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July 2, 2007

360AM: iHype vs. CableCard

iPhone mania prevails as CableCard deadline passes; Murdoch tips news strategy; MSNBC's YouTube phenom; and more Monday news.

Cable360AM — News briefing for Monday, July 2 »

Apple and AT&T sold anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 to 525,000 iPhones between 6pm Friday and last night, with AT&T activation woes the biggest gripe this weekend, while at least one customer had problems connecting his Time Warner Cable Road Runner online account to his new iPhone. Friday's iBuyers included Spike Lee (who bought one for charity and another for his son) and Whoopi Goldberg at New York's Soho Apple store; in Philadelphia, mayor John Street (criticized for queuing up instead of doing his job, notes the Philadelphia Inquirer); while in California, Steve Wozniak arrived on his Segway and lined up from 4am Friday (so much for co-founding Apple). Best line from the media onslaught in Saturday's New York Times: "'I guess I didn’t need to get in line because they have thousands of them in there,' said Norbert Pauli, 52, who had waited since Wednesday morning outside the Fifth Avenue store." Some good news for new iPhone (and old iPod) owners this morning: The Larry Sanders Show is now on iTunes while AT&T is offering free Wi-Fi to its broadband customers and has beefed up its national Wi-Fi network. And some bad: Universal Music Group (U2's label) is not renewing its iTunes contract and will license its content "at will," reports the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Weekend iHype overshadowed the weekend's new era of CableCard-ready devices. The FCC granted Verizon's set-top box waiver request Friday while denying Comcast and NCTA's requests ahead of yesterday's CableCard mandate going into effect, notes Dow Jones. The Consumer Electronics Association released a press release this morning that trumpeted: "CEA Celebrates Freedom for Cable Consumers." BusinessWeek, unimpressed by the cable industry's stance on CableCards, writes: "Forget July 4. July 1 is the real Independence Day for 65 million cable TV subscribers in the U.S. As of that date, says the Federal Communications Commission, they are free of the tyranny of being forced to rent miserable set-top boxes from their cable companies." (In a sidebar, BW adds: "What You Need to Know About CableCARDs: This wafer-thin card will pave the way for cable consumers to leave set-top boxes behind—if they want to.") Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta are keeping up with operators' demands for CableCard-ready set-tops, reports today's CableFAX, while smaller box players TiVo (notes this profile of CEO Tom Rogers) and Digeo, whose Moxi multi-room DVRs hit stores in early fourth quarter, see the industry's CableCard requirement as an opportunity. "The enforcement of this rule allows for a very small crack in the door that we can use to get our foot in the market," Digeo CEO Michael Fidler tells CNET, which reviews the new Moxi retail boxes here. "This will help make the set-top box truly portable so it can be installed on any cable operator's network in the country." More on TiVo and Digeo's set-top boxing match is profiled here.

TIME's cover story on Rupert Murdoch reveals the News Corp. head toyed with scrapping the print edition of the Wall Street Journal and making WSJ.com a hybrid free (ad-supported plus premium "high-end content") service. Murdoch also admits to some political bias on Fox News Channel and CNN ("We don't think we do. We've always insisted we don't. I don't think we do. Aw, it's subjective. Neither side admits it"). He also expresses his concerns over his newspapers' circulation and ad revenues "ebbing away ... proportional to broadband penetration. 'You've got to really worry,' he says. 'Tribune Co.'s revenues [in May] dropped 11% across broadcasting and newspapers. That's huge. The Times dropped 8.5%. Half of men under 30 aren't reading print newspapers, and there's no sign that they come back as they age.' ... 'The Internet is teaching people every day to expect everything for free. So it has to be advertising supported.'" Murdoch is expected to name is wife, former Star TV exec Wendi Deng, chief strategy officer for MySpace China, reports Forbes.

Cable networks' double-digit ad sales gains in this upfront should increase cable's tally 5% over last year's $7.3 billion total, reports Variety. On the broadcast TV side, "despite industry buzz about multiplatform ad buys, the bulk of broadcast networks' sales for fall have been for TV time, with digital tie-ins sold separately," notes USA Today.

MSNBC burned up YouTube this weekend with a clip of Mika Brezezinski's refusal to read a Paris Hilton story Friday watched 1.5 million times (more on MSNBC's Zeitgeist blog). MSNBC was first with the Glasgow airport attack at 10:58am Saturday, notes TV Newser; CNN followed 3 minutes later and FNC almost 30 minutes after MSNBC, which redeemed its Friday fumble on the foiled London terrorist bombings. Scoops notwithstanding, MSNBC is planning to go to tape Saturday afternoons, says TV Newser. CNN.com also relaunched Saturday.

