The Channel has been refreshed and re-branded as BBC Lifestyle, one of the five new thematic channels from BBC Worldwide, in Nordic Europe and the Middle East. BBC Lifestyle is alive with the ideas for the home, family and everyday life. The channel dishes up six tasty strands to entertain, engage and inspire viewers. Favorite chefs and cookery series, once shown on BBC Food, now headline in the Food strand. Serving up the best dishes and cooking tips with new series from world-famous chefs including Gordon Ramsay and Gary Rhodes, the strand promises enticing gastronomic journeys around the world. The other Lifestyle strands include: Home & Design, offering expert advice and fashion tips from some of the world's top style gurus including Nicky Hambleton-Jones; Health, helping to improve diet and nutrition with expert advice; Parenting providing child psychologists and advisors to help with busy or stressful family life; and Personal Development, helping enrich mental well being and achieve inspiration in all aspects of life.
Showtime Arabia and the Orbit Group have agreed to merge their pay-TV operations to create the Middle East’s largest operator. The merger ends 12 years of fierce competition between the two rivals and will give the combined group a broader subscriber base in a region where pay-TV has struggled to take a significant market share away from free-to-air TV. “When such a consolidation takes place, it is a kind of defining moment in terms of TV entertainment,” said Marc-Antoine d’Halluin, the chief executive of the new company. “Rather than be confronted by two equivalent choices on the market, consumers will now have a one-stop shop. Simplicity and convenience will create appeal for that segment of the market that has not yet come to pay-TV.” Pay-TV has less than 10 per cent penetration in the Middle-Eastern market, analysts say. The announcement came little more than a week after Showtime lost its bid to renew rights to the English Premier League in 2010 to the Abu Dhabi Media Company, which owns The National. Premium football content is generally regarded as a major driver for pay-TV subscriptions globally, but Mr d’Halluin laughed at the notion that the loss had anything to do with the merger. “I can guarantee this has nothing to do [with] losing the Premier League,” he said. “We are very definitely hoping to enter into some kind of agreement with the Abu Dhabi Media guys, who we respect a lot. I think the appeal of the [new company] will be even greater to them.” The new company is an equal partnership between the Orbit Group, a member of the Riyadh-based Mawarid Group, and Showtime Arabia, a subsidiary of Kuwait Projects Company (KIPCO). Viacom, which previously owned a 20 per cent stake in Showtime Arabia, had been bought out by KIPCO as part of the deal, Mr d’Halluin said. Orbit’s non-pay-TV operations are not part of the merger. These include Media Gates, its Arabic production company, Orbit Data Systems, providers of a two-way satellite internet service, and Noorsat, a satellite bandwidth provider. The new company, the name of which is still being decided, will offer more than 70 exclusive channels featuring first-run movies, premium sports, Arabic and international television. New customers may subscribe to new, enhanced packages from Aug 1. Existing Orbit and Showtime subscribers will have the option to sign up for special upgrade offers or retain their subscription packages at their current prices. The new company will keep offices in Dubai, where Showtime is based, and Bahrain, where Orbit broadcasts, and employ about 1,400 staff, according to Mr d’Halluin. “There will probably be an impact on the staff at some point, but that is not the goal of the merger,” he said. “The goal is to build the leading media company in the Middle East.” Samir Abdulhadi, the president and chief executive of the Orbit Group, said there would be efforts to reduce overlap throughout the operations, from programming to satellite bandwidth to staffing. “The synergies are extremely important in any merger,” Mr Abdulhadi said. “At the end of the day, what we want to create is shareholder value and ensure that the workforce is selected in the way that best serves the new company as well as the employees.” Nick Grande, the managing director of Channel Sculptor in Dubai, said: “I think that co-operation is what the industry desperately needs, so this is a good bit of news for the industry as a whole, as well as the consumer. “You might not think that merging two big entities like this would be good for consumers, but none of these guys are at a point where they have a critical mass of subscribers, which allows them to pass the benefits back to the consumers. “It’s a very capital-intensive industry and if you are not reaching that critical penetration level of the market, you are always having to push the problem on to your customers in terms of pricing.”
