360AM — News briefing for Tuesday, Mar. 20

• TOP STORIES

Cox Communications isn’t holding its breath for an In Demand-brokered deal that would bring MLB‘s Extra Innings package to cable before baseball’s Apr. 1 regular season begins. Cox San Diego is offering its 3,000 subscribers who purchased the Extra Innings package last year a 100% rebate if they sign up for the package on MLB.TV instead. "You can’t go wrong with free," comments Bill Geppert, VP/GM of Cox San Diego. "Apparently there are still discussions going on [between MLB and In Demand]. We want to make sure our customers are assured availability regardless of the outcome of that." Marc Farrar, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable in San Diego, said TWC was "moving forward under the assumption [Extra Innings] is not going to be available to us" and that In Demand won’t match MLB’s deal with DirecTV announced Mar. 8. [San Diego Union-Tribune]

Time Warner Cable‘s ouster of Los Angeles division head Roger Keating isn’t cutting it with L.A. officials. Dean Hansell, president of the mayor’s Board of Information Technology Commissioners, yesterday gave TWC an Apr. 13 deadline to address "the deplorable results" of its integration of former Adelphia and Comcast systems in that market. Hansell wrote in a letter to TWC that it had gone from being a "model franchise operator" to "providing a level of service that is unacceptable." Company spokeswoman Patti Rockenwagner responded that Time Warner Cable was "committed to making improvements in our acquired properties and returning to having the best customer service record in the city," including moving Stephen Pagano, who ran TWC’s Albany, N.Y., operations, to L.A. "to work with local management to expedite those improvements" and assigning EVP Barry Rosenblum to oversee Pagano. Hansell questioned Rosenblum’s ability to manage the LA division while running the company’s Northeast division. The board can recommend a series of administrative sanctions or fines, but Hansell said he expected the company to comply with his request. [Los Angeles Times] Blogger/ author Cory Doctorow yesterday described his frustration as a TWC-LA sub.

The government’s NTIA coupon program to help consumers purchase converters and upgrade to digital TV is coming under attack. Consumers Union is among its critics, writes Consumer Reports‘ blog: "The shift has been applauded by consumer advocates, including Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. But CU finds little else to applaud in the coupon program, which senior policy analyst Jeannine Kenney describes as ‘under-funded’ and ‘intentionally difficult for consumers to use. Unless Congress revisits the structure and funding of the coupon program, the digital transition will be not just an annoyance to consumers, it will be a financial burden as well, undermining the likelihood that the 2009 transition deadline will be met.’" [CR Blog] The National Association of Broadcasters also knocked the initiative, with NAB pres/CEO David Rehr stating: "Although NTIA’s announcement is a step in the right direction, its proposal does not go far enough." [Release] Meanwhile, LG Electronics said this week that it expects retailers to charge consumers about $60 (not the $40 anticipated by the NTIA coupon) for its digital converter box. LG is one three companies producing converter boxes to prevent analog TV sets from going dark on Feb. 17, 2009, when U.S. TV stations must switch to digital. [Reuters]



• CABLE OPERATORS

Cablevision subsidiary CSC Holdings extended an exchange offer (relating to 6-3/4% senior notes due 2012) to Apr. 19 [Release]. Reuters today examined Cablevision’s New York-area battle against Verizon.

Charter Communications announced interim results of $100 million tender offer for debt securities. As of 5pm ET yesterday, approximately $167.7 million in aggregate principal amount of Notes had been validly tendered. [Release]

Comcast will report 1st quarter earnings on Apr. 26. [Release]

Cox Communications Northern Virginia announced a $39.95 flat rate for unlimited local and nationwide calling, about $5 cheaper than Verizon’s comporable plan. Cox NoVA also lowered the monthly rental price on its HD receivers by 41%, from $9.99 to $5.90 [Release]. Cox Communications Orange County expanded its business services footprint to Los Angeles [Release].

Mediacom is raising its rates in Iowa, partially blaming increased programming costs related to its recent retransmission consent agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting. In Des Moines, Mediacom’s family cable package (about 75 channels) increases from $47.95 to $51.95 a month and its broadcast basic "lifeline" service increases from $16.95 to $19.95. [Des Moines Register].



