360AM: The Cable Show Kicks Off

Cable360AM — Morning news briefing from The Cable Show in Las Vegas >>
The 2007 FAXIE AwardsCableFAX editors’ annual nod to cable’s movers and shakers of the past 12 months—will be presented tonight at a FAXIES awards party at NCTA‘s The Cable Show in Las Vegas. Click here for a list of this year’s winners.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin addressed Cable Show attendees (brave man) today. Martin joked that he didn’t want to start a riot on the first day of the show, acknowledging that he’s not particularly welcome in cable circles these days. While he continued to bang the drum for digital must carry and a la carte, he dropped parts of his prepared remarks—posted on the FCC’s website—that went into more detail on why he’s pushing cable to adopt that model, including citing operators in Canada and Hong Kong. More here.

Time Warner Cable president and CEO Glenn Britt announced on the following panel a companion service to its Start Over network DVR, Look Back and Quick Clips video-shifting products: Catch Up, which allows subscribers to access recent episodes of first-run TV series using a pull-down menu to get up to date with a favorite show. The service—which will disable ad-skipping—is being pitched to programmers as a test, and no launch date or market for a trial was announced. Britt noted that Start Over and DVR are proving to be complementary: Time Warner Cable subs with DVRs typically watch recorded programming before tuning in to real-time TV, and then use Start Over to catch up with programming-in-progress from the beginning.

On the same panel, Comcast COO Steve Burke also championed day-and-date distribution of theatrical movies on DVD and VOD, as the company’s trials are not cannibalizing theater owners’ box office receipts or DVD sales. "It’s additive," he said, "and does not hurt the DVD business." He described a scenario where Comcast could have offered Spider-Man 3 on pay-per-view on its opening theatrical weekend "for $30 or $40 or $50," an idea Comcast has been pitching to studios and which Burke says is gaining traction. He expects day-and-date to be ubiquitous in two years, just as broadcast TV series from NBC and CBS (and "soon" ABC, he noted) joined Comcast’s VOD service in the past year. Reuters has more.

Insight Communications‘ VP of programming, Melani Griffith, discussed the company’s on demand advertising trial outside Cincinnatti on a later panel this afternoon. Dubbed Engage, it places an advertiser’s logo next to a related channel on the VOD menu (such as promoting Titleist next to the Golf Channel) so digital cable customers can click through for a longform ad. Griffith said Engage has had an "18% take rate, better than TiVo" and later added she’s eager for technology, including the interactive program guide, to catch up with targeted advertising.

Comcast this morning unveiled one of Brian Roberts’ long-held dreams: unified messaging across its product lines. Going beyond caller ID on TV, Comcast’s new SmartZone Communications Center, a Web-based app on Comcast.net, not only sends and receives email messages but allows Comcast’s high-speed Internet customers to check voicemail if they are Comcast Voice phone subscribers. Other features include instant messaging (both text and video IM); a smart address book powered by Plaxo; "visual voice mail," allowing Comcast.net subs to forward voicemail messages to anyone; managing Comcast Voice features such as call forwarding, do not disturb and voicemail playback options; and customizing SmartZone with weather, news and video clips via Comcast’s Web video player, The Fan. SmartZone, which was led by SVP of product development Greg Butz, also features Bizanga‘s email anti-abuse system, Cloudmark‘s anti-spam and anti-phishing tools and Trend Micro‘s anti-virus software. HP and Zimbra also helped develop the new messaging center. Catherine Avgiris, SVP/GM of Comcast Voice services, says SmartZone will evolve with other functions, including remote DVR scheduling. She’s also interested in adding wireless voice communications from Comcast’s Sprint JV-enabled Pivot mobile phone service to SmartZone. [Release]

Today is the last day for video providers to sign up for MLB‘s Extra Innings out-of-market games package (or not be able to offer it until 2013). Cablevision announced its deal Friday, while Charter Communications told CableFAX Daily that it also signed up for the package (which is tied to carriage of the Major League Baseball Channel in 2009). Charter will offer MLBEI to its subscribers starting tomorrow.

