Author: Christopher Glotfelty (Page 1 of 17)

Networks in trouble, examining cable format

Fox vs. Time Warner

– Image from the ad Fox has been airing during its programming.

As cable channels continue to attract more advertisers, the networks are losing money left and right. In response, they are seeking higher fees from cable providers. The most recent and publicized situation concerns Fox and Time Warner. Rather than pay Fox’s asking price, Time Warner is threatening to drop the network entirely.

Even worse, their audiences are dwindling and their affiliates are even demanding more money. These problems are causing many network executives to consider switching to a cable format. The change would be monumental.

That will play out in living rooms across the country. The changes could mean higher cable or satellite TV bills, as the networks and local stations squeeze more fees from pay-TV providers such as Comcast and DirecTV for the right to show broadcast TV channels in their lineups. The networks might even ditch free broadcast signals in the next few years. Instead, they could operate as cable channels — a move that could spell the end of free TV as Americans have known it since the 1940s.

The traditional broadcast model works like this: CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox distribute shows through a network of local stations. The networks own a few stations in big markets, but most are “affiliates,” owned by separate companies.

Traditionally the networks paid affiliates to broadcast their shows, though those fees have dwindled to near nothing as local stations have seen their audience shrink. What hasn’t changed is where the money mainly comes from: advertising.

Cable channels make most of their money by charging pay-TV providers a monthly fee per subscriber for their programing. On average, the pay-TV providers pay about 26 cents for each channel they carry, according to research firm SNL Kagan. A channel as highly rated as ESPN can get close to $4, while some, such as MTV2, go for just a few pennies.

Having two revenue streams — advertising and fees from pay-TV providers — has insulated cable channels from the recession. In contrast, over-the-air stations have been forced to cut staff, and at least two broadcast groups sought bankruptcy protection this year.

So rather than wait for the Internet to become a bigger source of income, the networks and local stations are mimicking what cable channels do: They’re charging pay-TV companies a monthly fee per subscriber to carry their programming.

The American Cable Association says its members — mainly small cable TV providers — have seen their costs for carrying local TV stations more than triple over the past three years. The group’s head, Matt Polka, says those fees have gone “straight to consumers’ pocketbooks” in the form of higher cable bills.

All this means for viewers is a higher cable bill. CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX have always supplied their programming for free. The reason they’ve stayed afloat is because of ad sales, which are decreasing. If they do wind up severing ties with their affiliates and jumping to cable, consumers will have to pay for them like they would any other channel.

Letterman’s alleged blackmailer might plead down

Letterman extortion

Robert Halderman, the “48 Hours” producer awaiting trial for attempting to extort $2 million from David Letterman, is seeking a plea bargain that would have him only serve one year in jail. Last October, Halderman threatened to expose the talk show host’s affairs to the public.

The offer won’t be considered by the office of outgoing Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, the sources said, because prosecutors feel the call should be made by Cyrus Vance Jr., who will take office in January.

Halderman’s lawyer, Gerald Shargel, denied knowing anything about an offer. “There have been no plea negotiations. None whatsoever,” Shargel said.

Instead, Shargel said he plans to forge ahead this week, filing additional papers on his motion to dismiss the charges.

Armed with the tapes, cops busted Halderman Oct. 1. He is free on $200,000 bail.

Shargel has filed papers demanding dismissal of the charges, arguing that the proposed transaction was nothing more than a TV.

If convicted by a jury, the maximum sentence Halderman can get is 15 years, which is much longer than what he’s seeking.

As I predicted, Letterman’s image remains untarnished. By quickly admitting to his infidelities, he’s escaped any constant scrutiny. Tiger Woods should have paid attention.

Paley Center looking to launch annual TV awards show

Paley Center

The Paley Center for Media contains an impressive library of television and radio content, holds various screenings, and promotes discussion on issues crucial to the media industry. Formerly called The Museum of Television & Radio (MT&R) and The Museum of Broadcasting, the current name attempts to embrace new platforms such as the Internet, satellite radio, and podcasting. The first building opened in New York in 1976 and, responding to an influx of programming, the Los Angeles branch followed in 1996. You might have unwittingly seen the Center while watching the extras on some of your favorite DVDs. The Center consistently holds seminars featuring creators and cast members from shows such as The Larry Sanders Show, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, House, and Battlestar Galactica.

Recently, many networks have asked the Center to hold its own awards show.

A spokesperson for Paley confirmed there’s talk of a TV awards special but, according to Variety, denied that it was meant to be a rival to the Emmys.

The TV Academy’s eight-year deal with the big four broadcast networks expires next year. While ratings for the most recent Emmys ticked upward, network executives have made no secret of their unhappiness with both the ratings for the show as well as the fact that cable networks have become dominant at the event.

Pssh, the Emmys can’t be rivaled. The TV Guide Awards and the American Television Awards tried and failed. Unless the Paley Center intends to create a refreshing spectacle, I don’t foresee impressive ratings.

Watch Conan mix cocktails on “The Tonight Show”

Since Conan O’Brien replaced Jay Leno as its host, “The Tonight Show” has surrendered its ratings lead to “The Late Show with David Letterman.” I’ve caught more or less every episode since Conan took over in August and, like most fans of his “Late Night” program, I’ve been disappointed by the overall results. I assumed brining Andy Richter back would resurrect some of alternative, zany comedy Conan helmed in the 90s. Not so much. While the off-kilter sketches (“Slipnutz”) and refreshing characters (Crooner Ghost) have taken a back seat, Conan still brings it every night. For example, he’s absolutely hilarious in this segment with molecular mixologist Claire Smith. No, NBC shouldn’t replace him with Jerry Seinfeld.

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