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Hot Off The Press: The Latest TV News and Information - Page 1049

post #31441 of 93824
Thread Starter 
TV Notes
Five TV actors speak frankly

Lynn Hirschberg of The New York Times speaks with Eric Dane, Joshua Jackson, Bill Hader, Taylor Kitsch and Gaius Charles. Directed by Greg Brunkalla.

If any of these actors interest you, the NY Times has done an eight-minute video asking them all the same questions.

It is interesting. To see it, click here:

post #31442 of 93824
Thread Starter 
Business Notes
Cover Story: Is Dish Broken?
Charlie Ergen Scrambles To Stabilize His Company
By Mike Farrell, Multichannel News, March 7, 2009

After years of defying expectations to build the nation’s No. 2 satellite-TV provider, Dish Network chairman, president and CEO Charlie Ergen faces what could be his greatest challenge ever: How to dig his company — and his reputation as a successful maverick — out of a black hole.

In the past 15 months, Dish’s stock price has plunged more than 71%, to $9.10 per share on March 3, 2009. Its revenue growth cratered in the most-recent fourth quarter, to 1% compared to a year earlier. And its customer losses jumped from 25,000 in the second quarter (its first quarterly subscriber loss ever) to 102,000 in the fourth quarter.

All the while, the overall economic climate continues to worsen, with the stock market plunging to its lowest point since 1997.

“You can look at [Dish’s] valuation and say, 'Wow, how much lower can it go?’ ” said Janco Partners telecom analyst Murray Arenson. “By the time we get to next quarter’s numbers, hopefully there’s plenty to talk about.”

During past rough patches, the 56-year-old, Tennessee-born Ergen has been able to effectively diffuse concerns with a homespun demeanor and an un-CEO-like willingness to accept blame for bad performance. That’s basically what Ergen did last week on Dish’s fourth-quarter conference call with analysts.

While Ergen gained some praise from analysts on the call for eschewing the normal corporate boilerplate and moving immediately to the question-and-answer segment, his explanation for the poor performance didn’t appear to cut the mustard with most of his audience.

“In 2008, the goal was to stop getting worse,” Ergen said on the March 2 conference call. “In 2009, we are prepared to go forward by getting better. There were a couple of major things we did right. It was disappointing that operationally, we made the product too complex. But that is much easier to change than your balance sheet.”

One of the many mistakes Dish made in 2008 was making its product “too complex,” Ergen said. He is now touting a new focus on customer service and a simplified $9.99 six-month promotional offer for 100 HD channels for customers who commit to a long-term deal.

Collins Stewart media analyst Tom Eagan, in a research note issued after the conference call, wrote that Ergen appeared upbeat, but that “it’s difficult to understand why. There didn’t appear to be a single operational metric that suggested a turnaround was imminent.”

Eagan then went on to lower every growth target he had for the company, increasing his subscriber-loss estimate for 2009 from 98,000 customers to 392,000 and dropping his cash-flow estimate from $3.4 billion to $3.2 billion, as higher subscriber acquisition costs are expected to lower margins. Eagan also reduced his free-cash-flow estimate for the direct-broadcast satellite giant from $1.2 billion to $1 billion for the year.

Sanford Bernstein cable and satellite analyst Craig Moffett also worried about Dish’s poor revenue growth, just 1% in the period. One year ago, Moffett noted, Dish’s revenue was growing at an 11% clip. With the fourth quarter, the company’s sequential revenue growth is now negative — quarterly revenue contracted by 0.5% from the third quarter, Moffett noted.

Dish has been bleeding customers at an alarming rate — it lost subscribers in each of the last three quarters of 2008, ending the year down 102,000 customers. Most surprising: The losses are coming as rival satellite-TV operator DirecTV is having some of its best quarters ever. In the fourth quarter, DirecTV well outpaced analysts’ estimates by adding 301,000 customers, its best basic growth in nearly four years.

So why is Dish Network faltering while its rival thrives? Many analysts believe that Dish’s problems stem from several factors: its largely low-end demographic, the failure of its distribution partnership with AT&T and the dismal economy.

And while the fourth quarter was dismal, it could get even worse. Moffett pointed out that Dish’s distribution agreement with AT&T, which contributed phone and Internet service to the partnership, was still in effect in the period — it expired in February — and likely offset losses by at least 50,000 customers. Moffett estimated that the loss of the AT&T deal could translate into an additional 100,000 subscriber losses each quarter.

“Unfortunately, 2009 looks poised to be worse,” Moffett wrote. “Without AT&T, gross additions will face continued downward pressure. And a worsening economy poses a stiff headwind to any hopes of churn improvement.”

Janco’s Arenson said, “You’ve got to wonder about the demographic base they have built for themselves and if there is a way to dig out with that same base.”

While analysts are predicting doom, Ergen thinks he has the answer to Dish’s dilemma: a new focus on customer service and a simplified $9.99 six-month promotional offer for 100 HD channels for customers who commit to a two-year agreement.

Those subscribers would have to sign on for at least two years of Dish service at the regular price. While there is a danger that such a low-priced promotion would attract consumers with no intention of paying in the first place, the idea is to sign on enough customers to offset any churn danger and give a quick boost to subscriber rolls.

“It’s the kind of move where the question has to go through your head: Is this a smart, proactive move or is this a move of desperation?” Arenson said. “We’ll see. It’s a six-month deal, so it’s going to be like a lot of these things and you’ll have to ride it out and wait and see what it looks like six months from now.”

But six months is a long time in the TV business, and given the foundering state of the economy, it’s practically a lifetime. In the past six months, Dish Network’s stock has fallen from $28.33 per share to $9.10 per share, a 68% ($19.23) decline.

Despite the concerns about the future, no one is ready to write off Dish, or Ergen for that matter. The plucky CEO has managed to wrangle his way out of past troubles — one only needs to think back to the failed merger with News Corp. in the late 1990s and how the satcaster came roaring back after many had abandoned hope.

If the $9.99 promotion takes hold — Dish only started it last month — it could attract enough new customers to take some of the pressure off the company. Dish also may get a needed subscriber boost from the federally mandated transition to digital over-the-air television, now scheduled for June 12.

Another ace up the former poker player’s sleeve: Sling Media, the technology firm that merged with Ergen’s other company, set-top box maker EchoStar Corp., last year.

EchoStar unveiled a Sling-enabled set-top at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, and is expected to deliver it to Dish Network in the spring.

That box — which will provide digital video recorder-like functionality wirelessly, allowing consumers to shift programming between their television, computer and other TV sets in their home and elsewhere — could be the killer application that sets Dish’s subscriber growth back on a positive path.

In a perfect scenario, Arenson said, Dish would get that quick subscriber boost and next, most likely in the second half of the year, would engineer an HD and Sling-driven product that will offset any demographic or customer-churn issues from the low-end product and simultaneously build a high-end base.

“It’s way too early to chalk him up for dead,” said Arenson of Ergen. “What the magic ticket is to make it all turn, I don’t know, but it’s there to be had, because there are other competitors having it.”

post #31443 of 93824
Originally Posted by fredfa View Post

Business Notes
Cover Story: Is Dish Broken?
Charlie Ergen Scrambles To Stabilize His Company

Well, I for one hope Dish pulls out of it and gets going in the right direction, even though I'm a Directv subscriber, I sure don't want to see a monopoly in the satellite business, prices are continuing to go up and HD additions have practically stopped while new channels are coming online all the time, we're not getting them and if Directv is the only game in town, I don't like the looks of that at all.
post #31444 of 93824
Originally Posted by fredfa View Post

That was my understanding, too. It is the prime reason that I rarely post any BBC America stories even though I am well aware that many of you enjoy the BBC programming.

