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TELEVISION & RADIO | FROM THE TELEVISION CRITICS ASSN.

For Fox, the TV set is just fine

Although ABC and NBC have struck distribution deals with Apple, the usually bold Fox network is willing to wait and see, for now.

January 18, 2006|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Fox President of Entertainment Peter Liguori isn't in a big hurry to offer episodes of "24" or "Family Guy" on your iPod. In this new age, when people seem to be watching TV everywhere but on their television sets, patience is a virtue, Liguori told a gathering of television critics at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena on Tuesday.

Since ABC announced in October its Apple deal to let viewers download episodes of some of their favorite shows via iTunes, the industry has been awash with announcements and questions.

What could be cooler than catching up on "Lost" on your video iPod while on an airplane, or laughing with Golden Globe winner Steve Carell of "The Office" while on the treadmill? (NBC announced its own Apple deal last month.)

But as hip as the innovation might feel, and as many new formats for watching the tube are developing every day, there are many questions about who will pay for what in the industry. So the network known for being the boldest is sitting this fight out -- temporarily.

Fox, explained Liguori, is thinking like Coke and Budweiser. When Diet Pepsi and Miller Light seemed to be all the rage several years ago, Coke and Budweiser waited it out, counting on taste to be the ultimate arbiter, he said.

"Being a counterpuncher in the new technologies is probably not a bad idea," he said. "I'm a marketing guy by way of background and one of the things we discussed was: Look at way back at the beer and soda wars.... [Pepsi and Miller] defined what the game was and then [Coke and Budweiser] went in and stayed with their strategy. To us, it's a content strategy. We want to make sure we're putting the best content forward. If we have the best content, we're going to be able to take advantage of all the other distribution sources."

Like the other networks, Fox has been approached by Yahoo, Google and the rest of the Internet gang about making its mark in the new media world, Liguori said.

"In terms of the new technologies, it's so early," Liguori said. "It's in the nascent stages in terms of what we can do with this.... We're taking a more measured approach to what works and what may not work. I think with all the new technology that [this] is the quintessential marathon -- not a sprint."

Calling it a "tumultuous time for television," Garth Ancier, chairman of the WB, who spoke to the critics on Monday, acknowledged that the new economic models for the industry are unclear.

Warner Bros. Television will begin offering old TV shows, such as "Welcome Back, Kotter," on AOL in March with 15-second commercials, Ancier said.

"You have to look at each of these things and how many people are participating, what they're paying, what their pain tolerance for paying is, do they want it with commercials, without commercials, do they want to own it, do they want to lease it," he said. "I think everything right now is basically in sort of a test stage."

In other programming news, Fox announced:

* "Malcolm in the Middle" will come to an end May 14 after seven seasons.

* "That '70s Show" will wind up its run May 18 after eight seasons.

* The season finale of "Arrested Development" airs Feb. 10 and, in all likelihood, the episode will serve as the series finale unless another network picks it up.

* Fox is in talks with the producers of "King of the Hill" to continue the show. If it does return to the schedule, it will not be until next January.

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