TED TURNER BLASTS FOX NEWS CHANNEL
The result of media consolidation has been a television industry that is less critical of the government, and, in the case of News Corp, even a propaganda agent of the government, CNN founder Ted Turner said during an address to TV programmers in Las Vegas Tuesday. Appearing as the keynote speaker at the National Association for Television Programming Executives (NATPE), Turner, who once compared News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch with Hitler, pressed on with the analogy of governments using media as a propaganda organ by referring to News Corp's Fox News Channel, which has overtaken CNN in the ratings. Not being the most popular news network, Turner remarked, is "not necessarily a bad thing, though I'm not happy about it. Adolf Hitler was more popular in Germany than people who ran against him. Just because you are bigger doesn't mean to say you are right." However, he added, "it does pose problems for our democracy. Particularly when the news is dumbed down, leaving voters without critical information on politics and world events and overloaded with fluff." In response, Fox News Channel issued a statement saying, "Ted is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network, and now his mind." Nevertheless, reporters covering Turner's address remarked that he appeared subdued. In its report, Daily Variety commented that "the CNN founder came across to the NATPE contingent as more resigned than riled up. Feisty he was not."

CBS A CHAMPION AGAIN WITH CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Sunday's CBS telecast of the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers scored the biggest ratings of the season and gave the debut of Numb3rs, which followed it, enough viewers to put it into the top ten (No. 5), although ratings for the drama were about half those of the game. Surprisingly, ABC's Desperate Housewives, which aired opposite the game, captured its second-largest ratings of the season -- translating to 26 million viewers. (Forty-four million watched the game.) Even NBC's Dateline performed well against the game. Eleven million viewers watched the news magazine's tribute to Johnny Carson, who died earlier in the day. CBS once again took top honors for the week, averaging a 10.3 rating and a 16 share. NBC was in second place with a 7.1/11, narrowly beating out Fox, which, thanks to the return of American Idol, averaged a 7.0/11. ABC was close behind in fourth place with a 6.4/10. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. AFC Championship Game, CBS, 25.8/38.0; 2, American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 18.3/27; 3. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 16.1/22; 4. AFC Championships Post-Game Show, CBS, 16.0/23; 5. Numb3rs Preview, CBS, 15.7/24; 6. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 15.2/22; 7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.9/22; 8. E.R., NBC, 12.5/20; 9. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 12.2/18; 10. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.9/17; 10. Lost, ABC, 11.9/18.

SUPER BOWL MVP WON'T BE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD

Abruptly ending a tradition that began at the 1987 Super Bowl when MVP Phil Simms of the New York Giants beamed into the camera when asked what would be next for him and responded, "I'm going to Disney World!", Disney has decided to use the costs of such an ad campaign for other advertising this year, the Orlando Sentinel reported today (Wednesday). The newspaper quoted spokesman Craig Dezern as saying that the decision had nothing to do with the Janet Jackson incident during last year's Super Bowl telecast and everything to do with the costs of promoting the "Happiest Celebration on Earth," marking the 50th anniversary of Disneyland. Eli Portnoy, a brand expert and president of The Portnoy Group, told the Sentinel that dropping the popular spots was a risky decision. "I would say anytime a company gives up a marquee brand position, there is a loss," Portnoy remarked, but added that it's difficult to judge whether the loss would be offset by the fact that the ads "would have cost a fortune." Meanwhile, today's Wall Street Journal reported that Anheuser-Busch had decided not to air a Bud Lite commercial during this year's Super Bowl that spoofs last year's "wardrobe malfunction" involving Janet Jackson. "Why take the risk? All you need is one person to be offended," A-B exec Bob Lachky told the Journal. "Some people don't want to be reminded of the incident."

GOOGLE VIDEO OFFERS MORE THAN EXPECTED

Although Internet search engine Google initially indicated that its new Google Video service would only provide still images and the closed-captioning text from TV news and public-broadcasting sources, searches conducted during the service's first day found such images from numerous network entertainment and magazine shows as well, Daily Variety reported today (Wednesday). The trade paper indicated that Google had "apparently ... been recording programs via satellite and other means from the [TV networks] for several months and archiving them for its new product." The practice, however, seemed likely to generate a legal challenge by rights holders.

LAWMAKERS PLANNING TO INCREASE INDECENCY FINES

Lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that would increase fines that could be imposed on broadcasters who air indecent material. In the House, Michigan Republican Fred Upton unveiled a bill that could impose fines of as much as $500,000 not only on broadcasters but also on entertainers who utter indecent remarks or perform indecent material. A similar bill is likely to be introduced in the Senate today (Wednesday) by Kansas Republican Sam Brownback that would boost fines to as much as $325,000 for a single violation and $3 million if the violations continued.

PRESIDENT OF JAPAN'S NHK QUITS

The president of Japan's NHK network has resigned under pressure following a string of embezzlement scandals and the recent disclosure that the network censored a documentary about the behavior of Japanese troops during World War II at the behest of top politicians. Katsuji Ebisawa said that he was stepping down because of a growing lack of public confidence in the network.

