News in Brief

The BBC and ABC discuss a partnership; the Beeb promises renewed focus on arts programming; IFC launches film facility in New York City
January 9, 2003

The BBC is considering aligning with U.S. news outlet ABC in a move to increase its foothold in the North American market, reports The Guardian. BBC insiders told the paper the move could happen, as merger talks between ABC News and CNN have reportedly cooled. The BBC already provides news to 221 U.S. public TV stations, and BBC America is distributed to 30 million households.

In other Beeb news, arts programming will return to the heart of its schedule, the U.K. pubcaster’s chairman has pledged. According to The Guardian, Gavyn Davies admitted that arts had been getting squeezed out since Greg Dyke was named director general in 1999. The pledge represents a flip-flop, the newspaper reported, since Davies had lashed out at critics upset at the ‘dumbing down’ of the Beeb. Davies also hinted programming may be shifted to focus more on domestic programming in the face of fierce competition.

The Independent Film Channel in the U.S. announced at the end of December plans to launch a film facility for indie producers – including doc makers – in New York City. Called the IFC Center, it will open at the end of 2003 and will house three screens, a digital post-production suite and filmmaker meeting rooms. It will be managed by IFC Entertainment, the company’s film production and distribution division.

The European Union’s entertainment-support initiative UK Media Desk is calling for development funding proposals. Open to U.K.-based TV and film producers, including doc-makers, the deadline is June 16. A total of £1.6 million (US$2.6 million) was handed out last year. Find out more at //

A U.S. federal judge in New York may rule as early as January 13 in the reality format dispute involving broadcasters ABC and CBS. CBS, which airs Survivor in North America, alleges that ABC’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, scheduled for broadcast in February, is a knock off and should be blocked from transmission, reports Reuters. A tie-in lawsuit is underway in the U.K., where London prodco Castaway Television claims ABC’s Celebrity producer Granada Television has infringed its worldwide Survivor format rights by making the show. Both ABC and Granada deny the allegations. A ruling in favor of CBS would set a major legal precedent for intellectual property rights; a ruling in favor of ABC would see the show air, and possibly undermine producers’ claims of exclusive ownership of TV formats.

The escalating battle for attention in reality programming is hitting TV producers in the wallet as the number of lawsuits over alleged injuries and severe stress increase, The New York Times reports. ‘The extraordinary growth of reality programs could only inevitably lead to an equally extraordinary growth in claims,’ Sandra Baron, the executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, told the newspaper. ‘Insurance is going to soar [for producers]… and litigation costs are going to go through the roof,’ The Times quotes her as saying. Release forms may not offer much protection from litigation, the newspaper reported, noting how in one pending trial a participant alleges she was coerced to sign a second release form immediately before a contest in which she severely injured her back.

Sometimes the dangers of reality TV are off camera. That’s the lesson one cameraman learned shortly before Christmas as he taped for an episode of Swag, a hidden-camera TV copro in the U.K. made by Guy Ritchie’s Ska Films. The unnamed cameraman was stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver when a would-be car thieve – enticed by a spiffy unlocked car, strategically placed by show producers – realized he was being filmed. He was later arrested, and the cameraman reported for work the next day.

Discovery Networks Asia has partnered with Taiwan-based broadcaster Yuan Lin Hypermedia. The five-year deal sees the Discovery Travel & Adventure Channel become the content provider for Yuan Lin’s Knowledge TV, which was rebranded as the Knowledge, Travel & Adventure Channel on January 1, 2003. Discovery Networks Asia will also ‘be solely responsible for all advertising and broadcast sponsorship sales as well as all marketing activities for Knowledge, Travel & Adventure Channel,’ Discovery said in a prepared statement.

The Discovery Times Channel (formerly Discovery Civilization Channel; see RealScreen Plus December 5, 2002) has announced its spring lineup as part of the rebranding. The relaunch takes place March 25 and will be anchored around a Tuesday night doc premiere slot. The first film will be Al Qaeda 2.0, followed by a series of examinations tied into the war on terror. In late April, the theme switches to America’s car culture.

In related news, New York Times Television, a unit of the New York Times Company, entered into a licensing agreements with Discovery International and TV New Zealand at the end of December. The pact will see Times TV’s A Cook’s Tour and Trauma: Life in the E.R. aired throughout the Pacific Rim in 2003.

The British Columbia branch of the Canadian Independent Film Caucus is planning to start a publicity office for documentary producers in the province. Backed in part by government funding, organizers say DocWatch could raise as much as CDN$190,000 (US$123,000), enough to pay for a team of publicists and the publishing of marketing materials such as catalogs. Organizers are currently drumming up support.

The London, U.K.-based Associated Press Television News (APTN), the international video arm of The Associated Press, has landed the worldwide rights to Vatican Television’s video library (yes, as in the Pope’s Vatican). APTN says hundreds of hours of footage of the Pope and Papal events are already available at //

The Chinese government has approved a limited rollout of News Corp.’s Mandarin-language channel Star TV, the Associated Press reports. The channel is the result of a strategic alliance between News Corp.’s Hong Kong-based Star Group and Changsha, China-based Hunan Broadcast Group. The deal covers joint-financing and coproductions.

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