News in Brief

The New York Times Company and Discovery strike a deal; Germany's Kirch Group declared insolvent; and PBS launches two new series.
April 11, 2002

The New York Times Company has invested US$100 million to buy 50% of the Discovery Civilization Channel. Discovery Communications owns the other half and will continue to manage the channel through a board of directors comprised of three DCI representatives and two Times reps. The two parties also agreed to a five-year output agreement that sees DCI buy $40 million of programming from The Times’ television production unit. The programs will air on various Discovery outlets, including Discovery Civilization.

The Kirch Group media empire in Germany has finally declared itself insolvent. Largely due to an aggressive foray into pay TV, Kirch’s debt is estimated to be around US$5.7 billion. Creditor banks are now managing the firm and will decide its fate.

The Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S. announced that for a limited time it will augment its Frontline series with Frontline/World, which will examine international affairs. Four episodes will be coproduced by WGBH in Boston and KQED in San Francisco, which will run through early 2003. The first segment will premiere on Thursday, May 23, 2002.

Thirteen/WNET, PBS’ New York station, is also premiering a new strand. Wide Angle will be a weekly series of one-hour docs that focus on global issues ranging from environmental politics and race to women’s rights and the media. The featured film will be a U.S. TV premiere and will originate through acquisition, international coproduction and commission. Wide Angle premieres Thursday July 11, 2002.

PBS also revealed that it now has 69 DTV transmitters, or more than 25% of the total 271 stations currently broadcasting a digital signal. This means about 54% of TV households in the U.S. can receive a digital TV signal from their local member stations. In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that all public television stations convert to digital broadcasting by May 2003. In related news, FCC chairman Michael Powell recently proposed a series of deadlines for cable and terrestrial broadcasters to help hurry digital take-up.

U.K.-based 4 Ventures, Channel 4′s commercial arm, has acquired the UK rights for Big Brother for the next four years from Endemol U.K. The deal includes spin-off Celebrity Big Brother,and covers terrestrial, pay and interactive TV as well as internet rights until the end of 2005.

Danish prodco Nordisk Film signed a coproduction deal with Granada that gives the Scandinavian producer first-look at the U.K. company’s formats. Nordisk Film has the option to coproduce any format for broadcast outlets in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. The two companies will also work together to develop formats for the international market. Granada recently announced a similar deal with TeVe Holland in the Netherlands that sees Granada and TeVe Holland coproducing formats for Holland and Belgium. The two deals give Granada a large format footprint in Scandinavia.

The Guardian reports that ABC Australia is looking to the U.K. for potential candidates to replace outgoing chief executive Jonathan Shier. Those under consideration include John O’Loan, managing director of National Geographic Channels in Europe, and Jim Rudder, Sky News‘ director of international television. Mr. Shier resigned from his post in November, approximately 19 months after his name was printed on the office door.

Channel 4′s new chief executive Mark Thompson is expected to reveal his vision for the U.K. outlet at this year’s Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, held August 23 to 25, 2002. Thompson has agreed to deliver the traditionally provocative MacTaggart Lecture, during which he will also discuss his change of heart for the proposed BBC3.

Discovery Travel and Adventure is now distributed on Cablemagico in Peru, on five of PCTV’s member stations in Mexico, and on Chile’s Metropolis and VTR systems.

E! International Networks went on the air in New Zealand on April 1. New Zealand’s Sky Network Television is the network’s first partner, distributing the channel in the basic tier of its digital platform. E! International is distributed via satellite and is available throughout Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

U.S. net NBC has purchased the Telemundo Communications Group, a Spanish-language TV network. The Federal Communications Commission approved the move earlier this week.

Journeys with George, the documentary by Alexandra Pelosi that follows U.S. presidential candidate George W. Bush on the campaign trail, has been picked up by HBO. The U.S. cable outlet will air the film later this year. Journeys premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, U.S. and will also play at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in May.

60 Minutes, the 34-year-old news magazine on U.S. network CBS, is prepping for its first change of leadership. Full-time correspondent Mike Wallace, the programs most-recognized face, turns 84 next month and has announced he will reduce his workload by half. Other key players with the program average 77 years old. Until last year, 60 Minutes rated as one of U.S. television’s top-10 programs for 23 years. Its audience currently skews to the 50-plus set, higher than most advertisers desire.

Two Palestinian girls featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary Promises – Sanabel Al-Fararja,15, and Kayan Al-Saify, 16 – have been unable to return to their home after attending the Academy Awards in March. Their refugee camp near Bethlehem has been occupied by the Israeli army and both teenagers have been told it’s too dangerous to return. They are presently staying with friends in San Franciso, U.S.

U.S. net ABC has guaranteed its 11:35 p.m. timeslot to news show Nightline for at least two years. The future of the 20-year-old program was put into question when its slot was offered to late-night talk show host David Letterman. That agreement fell through.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.