Cable360AM — News briefing for Thursday, June 21 »

Chris Albrecht is "quietly helping guide the screen version" of Sex and the City, reports Variety. The former HBO chairman has laid low since leaving the company following a scandal last month while working in an "unofficial" capacity on the series’ movie spinoff. The project started during his tenure and was recently revived when co-star Kim Cattrall agreed to participate. In Variety-speak, "When a distrib deal is in place, the company and Albrecht will figure out if he’ll be a credited producer."

Cablevision is expanding to 40 HD networks by (finally) adding its Voom stable of networks to its iO digital cable lineup. The addition marks the cable debut of Voom, which is owned by Cablevision’s Rainbow Media arm. Rainbow released its own statement on launching Voom’s 15 channels on Cablevision between June 26-28. After folding as a standalone HD satellite service in 2005, Voom debuted on EchoStar‘s Dish Network, which owns a stake in the HD programming unit. Cablevision says its 40 HD channel line-up is the biggest of any U.S. provider today. The industry’s switched digital video leader, the cable operator also said it will have the DirecTV-beating capacity to offer 500 HD channels by year-end using SDV. Cablevision reported 734,000 HD customers and more than 1 million HD set-top boxes deployed as of Mar. 31.

Hallmark Channel is being dropped by Alaska’s primary cable operator, GCI, on July 31. CEO Henry Schleiff tells the Juneau Empire he’s shocked and "can’t think of a recent instance where a Hallmark Channel, frankly, has been dropped by a cable operator anywhere in the United States." Schleiff said he’s written Alaska senator Ted Stevens to complain. GCI rep Curtiss Clifton, who said Hallmark is being dropped in all but one community, Ketchikan, on July 31, alluded to price being an issue in his comment, "We’ve been negotiating with Hallmark for many months. We just couldn’t come to terms with them to keep Hallmark in the package in all those communities." Alaska residents can get Hallmark on EchoStar‘s Dish Network.

NCTA pres/CEO Kyle McSlarrow and MPAA pres/CEO Dan Glickman are scheduled to testify at tomorrow’s House Telecom committee hearing on media and children.

Local officials and consumer advocates asked a U.S. appeals court to block new FCC rules, released in March, that require local agencies to decide within 90 days on phone companies’ applications for local video franchises to offer TV. [Bloomberg]

NBC Universal and News Corp.‘s joint venture to stream TV and film titles on a co-owned and -operated website was approved by the European Union today, notes Dow Jones. The site’s official name, now being finalized by Interbrand, is due shortly.

Dow Jones‘ board has taken over News Corp. acquisition talks from controlling shareholders, the Bancroft family. [AP] The Wall Street Journal reports that General Electric and Financial Times publisher Pearson LLC, which had explored a joint bid for Dow Jones, have dropped out of the running.

Qwest launched 2 promotional websites for residential customers, offering coupons and special discounts from retailers such as Blockbuster and Kodak.

Massillon Cable, a 45,000-subscriber operator in Ohio, last week proposed a digital TV transition scheme to the FCC that would give millions of American households free cable TV service "while all local TV stations would have guaranteed cable distribution rights of their analog- and expanded digital-TV-channel lineups," reports Ted Hearn of Multichannel News.

Global Web spending will hit $80 billion by 2011, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers‘ new Global Entertainment and Media Outlook, released today. [Reuters] The report also projects that digital and mobile spending will increase to $153 billion while traditional TV ad spending will grow 4.5% a year to $46.3 billion in 2011, down from an estimate of 7.1% annual growth in last year’s report. [USA Today] More info in the release.

Comcast committed $55 million over three years in cross-platform ad time, including on-air, online and On Demand, to Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Comcast previously committed $50 million in 2003.



• MOVERS & SHAKERS

ESPN relaunched its original programming unit into a platform-agnostic content division yesterday, promoting Keith Clinksales to SVP of content development and enterprises, heading a new unit formerly called ESPN Original Entertainment. Clinksales will continue to run ESPN Publishing and reporting to EVP of content John Skipper. As part of the reorg, Rob King was named editor in chief of ESPN.com, John Zehr was named SVP, digital media production and John Kosner was named SVP and GM of digital media.

