Media consolidation attacked: NATPE

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[Las Vegas] Just days before Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell decides whether to seek further appeals against the Supreme Court's decision to strike down looser ownership limits, two major figures made pleas for a wider variety of voices on the airwaves.

First came billionaire media mogul Ted Turner, calling for "less Hollywood news and more hard news." Speaking at the National Association of Television Program Executives last week, Mr. Turner said media consolidation is one of the greatest threats to American democracy in our time. Mr. Turner's views were echoed by FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who called for broadcasters to give up 25%-35% of prime-time hours to independent producers and creators at a session the following day. Mr. Copps posed the question, "Is it that we have allowed a few media conglomerates to wield gatekeeper control over the content and distribution of the entertainment that we get?" Children, senior citizens and minorities were not adequately catered to on TV, Mr. Copps added.

new technology

Other sessions during the annual TV programmers conference last week focused on new TV-related technology and whether the branded entertainment measurement practices could be standardized-a resounding no was the answer. The expansion of mobile phones and video-on-demand as distribution platforms got panelists jazzed about the future. But figuring out the business models is going to prove challenging.

In a session titled, "TV's Next Top Model: Business Paradigms for the New Bottom Line," Bruce Rosenblum, exec VP, Warner Bros. Television Group, said: "The value of library content in video-on-demand is great. Then you have to divvy it up between the cable systems operators, the cable networks, the copyright holders, other participants, actors, then there are guild issues. We need to figure out how to compensate everybody, but we can't get there till we know what it looks like."

Meanwhile, down on the floor, media agencies and their clients met with the major syndicators to get a look at show concepts that might debut in fall 2005. As of the morning of Jan. 27, NBC Universal's untitled Martha Stewart project had been cleared in over 60% of the country, while Warner Bros. Domestic Distribution's talk show hosted by Tyra Banks, who is executive producer of UPN's "America's Next Top Model," is also certain to move ahead. Other projects, including "The Robin Quivers Show" from Sony Pictures Television, and Twentieth Television's show built around financial-advice guru Suze Orman, have yet to announce pick-ups from station groups.

One major buyer predicted that few agencies would be interested in the Martha Stewart show, with another simply stating that Martha did not have the personality for daytime TV. "Mark Burnett has made a mistake on this one," said this executive.

Heidi Diamond, president-TV at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, said she had met with both Publicis Groupe's Starcom and WPP Group's Mediaedge to give further details of the show's contents. Ms. Stewart will be back on the circuit in six weeks, according to Ms. Diamond, who added that technology advertisers such as Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard Co. had shown interest. Ms. Stewart also has a prime-time show in the works.

early involvement

Other executives report strong interest in the "Tyra Banks Show." Among the categories talking to Warner Bros. Domestic Distribution were consumer package goods, retailers, autos, technology and online advertisers.

Ms. Orman said her show would include segments like kids looking to clothe themselves on a $20 budget, and how to get out of debt and manage money. Ms. Orman said Lending Tree, through Interpublic Group of Cos. agency Mullen, Wenham, Mass., had shown interest. She also writes a Yahoo column twice a month, and said there was also possible involvement with the online giant.

Though the markedly slow pick-up rate has caused some headaches for agencies looking to recommend shows to clients, it gave branded-entertainment executives the chance to gain early involvement in projects. This is the first year that M&V players have sat at the table with media agency counterparts to negotiate possible deals, according to some. By March, media agencies should know their clients' budgets moving into the pre-upfront period and be ready to commit to coming syndicated projects.

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