Convention attendees awoke to shocking news (if they hadn’t already heard): HBO chairman Chris Albrecht was arrested early Sunday morning by Las Vegas police. Seems the HBO topper was arguing with his girlfriend outside the MGM Grand hotel following the broadcast of the championship boxing match in which Floyd Mayweather Jr. defeated Oscar De La Hoya—an event that is expected to be the biggest pay-per-view payday in HBO and cable history. Albrecht was observed by police officers, who booked him into the Clark County Detention Center and charged him with alleged misdemeanor battery-domestic assault after witnessing what LVPD described as a "physical confrontation" between Albrecht and his girlfriend shortly after 3am PT. [Reuters]

And if that wasn’t enough to startle convention-goers: a bomb went off next door to the Mandalay Bay convention center, where The Cable Show is being held and many attendees are staying, early this morning. One man was killed and another injured when an explosive left on top of a car was detonated in the parking lot of The Luxor hotel and casino. [AP]




• COMPETITION

AT&T‘s U-verse is over budget by up to $1.4 billion, reports the Wall Street Journal. The company now budgets $6.5 billion (from 2004-08) to roll out U-verse, and blames increased costs (which it says won’t affect cap ex) on the expense of adding more servers than anticipated so it can increase HD channels. AT&T also said its paying a premium to equipment vendors to speed up delivery. A company spokesperson says the telco is downgrading (from 19 million to 18 million) the number of U-verse subscribers it’s projecting for the 13 states formerly served by SBC. U-verse now counts 20,000 subscribers and passes 2.8 million homes. Adding fuel to the rumors that it’s eyeing a satellite TV acquisition to get it out of the U-verse hole, AT&T is offering a year of free Dish Network service to new subs—at least to this guy.

Verizon used a company blog to offer up more details on its FiOS services, including an expectation of 3-4 million FiOS TV customers by 2010, representing a market penetration of 25%-30%. It also projects 7 million FiOS Internet subs by the same year, a 35%-40% market penetration rate. As of Mar 31, Verizon’s fiber optic network passed 6.8 million homes and businesses, and annual additions of 3 million premises are expected through ’10. Speed increases across the network are anticipated as Verizon begins deploying advanced electronics this year.

EchoStar announced a flurry of news Friday, announcing MobileDISH, an in-car satellite TV service and new channels on Dish Network including Cinemax HD, 2 regional sports nets owned by Fox (Sun Sports and SportSouth) and Germany’s Kino Plus on its international channel line-up.

Apple‘s iPhone rumored to hit AT&T/Cingular dealers on June 15.



• RESEARCH

CSG Systems surveyed U.S. business decision-makers and found 40% plan to add VoIP and advanced video services in the next 24 months. Commercial customers of cable operators were more satisfied with their service than telco commercial service customers, while price and perceived difficulty in switching providers are the main barriers for potential new business customers. [Release]

Discovery Networks U.S. Hispanic Group released a study on the key issues facing U.S. Latinos. [Release]

JupiterResearch projects VoIP telephony will exceed 25 million US households by 2012. [Release]

Leichtman Research Group released its Q1 2007 broadband analysis. LRG estimates the 19 largest cable and telephone providers in the U.S. (about 94% of the market) acquired more than 2.9 million net additional high-speed Internet subs in the first quarter. Telcos added more broadband subs than cable operators in the last 10 quarters, although the gap narrowed in Q1; more details here.

Media Matters analyzed CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC over three weeks for on-air diversity and found all three lacking on multicultural and gender diversity. [Release | Study]

Microsoft released a global research study indicating more than 60% of consumers in seven countries would pay more and switch TV service providers to get the features and content they want. [Release]



• PROGRAMMING

The Comcast Media Center added five HDTV channels on its HITS Quantum all-digital channel lineup: A&E HD, HGTV HD, Food Network HD, Starz HD and Universal HD. CMC also signed transport agreements for offering standard definition feeds of AMC and Fox News Channel. [Release]

Rentrak‘s OnDemand Essentials signed more programmers for its VOD tracking service: BET Networks, BlueHighways TV, Discovery Networks, Fox Cable Networks, Lifetime Entertainment Services and Shalom TV. [Release]

(Click here for more programming news from The Cable Show)



• TECHNOLOGY

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts on Tuesday will demonstrate DOCSIS 3.0 download speeds of 100 to 150 Mbps at the convention [Reuters]. The CableLabs-developed technology can hit speeds 25 times faster than average high-speed Internet connections, and highlights one of the hot topics at this week’s NCTA convention: bandwidth management. Motorola, Vyyo and StarHub this morning announced the successful testing of DOCSIS 3.0 services with speeds exceeding 145 Mbps. [Release]

Sprint-Nextel signed Millennium Digital Media and Baja Broadband for commercial VoIP phone service for the small commercial market, joining Time Warner Cable and Suddenlink Communications. [Release]

(Click here for more tech news from The Cable Show)



• ONLINE / DIGITAL MEDIA

ABC Family is slated to unwrap Virtual Rush on May 14; the online social network promotes its July frat life series, Greek.

Break.com is developing an original online horror film with Evolution Entertainment‘s Twisted Pictures division. The Internet Killer will be released this summer as 30 webisodes. [Release] Comcast, Sony and Lionsgate’s FEARnet also is developing original horror projects for the Web, VOD and mobile distribution.

