MURDOCH PUSHING FOX BUSINESS CHANNEL

News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch is close to an agreement with Time Warner cable to carry a Fox News business channel, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday), citing people familiar with the situation. According to one of the newspaper's sources, the channel is due to launch in the first half of next year barring a breakdown in the current talks. The channel would compete against CNBC and would represent that channel's first competition since CNNfn shut down last December, the victim of a ratings collapse. The Journal said that Fox News chief Roger Ailes has reluctantly agreed to oversee the creation of the businesses channel. He recently remarked that he had asked Murdoch to quit announcing launch dates for the business channel.

FREE CNN VIDEO NEWS REPORTS NOW ONLINE

CNN.com launched its free video service today with Chase bank and General Motors as initial sponsors. "We're seeing more [advertiser] interest in [online] video than we did 25 years ago when we got into cable, because everyone is embracing this technology and its potential," Greg D'Alba, executive vice president-COO of CNN Advertising Sales and Marketing, told the MediaPost website. Access to the CNN video clips had previously cost $4.95 per month.

FORMER CNN BUREAU CHIEF REVEALS WHY SHE QUIT

CNN's former bureau chief in Beijing and Tokyo has acknowledged that she resigned from the cable news network because she "had been growing increasingly frustrated with the direction CNN was going in." In an interview appearing in the current Columbia Journalism Review, Rebecca MacKinnon remarked that she had become aware of a trend toward "less interest in serious news and ... towards more infotainment, from anything but a war zone." She said that as "neither a war correspondent nor an infotainment news bunny," she was forced to reexamine her place at the network, especially after being told things by her superiors like, "Your expertise is getting in the way of doing the kind of stories we want to see on CNN" and "We'd like you to cover the region more like a tourist." MacKinnon said that when she came to the network in 1992, when it was still owned by Ted Turner, it placed heavy emphasis on international stories. "There was this real feeling that if a story mattered, we should cover it. If you had a strong argument to that effect and you could pitch that to Ted Turner, the funds would be there, because he viewed CNN as something other than a product that you just sell on the market for profit maximization. He saw it as something more socially significant than that." All that, she said, changed after the merger with Time Warner, when the attitude became, "if you couldn't justify high ratings with a story, increasingly, they didn't want to spend money on it. Of course, it's hard to know in advance sometimes."

DOLANS TAKING CABLEVISION PRIVATE

Members of the feuding Dolan family have reconciled at least long enough to make a $7.9-billion bid to buy out the public shareholders in their Cablevision Systems empire. As part of the transaction, the Dolans said that they would create one company that would include their cable systems, Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall and another that would include their cable networks, the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers.

NEW REALITY SERIES DRAWS FIRE FROM MINORITY ACTIVISTS, OTHERS

Welcome to the Neighborhood,

a reality game show in which the prize is a new home in a suburb of Austin, TX, is drawing fire from minority rights activists long before its scheduled launch date on ABC on July 10, the New York Post reported today (Monday). Neighbors will be allowed to select the winning contestants, who include African-American, Caucasian, Korean, Latino and gay families as well as one in which husband and wife are heavily tattooed and another in which the couple practice a kind of witchcraft. Among those protesting against the show is Shanna Smith of the National Fair Housing Alliance, who told the Post that it "perpetuates the problems of housing discrimination, segregation and racism in America." The gay organization GLAAD said that watching the neighbors "get rid of disenfranchised families they don't like is really disturbing." However, the show's co-exec producer Tony Marsh told the Post: "This isn't like [the judging families] were renting an apartment to somebody or actually the sellers of a home. This is a prize, so in that realm, those discrimination laws and all that stuff are not part of this process." He added that the intent of the program is "to show what people really say behind closed doors."

STILL NO NETWORK HOME FOR MISS AMERICA

Three months before the usual start of the Miss America contest, the beauty pageant has still not landed a TV contract. "It is, candidly, looking more and more like September's out of the picture," Bob Arnhym, executive director of the Miss California Scholarship Pageant, told the Associated Press. The wire service said that the format of the contest is likely to change if a network does pick it up. It quoted Shari Anne Brill of the ad-buying firm Carat as saying, "I don't think there's an audience for squeaky clean. ... "It has to be modernized in the way we've all been fed such reality. You need to see the tears, the drama, the makeup, the mascara, the crisis of finding out you have a zit." A spokesperson for the pageant said that it is in final negotiations with the networks and would have an announcement within two weeks.

