Fast Track

E! Buys First Movie Package

E! has acquired its first major-film package. Among the Sony Pictures Television titles are Mystic Pizza, Desperately Seeking Susan, The Birdcage and Fargo.

The network plans to premiere one movie every two weeks and rotate it through various dayparts. E! will likely dip into its library to create branded interstitials containing movie trivia and industry trends.

E! and Sony declined to discuss the value of the package of fewer than 10 films, but one industry insider put it at $500,000-$1 million.

E! averaged 390,000 total viewers in prime in July, up 5% over last year. —Anne Becker

King World Phils Up

King World Productions has retained distribution rights to the syndicated Dr. Phil for five more years, through the 2013-14 season.

King World also has renewed the show on 15 Viacom television stations through the 2010-11 season.

The show, which debuted in 2002, is delivering its highest seasonal average national ratings to date, according to King World. It is up 13% this season in households versus the same period during its first season.

It’s produced by Paramount Domestic Television, distributed by King World and created by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. —Ben Grossman

Russia Won’t Renew ABC Credentials

The Russian government has notified ABC News that it will not be renewing its credentials. The Foreign Ministry informed ABC of its decision at close of business Moscow time Aug. 2.

The move was prompted by ABC’s airing of an interview with Chechen rebel Shamil Basayev, responsible for last year’s horrific Beslan school massacre, the Moscow theater takeover in 2002 and other acts of terrorism. The Russian government has put a $10 million bounty on his head.

Nightline aired the interview on July 28, after buying it from a freelancer who approached the company. Anchor Ted Koppel warned viewers that it would be “among the most controversial in the 25-year history of Nightline.”—J.E.

Liberty Media President Exiting

Robert “Dob” Bennett, longtime president of Liberty Media, is stepping down. Bennett disclosed that he will retire next April but will relinquish the CEO title immediately to Liberty Chairman John Malone. In an interview, Bennett calls his decision “entirely personal” and says he and his wife want to slow down and travel. “We have a totally dedicated management team,” Bennett says. “We’re going to get much more value out of it.”

Although Bennett will be replaced as president, Malone says he expects to keep the CEO slot for at least two years.—John M. Higgins

Comcast Downplays SportsNet Talk

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts last week dismissed speculation that he’s planning to build up his Outdoor Life Network (OLN) into a rival of ESPN.

A Wall Street Journal article said that Comcast wants to use OLN to directly challenge ESPN, which is the most profitable basic-cable network. In recent months, OLN has discussed bidding for rights to the
National Hockey League and a small piece of the National Football League package.—J.M.H.

TW Puts Aside $3B for Lawsuits

Time Warner continues to wrestle with the legacy of past accounting scandals, setting aside $3 billion in reserves to settle shareholder lawsuits. The company says it has reached a tentative settlement with the major plaintiffs, part of the wave of suits filed over the company’s overstatement of online revenues. Time Warner stock has declined about $111 billion since being acquired by AOL, which was cooking the books. Time Warner will pay $3 billion to settle shareholder litigation.—J.M.H.

Telcos Score FCC Win On Internet Access

The FCC voted unanimously Friday to give telcos the same control over broadband Internet access that it gave cable. Telephone companies are no longer required to carry unaffiliated Internet access providers, although those ISPs will have a year of grandfathered carriage to ease the transition.

Key to getting the votes of FCC Democrats: a policy statement encouraging open access to the Internet, and guarantees for access by the disabled, emergency workers and the government.

The commissioners agreed to consider an overarching consumer-protection regime for broadband service.—J.E.

Drug Firms’ New Code

Drug manufacturers have adopted a voluntary code for direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad guidelines, including submitting TV ads to the Food and Drug Administration before they run.

In addition, the code calls for better balancing of risk and benefit information in those ads, banning “reminder” ads that don’t include educational information, and targeting erectile-dysfunction (ED) ads to appropriate age groups.

ED ads, including one during the 2004 Super Bowl, helped prompt some of the most recent outcry over DTC ads. The new guidelines, which should be fully reflected in ad campaigns by the end of the year, also recommend a medicine-specific waiting period for the introduction of DTC ads. “If it takes a year [to educate health-care professionals], it will be a year; if it’s six months, it’s six months,” said Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) President Billy Tauzin (former House Commerce Committee chairman), who announced the guidelines.

Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis and 20 other companies have already signed on to the guidelines.

PhRMA announced June 21 that its board had approved the broad outline of new guidelines for DTC ads, but that did not stop Senate Majority Leader (and doctor) Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) from calling for a two-year moratorium on DTC ads for prescription drugs, followed by FDA review and approval when ads did run.

Frist says the ads lead to “inappropriate prescribing” and can “oversell benefits and undersell risks.” —John Eggerton

Mouse Back In NAB House

Disney/ABC is rejoining the National Association of Broadcasters.

“ABC believes that the best interests of our industry, our company and ultimately the viewing public can be promoted by returning to the NAB at this time,” says Preston Padden, executive VP, worldwide government relations, for The Walt Disney Co.

Padden will immediately get a seat on the NAB board. The network left NAB in 2003—the last of the Big Four to do so—in a dispute over the national TV-station ownership cap, which has since been set by Congress at 39%.

For its part, Fox has no plans to follow ABC back into the NAB fold. CBS and NBC declined to comment, although CBS is said to have told its affiliates it could be open to rejoining the association depending on its direction under new leadership, including the successor to longtime President Eddie Fritts.

Rejoining NAB are the ABC television network, the company’s 10 TV stations and 70 radio stations.—J.E.


A profile about Jim Cramer (“Jim Cramer Is Going Mad,” 8/1, page 10) failed to mention that SmartMoney erred in not including his disclosure in a 1995 column that mentioned the stocks he owned.