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June 15, 2007

360AM: Sopranos Fans Chase For Clues

HBO (kind of) answers fans' finale questions; FCC's Kevin Martin supports new a la carte bill; and more Friday news.

Cable360AM — News briefing for Friday, June 15 »

HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer all but endorses the "Tony was whacked" scenario, commenting that The Sopranos' reclusive creator David Chase told him there's a definite ending he wants fans to conclude for themselves. "While he won't say to me 100 percent what it all means, he says some people who've guessed have come closer than others," Schaffer told Reuters after speaking to Chase, who dodged this week's furor at his home in France. "There are definitely things there that he intended for people to pick up on." USA Today has more on the blank screen controversy, while the New York Daily News collared the cast (at a charity event in New York yesterday) on the ending — all, including James Gandolfini, professed to not have a clue. Meanwhile, the millions of fans who couldn't get the finale's last song out of their heads this week helped make Journey's Don't Stop Believin' the #1 rock track on iTunes and Journey's Greatest Hits CD a bestseller on Amazon.com, notes the Wall Street Journal. Click here for Stephen Colbert's take on how The Sopranos finale should have played out; and here for Seth Arenstein's review of HBO's post-Sopranos programming gameplan.



FCC chairman Kevin Martin threw his support behind the Family and Consumer Choice Act, an a la carte bill introduced yesterday by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NB). Martin praised the legislation (which is similar to a bill introduced by Lipinski last year) at a press conference on the Hill. The cable-baiting FCC chair blamed cable networks (and by extension, the cable operators that distribute them) for "some of the coarsest programming ever produced." Lipinski's revised bill: apply broadcast indecency standards to programming between 6am-10pm; give subscribers a "real family tier of programming" comprised of all expanded basic channels except TV-M or TV-14 fare between 6am-10pm; all subscribers to an "opt-out a la carte" option which would credit their cable bills for channels they choose to block. Lipinski's legislation was opposed by the cable industry's NCTA lobby, the National Congress of Black Women and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). In support, naturally: The Parents Television Council, whose director of corporate and government affairs Dan Isett said at yesterday's press conference, "Let's be very clear: what is being proposed today is the creation of a free market in cable programming which does not exist today." Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-W.VA) is planning to introduce a bill similarly aimed at protecting kids from indecency and violence on broadcast and cable TV but which isn't expected to include a la carte mandates. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing June 26 on the FCC's recent TV violence study, which supports Martin’s a la carte wish for cable operators. Martin also said yesterday that Comcast's waiver request on the integrated set-top box ban that goes into effect on July 1 will receive a full-Commission review before the deadline. [Reuters | CNET | Variety | Hollywood Reporter]



Sony next week unveils the Minisode Network, a broadband channel that will be exclusive to MySpace through Aug. 31 before being syndicated to AOL, Yahoo, YouTube and other web video sites. Honda is the sole sponsor, plugging the Honda Fit minicar in pre-roll spots before 4-6 minute condensed episodes of Charlie's Angels, The Facts of Life, Fantasy Island, Who's the Boss and other series from Sony's vault. Honda will have first right of refusal on sponsoring the network on other platforms, including mobile; a standalone site is also planned. Sony execs, who announced this venture in April, said they were inspired by YouTube hit, The Seven-Minute Sopranos. Sony Pictures Television president Steve Mosko tells the Wall Street Journal why this is preferable to launching a cable TV network: "Our content helped build a lot of cable channels. We're not going to let the same thing happen on the Web." The New York Times has more.



Comcast is joining Advance/Newhouse (owner of Bright House Networks) as a second-round investor in BroadLogic Network Technologies. Comcast Interactive Capital's and Advance/Newhouse's respective stakes in the $17 million round were not disclosed. BroadLogic's chips help cable operators reclaim bandwidth for "blazingly fast" broadband downloads, multi-room DVRs, going all-digital and adding HD content. Cisco, Time Warner and Intel are also investors in the Silicon Valley start-up. Comcast's Louis Toth and Advance/Newhouse's Nomi Bergman comment in BroadLogic's press release.



• PROGRAMMING

BET landed hip-hop star/actress Eve to host Rap City June 18-22.

The Big Ten Network lured Big 12 Conference commissioner Kevin Weiberg as VP of university planning and development. [USA Today]

Bravo yesterday officially rebranded to Bravo Media, with divisions encompassing talent management (with Pangea Management Group), publishing (such as Melcher Media's Top Chef cookbook), merchandising (with JTMG Inc.), Bravo to Go (including a Top Chef mobile game with LimeLife), Bravo Digital (to manage Web brands such as topchefonline.com and TelevisionWithoutPity.com), Bravo Experience (with the first Bravo Fan Fest planned for LA's Universal City Walk in Dec., with a Bravo camp, cruises and food tour in the works), plus radio and international. And lest we forget, Bravo TV, which president Lauren Zalaznick says remains "the core" of all these brand extensions.

Fox Reality starts casting July 13 for original series The Search for the Next Elvira, which premieres Oct. 13. It's also casting for Paradise Hotel 2.

HSN turns 30 next month with an on-air celebration that kicks off with the July 1st premiere of Emeril Lagasse, who's touting his cookware.

MTV premieres Dances From Tha Hood, a half-hour special, on June 17; like Comedy Central's Lil' Bush, it originated as a short-form mobile series.

