News in Brief

More changes in store for Canal+; Discovery Civilization gets a new name; survey says Americans are in the dark about digital TV
December 5, 2002

Financially troubled Vivendi Universal said on December 3 it plans to slash costs at its U.S. entertainment division (including Universal Studios) as the France-based media giant readies for a possible sale of a share in the business. According to Reuters, company chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou said plans for the unit include possible ‘cost cutting’, without providing further details. On December 5 Bloomberg news service reported Fourtou plans to reorganize Vivendi’s French pay-TV unit Canal+, again without explanation.

Discovery Times Channel is the new name for the Discovery Civilization Channel. The channel is a joint venture between Bethesda, U.S.-based Discovery and The New York Times Company. In a prepared statement, Discovery said the change was made to better reflect the branding of the two companies. A new on-air look and logo will be introduced in the first quarter of 2003. The joint venture was first launched in April.

Forty percent of consumers in the U.S. have no clue about the transition to digital television, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. government. The results released December 2 concluded 50% of Americans don’t know the difference between analog and digital signals, and 68% of consumers don’t know they would need to upgrade their TV or else get a converter to watch digital programming (there are about 250 million TVs in U.S. homes). Forty-three percent are ‘somewhat aware’ of the push to convert all TV signals to digital. The report by the General Accounting Office, a unit of Congress, concluded that many important hurdles must be overcome before the transmission can be completed. ‘These include adoption of DTV equipment by consumers, cable carriage of digital broadcast signals and the availability and provision of digital programming,’ it wrote.

The Sundance Channel has acquired the U.S. television rights to five feature documentaries for the cable network’s new weekly documentary slot ‘DOCday’, to launch in March 2003. The docs are: Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki’s The Trials of Henry Kissinger; Barry Stevens’s Offspring; Sarah Share’s If I Should Fall From Grace; Kevin McMahon’s> McLuhan’s Wake; and Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Inner Tour (a recipient of a 2001 grant from the Sundance International Documentary Fund). All transmissions will be U.S. broadcast premieres.

The Independent Television Service has set April 30, 2003 as the deadline for its LInCS funding program for independent producers in the public TV system. The payouts range from US$10,000 to $75,000 and must be matched by secured cash, such as funding from stations or producer’s own money. Single shows and interstitial packages will be considered, as will projects in any genre or stage of development, the San Francisco-based ITVS said. Applications can be found at //

Press rights group Reporters without Borders has launched an online petition calling for the release of the documentary filmmakers held in Bangladesh. According to The Guardian, RWB is asking journalists, as well as human rights groups and the public, to sign a petition being sent to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. As reported in RealScreen Plus last week, Saleem Samad, U.K. journalist Zaiba Malik and Italian cameraman Bruno Sorrentino were arrested at the end of November, and are accused of sedition, which could carry the death penalty. Reporters without Borders is at //

The Geneva, Switzerland-based European Broadcasting Union has added safety information to its website for broadcasters operating in dangerous places. The EBU, which says more journalists were killed in Afghanistan than U.S. soldiers, says the archive is based on work originally prepared by BBC News’ safety advisor Tony Loughran. The information isn’t restricted to members. Visit //

According to a Canadian government statistical agency, pay-TV viewing is on the increase in Canada, and domestic specialty channels are reaping the growth in audience. ‘In the fall of 2001, Canadians spent 22% of their viewing time watching Canadian pay-TV and specialty stations and 10% watching American pay- TV and specialty stations, compared with six percent and three percent respectively in 1992,’ Statistics Canada said. The growth came at the expense of conventional channels, which saw their viewerships drop to 50% in 2001 from 65% in 1992.

The Game Show Network in the U.S. is the latest channel to join the reality-programming wave. The Santa Monica-based network said on December 5 it is launching Chuck Woolery: Behind the Lingo produced by Phil Gurin (Weakest Link), Laurelwood Entertainment and Red Skies Entertainment in the spring. The show ‘will capture candid moments behind-the-scenes’ of Woolery’s work and home life. The move could represent an expansion into more non-game programming for the channel.

Fox Television has done it again. The people who pioneered Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? three years ago will air Joe Millionaire in January, in which 20 young women vie for the heart of an eligible bachelor. The hook? The supposed millionaire in the seven-part series isn’t wealthy (he is a construction worker making US$19,000 a year), but the brides-to-be are led to believe he’s the heir to $50 million. Fox told Reuters December 2 that the suspense hangs on whether the chosen bride will bolt when she finds out her man probably has a lower net worth than she does after weeks of five-star meals and horseback rides on a French estate.

Los Angeles, U.S.-based Video Tape Library has landed a deal to be the exclusive U.S. representative for Sony Video Library’s footage, including 300 hours of high definition tape. VTL’s database can be seen at //

The APTN Library, a unit of the U.S.-based news agency Associated Press, has reached an agreement to represent the archive of sports news agency SNTV. Starting January, the deal sees APTN managing material dating to 1996, as well as SNTV’s daily output of six daily sports bulletins. The two companies will also produce themed clipreels from SNTV’s back catalog.

Sharon Osbourne, the wife of British rocker Ozzy Osbourne and star of the MTV hit The Osbournes, will deliver Channel 4′s alternative Christmas message. According to BBC News, Osbourne’s speech will air at the same time as the Queen’s traditional BBC message is broadcast in the U.K. and the Commonwealth (RealScreen Plus wonders if it will require ‘bleeping’).

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