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Universal (Vivendi) Whines to FCC - "We Can't Run a Business - Bail Us Out!"

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Universal (Vivendi) Whines to FCC - "We Can't Run a Business - Bail Us Out!"

Old 02-24-03, 11:04 AM
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Universal (Vivendi) Whines to FCC - "We Can't Run a Business - Bail Us Out!"

http://www.broadcastingcable.com/ind...02%2F17%2F2003

Fin-Syn Fever Rising

Universal now gripes about networks' tight grip on prime time

By Bill McConnell
Broadcasting & Cable
2/17/2003

Universal Television, owned by No. 2 media conglomerate Vivendi Universal, has joined the ranks of mostly independent producers in urging the feds to investigate whether the increasing dominance of network-produced prime time shows harms the industry.

Universal Appeal
You don't have to look far to find Universal-produced shows:
American Dreams (NBC)
Blind Date (syndicated)
Dragnet (ABC)
Jerry Springer (syndicated)
Just Shoot Me (NBC)
Law & Order (NBC)
Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC)
Maury (syndicated)
Mister Sterling (NBC)
Robbery Homicide Division (CBS, canceled)
The Agency (CBS)
The District (CBS)
The 5th Wheel (syndicated)
Source: Universal

In the past three weeks, Universal execs, including group president David Goldhill, have met with leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees and senior FCC staff to complain about the increasing difficulty that non-network producers experience selling prime time shows. Their complaints suggest that even 800-pound gorillas—Vivendi's revenue tops $30 billion and its TV holdings also include USA Network and Sci Fi Channel—are having trouble breaking the networks' grip on prime time.

Universal's complaints follow a petition filed by independents Sony Pictures Television and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach last month. The two producers are part of a coalition that also includes writers, actors and directors unions and ad agency MediaCom. Also seeking to rein in the nets is the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers and Directors.

So far, Universal isn't backing the other groups' call to revive limits on networks' in-house share of prime time but are simply urging policymakers to recognize that a problem exists. "We're asking officials to look at how the television market has changed for independents, but we're not pushing a solution," said a Universal executive. "Although we're part of much bigger company, we're still finding it difficult to crack into prime time."

In a Feb. 5 FCC filing, Universal asserted that the rising share of network-owned or affiliated programming has diminished the "diversity and quality of broadcast network television" since the 1993 repeal of financial-interest and syndication (fin-syn) rules limiting network ownership in prime time shows. In January, the Sony-led Coalition for Program Diversity asserted that non-networks' share of prime time lineups had dropped from 68% to 24% since 1993. In terms of weekly hours, independents now average 17 hours weekly, down from 47.5 hours.

The networks deride that calculation and say they account for only 35% of prime time if news, sports and shows co-produced with non-network shops are excluded.

Universal might have an uphill battle proving that fin-syn repeal created an irreversible decline in non-net production. After all, the company announced this spring that fall 2002 was a "banner year," with nine of its series picked up for fall network schedules in last year's upfront. According to a May 16 press release, the total was the "largest volume of series since the 1994-95 television season." New network picks this year include American Dreams and midseason replacements Dragnet and Mister Sterling.

As for complaints about the declining quality on network TV, Universal has created a multi-series franchise out of critically acclaimed Law & Order, which airs on NBC. Many critics also would argue that Universal's syndicated Jerry Springer, Maury and Blind Date have contributed as much to the decline of TV as any shows on the air.

So far, the effort to revive fin-syn hasn't caught on at the FCC.

Sony's coalition asked the FCC to impose the 25% set-aside as part of a sweeping revision of ownership rules now being drafted by agency staff. A fin-syn revival was not among the proposed changes, but the plan could legally be included because the FCC did make an open-ended request for alternatives to today's numerical ownership caps that would encourage programming diversity.

Still, FCC officials caution that, while fin-syn supporters have shown that non-network share of prime time has dropped, they haven't proved that, from a viewer's point of view, program quality and diversity have diminished.

Democrat FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, whose early support would be critical to moving the idea onto the commission radar screen, told an industry gathering last week that the idea isn't being actively considered. Republican colleague Kevin Martin, the likely choice to be a Republican swing vote, hasn't discussed his views with his staff.

Still, the networks aren't taking the challenge lightly.

After word circulated that Universal's team met with the staffs of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), the nets demanded a chance to rebut the idea in person, and meetings are being scheduled.

"Fin-syn was applicable when television consisted almost entirely of three networks," said Disney/ABC lobbyist Preston Padden. "The courts threw it out when there were four broadcast networks and 100 cable networks. It plainly makes no sense in a world with seven broadcast networks and 300 cable networks."

