Spotlighting the unfavorable economic climate for the television business, the Los Angeles Timesreported on Sunday that with fewer than 90 days to go before the start of the winter Olympics in Vancouver, NBC has been unable to sell a third of its commercial availabilities for its coverage. By comparison, it noted, four years ago at this time, the network had sold about 85 percent of its avails for the the Torino Games, eventually taking in a record $930 million. The Timesquoted Larry Novenstern, executive VP and director of electronic media for Optimedia, as saying that, as a result, NBC sales execs are becoming more flexible on pricing. "There may be some good opportunities between now and then, and at this point, they're willing to listen to anything," he said. "At the same time, there's a point beyond which they're going to say, 'We're not bending.'" The newspaper quoted another unnamed national buyer as saying that the network might give away some of its unsold inventory to advertisers as "make goods" for underperforming primetime shows this season.


In a surprise move, Vivendi has outbid a Spanish telephone company to take over Brazilian broadband operator GVT, paying 33 percent more than it had originally offered. Most analysts had concluded that Vivendi would walk away from the deal after Spain's Telefonica outbid it by more than 20 percent. Doing so would have given it little reason to sell its 20-percent stake in NBC Universal. Now, however, it may need the proceeds from the sale in order to come up with the $4.17 billion it offered for GVT. Vivendi has a three-week window, which opened on Sunday, to inform GE whether it intends to sell its stake. It is expected to do so some time this week. Under the $30-billion valuation of NBC Universal that GE and Comcast agreed on last week, Vivendi's stake would be worth $6 billion, more than enough to purchase GVT. However, the New York Postsaid today (Monday) that Vivendi is playing hard ball. It quoted one source as saying, "They're trying to squeeze every nickel they can out of GE. ... Why wouldn't they?" Meanwhile, shares in Vivendi fell 2.2 percent in trading today as analysts scored the decision to pay such a steep price for GVT. Natixis analyst Richard Houbron downgraded the stock, commenting, "The group will have an awful lot of difficulty convincing investors of the financial rationality of the deal." And the Wall Street Journalquoted Bernstein Research as saying, "We had given high marks to management for its discipline in the past year, avoiding overpaying for assets in Spain or Africa. It now looks like even this discipline has been set aside."


CNN encouraged Lou Dobbs to leave the cable news network by offering him an $8-million severance package, the New York Postreported today (Monday), citing an unnamed source. "They wanted him out," the source told the newspaper. It had been widely reported that Dobbs had been feuding with network executives over his brand of "advocacy journalism." In an interview with the Post, Dobbs commented, "What they do is their business. ... I tried to accommodate them as best I could, but I've said for many years now that neutrality is not part of my being." In a separate interview with the Associated Press, Dobbs said that his departure was "amicable." He added, "I spent 29 years there building that company, and I wish everyone there nothing but the best, and they have reciprocated with me."


Sunday-night ratings were once again driven by football, with Fox drawing a whopping 22.04 million viewers for its overrun in the 7:00 half hour and NBC averaging 19.85 million viewers for its primetime Sunday Night Football. The New England/Indianapolis coverage peaked with 21.06 million viewers during the 9:00 p.m. half hour. Fox also benefited from the football telecast as its The OT,which followed the game drew 12.97 million viewers at 7:30 p.m. Somewhat surprisingly, CBS's 60 Minutesheld strong despite the competition, averaging 12.26 million viewers in the 7:00 p.m. hour.