MCA joins anti-PTAR drive

A growing number of major studios are supporting a repeal of a key provision of the Prime Time Access Rule, which prohibits top-50 market network affiliates from airing off-net fare in the hour leading into primetime.

MCA now appears to have lined up with Disney and possibly Columbia in calling for an end to PTAR.

After weeks of speculation that the company may have reversed itself on PTAR, MCA exec VP Tom Wertheimer said last week he thinks the time has come for the Federal Communications Commission to “revisit” the rules.

With a new chairman and two others coming on board, it appears likely the FCC will launch a broad PTAR review this year.

MCA’s public switch could give the drive added momentum.

Since the studio’s syndication wing, MCA TV, does not have any firstrun shows airing in access, it could only benefit by the repeal. Itwould have reaped a windfall from “Coach” if it had been able to sell the off-net sitcom to large-market affils for access.

Columbia, which is gearing up to sell “Seinfeld” reruns, also appears ready to lend its support toward ending the PTAR restrictions.

The hit NBC comedy is expected to generate huge returns in the syndication market, but the take could go much higher if Col is free from the current regulatory constraints.

Parental rights

Col’s parent, Sony Pictures Entertainment, also owns the top-rated syndie performers “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” via Merv Griffin Prods. The shows are distributed by King World Prods., which grew into an industry giant under PTAR and has no desire to see the rules go by the wayside.

Until now, Disney Studios prez Richard Frank faced a nearly unanimous wall of opposition from the other majors in his quest to abolish PTAR.

The tide began to turn toward the end of last year after Warner Bros. and Paramount announced fifth-network plans.

Program suppliers without firstrun fare in access and off-net sitcoms to sell believe one or two new weblets will eventually squeeze their shows out of other time periods, such as early and late fringe.

An end to PTAR would open up many new potential customers for the syndicators.

As Disney gains supporters, it could also soon lose a major ally. Some Washington observers suspect that Warner Bros., which is officially on record supporting an FCC review of the Disney request, could change directions with its new commitment to firstrun syndication with the expensive access and late fringe offering “Entertainment News Television.”

PTAR backers

Both Paramount and Twentieth TV continue to remain firmly behind PTAR. They are both strong players in firstrun access.

Twentieth, which distributes a number of series coming off of sister Fox Broadcasting, is already free from the PTAR restrictions because the FCC doesn’t technically consider Fox a network.

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