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April 23, 2007

360AM: Time Warner Cable Eyes Wi-Fi

TWC lets subscribers create wireless hotspots, expands wireless and launches Gospel Music Channel—and other Monday news, including Motorola's acquisition of Terayon.

360AM — Morning news briefing for Monday, Apr. 23 (Updated 8pm ET)

Time Warner Cable struck a deal with Spanish start-up FON that will enable its high-speed Internet customers to turn their Road Runner broadband connections into public wireless hotspots. [Here's the release]. The move is seen as a way to retain TWC's 6.6 million high-speed online subscribers and avoid "an exodus as free or cheap municipal wireless becomes more readily available," reports AP. FON, whose backers include Google and eBay's Skype, splits a Wi-Fi connection in half, creating an encrypted channel for the user (dubbed a Fonero) and a public one that users can allow strangers (dubbed "aliens" in FON-speak) to access for $2-3 for 24 hours. Time Warner Cable and FON would split the proceeds from aliens' day passes on TWC subscribers' Wi-Fi networks using a $40 FON 50 Mbps wireless router. GigaOm, which broke the news of the impending deal on Apr. 2, noted today that FON routers' default bandwidth control isn't working, so "visiting Foneros can suck all the bandwidth." There are nearly 60,000 FON users in the U.S. [FON website | Wikipedia | FON founder's blog]

The news comes as Time Warner Cable expands wireless on another front—phone—by launching Pivot-branded cellphone service in Kansas City, its 5th market launch following San Antonio, Austin, Cincinnati and Raleigh, NC. [Kansas City Star] Pivot is the wireless joint venture between Sprint Nextel and Time Warner, Comcast, Advance/Newhouse (Bright House Networks) and Cox Communications, which is launching the service this fall in its Northern Virginia market of Fairfax County and Fredericksburg. Cox's NoVA market today announced Simply Worldwide, a new international calling plan that reaches more than 70 countries for 5-7 cents/minute with a $1.99 subscription to its digital voice customers. It's also wooing multicultural customers with a "free" international programming tier as a value-add to its digital video subscribers in Fairfax County and Fredericksburg. The tier at launch includes Korean programmers tvK, WKTV and Korea 1; youth-skewing Asian net ImaginAsian TV; China's CCTV-4; and eight MHz networks including Russian, Dutch and French content. Its press release says DirecTV's comparable international channel lineup costs $25/month.



• OTHER TOP STORIES

Motorola is acquiring Terayon in a deal its press release this morning values at $140 million. Light Reading broke the news Friday. Motorola is urging its board to reject Carl Icahn's proposal to join, according to the Financial Times.

Comcast field technicians will no longer do free inside wiring in single family homes among other service changes noted on what looks to be a leaked presentation obtained by the Consumerist blog.

Verizon's FiOS TV service added HD versions of Food Network, HGTV and Lifetime Movie Network [Release]. FiOS today launched in Newport News and Chesterfield County (Richmond) in VA, and expanded its footprint in Montgomery County, MD. Concerned about FiOS TV's plans in Mass., Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Ed Markey are demanding that Verizon complete its fiber optic network buildout in the state, reports the Boston Globe. Verizon responded to the Globe's article last week that it's not suspending its FiOS expansion but continuing its buildout and intends to launch FiOS in 22 additional markets in the state by year-end. Separately, Verizon named former T-Mobile general counsel Marie Sylla VP-government relations.

NFL Network will keep the eight-game, Thursday-Saturday package "for the duration of the deal, which expires in five years," reports Sports Business. Team owners were rumored to want to re-tender the package and take it off the league's channel after it failed to get carriage on Time Warner Cable and Cablevision. USA Today looks at the NFL draft this weekend: NFL Network will broadcast from a fishing boat with Wisconsin lineman Joe Thomas, expected to be a first-round pick; a "fan confessional room" will feature die-hard fans; and a Jim Cramer-like take on the value of picks will provide different spins on the league's own coverage. ESPN will cover the draft in progress while ESPNews will dissect picks after they're announced.