Said a CBS spokesman, "Beyond the dubious legality of the proposal, lifting the rule enabled networks to see the benefits of a successful run on their air, while continuing to provide opportunities to independent producers. A regressive new rule limiting ownership would load all the risk back on the networks and undermine the entire financial structure of the television business, making it highly destructive even to those who have made this proposal."
Really? You think cancelling The Invisible Man and Farscape and replacing them with Scare Tactics (*cough* lawsuit *cough*) and The Dream Team is the way to "break the networks' grip" and improve the diversity and quality of television programming? Only an 800-pound gorilla would use logic like that.

They may also want to take stock in the fact that with every new cable channel, the unfair network bias built into the antique Nielsen system skews ratings further and further away from cable. I'm interested in the statistics that show how a "representative" sample can be obtained from 20,000 viewers when there are over 300 channels and ratings for most of those timeblocks are under 1.0.

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Old 02-24-03, 11:13 AM
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And, here's a look at Vivendi's stock over the past 2 years. Note that the decision not to pick up Rangers and the cancellation of The Invisible Man were at the end of 2001. Coincidence?

das
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Old 02-24-03, 03:39 PM
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Re: Universal (Vivendi) Whines to FCC - "We Can't Run a Business - Bail Us Out!"

Originally posted by das Monkey
I'm interested in the statistics that show how a "representative" sample can be obtained from 20,000 viewers when there are over 300 channels and ratings for most of those timeblocks are under 1.0.
Being a professional statistician, I can say that yes, a sample of 20,000 viewers is more than adequate to estimate TV viewership. In fact, you'll find that doubling or quadrupling that sample size doesn't improve the accuracy enough to be worth the trouble. If you're interested, I'd be glad to explain the mathematics behind it.

The problem in the Nielsen ratings doesn't lie in the number of viewers but in how the viewers are selected and how the measurements are taken. I know some people who currently work for Nielsen (but not in their TV ratings division). They know that the system is flawed and antiquated. There have been some minor improvements in an effort to better the situation but basically its the same old system.

But the blame also lies with the organizations that foot the bill for the TV ratings. The ratings system really needs a complete overhaul with new measurements, measurement systems, and methods of interpretation. But the entertainment industry is so addicted to the "ratings / share" metrics that they don't want to give them up, despite the need or the advantages (much like the U.S. and the metric system).
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Old 02-24-03, 04:21 PM
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I guess I phrased that poorly. I understand how you can mathematically achieve proper representation; however, Nielsen does not have a selection process in place that provides a "representative" sample. It was never a problem when there were 3 huge networks, but with hundreds of channels and an insane variety of programming, these problems are magnified, and the smaller channels are the ones on the losing end. Television preferences span ethnic and gender boundaries, and simply making sure you have then same percentage of Hispanic middle-class women in your sample as the nation on the whole doesn't really cut it when you're talking about stations who survive on ratings points under 1.0 most of the time. For national meters, there are what, 5000 Nielsen boxes? For a show that gets a 1.0, then, that's taken from ~50 people? One per state? Now 10% of the TV audience is African-American. Assuming equal distribution, that's 5 people. If one of them goes out for beer, we are now off by 20% on how many African-American viewers watch this particular show in the national markets.

I understand the statistics behind the ratings concept; however, in this television landscape with hundreds of channels, I just don't see how it's possible for them to come up with an accurate sampling with their current methods. And as a conspiracy-monger, I assume since the networks pay a lot of bills, they really don't have much interest in getting it right either.

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Old 02-24-03, 05:55 PM
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Isn't that the American way? When others won't give you what you want you run to the legislature to get the government to force others to give you what you want.

Way to go Universal! Keep up the good lobbying and attempted coercion, er... I mean work.
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Old 02-24-03, 08:51 PM
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das, I was wondering when you were going to get around to banging the IM drum again.

You go girl!
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Old 02-25-03, 07:05 AM
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Universal Television, owned by No. 2 media conglomerate Vivendi Universal, has joined the ranks of mostly independent producers in urging the feds to investigate whether the increasing dominance of network-produced prime time shows harms the industry.
This is hilarious considering that they are rapidly replacing shows on their own Sci-Fi channel with lame Universal-produced product like "Tremors" and the remake of "Battlestar Galactica". They're just angry because some of the big networks are doing better than they are.

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Old 02-25-03, 07:10 AM
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This is hilarious considering that they are rapidly replacing shows on their own Sci-Fi channel with lame Unersal-produced product like "Tremors" and the remake of "Battlestar Galactica".
It does feel a tad hypocritical, doesn't it?
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Old 02-25-03, 08:50 AM
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Originally posted by das Monkey


And, here's a look at Vivendi's stock over the past 2 years. Note that the decision not to pick up Rangers and the cancellation of The Invisible Man were at the end of 2001. Coincidence?

das
Oct02 - Sep 02, Farscape cancellation announced/confirmed. Coincidence? I think not.