The Carlyle Group (owners of Insight Communications) bid $19.6 billion including debt for Richard Branson’s UK cable operator, Virgin Media Group [New York Times | The Independent] while U.S. private equity firms Providence Equity and Madison Dearborn Partners teamed with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to acquire Bell Canada (BCE), Canada's biggest telephone company, for $48.8 billion ($51.7 billion Canadian). Their BCE bid largest leveraged buyout ever; more in today's New York Times.

Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich signed a statewide video franchise bill into law Saturday that was backed by AT&T. Many provisions of the law go into effect immediately, with service quality standards for existing cable companies starting on Jan. 1.

AT&T bought regional telco Dobson Communications (which operates as Cellular One in 17 states) for $2.8 billion, or $5.1 billion in cash and debt notes Information Week. AT&T also is sweet-talking U-verse in Milwaukee with a grassroots campaign that includes a promotional ice-cream truck, in-cinema kiosks and neighborhood parties. [Milwaukee Business Journal]

DirecTV reached a settlement and license agreement with Forgent Networks and agreed Friday to pay $8 million in a patent dispute. [Dow Jones]

EarthLink will use GetConnected to sell municipal Wi-Fi access and a DSL/home phone bundle at retail. Its DSL/phone package sells for $49.95-$69.96 per month for up to 8Mbps; EarthLink Wi-Fi service can be purchased on its website for $6.95/mo. for the first six months and $19.95 monthly after. [CNNMoney]

Verizon's FiOS TV reached a multi-year retransmission consent agreement with Nexstar Broadcasting Group for analog, digital and HD signals. Verizon also shaved 25 cents a gallon at a Shell station in upstate NY in a local marketing stunt.

Comcast's Internet aspirations (and chief exec Brian Roberts) are profiled in Fast Company. Separately, Comcast must furnish substantiating facts behind its Slowskys talking turtles ads in its lawsuit against Qwest's DSL speed claims. [Denver Business Journal]

Add Atlantic Broadband to the list of cable operators (Comcast, Time Warner Cable) balking at the Big Ten Network's terms, reports PA's Altoona Mirror. BTN announced today it's launching Aug. 30 on DirecTV, AT&T's U-verse, Buckeye CableSystem and more than 75 local cable systems. Its premiere program: Big Ten Tonight, a news and highlight show; the Chicago Tribune has more.



• PROGRAMMING

Bravo's refusal to cooperate killed a E! True Hollywood Story on Project Runway. [New York Post]

Comcast announced its top VOD downloads in Oregon; other markets detailed here.

Comedy Central's American Body Shop debuted this weekend as a free download (ahead of its July 8 premiere) on Xbox Live Marketplace, part of the network's ongoing experiment with the platform. [New York Times]

Encore tapped former Soprano Steven van Zandt to host Godzilla Invasion!, a 13-hour holiday marathon on Wed.

ESPN debuts The 2007 World Series of Poker on July 10.

FX's Nip/Tuck reportedly in talks to bring back Rosie O'Donnell as Dawn Budge. [New York Post]

Hallmark Channel premieres Murder 101: If Wishes Were Horses, a continuation in the Dick Van Dyke-starring series (this time with his two sons) on Aug. 18.

HBO's finale of The Sopranos was previewed to Al Gore; hours before broadcast, producer Brad Grey agreed to slip the final episode into "a Halliburton-made steel case, containing a copy of the episode, delivered to the tarmac where Mr. Gore’s plane sat in Chicago." The former veep couldn't open the lockbox "until the plane was in the air [en route for Istanbul], when he was instructed to call Mr. Grey’s office for the numeric code. Mr. Gore sent Mr. Grey a photo of himself trying to pry open the case, which Mr. Grey now keeps on his desk," notes the New York Times. Gore and Current TV are profiled in Fast Company, while L. Brent Bozell III claims NBCU’s upcoming Live Earth concerts simulcast is "an enormous in-kind campaign contribution" for the non-candidate.

Lifetime settled its legal spat with DirecTV, which alleged the network had reneged on a deal to lure EchoStar customers. [Los Angeles Times]

MTV is developing a trio of teen comedy features for theatrical, DVD and on-air under MTV Enterprises EVP Jeff Yap, MTV programming head Tony DiSanto and indie producer Tony Krantz. [Variety]

Plum TV partnered with The Atlantic on Bookmark 2007, a literary festival in Nantucket that will be covered on its eight local channels plus VOD and online at AOL Video, Joost and on TiVoCast.

SCI FI held its first "digital press tour," inviting 26 bloggers (including SyFyPortal) onto the Vancouver sets of Battlestar Galactica, Stargate: Atlantis, Eureka and Flash Gordon. SCI FI head Bonnie Hammer, her execs and series talent shared insights (such as 1 in 4 BSG viewers watch via DVR) and anecdotes (Robin Williams is a huge BSG fan).

Speed's Fine Tuned series, hosted by Tyson Beckford and premiering July 12, signed Pioneer as a sponsor.

