MTN's move causes 24-hour programming hole

Global broadcasters left in the lurch by the cancellation of “Millennium Live: Humanity’s Broadcast” are scrambling at the last minute to find replacement programming.

Millennium Television Network, which had partnered with broadcasters in more than 180 countries to carry “Millennium Live,” officially pulled the plug Tuesday on the 24-hour broadcast.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, MTN’s anticipated funding and other resources will not be available in time to complete the production and broadcast on our original schedule, and we are forced to postpone the program,” the production company said in a memo to broadcasters.

With 24 hours of broadcast time to fill, the international outlets have started contacting each other individually to inquire about sharing resources or airing portions of each others’ local broadcasts. Others have signed with the BBC and WGBH-Boston feeds, which ABC and PBS are utilizing in the U.S.

Francoise Champey, an executive with France Television’s France 2 & 3, quickly started assembling a consortium of broadcasters to try to salvage some of the live coverage that MTN was to have offered.

For example, India’s Zee TV is beaming up a six-hour show featuring Indian classical musicians, folk dancers, pop artists and film stars.

Canadian-based Citytv, which had planned to air “Millennium Live” on its sister cable network MuchMoreMusic, is offering broadcasters rights to air its local 90-minute New Year’s Eve coverage of Toronto festivities. Stations in countries including Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines have taken Citytv up on its offer.

“We’re disappointed but we move on,” said MuchMoreMusic’s David Kines. MuchMoreMusic will air normal programming and simulcast Citytv’s Toronto coverage.

Washington-based live event coordinator Flying Colors Broadcasts has been given permission by MTN to use the nine satellite transponders that had already been leased (the “Millennium Live” producers originally planned on paying for 80 transponders before it lost funding) to assist the orphaned broadcasters in sharing their programming.

“It’s amazing to see these broadcasters help one another,” Flying Colors’ Constance Chatfield-Taylor said. “That’s what the purpose of this whole thing was in the first place.”

In hindsight, the “Millennium Live” broadcasters said they could see the collapse of the telecast coming. The show had been sold to most countries on a barter/no cash basis, but the telecast’s producers weren’t able to announce any major sponsors even as recently as this October’s MIPCOM conference.

Advertisers scared off

Advertisers were apparently skittish after “Millennium Live’s” major financers backed out and MTN failed to find any new credible investors. MTN e-mailed broadcasters on Dec. 17 and told them the broadcast was still a go, but sources say MTN then laid off most of its employees on Dec. 22.

“Millennium Live” creator-executive producer Hal Uplinger wasn’t available for comment. Sources close to MTN stressed that the production side of “Millennium Live” was set to air the show, but MTN’s administration side failed to deliver the financing.

Most of the “Millennium Live” broadcasters had already begun heavily promoting the event, but started pulling back promos when it appeared likely that the show wouldn’t go forward as planned.

Pax TV, which had U.S. broadcast rights to “Millennium Live,” will air vintage movies marketed as “Movies of the Millennium/Stars of the Century.”

“We join broadcasters all over the world in expressing our disappointment that MTN is unable to deliver its millennium broadcast,” a Pax TV statement said. “We thought it was a great entertainment concept, especially coming from the producers of Live Aid.”

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