ESPN.COM APOLOGIZES TO GUAM

ESPN.com has yanked a feature about cock fighting in the American territory of Guam and apologized to the local citizenry after the feature was denounced by several local political figures for racial and cultural insensitivity. The report by freelance journalist Mike Ogle, titled "Blood, Sweat and Cockfighting," said that cock fighting "is what locals do to pass the time on this 341-square-mile island in ... truly the middle of nowhere. Entertainment options are limited. ... They say if an American man walks through a particularly poor village in Guam, families will offer their daughters." The ESPN apology said in part, "ESPN.com sincerely apologizes for the use of hearsay in regards to families and daughters and for any directly or indirectly offensive statements in the story it ran about cock fighting on the island of Guam. It was insensitive and inappropriate and the story has been removed from the site and its archives."

BATMAN FAILS TO RESCUE BOX OFFICE

Batman did not save the box office this weekend. Its estimated $46.9-million gross turned out to be some $15 million less than what most analysts had expected. With the top 12 movies' total adding up to $128.5 million, down 1.6 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago, the box office slump would lengthen to 17 weeks, tying a record set in 1985, if the numbers hold when final figures are released later today (Monday). For the year, the total take has been $3.84 billion, 7 percent below last year's $4.11 billion. Still, $46.9 million ain't small potatoes for a movie, and many analysts seemed confident that Batman would perch on top of the box office again next week when the Dark Knight/Caped Crusader's major competition will be the family films Bewitched and Herbie: Fully Loaded. The only other new film at the box office this weekend, The Perfect Man, starring Hilary Duff, took in just $5.5 million to place seventh. Last week's winner, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, performed respectably in its second week, earning $27.3 million, to bring its total to date to $98 million. DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar held the third spot with $11.1 million, down a modest 35 percent, while in the fourth spot Fox's Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith added another $9.7 million to it gross, which now stands at $348 million. Paramount's The Longest Yard rounded out the top five with $8 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Batman Begins, $46.9 million; 2. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, $27.3 million; 3. Madagascar, $11.1 million; 4. Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, $9.7 million; 5. The Longest Yard, $8 million; 6. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, $6.6 million; 7. The Perfect Man, $5.5 million; 8. Cinderella Man, $5.2 million; The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, $3.2 million; 10. The Honeymooners, $2.6 million.

BATMAN STRONG BUT NOT SUPER ABROAD

Batman Begins performed strongly overseas as well, but its debut was something less than super. It took in $41.7 million at some 8,000 screens, but that figure was well below the $56 million earned by Kingdom of Heaven at 1,500 fewer screens earlier this year and a long way off the $144.7 million for Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, which registered $144.7 million at 10,500 screens. In several countries, including Australia, Spain, and the Netherlands, Madagascar actually came in ahead of Batman Begins by a wide margin.

FX CHANNEL QUICKLY GRABS BATMAN

The Fox-owned FX channel has acted quickly to grab cable rights for Batman Begins for a reported $25 million. Wire services reported that the movie will begin airing on pay TV first, then move on to FX and the basic cable channel AMC in late 2007 or early 2008, before heading over to a broadcast network.

UNIVERSAL & NBC COMBINE FOR BIG KING KONG PUSH

It may be six months before Universal's King Kong opens on December 14, 2005 but, in an unprecedented act of cross-platform marketing, the studio will be joining up with its NBC broadcast and cable siblings for the premiere of its first trailer for the movie on Monday June 27. From 8:59:30 to 9:02 p.m. the NBC broadcast network, as well as the Sci Fi, USA Network, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, Mun2 and Universal HD cable networks will simultaneously air the trailer. NBC Universal estimates that it will reach 109 million viewers. The trailer will also be shown on the Jumbotron screens in Times Square and at the Universal CityWalk attractions in Orlando, FL and Universal City, CA. The trailer will move into theaters on June 29.

PINEWOOD SHARES DROP 20 PERCENT

Shares in Britain's Pinewood Shepperton studios plummeted 20 percent today (Monday) after it filed a profits warning that it would miss its forecasts for the year. The studio cited fierce competition from studios in other countries, the government's foot-dragging on increasing tax incentives, and the lower value of the U.S. dollar.