FCC: CABLE MUST CONTINUE ANALOG TRANSMISSIONS

The FCC has ruled that cable-TV providers must provide subscribers with older analog-only TV sets analog versions of programs transmitted by broadcast TV stations after they are ordered to switch to digital-only transmissions in February 2009. The unanimous ruling would be in effect for three years but could be renewed at the end of that period. The National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., representing the cable companies, had threatened to sue the FCC if the commission instituted its original proposal to establish "must-carry analog" in perpetuity. Nevertheless, some smaller, rural cable companies have indicated that they will be financially unable to install the technical equipment needed to meet the requirement even for three years. (It was not clear whether cable companies intended to install the digital-to-analog converters at their head end or in subscribers' homes, as settop boxes.) Matthew M. Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association, said that it will cost each cable operator $150,000 for equipment and labor costs, making it "more difficult for operators of small systems to stay in business." On the other hand, the National Association of Broadcasters applauded the FCC's ruling as "an important step in protecting analog-cable subscribers from losing access to some of the most diverse programming on television."

ABC NEWS OPTS OUT OF JOURNALISTS' "CLUB"

ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross said he was surprised by NBC's refusal to cooperate with his probe of the Dateline NBC "To Catch a Predator" series. In an interview with the New York Observer, Ross said that NBC's response was in sharp contrast to that of CBS when he looked into the Dan Rather "Memogate" controversy in 2004. "CBS was straightforward. They answered our questions. They dealt with us. That was not the reaction we got at NBC from [NBC News President Steve] Capus," Ross said. Responding to the ABC exposé earlier in the week, Capus remarked that he chalked it up "to the usual network silly competitiveness." In his interview with the Observer, Ross replied: "Implicit in that was that we're all in a club and we shouldn't criticize or report on each other. ... It's like the blue wall of silence with cops."

EX-VIACOM BOSS KARMAZIN SAYS HE REGRETS NOT BUYING CNN

Former Viacom President and COO Mel Karmazin says that before he left the company he proposed that it buy CNN from Time Warner and combine the resources of the cable news network with those of CBS News. He would then have eliminated the CBS Evening News. "I challenged everybody when I was there. I said, 'Let's eliminate it.' You know, I mean, who cares?" Karmazin, who now heads Sirius satellite radio, said in an interview with BusinessWeek. He noted that despite Time Warner's insistence that CNN was not for sale, he suspected that Time Warner could have used the money from such a sale to buy Cablevision, which primarily serves the New York City area, and combine it with Time Warner Cable. "And I don't think CNN is a core asset for Time Warner," he told BusinessWeek. "[For CBS], CNN could have been a cheap way of doing the Evening News. I would say certainly one of my biggest disappointments was not being able to buy CNN."

U.K. NET MAY BE HIT WITH LARGEST BROADCASTING FINE EVER

The British morning-time network, GMTV, is facing the largest fine every meted out in the history of broadcasting for its part in the widespread scandal over call-in TV contests. U.K. news reports said that OFCOM, the TV watchdog, is about to impose a fine of $5.6 million on GMTV for rigging the contests so that millions of people who paid premium rates for phone calls had no chance of winning since the actual winners had already been selected before the lines had shut down. GMTV is owned by the British commercial network ITV and the Walt Disney Co. in a 75/25 split. Another British broadcaster, Channel 5, has already been fined $600,000 and the BBC, $100,000 for running similar phony phone contests. On Wednesday, ITV said that it will yank its remaining quiz shows involved in the phone-in scandal by the end of the year "as negative publicity following compliance problems across the sector has seen call volumes drop to uneconomic levels." Commented ITV Chairman Michael Grade: The viewers have voted with their dialing fingers and they are not dialing in."

REUTERS NABS MURDOCH FOR "EXCLUSIVE" INTERVIEW

Reuters reporter Robert MacMillan on Wednesday attempted to interview Rupert Murdoch when Murdoch paid his first visit to the headquarters of the Wall Street Journal in New York since he acquired the newspaper's parent, Dow Jones. The wire service later published a transcript of its "exclusive" interview with Murdoch, headlined: "Murdoch, up close and personal." MacMillan: "Hello, Mr. Murdoch, I'm Robert MacMillan. I work for Reuters." Murdoch: "Oh, really!" MacMillan: "I just wanted to ask ..." Murdoch: "No." MacMillan: "Can you tell me what you talked to the editors about? (To security guard) Please don't touch me." Murdoch: "No." MacMillan: "And can you tell me also ..." Murdoch: "No." MacMillan: "You were seen with Anderson Cooper at Sun Valley. I wonder if you're interested in having him at the Fox Business Channel." Murdoch: (silence) MacMillan: "Are you planning to increase the number of employees at The Wall Street Journal?" Murdoch: "I'm not talking to Reuters." Security guard: "Stay away! Stay away!" (It was also reported Wednesday that Murdoch had sold about $20.5 million worth of News Corp stock.)

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