The Saudi Arabian office of a Lebanese television station was shut down after the station aired an interview with a Saudi man who bragged about his sex life. Saudi authorities closed the office of LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation) for "two reasons," Abdul-Rahman Al-Hazza, spokesman for Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture and Information said. "No valid operating license, and a violation of media policy in Saudi Arabia." He said LBC violated the media policy by filming and subsequently airing an episode of its popular show "A Thick Red Line" featuring Mazen Abdul Jawad, a 32-year-old airline employee and divorced father of four who spoke openly about his sexual escapades, his love of sex and losing his virginity at age 14. Abdul Jawad is also shown in his bedroom, where he holds sexual aids up to the camera. The episode ends with him cruising the streets of Jeddah in his car looking for women. The episode caused an uproar in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law, or strict Islamic law, is practiced. Pre-marital sex is illegal, and unrelated men and women are not permitted to mingle. The segment in question has been posted on the video sharing site YouTube since its initial broadcast last month, and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Local media reported Abdul Jawad was arrested a few days after the program aired, and has been detained since last week. Some reports have suggested he could face punishments as severe as flogging or even the death penalty for the alleged crime of publicizing vice.
The National Football League extended its six-year television deal with NBC by another two years on Wednesday, following similar deals last spring with broadcast networks CBS and Fox. NBC will broadcast 16 Sunday night football games in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons under the terms of the new deal, approved at an NFL meeting in Chicago. NBC also will broadcast a Thursday night game, and preseason and playoff games in both seasons. NBC and the NFL did not release financial details of the contract extension, although sources have said in the past that the original deal was worth about $600 million each year. That deal started in 2006 and ran through the 2011 season. The NFL in May signed extensions through the 2013 season with CBS, a unit of CBS Corp, and Fox, owned by News Corp. NBC is owned by General Electric and Vivendi.
Cable network FX is making its biggest push yet into comedy with the pickup of two new half-hour series, "The League" The two shows join the recently ordered animated comedy "Archer" and veteran "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" for a quartet of comedy series, the most in the network's history. Overall, FX is expected to have at least 10 original scripted series on the air in the next year, more than any other basic-cable network. "League," created by Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer, explores marriage, male friendship, parenting, suburbia and growing up through the prism of a fantasy-football league. The series, which stars Mark Duplass ("Humpday"), Steve Rannazzisi, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Jon Lajoie and Katie Aselton, will follow the progression of a league. "Louie," written and directed by Louis CK, is set to debut early next year. Filtered through his observational humor, the series stars the comedian as a successful stand-up who is a newly single father in New York, raising two daughters and dating. "League," "Louie" and "Archer" are being made in-house at FX Prods. under a low-cost production model the network first tested last year with the comedy "Testees." The network didn't order a second season of that show, but it marked a turning point in FX's comedy strategy.
NBC has handed a pilot order to "Rex Is Not Your Lawyer," a comedic drama about an attorney who suffers panic attacks and takes up coaching clients to represent themselves in court. The project was written by actor Andrew Leeds and novelist David Lampson, who got their break as TV scribes in 2005 when their comedy script "Stephen's Life" beat out 10,000 other entries to win Bravo's reality series "Situation: Comedy." "Law & Order" veteran Barry Schindel has come on board as showrunner on the new project. As an actor, Leeds next appears in the season premiere of Fox's "House," playing Dr. House's (Hugh Laurie) psychiatrist. Lampson's new novel, "Impossible Things," is being published by Razorbill.
Oscar nominee Laura Linney will star as a cancer-stricken woman in a new television series on cable network Showtime, playing a suburban mom whose life changes when she learns she has "The C Word," the network said on Thursday. Linney, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in 2007 movie "The Savages," will also executive produce the program, titled "The C Word," which is being billed as a half-hour comedy. An air date has not yet been set. "How one lives fully while being tested by the unpredictability of life, and what one learns in the process, is always filled with endless possibility for an actor," Linney said in a statement. "I am very excited to tackle such potentially rich, funny and complicated material." Linney has been nominated for an Oscar three times, including for the 2004 movie "Kinsey" and 2000 film "You Can Count on Me." The New York-born actress starred last year in the HBO mini-series "John Adams." Showtime has for years battled rival HBO to be the channel of choice among premium cable TV networks for cutting-edge TV, and in recent years has enjoyed a string of hits including serial killer drama "Dexter," pot-themed "Weeds" and more recently hospital program "Nurse Jackie." Showtime is a unit of CBS Corp and HBO is part of Time Warner Inc.
