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360AM: Sopranos Whacks Viewers

Cable360AM — News briefing for Monday, June 11 »

The Sopranos‘ abrupt ending to last night’s finale on HBO left cable and satellite subscribers lunging for their remote controls, convinced their service had cut out or their DVR had stopped recording if they were watching on a time-shifted delay. (Entertainment Weekly guesses — tongue in cheek — "a million" panicked phone calls were made to cable operators last night.) The apparent non-ending left fans, bloggers and TV critics in the lurch, prompting comments like Melanie McFarland’s "It’s so cruel it’s brilliant" in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to Mark McGuire’s "David Chase is an evil genius" in the Albany Times-Union and Alessandra Stanley’s "Nothing happens. Credits. What?" in the New York Times. Deadline Hollywood Daily‘s Nikki Finke says frantic fans crashed HBO’s web server after the telecast, while Bloomberg checks in Bodog.com’s pay-out to gamblers who put money on the series’ ending.

Cast members, naturally, thought it was Chase’s final master stroke.  "I think it’s a great ending," Michael "Christafuh" Imperioli told AP. "It’s a good way to go out." Tony "Paulie" Sirico said, "We’re all heartbroken. We could go on forever. Me and Edie Falco want to die on the set." Steven "Silvio" Van Zandt added, "We’re not sure it’s ending," fueling rumors of a follow-up movie. "A couple of years from now, who knows?" Jamie-Lynn Sigler credited "the brilliance" of Chase for the open ending.

HBO’s memo prohibiting bars and restaurants from televising its series (such as Georgetown’s Nathans, where on-duty manager Stuart Wade last night told the Washington Post, "I’m at the mercy of my On Demand with Comcast") apparently didn’t make its way to the Satin Dolls club in New Jersey, the stand-in for the series’ Bada Bing club, where AP caught the strippers watching last night’s finale.

The final scene was tipped in a Bucks County Courier interview with Paolo Colandrea, a pizza shop owner and non-actor who plays the "mystery man" in the diner and says Chase shot three endings (including one in which Meadow is hit by a car) to confuse set-gawkers from revealing the ending. Colandrea tells AP he knows his character’s intent and what happens following the last shot (and hints at talk of a movie) but can’t discuss because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with the producers. Chase, of course, isn’t talking — he’s holed up at his house in France, no doubt loving every moment of this furor while HBO has achieved watercooler buzz that should boost DVD sales of the final season.

The shows, meanwhile, must go on: HBO tonight kicks off a new season of Big Love (last night’s premiere of John From Cincinnati was overshadowed by The Sopranos’ demise) and premieres The Fever, an original movie starring Vanessa Redgrave, on Wed.; while A&E enjoys its syndicated run of The Sopranos, which has boosted A&E from a top 20 cable network to a top 5 net and CPMs at a 60% premium over its other primetime series; "It is our most-coveted inventory on the network," Bob DeBitetto tells the Hollywood Reporter. Showtime is also enjoying a creative high as a premium programmer, with Meadowlands premiering next Sunday, Weeds back in August with David Duchovny’s Californication, and Dexter and Brotherhood returning in the fall. Lifetime‘s Army Wives held its own against The Sopranos finale juggernaut last night, scoring a 2.9 household rating and a 2.1 for Women 18-49. And in the world beyond TV, New York’s mafia grapples with Sopranos-esque dilemmas.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Cable operators that offer a music or FM radio service may require customers to subscribe to a basic level of cable TV service in order to receive it, the first district court of appeal in Sonoma County, CA, ruled Friday. The court ruled on a suit filed by some Comcast customers in Sonoma County who alleged unfair tying of radio to cable TV service and further claimed the company is discriminating against blind customers who have no need for Comcast’s video services. [Metropolitan News-Enterprise, Los Angeles]

Cablevision‘s network DVR case was supported Friday with amicus briefs from groups including USTelecom, the Wireless Association, the Internet Commerce Coalition and USTelecom, which represents AT&T and Verizon (reports NY Newsday); and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and the Center for Democracy and Technology (notes Ars Technica).