A better reason not to post stories is to stop giving publicity to one of the worst cablenets out there. Their presentation is one of the worst (if not THE worst) on air. Full of snipes and meaningless screen garbage.

If they presented BBC shows in the UK they way BBC America does, the Brits would be throwing torches at Broadcasting House and banging on the door with pitchforks.
post #31445 of 93824
Originally Posted by rebkell View Post

Well, I for one hope Dish pulls out of it and gets going in the right direction, even though I'm a Directv subscriber, I sure don't want to see a monopoly in the satellite business, prices are continuing to go up and HD additions have practically stopped while new channels are coming online all the time, we're not getting them and if Directv is the only game in town, I don't like the looks of that at all.

Me too, Rebkell, but for an even more personally vital reason... I've been planning for the past several days to call DISH network and switch my TV service to THEM from Charter. I've already WELL hashed out the pros and cons between DISH and DirecTV on a different thread, and for my personal needs, DISH is BY FAR the better choice... So I CERTAINLY don't want to buy into a DISH package only to see them go under a few months later.

However, my guess is that even with their current financial woes, with a still-existing customer base of 13.68 million and annual revenues in excess of $11 billion, they're STILL a MAJOR player, so they have a ways to go before they're in SERIOUS trouble, I think.
post #31446 of 93824
Originally Posted by rebkell View Post

Well, I for one hope Dish pulls out of it and gets going in the right direction, even though I'm a Directv subscriber, I sure don't want to see a monopoly in the satellite business, prices are continuing to go up and HD additions have practically stopped while new channels are coming online all the time, we're not getting them and if Directv is the only game in town, I don't like the looks of that at all.

But, if there was only one they sure could have a ton of bandwidth and take sat delivery to a new level if DirecTV got all of Dish's orbital slots.

Most areas still would have cable as an alternative.
post #31447 of 93824
Thread Starter 
TV Notes
On The Air Tonight
Sunday Network Prime-Time Programming Options

7 America’s Funniest Home Videos
8 Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
10 Desperate Housewives HD
10 Brothers & Sisters HD

7 60 Minutes HD
8 Amazing Race 14
9 Cold Case HD
10 The Unit HD

7 Hole In The Wall
8 The Simpsons HD
8:30 King Of The Hill HD
9 Family Guy
9:30 American Dad

7 Saturday Night Live: Just Game Show Parodies
8 Saturday Night Live: Just Commercials
9 The Celebrity Apprentice (two hours)

8 Nature: Kalahari, the Vast Thirsteland (R) HD

7 Jericho (R) HD
8 Movie: Easy Money (R, 1983) HD
post #31448 of 93824
Originally Posted by VisionOn View Post

A better reason not to post stories is to stop giving publicity to one of the worst cablenets out there. Their presentation is one of the worst (if not THE worst) on air. Full of snipes and meaningless screen garbage.

If they presented BBC shows in the UK they way BBC America does, the Brits would be throwing torches at Broadcasting House and banging on the door with pitchforks.

That's only because you guys don't have any guns over there....

Honestly, here's the real result scenerio of the bugs and snipes:

America: Ah, OK, so that's what I'm watching. I had no clue!
UK: I must must most respectfully disagree with your practice of cluttering up the image on my woefully small telly. Should you get the opportunity, please remove those items post-haste...

Originally Posted by Argee View Post

But, if there was only one they sure could have a ton of bandwidth and take sat delivery to a new level if DirecTV got all of Dish's orbital slots.

I doubt that would happen. E* has some of the worst obital slots ever. I doubt D* could effectively use them without some radical change in their dish setup.
post #31449 of 93824
Originally Posted by fredfa View Post

TV Notes
On The Air Tonight
Sunday Network Prime-Time Programming Options

7 Saturday Night Live: Just Game Show Parodies
8 Saturday Night Live: Just Commercials

these are great....they will definately show the jerry seinfeld "stand up & win" skit:

- Gilligan's Island for $100....What's the deal with the Professor ? He can make a radio out of a coconut, but he can't fix a hole in the damn boat !

- Cereals for $200....Grape Nuts ? You open it up, No Grapes, No Nuts ! What's the Deal ?

- Airplanes for $100....What's with that beef stroganoff they give you ?....& the guy next to me, he likes it ! He can't get enough of it ! I'm looking for a dog to slip it to, this guy's asking for thirds !
post #31450 of 93824
Originally Posted by Argee View Post

But, if there was only one they sure could have a ton of bandwidth and take sat delivery to a new level if DirecTV got all of Dish's orbital slots.

While D* owns all of its satellites, Dish doesn't. Dish leases a lot of bandwidth to try and keep up with D* and the cableco's. That is why you have to have so many dishes pointed all over the sky to get everything Dish has to offer while D*'s are all within 99-119 and available on one dish. Even the satellite that is at 72.5 is owned by D*, but the orbital slot is a Canadian slot and D* is having to move it because Canada wants it's slot back and at the time D* commissioned that slot, they didn't have the bandwidth they have now and now are migrating off of the 72.5 bird to the 99-119 birds.
post #31451 of 93824
Critic's Review
'Breaking Bad' (AMC)
Better Living Through Chemistry
By Ginia Bellafante, The New York Times

When the AMC drama “Breaking Bad,” about a terminally ill scientist with a doomed career, inadequate health coverage and a newfound taste for drug dealing, made its debut last winter, its aggressively dismal mood struck some viewers as groundless and a bit much.

The Dow, then, remained comfortably above 10,000; the insurance industry seemed robust, and most Americans did not know the name Bernie Madoff or wonder whether, in his baseball cap, he looked more like Barry Levinson or Larry David. The End of Everything as We Know It did not seem imminent. Now, of course, the extremist misery of “Breaking Bad” (which begins its second season on Sunday) feels virtually like reportage.

Even at the moment, it would be hard to compete with the misfortunes of Walt White, a former Caltech chemistry genius who failed to live up to the legend of his graduate student days. At 50, he is teaching high school chemistry in Albuquerque. Although he contributed to the work of a Nobel-winning team, the job, inexplicably, is the best he can get — there is no adjunct position at the University of New Mexico even remotely on the horizon.

Adding to the injustice, Walt’s best friend at Cal Tech has applied his talents to amassing a fortune and married Walt’s brilliant and ethereal-looking ex. At a birthday party for his friend, Walt discovers that all his other classmates are also living in houses of vast square footage. One brings a guitar that belonged to Eric Clapton, despite an invitation that specified no gifts. Having obeyed, Walt is mortified to add to a pile of lavishly wrapped presents some packets of ramen noodles with nostalgic value.

Walt is given to us by Bryan Cranston, who won an Emmy for his performance last year and deserved it largely for avoiding a tenor of bitterness that such collected indignities might easily engender. He plays Walt, a suburbanite with so much more to complain about than anyone out of a mid-20th-century American novel, as a man bewildered by his circumstances but loftily above grievance. There is a sustained Zen quality to Mr. Cranston’s performance; he seems like someone utterly immune to agitation.

And yet there is more and more to unnerve. That Walt is living out his grim existence in the combatively sunny Southwest is just another cruel joke, the chief one being that he is suffering from lung cancer — Stage 3A — even though he doesn’t smoke. The series began with Walt partnering with a former student in the crystal-meth business. Walt is so skilled around the test tubes and compounds that he doesn’t even need Sudafed as a base ingredient. He can cook up top-quality methamphetamine — the Château Lafite Rothschild of methamphetamine — essentially from scratch, which provides him with a more expansive supply than his competitors and thus the money to pay for the top oncologist in town.