D
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Old 02-25-03, 10:05 AM
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I’m between a rock and a hard place on this one.

First, look at all the benefits of deregulation on the telephone industry.

I’m all for free enterprise (no pun intended), and, as much as I dislike them, reality shows seem to be “the thing” these days. You don’t need a “studio” to produce them. If this is what the public wants…

On the other hand, forcing the nets to allocate a chunk of their time for “studio” productions would bring back the days of quality made-for-TV movies like…like…

Oh, never mind.

On the subject of ratings, the industry has a tool already in their hands to collect all sorts of data on viewing habits, assuming they aren’t already doing so. It’s called Tivo.
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Old 02-25-03, 11:19 AM
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As I was saying ...

http://us.imdb.com/StudioBrief/

Goodbye, Diaries; Hello, People Meters

Nielsen Research is likely to announce as early as this week that it will double the number of TV viewers included in its ratings surveys and switch many of them from diaries to "Local People Meters," according to Electronic Media, which cited no sources.
Also, Booth, if you know the answer to this I'd appreciate it, but aren't the metered boxes limited to home owners?

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Old 02-25-03, 12:52 PM
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Now this is interesting ... although these changes are small, slow, and potentially ineffective, it's a start:

Entertainment - Reuters/Variety TV

Nielsen Shifts Power to the People Meters
Tue Feb 25, 2:38 AM ET

By John Dempsey

NEW YORK (Variety) - Taking one step closer to eventually abolishing ratings "sweeps," Nielsen Media Research announced plans on Monday to install People Meters in the top 10 U.S. television markets.

Nielsen's People Meters -- which report demographic data such as viewers' age and gender on a daily basis -- have been used on a national level since 1987, but local markets still rely on old-fashioned diaries to collect demographic ratings.

To obtain demographic numbers, local TV stations and cable systems have to wait for the "sweep" periods, when the members of a representative sample of households agree to manually fill out diaries listing the programs they watched during the month. Those diary samples are taken four times a year, during November, February, May and July.

That's why the broadcast networks load up on special programming during those months and local newscasts schedule exposes of subjects like teenage prostitution and Internet porn. Sweeps ratings allow stations to mark up their advertising rates for as long as three months.

But with People Meters, Nielsen will be able to publish full demographic data for all of the stations in a given market within 24 hours. Currently, passive meters allow only a raw household rating 24 hours later.

Nielsen wired Boston with People Meters last year, and will now add nine more cities, starting with Los Angeles, which will be up and running by early 2004.

Network executives have complained about sweeps for years, but the high cost of installing People Meters in all 212 TV markets made the issue moot. Even after the 10 top markets are installed, sweeps will still be necessary in the other 202 markets.

Nielsen was emboldened to expand its local People Meter scope after the company signed NBC, ABC, Comcast, Time Warner Cable of both New York and Los Angeles and the L.A.-based cable-system interconnect Adlink to help shoulder the multimillion-dollar cost.

Nielsen is now pitching other clients -- such as CBS, Fox and Tribune -- to come aboard, using as its main lure the fact that it will install more People Meters than passive meters in the top 10. Boston, for example, went from 420 to 600 homes, and New York will shoot up from 540 to 800.

And not only will the number of Nielsen homes rise, separately, in each market, but the national sample will go up from 5,000 to 7,000 households. For the first time, Nielsen will be able to use the same local household as a representative sample for both national and local numbers.

A bigger sample will increase the accuracy of the rating, particularly for a cable network that pulls in far fewer viewers on average than a broadcast network.

Nielsen said that the top 10 markets encompass 32 million TV homes, or 30 percent of the U.S. total. In local billing alone, advertisers pony up $8 billion in the top 10, according to Nielsen.

After Los Angeles, Nielsen plans to add three more cities in 2004: New York, Chicago and San Francisco. In 2005, four more cities kick in: Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Dallas. Atlanta will get its People Meters in 2006.
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Old 02-25-03, 01:10 PM
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Originally posted by das Monkey
Also, Booth, if you know the answer to this I'd appreciate it, but aren't the metered boxes limited to home owners?
I know that it has been in the past. That was because the boxes required some additional wiring that non-owners would not be able to have. (As an aside, this also limited the potential pool of households to those that were willing to have this special wiring in their home-- thus further reducing the chances for a completely random sample)

However, with recent advances in wireless and broadband technologies, I would think that this limitation would no longer exist. I don't know for sure, though.
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Old 02-25-03, 02:11 PM
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“Special wiring”? This sounds like a dedicated phone line to me. Although not “dedicated,” you still need one of those for Tivo, yes?

The Conspiracy Theorist would suggest that these are already being used for passive data collection. However, it would be a deep, dark secret as many would cry “invasion of privacy” if word got out.

While it might not supply the demographic data wanted, the data could be collected at any time. (Do the people meters require some kind of input, registering the demographics of the viewer?) Or all the time.

