000-$33,000 last year—when they come due.

But they shouldn’t start popping champagne corks. An ATAS rep tells B&C that every Primetime Emmy presenter at Sunday’s NBC awards show left off the first mailing list will be officially notified of his or her tax obligations this week. Presenters at the recent Creative Arts ceremony had all previously been served.

Since the only Emmy participants getting a tax break are the vendors donating the hefty perks, that leaves two options: donating the gifts to charity or keeping the bounty, which has included Dooney & Bourke luggage and Dove chocolates.

The Emmy swag pales in comparison with the 2006 Academy Award gift bags, estimated at $100,000 apiece.

Late last week, the IRS and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) reached a settlement on the issue. The Academy agreed to send 1099 tax forms to recipients of swag this year and pay back taxes for previous gift-giving. AMPAS also revealed that, in April, it discontinued its decades-long tradition of handing out gifts, which had been done in lieu of appearance fees.

The IRS now intends to turn its attention to other award organizations, including ATAS and the Golden Globe organization, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which may also do away with gift bags. ATAS is still looking at its options.

“This has become big business for companies promoting their products,” IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson says. “We just want to make sure no one crashes into the tax code.”

So actors Charlie and Martin Sheen, presenting together for the first time, will also set another precedent by receiving father-son tax bills. Other presenters scheduled for the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards include Candice Bergen, Ray Liotta, Simon Cowell, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow and Bob Newhart. Cowell will also be at the helm of the telecast’s special tribute to Dick Clark.

FCC To Probe VNRs

Following up on a complaint by advocate groups Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy, the FCC sent out more than three dozen letters of inquiry to broadcast-license holders about video news releases. Also known as VNRs, these are segments or news stories that are part of sponsored packages, and they must be identified as such.

The letters, which went out to 77 license holders, were intended to determine whether audiences were being deliberately misled by the VNRs because the stations did not identify them. Offending stations could be slapped with a $32,500 fine for each violation and could even lose their licenses as a result, according to Section 507 of the Communications Act.

WNBC Airs NYC Fare

New York City’s “official” TV channel, the city-owned NYC TV, will air a rotation of some of its most popular shows from 11 a.m. to noon on WNBC, as well as on WNBC’s digital channel.

The new block of programming will follow Martha Stewart’s talk show, which is moving to 10 a.m. The new schedule takes effect Sept. 4, the day WNBC switches The Ellen DeGeneres Show from the 10 a.m. spot to 4 p.m., where she’ll take on The Oprah Winfrey Show on WABC.

The deal offers a cheap way for WNBC to program an hour of daytime programming. For the station, it’s also a clever way to get local programming on the air without having to pay for it. NYC TV shows have won 14 local Emmy Awards since 2003.

The programs that will show up on WNBC include $9.99, a series about how to enjoy New York City on the cheap; Blueprint NYC, about the history of interesting and significant architecture, and Eat Out NY, highlighting city restaurants.

New episodes of those shows will continue to air on NYC TV (although some new ones will premiere on WNBC).

The NYC TV block will end in December, when NBC stations begin running iVillage Live, a new daytime entry spun out of the Website for women. NBC Universal owns the Website.

More Than Streaming

CBS has big digital plans for Couric

With just weeks until Katie Couric’s Sept. 5 debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News, the network and its star are revealing new details about the broadcast.

In a network first, the newscast will be simulcast on-air and on its Website, CBSNews.com. The online edition will be free and ad-supported

CBS is further bolstering Evening News on the Web with Couric & Company, a blog; Eye to Eye, a daily, five-minute, afternoon on-demand Web/iTunes program; CBS News First Look With Katie Couric, a weekday, Web preview of the nightly newscast; and Katie Couric’s Notebook, a minute-long podcast on a top issue.

As for the content of the show, Couric says Evening News may forgo some news of the day to give viewers more in-depth reports on a few stories.

“We can give people a deeper understanding,” Couric said last week at a small gathering with reporters.

Under Couric, who is the program’s managing editor, Evening News will also beef up its medical and health coverage. In a first, the newscast will feature on-air commentaries in a segment called Free Speech. Interim anchor Bob Schieffer will be a regular.

One thing Couric will not do is automatically race into every war zone and natural disaster. “I am not particularly interested in fronting a newscast from a particular location just because someone else is,” says Couric, the single mother of two young daughters. “Sometimes I think it is just competitive pressure.”

Streaming the news is one way CBS is making a play for younger viewers, who have largely abandoned evening news.

The simulcast is possible under a deal CBS hammered out with affiliates in June to share revenue from digital platforms. Online users will have to register, so the Evening News will not play online before it airs locally on TV in their market.

Neither NBC nor ABC simultaneously streams their newscasts, although each posts the programs after they run. Both networks also offer Web-only news programs.

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