Digital Dilemma

Local television stations were less than pleased with the digital channel allocations handed out last week by the Federal Communications Commission because many of the market's biggest stations will end up losing hundreds of thousands of viewers.

Television stations around the country are soon to convert from analog broadcast signals to digital, and last week's allocation by the FCC determined the locations on the dial and signal strengths of the future digital channels. Because of potential interference from L.A.'s 15 television stations, many local broadcasters will be forced to decrease the amount of territory their signals cover.

KCBS-TV Channel 2 faces the biggest loss of viewership; its analog signal covers over 48,000 square miles, but the digital replacement will cover less than 40,000. That translates to a loss of about 1.1 million viewers.

Meanwhile, KTLA-TV Channel 5 will lose access to an estimated 900,000 viewers, KNBC-TV Channel 4 will lose about 400,000 viewers and KABC-TV Channel 7, KCAL-TV Channel 9 and KTTV-TV Channel 11 will lose around 200,000.

Under federal law, at least four L.A.-market TV stations must transmit digital signals by the end of next year. Stations will be allowed to continue broadcasting in analog during a transition period, but must return their rights to analog channels to the federal government in 2006.

Burma Shaved

A critical component of Unocal Corp.'s strategy for exploiting Asian oil reserves was jeopardized last week after President Clinton banned new U.S. investments in Myanmar.

The Southeast Asian country, formerly known as Burma, is the location of the $1.2 billion Yanada pipeline being built by Unocal and a group of French and Asian firms. The El Segundo-based oil company lobbied extensively against the imposition of sanctions against Myanmar for fear that such a move could derail the pipeline.

Myanmar's military regime has attracted worldwide condemnation for alleged human rights violations. Much of the controversy centers on the treatment of government opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize-winner. Several other opposition leaders have allegedly been kidnapped by the ruling party.

Downtown L.A.-based Atlantic Richfield Co. joined Unocal in opposing sanctions, but the Clinton administration was under heavy pressure from Congress to take a strong stand against the country's leadership. Meanwhile, a bill is being prepared in Congress that will make the presidential sanctions more binding by prohibiting all new U.S. investment in Myanmar.

Cosco Canned

As expected, the Long Beach Harbor Commission voted last week to cancel its lease with the China Ocean Shipping Co., or Cosco, the fast-growing, Chinese government-owned shipping line.

The move, taken in response to a ruling by an L.A. Superior Court judge, casts a shadow over the port's plans to build Cosco a new cargo terminal on the site of the former Long Beach Naval Station.

By cancelling its lease, the port is attempting to comply with an April 11 ruling in a lawsuit brought by preservationist groups hoping to save historic buildings on the 55-year-old site. Under that ruling, the port must consider the terminal project "free and clear" of any pre-existing commitments, such as the Cosco lease.

Ironically, the Harbor Commission's vote came last Monday, the same day that Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill and other port officials met with Cosco executives in an effort to reaffirm the city's commitment to the project.

Port of L.A. officials also were on a previously planned trip to Beijing, where they too planned to meet with Cosco executives. Both delegations are due home this week.

Wal-Mart Comes to L.A.

The world's largest retailer is making its first foray into the City of Los Angeles. Wal-Mart Stores announced last week that it will open the first two-level Wal-Mart store in the United States at the site of a former Broadway department store in the Panorama Mall in Panorama City.

Wal-Mart purchased the 200,000-square-foot structure from Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc. Renovation is expected to begin this summer, and the store is slated to open late this year or early in 1998.

"Wal-Mart's decision to open its first vertical store at Panorama Mall is testimony to the strength of the mall and Panorama City," said Dana Anderson, vice chairman of Santa Monica-based Macerich Co. in a statement released late last week. Macerich owns the Panorama Mall.

Mall manager Louise Marquez said Wal-Mart's decision to buy the former Broadway building represents another important step in the rejuvenation of Panorama City.

Fashion Center Makeover

Plans were announced last week for the development of a 250,000-square-foot shopping center at Glendale Boulevard and California Avenue, the site of the former Glendale Fashion Center.

Phoenix-based Vestar Development Co. will break ground on the new center in June, with a grand opening scheduled for September 1998.

The center is slated to include Ralph's supermarket, Long's drugs, Best Buy electronics, Barnes & Noble books, Cost Plus imports, Ross Dress for Less and Petco. The center will also contain a 10,000-square-foot food court.

The project is 98 percent pre-leased, according to a statement released by Vestar. The company has built one other shopping center in the Southland, the 600,000-square-foot Cerritos Towne Center in Cerritos.

Compiled by Dan Turner, Julie Sable and Larry Kanter

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