Wonder what PBS viewers will make of this? The Nightly Business Report, produced at Miami's WPBT-PBS 2 for the past 31 years, has been acquired by a private company. The acquisition by NBR Worldwide, Inc. that was announced Thursday marks the first time a major news show produced specifically for PBS by an affiliate station has moved into private hands, but NBR also promises to expand the show onto new digital platforms as well.
My Herald pal Bridget Carey has an interesting story in Tuesday's paper about Sezmi, a service that combines over-the-air television with on-line feeds of a handful of cable channels. Personally, I'm dubious that Sezmi is going to catch on; a service that offers so few channels will appeal mostly to people who watch little or no TV, yet the price ($149 per television set start-up costs, plus a $5 monthly fee) is way above what anybody is likely to pay just to watch the evening news once in a while.
That doesn't mean that on-line TV viewing isn't the future. When I talk to college journalism classes, the vast majority of students tell me they don't have cable service, and a startling number don't even have TV sets. Instead, they watch their programming at sites like Hulu.com. Meanwhile, network executives get all twitchy with glee at the prospect of eliminating local affiliates, the expensive and balky middlemen in getting their programming to the public. When somebody figures out an easy, viewer-friendly way of getting on-line feeds into a television set, TV as we know it will be gone in a flash.
Let's play America's newest game show, How Screwed Are You? First question: Do you get your television through AT&T's U-Verse system? Yes? And are you a Mad Men fan? Yes? Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner! I mean, a loser! You are sooooo screwed. The cold war between AT&T and Rainbow Media, which owns Mad Men's AMC cable network, is about to go hot -- and you're collateral damage.
Rainbow, which also owns IFC and WE, is trying to hike the rates that AT&T pays for its programming. AT&T is suggesting Rainbow go pound sand. They've been in a standoff for weeks now, with no apparent sign of progress, and their contract expires at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday. Unless somebody blinks, all three channels will disappear from AT&T U-verse at that time...and there's no guarantee they'll be back before Mad Men's fourth season kicks off on July 25.
The threat of blackouts is increasingly common these days as everybody plays hardball over how much distributors (cable systems and the like) have to pay producers (networks). To complicate matters, more and more distributors are getting into the content business themselves, which puts them in a position to deny programming to their competitors. That's exactly what AT&T says is going on here: Rainbow Media is owned by Cablevision, which battles AT&T U-Verse for subscribers.
"It’s unfortunate that Rainbow Media, owned by Cablevision, is clearly not negotiating in good faith, is trying to charge significantly more than the average of what our TV competitors pay for these channels, and is acting in a way that harms competition and limits consumer choice," AT&T said in a press release issued Wednesday. (If you've always wondered what it would be like viewing a giant conglomerate like AT&T as a populist warrior for the little guy, check out the company's new psy-war website.)
These blackout threats often get settle at the last moment, or at worst, after a few days. On the other hand, a similar confrontation between DirecTV and the Versus sports channel went nuclear last year, keeping Versus off DirecTV's satellites for seven months -- erasing an entire season of college football games and most of a season of NHL hockey. Not to scream fire!in a crowded home theater or anything, but Versus is owned by Comcast, a DirecTV competitor. Sound familiar?
Speaking of college football, ABC and Time Warner Cable 's cable system are already exchanging death threats over their expiring contract, which expires on Sept. 2. And if Comcast succeeds in buying NBC and all its cable channels, this stuff will probably seem like kindergarten hair-pulling compared to what follows. Meanwhile, you AT&T U-verse subscribers might want to start kissing up to neighbors with cable if you're hoping to watch Mad Men.
Nikki Finke's often authoritative and always amusingly mean website Deadline Hollywood reports that the last attempt at CPR on The New Adventures Of Old Christine have failed and Julia Louis-Dreyfus' sitcom has been officially pronounced dead. When Old Christine had dangled by a thread at CBS in past seasons, ABC had expressed some interest in the show. But when push came to shove, ABC shoved off. The network also declined to raise CBS' Ghost Whisperer from the dead. And it appears that efforts to revive NBC's Law & Orderfor a 21st season on cable have failed, too.
The decisive issue for each of these shows is one that doesn't often get mentioned outside the industry press: cost. The ratings for Old Christine, Ghost Whisperer and L&O, though not fabulous, were good enough to keep them on the air. But the producers (and, standing behind them, the stars) wanted too much money for the numbers of viewers they were delivering. It's easy to rant at the networks for the seemingly casual way in which they kill off shows, and often they deserve the abuse. But they aren't the only culprits.
It's a world of slumming millionaires and poopy-mouth parents, of horny fat people and murderous bitches, of val-gal assassins and plane-crash survivors trying to get back home. (No, not those plane-crash survivors! A whole new batch.) It's the world of the 2010-11 television season, and we got a beguiling, amusing and perhaps slightly horrifying peek at it last week.
Every May, broadcast TV bosses gather in New York to ply potential advertisers with copious quantities of free food and liquor and a tantalizing -- or, sometimes, not -- glimpse at the fall schedule in a weird mixture of bacchanal, commerce and shamanism known as the upfronts.
Upfronts are the most glorious time of the television year, since none of the new series has yet bombed or undergone gazillion-dollar production delays while their stars try to escape jail or rehab. Every show looks heart-poundingly dramatic or head-bangingly funny or soul-shatteringly sentimental in the tightly edited preview reels provided by the networks.
Well, almost every show. At Fox's upfront, the crowd was noticeably unparoxysmic with laughter over Running Wilde, the network's prize new comedy. ``It seemed strangely, you know, unfunny,'' one perplexed attendee said. Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly, who a couple hours earlier had called Running Wilde ``the coup of the year,'' suddenly began mixing his vodka with Maalox.
For more moments of hilarity, bravado, idiocy and gastrointestinal distress from the upfronts, read my full story in Sunday's Miami Herald.
Their advertising sales may be down nearly $100 million, but Spanish-language broadcasters say that ringing sound you hear from their industry isn't an alarm bell. It's a wake-up call -- and a lot of companies have already answered.
``This time next year, if you're not in Hispanic media, you're going to want badly to get in,'' says Don Browne, president of Telemundo. ``And those who are already in it are going to feel pretty damn good about it.''
Once a cozy little Monopoly board with all the hotels stacked on two properties, Univisión and Telemundo, Spanish-language television has turned into a rambunctious free-for-all with new competitors getting into the game all the time.
The siren song that beckons them: explosive population growth among U.S. Hispanics that has already outstripped every demographic projection of the past decade and is expected to show an even more breathless pace when results of the 2010 census are in.
Some industry figures think tangible proof could come as soon as June, when the World Cup soccer tournament begins in South Africa. ``All the matches are going to be televised in the United States in the afternoon and early evening,'' says Jose Cancela, owner of the Hispanic USA marketing firm. ``I think the ratings are going to be through the roof.'' Read the rest of my story on Spanish-language TV in Monday's Miami Herald.