NBC rebranded NBC Universal Television Studio to Universal Media Studios yesterday, or NUTS to UMS, while NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker was busy briefing analysts on the company's grand plan to rescue NBC and that he expects to book $4 billion in ad sales across the company's brands and platforms in this upfront. While sheepish about NBC's fourth-place rank, he hyped golden boy Ben Silverman's vision while pointing out that cable networks now comprise the majority (about 80%) of NBCU's earnings while broadcast TV only accounts for 5-10% of the bottom line. [Variety | Reuters] Ad Age reports that CBS and Fox, both in the thick of their upfront negotiations, are looking at mid-single digit CPM increases of 4-6%.

Nickelodeon and Sony signed a four-year deal to co-produce and co-finance TV series, movies and records starting with this fall's soundtrack to The Naked Brothers Band.

Outdoor Channel confirmed its upcoming half-million Comcast sub loss as it migrates to a sports tier in Chicago.

Showtime signed Jaime Murray, co-star of Hustle on AMC, to a recurring role on Dexter, which returns Sept. 30. [Hollywood Reporter]

Speed is now available in more than 71 million homes.

VH1 will televise the six-hour Concert for Diana on July 1 live from London's Wembley Stadium; VH1.com will stream the concert while MHD will handle the high-def telecast.



• RATINGS

Bravo's Top Chef 3 premiere Wednesday scored 2 million total viewers and 1.4 million adults 18-49.

Comedy Central's Lil' Bush premiere Wed. averaged 2.1 million total viewers and 1.2 million A18-49, making it the most watched series premiere on Comedy Central since 2004's Drawn Together debut.

FX's Rescue Me season premiere Wed. notched 2.8 million total viewers and 1.8 million adults 18-49; the 11pm encore drew nearly 1 million total viewers and 720,000 A18-49.



• ONLINE

Comcast opened a virtual 3-D themepark in Second Life. Comcastic Island offers speed-themed activities (a jet ski track, a race track, a jet pack course) to market its high-speed online and related products, plus a concert venue and Expo Center with cafe meeting spot. New attractions touting its digital cable and digital voice products will be added. Pix are posted here.

Discovery used VIDItalk technology for online previews of this year's SilverDocs film fest.

Disney's Internet Group is "working on YouTube-style user-generated content, MySpace-style personal Web pages and online social networking on Disney.com that is safe and family-oriented," according to TIME's profile of Disney's Bob Iger.

Joost is looking at embedding its Web video software in set-top boxes and CE devices. [The Register]

MTV tomorrow launches MySuperSweet16.com, a website that not only plugs Monday's premiere of the series' new season but also helps teens plan their own 16th birthday celebrations and participate in an online community around the show. [Hollywood Reporter]

RealNetworks' CEO Rob Glaser raised hackles at Digital Hollywood this week by unveiling RealPlayer's v. 11 ability to grab video from "most" Web sites and allow users to watch it later on their PC, transfer it to an iPod or burn it on a DVD. Glaser said his company had already discussed the new DRM- and ad-respecting software with CBS, NBC, Google, and the BBC, and that he "hoped to open a dialogue with other companies." [Variety] Click here for Glaser's demo of RealPlayer 11 at D5: All Things Digital.

YouTube helped rack up more than 1 million viewings for Knocked Up's deleted scenes and continue the buzz machine for the movie, notes the Wall Street Journal. The hottest clips on YouTube this week: the Simon Cowell-judged Britain's Got Talent series, where 6-year-old Connie Talbot and cellphone salesman Paul Potts blew away Cowell and his fellow judges; the winner, to be decided Sunday, will perform for the Queen.

A Boston University student is fighting the RIAA's piracy crackdown on 21 BU students with a counter-suit; details here.

Today is the last day to file comments to the FCC on net neutrality, notes Wired.



• IN OTHER NEWS

AT&T is being criticized in some quarters for working with Hollywood studios and content owners to bar pirated video and audio from its networks, including U-verse. [San Antonio Express-News]

Cablevision uses Father's Day to promote its 25 high-def networks to prospective HDTV buyers.

Qwest is giving away free phones (not wireless, but with cords) next week; the Idaho promotion is pegged to National Emergency Preparedness week. [Idaho Statesman]

Time Warner Cable may pull mid-Ohio NBC affiliate WTAP's signal at midnight due to a retransmission consent stand-off with station owner Gray Television. WTAP (which lists cable networks' per sub fees on its story on the dispute) was to be the most-watched NBC affiliate during last year's February sweeps.

Verizon's FiOS TV reached a multi-year retransmission consent agreement with Nexstar Broadcasting for analog and digital local broadcasts, including high-definition signals of Nexstar stations. 

Engadget looks at what's holding up CableCARDs v. 2.0 — the lack of standards allowing VOD and switched digital video content to be read by CableCARDs.

Mobile porn content — a hot potato that U.S. carriers are shying away from, Red Herring notes at Digital Hollywood.

Statewide video bills advanced in two states yesterday: An Illinois Senate panel approved AT&T-backed SB 678, which next goes to a full Senate hearing; and the Ohio House approved an amended version of also-AT&T-backed SB 117, which returns to the Senate for concurrence.

Weekend reading: BusinessWeek's Telecom: Back From the Dead cover. (Sub-hed: "All those YouTube videos and MySpace pages zipping back and forth on the Net have revived the telecom industry—and charged up the economy.") A related story, A Scramble for the Perfect Wave, looks at how the FCC's upcoming auction of wireless spectrum "is firing up players like Google and Intel."

In the market for a summer getaway? News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch's waterfront home on Long Island's tony Centre Island is available for a cool $14.8 million while Marcus Cable founder Jeff Marcus has listed his Palm Beach property for $5.85 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

- Shirley Brady

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







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