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AAAA Foray

Advertising trade groups seemed conspicuously silent when nearly every other industry association weighed in Jan. 3 on the FCC's sweeping review of media-ownership rules. The American Association of Advertising Agencies did help fund a skeptical review of FCC studies favoring deregulation. The study, filed by the Information Policy Institute, was particularly critical of commission studies that found that consumers substitute considerably among broadcast, print and other media and blamed increased ad rates on economic growth rather than media concentration.

The AAAA is considering filing a reply in the ownership rulemaking next month but hasn't decided whether to back IPI's hard line. The ad industry has had a difficult time coming up with a unified stance on media concentration. Although some blame concentration for high rates in specific media, others say consolidation created unprecedented opportunity to drive down costs through package deals with large local groups.—B.M.

Hindery's Got Game

Cable-industry execs generally believe that ex-AT&T Chairman Mike Armstrong was suckered when AT&T bought cable giant Tele-Communications Inc. So does former TCI and AT&T Broadband President Leo Hindery.

Hindery's The Biggest Game of All, written with former Wall Street Journal
reporter Leslie Cauley, aims to be a primer on dealmaking, but the pair leaves room for lots of media dish. Such as how Hindery and TCI Chairman John Malone were stunned during the 1998 sale talks when AT&T executives and their advisers didn't seem to grasp all the problems at TCI, notably that its systems were in terrible shape and would require many billions to upgrade. "Our people would literally high-five each other because it was just so apparent they didn't have a clue what we were talking about," Hindery writes.

Of AT&T's chief negotiator, then-CFO Dan Somers, Hindery minces no words, saying he and Malone relished Somers's track record of having cut "one of the sorriest cable transactions ever" at a previous job, and "Dan didn't disappoint us either."

To make the TCI acquisition work, Armstrong needed to secure partnerships with other cable operators to carry phone traffic on their systems. But he muffed the negotiations. Armstrong cut a deal with Time Warner Cable, then backed away because AT&T underestimated the costs by "several billion dollars." After a tough round of negotiations with Cablevision, Armstrong ordered Hindery, "Tell Chuck Dolan to do it our way or we'll overbuild him with fixed wireless" (an unproven and ultimately failed technology). In stores by Jan. 28.—J.M.H.

Class A's Go First Class

The Community Broadcasters Association is bypassing the traditional convention-hotel route for its Winter board meeting, instead convening aboard Disney's cruise ship Wonder Jan. 16-19.

Extravagance? Hardly, says CBA counsel Peter Tannenwald, noting that the $413-per-person, three-day jaunt from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to Nassau, Bahamas, was cheaper than a landlocked meeting. Disney also threw in meeting rooms and a cocktail party for the 10-person board, whose group represents low-power TV and Class A broadcasters. "I'm looking forward to it, as long as we don't get a virus," Tannenwald quipped. Wonder sister ship Magic was pulled from service in November after a gastrointestinal virus struck hundreds of passengers.—B.M.

Get the Beep Out of There

It may have been the perfect storm, but apparently it was not the perfect promo. While advertising its weekend with skipper George Clooney and film The Perfect Storm
last week, TNT used the same series of tones normally used to indicate a real weather emergency to begin its commercial, then followed with a crawl, similar to those used in weather emergencies—and elsewhere—informing the viewers that the movie could be seen every night of the weekend. The network reconsidered the spot after a couple of complaints, spokesman Walter Ward said. It decided to keep the crawl but lose the beeps.—D.T.

Men Watching

TNN's new gender-focused decision to go even more manly got us to wondering where the testosterone flows in cable television and whether there were any surprises. The answer was a pedal-to-the-metal, helmet-to-the-midsection no. According to Nielsen Media, the five most-watched by 18-49 males are—of course—sports channels, with TNN boosted by wrestling (see story, page 5). The unexpected one is History Channel (69%), although that is probably all those war documentaries. The top women's channels may be not so much drawing women as repelling men. SoapNet's audience is 80% female. Next are Lifetime (78%), Lifetime Movie Network (71%), HGTV (68%) and WE (68%).—J.M.H.