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Comedy Central Buys HBO Standup

Cable network picks up 23 titles from library

By Anne Becker

Viacom's Comedy Central has signed a major licensing deal with Time Warner's HBO, picking up 23 titles from the pay-cable network's library of standup specials. The deal is the third of its kind for the two networks, corporate cousins until Viacom bought Time Warner's half of Comedy in 2003. Neither party would comment on pricing, but the price per title was estimated by insiders to be similar to that on the first two deals.

Under the new deal, Comedy gets access to eight recent HBO comedy special titles beginning Jan. 1, 2008. They feature Chris Rock, Lewis Black, Dane Cook, George Lopez, Louis CK, Cedric the Entertainer, Dennis Miller and Rosanne Barr. The comedy channel will be able to run the specials just over a year after their HBO premiere, a shorter window than it had on the first two deals and a potential boon to the network. Comedy has also re-licensed 15 library titles from HBO, bringing to 202 the number of titles it currently has under license from HBO.

Comedy and HBO have had a content-licensing relationship since 2004, when they signed a deal for Comedy to access 138 titles from HBO's standup library. In 2005, they signed another deal for 41 titles, including specials by Ellen DeGeneres and Whoopi Goldberg. Those titles began running on Comedy at the beginning of 2007.

The deal benefits both parties' programming strategies: While HBO helps its bottom line by selling product to other cable networks, Comedy rounds out its own slate of comedy specials.

"If you look at the TV landscape and you're talking about cable, you're talking about Comedy Central in basic cable and HBO in pay," says Comedy Senior VP of Programming Dave Bernath. "They have been a leader in producing great standup for years, and it's something we do very well. So for us, it's just a great opportunity to tap into all of their original production."

Says Scott Carlin, president, domestic distribution, HBO, "We have a great relationship and a wonderful business with them. They're the ideal client for the comedy specials we put out and one of the only ones that has a perpetual appetite on this scale."

Markey Tackles Kids Programming

Some educational children's programming won't count toward a TV station's three-hour minimum of such programming per week, and fast-food and snack-food ads will be banned from kids shows by the FCC. Those are two suggestions House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) made to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and commissioners Deborah Tate and Michael Copps.

The three commissioners were instrumental in the creation of the Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity, a government/private-industry partnership on ways to combat childhood obesity through changes in the media's marketing of snack and fast foods.

Markey wants to make sure that the task force is effective. Though praising "purely voluntary steps," he said he doesn't think "sprinkling public-service announcements for exercise and good nutrition into an avalanche of television advertising for unhealthy foods will be adequate." Actually, the media effort goes beyond that to include exercise initiatives and pledges by major advertisers to reduce the number of snack and fast-food ads in kids shows and to use iconic characters like SpongeBob to sell spinach and other veggies.

Markey said the FCC has the authority and the "affirmative obligation" to "examine whether placing limitations on certain food advertising to children would further the public interest."

He suggests that, unless there is a "dramatic and swift elimination of advertisements for junk food" during kids shows, the FCC should reduce the number of commercial minutes allowed—currently capped at 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 on weekends—and discount educational shows from counting toward a station's FCC-friendly quotas.

"If a 'core' educational program tells kids to eat healthy foods and exercise, but the advertisements aired during the program encourage them to eat Twinkies and Fruit Loops," he argues, "the ads have the potential to undercut the educational and informative value."

—John Eggerton

Xbox Seeks First Original TV Content

Microsoft and the New York Television Festival (NYTF) have unveiled a competition to create the first original TV programming for Xbox LIVE, an online community that delivers games and TV shows to the Xbox console.

While 1,500 hours worth of TV shows and movies including The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Dukes of Hazard are already available through such partners as Comedy Central, CBS, The CW and Cartoon Network, this will be the first original TV content available on Xbox Online.

The company is sponsoring a contest with the prize of $100,000 to makes a pilot and a six-episode commitment.

Would-be Xbox (TV) programmers have until June 29 to submit a five- to 15-minute pilot, and the finalists will get play on Xbox Live Marketplace's VOD service. A winner will be picked at the end of June, with the pilot showcased at the NYTF in the fall. —John Eggerton

FCC: How Are We Doing?

The FCC wants to know whether its educational criteria for FCC-friendly kids shows need some work.

Just a day after House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey had questions for the FCC about its enforcement of the Children's Television Act, the commission has asked broadcasters for input on the Act.

Commission Democrats have been pushing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to complete inquiries and come up with ground rules for digital-TV obligations.

The commission came up with rules for digital kids TV in concert with broadcasters and children's-TV advocates, but those were essentially about the number of hours stations had to air, the number of ads they could air in the shows, and the limits on marketing to kids via associated Websites.

The inquiry, which it promised as part of the digital kids rule order and issued April 17 by the FCC, asks a host of questions about the content of educational shows.—John Eggerton

FCC To Study Digital Must Carry

The FCC has released its agenda for its April 25 meeting, and it includes a proposal that would essentially require cable to carry stations in both analog and digital after the February 2009 transition to digital broadcasting.

Cable currently has to carry only the digital signal after the transition, but that could mean analog cable customers might not get the signal.

John Eggerton

'Office' on YouTube

Online activist group Avazz, co-founded by MoveOn.org, has posted a video on YouTube, borrowing liberally from NBC's The Office. The parody targets World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who is under fire for helping a girlfriend with some office perks.

MoveOn could be testing the waters after it sued Viacom for allegedly requesting a YouTube parody of the Colbert Report be taken down. Viacom, which has asked that 160,000 videos be removed for copyright violations, says it reserves the right to determina on what use is fair.

Fair use—which allows limited use of copyrighted material for news, education, criticism or parody—is a key doctrine for groups like MoveOn.

Correction

Media General's WNCT is the CBS affiliate in Greenville, N.C. In B&C's ranking of the Top 25 station groups (4/16, p. 60), its location was incorrectly identified.

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