Gospel Music Channel scored a hunting license with Time Warner Cable, enabling the three-year old diginet to pursue carriage in TWC's local markets. The net's subscriber based dipped to about 10 million homes after DirecTV removed GMC from its local broadcast package earlier this year, but GMC vice chairman Brad Siegel expects to be in 20 million homes by the end of this year thanks to Time Warner and other launches. As part of its upfront pitch to advertisers, GMC is touting more than 50% original programming, with new series for '07/08 including Robert Townsend's Gospel Music Theater, a scripted dramatic sketch series; reality series Total Axxess, a behind-the-scenes look at gospel music stars; The Kitchen Sink, featuring live performances and interviews; and I Sing Praises, a daytime strand aimed at female fans and performers. Performance-based originals are in HD including programming that will originate from its studio being built in Atlanta. The channel also is talking up its demo-based themed primetime blocks and new "engagement" research to advertisers, pointing out the high number of influentials and early adopters in its audience, which breaks down equally (40% each) for African American and white viewers and 20% Latinos.

A slew of former media execs are forming shell companies known as "special purpose acquisition corporations," reports the New York Times. Dubbed "blank check" corporations by the SEC—because investors don't know how their money will be spent after they buy shares—SPACs have been formed by former ABC/ESPN exec Herb Granath; DirecTV founder/former CEO Eddy Hartenstein, whose new company is called HD Partners; former Time Warner Inc. general counsel/Time Warner Cable Ventures CEO Chris Bogart, whose advisers include former TWC/Comcast exec Tom Baxter; and former RCN CEO David McCourt, whose directors include former CIA chief George Tenet and Outdoor Channel pres/CEO Roger Werner.

Mediapost looks at a big question going into this upfront: how will commercial ratings play—and what happens if DVR viewing gets thrown in the mix? MindShare's annual TV clutter report finds a minimal jump in commercial time on broadcast and cable networks over 2006.



• PROGRAMMING

A&E raised almost $80,000 in an eBay auction for dinner with Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed to raise money for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. [Release]

Al Jazeera scored carriage on Burlington Telecom on VT, says the Boston Globe. The controversial network's only full-time US cable carriage is on Buckeye Cable in Toledo, Ohio, while Vermont PBS (carried on Comcast) has picked up Al Jazeera newscasts, which also are available online via YouTube.

BBC America's Garth Ancier-triggered loss of Benny Hill bemoaned by old school (classic BBCA) fan in the New York Times.

Bravo's jam-packed website (stuffed with blogs, original video and entertainingly snarky viewer comments) scored a Webby nomination, which now rates Internet and Mobile Web sites.

Discovery Channel's newest archeological find—Josh Bernstein, the sought-after bachelor recently poached from The History Channel—is examined in the New York Times. Unlike History's Digging for the Truth, which slipped from first to fourth place according to a channel spokesperson, Bernstein's unnamed Discovery series launching in January will bring ecological concerns to his anthropological and archeological expeditions, in keeping with Discovery Communications' $50 million commitment to green issues announced at its upfront.  History isn't bailing on the series and intends to keep "going in a whole new direction with the new show," according to the article.

DIY, HGTV and PBS stalwart Bob Vila's syndicated series was cancelled, following a 28-year TV career. [TV Week]

ESPN Sunday Night Baseball last night scored a 4.0 household rating (7 million viewers) for the Red Sox 7-6 win over the Yankees, the network's best regular season rating for an MLB telecast since its Yankee-Sox telecast on July 25, 2004. In Boston the game scored a 24.7 rating, a record for the Red Sox on NESN, marking its seventh highest-rated telecast ever. Separately, ESPN extended its HDTV marketing deal with Olevia through 2008. [Release] And ESPN and ABC are losing U.S. Figure Skating's marquee events to NBC, which today announced a three-year deal with USFS. NBCU negotiated a revenue-sharing deal (rights fee waived) for the ratings-challenged sport, which used to get about $12 million/yr from ABC/ESPN. [USA Today]