Initially, Walt isn’t even moved to seek treatment — it is his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), who forces him out of his passivity. Since its outset, “Breaking Bad” has drawn the inevitable comparisons to “Weeds,” but the two series have very little to say to each other, partly because Walt is diving into underground economies out of a more gripping sense of fiscal necessity, but also because the drug trade seems to provide him with a sort of existential rejuvenation. He is making the most potent crystal meth in the city; he is excelling at something. And his decision to do so appears to be the first real choice he has made in years.

The show’s current season quickens the pace, but not at the expense of its meditative spirit. Walt is in trouble with his kingpin distributor, a gold-toothed psychopath who also happens to be under the surveillance of Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration who seems close to figuring out what Walt is doing when he isn’t receiving chemo.

There is a genuine suspense and thrill to the show now, but it succeeds largely as a treatise not on the tragedy of cancer but on the sheer monotony of it, the relentless waiting around. Aided by a camera that largely sits still and lingers, the series has a way of acutely portraying the attendant uncertainties and discomforts of severe illness as something like dull routine. In the first season Walt’s hair fell out in tidy patches in the shower, and whenever he retreated from class to go throw up, the same janitor was around to help him. The doctors are dependably tone deaf to the stresses of his condition.

In a stunning evocation of medical insensitivity, Walt, forced to see a psychiatrist when he disappears from his family for a few days, is asked why he took off. “Doctor, my wife is seven months pregnant with a baby we did not intend,” he explains in serenely blunt summation. “My 15-year-old son has cerebral palsy. I am an extremely overqualified high school chemistry teacher. When I can work, I make $43,700 per year. I have watched all of my colleagues and friends surpass me in every way imaginable, and within 18 months, I will be dead.”

“Breaking Bad” could make even Detroit or A.I.G. look, briefly, on the bright side.

Breaking Bad
AMC, Sundays at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.

post #31452 of 93824
Nielsen Overnights
CBS scores well on Saturday; "Saturday Night Live" is Rock-solid
From Hal Boedeker's Orlando Sentinel 'TV Guy' Blog - March 8, 2009

Dwayne Johnson proved a Rock-solid host of "Saturday Night Live."

It's a good sign when an "SNL" skit is being discussed Sunday morning, and ABC's "This Week" noted the opening sendup of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner reflects the general uncertainty about the troubled economy. But there were amusing bits about Donald Trump, MacGruber, a lighthouse and "The Rock Obama."

The show scored a 4.9 household rating in preliminary ratings released Sunday.

A couple of CBS shows in prime time actually scored a higher household rating. A "Without a Trace" rerun and "48 Hours Mystery" each posted a 5.8 rating.

In prime time, CBS averaged an 8.3 million viewers, an above-average showing for any network on Saturday. Here's how other broadcasters fared: Fox with 5.6 million, NBC with 4 million and ABC with 3.1 million. Fox, however, edged CBS for leadership in the 18-to-49 age group.

CBS had the most viewers with a "CSI" rerun (6.9 million), that "Without a Trace" repeat (9.1 million) and "48 Hours Mystery" (8.8 million). Fox ran second with "Cops" (5.6 million) and "America's Most Wanted" (5.7 million).

post #31453 of 93824
SNL has taken great delight in skewering Trump ever since he hosted. He must really have made an impression.

Pompous gas baggery at its finest.
post #31454 of 93824
Originally Posted by AAF View Post

SNL has taken great delight in skewering Trump ever since he hosted.

Funny---I was thinking that NBC suggested they do that sketch as a promotion for The Celebrity Apprentice...
post #31455 of 93824
Originally Posted by Amnesia View Post

Funny---I was thinking that NBC suggested they do that sketch as a promotion for The Celebrity Apprentice...

Right... Trump loves it. He's old schoolany publicity is good publicity.
post #31456 of 93824
I don't see how. They consistently make him out to be a giant tool. Maybe he thinks its complimentary?
post #31457 of 93824
Originally Posted by AAF View Post

I don't see how. They consistently make him out to be a giant tool. Maybe he thinks its complimentary?

Maybe he lives by the words of the immortal "Popeye, the Sailor Man":

"I yam, what I yam... and that's all I yam..."
post #31458 of 93824
Originally Posted by NetworkTV View Post

Maybe he lives by the words of the immortal "Popeye, the Sailor Man":

"I yam, what I yam... and that's all I yam..."

Trump's EGO is SO BIG that it really doesn't matter WHAT anyone says about him or puts on TV or the internet about him... So long as he gets to see his face in the paper, online or on TV, his EGO is STROKED!

If someone could bottle his ego and use it as a glue, they could put Elmer's out of business!
post #31459 of 93824
DTV Notes
Telling the Never-Ending DTV Story
Finding New Ways to Cover the Transition Poses a Challenge to Newsroom Staffs
By Daisy Whitney, TV Week.com, March 9, 2009

Not only are stations around the country in the midst of shedding their analog signals forever, their news departments are tasked with creatively covering the drawn-out digital transition in their newscasts, too.

The massive shift from the analog world to the crisp clear digital one is a major news event, but the fact is it’s been under way for a few years now and will continue to play out until all stations flip the switch to digital on June 12. Finding innovative ways to cover the transition is increasingly a challenge.

CBS-owned Philadelphia station KYW-TV recently tried something different. It conducted a training session with local Boy Scout leaders to teach them how to hook up converter boxes, then covered that initiative as a news story in late February.

Scouts’ Honor

Philadelphia-area Boy Scout leaders will be assisting viewers who need help with going digital, particularly seniors and the disabled, explained Mike Nelson, spokesman for the 29-member CBS Television Stations group, which will flip the switch in June.

The entire group has extensively covered the transition and will continue to do so for the next few months. “All of our stations have been airing half-hour specials hosted by their local anchors and reporters,” he said, adding the stations “have been participating in soft analog shutoff tests to help viewers determine if all of their TVs are prepared for the transition to digital.”

Mr. Nelson said the CBS-owned stations have presented detailed stories about converter boxes—“who needs them, who doesn’t and how to install them”—and regular updates regarding the coupon program. Many stations also have assembled phone banks to answer viewer questions about the transition, he said.

San Francisco’s ABC-owned station KGO-TV, which will turn off its analog feed in June, has been producing “what you need to know” reports.

The station’s DTV coverage has been led by consumer reporter Michael Finney. “He’s done the stories explaining the transition and is the one who does the DTV tests that we’ve been running marketwide,” said Kevin Keeshan, the station’s news director. “We did three live tests prior to Feb. 17. We have three more live tests across three dayparts scheduled between now and June 12.”

NBC-owned KNTV in the San Francisco Bay Area has produced half-hour specials devoted to the digital transition, as have most stations in the Fox group.

The Fox station group has been including stories in its newscasts on how to hook up converter boxes, too. In addition, the group is leaning on the station’s local Web sites as resources for ongoing information and how-to content on the transition.

Broadly speaking, Fox-owned WNYW in New York has produced reports touting the benefits of switching to digital television from the station’s technology reporter Brett Larson, who also appeared on “The View” recently to discuss the transition. Sister station WWOR has run “do it yourself” pieces to show viewers how to outfit their TV sets for the digital transition.

More Information Online

On the Web, the Fox-owned New York stations feature more detail, such as the timeline of the transition, reasons for the DTV conversion, who will be affected, how to determine if you have a digital tuner, what to do if it is not ready for the conversion, how to obtain converter box coupons and what antenna is right for you. Visitors will find DTV answers in English and Spanish, links to manufacturers’ DTV sites, a countdown clock and a tutorial from Mr. Larson.

