News in Brief

U.K. watchdog issues producer-relations guidelines for public service broadcasters; PBS premieres a new public affairs series; the latest reality program seeks to launch not a pop star, but another TV show
June 5, 2003

The London, U.K.-based Independent Television Commission has released recommended guidelines to U.K. public-service broadcasters (BBC, ITV‘s Channel 3, C4, Five and S4C) in dealing with independent producers. Issued as part of the process of implementing a new Communications Bill, the ITC recommends ‘a clear and transparent process for independent program commissioning.’ It also advises public service broadcasters to define ‘a minimum set of primary rights, the duration of such rights and how negotiations [with producers] for primary rights will be conducted separately from secondary and tertiary rights negotiations.’ The broadcasters must submit draft codes of conduct to the ITC by the end of June. The codes need to be approved by the ITC and Ofcom, an industry oversight body.

Flashpoints USA with Bryant Gumbel and Gwen Ifill is a new public affairs series from the Alexandria, U.S.-based Public Broadcast System that aims to present nationally relevant issues from the perspective of those most effected by them. Produced in part by Washington, D.C.-based public station WETA, Flashpoints will mix taped documentary segments with live discussions between policymakers and ‘everyday’ Americans. The series premieres July 15 with the episode ‘The Sacrifices of Security’, an exploration of the costs of homeland security.

The Pilot Project is a reality program that truly has a twist: it is looking for the next hit television show, and the winner takes home US$3,000 and the opportunity to bring the idea to the small screen. To compete, producers (and wannabe producers) must submit their programming proposal – including unscripted formats – to // by July 31. A panel will judge the concept for originality, creativity and marketability, but voters registered at the site decide the top 10 ideas. The 10 finalists will be flown to Hollywood, U.S., to pitch their proposals to TV industry executives (the delegate list is still being hammered out, RealScreen Plus was told). Effects Productions, one of the game’s backers, is planning to make a 12-episode reality show out of the process.

Digital video recorder company TiVo says it has developed a tool that offers broadcasters the ability to analyze audience-viewing patterns ‘second-by-second.’ The San Jose, U.S.-based company is offering TV programmers a customizable, quarterly subscription service that taps into the data collected anonymously by the individual TiVo recorders (each DVR connects with TiVo’s broadcast center daily by phone lines to download programming information. It uploads a usage record at the same time). The analysis crunches viewing patterns during individual programs, and assigns a numerical score to indicate the program’s ability to retain viewers, TiVo claims. The company says it can ‘pinpoint specific incidents in programming where viewers responded strongly.’

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted new rules that open the door to increased ownership concentration in the television industry. A single company can own local TV stations that collectively reach 45% of U.S. TV households. Previously, this limit was capped at 35%. As the commission explained, ‘a national TV ownership limit is needed to protect localism by allowing a body of network affiliates to negotiate collectively with the broadcast networks on network programming decisions.’ The FCC has maintained a ban on ‘cross-ownership’ of TV, radio and newspaper companies in markets with three or fewer stations, but relaxed them on larger markets. This change hinges on companies passing a ‘diversity’ of voices rule for a given local market. The FCC has also retained a ban on mergers among the top four national networks. For the first time, it officially acknowledged the competitive imbalance between free-to-air networks that rely solely on advertising revenues and cable stations that collect money both from ads and subscription fees. For further information go to //

The European Commission wants to know what Media Plus beneficiaries think of the funding program. Using feedback gathered from an online survey the EU hopes to shape the program to producers’ needs and to set medium-term objectives. The two-year-old Media Plus financially supports the development, promotion, and distribution of European film and TV companies and their programs. It also backs events such as the annual Forum for International Co-Financing of Documentaries in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The survey deadline is June 30, 2003. It is at //

Silver Spring, U.S.-based Discovery Communications has negotiated a carriage agreement that sees its Discovery HD Theater channel being carried by DirecTV‘s high-definition service beginning July 1. The deal means the one-year-old channel will be carried by almost all major distribution companies in the U.S. except Comcast and Time Warner. Later this month Discovery HD Theater will premiere several new HD programs, including the three-part series Wild Nights: A Night Underwater, and the one-offs A Brief History of Time and James: Brother of Jesus.

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