I could stain my pants right now if sweeps were abolished. The last few years it’s been a pain having a coupla weeks of new shows, a few reruns, repeat ad nauseam . I long for the days where we would have 26 weeks of new programming more or less in a row, leaving the summer months to complain about reruns. Then, say, May or June would be a great time to release season box sets.
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Old 02-25-03, 02:26 PM
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• Quoth Booth •
I know that it has been in the past. That was because the boxes required some additional wiring that non-owners would not be able to have. (As an aside, this also limited the potential pool of households to those that were willing to have this special wiring in their home-- thus further reducing the chances for a completely random sample)



That's kind of what I figured. I'm also curious to see how they handle diaries that aren't filled out. I imagine many aren't filled out, are filled out incorrectly, or are intentionally fraudulent. In the last two years, I've personally witnessed at least 5 cases of diary contamination.

In the end, it all goes back to my belief that the Nielsens really do little more than represent the viewing habits of some small group of people. On a large enough scale (perhaps 10 points or higher), they give a pretty good indication of what people are watching. For cable shows, however, it's a crapshoot.



Considering how much money advertizers pay for their time, you'd think they'd demand a system more accurate.

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Old 02-25-03, 02:39 PM
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I've never known one of these mythic "Nielsen families" and I wonder if they even exist.

All I know about them is that they have really crappy taste in television.

I've always wondered why they can't judge from my cable box what I am watching.

You would thinkt he cable companies would be able to report how many people watch a given station at a given time.
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Old 02-25-03, 02:42 PM
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Originally posted by Jadzia
All I know about them is that they have really crappy taste in television.
IIRC, I should be

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Old 02-26-03, 03:34 PM
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Originally posted by das Monkey

And, here's a look at Vivendi's stock over the past 2 years. Note that the decision not to pick up Rangers and the cancellation of The Invisible Man were at the end of 2001. Coincidence?

das
Umm.. How much do you know about Vivendi Universal? I ask, because I work for them. You do understand that they are a humongous global corporation, don't you? Television plays only a small role in their overall business. The division I work for is called Vivendi Universal Games. They own Sierra, Blizzard, Universal Interactive, Knowledge Adventure, etc.

They have a huge movie business... though I'm sure you know that.

They also own several companies across the globe.

The main reason for Vivendi's poor stock performance is because of poor management. They were (not sure now?) about $30 billion in dept. The last CEO really screwed things up from what I understand. We sold off several companies in order to get cash.
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Old 02-26-03, 06:33 PM
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• Quoth DodgingCars •
Umm..



Uh ... joke ...

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Old 02-26-03, 06:39 PM
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das, I’m most disappointed.

I have been patiently waiting, and that’s all you could come up with? (No sarcasm intended.)

There will be more/better later, yes?
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Old 02-26-03, 07:19 PM
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• Quoth Wizdar •
das, I’m most disappointed.

I have been patiently waiting, and that’s all you could come up with? (No sarcasm intended.)

There will be more/better later, yes?



What am I supposed to say? How do you argue when it's clear that the cancellation of The Invisible Man sent ripples throughout the entertainment industry (or more appropriately, the French water industry) so powerful as to topple the overly diversified hundred-billion dollar monster conglomerate that is Videndi Universal Entertainment(or at least Vivendi Universal Sudios as it was called at the time)? I mean, it shouldn't matter that Messier didn't merge with Diller's USA Networks and the Sci-Fi Channel until months after The Invisible Man was cancelled, because we all know that the world was so outraged with the Sci-Fi Channel that shareholders just went nuts. Luckily, it had nothing to do with the fact that Vivendi spent years spreading itself too thin by gobbling up as much media and entertainment as it could without properly thinking about what it wanted to do with it.

In truth, Wizdar, my response was so brief since last time we discussed this issue, he accused myself and the others fighting for Farscape of intentionally spreading lies about SFC, and when I attempted to refute the claim as honestly as possible, he disappeared into the night. Just didn't seem worth the trouble to defend what is obviously a joke, and I really didn't want to get into a fight over it. Sorry if that disappointed you.

das

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Old 02-26-03, 09:02 PM
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Sorry, das, I didn’t know about your past differences.

I do enjoy watching you tilting at that invisible windmill. I imagine there are others (who weren't around at that time) who wonder about your sanity, however.

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Old 02-26-03, 09:23 PM
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Yeah, even Sancho questions my sanity sometimes; but then I remind him, when he looks real hard, he sees the windmill too.

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Old 02-27-03, 07:59 AM
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Well, I’m still disappointed at your rantus interruptus. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with it, but I understand your passion for IM. You might make a better case if you let it slide in favor of the Farscape debacle, however. But that’s JMO. I could be wrong, and frequently am.
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