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Big 4 retain TV rights to Emmycast

Webs to shoulder portion of costs

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has inked a four-year deal with the Big Four webs for the TV rights to the annual primetime Emmy Awards ceremony.

As with the previous four-year pact, the Emmycast will rotate among ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC over the term of the deal, which encompasses 1999-2002. NBC’s Sept. 13 telecast of the 50th annual Primetime Emmy Awards will finish off the current contract.

There had been much speculation that such well-established cablers as HBO or the Turner Broadcasting would make a play for Emmycast rights, partly as a symbolic effort to underscore the growing stature of cablers in the overall TV landscape.

But the previous Emmy pact gave the Big Four webs a 30-day exclusive negotiating window with ATAS before the Acad could solicit other offers.

Financial details of the new pact were not disclosed, but ATAS netted a modest license fee increase over the previous pact, putting the Emmycast pricetag in the area of $3 million per year. Also, the deal calls for the webs to shoulder certain production and promotion costs for the ceremony, items that were previously paid for by ATAS.

The issue of broadcast vs. cable in the Emmy derby has become a hot potato for the TV Acad in recent months, but ATAS reps said the Emmycast negotiations with the Big Four went smoothly.

‘Very pleased’

“If we hadn’t been able to reach a deal with the networks, we knew there would have been significant interest from cable,” said ATAS prexy Meryl Marshall. “But we were very pleased that the four networks showed great enthusiasm and excitement for keeping the Emmys.”

The only cabler that pushed hard to get into the rotation of webs carrying the Emmy telecast was Turner’s TNT, although a spokesman for Turner Broadcasting declined comment.

Interest from the cable side may have strengthened the TV Acad’s bargaining position with the Big Four, but industry observers said it’s highly unlikely that ATAS would turn over the Emmycast to even a widely distributed cabler like TNT, which still cannot offer the blanket U.S. coverage of an over-the-air broadcast web.

Chris Albrecht, president of original programming for HBO, said any interest his pay-cabler has in joining the Emmy rotation is counterbalanced by visibility HBO achieves when TV viewers throughout the country have access to an event that typically yields a bevy of trophies for the feevee channel’s original productions.

“The new broadcast deal is great publicity for HBO,” Albrecht said, “because we get into only about 25 million homes and the broadcast networks reach 100 million homes.”

In a nod to new technologies, the new Emmycast pact formalizes the arrangement for “cybercasts” of the awards ceremony on the Internet. As in previous years, ATAS will produce and promote the cybercast in conjunction with whichever web is handling the broadcast that year.

Creative arts separated

ATAS also carved out a separate TV rights window for the creative arts Emmys, which cover the craft and technical awards traditionally handed out a week or so before the big-ticket televised kudos.

This year, the creative arts ceremony, held last Saturday, will be televised for the first time Sept. 11 on Viacom’s TV Land cabler. The new primetime Emmycast agreement allows ATAS to license rights to the creative arts ceremony to non-Big Four outlets, so long as “precautions are taken to avoid confusion between the two broadcasts,” according to ATAS.

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