In the Loop


Karmazin Sees No Gold Rush

Mel Karmazin (pictured) isn't looking for a stampede following the FCC's expected June 2 decision to loosen media-ownership rules.

The Viacom president recalled last week that, when the FCC last relaxed TV-station–ownership rules, in August 1999, when Karmazin was CEO of CBS, he pounced. "The first phone call I made was to Sumner. The second was to Chris-Craft." News Corp. wound up snagging Chris-Craft's New York and L.A. stations, creating lucrative duopolies, but the call to Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone led to Viacom's takeover of CBS. "When the TV-duopoly rule changed, that enabled Viacom to get it done," Karmazin points out.

Karmazin doesn't expect dramatic deals this time around, though. Newspaper companies will start buying TV stations in the same market, he says, but stations won't start buying newspapers.

As for what he does expect: "I'm majorly disappointed." Karmazin said he was hoping for things that probably no other media executive would say with a straight face: Elimination of the dual-network rule, for one, which bars one company from owning two of the top four broadcast networks. He also bristles at a rule barring duopolies between the top four stations in a market. As for the 45% ownership limit: "I don't think there should be any cap at all. It should be more like radio."—J.M.H.

Superspots for Sale

Want to buy a 30-second commercial in the 2004 Super Bowl? Got $2 million? That's a good start at least. CBS started selling spots in the upfront at prices that one executive familiar with the terms said were "north" of $2 million. How much north wasn't clear, and CBS officials declined to discuss Super Bowl pricing. Over the past decade, spots in the big game have gone down from year to year only once, in 2002 when Fox sold spots for an average $1.9 million compared with CBS's $2 million in 2001. The difference there was the recession, so it's more than likely that this year's spots are topping last year's average of $2.2 million on ABC, given that upfront pricing gains for the networks have been in the double digits. There remain plenty of spots to be had. Sources say the network sold only a "handful" during the upfront to agencies that wanted to be done with it while they had their checkbooks out.—S.M.

Serve and Volley

According to a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press report on subpoenaes served on the media in 2001, broadcasters are hit far more often and are much more likely to comply. The 82 TV stations responding averaged 7.7 subpoenaes apiece, compared with 0.7 such requests for the 237 newspapers responding. The two media also differed markedly in their rate of compliance. TV stations reported that they complied in full 82% of the time, vs. only 22% for the print press. The majority of the TV-station subpoenas were for already broadcast material, however, while only just over a quarter of the newspaper subpoenas were for published stories or photos.—J.E.

Askin' for a Vote

Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Chairman Bryce Zabel has decided not to run for another two-year term. That makes Tribune Co. syndication chief Dick Askin a favorite. The feeling is, "he's got a very good shot at it," says a source. A mark against him is that Tribune produces shows in Canada to avoid Hollywood union costs, and some tradesmen are also ATAS members. But Askin also chairs the "runaway-production" committee trying to get California to offer incentives to keep production in the state, so he gets points there.

Going, Going, Not Gone

Now we know. The top price e-Bay bidders were willing to pay for Tonight
show icon Johnny Carson's restored boyhood home in Norfolk, Neb., was $154,400. Unfortunately, that was not enough for the sellers. That bid failed to meet the floor price—which wasn't listed—so the auction ended last week with a total of 12 bidders but no takers. There were no bidders in an auction earlier this month for pieces of plaster and wood from a closet floor, a byproduct of the renovation.—J.E.