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Fast Track

FCC Accelerates Tuner Deadline

The FCC unanimously voted to accelerate the date when the most popular models of TV sets—those between 25 and 36 inches—must include DTV tuners. The new date is March 1, 2006, four months earlier than the current July 1 deadline.

The decision was a blow to set makers, who asked for a partial delay in their digital production quotas in February. The Consumer Electronics Association asked the FCC to delay next month's deadline for building digital tuners into half of the mid-sized sets. To sweeten the offer, CEA offered to go digital with all sets in the 25-36 inch range by March.

CEA's gambit backfired however because the commissioners were of one voice in rejecting CEA's bid to delay the 50% deadline and more than happy to take the set makers' offer to speed up the the 100% deadline. In another blow for set makers the FCC said it also will consider whether to move up the summer 2007 deadline for building digital tuners into 13-inch sets too.

Putting the best face possible on the defeat, CEA said it was “pleased” the FCC accepted the offer to advance the 100% mandate but “disappointed” and “concerned” about the other moves.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which waged a bitter battle against CEA's bid for delay, praised the commission. Said NAB President Eddie Fritts, “Allowing set manufacturers to continue selling analog-only TV sets only elongates the transition to digital.”—B.M.

Moonves: Prepare For Plugs Aplenty

Brace for even more product placement in your favorite TV shows, because CBS Chairman Les Moonves is planning a big increase.

“I think you're going to see a quantum leap in the number of products integrated into your television shows this year,” Moonves told investors at Deutsche Bank's annual media conference in New York Monday, trying to calm anxiety about the threatened disruption of TV advertising by digital video recorders.

Moonves says that while NBC's The Apprentice “may have taken that model and overdid it,” CBS will be heavily salting much of its programming with placements. “We're making more and more of those deals: the kind of cars they drive in CSI, the kind of orange juice they drink in Two and a Half Men.”—J.M.H.

Former RNC Head Favorite for CPB

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting could choose its new chief as soon as its next board meeting June 20-21.

The candidates to replace Kathleen Cox as president of CPB are said to be former Republican National Committee Co-Chair Patricia de Stacy Harrison and acting chief Ken Ferree, formerly of the FCC's Media Bureau under Republican Chairman Michael Powell.

Harrison is currently Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs and was Acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy during the Iraq conflict.—J.E.

Adelphia Launches Music Service

Cable operator Adelphia Communications is downloading, rolling out a new service that will let Adelphia high-speed Internet customers download or stream as many songs as they want from a music library with more than 1.5 million songs. Price: $7.95 a month.

Adelphia is also launching a second premium subscription service, Adelphia NetPak, for $9.95 per month. It includes content from, games and access to a free online photo-sharing service.—K.K.

TV Brass: Not All Six Nets Will Survive

NBC Universal Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and Touchstone Television President and ABC Entertainment EVP Mark Pedowitz predict that there will be fewer than the current six broadcast networks on the air five years from now.

Those comments came during a a joint Hollywood Radio & Television Society and Academy of Television Arts & Sciences panel discussion in Los Angeles about the state of the television industry, an event that moderator, film and TV producer Gavin Polone half-jokingly renamed “The Coming Television Apocalypse.”

On an equally ominous note, five of the six panelists predicted that the total dollar figure for next year's network upfronts will be flat or down from this year—with only NBC U's Reilly abstaining from the question. Most of the responses were in the down 1%-2% range, while The Firm Chairman and former Disney Television President Rich Frank said it could drop 10%.

A high-ranking SBC Communications executive on the panel acknowledged having numerous discussions about “more strategic relationships” with content providers, though he declined to say whether the telco would consider acquiring a television network.

Dan York, executive VP of programming for SBC, said when asked the question, “I'm not going to answer that straight out.” Citing the “competitive landscape,” he said, “It obviously makes sense to be a little more vertical and not just be a downstream provider.”—B.G.

Malone's Exit Could Signal Cablevision Deal

John Malone's resignation from Cablevision Systems' board of directors has sparked speculation that the company is prepping a deal involving all or part of its Rainbow networks unit.

Liberty Media Chairman Malone has quit the board, saying in an SEC filing that he wanted to avoid any potential conflicts of interest in the programming operations of Liberty and Cablevision.

What has changed is unclear. Outwardly, the potential conflicts are no different than when Malone accepted Cablevision Chairman Chuck Dolan's invitation to join the board in March—when Dolan needed support to continue Cablevision's Voom! satellite venture.

One possible change that analysts and investors immediately seized upon is that Cablevision might be planning some sort of deal involving Rainbow.