Fandango, now owned by Comcast, announced an online summer travel guide. [Release]

Joost signed Warner Bros. Television Group; WBTV is programming branded Joost channels featuring science fiction programming and celebrities before they were famous. [Release]

Liberty Media acquired Backcountry.com and said it would integrate the network of outdoor lifestyle websites with its e-commerce and television properties. [Release]

Lime.com announced a green lifestyle Web series, Ms. Rabble, voiced by Victoria Jackson. [Release]

MTVN cut integrated ad deals with Nissan and HP for ShockWave.com and AddictingGames.com. Dave Williams was promoted to SVP of both brands. [Release]

MySpace launched in Canada with an English and French-language portal. [Release] MySpace is close to acquiring Photobucket.com, according to the Financial Times. The deal—which PaidContent estimates at $250 million—almost fell apart after MySpace allowed users to insert ad-supported slideshows, a no-no in the photo-sharing site’s "ethos of personal and social media." Fox Cable Network’s EVP/GM of distribution, Mike Hopkins, commented on a panel today that MySpace users are wary of anything corporate, which makes monetizing the site a challenge for News Corp.

NBC Universal backed Viacom‘s suit against Google‘s YouTube in a "friend of the court" brief filed Friday, reports Reuters. YouTube was slapped with 2 more copyright infringement suits on Friday, filed in New York on behalf of the English Premier League soccer league and Bourne Co., an indie music publisher. [AP]

NeuLion‘s IslandersTV IPTV channel passed 10,000 hockey-loving subs; NeuLion is part-owned by Cablevision chairman Chuck Dolan. [Release]



• MOVERS & SHAKERS

Arbitron named George Brady to the new position of senior manager, cable and broadcast television. [Release]

The Big Ten Network named Michael Feller, VP, programming; Erin Harvego, VP, marketing; and Roy Seinfeld, VP, ad sales.

Disney Channel named Fonda Snyder, formerly of Cookie Jar Entertainment, its new VP, original movies.

E! named Damla Dogan as VP, original programming and series development.

G4 promoted Josh Krane to SVP, interactive and new media.

Gospel Music Channel upped Genia Edelman to SVP, national accounts.

ImaginAsian named Alexander Kim as general counsel and Sung Lee as VP, business development.

TV One promoted Antoinette Brown-Leon to regional VP, West, and Rosalyn Doaks to regional VP, Southeast.

Warner Music Group hired Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager, both MTV vets, to head up a new original programming unit dubbed "Den of Thieves." [Release]



• IN OTHER NEWS

Coming up: Disney reports earnings tomorrow, while the Senate Commerce committee holds a hearing on media violence on Thursday, May 17.

Cable Positive will honor Playboy CEO Christie Hefner at its Pop Awards, June 12 in New York. On National HIV Testing Day (June 27), the organization will premiere the third installment in its documentary series, Positive Voices, with a focus on women, media and HIV/AIDS. Cable Show attendees can pick up a free "Join the Fight" wristband (with embedded flash drive) at CP’s booth (5276) at the Show.

Carl Icahn lost his bid to gain a seat on Motorola‘s board at the company’s shareholder meeting; he plans to retain his 2.9% stake in the company. [AP]

Mixed reports on whether Microsoft is still pursuing Yahoo: the Wall Street Journal says talks have cooled, while the New York Post reports the companies are still engaged in "wide-ranging" talks that "include everything from outright acquisition to the purchase of an equity stake in a joint venture setup."

WSJ also projects the broadcast TV upfront, which starts next week, as being "bleak" thanks to DVRs and the siren song of online advertising. Buyers tell the Journal this year’s upfront will be flat to down from last year’s &8.5 billion to $ 9 billion haul. Its predictions: ABC will be "flat to slightly up," CBS "flat," NBC "flat to down," Fox "flat to slightly up," the CW "flat."

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was the top recipient of campaign funds from AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner and Comcast—whose employees donated $30,600 including $4,600 each from Brian Roberts and his father, company founder Ralph Roberts—through the first quarter of 2007. Verizon chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg gave $2,300 to Clinton while Verizon employees gave her campaign $20,700 in total. [AP]

Sonopia, an MVNO mobile phone service founded by an ex-Microsofter, is launching a handful of branded cellphones with related content for organizations including the National Wildlife Federation and a yoga enthusiasts’ phone (that’s begging for personalized mantra ring-tones) next month. "Sonopia helps each organization design custom phones based on existing handset models [and] helps the groups lease network access from Verizon Wireless … Sonopia also manages monthly billing and customer service" for the micro-niche providers, who receive only 3-8% of the revenue from monthly subscriptions, reports the WSJ.

Shirley Brady

• Click here for 360AM news briefing for Friday, May 4 >>

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