News in Brief

Vivendi Universal announces plan to restructure Canal+; U.K digi Artsworld gets a second chance; PBS expands 'Independent Lens'
August 1, 2002

Vivendi Universal‘s board of directors has approved plans to restructure the Canal+ Group, focusing on French assets, in an effort to bring down VU’s debt load. The Paris-based company announced that the Canal+ Group’s shares in Canal+ distribution, Canal+ Regie, CanalSatellite, Multithematiques, itelevision, Pathe Sport, Media Overseas, Sogecable and Studio Canal will be transferred to Canal+ SA, a company on the Paris stock exchange. International assets, including pay TV operations such as Telepiu in Italy, will be retained by the Canal+ Group, with the goal of selling some or all of them. After the restructuring, VU will own 49% of Canal+ SA (the maximum permitted by law); the remaining 51% will be sold to the public.

Artsworld, the U.K. digital arts and music channel, will stay on the air, the BBC reports. A casualty of the recent shakeout of the digital industry in the U.K., the channel was slated to go dark effective July 31. Its shareholders and BSkyB managed a surprise last-minute reprieve. Artsworld has 100,000 subscribers paying £6 (US$9.30) a month for access.

PBS strand ‘Independent Lens’ will expand to 29 episodes per year from its current 10, PBS chief Pat Mitchell announced at the Television Critics Association Press Tour last week. Set to debut in February 2003 (Tuesday nights at 10 p.m.), the relaunched strand will be jointly curated by PBS and the Independent Television Service (ITVS). ‘Independent Lens’ showcases a wide range of docs from the U.S. and abroad.

In other PBS news, the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service has struck a deal with TiVo (a leading television services provider for digital video recorders) for the promotion of PBS’ September 11 memorial programming. TiVo subscribers will be able to access special highlights from PBS’ entire 9/11 schedule, in addition to choosing which programs to watch and when. TiVo and PBS have also agreed to work together over the next six months to determine other ways DVR applications can support public TV.

As major U.S. networks plan to dedicate most of their programming day on September 11 to anniversary events and memorial services, advertisers plan to be low key or stay away entirely, Reuters reports. As a result, broadcasters are seeking ‘brought to you by’ sponsorships and other low-visibility ways of supporting programming. Pepsi-Cola and Dell Computers have announced they are pulling their spots.

Natural History New Zealand plans to officially rebrand itself as NHNZ, the shorthand by which it has been known for years. The move, in the Fox-owned company’s 25th year, acknowledges its expansion beyond strictly natural history programming.

BBC News is investing an extra £1 million (US$1.6 million) in investigative journalism. The announcement follows close on the heels of several high-profile ‘Panorama’ docs, such as License to Murder which uncovered evidence that the British Army might have helped pro-British terrorists take out Irish Republican Army operatives. In addition to ‘Panorama’, the BBC says that the money will go to Newsnight, the Today program and Kenyon Confronts.

The accounting practices of AOL Time Warner are under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, following an earlier inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission, The New York Times reports. The company said in a statement on July 31, ‘As we have consistently said, our accounting is appropriate and in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and our outside auditors, Ernst & Young, have repeatedly confirmed that.’ AOL Time Warner’s media assets include CNN and HBO.

The U.K.’s ITV is on the prowl for a new director of programs, following David Liddiment‘s departure. According to a report in The Guardian, possible candidates include Michael Jackson, former chief exec of Channel 4; Peter Bazalgette, creative director of Endemol Entertainment U.K.; and Kevin Lygo, Channel 5 director of programs.

Music network VH1 is pumping up its slate of reality and documentary programming for the upcoming season. Its new projects include Liza & David, a follow-the-celebrity-family format like The Osbournes; Rock the House, a half-hour series co-produced by Immortal Entertainment that showcases ‘rock stars’ meeting unsuspecting fans; I Love the ’80s, acquired from the BBC; Music Behind Bars, a series on bands in prisons; and One Hit Wonders, a series about songs that were the flavor of the month. Bubblegum Babylon, a two-hour one-off copro with Triage, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing of teen-oriented pop music; 100 Greatest Love Songs, a 5×1-hour series ponders ballads and tear-jerker tunes; and 100 Greatest Moments that Rocked the Tube, is a 5×1-hour walk through television’s greatest rock-music events. Finally, Karaoke Dreams, produced by Painless Productions, follows five American karaoke singers on their quest for sub-culture greatness.

In a bid to get the roll-out of digital TV moving, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected to mandate next week that all TV sets include digital receivers by 2006. According to USA Today, manufacturers say the move will raise the price of televisions by about US$200, leading to a drop in sales. The move by the FCC comes at a time when HDTV sales are already weakening, says the newspaper.

Full digital conversion in the U.K. could be a long way off, unless the British government is prepared to virtually give away upgraded TV sets. According to a report in The Guardian, a survey conducted by Continental Research found that 34% of viewers are unwilling to convert, even if the price to upgrade dropped to £25 (US$40). The proposed price for the free-to-air boxes is £99 ($150).

A documentary about nuclear warfare is causing a political stir in India. According to Reuters, the nuclear-armed country’s censor board has ordered docmaker Anand Patwardhan to make sweeping changes to War and Peace, a film he hopes will ‘let people [in India] know about the horror of nuclear war.’ Although the movie won a jury award at India’s Mumbai International Film Festival, it cannot screen commercially until it gets the board’s green light.

Miramax Films announced at the end of July that the first and second seasons of The Osbournes will be sold on video and DVD. Retail sales of the products stemming from the worldwide agreement will begin in time for Christmas.

Lifetime Television has landed true-life heroine Erin Brockovich to host a new series about women battling uncaring bureaucracy and unfair courts. To air in the first quarter of 2003, Final Justice, produced by LMNO Cable Group, will showcase stories such as that of a Louisiana woman who fights to change privacy laws to stop a video voyeur.

The Kid Stays in the Picture, a biographical documentary about Hollywood executive Robert Evans, earned this summer’s best per-theater average for a specialty title last weekend. Showing in four New York and L.A. theaters, the doc – directed by Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein (On the Ropes) – reaped approximately US$22,200 per venue, grossing an estimated $88,799.

Hot Docs, Canada’s international documentary festival, has entered into an exchange with the U.K. for the coming year. Under this agreement, a delegation of 12 Canadian indie producers/directors will travel to the U.K. to attend the Sheffield International Documentary Festival (October 12 to 27). Additionally, the Hot Docs festival (April 25 to May 4, 2003) will spotlight U.K. documentary cinema, and host a delegation of industry professionals from the U.K. Applications from Canadian indies interested in participating in the exchange will be accepted until August 26. Visit for further details.

The Toronto International Film Festival has announced its Perspective Canada program. Among the feature docs are: Fix: The Story Of an Addicted City, by Nettie Wild (director of A Place Called Chiapas); Gambling, Gods and LSD from Peter Mettler; Alanis Obomsawin‘s Is the Crown at War with Us?; Tom by Mike Hoolboom; and The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia by Jennifer Baichwal (director of Let it Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles).

The Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films will premier the Kodak Award for Best Student Cinematography at this year’s festival (August 6 to 12). The first-place prize is an invitation to showcase a clip from the winning film at the 2003 Cannes International Film Festival. Judges will be looking for unique use of the camera, creative lighting techniques, creative processing of the film, and interesting frame composition.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.