360AM — Morning news briefing for Wednesday, Feb. 28 (Updated 11pm ET)

Breaking News: Sinclair will allow Comcast to continue carrying its broadcast signals through Mar. 9 while both sides continue to negotiate a new retransmission consent contract, according to a report in the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, citing a news story on WRAL, Sinclair’s Richmond Fox affiliate. With their current agreement expiring today, Sinclair had threatened to pull its signals at 2 a.m. Thursday from Comcast’s markets.



Earlier: Today is the deadline for Comcast and Sinclair Broadcasting to reach a retransmission consent agreement. Sinclair has vowed to play hardball with cable operators by demanding cash payments to retransmit its local broadcast stations, as it did with Mediacom Communications earlier this month. The Baltimore Sun says both sides are hanging tough: "A source familiar with the negotiations said yesterday that Sinclair is prepared to cut off its programming to Comcast systems at 2 a.m. tomorrow because talks between the two sides have stalled. Negotiations are expected to continue today." Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer comments "it will continue to offer Sinclair’s broadcast stations unless they demand that those stations be removed. Our first goal is to protect our customers from being charged extra for free TV." [Baltimore Sun]
Jan. 5: Sinclair, Comcast Get Ready to Rumble

Time Warner Cable updated its 2007 outlook [Release] and hosts a conference call this morning to discuss. Its stock (ticker: TWC) starts trading tomorrow.

AT&T’s U-verse has resumed marketing in the past two weeks, ahead of today’s launch announcements in Milwaukee [Release] and Racine, Wis. [Release]. New customers in the Wisconsin markets will receive two free months of service with a 60-day money back guarantee. Dallas-Fort Worth and Kansas City launch in March, which will bring U-verse to 15 markets. There are now 7,000 U-verse subscribers (up from 3,000 on Dec. 31), and AT&T says it has fixed the glitches (tiling on HD channels and uneven audio) that made it stop marketing the service in October. [AP] The expansion of U-verse is good news for Cisco, which is focusing its Scientific-Atlanta set-top box marketing efforts on the telco market. [Bloomberg]

AT&T sued Time Warner Cable yesterday in San Antonio over TWC advertising in that market. One TWC TV spot features a man in a t-shirt labeled "annoying fees" pestering a phone customer. [San Antonio Express-News]

A consumer education campaign on the digital transition breaks today, a partnership between the NCTA, CEA and NAB. [Release]. "There will be the obligatory new Web site, then extensive research and focus groups organized to figure out consumers’ needs," observes the Wall Street Journal in a story on the efforts to alleviate consumer confusion over changing TV technology. [WSJ]

Judy McGrath continued tidying her house, with MTV Networks announcing a new structure and responsibilities within MTVN’s ad sales division and MTVN/BETN’s affiliate sales and marketing (now called content distribution and marketing) group headed by recentlly promoted EVP Denise Dahldorf. Dahldorf’s direct reports now include newly upped SVPs Samantha Cooper, Meg Lowe and Courtney Menzel, her team responsible for cable and satellite distribution for MTVN/BET, and Juliette Morris, the new SVP for content distribution marketing (including local ad sales support) for MTVN/BET. The ad sales re-org under Hank Close is reflected in a new year-round selling approach that shifts the focus from big upfront presentations to events throughout the year based on target demos and psychographics. With 250 MTVN domestic employees now off Viacom’s payroll, MTVN International is now reducing its workforce by that number.

• Q4 EARNINGS

Charter Communications [Release | Reuters]

Sprint Nextel [Release | Earnings call transcript courtesy of Seeking Alpha | AP]. CNNMoney dispels investor rumors that Comcast or Time Warner Cable are looking at buying Sprint.