Even broadcasters that shut off their analog signals last month continue to produce reports on the transition. Fort Myers, Fla., CBS affiliate WINK-TV is still running stories on how to tune in the digital channels, said Greg Stetson, the station’s programming director. That follows months of coverage in advance of the original switch date, he said.

“Most stations went far above and beyond to lay out how it all works, and what to expect,” said Tom Petner, editor of the Web site TVSpy.com. “The question, of course, is how many people absorbed it all. Judging from what I can see in the local market, the transition so far has been pretty smooth.”

post #31460 of 93824
DTV Notes
Mixed-Up Signals
Broadcasters Still Need to Inform Confused Consumers About DTV Any Way They Can
By Hillary Atkin Special to TelevisionWeek, TV Week.com, March 8, 2009

Despite the recent delay of the U.S. digital television transition from Feb. 17 until June 12, television stations across the country are still trying to answer consumers’ many questions, using their own airwaves and just about any other means available to them.

Questions persist about old TV sets, new antennas, coupons for converter boxes and what it all means for the viewing audience affected by the switchover from analog signals.

The Nielsen Co. estimates about 4.4% of homes, or nearly 5 million American households, aren’t ready for the change that will happen when stations turn off their analog signals and begin broadcasting solely in digital. (The Federal Communications Commission says about a third of the nation’s full-power stations have already gone all-digital.)

“We are really trying to give viewers as much information on how the transition impacts their lives and answer whatever questions they might have,” said Mark Ginther, news director of Seattle’s KING-TV, which has run many enterprise feature stories on the transition in the past year and a half.

Reporter Glenn Farley, who normally covers the aviation and technology industries at KING, has made the DTV transition his beat, contributing at least a dozen stories about it since 2007. The consumer unit also has done reports on purchasing new TV sets and how to properly dispose of old ones.

“We have transitioned from doing stories on the basic converter box to actually getting the signal,” Mr. Farley said. “Most of the stories moving forward will be focused in that direction.”

The Seattle market is what Mr. Farley calls “terrain-challenged,” because of the mountain ranges in the broadcast coverage area, making it difficult for some residents to receive a clear digital signal.

In a recent piece, he went out in the field in Olympia, Wash., with an antenna installer who measured the signal in various hilltop neighborhoods. In some areas, there was no signal at all, meaning residents there may have to erect taller towers or buy special antennas.

Beyond telecasting the DTV message, Mr. Farley and other KING staffers have participated in a number of public hearings on the transition, most organized by the city of Seattle in an effort to reach out to diverse populations, including those who don’t speak English.

In addition, the station has participated with other broadcasters in the market in synchronous digital signal testing during morning, evening and weekend newscasts—and then manning phone banks to answer viewer questions about the transition.

“The phones would just light up,” Mr. Farley said. “The response from viewers has gone up as the deadline approached. I don’t know how you could have missed this.”

“We’ve learned a lot ourselves,” Mr. Ginther said. “Portable radios that have TV sound on them won’t receive it after the conversion happens. In an emergency, if the cable or satellite goes out in severe weather, it may be important to have a converter box in the house.”

In the nation’s two largest markets, New York and Los Angeles, most of the major stations have been broadcasting a digital signal for 10 years now.

New York City stations recently mobilized to get out the word on the “official” transition under the aegis of the Metropolitan Television Alliance, a group formed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to coordinate efforts among broadcasters to replace facilities that were destroyed.

“We got seven local anchors of the 5 and 6 p.m. news to hold a press conference with Mayor Bloomberg to talk about how people could get coupons and what they had to do to prepare with the right kind of antenna in order to get covered by all the stations,” said Saul Shapiro, president of the Metropolitan Television Alliance.

“Having the mayor involved almost guarantees coverage. Also, because of his TV background with his own cable channel, he knew exactly what it was about and what it entailed,” Mr. Shapiro said. “He was the best advocate of the coming transition and simple things to prepare for.”

At KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, the primary focus of its news stories also has been making sure people knew what steps needed to be taken.

“The way people watched TV for years would change, and we have tried to give some clarity to the whole issue,” said Keith Esparros, KNBC’s assistant news director.

Mr. Esparros said there was a lot of viewer confusion between two informational Web sites, www.dtv.gov, run by the government, and www.dtv.com, which is a commercial site that sells products.

“Our goal is fairly simple. We didn’t want anyone to be without TV, with an uninterrupted stream of news, information and entertainment, from a public service or even a selfish point of view,” Mr. Esparros said.

KNBC also has done stories on disposing old television sets, from donating them to senior centers and other facilities to safely recycling them.

“We understand how difficult this transition is, and people may not understand the complexity,” said Mr. Esparros. “Changing the way millions of people watch TV is daunting. Even with the amount of PSAs on the newscast, and the live demos we’ve done, still hundreds of thousands didn’t get the message, which is part of the reason the current administration delayed the transition.”

post #31461 of 93824
DTV Notes
NBC Goes 'Nonstop' on Subchannel
Stations Try Various Genres to Fill Additional Channels on Digital Spectrum
By Daisy Whitney, TV Week.com, March 8, 2009

In the latest digital news programming initiative for local broadcasters, NBC’s flagship station WNBC-TV in New York is launching a 24-hour local information and lifestyle subchannel today.

The new subchannel, dubbed “New York Nonstop,” has the potential to reach 5.7 million digital homes in the New York area, NBC said.

Programming the digital spectrum has been an ongoing challenge for local stations, which, thanks to the demise of the analog signal, now own more television real estate than they know what to do with.

Several digital subchannels can be created in the bandwidth space previously used by analog channels, enabling stations to carry one or more types of programming or services on the same frequency.

While stations aren’t required to program the new subchannels, some are experimenting with niche programming fare, such as sports networks and movie channels, while others are choosing to run additional news on the digital tier since news is a low-cost programming option.

NBC said “New York Nonstop” will debut on subchannel 4.2, with advertisers on board sponsoring local entertainment, lifestyle, event and news coverage.

WNBC marquee talent Chuck Scarborough will anchor a 7 p.m. hourlong newscast on the digital channel that will be an expanded version of the half-hour news he anchors on the main station. The reformatted version for the digital subchannel will afford time for more in-depth interviews with newsmakers, NBC said.

Mr. Scarborough’s name recognition and following may help boost viewership in the early days.

“We’re branching out to multiple platforms, and we want to continue to evolve and grow our business and ensure we have long-term viability,” said Anna Carbonell, spokeswoman for the station. “We’re realigning ourselves around content because viewers have changed and they have different habits and we had to change.”

The launch also dovetails with a bigger push on the part of NBC to remake its stations into hyper-local destinations, whether on-air or on the Web.

In the face of declining viewership and shrinking ad dollars, NBC revamped its local Web sites late last year into culture, lifestyle and news destinations for their markets. “New York Nonstop” is emblematic of that broader philosophy at the station group.

Producers at WNBC will program specifically for “New York Nonstop,” which also will run news and weather every 15 minutes. “New York Nonstop” will lean on Web video creators, independent producers and filmmakers to help fill the space on the channel.

In addition, NBC will run programs from LX.tv, a local lifestyle content producer that NBC purchased a year ago for its New York-centric programs such as “1st Look New York” and “Open House NYC.”

Digital news channels are not new to NBC. The media company’s Los Angeles station, KNBC-TV, debuted one of the first news efforts for the digital tier three years ago with “News Raw,” a weekday program that gives KNBC viewers a look into the newsroom, complete with editorial meetings and the process of producing broadcast news.

The news service runs on digital channel 4.2 in Los Angeles and features viewer-submitted photos and videos, in-depth interviews with political figures and local bloggers, and live feeds of major press conferences in the city. “News Raw” is staffed by one reporter, who pulls double duty for the main channel.