FAHRENHEIT FROZEN OUT
The reelection of George Bush probably sealed the fate of Fahrenheit 9/11 as a contender for the best picture Oscar, analysts concluded Tuesday after the Michael Moore documentary failed to receive a single nomination. Moore was philosophical about it all, noting in an interview with USA Today that his movie had "won the top prize at Cannes, the People's Choice Award, opened No. 1 at the box office and grossed ($220.7 million) worldwide. ... That's more good fortune than any film deserves for one year." (Today's Los Angeles Times observed that the combined gross of the five best picture nominees was just under $205 million.) By airing his movie on TV the night before the November presidential election, Moore effectively withdrew it from contention in the best documentary category. (Under academy rules, a documentary may not be considered for an Oscar if it airs on TV within nine months of its theatrical release) He said at the time that he wished to focus on a best picture nomination. But the strategy failed. In a Variety-like headline, the politically conservative New York Post gloated today, "CLUB SNUBS SCHLUB."

COMMENTATORS ISSUE INTENTIONAL SPOILERS ABOUT BABY

[NOTE: Ordinarily we do not offer "spoiler" warnings when discussing the content of movies unless they also appear in the news reports that we compress for this digest. The following item, however, covers the controversy over the actions by some commentators and columnists to undermine Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby by disclosing a key plot element. Readers who have not seen the movie and who do not want to be informed about the issue it raises until they have seen it may wish to skip this item.] Rush Limbaugh has become the latest commentator to blast Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, calling it a "million dollar euthanasia movie." On Tuesday, he facetiously apologized for letting "the cat out of the bag when I mentioned to you that the real subject of the movie is, when this heroine becomes paralyzed, she wants to die and they say, 'Okay, you'd be better off dead,' and they pretty much zap her. I apparently spoke out of school, as a movie critic and reviewer, uh, ladies and gentlemen. I just feel terrible about this." Critic Michael Medved told USA Today that he had revealed the plot twist because "there are competing moral demands that come into the job of a movie critic. We have a moral and fairness obligation to not spoil movies. On the other hand, our primary moral obligation is to tell the truth." Medved, who says he "hated this movie," also remarked that "They didn't want to tell people what it is [about] because no one would come." On Tuesday, an orgaization of paraplegics also joined the critics of the movie.

NETFLIX WINNING BATTLE AGAINST GOLIATH RIVALS

Despite intense competition from the likes of Blockbuster and Wal-Mart, Netflix, the online DVD rental outfit, nearly doubled its revenue in 2004 over 2003 to $506.2 million from $272.2 million. Moreover, CEO Reed Hastings said during a conference call, the company achieved its lowest "churn" -- the percentage of subscribers who drop the service each month -- in the fourth quarter, when it was experiencing its toughest competition. As a price war between the top rivals forced Netflix to reduce its fees substantially, analysts had warned that any increase in overall revenue would likely be achieved at the cost of profitability. However, Netflix reported that fourth-quarter net had risen to $4.8 million from $2.3 million during the comparable quarter a year ago. "2004 was a spectacular year for Netflix," Hastings said.

FLY SOUTHWEST, BRING YOUR OWN MOVIE

Southwest Airlines travelers carrying laptops with them will finally be able to watch movies aboard the no-frills carrier. Although the airline has no plans to install in-flight entertainment systems on its flights, it has arranged with studio-supported Movielink to allow passengers with broadband connections to the Internet to download a free movie onto their laptops before leaving their home or office through a special Southwest/Movielink branded site. Suzanne Betts, analyst with Argus Research Corp. in New York, told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Daily News: "If you look at JetBlue Airways and Boeing, all of them are trying to get into in-flight entertainment; it's the new wave of where things are going. ... But this deal is more in line with Southwest's philosophy -- offering a no-frills service and not spending a lot to offer it."

ISS BACKS REELECTION OF DISNEY BOARD

Virtually laying to rest all discussion of a possible shareholders' challenge to the current board of the Walt Disney Co., Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) recommended Tuesday that the current board -- including CEO Michael Eisner -- be reelected at Disney's annual board meeting on Feb. 11. In a statement, ISS commended Disney for making improvements in its governance practices and moving forward to find a replacement for Eisner. "Critics may argue that Disney made its positive governance changes only when it was under the harsh glare of shareholder criticism, and wonder whether the company will continue to embrace shareholder rights going forward," ISS said. "Nevertheless, the fact that the company has taken positive steps is a gain for shareholders."

AUSTRALIAN STATE MAY REGULATE PRICES OF THEATER SNACKS

The government of the Australian state of South Australia (population under 2 million) is being asked to impose price controls on concession sales at the state's movie theaters and to force owners to allow families to bring snacks into theaters. Nick Xenophon, a member of the South Australian parliament, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the theaters' pricing of popcorn, candy and soft drinks represents a massive mark-up. "Lots of families find it expensive enough as it is to go to the movies, without being slugged $5 or so for a bottle of water and paying three times or so what you would pay at a supermarket for confectionery [candy]," Xenophon said.