Malone is not seen as a buyer of networks, but has been working to spin off assets in order to shrink Liberty, possibly for a sale. “The decision seems to suggest that Cablevision has begun, or could begin in the future, discussions to sell their Rainbow Media cable channels to Liberty Media, or to a Liberty-related company,” says Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett.—J.M.H.

Clear Channel TV Names COO

Don Perry, VP and GM of WOAI San Antonio and regional VP of parent Clear Channel Television's Southwest region, has been named to the newly created post of executive VP and COO for Clear Channel Television (CCTV).

He will oversee the company's 40 TV stations and its six regional VPs. He reports to CCTV President and CEO William G. Moll.

Scripps Captures Shopzilla

In a monster bet on Internet shopping, E. W. Scripps Co. said it plans to buy price search engine Shopzilla for $525 million.

Shopzilla collects prices on electronics, clothes, and other consumer product from thousands of retailers, who then pay referral fees. Founded in 1996, Shopzilla expects to generate revenue of $130 million-$140 million this year and operating income of $30 million to $33 million.—J.M.H.

NBC U Takes Out 'Blind Date' Again

NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution has renewed the reality relationship strip Blind Date for its seventh season.

The renewal comes despite a big ratings drop for Blind Date and for the entire genre this past year. In addition, NBC U has renewed syndicated weeklies The Chris Matthews Show (fourth season), George Michael's Sports Machine (22nd season), and The Wall Street Journal Report (second season).—J.B.

Capus Caps 'Nightly News'

Steve Capus has been named the No. 2 exec at NBC Nightly News, replacing Bill Wheatley, who announced his retirement in April.

Capus, who has been executive producer of the half-hour weekday news broadcast with Brian Williams, becomes senior VP of NBC News.

His purview now reaches beyond the Nightly News broadcast to overseeing specials, newsgathering and breaking news for the network, including arbitrating issues of ethics and standards for the news division.—J.E

House Bags 'Buster'

Buster will have to send his postcards from the poorhouse if some Republicans get their way.

The House Labor-HHS Appropriations Committee Thursday voted to zero-out funding for Ready to Learn (RTL). That is the PBS educational kids programming initiative that caught flack from the Department of Education for a Postcards From Buster episode—RTL is funded primarily by DOE—featuring a lesbian couple.

That criticism aside, the Bush Administration had still proposed $23.3 million for Ready to Learn, only $100,000 less than public TV had asked for. The committee would have none of it, literally.

The House committee also cut $39.4 million to help with the digital transition, and $39.6 million for interconnection equipment, to go along with another House appropriations committee's earlier cut of a $21 million technology seed fund.

In addition, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's base budget—for funding programming and station operations for FY 2006—was cut by almost a quarter. Noncoms had requested $400 million, Bush had proposed $390 million, but the House committee approved only $300 million.

CPB has been forward-funded two years, so the $400 million for 2006 was approved in 2004, but the committee decided to cut it anyway, and the administration is trying to do away with the forward funding entirely.

The over-$200 million in cuts could still be restored in the Senate, as has been the case with previous cuts. But Association of Public Television Stations President John Lawson was characterizing the House vote as a “direct attack” on “some of the last, locally controlled and independent media voices in our country.”

Lawson saw the RTL cut as a punitive action stemming from the Buster controversy. He also called the $90 million cut from CPB's forward funding a threat to its editorial freedom. “Without the ability to rely on advance appropriations, public broadcasters lose an important firewall against influence in political programming decisions,” he said.

Democats of the House Appropriations Committee were equally angered by the cuts, saying, “First, they are trying to co-opt America's public broadcasting stations,” the Democrats said in a statement. “Now they are trying to bankrupt them.”—J.E.

Jackson Trial Ready for 'Thriller' Finish

As the jury deliberated in the Michael Jackson trial, cable networks were finalizing their verdict coverage at press time, from blowout news coverage to cellphone alerts.

E!, which has been reenacting the child-molestation trial daily to solid ratings, will follow the verdict with coverage from news talent Giuliana DePandi and a live, probably extended, broadcast of its nightly analysis show The Michael Jackson Trial.

Court TV will blow out its regular programming for Michael Jackson: The Verdict, a compendium of live reports, analysis and commentary from the Santa Maria courthouse, and an hour-long Nancy Grace Live special at 9 p.m. The network says so far more than 25,000 people have signed up to receive a text-message verdict alert on their cellphones, which Court is offering for free in association with Goldpocket Interactive.

At CNN, all prime time programs including Anderson Cooper 360, Paula Zahn Now, Larry King Live and NewsNight With Aaron Brown, as well as Headline News' Nancy Grace, will report on the verdict and provide analysis by reporters in Santa Maria, Calif., and guests.—A.B.