Other broadcasters around the country also are firing up extensions of their news franchises to the digital sphere.

Chambers Communications-owned ABC affiliate KEZI-TV in Eugene, Ore., launched a 24-hour local news channel on its digital subchannel 9.2 in January. The new service is called “KEZI Nonstop News” and is billed as western Oregon’s only 24-hour local news channel.

KEZI launched the news channel as an alternative to the entertainment-centric digital subchannels some of its competitors introduced, the station said. The digital subchannel builds off of an initiative started last fall to offer 10 minutes of nonstop news and weather during evening and late news broadcasts, KEZI said.

News is also a familiar format for advertisers. While stations are getting their feet wet with selling ad space in subchannels, news can be a good fit because it’s a natural extension of a station’s brand.

But some stations aren’t focused on selling spots on their subchannels. KNBC isn’t selling ads in “News Raw” and doesn’t have any plans to do so, said Robert Long, VP and news director for KNBC.

“News Raw” is a research and development facility for the newsroom, he said. On for five hours each afternoon, “News Raw” yields material for the newscasts and the Web site and also gives KNBC a sandbox in which to try new things.

As an example, the main channel’s newscasts are now using “News Raw” host Mekahlo Medina’s tech tools, including Skype video and Webcams, for interviews, Mr. Long said.

“News is the only department that produces anything at most TV stations, so anything that gets on TV will probably come out of news,” Mr. Long said. “Clearly news departments had to find new distribution systems for their products. It wasn’t that people weren’t consuming news, but they were bypassing the traditional ways.”

It’s unclear how many people watch “News Raw” because digital subchannels aren’t rated by Nielsen.

Expect more news efforts on digital subchannels, said Tom Petner, editor of broadcast news Web site TVSpy.com. Many stations are aiming to create multimedia staffs who can work across platforms, including on digital channels and the Internet, he explained.

“You’re seeing within the larger groups an effort to reshape and reorganize staffs so they can take advantage of these new digital opportunities, including those new channels,” he said. “This is obviously not the best time for advertising or ad placement, but then again, you do have a certain economy of scale with your staff and there’s a huge opportunity to target your content, much like Cablevision does with their News12 operations through the metro New York area.”

Some local stations are programming their digital subchannels with sports. Most of the stations in the NBC-owned group run Olympic sports-centric channel Universal Sports on one of their subchannels.

In addition, many broadcasters have opted to run AccuWeather’s local weather channels on the digital tier. NBC previously offered a digital weather channel in WeatherPlus, but shut down that service late last year.

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DTV Notes
NTIA Whittles Coupon 'Queue' to 3.4 Million
Requests being processed at about 400,000 per weekday
By John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable, 3/9/2009 10:17:53 AM MT

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration no longer has a DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program waiting list, but that is partly only a semantic change.

According to an administration spokesman, NTIA no longer has a waiting list, with all those coupon requests moved to a "processing queue." That "queue" for applications for the $40 coupons is down to 3.4 million from the 4.2 million on it when it was still a waiting list last week--before OMB freed up the $650 million from the economic stimulus package to fund more coupons.

NTIA is getting those requests out of the queue at the rate of about 400,000 per weekday--applications are not being processed over the weekends. It says it will have the backlog cleared up in 2-3 weeks.

Although the law changing the DTV hard date and extending the coupon program changes the program to allow anyone with expired coupons to reapply, NTIA is not ready to process any of those requests yet. Any reapplications it receives before it is ready will not be put on a waiting list, or even in a queue, but will be rejected, said NTIA spokesman Bart Forbes.

He warned that even if the rule is published and the date change law is published in the Federal Register this week that does not mean NTIA is ready to start processing reapplication requests. One is a rulemaking, he said, the other is changing the systems to accept reapplications.

That is still a week or so away and NTIA says it will let everybody know when it is open for reapplication businesses.

Changing the DTV hard date from Feb. 17 to June 12 was driven in large part by the waiting list for coupons, which started building up in early January after NTIA ran into a funding ceiling due to an accounting problem.

post #31463 of 93824
Critic's Notes
CNBC Thrives as Hosts Deliver News With Attitude
By Brian Stelter and Tim Arango, The New York Times - March 9, 2009

Was last week the worst one in CNBC's 20-year history or the best?

The financial news network, a unit of NBC Universal, was savaged by The Daily Show in a viral video sensation. It was criticized for being too cozy with the corporations it covers. One of its stars, Jim Cramer, was ridiculed by the White House press secretary. And one of its reporters faced a new round of criticism for an on-air outburst about mortgage losers.

All the while, CNBC covered the incessant downward slide of the economy with special reports on particularly bad days for the markets. Mr. Cramer, the host of Mad Money, barely had time for his usual shuffleboard games at the Elk's Lodge near his home.

The lodge is a booyah-free zone, he said, using his trademark exclamation. I was not able to get away from the booyahs this week.

Whether the attention is positive or negative, it is certain that this tumultuous financial season is CNBC's reason for being. One month shy of its 20th anniversary, CNBC is being jokingly called the recession network within the halls of its headquarters in New Jersey.

After it achieved record ratings last fall, the network's audience remains above its annual average average. But CNBC's executives and hosts seem well aware that their ratings have traditionally stagnated in down times for the Dow. People do not want to come to a show each night and hear how poor they are, Mr. Cramer said.

But in a change from previous downturns, CNBC is now a place for politics, to borrow a phrase from its sister channel MSNBC. The network's journalists have been encouraged to speak their minds, making the line between reporter and commentator almost indistinguishable at times.

When they are all sitting around the table it's hard to tell a business pundit versus a reporter, said Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

For instance, Larry Kudlow, a conservative economist who is considering a run for the United States Senate, is the co-host of an 11 a.m. news hour. Three CNBC employees, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that the role of opinion on the channel had been a subject of frequent discussion.

With economic attention focused on Washington, the network is spending less time on bullish stock picks and more time assessing the government's actions.

In recent weeks some have perceived the network to be leading the campaign against President Obama's economic agenda. Mr. Cramer, who calls himself a lifelong Democrat, said last week that the administration's agenda was destroying the life savings of millions of Americans. One week earlier Mr. Kudlow declared that Mr. Obama was declaring war on investors, entrepreneurs, small businesses, large corporations, and private equity and venture capital funds.

Those investors and businessmen, of course, are CNBC's core audience. What some critics have characterized as a war on wealth could affect the network's brand because the moneyed class makes up much of its core audience.

Partisanship aside, this is CNBC's equivalent of a war. Just as the first cable news channel, CNN, rose to prominence during the gulf war in 1991, and another one, the Fox News Channel, became a ratings leader in the period before the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003, CNBC is on a war footing. Last Monday, when the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index reached 12-year lows, the network produced a special report from 8 to 11 p.m.

CNBC's moment in the spotlight has actually lasted nearly two years. An analysis of Nielsen ratings shows that the network's home audience started to surge in August 2007 as the upheaval began in the credit markets. They peaked in March 2008 when Bear Stearns was sold to JPMorgan Chase in a deal arranged by Washington.

After hitting a plateau that spring, the ratings soared last fall when other investment banks collapsed, setting records for the network.

In the first two months of 2009, CNBC averaged 282,000 home viewers at any given time, up from 264,000 in the same period in 2008 and 233,000 in the same period in 2007. CNBC's chief competitors, Bloomberg and the Fox Business Network, are not publicly rated by Nielsen. CNBC says the Nielsen ratings undercounts its audience, as they do not measure out-of-home viewership on trading floors and offices. (CNBC and The New York Times have a content sharing agreement.)