The long-anticipated merger of the cable channels A&E and Lifetime was completed Thursday as the companies that jointly owned the channels announced a deal that will place Abbe Raven, the current president of A&E, in charge of the combined networks. The Walt Disney Company, the Hearst Corporation, and NBC Universal announced the agreement, which has been in the works for several months. The deal, which still requires some last-minute international regulatory approval, calls for A&E Television Networks to acquire Lifetime Entertainment Services. The new unit will continue to be called A&E Television Networks, with Lifetime Entertainment Services as a subsidiary. Specific financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. In the arrangement announced Wednesday, NBC will own a smaller percentage of the combined channels, and the deal’s terms include a mechanism under which NBC Universal may either chose or be required to sell its interest to the other two partners some time within the next 15 years. But NBC has never held a controlling interest in A&E; its percentage of ownership was less than one-third, and Jeff Gaspin, NBC’s top cable executive, said, “We are not at all looking to get out of this” merger.
With the premiere of “Wizards of Waverly Place The Movie,” above, the Disney Channel now has the year’s most-watched telecast on cable television. The “Wizards” movie drew an average of 11.4 million viewers on Friday night, including 4.5 million between the ages of 6 and 11. Disney said the movie was its second most popular ever, behind “High School Musical 2” (2007), which averaged 17.2 million viewers. With “Wizards” running on a Friday night, when many channels run repeats, it doubled the prime-time average of each of the broadcast networks. A third season of the “Wizards” series, which stars Selena Gomez, David Henrie and Jake T. Austin as sibling wizards in training, is now in production.
Former President George W. Bush's daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, is set to become a correspondent for the U.S. television news and talk show "Today." NBC, which airs "Today" weekday mornings, said on Monday it had hired Hager, 27, to be a contributing correspondent starting September 14. "In previous appearances, she displayed a natural ability to communicate and connect," Jim Bell, the show's executive producer, said in a statement. "She has great passion about important subjects, especially education and literacy." Hager started teaching schoolchildren in Washington in 2005 and has served as an intern for UNICEF, touring Latin America and the Caribbean to document the plight of impoverished children. She currently is the Young Leadership Ambassador & Chair for UNICEF's Next Generation committee. Hager has written two books that made The New York Times bestsellers list, "Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope," the true story of a 17-year-old mother in Latin America who has HIV, and "Read All About It!," a picture book co-written with her mother, former first lady Laura Bush. Hager also has written stories for The New York Times and CosmoGIRL! magazine. She graduated from the University of Texas in 2004.
Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, will take a break from seeking peace in the Middle East to trade jokes with comedian David Letterman on his first ever "Late Show" guest appearance next week, U.S. network CBS said on Wednesday. The prime minister of Britain from 1997 to 2007, Blair is coming to the United States to begin the second year of a teaching engagement at Yale University and will appear on Letterman's late-night talk show on Tuesday, September 8. Letterman has hosted many political figures, including President Barack Obama during his run for the White House, and his former Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain. Since leaving the prime minister's office, Blair has worked for Middle East peace on behalf of the "Quartet" of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. Blair will share the "Late Show" stage with actress Julianna Margulies.
Hallmark Channel has acquired exclusive cable rights to "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures." As part of the deal with Litton Entertainment, Hallmark also acquired digital distribution rights to the series on HallmarkChannel.com, and for distribution under the Hallmark brand name on third-party sites such as iTunes. The channel will premiere "Animal Adventures" on October 3 and run it on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The series features popular naturalist Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, as he travels around the world to showcase animals and their environments.
Just as Disney is busy scooping up Marvel and its stable of superheroes, Fox is at work overhauling one of its big Marvel franchises: Fantastic Four. The studio has set Akiva Goldsman to oversee the next picture with Heroes co-executive producer Michael Green on script duty. Fox controls Fantastic Four in perpetuity, as long as it continues making the films, Variety notes. Fox also has the same deal with Marvel properties X-Men, Daredevil and Silver Surfer. Marvel is a producer and financial participant through a licensing agreement. Fox had no comment on its plans for Fantastic Four, and it is as-yet unclear if any of the stars of the 2005 Fantastic Four and 2007 sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer will return. Tim Story directed those films, which starred Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis. Fox has so far made one X-Men spinoff in Wolverine. The studio is working on a sequel to that film and has scripts for X-Men Origins: First Class and X-Men Origins: Magneto. Potential spinoffs for the Gambit and Deadpool characters have also been discussed.
