With Alex Weprin, Robert Marich and Marisa Guthrie
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ABC News, WGAE Battle Over BlackBerrys
ABC News and the Writers Guild of America East may have resolved their contract dispute late last year, but a new squabble has left guild members at the news division feeling painfully empty-handed.
A couple of weeks ago, ABC News writers were forced to surrender their BlackBerry handheld devices when the network clashed with the guild over after-hours work.
According to people familiar with the situation, ABC asked writers and producers to sign a waiver acknowledging that they may use their BlackBerrys to monitor and compose work-related e-mail after normal working hours.
When WGAE advised its members not to sign, the network took the Berrys away.
"In a culture that has gone completely Blackberry," said one ABC News producer, "it's absurd."
Indeed, ABC examined Berry bereavement in a 2007 report on a brief service outage, noting that for those who "use a BlackBerry daily for business—think investment bankers, lawyers and yes, journalists—the outage was devastating."
But at presstime, hope was at hand that the handhelds would soon return. An ABC News executive said the issue is "very close to being worked out."
Visa, AmEx …or Fox
Two tickets to The Happening: $20.00. The Season 6 DVD of 24: $58.98. A studio-branded credit card from 20th Century Fox: priceless.
At least that's the perception the folks at Fox Licensing & Merchandising are hoping for this fall when it launches its new Fox Entertainment Rewards card in partnership with Washington Mutual bank.
Promising "powerfully compelling benefits to consumers looking for the best in entertainment along with great purchasing power," according to a press release, Fox will join other media properties, including ESPN, in testing whether such a broadly focused "affinity" card can click in the fickle consumer market.
The potential value goes beyond the obvious appeal of the credit business. In addition to offering direct purchasing on everything from DVDs to newspaper subscriptions from its parent, News Corp., Fox can vacuum up the customer purchasing data so coveted in this digital era.
Neither Fox nor WaMu offered further details on the venture, so we can only wonder what graphics might grace the media plastic—Homer Simpson perhaps?—or how 24's Jack Bauer might use it to save the world.
Al Jazeera's Struggle
When Al Jazeera English launched in 2006, Burlington, Vt., was the first of only three markets that agreed to offer the controversial offshoot of the international Arab news network. Two years later, the liberal New England enclave is still debating whether to keep it.
Several weeks ago, Burlington Telecom, a city-owned cable system reaching fewer than 3,000 subscribers, announced it would drop the channel due to persistent viewer complaints. But Burlington's mayor demanded that the people have their say.
Although the second of two forums concluded last week with overwhelming public support for keeping the channel, its fate will be decided in the coming weeks when all comments have been reviewed.
Al Jazeera English correspondent Josh Rushing, who attended last week's forum, acknowledges the hard slog the channel faces in gaining carriage (Toledo, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., are the other two markets) and changing the perception that it's a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda.
Rushing's own perception changed in the early days of the Iraq war, when he was a Pentagon spokesman and often appeared on the Arabic Al Jazeera (an experience captured in the documentary Control Room).
Still, he says, "it's so hard to make a dent in what people believe."
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