Asked in a telephone interview about CNBC's time in the spotlight Friday, the network's president, Mark Hoffman, said it was a unique time for the organization.

It has certainly received a lot more notoriety, and along with that a lot more audience, he said.

He acknowledged that the notoriety has both benefits and liabilities. Twice in the last month, the White House has chastised CNBC's personalities, first after the reporter Rick Santelli energetically expressed his opposition to Mr. Obama's housing plans on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. CNBC eagerly promoted the segment and conservatives seized on it, holding tea party protests across the country.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, dismissed Mr. Santelli's arguments and offered him a decaffeinated cup of coffee. Later, the Today show co-host Matt Lauer clashed with Mr. Santelli over the assertion that Mr. Gibbs had threatened the reporter.

CNBC came up at Mr. Gibbs's briefing again last week after Mr. Cramer accused Mr. Obama of causing the greatest wealth destruction I have seen by a president. Mr. Gibbs said that if you turn on a certain program, it's geared to a very small audience, no offense to my good friends or friend at CNBC.

Still, the headlines about CNBC are a testament to its relevance. On Wednesday, Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, spent eight minutes skewering CNBC after Mr. Santelli backed out of an interview on the show. Mr. Stewart played video clips from the network of faulty predictions about the economic crisis.

If I had only followed CNBC's advice, I'd have a million dollars today, Mr. Stewart said, provided that I'd started with $100 million.

Mr. Stewart echoed the criticism that CNBC suffered after the dot-com bubble of the 1990s, namely that the network had acted as a booster for the markets.

When the CNBC anchor Erin Burnett appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO on Friday, Mr. Maher raised a similar issue. This is the channel that Wall Street watches all day, Mr. Maher said. I think this is more than a channel; I think it affects what happens on Wall Street. Why didn't anybody there predict what was going to happen?

Ms. Burnett said that the dot-com bubble was predicted, too. It's easy to say a bubble.' You don't know when it's going to burst, she said, adding that the questions of timing and magnitude were missed by many financial experts.

Separately, in a telephone interview Friday, the Squawk Box co-host Joe Kernen said of the market turmoil, Ask yourself whether you really think it's CNBC that caused it, or was it the housing bubble that caused it? I think we know what caused it.

CNBC is a boon to NBC Universal's bottom line; it has posted record profits for at least the last three years, and Mr. Hoffman says the first quarter of 2009 has been very strong for the network.

Mr. Cramer acknowledged he might have a harder time holding onto viewers in a bear market. To attract viewers he said he would continue to make Mad Money entertaining, and that means more predictions, even when they can be used against him by comedians like Mr. Stewart later.

If I get gun-shy, then I'm not going to be relevant, he said.

post #31464 of 93824
Nielsen Overnights (18-49)
Trump slump: 'Celebrity Apprentice' dips
NBC show falls 18 percent from last week's premiere
By Diego Vasquez, Media Life Magazine - March 9, 2009

Facing an original Desperate Housewives proved tougher for Donald Trump as week two of Celebrity Apprentice slumped compared to last week's premiere.

Apprentice averaged a 3.1 adults 18-49 rating from 9 to 11 p.m., according to Nielsen overnights, off 18 percent from last week's 3.8.

Last week Trump's NBC reality show did not have to face Housewives, which was on a one-week layoff for a Brothers & Sisters movie.

Housewives averaged a 4.6 rating at 9 p.m., easily the night's top-rated show, with Apprentice finishing fourth in the timeslot with a 3.1.

Apprentice revived to a 3.4 at 10 p.m., though it still trailed ABC with a 3.5 for Sisters. NBC points out that its 3.1 rating was still 35 percent above the network's nonsports average in the timeslot this season.

As a reminder, all ratings are based on live-plus-same-day DVR playback. Seven-day DVR data won't be available for several weeks. Twenty-eight percent of Nielsen households have DVRs.

ABC was first for the night among 18-49s with a 3.3 average overnight rating and a 9 share. CBS was second at 2.6/7, NBC third at 2.4/7, Fox fourth at 2.3/6, Univision fifth at 1.2/3 and CW sixth at 0.2/1.

CBS started the night in the lead with a 2.2 rating at 7 p.m. for 60 Minutes, with ABC second with a 2.0 for America's Funniest Home Videos. NBC was third with a 1.3 for Saturday Night Live Just Game Show Parodies, Fox fourth with a 1.2 for Hole in the Wall, Univision fifth with a 0.8 for the end of a Mexican league soccer game and CW sixth with a 0.2 for a Jericho rerun.

At 8 p.m. CBS led again with a 3.0 for The Amazing Race, while ABC remained second with a 2.9 for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Fox was third with a 2.6 for The Simpsons (2.8) and King of the Hill (2.4), NBC fourth with a 2.1 for Saturday Night Live Just Commercials, Univision fifth with a 1.3 for the first half of Nuestra Belleza Latina and CW sixth with a 0.2 for the first hour of the movie Easy Money.

ABC took the lead at 9 p.m. with a 4.6 for Housewives, while Fox moved to second with a 3.2 for Family Guy (3.7) and American Dad (2.7). CBS was third with a 3.0 for Cold Case, NBC fourth with a 2.8 for Apprentice, Univision fifth with a 1.7 for more Latina and CW sixth with a 0.2 for the end of its movie.

At 10 p.m. ABC was first with a 3.5 for Brothers & Sisters, followed by NBC with a 3.4 for more Apprentice. CBS was third with a 2.3 for The Unit and Univision fourth with a 1.2 for Quién Tiene la Razón: Edición Especial.

Among households, CBS led the night with a 7.0 average overnight rating and a 12 share. ABC was second at 6.5/11, NBC third at 3.9/6, Fox fourth at 2.8/5, Univision fifth at 1.5/2 and CW sixth at 0.6/1.

post #31465 of 93824
Nielsen Notes
Fallon tops first week; U2 doesn't boost Letterman
From James Hibberd's The Hollywood Reporter 'Live Feed' Blog - March 9, 2009

Jimmy Fallon did better than most expected during his first week driving a late-night talk show.

After starting strong on Monday (2.3 metered-market household rating), the newbie NBC "Late Night" host slipped Tuesday (2.0) and Wednesday (1.8). But then he popped back up for Thursday (2.0) and Friday (1.9). Fallon won his time period every night of the week with a strong 2.0 average. Overall the NBC show was up 12% compared to its season-to-date average under Conan O'Brien.

Over on CBS, U2 got a lot of headlines out of its weeklong visit to Late Show," but the five-night music-guest stint didn't do much for Letterman's ratings.

Though the "Late Show" had a couple higher-than-usual nights, overall the week averaged a 3.1 metered-market household rating, which is on par with the show's weekly season-to-date average. The exposure presumably helped U2, which is on track to score its seventh No. 1 album with its new release, No Line on the Horizon (dark, dense and better with every listen).

post #31466 of 93824
TV Notes
'Bachelor' castoff readies to dance
From Verne Gay, Newsday - March 9, 2009

Who needs a bachelor?

Melissa Rycroft - dumped by Jason Mesnick on the post-finale of "The Bachelor" and just like that, one of TV's most famous jilted lovers - will join "Dancing With the Stars" tonight for the eighth season.

People magazine first reported the last minute replacement, although ABC pointedly, and tellingly, declined to deny it.

A spokeswoman said yesterday, "ABC isn't commenting, but all will be revealed on Monday's show."

Holly Madison, former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner, is also expected to join the show.

