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The National Broadcast Association is in Las Vegas, with the Internet, shifting financial models and controversy with the FCC taking its seat along side broadcast and electronic hardware, software and Hollywood celebrities.
Daily Dose: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski played a game of hide and seek with reporters Monday at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention. Genachowski gave a speech then tore out through a side door with aides and reporters jogging behind him. He was then led to a green room while an assistant kept the press at bay. Being press shy is nothing new for Genachowski. At another convention, his office once got a blueprint of the facility so it could map out the best route to avoid interacting with anyone.
Putting Political Ad Cost On-line. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said broadcasters who resist the regulatory agency's efforts requiring television stations to put detailed information online about political advertising are "against technology, against transparency and against journalism."
Genachowski, speaking at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention here, was making the case for a proposal that the FCC will vote on later this month that would require stations to post online the rates they charge politicians for commercials.
Congress already requires TV stations to make such information available to the public, but the idea of moving it from the file cabinet to the Internet is proving to be a hard sell with broadcasters.
"Despite the proud history of broadcast journalism and the many innovative products broadcasters deploy today to harness digital technology to inform, explain as well as entertain, broadcasters and a few others have strongly resisted online disclosure," Genachowski said.
The FCC chairman also took issue with those who have questioned whether the agency has the authority to force broadcasters to disclose what a candidate paid for a specific ad.
"Congress explicitly requires broadcasters to 'maintain, and make available for public inspection, a complete record of a request to purchase broadcast time that is made by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate,'" Genachowski told a packed room, adding that the FCC is "explicitly charged" with enforcing those rules.
Initially, only TV stations that are affiliates of or owned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the top-50 markets will be required to put political spending data on the Web. The new rule, if passed, would go into effect by late summer or early fall at the latest, still in time for the 2012 general election.
Other stations in smaller markets around the country would have up to two years after the rule change goes into effect to post political advertising information online.
Many broadcasters are against disclosing specific commercial rates online for fear it will hurt them competitively. Even though such information is already available to the public, NAB President Gordon Smith said "it is a fundamentally different thing when you keep it in your station versus putting it online." Smith, a former Republican senator from Oregon, added that if the FCC wants full transparency, then cable and online platforms should also be required to disclose commercial rates.
Alan Frank, the president of Post-Newsweek Stations, said broadcasters are trying to find a compromise by providing information on how much candidates and political action committees spend on TV stations without saying what specific shows were bought at what price.
"We think it will create more confusion than it will help," Frank said of providing the nitty-gritty of specific program rates. He questioned the significance of whether a spot was bought on the "six o' clock news" or on "Wheel of Fortune."
Broadcasters seem resigned to the increasing likelihood that they will lose this battle.
"Who can be against mom, apple pie and the American way of transparency?" cracked Smith.
Photo: Gordon H. Smith, President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters. Credit: National Association of Broadcasters.
National Assn. of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith warned broadcasters that the telecommunications industry "wants us out of the game."
In his opening remarks at the annual NAB convention here in Las Vegas, the broadcasting industry's top Capitol Hill lobbyist said broadcasters cannot "let down our guard" when it comes to the wireless and mobile industries.
Smith's remarks come after broadcasters scored what most consider to have been a major victory in its fight to hold on to their airwaves. While Congress cleared the way for the Federal Communications Commission to auction broadcast spectrum to wireless companies earlier this year, TV station owners are not going to be forced to sell their airwaves. Broadcasters can voluntarily sell spectrum, although few have indicated a desire to do so.
A former Republican senator from Oregon, Smith cited Silicon Valley's win over Hollywood in getting SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy legislation killed as a sign that "we should never rest on our laurels."
"The idea behind SOPA and PIPA was simple and straightforward: Don't steal our creative content," Smith said. But Silicon Valley changed the debate in Washington and won the battle. "Shockingly, 'thou shalt not steal,' became 'do not censor the Internet,' " he said.
"The Googles and the Wikis," Smith said, used their medium to "create a powerful megaphone to change forever how battles are won, or lost, inside the beltway."
Smith also took shots at cable and satellite operators who complain about paying broadcasters so-called retransmission consent fees in return for carrying their signals.
