In the Loop


Game of Chicken

Cablevision Systems could be facing another financial bullet next week. Dec. 18 triggers a 30-day option for News Corp. to "put" its 40%-50% interests in some jointly owned regional sports networks (New York, Chicago, San Francisco among them) to Cablevision. That's a $1 billion bullet staring Cablevision Chairman Chuck Dolan (left) in the face just as he's starting to ease his financial crisis. The good news is that Fox doesn't get to choose how it gets paid. Cablevision won't use cash or its own stock. Cablevision Vice Chairman Bill Bell said that he's leaning toward giving News Corp. a three-year note or simply taking the sports operation public. Bear Stearns media analyst Ray Katz calls the put window "a game of chicken" and predicts the companies will negotiate a smoother deal.—J.M.H.

He's a Wonderful Chairman

A year of blistering headlines about Michael Powell—a Wall Street Journal
editorial labeled him an IHOP waffle—prompted some mock indignation from the FCC chief at the federal communications bar's annual Chairman's Dinner Dec. 12. "I'm outta here," he growled before stalking off the stage. The action switched to big-screen monitors and Powell's version of It's a Wonderful Life. His guardian angel, played by MPAA chief Jack Valenti, showed him what the FCC would be like without him.

Arguably the most bizarre segment included just confirmed Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein' being voted off by his colleagues for drinking Michael Copps's soy milk straight from the carton.

Disturbed, Powell asks Valenti what fate has befallen him. "You're not going to like it," Valenti warns: Powell is instead chairman of the troubled SEC.

A chastened Powell returns to his FCC office to find things looking up, including a completed digital transition.—B.M.

Left to Their Own Devices

Sinclair Broadcasting CEO David Smith (photo) told investors at the UBS Warburg media conference last week that the big reason he is centralizing a chunk of his stations' news production in one Baltimore facility is cost. But he also said he's sick of the news judgment of some local news directors.

"Nothing upsets me more than when a local news director puts a headline story of a water-main break in Los Angeles as local news. That's the kind of foolishness you see when local news directors are left to their own devices." He added: "One of the nice things about having a centralized news operation is that we take all the politics out of the local news issues. We're able to focus on content that's ratings-driven as opposed to fluff, or dog-catcher stories, or whatever people tend to want to follow for whatever their politics is."

Afterwards, he softened a bit, saying the real reason for centralizing news is cost.—J.M.H.

Saying Yes to N.O.

The station ranks at NATPE are swelling. Post-Newsweek, Hearst-Argyle, LIN, Belo and NBC are among the major groups saying they will be well represented at the January show in New Orleans "We're all going to be there," says Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations. He plans to hold a manager's meeting. This year, only two P-N execs attended.

Fox is hosting an affiliate meeting (NATPE Chairman Tony Vinciquerra is CEO of Fox Networks); NBC, CBS and Fox are holding board meetings. Most NBC GMs are expected to attend, and there will be an NBC program directors meeting. Hearst-Argyle's delegation may grow beyond the 10-12 currently slated, says VP of Programming Emerson Coleman. LIN TV is sending six vs. one this year.—K.K.M.

Lott To Be Concerned About

The odds are lengthening on Trent Lott's returning as Senate Majority Leader; that could be bad news for broadcasters. Lott has often been a friend to the industry. In the past year, he has endorsed retention of the 35% cap on TV household reach and backed DTV multicast must-carry.—B.M.