Fast Track


MTV Favors 'URL' Swap for 'TRL'

By Anne Becker

New name aims for digitally savvy youth

MTV has narrowed in on a name for its struggling Total Request Live show, or TRL: the more Web-friendly URL.

Executives have been working on the ratings-challenged video-countdown show, once MTV's biggest audience draw, for months in an effort to make it more attractive to today's digitally savvy youth, and they plan to unveil a revamped version this summer. The move comes as the music channel faces pressure to please a young audience increasingly happy to consume its video online.

A play on the technical term for a Web address—”uniform resource locator”—URL invokes the Internet and fits the current trend of stressing personalization in naming digital projects (think News Corp.'s MySpace, Google's YouTube and sister network Nickelodeon's programming block ME:TV). MTV's Hispanic-targeted digital-cable cousin—MTV Tr3s—calls its similar video-countdown show Mi TRL, or My TRL in English.

While the show is still in development, URL is the leading title, an MTV spokesperson confirmed. MTV executives have said that, when the show relaunches, online participation will be key.

TRL, launched in 1998, has fallen steeply in the ratings since its peak of 782,000 daily viewers in 1999 as its target 12-17 audience is distracted by ever more options for watching video online. The show averages about 375,000 viewers a day right now, according to Nielsen Media Research, and in March began taping two days a week to save money.

MTV in general has struggled to maintain its dominance as the definitively hip brand for teens as social-networking hubs like MySpace and avant-garde online video sites compete for its viewers' affinity. But executives at the network have worked to solve that problem by introducing shows heavy on user-generated content and Websites tied to its existing TV series.

Valenti Dies at 85

Jack Valenti, former president of the Motion Picture Association of America who was tapped by embattled media companies to promote their V-chip/TV ratings system, died last week in Washington at age 85. He had suffered a stroke last month.

Valenti was a natural to head up the TV-ratings education effort given his standing with top legislators, his eloquence as an elder statesmen on media issues, and his passion for freedom of expression.

He is credited with creating the movie-ratings system some four decades ago to ward off government regulation of that medium. He had since become a leading defender of artistic freedom and an opponent of government intervention in content.

Valenti's successor, Dan Glickman, described Valenti as “a giant who loomed large over two of the world's most glittering stages: Washington and Hollywood. He was a patriot who loved and served his country, and he was a passionate champion of American cinema and artistic freedom. He was truly a model for us all.

Barry Meyer, chairman of Warner Bros., said, “Jack Valenti was a true leader and gentleman whose wit, fire and passion for our business inspired everyone regardless of politics or opinion, background or belief. Jack's love for his country and the entertainment industry was only overshadowed by his love for his family and the many charitable organizations to which he was devoted.”

Valenti's place in history was established before he took up the standard of the motion-picture industry. He came to the movie post as the former special assistant to the president, the start date of that job speaking volumes: Nov. 22, 1963. Valenti was on the trip to Dallas with then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson. A longtime supporter and occasional speechwriter and campaigner for Johnson, Valenti had been asked to plan a portion of the Texas swing for Johnson and President Kennedy.

Valenti was in the motorcade, then famously in the picture when Johnson was sworn in as president after Kennedy's assassination. He was asked to join Johnson's administration and stayed for two years before joining MPAA in 1966.

Valenti was born Sept. 5, 1921, in Houston. He graduated from the University of Houston in 1946, after service as a pilot in the Army Air Corp during World War II, and added a Harvard MBA in 1948. He was an ad executive in Texas from 1951 until 1963, when he joined Johnson's staff. —John Eggerton

Derby GetsRed-Carpet Special

NBC Sports and NBC Universal's syndicated Access Hollywood are teaming up for a first-ever red carpet special prior to this year's Kentucky Derby on May 5.

Beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC will air a 30-minute special featuring the parties, celebrities and fashion surrounding the first leg of horseracing's Triple Crown.

While red-carpet regulars Joan and Melissa Rivers are available after being let go by TV Guide Channel recently, NBC will forego that temptation and use its own talent for the special. Among the hosts are Access Hollywood reporter Shaun Robinson and NBC Sports' Tom Hammond.

Access Hollywood will be in Louisville all week covering the parties and celebrities on hand for the event. —Ben Grossman

Ski Channel in '08

Steve Bellamy has a new racquet. Only this one looks more like a snowshoe.

The founder and former president of the Tennis Channel has a long-term carriage deal with Time Warner for The Ski Channel, a digital VOD service he says will launch in first quarter 2008.

The channel's programming, which will be almost all original, according to Bellamy, will cover much more than skiing, extending to mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking, climbing, and just about anything else people are inclined to do on, well, an incline, as well as a few off-mountain activities: camping, kayaking, etc.

The $10 billion resort business is a natural for the channel, he says, adding that skiing is the premiere mountain activity and one where “you have to travel, you have to rent a hotel room, and you have to take a plane or ground transportation,” all of which are potential clients for the ad-supported channel.

Charter advertisers Panasonic, Mirage Resorts, Fender Guitars and Marquis Jets are already lined up, Bellamy says.—John Eggerton

Ovation Revamps For DirecTV Debut

The Hubbard Media Group-backed Ovation arts channel is changing its name, its look and its programming when it launches on DirecTV in June. The network will be called Ovation TV and will take on the tagline “Make Life Creative.”

On weeknights, it will run acquired fare in blocks on various aspects of the arts: for example, performance, visual arts, music and film. Weekends will feature short- and long-form originals the network says it is developing.

Ovation will also launch and video-on-demand offerings including content from local arts organizations. In part to appeal to cable operators, the network is establishing content partnerships with arts institutions, including New York's Harlem School of the Arts and Los Angeles' P.S. Arts.

Launching on DirecTV June 20 will bring the network's distribution from 5.7 million subscribers to over 15 million. Hubbard Broadcasting has invested $56.5 million in the long-struggling venture. Hubbard has a deal for three channels on DirecTV.—Anne Becker

Lifetime's Cohen Out, Wong In

By Anne Becker

ABC reality/late-night chief Andrea Wong became Lifetime's new president/CEO as Betty Cohen resigned from the post last week, a day after she presided over the network's annual upfront show.

Wong, executive VP of alternative programming, specials and late-night at ABC Entertainment since 2004, topped a short list of candidates said to be under consideration for the gig. Her experience is mainly in programming, having brought ABC some of its biggest reality hits like The Bachelor and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Lifetime parents Disney and Hearst moved swiftly in appointing Wong the day after Cohen resigned. With three dramas launching this summer, a vacant chief marketing slot and the ongoing upfront season, Lifetime would have been hard-pressed to go on for long without a new leader in place.

Wong, who will spend most of her time in New York, cited filling the marketing executive VP job as her first priority. The job has been open since former McCann Erickson executive Martha Pease left Lifetime in March, after nearly a quarter of her staff of about 70 people had departed, insiders say.

Other priorities Wong named were familiarizing herself with new Lifetime programming already in development and working to “broaden the brand.”

As president/CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services, she is charged with overseeing all aspects of the flagship women's channel, as well as its sister networks LMN and Lifetime Real Women and their digital extensions. That includes ad sales, marketing and affiliate relations.

Once the most-watched cable network among men and women, Lifetime is No. 8 in total viewers, fell 17% in its core women 18-49 demo last year and saw its first revenue dip ever.