News in Brief

Discovery seals deal with C4; new U.K. pubcaster guidelines get the green light; the BBC and al-Jazeera discussing doc agreement
January 16, 2003

Discovery Networks Europe and U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 have entered a two-year, ‘multi-million pound’ first-look deal for factual programming. Coming into effect April 1, the pact gives Discovery’s U.K. channels a guaranteed first option to acquire non-terrestrial broadcast rights to Channel 4′s non-fiction output. The agreement includes series already transmitted terrestrially in the U.K. and new series to be aired first on Channel 4 during the contract period. C4 and its indie prodcos ‘are guaranteed a significant increase in revenue’ as Discovery pledges to acquire at least 200 hours a year in programming. Discovery also gets first-option rights to be a copro partner on any Channel 4 U.K. factual project, and Channel 4 gets the same for some (but not all) Discovery productions in the U.S.

U.K. culture secretary Tessa Jowell has approved a set of Independent Television Commission recommendations in a bid to improve the lot of independent producers in the country. Under the proposals all public service broadcasters must follow new guidelines governing commissions (critics say the current regime too heavily favors broadcasters). According to The Guardian Jowell, whose portfolio governs the media, also approves of proposals that would protect home-country networks in the event they are bought by a foreign broadcaster. This hinges on media-ownership laws being relaxed as part of proposed changes to the U.K.’s communications laws.

In related comments also made January 15, the culture minister put the BBC on notice that it will have to defend its universal licensing fee – which pulls in £2.2 billion (US$3.6 billion) a year – when the pubcaster’s charter comes up for renewal in 2006. Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention, Jowell said the Beeb would undergo a total review of its funding model, The Guardian reported.

Finally, the BBC has signed a news-swap agreement with Qatar-based al-Jazeera, and is discussing a possible follow-up deal to cover documentaries with the Arab-language news channel. Announced by the Beeb on January 15, the contract allows for the sharing of facilities and assets such as al-Jazeera’s satellite uplink in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A U.S. district court ruled January 13 against an injunction filed by CBS to halt the February transmission of I’m a Celebrity…Get me out of here! on rival ABC. According to The Guardian, the judge ruled that the program made by Granada Television is not a knock-off of the format Survivor, the world-wide rights to which are claimed by London, U.K.-based Castaway Productions. The fate of a format lawsuit filed in the U.K. by Castaway against fellow London prodco Granada in connection with Celebrity is now up in the air, the newspaper noted.

New York City-based Purple Monkey Productions (Journeys with George) has landed an exclusive two-year contract with HBO. Purple Monkey’s Alexandra Pelosi has agreed to produce political docs for the U.S. cable network and be an on-camera talent.

In other HBO news, the Los Angeles, U.S.-based company has rolled out its doc lineup for the first half of the year. The films include Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives, airing February 10; Amandla! a revolution in four-part harmony, in April; and Pandemic: Facing AIDS, in June.

HBO’s sister station Cinemax has announced the winter-and-spring lineup for its ‘Reel Life’ doc slot. It includes A Letter from the Deep, Welcome to North Korea and Uncle Frank.

A new, live variety-format program will air on U.S. television without commercials, because the advertising will be woven into the show’s storyline, reports The New York Times. According to the Times story, Pepsi and Nokia have agreed to buy six hour-long timeslots this summer on WB Network, the youth-oriented channel owned by AOL Time Warner. The producer — London, U.K. prodco Celador (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) — has tentatively named the program Live from Right Now. The concept is a response to new video-on-demand technologies such as TiVo, which allow viewers to skip traditional ad-breaks.

Documentary filmmaker Pete Livingston of prodco Not The Enemy Media has filed a copyright lawsuit against three major entertainment companies over his doc Over Nine Billion Dead Served, reports Entertainment Law Digest. Livingston, citing the First Amendment, is arguing that Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International, Universal Studios Consumer Products, and Fox Entertainment Group are infringing his right to free speech by threatening him with copyright-violation litigation. Over Nine Billion features clips of their Hollywood films as part of an examination of violence in movies (he claims the 25 top grossing films feature the killing of more than 9 billion people). Livingstone claims he requested permission to use the clips, but the companies never responded to his applications.

Carlton Productions in the U.K. has been cleared of all charges of bias or inaccuracy in connection to the John Pilger doc Palestine Is Still the Issue, aired in September (see RealScreen Plus September 26). The Guardian says the Independent Television Commission concluded the huge number of officially lodged criticisms and accolades pointed to organized lobbying campaigns, which effectively canceled each side’s position.

U.S. cable channel AMC (formerly American Movie Classics) is raising the profile of doc programming in mainstream America TV. In June the Hollywood, U.S. company will launch the slot ‘the AMC Project’ for which it has commissioned a slate of docs, including Eyepop Productions’ Fame: The New Reality, World of Wonder’s Gay Hollywood, and Stuart Television Productions’ Hollywood & The Muslim World. AMC has also commissioned several non-slot docs, such as Prometheus Entertainment’s Hell up in Hollywood, Radical Media’s Hollywood High and Sex @ 24 FPS: Sex sells by Prometheus, Foxstar Productions and Fox Television Studios.

New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission has agreed to allow TV in cabs, reports The New York Times. PBS and The History Channel are coming along for the ride. Two History Channel segments – about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building – are currently playing in cabs. The newspaper says the decision means that ad-supported in-vehicle networks such as TaxiView and Taxi Channel will be available to the roughly 223 million viewers who in 2001 spent about US$918 million in fares in the city’s 12,200 cabs. The rollout of the 18-centimetre-wide screens – which cannot be switched off — will undergo an initial trial run, the newspaper said.

Vancouver, Canada-based Yaletown Entertainment has locked in an agreement that will see its 52-episode high-definition program Weird Homes and Weird Wheels aired on Discovery HD Theater. It is the second HD pact Yaletown has inked with Bethesda, U.S.-based Discovery Communications.

In related news, Discovery Health Channel is putting together a 10-hour live broadcast from three U.S. hospitals February 17. The show, which will in part raise awareness of premature births in America, is to feature on-camera baby deliveries. As many as 12,000 children are born each day in the U.S.

U.S. cable network TNN is undergoing a rebranding in a bid to become the first channel geared exclusively at men, reports the Los Angeles Times. The repositioning will emphasize reality shows and programming on everything from health and finance. The company has hired former MTV Network producer Albie Hecht as president (see People on the Move) to spearhead the changes.

CHUM Television has been awarded Canada’s first high-definition license. CityTV , CHUM’s Toronto station, expects to launch the over-the-air digital signal in mid-February.

About The Author