TNT introduces its "Wide Open Coverage" of NASCAR's Pepsi 400 Saturday night (July 7) with limited commercial breaks for nine advertisers. [Mediaweek]

TVG and HRTV's battle to own horse-racing television and track-related betting services profiled in the Washington Post, which concludes, "TVG needs to recognize that its cherished business model is an anachronism. As Internet wagering has become commonplace, many horseplayers rarely set foot in a racetrack."

USA and WWE are discussing expanding RAW to three hours this fall, according to wrestling blogs, while former wrestler Marc Mero is speaking out about what he calls widespread steroid abuse in the sport. Fayette County, GA, district attorney Scott Ballard told AP he won't file charges in the Benoit tragedy, although federal prosecutors may still press charges in an investigation that is looking into the role of steroids and Benoit's personal physician, Dr. Phil Astin. Update: Astin's attorney said the physician will turn himself in to federal prosecutors today to face charges in connection with their drug probe, reports AP.

AP counts down cable networks’ listmania.



• RATINGS

The BET Awards Tuesday (June 26) averaged 6.4 million viewers, down from last year's record-breaking 6.64 million viewers.

Bravo's Hey Paula back-to-back debut Thursday (June 28) averaged 619,000 viewers for the first half-hour episode and 596,000 in the second ep.

USA's Burn Notice averaged 4 million viewers for its commercial-free premiere Thursday, following the 3.1 million who tuned in for The Starter Wife's finale.

More on cable's summer ratings in USA Today.



• ONLINE

Amazon.com and Microsoft announced the 1,000 HD DVD Indies Project, a CustomFlix offering of independent features in the HD DVD format plus Sundance Channel's Big Ideas for a Small Planet series. (AP has more.) Amazon's Unbox video download service is offering Michael Eisner's Vuguru-produced Web series, Prom Queen, as an uncut 130-minute feature for $9.99 to own or $3.99 as a 30-day rental.

Google sparked a furor this weekend over this post related to Michael Moore's Sicko doc on its health ads blog. A libel-related suit in the UK that seeks to make search engines responsible for the content of the Internet is being closely watched.

QVC.com and other e-tailers’ use of Web video profiled in the New York Times.

Yahoo announced SmartAds, a new program to merge ad targeting and personalization, and branding with direct response advertising. [New York Times | Reuters] Yahoo's newly upped exec Susan Decker was profiled in yesterday's NYT.

Young Web surfers (from 9 to 17) respond better to marketers' branded widgets than banner ads, according to new research. [Wall Street Journal]



• PEOPLE

Bright House Networks named Charter Communications veteran Karen Broach president of Birmingham, AL, market; her previous title was VP/GM of Charter's Southern Wisconsin division. Bright House also is acquiring Suddenlink's 17,000-subscriber cable system in Bakersfield, CA, which expands its footprint in that market.

Comcast Entertainment Group named Kathy Mandato SVP, human resources; she was previously head of HR for DreamWorks Animation.

Comcast Networks Advertising Sales promoted Frank Ciancio to SVP, emerging networks, from SVP, ad sales, PBS KIDS Sprout. Ciancio is responsible for non-linear ad sales on FEARnet, ExerciseTV, PBS KIDS Sprout, E!, Style, G4 and Versus; and linear ad sales for Sprout. He reports to Comcast Network Ad Sales president Dave Cassaro.

Discovery Communications promoted Eric Phillips from SVP to EVP, domestic distribution, reporting to U.S. distribution president Bill Goodwyn.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Nominations are open for the CableFAX 100 through July 16 [click here] and for CableWorld's Top 50 Most Influential Minorities in Cable through July 13 [click here].

"Washington's biggest decision in 2007 will not be made in Congress or the White House but in the Supreme Court, in [the] case, Stoneridge v. Scientific-Atlanta," writes the Washington Post.

CNNMoney looks at the emerging model for wireless content: "buy once/play anywhere."

VCs are embracing tech start-ups — the National Venture Capital Association counts 27 public offerings of venture-backed technology companies in the last three months, more than any quarterly period since the Google-fueled buzz of late 2004 — "and before that, since the heady days of the late 1990s." [New York Times]

Cable operators are spurring competition in the universal edge QAM and modular CMTS biz with multi-vendor "shootouts," notes Screenplays.

C-COR completed the sale of its outside plant and installation business to Source Broadband Services.

A pair of SoCal cable salesmen accused of fraud scheme targeting low income residents [Press-Enterprise] while Omaha resident Ronald Abboud was ordered to pay Comcast $2.2 million for illegally selling descramblers, reports AP. Yhe 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals Friday upheld a ruling ordering Abboud's now defunct Multi-Vision Electronics to pay damages to Comcast.

Comcast and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) announced a $75,000 capacity-building grant to Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Inc., a Philadelphia nonprofit organization.

- Shirley Brady

• Click here for Friday's 360AM news briefing »







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