Disney has struck a deal with Viz Media to bring the anime series "Naruto Shippuden" to the Disney XD digital cable network beginning next month. "Shippuden" is the sequel to the popular Japanese import and picks up with the ninja lead characters now in their teens. The original "Naruto" series has been airing on Cartoon Network since 2005. It may be new to the Disney audience, but "Naruto" has proven to be a strong license in gaming and online. Subtitled episodes of the show were among the top streams on both Hulu and Joost earlier this year. "Disney XD is a growing destination for our key demographic, boys 6-14, and we're looking forward to bringing the adventures of 'Naruto Shippuden' to our lineup," said Tracy McAndrew, director, acquisitions and co-productions, Disney-ABC Cable Networks Group.
Reality series "Secret Millionaire" has been picked up by ABC, the network confirmed Thursday. The show, based on an U.K. format, features wealthy benefactors living incognito in impoverished communities until they reveal their real identities and donate large sums to the needy. "Secret Millionaire" had a limited run on Fox in December but wasn't renewed for a second cycle. It's considered a better fit for ABC, whose reality slate is built on feel-good fare. The network is ordering six episodes of the show.
Mickey Mouse and his entourage will star in a prime-time TV special for preschoolers and grown-up fans next month. In the Disney Channel's holiday-themed "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Choo Choo Express," Minnie, Goofy and the gang try to bring snow to their clubhouse so they can frolic in it year-round. Clarabelle, Bella and Chip and Dale from the "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" TV series join in, along with guests Santa and Mrs. Claus. New songs from They Might Be Giants and the Sensational Six are featured in the animated special. The "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Choo Choo Express" will debut 7 p.m. EDT Sunday, Oct. 25. Starting Oct. 26, it will be available at Disney.com/Mickey and by way of some mobile phone VOD services.
Private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co, Thomas H. Lee Partners, and Providence Equity have submitted bids for Cox Enterprises' Travel Channel, a source familiar with the matter said. The private equity firms are bidding separately for the channel in an auction expected to fetch $600 million to $700 million, sources said. The people declined to be identified because the details of the auction have not been made public. At least two of the private equity firms are in discussions with Discovery Communications to use it for services such as selling advertising and negotiating network-carry fees should they win control of Travel Channel, the sources said. Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav confirmed on Wednesday that his company had held talks about taking on a role "where we would do a number of services for a fee." But "we won't be bidding on the Travel Channel as an equity holding," he said when asked about the possibility during a presentation at Goldman Sachs Communicopia media conference. Privately held Cox, which could not immediately be reached for comment, is selling a 65 percent stake in the channel as part of an auction being handled by Goldman Sachs. All three private equity firms declined to comment on the sale. Two other media companies, Scripps Networks Interactive and News Corp, remain in the auction, one of the sources said. The source added that NBC Universal, owned by General Electric Co and Vivendi SA, had bid for the channel but has recently lost interest. The Travel Channel is known for programs such as "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations," in which author and chef Bourdain travels the world to showcase local cuisines; and "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern," in which the food columnist tries unusual delicacies such as lamb eyeballs and squirrel brains. Interest in the Travel Channel had been expected to be widespread among media companies, who, burned by the downturn in advertising, would welcome the steadier flow of revenue offered by cable networks. Since cable networks draw revenue from fees paid by satellite and cable operators , they are not as dependent on advertising as other parts of the media business, such as network TV or print. Cox acquired Travel Channel in 2007, receiving $1.275 billion in cash along with the channel in exchange for its 25 percent stake in Discovery. With 99.1 million subscribers, the expected valuations of $600 million to $700 million for Travel Channel compute to about $6 to $7 per subscriber -- a far cry from the $35 per subscriber the Weather Channel sold for last July. Industry experts have said that one of the reasons for the lower valuations is Weather Channel's strong brand positioning online, which warrants a premium as more subscribers and advertisers move to the Internet.