Liberty Media [Release | AP] & its Discovery Holding Company subsidiary [Release]

Gemstar-TV Guide [Release | Earnings call transcript of Seeking Alpha | AP]

• EVENTS

Mel Karmazin testifies on the proposed XM/Sirius merger before the House Judiciary Committee’s Anti-Trust Task Force [Reuters | USA Today Q&A with Karmazin]

The American Association of Advertising Agencies kicks off its annual meeting today in Las Vegas. WPP’s Irwin Gotlieb says the impact of the Internet on media buying will be a hot topic. [WSJ]

• PROGRAMMING

Comedy Central brings back South Park for season 11 starting Mar. 7. [Release]

CSTV builds excitement for March Madness (Mar. 15-Apr. 2) with "Are You Fan Enough?" campaign, which invites college basketball lovers to post videos at CSTV.com/postup. [NYT]

Discovery Channel‘s hot-button Lost Tomb of Jesus special is being boycotted by Rev. Donald E. Wildmon’s American Family Association with an email campaign to blast Discovery officials before the special airs Sunday. Discovery’s managing editor and contributing documentarian Ted Koppel will moderate an hour-long panel discussion at 11pm ET/PT on Discovery following the broadcast. Koppel had no connection with the production and will aim to bring an impartial journalistic debate to the controversial program. The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Look after-show "will have minimal commercial interruptions" according to a press release and will "present the many voices, opinions and beliefs related to the film’s content. The panel will explore the filmmakers’ profound assertions and challenge their assumptions and suggested conclusions." [Release]

ESPN kicks off its 16-game Arena Football League package on Sunday. [Chicago Tribune]

HBO is producing a seven-hour scripted miniseries on the Iraq War, says Variety. Generation Kill is based on the true story of Marines in the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the early days of the conflict.

MASN will air 99 Washington Nationals games and an additional 62 games on its new MASN2 network, matching the number of Baltimore Orioles games on the regional sports network that Comcast has declined to carry. [Washington Post]

MTV invites KoRn fans to log onto a special virtual world today at virtualkorn.mtv.com to attend a 3-D online record release party at 8:00pm ET for the band’s new album. The band members (represented by avatars) will interact with fans who can check out video and audio from MTV Unplugged: KoRn which airs (commercial-free) Friday at 11:30pm ET/PT. KoRn’s Unplugged album will be released on Tuesday. [Release]

V-me, a new Spanish-language broadcast network from public television, launches Monday. [Release]

• IN OTHER NEWS

EchoStar president/CEO Michael Neuman is leaving the company to take a job in Canada as president/CEO of Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of HRTV: Horseracing TV. [Release]

OMD president/CEO Joe Uva will become CEO of Univision (a Top 5 network for 41% of Feb. sweeps) on Apr. 1, when the private equity acquisition of Univision is expected to be finalized. The Turner Broadcasting ad sales vet replaces Jerrold Perenchio at the helm. [Release]

AOL named Nisha Kumar as its new CFO. [Release]

MobiTV now boasts two million subscribers [Release]. The Wall Street Journal reviews its streaming video cellphone service, and finds it "a dream come true for the ultimate TV fanatic … [but] will never replace your home-entertainment center." [WSJ] MobiTV faces competition from wireless providers’ own video services, including MediaFlo, which launches next month on Verizon Wireless. Forbes has more on the mobile video battle.

Consumers’ #1 frustration with Web video? Navigation — and finding something they want to watch, according to a survey of 1,000 Internet users [Release]. Viewers who engage with TV brands’ content online tend to place more value on related sponsors, says Knowledge Networks [Release].

Tempers are flaring in Tucson, where Cox Communications is lobbying to have franchise authority wrested from city officials in a bill that is now before the state Senate. Cox efforts include a website, InnovateTucson.org, that has raised the dander of the Tucson Citizen.

Verizon spent $4.7 million on its (successful) New Jersey lobbying efforts to promote legislation for a statewide video franchise last year, "the most a single firm has ever reproted spending on a lobbying push" in the state. The New Jersey Cable Telecommunications Association spent around $1 million on counter-lobbying in addition to $4 million worth of TV time and cross-channel spots. [NJ.com]

AirPlay Network Inc. creates wireless application for the National Basketball Association, allowing cellphone users to play fantasy versions of live NBA games as they’re happening. The subscription service costs $3.99/mo. and will launch tomorrow to Sprint customers, with Verizon Wireless and Cingular launches to follow. [Release | WSJ]

The Erin Go Brawl Irish boxing PPV airs Mar. 16.

The Kansas City Wizards signed a 3-year deal with Time Warner Cable‘s Metro Sports Channel. [Kansas City InfoZine]

The TV4U.com broadband channel adds movie titles to compete with AOL‘s IN2TV, Innertube from CBS and NBC‘s NBBC site. [Release]

Shirley Brady • Click here for 360AM news briefing for Tuesday, Feb. 27 >>

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