360AM — Morning news briefing for Tuesday, Mar. 27 (Updated: 8pm ET)

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing today on MLB‘s seven-year, $700 million deal with DirecTV didn’t bring Extra Innings’ spurned incumbents any closer to a deal before Sunday’s season opener. Sen. John Kerry, who chaired the hearing, criticized the deal in a conference call yesterday [Baltimore Sun | Chicago Tribune | AP]. But today, as he attempted to mediate the dispute, Kerry didn’t have much luck convincing Baseball COO Bob DuPuy to play fair with cable or EchoStar. Click here for more.

The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau announced details of its first merged conference with NCTA. The CAB at the Cable Show schedule includes the annual presidents’ panel (May 8) with Joan Gillman, pres., Time Warner Cable Media Sales; Charlie Thurston, pres., Comcast Spotlight; Sean Bratches, EVP Sales & Marketing, ESPN; and Greg D’Alba, CNN‘s COO of Sales and Marketing. Anheuser Busch pres./CEO August Busch IV delivers the keynote address on May 9, and will also take part in a panel featuring Discovery Communications pres./CEO David Zaslav, Scripps Networks pres. John Lansing, Oxygen pres/COO Lisa Gersh and Time Warner Cable COO Landel Hobbs. CAB pres./CEO Sean Cunningham will present an update on its Which Screen? research released in Oct. Other panels will look at political advertising, advanced advertising and a leadership seminar. [Release]

Hallmark Channel held its first Henry Schleiff-hosted upfront press event this morning in New York at Schleiff’s Manhattan home away from home, Michael’s restaurant. Touted at the sneak peek for press this morning: 25 original movies through year-end, including A Stranger’s Heart (starring Samantha Mathis; May 5), Pandemic (Tiffani Thiessen, Faye Dunaway and Eric Roberts; May 26), Marco Polo (Brian Dennehy; June 2), Avenging Angel (Kevin Sorbo; July 7), Claire (Valerie Bertinelli; Aug. 4) and Son of the Dragon (David Carradine and Rupert Graves; Sept. 1). Phantom of the Opera makes its basic cable debut on Hallmark on June 30. A new public affairs initiative, Watch With Me, will promote family co-viewing backed up by results of research that Hallmark commissioned from Yankelovich indicating that violent and/or racy TV hinders family TV viewing. A companion public affairs campaign, Read With Me, will kick off (in tandem with Watch With Me) in Washington, D.C. in May. As previously announced, the network (on track for 80 million homes next month) is getting an on-air makeover and branding campaign with a new tagline, "Make Yourself at Home."

CTIA Wireless kicks off today in Orlando. Show announcements include Motorola investing in GoTV Networks and updating its WiMAX trials and deployments. ESPN launches ESPN Mobile TV on Verizon’s V CAST, marking its  24/7 wireless debut. Yahoo is now the ad network partner for MobiTV‘s mobile video channels [Release]; Yahoo’s other new mobile ad affiliates including Go2, a mobile yellow pages service [Reuters | New York Times | Release]. Yahoo also opens its mobile oneSearch to other companies [Release]. MTV Mobile hosts a party with Motricity at CTIA tonight, featuring Three 6 Mafia and DJ Grandmaster Flash.

The Orange County Register offers a peek at Cox Communications‘ interactive mosaic zone channels—starting with Kids, Sports and News zones that offer live glimpses of six channels at a time with more choices on a left-hand menu. Reporter Tamara Chuang posted a YouTube video of her visit to Cox O.C., including a demo of other upcoming services: Motorola’s Follow Me TV multi-room DVR, a seven-day weather forecast incorporated into Passport’s on-screen guide, and its cellphone service, yesterday announced as Pivot. Cox also offers Zone mosaic channels in Omaha and New Orleans.

Must-read profile on AT&T‘s Ed Whitacre in today’s New York Times. Among other claims, he "asserts that as technology improves, AT&T will be able to increase its speeds from 25 megabits without facing the expense of laying fiber to every household." [NYT]

Univision‘s acquisition by a consortium including Haim Saban was approved by the FCC. The acquisition is expected to close by Apr. 1. [Release]

• PROGRAMMING

ABC Family‘s original movie on Sunday night—Bring It On: All or Nothing, starring Heroes star Hayden Panettiere—became its top-rated movie ever in total viewers (4.84 million) and averaged a 1.4HH rating.

