Cable upfront starts on a down note

The bulk of the cable upfront is expected to move this week and next. Some deals have already been struck. Sources confirm that Turner Broadcast Sales (representing WTBS and TNT) has deals with four big media buyers at prices that are down single and double digits from last year. A Turner spokesman would say only that none of the deals to date were at rates down 15% (or worse) from last year.

Meanwhile, UPN has reportedly completed about half its upfront business, totaling $85 million to $90 million. So far, sources say, pricing is roughly flat with last year. Advertisers are paying less for Buffy
than they paid The WB last year but more for the Tuesday time period where UPN has scheduled the show.

Charter reduces its blackout of ESPNews

Charter scaled back the number of homes from which it pulled ESPNews last week, to just 285,000 homes. Two weeks ago, the No. 4 MSO, with 7 million subscribers, said it would take the network off systems serving 850,000 homes.

The two companies are in a dispute over how much of ESPNews' product the network will be able to stream over the Internet.

NUE-TV scrambling

Startup black cable network New Urban Entertainment, unable to secure new financing, is laying off almost all its staff.

NUE execs met with potential backers Monday, but Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins is balking at putting up $25 million of a planned $60 million. Existing backers don't want to pony up the $1 million to $2 million needed to keep the operation going a few more months.

At last, Martin joins the FCC

After a White House paperwork delay, Republican Kevin Martin took his place at the FCC on Tuesday. Martin is the third Bush-nominated commissioner, joining Democrat Michael Copps and Republican Kathleen Abernathy. His term runs until June 30, 2006.

Martin, 34, comes to the FCC from the White House, where he was a special assistant to the president for economic policy. He also worked on the Bush campaign and was a key adviser to former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth.

Prior to his FCC stint, he was an associate at the law firm of Wiley, Rein & Fielding and a clerk to U.S. District Court Judge William Hoeveler.

ESPN scores NCAA rights

ESPN has clinched broadcast rights to air the women's NCAA college basketball tournament from 2003 to 2013. The deal gives ESPN and ESPN2 rights to air all 63 games.

Coalition lobbies Bush on Violence Bill

The Creative Coalition last week asked President George W. Bush not to support a bill that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to fine entertainment companies that market violent products to kids.

The legislation "would essentially regulate the marketing of entertainment in such a way that the government would, in effect, have enormous and inappropriate clout on the kind of entertainment that is produced," wrote President William Baldwin and Executive Director Robin Bronk.

Character counts

The Supreme Court last week upheld the FCC's policy of including character as a factor in determining an individual's suitability to hold a broadcast license. The justices refused to hear the appeal of Michael Rice, who was found guilty of child molestation and misled the FCC about his continued involvement in the management of the radio stations he owned. The decision freed the FCC to auction off Rice's licenses for seven stations serving Terre Haute, Ind.; Columbia, Mo.; Huntsville, Mo.; Eldon, Mo.; and Cuba, Mo.

Beach battle

The battle for a new TV station in Virginia Beach, Va., continues, even though the FCC's Mass Media Bureau last month awarded the license for channel 21 to Winstar Broadcasting, a subsidiary of bankrupt Winstar Communications. Since bidding for the station closed in October 1999, runner-up bidder Robert Copeland has been fighting to block Winstar's $8.75 million top offer on grounds that Winstar misled the commission about its ownership structure. Copeland's attorney last week asked FCC commissioners to review the Mass Media Bureau's decision.

Ackerly Execs Take Pay Cut

VPs/GMs at radio- and TV-station owner The Ackerly Group got a 5% reduction in pay effective July 1 and continuing through the end of the year. But even they made out better than corporate executives and senior managers, who will take a 10% hit over the period. The company cited the economy and "aggressive" efforts to meet revenue projections.