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August 30, 2007

360AM: DirecTV's Big Ten, HD and VOD Game Plan; E!'s $40M Deal

DirecTV aims to flood the cable zone this fall; E!'s biggest programming deal ever; and more Thursday news.

Cable360AM — News briefing for Thursday, August 30 »

DirecTV will add 20-40 new HD channels in mid-September (likely Sept. 16) as part of its 100 HD Channels by year-end promise (and 70 HD nets by Oct. 1 promise), DirecTV's EVP of entertainment Eric Shanks tells TV Predictions. Shanks also offers more details on DirecTV on Demand's beta test in about 1,000 homes: it's slated to launch in early fourth quarter with about 10-20% HD programming and roughly 15% paid content, with the rest of its 2,000-3,000 hours of programming free.

DirecTV also announced an extensive local marketing campaign to tout its carriage of the Big Ten Network, which goes live today (and will launch in HD on DirecTV "within weeks.") DirecTV is promoting BTN with mobile billboards, alumni magazines (and contributions) and tray-liners in stadiums in addition to extensive media spots. It's also adding overflow channels this Saturday so Big Ten fans can catch all six games (four in the afternoon, two in primetime). The Cincinnati Enquirer this morning published a score-card of who's carrying BTN as of today — besides DirecTV, AT&T's U-verse, Insight Communications (as of yesterday) and smaller cable operators such as Buckeye CableSystem in Ohio — and how many millions of fans are being shut out because Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cox, WOW (and DirecTV rival Dish Network) aren't carrying BTN today.

E! has paid almost $40 million, signing the biggest programming deal its 17-year history, to acquire the network premiere rights to a slate of movies that includes Knocked Up — in which Katherine Heigl plays an E! producer and the network is featured prominently — Evan Almighty and Man of the Year. The channel's $40 million NBC Universal movie package includes later windows on six other movies: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Miami Vice, Because I Said So, Pride & Prejudice, Georgia Rule and the direct-to-DVD sequel, Bring It On: All or Nothing. [Variety]

TiVo announced as part of its 2nd quarter earnings report yesterday it's expanding its customized DVRs for Comcast to Scientific-Atlanta set-top boxes, which the MSO has agreed to fund. The DVR-maker took an $11.2 million write-down in July for excess inventory of standard definition DVRs as it underestimated consumer HD demand. USA Today notes that TiVo's HD DVRs that use CableCards "got off to a slow start last year" but is ramping up. 

Cox Communications expands its Tech Solutions unit (similar to Best Buy's Geek Squad, only driving hybrid Honda Fit cars) to Phoenix and Tucson on Tuesday. Now available to Cox customers in San Diego, Orange County and Rhode Island, Cox Arizona has hired five on-call technicians (including Spanish-speaking techs) to handle everything from HDTV and computer problems to digital cameras and iPhones. [Arizona Central]

OpenTV's Swiss owners (since January) have shaken up top management at the advanced TV tech company. The Kudelski Group replaced OpenTV president and CEO Alan Guggenheim with acting CEO Ben Bennett, who steps up from SVP, customer operations, and added Kudelski's Mauro Saladini to OpenTV's board of directors.



• LAUNCHES

Comcast has launched a free VOD channel for Notre Dame featuring the Fighting Irish football team along with all 26 varsity teams under its "Get Local" VOD menu in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.

Comcast launched Portugal's TV Global Internacional in northern New Jersey yesterday.

Grande Communications signed a deal to launch NFL Network on digital cable this fall, including eight live NFL games in primetime.

Time Warner Cable's New York/New Jersey system today adds new channels including Spanish-language network CaribeVision, ESPNU, Russia Today and (in NJ, Hudson Valley and Mount Vernon) Jewelry TV on digital; two free VOD channels, Entertainment on Demand (featuring programming from BET, Comedy Central, Fox Reality, MTV, The N and VH1) and Kids Preschool on Demand (with titles from BBC Kids, Noggin and Sprout); Mandarin-language programmers ETTV News, ET NY and Phoenix TV as premium channels; and in Staten Island, the HD versions of Food Network and HGTV.

Time Warner Cable's Southern California division yesterday added Dodgers on Demand en Espanol, a Spanish-language version of its popular VOD channel introduced last year in partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers.



• PROGRAMMING

CNN is ending its deal to use Reuters news feeds in a bid to cut costs, reports Bloomberg.

ESPN's broadband video service for cable high-speed Internet and DSL subscribers, ESPN360, is relaunching to stream only live events, with more than 2,000 events signed up for its first year of relaunch. ESPN officials also said the programmer may bid on Olympics broadcasting rights starting with the 2014 Winter Games, while Monday Night Football will tone down its celeb chatter and be "more selective" about who appears on the show this season. [Variety | Hollywood Reporter]

HDNet owner Mark Cuban will compete in the new season of ABC's Dancing With the Stars, which premieres Sept. 24. [AP]

MTV's popular Two-A-Days series is moving to ESPN this fall with a new title (Varsity Inc.) and a shift to a Louisiana high school. Slated for late November, it will focus on the teen football players' moves on the field (instead of off, as MTV's two seasons highlighted), reports the New York Post.

Oxygen is shooting Five Hot Blondes, a reality pilot from Magical Elves, producers of Bravo's Top Chef and Project Runway. A sexier version of a similar series that ran on TLC called Taking Care of Business, the blondes in question make over a different struggling business each episode. [VC Reporter]

TEENick will try to cut in on Disney Channel's High School Musical-filled dance-card with special dance-themed episodes of iCarly, Drake & Josh and Zoey 101 on Sept. 16. Its other fall season premieres that day include Just Jordan and Unfabulous.



• ONLINE

ABC Family is testing the chat-and-view moderated chat feature on Lycos with Kyle XY live interactive chats starting with tonight's episode at 6pm ET, with four additional chats scheduled through Sept. 4.

Comcast introduced its PowerBoost (to 2 Mbps) high-speed Internet service in Sacramento.

Google will double its ad inventory for its TV trial program next month. About 50 clients have signed up (for a $10,000 minimum spend) to EchoStar and Astound Cable, its charter affiliates participating in the test. [Clickz]

WWE's Biggest Fan promotion with Comcast's Ziddio.com — which anointed uber-fan Mike Timpson the winner on Friday — won high praise from Comcast Interactive Media SVP Elizabeth Schimel, who called it "one of the most successful promotions we have done to date."

YouTube finalized a deal with British music publishers yesterday. The Web video giant, which has been fighting charges it flouts copyright-holders, agreed to pay a flat fee to license music from musicians covered by the MCPS-PRS Alliance in the UK. [Reuters]



• WIRELESS

Verizon's V CAST Mobile TV service will stream more than 100 live college football games, including 20 bowl games, this season.

The city of Chicago cancelled its planned city-wide Wi-Fi network in favor of participating in Sprint's new WiMax wireless network rollout. The news follows EarthLink's layoffs and scaling back of its municipal Wi-Fi plans this week.

A study released by the American Consumer Institute last week concluded that the U.S. wireless market "offers more choice and is less concentrated than any Western country's wireless market." Adds the Wall Street Journal about the study: "U.S. consumers have access to more wireless operators and more devices than consumers anywhere else in the the world. And the top three wireless providers in the U.S. comprise a smaller share of the market than their counterparts in Europe and Asia."

Click here for Wednesday's 360AM news briefing »

Got a tip? Contact Shirley Brady at sbrady@accessintel.com







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