Fitch estimates that cable operators added more than 3.4 million revenue generating units in the first quarter, a 15.5% increase over 1Q06. The ratings service remains bullish on the cable sector through the rest of 2007.

Apple is negotiating with Hollywood studios to release new movies on iTunes for $2.99 and take a bite out of cable operators’ VOD profits, the Financial Times broke over the weekend. The Wall Street Journal has more.

NBC and Microsoft explored making a joint bid for Dow Jones but passed because "the economics didn’t make sense." [New York Times | Wall Street Journal] With Rupert Murdoch aiming at CNBC with his Fox Business Channel spin-off (with or without The Wall Street Journal), NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker tells the New York Times CNBC has been gearing up for the competition over the past two years and quips, "Let’s remember who broke the story about Dow Jones — it was CNBC. It was not The Wall Street Journal."

Clients of TNS Media Intelligence fear Nielsen is restricting access to its ratings data; the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ research committee plans to address the issue this week. [MediaPost]

Comcast is expanding its customer care operations by hiring more staff and implementing a "dynamic dispatch system" using GPS technology in its trucks and call centers, reports the Denver Post. The move follows DirecTV‘s opening last week of a national network operations hub and call center in Denver.

Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert announced today he is retiring; no timetable or successor was named. [Denver Post]

Discovery Communications appears to have settled on Planet Green as the name of its eco-channel launching next year, according to David Zaslav’s Q&A in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. Zaslav discusses taking non-core programming (American Hot Rod, Monster Garage) off Discovery Channel, decentralizing promotions, programming and marketing functions so channel heads such as Discovery‘s Jane Root and TLC‘s Angela Shapiro are responsible for everything pertaining to their brands, and how DCI needs to be more like ESPN. "We are going to grow by viewing ourselves as more of a content company and less as cable-channel company." (Click here for Cable360’s video Q&A with Zaslav.)

Cable news networks breaking into Paris Hilton’s jail drama and away from the Pentagon’s announcement about the White House’s refusal to renominate General Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was criticized by Brian Williams on Friday’s NBC Nightly News. [Variety]

A Los Angeles man was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $350,000 for participating in an international cable-piracy scheme; an accomplice in Hawaii will be sentenced Thursday. [Hollywood Reporter]



• PROGRAMMING

A&E premieres Street Thief, a documentary under its IndieFilms banner that debuted at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, on June 21.

BET premieres Black Men: The Truth, a one-hour news special, on June 17.

Bravo is working on "a technical solution" to DVR ad-skipping, using its Top Chef series as a guinea pig in the American Film Institute’s Digital Content Lab, while Cartoon Network developed a prototype (dubbed "MEGA Series") at AFI based on its Ben 10 series that allows games to run on a PC or PlayStation 3 or Wii broadband-enabled gaming platforms; it will launch by early ’08. [New York Times | Release]

Comedy Central premieres new series American Body Shop on July 8; the first episode will be available as a free download on iTunes and xBox on July 1. Comedy Central’s July 4th on-air marathon gets rolling early this year, on June 30.

ESPN acquired Cricinfo, billed as the world’s biggest cricket website; it’s owned by the Wisden Group, creator of the Hawk-Eye technology for sports broadcasts. ESPN also is teaming with EchoStar for interactive coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament starting Wed., featuring six different channels (including dedicated Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson feeds, "up close" and "best shots" channels, "tournament leader" and "The Vault" for historical footage) that Dish Network subscribers can watch full-screen or in a split-screen mosaic.

ExerciseTV‘s commissioned research from Frank N. Magid and Associates finds high engagement for pre-roll video ads. [Mediaweek]

Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly is "a better source of political information than ABC News," according to a JWT survey conducted on behalf of Adweek. FNC is offering a one-month free trial with Radio Shack of #FOXN, its live mobile channel that’s available to AT&T customers. CNN head Jon Klein knocked FNC’s coverage of the Iraq War to AP.

Fox Soccer Channel added mobile and Web rights to its English Premier League soccer U.S. rights deal. The league last month filed a copyright infringement suit against Google and YouTube.