GSN greenlit Without Prejudice?, an hour-long competition series hosted by Dr. Robi Ludwig, who also hosts TLC's One Week to Save Your Marriage. Set to premiere July 17, each week's episode features five contestants opening up to five "ordinary strangers," who eliminate the candidates based on their views on hot button issues (abortion, gay marriage and the like) to determine which one should win $25,000. It's based on a British series that ran in the U.S. on BBC America. [Release | Variety]

HBO and Rolling Stone partnered on The Music of The Sopranos, a mini-special now available on HBO On Demand and on the RS website, which analyzes the role of music in general and individual songs in particular with creator David Chase, Steven Van Zandt and Chase's music consultant on the series. The Sopranos' June 10th "replacement," John From Cincinnati, is now taping in Imperial Beach, San Diego, where residents are (for the most part) impressed with the cast and crew's respect for the community. Producer/creator David Milch has even purchased more than $2,800 in Avon products from Rosa Adams, whose home is in the middle of the set; he also bought local grocer Wally's IGA giftcards for locals during Thanksgiving and spring break. [San Diego Union-Tribune] Spoiler alert: Entertainment Weekly wasn't thrilled by last night's episode of The Sopranos, which (eerily foreshadowing VT psycho-killer Seung-Hui Cho, had he made it into a psychiatric facility) featured Ken Leung as an Asian MIT student thrown in with Uncle Junior and his fellow patients.

HGTV's green lifestyle series with Ed Begley is adding more celeb wattage next season. Living With Ed (tent. slated to return Aug. 28) has taped segments with Bradley Whitford, Sharon Lawrence, Darryl Hannah, Jackson Browne and Cheryl Tiegs. [Hollywood Reporter]

Howard TV, In Demand's pay-per-view uncensored version of Howard Stern's satellite radio show, is promoting the service with a mobile peep show in Times Square on Wednesday. A converted milk truck outfitted with video booths showing naughty bits from Stern's show will be parked in front of Tussaud's wax museum on 42nd Street (and a stone's throw from Mary Poppins on broadway). Visitors must be 18 or older for the stunt, which promotes a free Web preview of the raunchy PPV service from Apr. 25-29.

IFC's Free Film Fest is coming to 10 Comcast markets this summer, kicking off July 10 in Comcast's hometown of Philly. Each stop lasts three nights and promotes Comcast's triple-play as it unspools indie faves like Raising Arizona and Napoleon Dynamite on an inflatable screen.

In Demand is looking for HD advertisers ahead of INHD's rebranding to Mojo on a 24/7 basis on May 1; Sony Pictures Television is Mojo's exclusive ad sales rep. [Mediaweek]

MSNBC replaces Imus in the Morning with a simulcast of Philly radio host Michael Smerconish's show today through Wednesday. It's testing a "variety of fill-ins" for the 6-9am slot from which Don Imus was ejected, including in-house talent such as NBC's chief White House correspondent David Gregory. [New York Post]

MTV Networks gave Andra Shapiro and George Cheeks the shared title of EVP-business affairs and co-general counsel.

NBCU will develop programming and content initiatives based on submissions to the Slamdance counter-festival to the Sundance Film Festival via a deal wtih Slamdance Media Group and Orly Adelson Productions. [Variety]

Nickelodeon tapped NFL players to promote its Let's Just Play Go Healthy Challenge 2007, which breaks on-air Apr. 29. [Release] Nick next month adds a Naked Bros. Band section to its Nicktropolis virtual world.

SCI FI premieres the third season of the BBC's new Doctor Who (and his newer female sidekick) in July.

