THE TV OBSCENITY HEARING -- ON TV

Warning viewers that "this program contains language some viewers may find offensive," C-SPAN on Wednesday carried oral arguments in Fox's challenge to the FCC's indecency ruling in the Billboard Awards case. Fox attorney Carter Phillips argued that the commission should either ban the use of all expletives under all circumstances or revert to their previous policy. Its present policy, Phillips said, "creates a censorial board with the commission picking and choosing what it likes and doesn't." Phillips contended that it is unreasonable for the FCC to reverse a finding against the CBS Morning Show because it classifies itself as a news show but to crack down on the Billboard program because it does not. The judges appeared to put hard questions to the FCC attorneys -- particularly about the commission's recent attack on the V-chip, which it described as ineffective. Judge Rosemary Pooler asked why the commission didn't inform broadcasters of its concern over the V-chip long ago so that they could perfect the system.

AS THE NATION GOES, SO GO THE NEWS NETS

The apparent national shift in political sentiment seems to be reflected in the ratings for the cable news networks, with Fox News Network dropping out of the top ten cable outlets. MSNBC, on the other hand, has seen its primetime audience rise some 25 percent above what it was at this time a year ago, with Keith Olbermann's program showing the largest gain. Writing on his website, www.meandted.com, Wednesday, CNN co-founder Reese Schonfeld wrote: "There is no question in my mind that Olbermann's anti-administration attitude is resonating with viewers, particularly the young ones. I guess the Democrats' Congressional victory has benefited MSNBC not CNN. It may be that wishy-washy CNN is stuck in the middle or perhaps stuck in a muddle."

BIG SCREENS, SMALLER PROFITS HIT CIRCUIT CITY

The price war over big-screen HDTV sets has apparently had a devastating effect on Circuit City, the second-largest consumer electronics retailer, which reported a loss of $16 million during its third quarter, versus a profit of $10.1 million during the comparable period a years ago. During a conference call with investors, the company blamed plunging prices of LCD and plasma TV sets. Ironically, the company said that sales of the sets had soared but the company's margin of profit on them. Circuit City chief Philip Schoonover said, "[They] did not produce the gross profit dollar results needed to offset these price declines."

FCC EASES ENTRY OF TELCOS INTO TV DISTRIBUTION

Voting along party lines, the FCC, which currently has a Republican majority, approved an order to allow telephone companies to compete against cable companies in local communities, while limiting those communities' ability to impose conditions on the telco's operations. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said that the measure was needed "to make sure we're doing all we can to bring competition to the marketplace." Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, who is due to take over the chairmanship of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee in the new Congress next year, said he plans to review the decision. "I fully support providing consumers with additional marketplace choices for cable service but I believe competition must be promoted in a way that also respects the important values of localism and universal service," Markey said in a statement.

NBC GIVING AWAY SHOWS ONLINE

NBC is giving viewers the opportunity to watch all of the previous episodes of 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights for free via NBC.com between now and mid-January. The programs will be streamed with two-minute recaps plus a commercial that viewers will be unable to skip. In a statement, Jeff Gaspin, who heads the network's cable entertainment and digital distribution unit, called the plan "a great way to recruit new viewers, especially college kids who are home for Christmas break."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.