Fuel TV is breaking new spots to tout its iTunes, wireless and Web extensions; the Fox Cable-owned action sports channel is doubling from 24 million to 50 million homes via a deal with Comcast last month. [Brandweek]

The History Channel named Chris Moseley its new SVP of marketing. The cable veteran and former Hallmark Channel chief marketer had been consulting for THC and will be responsible on a full-time basis for marketing on History’s linear and nonlinear brands; she reports directly to Nancy Dubuc, EVP/GM of the History Channel.

National Geographic Channel announced three summer specials — July 4: Exploding the Myths (June 29), Science of Summer (July 6) and Science of Speed Eating (July 8).

NBC Universal launches Sleuth on Demand June 21st with a handful of independent cable operators including Mediacom Communications, Buckeye CableSystem and Advanced Cable Communications. Sleuth’s series include The Rockford Files, on which (trivia alert!) Sopranos‘ creator David Chase was a writer/producer from 1976-80.

NFL Network is emailing Comcast subscribers to protest the channel’s being bumped to a $5/mo. sports tier or consider switching to DirecTV or Dish Network. NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky comments, "We have a really good relationship with [Comcast.] They understand the value of football. [Variety | Boston Herald]

Outdoor Channel expanded its programming agreement with PRADCO Outdoor Brands.

Oxygen is launching a Fight Girls Fantasy League online game tomorrow with Glam Media.

PBS affiliates in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and West Palm Beach will televise the inaugural game of the Israel Baseball League on July 1.

SECN, or the Southeastern Conference Entertainment Network, is planning to launch "in two to three years." [USA Today]

TLC‘s Property Night block on Saturday nights launches new episodes of Property Ladder and Flip That House on July 14.

The N‘s first college-based drama series, The Best Years, premieres June 29.

TV Land‘s Back to the Grind, which puts celebs in the jobs they played in character on TV, premieres July 18; TV Land Confidential returns with new episodes on July 11.

WWE is pursuing Fortune 500 advertisers to sign seven-figure deals for category-exclusive sponsorships of its TV shows, pay-per-view events and online offerings on a year-round basis. The effort is being led by Patricia Clark, VP for digital sales, and Ethan Green, VP for sponsorship and talent brands. [Release | Boston Herald]



• ONLINE

BroadRamp‘s e-video commerce technology, which allows viewers to click on broadband video to get more info on a car or other featured item, was unveiled at the nextMEDIA conference in Banff.

Music Choice is developing a broadband video search tool with Hillcrest Labs that will expand its online music video library from about 250 to more than 5,600 titles. Click here for details.

NBC‘s thelunchbreakshow.com (sponsored by Arby’s) offers clips from Saturday Night Live, The Office and other shows from Noon-2pm in each timezone. [AdAge]

YouTube co-founder Steve Chen said the online video giant’s content is going mobile and will be on cellphones next year. [AP] YouTube was sued by another music publisher, reports eWeek: Cal IV Entertainment, which claims 60 of its country music titles (including works by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill) are illegally posted on YouTube.

Four Eyed Monsters (which premiered in Sundance Channel‘s Second Life virtual screening room) is the first feature-length film on YouTube; it’s available through June 15.



• TECHNOLOGY

* SCTE’s Cable-Tec Expo starts June 19 — click here for Communication Technology‘s Cable-Tec microsite, including blogs and news from Orlando.

BrightLine announced a two-way interactive television system aimed at advertisers.

C-COR will showcase its next generation EdgeQAM device ahead of Cable-Tec Expo.

CSG Systems acquired ComTec, a privately-held provider of account statement processing services, for $23.5 million in cash. The transaction is expected to close next month.

Nokia counter-sued Qualcomm today related to its MediaFLO and BREW businesses; Reuters notes the long background to their legal feud.

Pace Micro Technology will demo its switched digital video (SDV), channel bonding and DCAS (downloadable conditional access) technologies at Cable-Tec Expo.

RGB Networks will demo its Dynamic Bandwidth Manager, which aims to help cable operators deliver 50% more VOD programming, at Cable-Tec Expo.

Terayon received early termination of the Hart-Scott-Rodino waiting period in its merger with Motorola.

Shirley Brady

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

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