"Of the top 100 prime-time shows, 95 of them are on broadcast TV, not cable networks," Smith said, adding that the "cable and satellite lobby's notion of market failure is simply false."
The FCC is currently reviewing retransmission consent rules and many cable operators are trying to make it more difficult for broadcasters to pull their signals from pay-TV distributors if a new deal can't be reached right away. Earlier this month, Tribune, parent of the Los Angeles Times, took its channels including KTLA-TV in Los Angeles off of satellite broadcaster DirecTV for a few days until a new pact was signed.
Smith also said broadcasters need to be more aggressive in creating mobile platforms.
"Delivering live, local and national news, sports and our great shows, to viewers on the go -- this is where our business is going," Smith predicted.
And then there was one. Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, the longtime leader of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is stepping down as a co-national executive director of the newly merged union, SAG-AFTRA.
"It was with great pride and enormous satisfaction that I joined union members, colleagues and staff on March 30 to celebrate the overwhelming vote in favor of AFTRA and SAG,'' Hedgpeth said. "Having achieved this important goal, for which many of us worked so tirelessly for so many years, now is the right moment to begin a new chapter in life."
Hedgpeth, who will leave her post April 30, has served as AFTRA's national executive director since 2005. But her future was cast into question once AFTRA and SAG members voted on March 30 to merge their organizations.
Board members from both unions had named Hedgpeth and SAG Executive Director David White as co-national executive directors, but it was widely expected that White would eventually head the combined group after a transition period.
During her tenure at AFTRA, Hedgpeth served as chief negotiator for many of AFTRA's national contracts covering actors, broadcast journalists, recording artists, among others, and was widely praised for her contributions to the union.
"Kim is in a league of her own,'' said Roberta Reardon, co-national president of SAG-AFTRA. "Through her remarkable negotiating skills at the bargaining table, her superb administration of the union and her principle attentiveness to the needs of members, Kim has improved the careers and lives of thousands of union members around the nation."
Photo: Producer Gale Anne Hurd with a zombie head in March at her Valhalla Entertainment offices in Los Angeles. Hurd is an executive producer of the AMC series "The Walking Dead." Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.
Bringing Movie Magic to TV and cable. NBCUniversal's cable television production studio is partnering with Gale Anne Hurd's Valhalla Entertainment with the hope that the prolific veteran film producer will generate hits for the Comcast Corp.-controlled media company.
Landing a producer of Hurd's stature is noteworthy for the cable studio.
Hurd has made such blockbuster movies as "Aliens," "Terminator 2," "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Abyss." Hurd's first stab at cable programming resulted in "The Walking Dead," AMC's juggernaut series, which Hurd produces with filmmaker Frank Darabont. (Last month's season finale of "The Walking Dead" drew 9 million viewers, an extraordinary number for a cable program.)
As part of the deal, announced Monday, Valhalla will develop and produce projects for NBCUniversal's cable channels, including USA Network and Syfy, and the struggling NBC broadcast network. The companies may also sell their co-produced programs outside the Comcast family to networks owned by other media giants.
The Valhalla Entertainment pact marks the third "pod deal" for Universal Cable Productions. (Unlike a first-look deal, where a producer can shop a show around, a pod arrangement is more comprehensive because the studio takes an ownership interest in all projects.) The company has similar deals with Tagline, which produces the hit "Psych" for USA Network, and Hypnotic, which produces the dramas “Covert Affairs” and “Suits” for USA as well as the comedy series “I Just Want My Pants Back” for MTV.
The agreement does not include Valhalla television shows already on the air or in the pipeline, such as "The Walking Dead" and "Port Royal," an upcoming show for FX.
Universal Cable is managed by a team of development executives that includes Richard Rothstein, Chris Sanagustin and Maira Suro. The three oversee development for USA, Syfy and external networks, respectively.
Photo: Kate Winslet stars in "Titanic." Credit: Paramount Pictures
'Titanic' beats all China debut expectations. Film on its way to top 'Avatar' in top box office slot. The 3-D version of "Titanic" posted the highest opening of all time in China over the weekend. But it turns out that the movie made an even bigger splash at the box office than initially projected.
