News in Brief

Vive les docs!; U.S. arms Marines with HD cams; seeing is sort of believing;
March 13, 2003

It seems docs are gaining ground in the France’s venerable film scene. Statistics compiled by the Centre National de la Cinématographie reveal that of the 41 projects made for less than 1 million euro (US$1.1 million) in 2002, the majority (22 films) were documentaries. That compares to 15 docs out of a total of 42 projects in 2001. A total of 860 million euro ($931 million) was poured into 200 film productions in the year ending December 31, 2002, compared to investments of 905 million euro ($978 million) in 204 projects in 2001; French investors footed 678 million euro ($733 million) of the 2002 bills, compared to 728 million euro ($787 million) in 2001 (foreign investors carried the balance).

The U.S. military is equipping some of its combat units with high definition cameras to capture battle footage of their troops capturing Iraqi territory – that is, assuming they even go to war. Marine Corps public affairs captain Mike Turner told RealScreen Plus the project follows up an earlier initiative that resulted in the 10-minute doc Operation Enduring Freedom: The Opening Chapter, which was a ‘surprise hit’ when released in large-format theaters in the U.S. The exact focus and length of the follow up has yet to be determined, Turner explained. The four teams will be equipped with two Panavision-Sony HDW-F900 cameras and seven Panasonic AG-DVX100s. Santa Monica, U.S.-based prodco American Rogue Films is assisting in the production.

News and wildlife programs were judged most likely to be factually accurate according to 89% of respondents to a survey by the London, U.K.-based Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Commission. Released March 12, the study looked at a range of television-related issues in the U.K. (viewing habits and preferences, among them), and revealed 69% of Brits trust that current affairs programs are accurate, followed closely by dramatic reconstructions at 68%. Documentaries were most credible to 59% of viewers. News programming was deemed to be the most important genre for 93% of respondents, followed by factual programs at 84% (drama netted an 81% score; entertainment 77%, and regional programs 71%. Religious programming fared the worst, at 24%).

New York, U.S.-based A&E Television Networks has sealed a deal to have its two main channels plugged in mobile phone messages. A&E Mobile and History Channel Mobile, two components of the new partnership with wireless company Airborne Entertainment, will be available to U.S. cellular phone users beginning this month. Features of the initiative include mini-profiles tied to weekly Biography channel programming, and historical fact files from four streams: Entertainment, Sports, General History and Technology. Other extensions of the deal include The Biography Game, which mobile users can play, well, anywhere.

The Canadian Television Fund has shuffled the ‘funding envelopes’ for French-language documentaries. Beginning this year, it will distribute 70% of its resources to French applicants in the spring, with 30% being paid out in the fall. Previously, the CTF handed out 65% of its money in the spring, with 35% being given out in the fall (Its envelopes for English docs remain unchanged at 65% spring, 35% fall).

If you feel that reality TV is losing its appeal you aren’t alone. Pollster MediaAdvantage says 67% of 1,000 adult Americans responded ‘Yes’ when asked, ‘Are you becoming tired of so-called reality television programs?’ In the survey conducted between February 28 and March 4, 22% said ‘No’ and 11% had no opinion. Perhaps not surprisingly, 32% of the advertiser-adored 18-to-29 demographic admitted they still love the programs.

Media giant Vivendi Universal set a record in France recently when it disclosed a 23.3 billion euro ($25.2 billion) net loss for the year ending December 31, 2002. The huge loss was due largely to the writedown of assets acquired under former chief executive Jean-Marie Messier. The heavily indebted company also revealed plans to trim its assets by 7 billion euro ($7.6 billion) in 2003. It follows then as no surprise that VU’s Canal+ Group announced March 12 details of a long-planned reorganization (See RealScreen Plus August 1, 2002) at the pay-TV operation. The reorganization calls for the elimination of 251 positions from the workforce of over 3,035, primarily at the Canal+ Group holding company, as well as at Canal+ SA, CanalSatellite and Canal+ Distribution. StudioCanal will see 54 people let go. The cuts will take effect by June at the latest.

Turner Broadcasting System, a division of AOL Time Warner, is restructuring its operations into three broad units – Entertainment, News and Cartoon – a move that will result in management changes (See People on the Move). The Turner Entertainment Group will include TBS Superstation, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, Turner South, Turner Sports, and Turner Entertainment Sales and Marketing. The CNN News Group will continue to encompass the sprawling CNN empire, and include a new CNN global advertising sales group.

The BBC unveiled plans to broadcast its eight domestic TV channels unencrypted on digital satellite beginning May 30, when its current satellite contract comes due. The move means the Beeb will save an estimated £85 million ($136 million) over the next five years, because it will no longer be using BSkyB’s satellite platform (BskyB subscribers will still get BBC channels via a side deal). It also means that digital satellite viewers in the U.K. will receive the BBC channels through any digital satellite receiver. Roughly £40 million ($64 million) will be used to improve access to all the BBC’s regional services on digital satellite.

In other developments, the British Broadcasting Corporation has assembled a team that will plead its case to parliament when its charter remit comes due later this year. Subdividing the team into five squads – ‘changing world’, ‘purposes’, ‘services’, ‘shape’ and ‘funding’ – the Charter Renewal project is headed by two leaders Roly Keating (controller, BBC Four) and Charles Constable (head of business management and implementation). Director of Factual & Learning Glenwyn Benson reports to BBC News COO Peter Phillips, who leads ‘shape’.

Finally, the Beeb claims that at the end of its first month on air, digi-channel BBC Three has reached 57% (2.4 million viewers) of its target 25-to-34 year old demographic.

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