360AM — Morning news briefing for Thursday, Apr. 5 (Updated 8pm ET)

Top of In Demand‘s to-do list today: helping Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable quickly activate the MLB Extra Innings subscribers who can now sign up for the out-of-market games package on cable thanks to last night’s agreement with Major League Baseball. Its trio of cable operator owners will offer Extra Innings as a free preview through next week and then at a discount rate of $159 for a period after that, according to Richard Sandomir in today’s New York Times. Some cable systems started rolling out the package last night; most will have it in place by tonight, says Sports Business Daily. In Demand can extend MLBEI to other cable operators today—its non-owner affiliates include Cablevision, Charter, Mediacom and Insight—who first commit to launching the Baseball Channel on MLB’s terms in Jan. 2009. A Cablevision spokesman wouldn’t confirm any deal this afternoon but commented: "Cablevision would like to carry the out of market games and, as an affiliate of In Demand, we look forward to speaking with them on the matter."

In Demand’s stake in the channel appears to be between 16-20%. Sandomir writes that In Demand’s cut of the channel is "a little below" DirecTV‘s 20% stake, maintaining its leadership position that CEO Chase Carey said was key to his approval: "We wouldn’t have done a deal if it wasn’t beneficial to us." Sports Business Daily this morning reports that DirecTV and In Demand are each getting a 16% equal cut and that In Demand’s owners will launch the channel to around 21 million of their digital basic subs. In any event, MLB stands to receive about $100 million a year through 2013 for the Extra Innings rights from DirecTV and cable operators. If EchoStar‘s Dish Network signs on at a later date, those payments will be reduced. MLB also gets the lion’s share of the estimated $120 million in annual gross subscriber fees the channel will generate.

Sen. John Kerry, who chaired last month’s congressional hearing into the MLB/DirecTV deal, was pleased that a deal was struck to keep MLBEI on cable. "All we ever wanted was a victory for the fans and this outcome is a big step forward," Kerry said in a statement. "Everyone kept talking and pressing until we had a deal that protects the rights of most fans to follow their hometown team. This isn’t final, and there are some concerns about Echostar customers, but this certainly is some hard-won good news at the start of this Red Sox season. I still need to review the details, but I am very encouraged so far."

Separately, TBS will announce today that soon-to-be-Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn will serve as analysts for the network’s MLB broadcasts. USA Today ranks Turner Sports president David Levy as a baseball influential because "this season, for the first time, one of Major League Baseball’s two League Championship Series (NLCS) and all of MLB’s first-round playoff games will migrate to cable"—meaning TBS, which has never carried a major league playoff game.



Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau‘s cable network members today declined to participate in a proposed eBay-brokered online auction marketplace for TV ad sellers and buyers. Details here.

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said Chairman Kevin Martin will have a fight on his hands if he tries to impose an ownership cap on cable operators. "Why are we capping video providers when we’re not trying to cap phone companies or wireless companies?" asked McDowell. [MarketWatch]

Discovery‘s hugging the planet earth icon in its logo. Discovery Communications’ new PlanetGreen campaign includes relaunching Discovery Home Channel in 2008 as an eco-conscious lifestyle channel (former Discovery Health GM Eileen O’Neill will lead the yet-to-be-named net) while Discovery Channel‘s upcoming programming slate includes Ten Ways to Save the Planet. DCI HQ in Silver Spring, MD, is also going green. Why? CEO David Zaslav tells the New York Times "green means responsible" and says the company’s channels in the US and beyond will start "serving this higher purpose." Zaslav also tells today’s New York Post he’s pushing more of the company’s content online with an iPremiere initiative that will debut two full-length ad-supported episodes from series including Dirty Jobs and American Chopper ahead of their on-air premieres. More news at Discovery’s annual ad sales upfront event today in New York. The Travel Channel, ahead of its pending swap to Cox, today relaunched its website with travel search and booking functions from SideStep. Discovery Nets will continue to handle distribution and ad sales for Travel after Cox assumes ownership.

CNN head Jon Klein cites "anchor chemistry" as his reason for replacing the O’Briens on American Morning, and seems particularly taken with former Fox Newser Kiran Chetry, who starts co-anchoring the program with John Roberts on Apr. 16, exactly two months after being hired: "One look at her tells you why she deserves the slot," Klein said yesterday. "She’s a fantastic anchor. She lights up the screen." Klein’s props for Roberts, the former CBS anchor and Canadian music VJ: "he’s a kick-ass reporter." [Washington Post]

Time Warner Cable‘s debt offering yesterday sold $5 billion in a three-part transaction in the 144a private placement market.

Cox Communications launched Cox Advantage, a retail discount program with an ad sales angle, in its Northern Virginia market. The system yesterday announced GoScout Homes, a multiplatform VOD/broadband channel for local real estate buyers and sellers.

Blah first quarter for top 20 cable nets, particularly at ESPN, down 31% in primetime. [Mediaweek]

Bravo confirms that Tim Gunn will return for season 4 of Project Runway. [Release]

GSN becomes the new TV partner for World Poker Tour, moving from Travel Channel (see above) which declined to renew its contract with WPT. GSN will air season six of the tournament in early ’08 with options to pick up future seasons. [AP | Release]

Gail Shister, Philadelphia Inquirer‘s TV critic, penned her final column today; she’ll continue covering television for the paper and its website.

Shirley Brady

• Click here for 360AM news briefing for Wednesday, Apr. 4 >>

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