Robbins on Regs

Get the government to regulate cable sports nets? Cox Communications CEO Jim Robbins (below) says no. Although he says tiering expensive sports nets or selling them à la carte would ease pressure on basic rates, he told an NCTA crowd two weeks ago that he opposes a government mandate to do so.

Still, at a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing on cable prices, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Robbins, "If you believe that à la carte or multi-tiered pricing would benefit consumers ... do you believe that Congress should mandate it?" Robbins's response? "I'd like to see the marketplace work, and, if the marketplace isn't working, then we are in a position where we're going to have a train wreck, and I would not like to see a train wreck."

A Cox spokeswoman said there is no conflict between the two statements, and Robbins would not be the first to navigate a convoluted linguistic course around a tough congressional question. Another cable executive's take was that Robbins didn't quite suggest regulation "but it's as close as you can get to not saying it but sounding like you mean it."—J.M.H.

Selling Seacrest Nationwide

Twentieth Television has cleared Live With Ryan Seacrest, its new syndicated strip featuring the host of Fox's American Idol
and American Juniors
, in 50% of the country, including the co-owned Fox owned-and-operated stations, Grupa Televisa's Fox affiliate XETV-TV San Diego and Sinclair's UPN affiliate KVWB-TV Las Vegas.

The show, scheduled for a January launch, will air at 5 p.m. in San Diego and 6 p.m. in Las Vegas. The Fox stations haven't slotted it yet. "Ryan Seacrest
is a very exciting project," says Bill Butler, VP of group programming and promotion for Sinclair. "We look forward to adding [it] in other Sinclair markets. The show is the perfect vehicle for early fringe, transitioning into our sitcoms." This week, the syndicator will hold a dinner with Seacrest for advertisers, buyers and station execs in New York.—P.A.

The World of Media Ownership

The media-ownership issue is being followed closely outside the Beltway, and we mean "way" outside. The cultural office of the Embassy of China is working on a merger-and-consolidation analysis, including trying to decipher the ramifications of the June 2 vote, to send to the folks back home. Meanwhile, TV International Daily was reporting last week that a stalled Conservative government bid to relax media-ownership rules in Australia has gotten the support of the opposition Labor party. Providing the boost, says TV International, was compromise on a "U.S.-style diversity index" that will be used to assess proposed combinations.—J.E.

Nipper Said Nope

Although AOL Time Warner dismissed out of hand that it is willing to sell CNN, some on Wall Street suggest that such a sale would be a more viable option now that CNN founder Ted Turner has effectively left the building. "He's really not around to wage a holy war in favor of keeping it," offers one observer. But that conventional wisdom defies the history. Back in 1984, Turner offered to sell half of both CNN and Headline News to RCA for $250 million, according to a source who was involved in the talks. RCA passed, the source says, because it couldn't justify paying more than $225 million. Seems like chump change today given some estimates that CNN could fetch $8 billion.—S.M.

Keeping an Eye on U's

Whether Congress is serious about killing the UHF discount could become clearer this week. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will propose eliminating the discount, which counts only half a UHF station's audience reach toward the ownership caps, when the Senate Commerce Committee votes on FCC reauthorization Thursday. The bill is given much better odds than the broadcast-reregulation bill the panel approved last week. If Senate Commerce Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) supports Lautenberg's idea, sources predict the provision will likely remain protected as reauthorization moves toward enactment.—B.M.

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