GE and NBC Universal named Thomas Byrne to head up the new Peacock Equity Fund. GE also tapped Jay Ireland as president and CEO of GE Asset Management; Ireland’s current title is president, NBCU TV Stations and Network Operations. A replacement wasn’t named. Ireland was CEO of GE Plastics before joining the company’s NBC division in May 2004.

IFC rehired Jennifer Caserta after a few months as EVP/GM at fuse, CableFAX reports. Caserta’s new title at IFC is EVP of marketing, communications and scheduling. Former MTV Networks exec Eric Sherman was tapped as fuse’s new president in April.

MTV Networks promoted Erik Flannigan to EVP, digital media; he continues to report to Doug Herzog, president of MTVN’s Entertainment Group. Jon Slusser takes over Flannigan’s position as SVP, digital media, Comedy Central and Spike TV, promoted from MTVN VP and CEO of GameTrailers.

NBCU‘s iVillage named Michael Gukowski COO.

Tennis Channel SVP of distribution Randy Brown’s last day is tomorrow, with distribution VPs Nancy Pingitore and Eric Turpin stepping up to fill his tennis shoes as Brown focuses on his content consulting business, Widespread Content. "With 18 of the top 20 cable and satellite distributors under contract and clearance in 47 of the top 50 markets, I leave the network well positioned having achieved my primary goals," Brown wrote in a note to colleagues.



• PROGRAMMING

The fall season TV upfronts are pretty much a wrap, with broadcast networks reporting CPM price increases of 7-10%. In top spot: ABC, which secured about $2.4 billion in prime-time ad commitments with 8%-10% CPM (cost per thousand viewers) price increases over last year’s upfront. Fox is 2nd with CPM increases in the 7.5%-9% range and deals expected to net $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion because Fox opted to sell less inventory in the upfront and hold back programming for the scatter market. CBS is third with 7%-9% (depending on the report) increase over ’06 and close to $2.5 billion in sales commitments. NBC, about 3/4 done and looking at 4th place, is said to have secured CPM increases of 5%-6% and about $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion for NBC’s prime-time schedule (of about $4 billion in ad deals encompassing its various networks and platforms). With the CW bringing up the rear, Ad Age estimates this year’s upfront tally at $9.2 billion, 5% over last year. [More: Variety | Hollywood Reporter | Reuters | Wall Street Journal]

A&E premieres controversial Street Thief project tonight at 10pm; Seth Arenstein’s review is here.

AMC‘s upcoming Mad Men series, set to premiere July 19, upset consumer watchdog Commercial Alert by announcing bourbon-maker Jack Daniel’s as the series’ sponsor. Commercial Alert filed a formal complaint yesterday with the Distilled Spirits Council "alleging that the sponsorship crosses a line that generally precludes liquor advertising in shows with ‘depictions of overt sexual activity,’ lewd images or language, irresponsible drinking and intoxication," reports the Los Angeles Times. Click here for CableWorld‘s feature on Mad Men, AMC’s first original series.

BET announced the talent roster for the live BET Awards (June 26) and a special, The Top 25 Fabulous Freaks of All Times, for June 27.

Discovery Channel‘s Tuesday finale of Deadliest Catch hauled in 2.7 million viewers and 2.3 million P25-54, making it the 2nd highest rated program of the night after the #1 telecast, Simon Cowell’s America’s Got Talent on NBC. (The winner of Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent in the UK: opera-singing cellphone salesman Paul Potts.)

The Documentary Channel will televise the winners of its web-based doc contest (with VMIX) on June 23.

EOD: Education on Demand, which Time Warner Cable now offers in Austin and Waco, TX, plans to launch nationally in the 1st quarter of 2008.

ESPN kicks off Monday Night Football with a doubleheader (Ravens-Bengals and Cardinals-49ers) on Sept. 10.

FSN will televise 20 of its 31 upcoming college football games in HD.