Is Rycroft a surprise? Maybe for anyone unschooled in the ways of TV. She became an insta-mega-celebrity last week after Mesnick rejected her for Molly Malaney (who had been earlier rejected - don't ask ... please).

Then, with almost eerie convenience, "Access Hollywood" co-anchor Nancy O'Dell - booked to appear on "DWTS" - dropped out due to a reported injury, along with Jewel. Suddenly there were two openings, and just like that, they've been filled.

Rycroft, 25, is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, and - through last week's "Bachelor" reunion show, anyway - the love of Mesnick's life, "forever." Alas, he changed his mind.

Madison stars in an E! reality show called "The Girls Next Door."

post #31467 of 93824
Critic's Review
'Castle' (ABC)
Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic play a mystery writer and a cop working together on cases in the new ABC show
By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times - March 9, 2009

The detective tale is like yellow cake -- at some level everyone likes it, and with a little imagination you can do pretty much anything with it.

Which is why the mystery section of almost every bookstore is among its largest and why television is inevitably chockablock with detective skeins of one form or another. Lately, we've been tipping toward Nick and Nora-meet-Sherlock Holmes. On shows including "The Mentalist," "Bones," "Lie to Me," "Eleventh Hour," "Life" and even "Fringe" you have the sleuth with something extra (He used to be a fake psychic! She's a forensic archaeologist! He's a cop who went to jail!) teamed up with a more standard-issue model, usually, though not always, of the opposite sex (on "Numb3rs," the cop and the math whiz are brothers).

Onto this crowded playing field comes Castle, an ABC murder mystery series that is both of the genre and about the genre. Meet Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), a bestselling mystery writer-playboy who has just killed off his lucrative detective because he was bored. But not for long! When real crime scenes begin resembling the murders in some of Castle's books, the firm-jawed yet lovely NYPD detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) comes to call.

For some reason she doesn't bother to suspect Castle, she just wants his help, though not nearly as much help as he wants to give her. His years as a mystery writer have given him many insights into the criminal mind -- and if he runs out, he can turn to his poker buddies, real-life mystery writers James Patterson and Stephen Cannell.

More important, of course, is his burgeoning relationship with Beckett. Turns out she's sense to his sensibility, flint to his tinder, and when they solve the crime it's no big surprise that he manages to pull a few strings so he can shadow her as research for his next blockbuster character -- a tough but gorgeous female detective.

Having a mystery writer solve mysteries is nothing new -- Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) and Ellery Queen did it for years (a moment of silence, please, for the late great Jim Hutton, whose wingtips can never be filled). Nor is the sparks-a-flyin' mismatch, which is as ubiquitous as chocolate frosting. But new and fancy don't always mean better, and at the end of the day who's going to say no to a nice piece of cake?

Written by Andrew Marlowe ("Air Force One"), "Castle" has more than a few high-quality ingredients. Fillion, well-known to Joss Whedon fans from "Firefly," has long been in search of a show that would showcase his talents ("Drive" wasn't it). Here he is just as charming, handsome and banter-friendly as the role requires, with the added benefit of being a bit more baritone and less, well, vest-wearing than some of his current competition.

Castle may have his demons, but he also has an actual, if over-rich, home life. He's single father to a refreshingly smart but non-precocious teenage daughter (Molly Quinn) and lives with his former-actress mother, who could be unbearably annoying except she's played by Susan Sullivan, may her "Falcon Crest" mojo never falter.

Katic was last seen in a surprisingly good turn as a vampire in the most recent "Librarian" TV film, and her Beckett is an attractively streamlined version of a familiar character. Yes, she is buttoned down and irritated by Castle's presence as required, but she, and Marlowe, have decided to go with self-possessed coolness over arch put-downs and sarcasm, and God bless them for that.

The problem is that in the pilot and an early episode, the crimes are nowhere as compelling as the characters. For a show like "Castle" that dares to launch a more classic version into an already saturated and tarted-up market, the murders have to be as complicated and compelling as the push-me-pull-you glances between the main characters, and so far, they just aren't.

post #31468 of 93824
TV Notes
A Matrix of News Winners Buoys NBC
By Bill Carter, The New York Times - March 9, 2009

NBC's Today show has the longest winning streak in television history: every week for 13 years, and counting. Now the evening newscast competition seems to be swinging NBC's way as well.

The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, which until last fall had been in a tight race with the ABC newscast led by Charles Gibson, has finished first for 20 consecutive weeks, with about 9.5 million viewers, roughly a million more than ABC. (The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric trails the pack with two million to three million fewer viewers than NBC's program.)

The bookend winning streaks morning and evening augmented by NBC's continuing success on Sundays with Meet the Press, provide the network with a strong claim to leadership in network news though ABC News argues that the lead in evening newscasts is cyclical.

But NBC's surge in the evening has been strong enough for the news division president, Steve Capus, to suggest that NBC is positioned to be the first network to expand to a full-hour newscast. (He did not set any timetable for that move.)

Even though overall network audiences have eroded significantly, the evening newscasts have remained relatively stable. In the first eight weeks of 2009, the three programs drew a combined average of about 25.5 million viewers, versus about 26.9 million in 2006.

NBC is also winning one more competition perhaps the biggest one just as convincingly: Its news division is making a pile of money, while its competitors are making much less, or none at all. NBC's success in news is definitely an advantage, said Deana Myers, a senior media analyst for SNL Kagan. It's their strong point. It balances their weakness in prime time.

Official figures are not disclosed, but a senior NBC executive estimated that NBC News, consisting of the broadcast news division, the all-news cable channel MSNBC and a much-viewed Web site, MSNBC.com, supplied about 13 percent of the overall profit of its parent company, NBC Universal.

In January, NBC Universal announced a yearly profit of $3.1 billion. That would put the NBC News contribution at over $400 million.

CBS and ABC, meanwhile, both say they make money in news, though not anywhere near NBC levels. With coverage costs rising and advertising revenue shrinking, all the news divisions face long-term economic questions, but NBC seems best positioned to ride out the tempest.

Jeff Zucker, the NBC Universal chief executive, identified NBC's financial plan for news under the broad umbrella of efficiencies of scale.

The scales are tipped in NBC's favor, mainly because of assets neither of its rivals possess: moneymaking, information-based cable channels.

They have a definite advantage in reach with cable, Ms. Myers said.

Telemundo, NBC's Spanish-language channel, generates coverage from Hispanic perspectives including the immigration debate which often turn up on Nightly News. The Weather Channel provides coverage of meteorological events. CNBC, the company's business news cable channel, provides financial reporting to Today and to Mr. Williams's newscast.

Then there is MSNBC. Mr. Williams said in an interview that the ability to jump onto that all-news channel with a breaking story or interview adds huge value to our newscast because that material can be synthesized for use on the broadcast network.

Since making a commitment two years ago to opinion programming from the left side of the political spectrum, MSNBC's ratings have surged. The channel just had its best February ever, averaging 471,000 viewers a day, up from 341,000 in February 2007.

MSNBC now pulls in a bigger percentage of the news profits than the network news department, said the senior executive who provided information on NBC's finances. The margin was not disclosed.

CNBC, the Weather Channel and Telemundo are not counted in the news profits. But with those outlets added, the percentage of contribution to NBC Universal's profits climbs to 25 percent or about $775 million.

Mr. Zucker said, One of the hallmarks of the company is how we integrate our assets.

NBC's consistent victories in news, Mr. Capus said, help us as we go out into the marketplace and in a marketplace that can be a scary place to be these days.

Television ad sales have been battered; many sponsors have exercised options to pull out of long-term commitments to buy commercials. It's becoming a week-to-week enterprise, Mr. Capus said.