Rankings for the top 15 programs on cable television networks as compiled by Nielsen Media Research for the week of Sept. 7-13. Days and start times (EDT) are in parentheses: 1. College Football: USC vs. Ohio St. (Saturday, 7:50 p.m.), ESPN, 7.24 million homes, 10.58 million viewers. 2. "2009 Video Music Awards" (Sunday, 9 p.m.), MTV, 5.83 million homes, 8.97 million viewers. 3. College Football: Miami vs. Florida St. (Monday, 8 p.m.), 5.82 million homes, 8.4 million viewers. 4. "ICarly" (Saturday, 8 p.m.), Nickelodeon, 4.98 million homes, 7.56 million viewers. 5. "2009 VMA Post Show" (Sunday, 11:31 p.m.), MTV, 4.95 million homes, 7.35 million viewers. 6. Movie: "Scooby Doo: Mystery Begins" (Sunday, 7 p.m.), Cartoon, 3.9 million homes, 6.1 million viewers. 7. "WWE Raw" (Monday, 9 p.m.), USA, 3.82 million homes, 5.56 million viewers. 8. "The O'Reilly Factor" (Wednesday, 9:15 p.m.), Fox News, 3.76 million homes, 5.12 million viewers. 9. "WWE Raw" (Monday, 10 p.m.), USA, 3.75 million homes, 5.39 million viewers. 10. "NCIS" (Monday, 8 p.m.), USA, 3.42 million homes, 4.74 million viewers. 11. "Monk" (Friday, 9 p.m.), USA, 3.41 million homes, 4.82 million viewers. 12. "True Blood" (Sunday, 9:02 p.m.), HBO, 3.35 million homes, 5.11 million viewers. 13. "SpongeBob SquarePants" (Saturday, 9:30 a.m.), Nickelodeon, 3.28 million homes, 4.22 million viewers. 14. "NCIS" (Sunday, 8 p.m.), USA, 3.22 million homes, 4.13 million viewers. 15. "Army Wives" (Sunday, 10 p.m.), Lifetime, 3.21 million homes, 3.9 million viewers. ___ ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Co.; USA is owned by General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal; Nickelodeon and MTV are owned by Viacom Inc.; Fox News Channel is owned by News Corp.; The Cartoon Network and HBO are owned by Time Warner Inc.; Lifetime is a joint venture between the Hearst Corp. and the Walt Disney Co.
Hallmark Channel is planning "Christmas in Canaan," starring Billy Ray Cyrus. The telefilm, slated to air in December, is based on a novel written by another country star/actor, Kenny Rogers, and Donald Davenport. "Christmas" chronicles the unlikely friendship that develops between two boys -- DJ (Zak Ludwig), who is white, and Rodney (Jaishon Fisher), who is black -- in 1960s Texas as they bond over concern for a wounded puppy. Cyrus plays DJ's dad, who, with Rodney's grandmother, concocts the puppy plan after the boys get into a schoolyard tussle. Neill Fearnley is directing from a script by Davenport and a story by Rogers.
Fox won the closely fought opening night of the U.S. television fall season for the first time in the network's history, despite a strong challenge from ABC's "Dancing with the Stars", early ratings showed on Tuesday. CBS, which finished the 2008-09 season as the most-watched TV network overall, came in 3rd place on Monday, while struggling NBC again finished at the bottom of the leading networks with a disappointing slide for its "The Jay Leno Show" primetime experiment. "Dancing with the Stars" was the most-watched TV show on Monday with 17.5 million viewers as the networks launched their biggest offerings at the official start of the new season, Nielsen figures showed. However the 9th season of the hit dance show on Walt Disney Co's ABC delivered its lowest premiere audience ever, dropping 23 percent from last year. Fox, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., powered through to claim top overall average audience for the night, thanks to a strong two-hour season opener for medical drama "House", which attracted 16.5 million viewers. On CBS Corp's CBS, "CSI:Miami" drew 13.7 million viewers overall, winning the 10 p.m. hour, and helping to send "The Jay Leno Show" on NBC down to a low of 5.7 million average viewers. The cost-cutting comedy and chat show went from being the highest-rated network show on Monday last week, to the lowest among the four main networks. The returning "Heroes" also proved disappointing for NBC, a unit of General Electric Co. The drama series drew just six million viewers overall -- a 40 percent drop from its start in 2008. According to the preliminary Nielsen figures, Fox had 16.5 million average total viewers on Monday; ABC 14.8 million, CBS 12.0 million and NBC 5.9 million. Spanish-language network Univision had 3.9 million average viewers and the young female-oriented CW network, a joint venture of CBS and Warner Bros, had 2.3 million.