Disney Fights Primetime Mandate

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Several executives from The Walt Disney Co. flooded into the Federal Communications Commission last Wednesday in an effort to block regulations that would free up some primetime hours for independent producers.

Two weeks ago, FCC chairman Michael Powell deemed revival of the long-dead financial interest and syndication (or fin-syn) rules in some fashion to be a long shot. Nevertheless, Disney has decided to lobby on the issue.

"We don't want to wake up one day and find out that against all law and logic, it somehow got some traction and be kicking ourselves that we didn't come in to rebut these ridiculous arguments," Preston Padden, Disney's executive vice president of worldwide government relations, told reporters at a hotel press conference here.

Padden said he and Disney executives met with FCC members Kathleen Abernathy, Kevin Martin, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. They also said they met with Powell's senior legal adviser, Susan Eid, and Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree.

With Padden were Alex Wallau, president of the ABC Television Network; Mark Pedowitz, executive vice president for programming for ABC; Susan Fox, Disney's vice president of government relations; Dave Davis, president and general manager of WPVI, ABC's owned-and-operated station in Philadelphia; and Spencer Neumann, executive vice president of the ABC Television Network.

One Hollywood group, which includes producers Sony Pictures Television and Carsey-Warner-Mandabach, wants the FCC to require ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox to set aside 25 percent of their 22 primetime hours each week for independent producers.

The Coalition for Program Diversity claimed that the rule was necessary to broaden programming choices for 43 million Americans without cable and direct-broadcast satellite.

Because his company is being "nibbled to death" by 300 broadcast and cable networks, proposed network-access rules favored by some in Hollywood are unnecessary, Wallau said.

"The whole fin-syn thing to me is so unbelievable," he added. "There has never been greater diversity of content or quality of content ever in the history of the medium."

Last week, 42 percent of ABC's primetime lineup came from non-Disney sources. At other times in the year, non-Disney programming makes up as little as 25 percent, Wallau said.

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