Entertainment Industry

Category: Allbritton

The Morning Fix: Revenge of the writers! 'Expendables' not expendable yet. Last words on Comcast-NBC deal. 'Modern Family' co-creator Steve Levitan blasts Hulu.

After the coffee. Before deciding if "Piranha" will have any bite.

"The Expendables" not expendable yet. Looks like the over-the-hill gang will ride again this weekend at the box office. Although there are five new movies opening, "The Expendables" is again expected to finish in first place. According to Los Angeles Times box office guru Ben Fritz, "Nanny McPhee Returns" has a tiny chance to upset "The Expendables," while the rest of the newcomers -- "Lottery Ticket," "Vampires Suck" "The Switch" and "Piranha 3D" will all open in the $7-million to $13-million range.

Getting the last word in. The Federal Communications Commission was busy collecting the final comments from those who want to have a say about cable company Comcast Corp.'s proposed takeover of NBC Universal. According to Multichannel News, satellite broadcaster DirecTV told the regulatory agency that the deal would "would lead to higher prices for content, pose no public benefit and allow the distribution and programming giant to migrate programming to the Internet."  Meanwhile, Comcast found itself in a fight with Allbritton Communications, the parent company of the influential website Politico, which also wants to have a voice at the FCC about the deal. More on that inside-the-Beltway spat from the Los Angeles Times. For more reaction to the deal, see Variety's roundup.

Man your battle stations. As the deadline for a new deal between Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Cable nears, ESPN executives George Bodenheimer and Sean Bratches were told to trim their vacations and prepare for some late-night negotiations, according to the New York Post. Disney, parent of ABC, ESPN, Disney Channel and ABC Family, and Time Warner Cable have until Sept. 2 to agree on a new distribution deal. After that, the signals of Disney networks could be dropped from Time Warner Cable systems around the country, including New York and Los Angeles. 

How about Jason Schwartzman as Larry Page? While Hollywood continues to struggle to figure out what its relationship should be with search engine giant Google, Deadline Hollywood reports that Groundswell Productions has acquired the rights to Ken Auletta's book "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It." The book follows Google from its creation by founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to its rise to the top of the digital world. 

Tell us how you really feel. Steve Levitan, a co-creator of ABC's sitcom "Modern Family" took to Twitter this week to air gripes about Hulu, the video website co-owned by ABC parent Walt Disney Co. along with NBC Universal and News Corp. Using the news that Hulu was considering an initial public offering to raise money, Levitan griped that creators are being shut out of any potential revenue from Hulu while at the same time they risk seeing their television audiences decline as shows are made available on other platforms. Levitan, whose concerns are shared by many writers and producers, tweeted the question on the minds of many people when he wrote: "What is Hulu without content? An empty jukebox.” More on Levitan's hate-hate relationship with Hulu from Forbes

Reality bites. Endemol, the giant reality-show factory whose production credits include "Big Brother" and "Deal or No Deal" may be facing a harsh reality of its own. According to the Daily Beast's Peter Lauria, Endemol, whose owners include Goldman Sachs, has a $3-billion debt load and is trying to restructure its finances. The company has been on a little buying spree as of late, which Lauria says has put a dent in its liquidity. It also hasn't had any new big hits in a while.

I'm sorry Denis Leary, really! The Wall Street Journal on Friday looks the age-old practice by television writers and producers to sometimes take not-so-subtle revenge on folks who have annoyed them or bad-mouthed their show. Most recently, USA's "Psych" named a murderer after "Entertainment Weekly" critic Ken Tucker. The old NBC show "Just Shoot Me" once had a stalker character named Preston Beckman, which just happened to be the name of the man in charge of scheduling at the network at the time. Heck, yours truly has a judge named after him on "Law & Order." In my case, I will note that it was not a payback for some sin, although I do worry a little that if I ever really irritate that franchise's creator, Dick Wolf, then Judge Joe Flint is going to be arrested on some pretty tawdry charges. I've heard that "Rescue Me" co-creator Denis Leary has taken issue with some of my critiques (I do love the show, Denis, really) so if I end up being roasted in a fire in Harlem, now you know why.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Kenneth Turan on "The Tillman Story."

-- Joe Flint

You really shouldn't need a reason to follow me on Twitter: Twitter.com/JBFlint

Politico parent Allbritton Communications goes to battle at FCC over Comcast-NBC Universal deal

A small but very influential media company has become a thorn in the side of Comcast Corp. as the cable giant tries to get regulatory approval for its proposed purchase of NBC Universal through lawmakers and regulators.

After sitting on the sidelines for much of the Federal Communication Commission's review of the deal, Allbritton Communications -- whose holdings include WJLA-TV, the Washington, D.C., ABC affiliate; NewsChannel 8, a local cable news network; and Politico, the website and newspaper whose readership includes just about every political player inside the Beltway -- is using its clout to voice concerns about a Comcast-NBC Universal union.

Although it had been mum on the merger until now, Allbritton has gotten an audience with top FCC staffers and even the regulatory agency's chairman, Julius Genachowski, over the last two weeks.

Last week, Allbritton chief Robert Allbritton told Genachowski that the Comcast-NBC deal has "potentially ominous implications" for NewsChannel 8, according to a regulatory filing from the company. Allbritton's big concern is that if Comcast gets NBC, not only will it own the cable systems serving the Washington, D.C., area, but it will also own the NBC station there, WRC-TV. That, Allbritton fears, will give Comcast a lot of power to compete and perhaps harm NewsChannel 8. It wants conditions put on the deal to protect its D.C. holdings.

