MERGER TO CREATE CANADIAN MEDIA GIANT

In a deal that would create Canada's biggest private media conglomerate -- second only to the publicly funded Canadian Broadcasting Corp. -- Bell Globemedia has offered to buy CHUM Ltd. for a reported $1.4 billion. The new company would include more than two dozen TV stations, 33 radio stations, 38 cable networks, and a national newspaper, the Globe & Mail. Consumer groups and broadcast unions immediately assailed the deal, noting that it would have the effect of reducing the number of major broadcast players from three to two. While Ivan Fecan, Bell Globemedia president and CEO, issued a statement saying that the company planned to maintain two separate news divisions, CHUM said in a separate statement that it planned to cancel many local newscasts and fire 185 staffers, resulting in an annual savings of $13.3 million. Jay Switzer, CEO of CHUM, called the cutbacks an "unfortunate but necessary restructuring." But in a formal statement, CHUM put a positive spin on the cutbacks, saying that it would introduce "a new approach to local information programming" and explained, "In a number of markets, this will mean a move away from traditional newscasts, resulting in a significant reduction in staffing and operating costs." CHUM exec Peter Palframan called the move, "an evolution of CHUM's commitment to satisfying the local needs of today's viewers."

KOPPEL: "TELL PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW"

Former ABC Nightline

anchor Ted Koppel on Wednesday chastised network executives for attempting to manipulate its newscasts to attract younger viewers in the same way that it does with its other programs. "In entertainment programming," he said, "there is absolutely nothing wrong with networks catering to not just the needs but the desires of their audiences, but when it comes to news coverage, I think we have an additional responsibility and that is to tell people what they need to know and what they ought to know. ... I think news divisions have a responsibility to do more than just amuse the public; we have a responsibility to tell people where their interests lie." Koppel was particularly critical of the networks' failure to provide adequate international news coverage, pointing out that they have stationed few reporters in India, which was hit by a series of terrorist bombings on commuter trains in Mumbai (Bombay), the world's largest city, on Tuesday. When a major event occurs overseas, he said, the networks react by "parachuting in" their star anchors. "What we don't have," he said, "are young, aggressive correspondents who are willing to spend years in an area [developing contacts.] This is not only a travesty, it's something we're going to be paying for for years to come." Koppel, who spoke to TV writers attending their semi-annual gathering with network execs in Pasadena, CA, said that the Discovery Channel, his new outlet, allows him to do the kind of work that the networks shy away from. Koppel also had some kind words for Dan Rather. "Clearly, a mistake was made on a broadcast that he did, and it took him a while to acknowledge that, because Dan is very, very loyal to the people that work with him and for him. Should that have cost him his career at CBS? I don't think so."

CBS STATION ATTEMPTS TO BAR BLOGGER FROM COURIC MEETING

Katie Couric's series of focus-group meetings with community groups across the country -- without the presence of the news media -- ran into a snag in Minneapolis Tuesday when a staffer for WCCO-TV attempted to disinvite Matt Bartel, who operates the local MNSpeak.com blog, then compromised by allowing him to surrender his pen. Bartel seemed unfazed by his treatment. ""I thought the event was worthwhile," he wrote on the blog Wednesday. "I wish the discussion had been open to more people and the media, but the people who were there were, for the most part, great." But the Associated Press quoted Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota ethics professor, as saying, "At a time when the news media is trying to gain the trust through transparency, to have a meeting closed to the media and the general public is unbelievable." Other critics of the CBS meetings offered sharper criticism, observing that television news executives and reporters should be in the business of interesting their audiences in significant news events, not merely catering to their existing interests.

COMIC STANDING IS SENT WALKING

Last Comic Standing

contestant Gabriel Igl&#233sias has becoming the latest reality-show contestant to be disqualified and sent home after violating the show's rules. In this case the rules barred contestants from communicating with the outside world during the duration of the series. However, camera crews reportedly caught Igl&#233sias sending email messages to his girlfriend on his BlackBerry, then leaving the Queen Mary, where the contestants are housed, to call his girlfriend on a pay phone. In a statement, NBC said that Igl&#233sias had broken the show's rules. "Unfortunately, the producers and NBC agreed they had no choice but to send him home in order to maintain the integrity and fairness of the competition." Igl&#233sias, who has made appearances on the Tonight show, had been the odds-on favorite to win the current Last Comic Standing competition.