After playing for six days, distributor 20th Century Fox estimated Sunday that the film had grossed a record-breaking $58 million in China. On Monday, the studio adjusted that figure when director James Cameron's 3-D re-release took in an actual $67 million.
It's not uncommon for early international box office figures to be slightly off, because many countries don't have electronic reporting — a common practice in the United States.
Paul Hanneman, co-president of Fox International, attributed some of the film's success in China to the fact that the original played in only 180 theaters in 1998, compared with 3,500 for this year's 3-D release. But he also said Chinese moviegoers have responded to the romance between the characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
“I really do feel this love story just transcends cultures,” he said. “It’s a relatively simple story based on reality, and I think that appeals to people.” Hanneman also noted that 3-D films continue to be exceedingly popular in China, where fans who shell out money for pricey tickets would rather “embrace a premium experience.”
After its debut in China 12 years ago, Cameron's historical epic collected $44 million, remaining the most popular film in the country for 11 years until the release of "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." Now, the No. 1 grossing film in the country is Cameron's "Avatar," which made $207 million there in 2010.
"Titanic" in 3-D is performing well elsewhere overseas too: The movie raked in $98.9 million over the weekend, raising its international tally to $157.1 million. In total, the original "Titanic" and the 3-D version have now grossed over $2 billion.
China is a different animal. The number of US films in per year is limited, and box office performance cannot be predicted by US or International performance. The chart below is from the Wall Street Journal.
Balancing act. On Monday, Walt Disney Co. and China's DMG Entertainment announced plans to make the next "Iron Man" movie there. While trying to crack the Chinese market is a goal of Hollywood, shooting a movie there and working with a Chinese company will not be without challenges. The Wall Street Journal notes that China "maintains a tight grip over who participates in its film industry and what they are allowed to make." Studios have to weigh the benefits of getting exposure in China vs. potentially giving up creative freedom.
The streak is over. While it's not quite on the level of Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak, NBC's morning news show, "Today," has owned first place every week for 16 years (852 weeks). But that streak appears to be over. Early ratings information from Nielsen indicates that ABC's "Good Morning America" topped "Today" last week. The morning shows are the profit centers for broadcast network news divisions and "GMA" has been nipping at the heels of "Today" for the last few years. More on the win from the New York Daily News and Los Angeles Times.
Changing styles. Cable networks USA and TNT have been best known for their drama shows such as "Burn Notice" and "The Closer," respectively. Now USA is going to try its hand at comedy while TNT is launching a reality show. It is part of a growing trend among some big cable networks to broaden their programming approach. Bravo, queen of cheesy reality shows such as the "Real Housewives" franchise, is looking at soap opera-style shows while History, which long ago stopped being just about History, is getting into original scripted programming. More on cable networks reshuffling the deck from USA Today.
Photo: Robert Johnson is looking to be a new media pioneer. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times
New chapter. Robert Johnson, above, the founder of BET who sold the cable network to Viacom for $3 billion almost a decade ago, is now looking to be a new media pioneer. Johnson is building an online distribution company and is in the process of acquiring content to feed the pipes. "The gatekeepers have been, for practical purposes, disassembled. If you can identify and curate the content, there is nothing keeping you from reaching a global audience," Johnson tells the Los Angeles Times.
Growing up. When Hulu was launched, it was aimed at curbing piracy. The theory was that the owners of the online video site -- News Corp., NBC and now Disney -- would fight content theft by offering their own shows online for free. Of course, they soon realized that's akin to fighting crime by leaving your doors and windows wide open. Now the site keeps much of its content behind a pay wall and is starting to create original programming as well. In other words, it's an online cable network. More on how Hulu has evolved as it prepares to hold its first big presentation to advertisers, from the New York Times.
Stern loses to Sirius. A judge dismissed Howard Stern's lawsuit against satellite radio broadcaster Sirius in which the radio personality claimed that his contract had been violated. Stern, who got stock bonuses based on subscriber growth, argued he should have gotten a big bonus after Sirius gained millions of subscribers through its merger with rival XM. Details from the Hollywood Reporter.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: A look at the obsession over "Fifty Shades of Grey." Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski chastised broadcasters for resisting the regulatory agency's push to put detailed information about political ad spending online.
-- Joe Flint and others
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