Allbritton has also been using its holdings to run commercials against the deal. Politico's website and other Allbritton outlets in the D.C. area have carried hard-hitting advertisements critical of Comcast and NBC. One spot calls the deal "the largest merger of media power in American history" and warns,  "If Comcast and NBC are allowed to create their media monopoly, then local viewers like you lose." The advertisements have become a regular fixture on Politico writer Mike Allen's "Playbook" page, which is one of the most-read columns by D.C. bigwigs.

In an e-mail to Company Town, Allbritton General Counsel Jerald Fritz said its big issue is that Comcast wants to tie a distribution deal for NewsChannel 8 to a deal for WJLA and other TV stations Allbritton owns around the country, rather than negotiate separate deals for its various entities. Fritz, citing rumors that Comcast will try to launch its own D.C. news channel should it succeed in acquiring NBC, said by not having to pay NewsChannel 8 as a standalone service, the cable company has "the incentive and ability to financially cripple NewsChannel 8."

Comcast countered that Allbritton is trying to use the regulatory review of the NBC deal to cut a better deal. In a letter to the FCC, Comcast said it has previously cut deals with Allbritton for NewsChannel 8 that include the company's other TV stations, including WJLA. 

"Allbritton improperly seeks to use this proceeding to extract concessions from Comcast while refusing to engage in reasonable negotiations, as the parties have in the past," the cable company said.

Comcast is also miffed that Allbritton has not taken part in the regulatory review of the deal until now. Like Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre skipping mini-camp and then showing up at the last minute, Allbritton had bypassed the lengthy and thorough review the FCC has been conducting of the deal and is still getting high level meetings at the FCC. Comcast doesn't think Allbritton should be able to skip much of the review process and then get special treatment.

"The Commission should not countenance this attempted misuse of its processes," Comcast lawyer Michael Hammer wrote to the agency. 

Allbritton's Fritz responded to Company Town that until its recent talks with Comcast about NewsChannel 8 went south, it was not planning to offer an opinion on the deal one way or the other. "It was only after Comcast insisted that the retransmission consent fees for unrelated broadcast stations be included in the process that we began to see Comcast's potential game plan," Fritz said.

There have been some whispers that another reason why Allbritton wants to negotiate a separate deal for NewsChannel 8 is because it wants to protect a revenue stream from Walt Disney Co. and its ABC network. Allbritton owns a lot of ABC stations and the network has indicated it wants a cut of any money its affiliates get from distributors such as Comcast in return for carrying the station. If NewsChannel 8's fees are lumped in with Allbritton's ABC stations, its revenue could shrink. Fritz said his station group's affiliation deal does not expire for many more years and is not a factor in the company's fight with Comcast.

Even though Allbritton is late to the party and missed most of the deadlines the FCC set to voice objections, there is nothing in the rulebook that says they can't have a voice. However, only parties that potentially want to appeal whatever decision the agency makes have to meet the various deadlines to file comments. In other words, if the FCC approves the Comcast deal, Allbritton will have no standing to gripe about it.

-- Joe Flint

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Allbritton, parent of Politico, making noise about Comcast - NBC deal

Allbritton, parent of Politico and other DC media, making noise about Comcast - NBC deal

Allbritton Communications -- the parent company of Politico, the influential Capitol Hill news operation; WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.; and NewsChannel 8, a local cable news network -- is the latest looking to throw a road block in front of cable giant Comcast Corp.'s pending deal to acquire a controlling stake in NBC Universal.

Over the last several weeks, Allbritton has run lots of advertisements both on Politico's website and on cable and broadcast television about the potential pitfalls of a marriage between Comcast, the nation's largest cable and broadband provider and NBC Universal, the entertainment giant.

One advertisement that has been running calls the proposed deal "the largest merger of media power in American history" and warns that "if Comcast and NBC are allowed to create their media monopoly, then local viewers like you lose." Some of the advertisements have become a regular presence on Politico writer Mike Allen's "Playbook" page, which is one of the most-read columns by D.C. power brokers.

Why is Allbritton so concerned about the Comcast - NBC Universal deal? If the deal is approved, Comcast will own WRC-TV, the NBC station in the market and a chief rival of WJLA and NewsChannel 8. Not only does Allbritton think Comcast will play hardball when it comes to negotiating distribution deals for the two channels, but it also fears that WRC could benefit unfairly in the battle for TV news supremacy.

Earlier this week, Allbritton President Fred Ryan and its legal counsel Jerald Fritz took the company's concerns to the Federal Communications Commission and met with Commissioner Michael Copps and his advisor Joshua Cinelli. Details of the meeting were disclosed in a regulatory filing by the company.

In its filing, Allbritton said Comcast has "indicated" it will negotiate to continue to carry NewsChannel 8. However, Allbritton argued in its filing that Comcast's insistence on "packaging" a deal for the channel with Allbritton's Washington TV station WJLA as well as other stations it owns around the country "ignores" the value of NewChannel 8.

In other words, Allbritton doesn't want Comcast to lump NewsChannel 8 into a distribution deal for its broadcast stations and wants a separate deal instead. Without that, Allbritton says Comcast will have "the ability and incentive to eliminate NewsChannel 8 as a competitive threat."

There may be another reason why Allbritton wants to keep negotiations for NewsChannel 8 separate from the rest of the Allbritton stations. Walt Disney Co., the parent of the ABC network, is aggressively going to seek a cut of the distribution fees its affiliates such as WJLA get from cable and satellite operators. By having a separate fee for NewsChannel 8, Allbritton would be able to protect some of its revenue stream.

Interestingly, other ABC affiliates have already indicated that they won't fight the Comcast - NBC deal if the two companies follow some guidelines with regards to negotiating distribution deals.Allbritton's Fritz is an at-large member of the ABC affiliate board.

An Allbritton representative did not immediate respond to a request for comment on the situation.

-- Joe Flint


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