COURT RAPS FCC RULE

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the FCC improperly acted without congressional consent when it required consumer electronics manufacturers to incorporate copyright-protection technology in new digital TV sets after July 1. The FCC had ordered the manufacturers to include technology that would prevent digital programs "flagged" by producers from being copied and distributed over the Internet. U.S. Circuit Judge Harry Edwards accused the commission of misapplying its "ancillary" regulatory powers. "Are you going to regulate washing machines next?" he asked FCC attorney Jacob M. Lewis. "Ancillary does not mean you get to rule the world."

TWO MORE YEARS -- AT LEAST -- FOR ARENA FOOTBALL

Arena football will remain alive through 2006 following an agreement between NBC and the AFL to extend their broadcast partnership for two years. The AFL and NBC currently are in the second season of a two-year deal that included a four-year option. The two sides, however, mutually agreed to an additional two-year run. "We love the AFL game and continue to believe in the long-term business prospects of the league," Ken Schanzer, president of NBC Sports, said in a statement. NBC is the only major network not carrying NFL football after concluding that it could not justify the losses inherent in any deal with the league. In his statement, Schanzer observed, "We knew growth would take time, but by being profitable, this partnership allows us time to work on attracting new fans to what we believe is a terrific product."

CANSECO STRIKES OUT WITH HBO, SCORES WITH ESPN2

HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg said he "took a pass" at presenting a program in which former Oakland Athletics' player José Canseco would take an on-the-air lie detector test to prove that he was telling the truth about other baseball stars who he claims took anabolic steroids to boost their strength. Virtually all of them have asserted that Canseco's claims, detailed in his book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, are lies. In an interview with the Times, Greenburg said that he had rejected Canseco's proposal "feeling that it felt like you'd have to take a shower after watching it. ... None of us saw a show there. It felt like a publicity stunt to make money and that doesn't translate into television." However, Canseco's proposal was snapped up ESPN2's Cold Pizza. An air date has not been set.

MEDIA ANALYST HAILS YAHOO!'S DEAL WITH SHOWTIME

Yahoo!'s expansion into television by initially providing the premiere episode of Showtime's Fat Actress online has received a warm reaction from Merrill Lynch media analyst Lauren Rich Fine. In her report to investors, Fine commented: "We believe this development by Yahoo! continues to expand its original content offerings as anticipated and is likely to be only the start of more streaming original TV content on Yahoo!" Fine also noted that Yahoo!'s deals with studios represent an additional source of revenue, making it less dependent on sponsored search listings, on which its principal rival, Google, depends.

ATLANTA SUBWAYS TO OFFER TV NEWS -- BUT NOT FROM CNN

Atlanta's Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority said that all of its 300 subway rail cars will be equipped with television sets and will carry news programming from Atlanta's ABC affiliate. WSB-TV. One hundred fifteen cars will be equipped with TVs by spring, it said. News reports did not indicate how the ABC affiliate was selected. Atlanta is the home of Turner Broadcasting, which operates CNN, CNN Headline News, and several targeted news networks, including CNN Airport Network. The TV sets are being provided by New York-based The Rail Network which will pay MARTA a percentage of ad revenue from the service.

BRODERICK AND LANE TO RETEAM FOR THE ODD COUPLE

Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, who appeared together in the stage version of the movie The Producers, will reteam in a new Broadway production of The Odd Couple, a stage production that became a television series. Syndicated columnist Liz Smith reported today that Broderick will play the fussy Felix Unger, while Lane will play the slob Oscar Madison. The show will have a limited run from October through December at the Palace Theater.

GET SET FOR A FLOOD OF MIRAMAX FILMS

Bob and Harvey Weinstein will be leaving Miramax Films with a flourish, releasing as many as 22 movies during the next seven months, including some troubled films that had been shelved or postponed, the New York Times reported today (Wednesday), citing unnamed executives at the studio. The strategy was described by one Miramax executive as an effort to "clean the pipeline" before new managers take over. The Times suggested that some of the films may not be released theatrically but instead will go straight to cable and/or DVD. One such film is Prozac Nation, starring Christina Ricci, which has been shelved for more than four years. During the past six months, Miramax has released only six films, several timed to position them for Oscar considerations. Two of the five films nominated for best-picture Oscars, The Aviator and Finding Neverland, are Miramax productions. Some longtime Miramax fixtures plan to follow the Weinsteins out of Disney. Director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl) said he plans to hold up production of his Clerks sequel, The Passion of the Clerks. "My allegiance is to Harvey and Bob," he told the Times.