Alpha Mom TV, on Comcast and Cox VOD, is poised to turn a profit this year. [USA Today]

Comcast Detroit adds local Univision affiliate. [Detroit News]

Discovery‘s Sunday night three-hour premiere of Planet Earth was a ratings bonanza, averaging a 2.1HH rating in P18-49 and 5.7 million viewers. In persons 2+, Discovery cumed 12 million viewers and averaged a 3.6HH rating. Set-top data from TNS Media Research indicates that Discovery HD Theater’s simulcast gave a 15% boost (or an additional 500,000 viewers) to the premiere.

Discovery Kids will premiere Bindi: The Jungle Girl, a series starring the late Steve Irwin’s daughter Bindi with  appearances from her father, on June 9. It was one of his last projects. The night before, Animal Planet will air a related special, My Daddy the Croc Hunter. [Release]

ESPN signed LeBron James to co-host the ESPY Awards with Jimmy Kimmel; the ESPYs tape July 11 and air July 15 [AP].

EXPN, ESPN’s action sports site, hopes to add content from sports agent Casey Wasserman’s planned SportNet  (not to be confused with the NY Mets’ SportsNet) channel. Separately, Wasserman is "said to be talking to cable giant Comcast about video-on-demand clips such as motocross races with dirt-bike star Nate Adams. He also intends to fill SportNet with coverage of popular amateur events including pre-Olympic swimming, track and field, and gymnastics." [BusinessWeek]

Fox Sports gets David Hill on a full-time basis as chairman and CEO; he had been cross-appointed to DirecTV as president of entertainment.

GLAAD honored Bravo‘s Project Runway, preparing for its final season, at its beleaguered Media Awards last night in New York. [Reuters]

HBO‘s Rome series finale on Sunday night averaged 2.4 million viewers. HBO and the BBC are co-producing Einstein and Eddington, a film about Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. [Hollywood Reporter]

The History Channel greenlights five primetime series: Ice Road Truckers (dubbed “a race against time on a thin sheet of ice”); The Universe (an unlimited series?); Tougher in Alaska (a real-life Northern Exposure); Human Weapon (a weekly search for different martial arts masters); and Jurassic Fight Club (a dino throw-down). [Release]

MTV premieres its eighth and final season of Punk’d on Apr. 7 by airing all eight episodes in a marathon that day. Creator Ashton Kutcher will host a special Punk’d Awards on June 5. [Hollywood Reporter]

Music Choice exceeded 700 million orders for its free VOD music service, thanks to a record month (41 million orders in Feb.) and a record-breaking week: 11 million orders for the week ending Mar. 18.

mun2 spots criticized by Hispanic market research firm. [Release]

NBC brings Heroes to cellphones [Release]. Parent NBCU taps Signiant for digital media distribution [Release] and Crisp Wireless for mobile site support [Release].

SCI FI‘s season finale of Battlestar Galactica on Sunday night averaged 1.5 million viewers.

Showtime‘s season finale of The L Word on Sunday night averaged 485,000 viewers.

TVN announced Caught on Demand, its seventh VOD channel. The short videos—which are being sourced from different providers—will be grouped into four channels: Dumbest Criminals, Amazing Crashes, Unbelievable Chases and Crash/Slash. [Release]

VH1‘s Home Purchasing Club, its original Web series, returns Apr. 16. [Release]

• IN OTHER NEWS

EchoStar to FCC: reject Liberty-DirecTV deal. [Rocky Mountain News]

Los Angeles Times takes Cablevision‘s side in its network DVR battle in an op-ed today. The Wall Street Journal and HDNet‘s Mark Cuban are also supporting Cablevision, which still may appeal last week’s court decision thwarting its RS-DVR plan.

NBCU Cable named Catherine Dunleavy EVP and CFO; she had been SVP and CFO of USA Network and SCI FI.

Service Electric Cablevision employs EGT for digital simulcast and digital program insertion. [Release]

TiVo enables video-sharing with One True Media. [Release]

Google is using MIT-incubated Meraki, a startup that helps spread free wireless access. [Fortune]

Wall Street Journal profiles Netflix and its naysayers. [WSJ free article]

Vibe Solutions Group launches Pyro.tv, a personalized Web video portal. [Release]

Time Warner Cable, Advance/Newhouse, Cox and others talk FMC: fixed mobile convergence. [Release]

Embattled Smithsonian head Lawrence Small resigns; his troubled tenure included criticism over Showtime deal. [Washington Post | New York Times]

Forget "silo" — the preferred biz-speak term is now "bucket." [WSJ]

Shirley Brady

• Click here for 360AM news briefing for Monday, Mar. 26 >>

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