• COMPETITION

AT&T promises "multiple HD streams" by the end of this year [Telephony Online]. The company launches U-verse in Kansas City today. [Release | Kansas City Star] AT&T also donated about $500,000 to CA Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s After-School All-Stars program, a nonprofit he founded to help at-risk middle school students. Schwarzenegger signed CA’s state cable law, which took effect in January. [AP]

RCN‘s refocus on its NE systems and shedding of its L.A. properties is bad news for its investors. [Washington Times]

Verizon is bulking up its broadband portal with video content from deals it has struck for its FiOS TV service, "which will eventually allow Verizon subscribers to view and access content from any kind of device." [ZDNet]
Verizon also introduced a deal offering Florida’s part-time residents the option of reserving their home phone and DSL broadband services including DirecTV for up to six months, with no service charge or monthly payment. [Release]



• PROGRAMMING

Tonight’s cable premieres: Work Out season 2 (Bravo), ‘Til Death Do Us Part (Court TV), Whitest Kids U’ Know (fuse), Tori and Dean: Inn Love (Oxygen), and this year’s best documentary Oscar-winner, Iraq in Fragments (Cinemax).

One legacy of Roger Keating’s regime at Time Warner Cable‘s Los Angeles division (see above): the local launch of International Movies on Demand featuring BODVOD, the Bollywood movie programmer, and related sponsorship of an Indian film festival in L.A. [Indie eNews]

ABC Family gives The Sound of Music its cable premiere on Apr. 6 with repeats throughout the weekend. The film, which began airing on broadcast TV in 1976 but has never appeared on pay or basic cable, will air completely unedited. [Release]

Exercise TV, the VOD programmer part-owned by Comcast, signed programming deals with Gaiam, Stott Pilates and Leslie Sansone.

FX is developing a supernatural drama series with Steven Bochco, who created its Iraq war drama, Over There. The announcement comes a day after the veteran TV writer-producer launched his first Web video project. Bochco is also developing a drama about former law school classmates for TNT, and a drama series for A&E about married lawyers who specialize in divorce cases. [The Hollywood Reporter]

Gospel Music Channel is the #1 emerging or mid-size network in the new Beta Research annual survey of cable operators. GMC, which is negotiating a new deal with DirecTV, expects to grow 50% "to finish (2007) in more than 150 of the top 210 DMAs." [Release]

HGTV‘s live Dream Home 2007 Giveaway special on Sunday night delivered the network’s highest primetime audience for a special in its key demos, including 1.1 million viewers 25-54 and 835,000 P18-49. The event got a 1.5 HH rating and a 0.6 rating for P25-54. Its sneak peek at new series Color Splash that following the Dream Home telecast garnered a 1.2 HH rating and a 0.6 P25-54 rating.

MTV‘s Total Request Live is now 2 days live, 2 days taped. TRL is the third longest-running show on MTV, but has fallen from its ratings peak of 757,000 viewers a day in 1999 to now average 351,000 viewers daily. MTV "streamlined" its NY studio operation during last month’s layoffs. [AP]

National Geographic Channel attracted 7.7 million viewers to its Galapagos special on Sunday night, its 11th highest rated premiere ever. The three-hour special got a 1.7 HH rating and a 0.82 rating among P25-54.

NBC starts broadcasting NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams in HD on Monday night. [Release]

SCI FI‘s Battlestar Galactica‘s next season could be its last. "At this point, we don’t know" its future, says Mark Stern, SCI FI’s EVP of programming. It’s expected to announce details on BSG’s fourth season at its upfront event for advertisers tomorrow in New York. [NY Post]

Turner tapped Visible World for dynamic ad insertion on WTBS, its Atlanta-based broadcast TV station. [Release]

VH1 will honor John Sykes and NAMM: The International Music Products Association at its 10th anniversary Save the Music fundraiser, Sep. 20 in New York. John Mayer will headline the evening while Bravo’s Project Runway star, Tim Gunn, will M.C. an auction. [Release]



• ONLINE

Google has been slapped by Viacom with a lawsuit over YouTube‘s unauthorized distribution of Viacom-owned clips—but that’s not stopping the search giant from offering a streaming feed of mtvU Über, Viacom’s broadband channel for college students, on Google’s homepage. It’s one of Google’s free online tools, or Google Gadgets, that features a live streaming video service from Holland’s CamMap.net that bundles Web and mobile TV channels from BBC, CNN, Cartoon Network, ESPN, ABC News and mtvU Über, among other networks. [AP]