SportsNet NY promoted Steve Raab to president, from VP-marketing and biz dev't. Comcast also promoted Stephanie Lafair Smith from GM to president of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, and Jim Corno to president of Comcast SportsNet Chicago, also from GM. [AP]

Sundance Channel pres/CEO Larry Aidem helped Aryeh Bourkoff (who becomes vice chairman of technology, media and telecom banking at UBS on May 1) better understand the media side of his job—Aidem snagged domestic distribution rights to The Last Jews of Libya, a documentary produced by Bourkoff's mother, Vivienne Roumani-Denn, at the 34-year old Wall Street whiz's request (he wanted a family movie for his kids). Aidem also lined up Isabella Rossellini to narrate the doc, which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on May 2. [New York Post]

Universal HD, NBCU's high-def channel, is showing Steven Spielberg's 1941 (twice) on May 2 plus a single HDcast of Jaws on May 19.

Charlotte's WSOC became the market's first HD newscaster yesterday while SoCal broadcasters CBS2 HD and sister net KCAL 9 HD launched on Time Warner Cable Los Angeles.



• ONLINE

NBCU will test a new digital fingerprinting system to track copyright-protected content on YouTube, reports the Wall Street Journal. Google hasn't announced its partner for the technology, although sources tell WSJ it's using Audible Magic Corp. while it looks to develop its own copyright-tracking and content management service. The NBC Web video test is expected to take place from this month through June and has tabled any plans to follow Viacom's lead and take legal action YouTube for copyright violation. CBS also says it's having "constructive conversations" with YouTube about fingerprinting, which won't block or filter video from being posted on the site. Audible also has video-fingerprinting deals with News Corp.'s MySpace, Sony's Grouper and Break.com and claims more than 99% accuracy.

Viacom apparently admitted it was wrong to issue a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube demanding that it remove a parody of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. The "our bad" prompted the Electronic Frontier Foundation to drop a suit on behalf of the video's creators at MoveOn.org and Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films.

More than 70% of Americans 15-34 are "actively" using online social networks, according to research released today by Fox Interactive Media, the News Corp. division that manages MySpace; apparently, more than 40% of social networkers surveyed are looking to learn about brands or products they like, and given their druthers they'd rather be social networking or using their cellphones than watching TV.

Comcast's acquisition of online movie ticketer Fandango was approved by the FTC. [AP]

NHL's full-length current season games and classic games will be available for download on Amazon's Unbox service. [Release]

kyte.tv announced a system for amateurs to launch branded Web video channels.

LIME announced a "green" ad network for advertisers wanting to reach eco-conscious consumers on the Web.

New York Times looks at "CrackBerry" addicts recovering from last week's BlackBerry outage.

Twitter, the constant, often inane, messaging and musings from friends and strangers that spawned the term "twitterholic," is debated in the New York Times.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Earnings this week: A&T (Tues.), Apple (Wed.) and Microsoft (Thurs.), which reports ahead of Sunday's debut of Xbox 360 Elite.

It's "Turn Off Your TV" week ... and TV networks don't care, though the Fresno Grizzlies want to pay your cable bill.

Imagine Communications will unveil its switched digital video system at the Cable Show (May 7-9 in Las Vegas). [Release]

Pace integrated Tandberg's digital middleware into its newest set-top boxes. [Release]

M2Z CEO John Muleta is set to testify before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet that, based on his company's commissioned research, over 75% of Americans will vote for politicians who support free Wi-Fi; M2Z is competing in the FCC's wireless spectrum auction to build a nationwide wireless broadband network.

The New York Times profiles Qwest founder Phil Anschutz, who's bringing David Beckham to America and stinging from former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio's guilty verdict last week in an insider trading scandal.

TiVo's Stop|Watch ratings service picked up Interpublic as its first agency affiliate. [Release]

Nebraska state lawmakers moved to regulate mixed martial arts, a rising sport on premium cable, HDNet and Spike TV. [AP]

- Shirley Brady

• Click here for 360AM news briefing for Friday, Apr. 20 >>







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