In the Loop

Outfoxing AMC

Is Time Warner trying to fire a shot across AMC's bow? The cable operator is looking to give broader and more prominent distrbution to Fox Movie Channel, adding up to 1 million subscribers. AMC and Time Warner are in court over the MSO's complaint that, by switching from old movies to newer ones and selling commercials, what had been American Movie Classics is no longer supplying a channel that Time Warner had contracted for.

Time Warner may drop Fox Movies from digital tiers in many systems to widely distributed analog packages. The 25 million-subscriber Fox Movies has a mix of newer and old movies from the 20th Century Fox library.

Asked about the move, Fox Cable distribution chief Lindsay Gardner wouldn't confirm any details, saying only, "We're happy for any additional carriage."—J.M.H.

A Beef Over Barter

Meredith President Kevin O'Brien wants broadcasters to resist syndicators' efforts to get more barter time in shows that don't draw high license fees. Specifically, he has a beef with Twentieth Television, which is offering Yes, Dear (right) and Ambush Makeover for low cash license fees but a 5/2 barter split. That gives the studio an extra 30 seconds of ad time in each show. "We must draw a line in the sand," he says. "The barter marketplace has gotten too big and is taking money out of the spot market. We are shooting ourselves in the foot or, if things continue, in the head."

Twentieth says it's just doing what it must to finance its shows. "Striking an acceptable balance between cash license fees and barter split to create an attractive economic package is what we strive for with all of our products," says Bob Cook, president of Twentieth Television. —K.M., P.A.

Import Battle

Senators Orrin Hatch (below) and Patrick Leahy, leaders of the Judiciary Committee, have indicated that they want to quickly reauthorize the law limiting DBS providers' ability to import network signals when Congress reconvenes next year. That's probably wishful thinking.

The law expires in 2004 and has long been a source of friction between broadcasters and satellite providers. It allows DBS companies to deliver out-of-town network signals to viewers who can't get a good signal from their local affiliate. Satellite companies often prefer to deliver a few imported signals to a large region rather than offering many local channels to separate markets.

Despite lawmakers' hope for quick renewal, EchoStar's Charlie Ergen has indicated that he will fight for changes broadcasters are sure to oppose. In October, he told SkyForum that DBS should be allowed to import HDTV network signals to more customers because many stations are transmitting low-power digital signals that don't reach their entire market. Currently, the law isn't more lenient toward importing digital signals.—B.M.

Asleep at the Wheel

The White House-brokered deal to set the national TV-ownership cap at 39% of television homes isn't the only measure affecting the industry to be wedged into the gigantic catch-all spending bill passed by the House last week. The bill also exempts TV- and movie-production crews from new federal rules limiting how long truck drivers can stay on the road without stopping to sleep. Fox News unsuccessfully petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for an exemption after a 14-hour workday was imposed in April. A Fox Washington lobbyist, however, denied any role in securing the legislative relief.—B.M.

Scheduling Conflict

Attendance of TV-group heads may be sparser at NATPE in Las Vegas Jan.18-20. Many are already committed to attend the NAB's annual winter board meeting Jan. 17-21 in Key Biscayne, Fla. Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations and one of 21 members NAB TV Board, says NAB alerted NATPE to the potential conflict last June. The response: "It's not a big deal. Don't worry about it." But now, he says, NATPE is asking group heads, "Why aren't you coming?" NATPE says it had originally scheduled its show a week earlier but had to move it because of room availability.—K.M.