MySpace is starting to impose limits on the software tools that users can embed in their pages, including music and video players that also deliver advertising or enable transactions, as Tila Tequila, the so-called Madonna of MySpace, discovered in trying to sell her music on the site. Reports today’s New York Times: "At stake is the ability of MySpace, which is owned by the News Corp., to ensure that it alone can commercially capitalize on its 90 million visitors each month." The article quotes Michael Barrett, chief revenue officer for Fox Interactive Media: "We probably should have stopped YouTube. YouTube wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for MySpace. We’ve created companies on our back." [New York Times]

MTV Networks is planning its biggest multi-platform push ever, leading to MTV2‘s season 3 debut of The Andy Milonakis Show on Apr. 27. The premiere episode will be offered free on iTunes starting this week, with the entire six-episode season available for $9.99 and individual eps for $1.99. Starting Mar. 27, MTV Mobile, MTV2.com and MTV on Demand will offer one episode per week while episodes will also be available for $1.99 via Amazon Unbox, AOL Video, Wal-Mart Video Downloads and Xbox Live Marketplace. MTV Mobile also will offer "Andy Milonakis" voicetones. During each episode that airs on MTV2, viewers will be directed to a "secret" website for outtakes from that week’s show. Viral promos clips will run on Break.com, iFilm.com, Grouper.com, IGN.com, UGO.com, CollegeHumor.com, MSN.com, TV.com and Hollywood.com. The ubiquitous Web strategy is fitting for Milonakis, who was a hit on the Web before getting on MTV2. [The Hollywood Reporter]

BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer technology company, and YouTube rival Joost are looking to create an ad-supported TV program Internet site. [MediaPost]

CBS Corp. acquired MaxPreps.com to merge with CSTV. [Release]

Hollywood is opening its doors to YouTube talent, such as Francis Stokes, whose six-episode Web comedy series God., Inc. has been viewed more than 1 million times by YouTubers and is being pitched as a TV series; each episode cost $80 to produce. [Hartford Courant]

Video on the Net Alliance formed this week. [Release]



• IN OTHER NEWS

Appearing today at his third congressional hearing on the proposed Sirius/XM satellite radio merger merger, Sirius head Mel Karmazin said the merged company would allow parents to not receive adult channels and also get "an a-la-carte style cost reduction" on their subscription, but did not specify the reduction. [Variety]

House lawmakers introduced a bill today that would require the FCC to permit usage of the unused white space TV spectrum for broadband Internet service that doesn’t interfere with television programming. The move follows last week’s White Spaces Coalition of tech companies—including Microsoft, Google, Dell, H-P, Intel and Philips—that submitted a prototype device to the FCC for testing. [AP]

CableLabs pre/CEO Dick Green explains its initiative to develop a set-top box that would allow consumers to tune in local broadcast channels: "It’s really to give consumers options." Green says improved off-air tuner technology will create a "seamless experience" for customers, who will be able to toggle between cable and broadcast channels. Researcher Bruce Leichtman says cable operators want the set-top as a bargaining chip when negotiating retransmission consent deals with broadcasters: "It’s a technical solution to a contract negotiation today and in the future." [Boston Globe]

Blockbuster CEO John Antioco is stepping down by year-end. [Release | AP]

Apple TV starts shipping this week to customers. [Macworld]

ION‘s KPPX-TV affiliate in Phoenix fired (and may take legal action against) the TV station employee accused of inserting porn into a primetime  documentary featuring Tom Brokaw that was televised locally on Cox Communications. [AP]

Broadcast networks are taking advantage of March Madness viewership to premiere new shows. [AP]

TV viewers are watching more comedy than ever before, reports Magna Global. [Washington Post]

Consumer Reports advises cable customers facing rate hikes to request a better deal.

David Saitta, former Mobile ESPN senior director of distribution, was hired as VP of sales and marketing at Hands-On Mobile [Release]. Manish Jha, former SVP/GM of Mobile ESPN, was hired last month as CEO of Vantrix, a Canadian mobile media firm.

Harvard Business School prof Clayton Christensen asks: "Is the party ending for wireless?" [Forbes]

A global IPTV forum to create open standards includes AT&T, Ericsson, France Telecom, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Siemens Networks, Sony, and Telecom Italia—but not Microsoft. [PC Magazine | CIO Today]

Radio and Web broadcasters yesterday challenged a ruling from a panel of copyright judges that they say could cripple the emerging business of offering music broadcasts over the Internet. [Dow Jones]

Shirley Brady

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RCN , Grande and Wave finalized the previously-announced acquisition of EnTouch Systems . The deal adds 22K customers to their coverage area in

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