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Fast Track

Sony Says CES Is New NATPE

Sony Pictures Television (SPT) is in “early, high-level discussions” about shifting its strategy next year to concentrate additional resources and focus on International CES instead of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference, according to a source with knowledge of the plans.

Specifically, SPT plans to leave the NATPE floor in Las Vegas and devote money and manpower to building out its presence at CES and other digital and new-media conventions throughout the year. SPT will abandon its costly booth at the NATPE convention and move to a suite, as such players as Warner Bros. and others have already done, so it can still conduct business at the annual syndication and distribution bazaar. Leaving the floor would generate savings in the ballpark of $3 million for SPT.

“Sony basically wants to use CES as its NATPE next year,” says the source. “From a business standpoint, NATPE doesn’t work anymore at the level of investment Sony has given it.”

The move makes unique sense for Sony, which could showcase its programs along with its all-important consumer-electronics products.

“All the right people are there anyway now, and from a Sony standpoint, it makes a certain sense,” says the source. “And [Sony CEO] Howard [Stringer] would love it. It fits right into his 'Sony United’ push to get different parts of the company working together.”

SPT executives will explore tying the launches of new shows to CES, especially if there are strong new-media components. Sony brass also believes the increasing presence of advertisers at CES leads to writing new business at the show.

Even though Sony is unique among the major studios in being part of a consumer-electronics giant, the move is a sign of things to come, with more media companies considering building up their CES presence as programming and technology become more intertwined. Among the keynote speakers at the 2007 event were CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves and Disney CEO Bob Iger.

Other networks and studios are expected to up their presence at CES next year.

“It’s imperative to be at CES, because the gulf that existed between media and tech a few years ago is slowly coming together,” says Nancy Tellem, president of the CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group. “And it’s a recognition that the tech world and the media world are very aware that we both need each other.”

Tellem, who attended CES but not NATPE this year, says she is interested to see the increased presence of media companies at CES next year. “It is almost the new NATPE,” she says. “I’m not sure what deals get done, but it has become an important place to have deals done prior to it so announcements can get made there.”

And as the buzz around CES grows and NATPE becomes a relatively quiet convention (see story, p. 23), Tellem says, she can envision a time when a section of CES is devoted to major media companies that provide content.

“There are people there now talking about original content for cellphones and online,” she says. “You can see how it could evolve into that. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Kucinich To Hold Fairness Doctrine Hearings

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has been named head of a new House Domestic Policy Subcommittee. As he gets ready for his second bid for the presidential nomination, he said last week he will hold hearings on media ownership with an eye toward reintroduction of the fairness doctrine.

The doctrine, scrapped by the FCC in 1987 as unconstitutional, put an affirmative obligation on broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues. Its absence is also credited with the rise of conservative talk radio.

Appearing last week on CNN’s Lou DobbsTonight, Kucinich claimed that, since the doctrine was scrapped, media consolidation has accelerated so that only a few major media companies remain.

Kucinich, who voted against the war in Iraq and does not want to fund the administration’s proposed troop increase, also tied the absence of the doctrine to the launch of the war. Without explaining, he suggested that only three of hundreds of news organizations strongly questioned the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “What does that say?,” he said. “Was there an uninhibited exchange of ideas?”

“I think that this is an opportunity for America to revisit the issue of consolidation of the media,” he told Dobbs, “and how it relates to whether the media is serving in the public interest.”

—John Eggerton

Anderson Cooper Cements Contract With CNN

Anderson Cooper has inked a new multiyear pact with CNN, according to sources inside the all-news network. Under the terms of the new deal, the host of primetime show Anderson Cooper 360 can continue as an occasional contributor to CBS News60 Minutes.

Although the network would not comment directly on the matter, CNN President Jon Klein says, “Anderson Cooper is an exceptional journalist, and his dedication in going after important stories wherever they occur makes him a natural fit for CNN. We look forward to more of his groundbreaking work in the years to come.”

Cooper’s previous contract with the network was valued at around $2 million a year, according to industry sources, and his new pay is more than double that. CNN has also made him the center of an unprecedented multimillion-dollar promotional campaign.

Last December, his newscast was up more than 30% in the key 25-54 news demo.

Cooper’s new CNN deal comes in the wake of months of speculation that he might make a full-time leap to CBS. The 39-year-old Cooper had been courted by CBS to take over the reins of the network’s ratings-challenged morning newscast The Early Show.

CBS News executives have wanted to make over that show for some time, but, with Cooper now unavailable, they are forced to look elsewhere for talent.

For the time being, the show is staying with the co-host trio of Harry Smith, Hannah Storm and Julie Chen, along with news anchor Russ Mitchell. Co-host René Syler left last December.—Ben Grossman

Martin: FCC Needs To Get Going On Cable Ownership

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said last week that the FCC needs to move on its year-long review of cable-ownership caps.

In a Jan. 17 meeting with reporters after the FCC’s annual review of the previous year, he pointed out that the proceeding was opened in 1999. He also added that he had told his colleagues on the commission that it should either proceed to conclusion on the item as a stand-alone or, if the issues were similar enough, roll it into the ongoing media-ownership proceeding.

—John Eggerton