CBS STRUGGLES TO STAY AHEAD

CBS may still wear the crown as the television network with the largest audience, but it was apparent from its latest quarterly report that the crown sits uneasily on its head. Profits jumped 26 percent, it said, but sales were mostly down or flat in nearly all of its divisions as earnings growth stemmed primarily from having to pay lower taxes and interest rates, the shutting down of its UPN network, and employee layoffs. Analysts also noted that this year, unlike last year, CBS did not carry the Emmy Awards, whose commercials sell for four times those of standard ads. In a telephone conference with analysts, CBS chief Les Moonves gave assurances that revenue at the network would pick up in the fourth quarter. And, he reminded his audience, "In less than 100 days, we will have the Super Bowl back on CBS. Ad spots are selling briskly, with rates now coming in north of $2.5 million per 30 seconds." Asked about his previously announced plans for CBS to begin producing low-budget movies, Moonves replied, "Right now, the CBS film studio is me. I've hired no one."

ABC AND CBS DUKE IT OUT ON THURSDAY

ABC and CBS waged a tight ratings race Thursday night, with ABC making a solid showing at 8:00 p.m. with its freshman Ugly Betty, which registered a 10.1 rating and a 15 share to beat CBS's Survivor: Cook Islands, which nabbed a 9.2/14. ABC also remained ahead in the 9:00 p.m. hour, as Grey's Anatomy pulled a 14.7/21, beating CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which scored 13.7/20. Meanwhile, Fox launched the fourth season of The O.C. Sunday, drawing a 2.6/4, the worst ratings the series had ever seen. At 10:00 p.m., NBC's E.R. remained the No. 1 show as it recorded a 10.2/15. CBS's Shark was close behind with a 9.9/16. ABC's Six Degrees fell to its lowest level in the ratings with a 5.4/9. In fact, although CBS failed to win a single hour of primetime Thursday, consistently high average numbers kept it ahead of its major rivals, allowing it to claim first place for the night.

COLD-CASE SOLVER CAUGHT IN NETWORK DUEL

A tug of war between CBS and NBC over a police officer who cracked a cold murder case in Florida broke out Thursday, according to TVNewser.com. Citing an unnamed CBS insider, the website reported that CBS News flew the cop to New York City for an interview on 48 Hours Mystery. However, Dateline NBC had also been working on the same story and began phoning the cop after he arrived in New York. "A producer called him, unbelievably upset, and said 'I'm going to lose my job if I don't get this interview,'" according to the insider. "A bit later, an associate producer called the cop's wife and began weeping on the phone, saying she would lose her job, too. She was begging the wife to convince her husband to play ball with Dateline." In the end, according to TVNewser, the cop stuck with CBS.

BUDWEISER SEEKS TO BAN UNDERAGE VIEWERS FROM VIDEO WEBSITE

In advance of next February's launch of the online Bud.TV, Anheuser-Busch is seeking out a firm that can verify the ages of visitors and screen out those who are younger than 21. Earlier this year, it was reported that the company planned to sign up visitors who would agree to allow video and audio content to be downloaded to their computers for later viewing on demand. Tony Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of global media and sports marketing, told the Associated Press that in the past his company had been comfortable with the so-called 70-30 rule -- advertising only on television programs where at least 70 percent of the audience was 21 or older. Ponturo said that under the new system, those signing up for Bud.TV will have their personal data checked against public records like driver's licenses and voter registration.

AL-JAZEERA COMING TO AMERICA AT LAST -- OR IS IT?

When the English-language al-Jazeera International cable news channel launches on Nov. 15, it will be available in 40 million households in Western Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and Malaysia, according to its commercial director, Lindsey Oliver. Oliver also told the Associated Press that at least one major cable provider and one major satellite provider will carry it in the U.S., but she declined to name them. It is expected that the channel will be carried over the Internet. A.P. said that because of a boycott of the original Arab channel in Saudi Arabia -- which bars al-Jazeera advertisers from doing business there -- al-Jazeera has been left to depend on the deep pockets of the royal family of Qatar, where it is headquartered. (A.P. also reported that al-Jazeera is banned in Iraq, Tunisia and Algeria.) Presumably few Western advertisers have signed on as well. Media analysts interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer expressed doubt that the network would meet its scheduled launch date. "I'll believe it when I see it," said Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. "If you're going to launch, then launch. They have no credibility," said Mediaweek analyst Marc Berman. And Matthew Felling of Washington's Center for Media and Public Affairs told the Inquirer that the launch of the English-language al-Jazeera channel "has about as much chance of happening as Rosie O'Donnell getting a show on Fox News."

IS NETWORK TELEVISION DEAD?

Two clashing viewpoints about the future of network television became apparent in news reports today (Friday) as Daily Variety reported that GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt, whose company owns NBC, had concluded that "the network business is shrinking, in both ratings and ad dollars," while other publications quoted CBS chief Les Moonves as remarking during a conference with analysts, "Looking at the Big Four networks, year-over-year, viewers are up 7 percent. ... Once again, the so-called death of network television has been greatly exaggerated, even by some of the other networks."

Brian B.