BOX OFFICE RECORDS THIRD-BEST PRESIDENTS DAY

Final figures for the four-day Presidents Day weekend showed Sony's Hitch, starring Will Smith, taking in slightly more than originally estimated, and Warner's Constantine taking in somewhat less. It was the third-best Presidents Day holiday on record, falling short of 2003 and 2002. The top ten films over the four-day Presidents Day weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date): 1. Hitch, Sony, $36,731,246, 2 Wks. ($95,046,465); 2. Constantine, Warner Bros., $33,624,407, (New); 3. Because of Winn-Dixie, Fox, $13,218,723, 1 Wk. (New); 4. Son of the Mask, New Line, $9,100,115, 1 Wk. (New); 5. Million Dollar Baby, Warner Bros., $8,142,158, 10 Wks. ($55,645,680); 6. Are We There Yet?, Sony, $8,051,495, 5 Wks. ($71,058,688); 7. Boogeyman, Sony Screen Gems, $6,077,063, 3 Wks. ($41,725,573); 8. Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Disney, $5,323,877, 2 Wks. ($12,578,011); 9. The Aviator, Miramax, $4,924,449, 10 Wks. ($88,876,786); 10. The Wedding Date, Universal, $4,510,085, 3 Wks. ($25,924,990).

INTERNET MOVIE RENTALS SOAR

The number of people who rented movies over the Internet doubled during the fourth quarter, as Netflix and Blockbuster's online subscribers accounted for 15 percent of the total rental market, The NPD Group reported Tuesday. NPD, a provider of sales and marketing information based in Port Washington, NY, also reported that video rentals in stores fell 6 percent during the same period. Netflix continued to dominate the online subscription market with 85 percent. Blockbuster's fledgling service, however, has grabbed 11 percent. A year ago, Netflix commanded 97 percent of the market.

MONEY COLUMNIST SAYS HUGHES BIOPIC FAILED TO DISPLAY HIS GREATEST TALENT

Bloomberg News financial columnist Michael Lewis has observed that while The Aviator may be "the odds-on favorite to win the most Oscars," it fails to explore Hughes' central talent, his ability to make money. People who watch the Howard Hughes biopic, Lewis commented in a column published today (Wednesday), are likely to "come away thinking that the main qualification for dying as the world's richest man is to be certifiably insane." Lewis complains that Hollywood has a history of treating wealthy people as "the bad guys." Studio executives have concluded, he says, that "if you want to make a movie hero of a rich person, for whom money-making was at the very core of his being, you must skip over what made him rich, and focus on other things. It may have taken 30 years for Hollywood to make the movie about Howard Hughes because it took that long for people to forget why they were so interested in him in the first place."

INDIAN CATHOLICS PROTEST BOLLYWOOD FILM ABOUT WAYWARD PRIEST

Catholic groups in Mumbai (Bombay) are mobilizing in an effort to prevent the release on Friday of the English-language Sins, a Bollywood film about a priest's affair with a young woman. Dolphy D'souza, president of the Bombay Catholic Forum, told the Times of India Tuesday: "We will begin protest demonstrations from Wednesday outside railway stations and movie theaters planning to show the film." The groups also said that they will attempt to get a court order to prevent the release of the film. "Celibacy is a key factor for a Catholic priest. We will get legal intervention to get the film stayed," D'souza said. Another Catholic leader, Joseph Dias, told the Capetown Independent: "Religion ... should not be a subject for entertainment or for commercial use." Director Vinod Pande defended the film, saying he was prepared to tell the courts that "an artist should have a chance to say his piece." He also noted that his films had previously been attacked by Hindu religious leaders for describing couples finding love outside of marriage. Hindustan Times columnist Saibal Chatterjee warned: "The thought police are gaining strength with more and more religion-inspired outfits joining the war against a filmmaker's right to tell the story that he wants to."

BERLINALE WINNER SAYS HE MAY NOT RELEASE FILM IN HIS HOMELAND

A Taiwanese film that won the International Critics Prize at the Berlin Film Festival last Saturday may not be released in Taiwan if any of its sexually explicit scenes are ordered deleted by local censors, the film's director told reporters in Taipei. Returning to Taiwan after receiving the award for outstanding artistic contribution, director Tsai Ming-liang vowed not to distribute his film, The Wayward Cloud, in Taiwan "unless in its totality." The Taipei Times observed today (Wednesday) that movies are generally barred from showing genitals, sexual intercourse or nudity. But Tsai commented, ""Audiences are smart enough to tell if it is pornography. This film can jerk tears. Can a porn film have [that] effect?" Ironically, the film deals with two porn actors.

WILL SMITH LANDS IN GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS

According to British reports, Will Smith has earned a place for himself in the Guinness Book of World Records by attending three red-carpet premieres of his movie Hitch in one day -- flying in a private jet on Tuesday to Manchester, Birmingham and London. Completing the whirlwind jaunt, Smith said: "I must have been to London about 50 times, and I [now] realize the U.K. is a lot bigger than London. ... They got me in the Guinness Book of World Records -- I like that! It's kind of cool."

INDIAN COMPANY GETS ORDER FOR DIGITAL PROJECTORS

A Chennai, India-based company, Real Image Media Technologies, has been selected to install its high-definition projection system, Qube Cinema, in 20 theaters in Portugal. The theaters will be networked to receive feature films and project them in high-definition and six-track digital sound. It was not clear whether the theaters would be projecting the films in real time or whether they would first be required to download them onto a disk. Real Image said that it had been selected by the Portuguese Ministry of Cultural Affairs after demonstrating the Qube Cinema system against 14 competitors from all over the world.