HBO greenlit My Zinc Bed, an original movie (and BBC co-production) co-starring Uma Thurman and Jonathan Pryce.

Lifetime greenlit Custody, the working title for an original movie co-starring Rob Morrow and James Denton.

SCI FI‘s Who Wants to be a Superhero? competition series returns July 26.

Showtime is promoting upcoming series Californication with David Duchovny (debuting Aug. 13) with a Netflix promotional preview (mail and online) starting July 24, when the network also releases season 2 of Weeds on DVD to promote its season 3 debut, also on Aug. 13.

USA Network will premiere Dr. Steve-O, a 7-episode reality series starring the MTV Jackass alum, on Oct. 1. USA Today profiles USA Network’s summer programming plans. WWE Raw on USA once again topped Nielsen’s basic cable ratings, nabbing the top 2 spots for the week of June 11-17.

VH1 greenlit 7 new series (including a 10-ep reality series with Salt ‘n’ Pepa and a tongue-in-chic competition, America’s Most Smartest Model) and expands to a third night of original programming, Thursdays, starting in the 4th quarter. Details are here.



• ONLINE

Bravo today launches weekly web series, Ask a Gay Man, on Outzone.tv. Host William Sledd will promote the network at various Gay Pride events.

CBS is streaming its daytime soaps The Young & The Restless, Guiding Light and As The World Turns from 3pm-6pm daily.

Comedy Central launched Indecision2008.com, culling presidential election content from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Lil’ Bush and political clips from the network’s stand-up comedy specials.

Discovery Channel tapped NewsGator Technologies for widgets on its website for Shark Week, which premieres on-air July 29th.

ESPN.com and NBCSports.com will offer Mediazone-enabled live streaming coverage of Wimbledon to tennis fans, starting June 25.

Gemstar-TV Guide licensed CastTV‘s technology to power TV Guide‘s online video guide.

Varsity TV signed a Web distribution deal with VDC.

Yahoo acquired Rivals.com, a network of about 150 college sports recruiting and high school websites. [CNBC | New York Times | AP]



• WIRELESS

AT&T is hiring 2,000 temporary staff to handle the anticipated rush when Apple‘s iPhone is released June 29, company reps tell the Wall Street Journal. Apple yesterday announced a deal with Google to stream YouTube on both iPhone and Apple TV.

Qwest is offering its wireless customers the Moto Q smart phone.

Verizon‘s V CAST service today launches a Local TV Video channel in nearly 50 markets.

Yahoo! Go 2.0 launches tomorrow and will be available for more than 200 different mobile phones in the US by the end of July, expanding to more than 400 by end of year. It will also be pre-loaded on new devices from Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, LG and HTC that begin rolling out later this year.




• TECHNOLOGY

RGB NetworksCable-Tec booth is demonstrating its localized ad solution for cable operators, which takes one national ad and delivers it (with an assist from BlackArrow) to three separate ad zones with locally relevant information added for each zone in real-time.

The Metro Ethernet Forum handed out awards at Cable-Tec yesterday; the winners are noted here. AT&T‘s Ethernet portfolio received MEF-14 certification.



• IN OTHER NEWS


Comcast customers in MD’s Howard County were warned in a reverse onus insert in their latest bills they will lose the right to sue the operator in any future arbitration unless they contact the company within 30 days. [Howard County Times]

Comporium Communications sold its cable systems in Great Falls and Richburg, PA, to TruVista Communications. [Chester County News & Reporter]

New Telephony looks at how cable operators are getting serious about commercial services, while NorthJersey.com reports on Cablevision‘s battle with Verizon to win business customers in NJ.

NBCU vice chairman Bob Wright hit NXTcomm yesterday to reiterate to telco attendees the need to fight piracy. [CNET]

The "best movie-playing machine for downloads on the market today," according to the New York Times — the Microsoft Xbox 360 video game console. Its drawbacks: it’s relatively expensive ($400) and only offers 165 titles, the bane of all IP-based movie delivery services. Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey comments, "Whether it’s Netflix or Apple or Amazon or Wal-Mart.com, we’re all facing the same constraint: title availability."

Shirley Brady

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