Peggy Green, vice chairwoman of Zenith Media, a media-buying firm, said NBC had reason to feel less daunted than its competitors. If you are only able to buy one brand, you're going to buy the one that's No. 1, she said. Some of her clients, including Toyota and Ocean Spray, have made special commercial arrangements with NBC News programs like Today.

Jon Banner, executive producer of ABC's World News, said ratings are cyclical and emphasized that ABC's newscast has been first on many big stories. I wouldn't be breaking out the Champagne if I were them, he said.

He argued that Mr. Gibson had recently cut into NBC's margin. Two weeks ago, ABC did climb back to within about 900,000 viewers (8.4 million, to 9.3 million for NBC). But the week before, the margin was 1.5 million, and in the last 14 weeks the deficit has averaged more than a million viewers.

Mr. Banner acknowledged that NBC's cable properties have been very helpful to them.

Other ABC executives gave another reason for Mr. Williams's rise: his hosting of Saturday Night Live. Mr. Williams had a reputation for stiffness and formality that belied his nature. The SNL role, as well as spots on other late-night shows, seemed to open him to wider acceptance.

Mr. Williams said he relished the late-night visits. I get it out of my system, he said. I get along with these guys. It's sword-fighting time.

post #31469 of 93824
Critic's Review
'Castle' (ABC)
'Castle' Lacks A King, a Queen -- And Chemistry
By Tom Shales, Washington Post - March 9, 2009

"Wildly famous mystery novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is bored with his own success," says ABC publicity for the new crime series "Castle." Bored with his success? Poor bay-beee. As it happens, he won't be the only one. Viewers who stumble into this misbegotten "Moonlighting" imitation will likely be bored, too, but not because of too much success.

"Moonlighting" was quite the seminal, pivotal hit in the '80s -- or so it would appear, since it still inspires copycats 20 years after it left ABC. Then again, it was hardly the first crime caper to feature a spatty, chatty couple; the "Thin Man" movies probably did it best. "Castle" does it half-heartedly, with the two principal characters exchanging flat patter and bottom-of-the-barrel banter.

Owing a little something also to "Murder, She Wrote," "Castle" presents us with a middle-aged novelist hero who forces himself on the New York Police Department so he can hook up with feisty, flinty Detective Kate Beckett, played by Stana Katic, and come up with more ideas for novels.

Shame on anyone who takes the easy road and says of Katic's performance, "I can't Stana." (Pause for uproarious laughter.) In fact, there might be a substantial young actress under the cliched character Katic has been forced to play -- another brittle and bitter career woman who traded in her femininity for a job. In real life, this doesn't have to happen, but in TV shows, a woman with a career still tends to be portrayed as a woman with big fat chips on both her padded shoulders.

Fillion, meanwhile, plays novelist Castle as a good-hearted, wisecracking puppy dog, romping around Detective Beckett in vain efforts to loosen her up and, in time, warm her up, no doubt hoping for a little romance. But as of tonight's premiere, the sparks fizzle and flop to the ground, soggy and damp and barely identifiable.

Wouldn't you know, a serial killer is the first culprit for the oddball crime-fighting team; serial killers are about 20 times as common on prime time as they are in the daily news. And of course he's a bit of a psycho, too, leaving his first victim -- a shapely young woman, surprise, surprise -- naked except for strategically strewn red rose petals and a large yellow sunflower plopped down on her face.

A later victim, introduced in a bid to sustain viewer interest, is found floating in a swimming pool with an embedded knife acting as a kind of mast, sticking straight up. Inevitably, a corrupt and perverse old billionaire is also involved in the mayhem, and though Castle keeps coming up with good clues, impulsive Beckett keeps trying to shove him out of the spotlight.

"Why are you here?" she asks him when they meet at a crime scene. "Why are you still here?" she asks him later, in an office he's demolishing. When not solving crimes that he can rip off for his next novel, Castle plays poker with a group of guys who include real-life mystery writer Stephen J. Cannell, creator of "The Rockford Files." He's obviously slumming here.

Maybe the show is trying to be fashionably "retro" while seeming merely old hat, the little trick that "Mad Men" gets away with on cable. There's much less going on in "Castle" than there is in "Mad Men," however, and by the time Beckett complains that "there is no story," many viewers will have wearily figured that out for themselves. "There's always a story; you just have to find it," Castle says at one point -- but too little about "Castle" makes you want to hang in there and keep looking.

Castle (one hour) premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 7.

post #31470 of 93824
The Business of Television
HBO Opens Syndie Sales
'Entourage', 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' for 2010
By Melissa Grego, Broadcasting & Cable - March 9, 2009

HBO has a question for cable networks and stations about three comedies, including Entourage: Is that something you might be interested in?

By the end of March, the pay-TV network will be in the marketplace selling syndication runs for Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sex and the City.

Executives have already held meetings with buyers about the off-HBO runs of Entourage and Curb. By the end of this month, they will start making formal sales presentations, says Scott Carlin, HBO president of domestic distribution. Carlin's team is also talking to stations about the second broadcast syndication cycle for Sex and the City.

Sex and the City was the first series HBO sold into syndication, and was done so in a then-unusual windowing between cable network TBS and local stations. TBS got the show exclusively for 18 months, during which time the basic cabler had rights to run two episodes in primetime, then repeat them the next day. Then the broadcast window opened up, allowing stations to strip the comedy.

The TBS deal continues through 2012, but the broadcast portion of the first cycle concludes in September. Carlin says SATC station incumbent Tribune is among the broadcasting groups he is talking to about cycle two.

In SATC's first cycle, sold on a cash-plus-barter basis, TBS paid around $750,000 per episode, and stations' cash license fees totaled about $300,000 per episode, according to estimates.

But the marketplace is a drastically different one today, with stations struggling and the ad market depressed as well.

Given stations' challengesparticularly the Tribune Co., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last yearHBO will not rule out a barter-only deal for SATC. Estimates place the barter advertising earned for the show in its first cycle at $1.5 million per episode.

Since Carlin started HBO's syndie department in 2002, his group has sold hundreds of hours of programming, but it's been years since they've been out with a big comedy series.

Everything has its own life and time, Carlin says. We think now is a pretty interesting time to begin having some conversations with people about these shows.

Many people in the industry expected HBO to take Entourage out sooner in its life cycle, when it was at the height of its buzz. But a combination of factors meant holding off. Long before Tribune, one of the most important station buyers, filed for Chapter 11, it was experiencing corporate issues that made buying complicated. And then there was the WGA strike.

The writers' strike pushed everyone off traditional timeliness and set us back a little bit, Carlin says. Now we have a good sense of what the future looks like, how many episodes, when we can deliver.

Entourage is about to go into production on season six, set to debut this summer. Once completed, there will be 78 episodes. No seasons have been ordered beyond that. Curb is in production on its season seven, bringing that show to 70 episodes.

We certainly have the minimum threshold to make these shows viable in the marketplace, Carlin says.

While HBO will be out selling these shows relatively late in their runs, most shows that go into syndication have more episodes guaranteed by the time a syndicator trots them out. This could work to HBO's advantage. In this economy, the smaller number of episodes translates to a more manageable investment if a buyer is paying a per-episode cash license fee.

But the aspect of these shows Carlin expects to be most important to buyers is the fact that they are established programs with virtually no advertising in them. He says previous deals prove it is a huge sales benefit to be able to sell the first opportunity to associate a brand with an HBO show.

Both Entourage and Curb will likely be made available to run in syndication starting sometime next year.

Terms and windows will be determined based on buyers' needs and availability and the best offer. There is no fixed template, Carlin says. We'll adapt to the best opportunity.

Paige Albiniak contributed to this story

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