Legal UPN Lifeline Expected Tomorrow

By Christian
April 18, 2001 - 4:48 PM

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to make a landmark ruling on Thursday, that could ensure the survival of troubled Star Trek: Voyager network, UPN.

The FCC is likely to revise the dual network ownership rule, which governs the ownership of television networks. The rule is intended to protect diversity and independence within the television market and to promote competition between networks and programme makers. In its current form the rule means that Viacom, which also owns the US Network CBS, will have to sell UPN by May.

A UPN statement said: "Unless the commission revises the dual network rule as proposed to permit the continued operation of UPN and CBS under common ownership, a substantial number of television licensees who have invested many years in UPN will suffer irreparably without any reciprocal benefit to the public."

Consumer groups remain opposed to the abolition of the rule, claiming that it will lead to the loss of independence and greater consolidation for the larger networks without introducing any replacement measures to safeguard these issues. They insist that the FCC could introduce an exemption clause for UPN because it reaches minority audiences. However the FCC itself recognised last May, that the merger of networks could "produce significant efficiencies," especially in reducing the risk of financial investment in new programme production. It may therefore be interested in making a larger scale reform.

If the rule is abolished or modified, then it paves the way for further alterations in the laws that govern television networks. Current regulations prohibit one broadcaster from reaching more than 35% of the national audience, as well as owning a newspaper and television station in the same area. This is especially relevant for Viacom, who currently own both the UPN and CBS networks. The WB Network is keen for the FCC to go further than the abolition of the dual network rule, and also relax limits that prevent cable operators owning local stations.

UPN is the network widely tipped to air Series V, when it makes its expected debut in September. The station promoted Voyager as "The Show that Launched a Network" and it has remained a ratings winner throughout its seven year run. It will be keen to have another high profile show to replace Voyager, which it will air its final episode in May. According to analysists Viacom executives remain "...generally happy about [UPN]. They seemed to think it was going to be around for a while." Viacom's support for UPN will certainly help to strengthen the network. The stability of the network that airs Series V will be vital for its success in ensuring that the new series reaches its target audience and is promoted successfully.

With UPN being so important for Star Trek, the FCC ruling Thursday could have significant results for the future of the franchise. Please follow this link to Reuters for more information on the FCC's decision.

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