HOUSE STAR LAURIE GETS BIG SALARY RAISE

Actor Hugh Laurie, whom critics have credited for turning Fox's House into a surprise hit, has presumably had his salary tripled -- to $275,000 per episode, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). Although Laurie received an Emmy nomination last year, his failure to make the list of nominees this year came in for considerable criticism by several TV critics, especially when the show itself was nominated for best drama series. "Without detailing all the weird flourishes in this year's Emmy bids," Brian Lowry wrote in Daily Variety, "how 'bout this one to rule them all: Fox's House nominated for best drama, without lead actor recognition for its show-carrying star, Hugh Laurie?"

COMING SOON: MIRABLAX?

The Weinstein Company and BET founder Robert Johnson may announce as early as today (Thursday) that they plan to create a new urban entertainment company together, the New York Times reported today (Thursday) from Sun Valley, ID, where the annual Allen & Company billionaire get-together opened on Wednesday. Johnson, who sold BET to Viacom in 2000 for 3 billion, has been widening his media empire in recent months. The Times, citing people involved in the negotiations, said that the joint venture with the Weinsteins, who founded the Miramax film company and sold it to Disney, is aimed at initially producing low-cost films for the urban market, then branching into TV and Internet programming. Terms of the deal could not be learned, the Times said.

EISNER CREDITS SUN VALLEY CONFERENCE FOR HIS BIGGEST DEALS

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner disclosed Wednesday that the Allen & Company Sun Valley conference of media moguls was the setting for his two biggest deals as Disney chief, the acquisition of ABC and the Family Channel. In an interview with the New York Post, Eisner recalled that in 1995 he "arranged" to bump into Warren Buffett, then Capital Cities/ABC's majority shareholder, and company CEO Tom Murphy as the two were heading toward the golf course. "It all came together because the largest shareholder of ABC and the CEO of ABC were at the conference," Eisner said. "This was a moment in time." Likewise, he indicated, he was attending a cocktail party at Sun Valley in 2001 at which Rupert Murdoch and Haim Saban, the owners of Fox Family Channel were on hand. He said that he had discussed a deal to acquire the channel previously, but Sun Valley "pushed the momentum further." These days, Eisner told the Post, media execs attending the conference are focusing on how to adapt to the digital age. "The landscape of a decade from now will be completely different," he said.

PIRATES RETURNS AS TOP DVD SELLER

With several writers remarking that the super-hit Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, starring Johnny Depp,is more enjoyable if one has already seen the original Curse of the Black Pearl, people rushed to video stores last week to snatch the original film, making it No. 2 on the VideoScan sales chart. The DVD was originally released in December 2003. Also making the top ten was the Johnny Depp starrer The Libertine. Last week's top DVD seller was the Matthew McConaughey/Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy Failure to Launch which held the No. 1 spot for the second week in a row.

CHINA HIT HARD BY DVD PIRACY

In a report that underlines the MPAA's claim that piracy injures not only the major Hollywood studios but the film industries of other countries as well, the producers group said that piracy accounts for more than 90 percent of the film market in China and is unlikely to shrink in the near future. The organization estimated that piracy in China cost filmmakers $2.7 billion last year alone, with more than half that amount impacting the Chinese movie industry itself. "Pirated movies have fundamentally undermined the production capabilities of China's movie industry, with the private sector hit most severely," the report said. As reported in today's (Thursday) German edition of Britain's Financial Times, operators of illegal DVD production plants in China control them from abroad in order to avoid arrest.

UMD FLOPS AS VIDEO FORMAT; SONY TRIES MEMORY STICKS

Sony, which appears to have struck out in its effort to introduce the UMD format for playing movies on PlayStation Portable devices, will begin shipping its tiny Memory Sticks along with a conventional DVD containing four Sony movies, Hitch, S.W.A.T., The Grudge and XXX: State of the Union beginning next month. "This collaboration with Sony Pictures provides a quick, simple way to get a full-length movie onto Memory Stick media at no extra charge," Mike Kahn, senior manager at Sony for Memory Stick Media, said in a statement. The Memory Stick can also be used in Sony's cameras, audio players, and other devices. Sony said that the 1GB Memory Stick will retail for $60; the 2 GB, for $100. But several analysts, questioning the "no extra charge" assertion, observed that Memory Sticks of the same size are currently retailing for less than half that amount in some outlets. They voiced skepticism that the new approach for providing movies on PSPs will be any more successful than the UMD route.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.