GROUP CHALLENGES NETWORKS' PROGRAMMING CONTROL

Legal Action by New Alliance Demands Use of Independent Production Companies

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A newly formed alliance of entertainment and advertising companies is expected to file a brief today with the Federal Communications Commission asking the agency to require broadcast networks to devote a percentage of prime-time programming to shows produced by independent companies.

The alliance, called the Coalition for Program Diversity, includes Sony Pictures Television, Grey Global Group's MediaCom, Carsey-Werner Productions, Marian Rees Productions, American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, Directors Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild. The coalition contends that prime-time programming has become "homogenous and safe" because it is almost completely produced and owned by the networks themselves or in partnership with an exclusive group of producers.

Media consolidation
The initiative comes as the FCC considers lifting restrictions on mergers between TV broadcast networks, and on the number of local TV or radio stations owned by one company. Such deregulation, according to the coalition, threatens to further stifle the diversity

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of programming for consumers and advertisers.

"They are deregulating ownership but they haven't put a governor on it to make sure that there is program diversity," said Jon Mandel, president-CEO of MediaCom. "One of the main charges of the FCC is to promote localism, competition and diversity, which doesn't just refer to people of color, it refers to many different types of programming. They've ignored that in the past."

Guaranteeing originality
The coalition's initiative would also require that programming created by companies outside the networks be owned by their independent creators rather than the networks in order to guarantee the originality of the programs. The FCC is currently seeking comments on what standards it should set in remaking its rules. The deadline for comments is Jan. 2, 2003.

Earlier this month, the American Association of Advertising Agencies combined forces with Consumers Federation of America, Consumers Union and some minority-owned media companies to fight the weakening of media consolidation curbs by the FCC. That alliance is working with the Information Policy Institute, which has been enlisted by the 4A's to provide an economic analysis of media consolidation. The groups plan to share data, information and terminology on consolidation's effects and are expected to file joint comments with the FCC opposing consolidation.

Although not part of that alliance, the Coalition for Program Diversity is working toward the same end, including pushing the interests of advertisers, whose costs are expected to rise as smaller media outlets are gobbled up by huge media owners.

'Cost issues'
"There are cost issues involved here too," Mr. Mandel said. "Advertisers will be getting whacked as a result of deregulation, and they will be hurt because these prime-time shows aren't doing that well. There are a few standouts, but there should be more than just a few. And there used to be more than that."

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Ira Teinowitz contributed to this report.

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