360AM — Morning news briefing for Wednesday, Apr. 25

Comcast is negotiating with Paul Allen’s Trail Blazers to form a new Portland-based regional sports channel in the wake of the Blazers’ termination of renewal talks with Fox Sports Net. The Seattle-skewing FSN Northwest’s deal  with the team expired at the end of the 2006/07 season. FSN called the team’s new financial terms (which Sports Business Daily pegged at $12 million to $12 million a year) "unrealistic." Comcast’s proposed RSN would shore up its local programming as Verizon’s FiOS TV enters the market this year. Blazers (and Charter Communications) owner Allen launched the Action Sports Cable Network RSN around the team six years ago, but pulled the plug after a year when AT&T Broadband refused to carry it. [The Oregonian]

Betty Cohen stepped down as president and CEO of Lifetime; details here. Patricia Andrews-Keenan left Comcast Chicago to join Nielsen Media in a similar capacity as VP of communications; she remains based in Chicago.

The FCC this morning will consider a proposal allowing TV stations to require cable operators to carry both digital and analog signals after broadcasters go all digital on Feb. 17, 2009. The FCC proposal, to be discussed at its open meeting this morning, has riled cable companies, which are currently required only to carry a broadcaster’s primary signal. Broadcasters’ digital and HD signals already have become a sticking point in renewal negotiations for retransmission consent agreements between cable operators and broadcasters. Case in point: Suddenlink Communications, which yesterday reached a retransmission consent deal with KTBS, a local ABC affiliate in Shreveport, LA. Terms were not announced for the agreement, which covers carriage of the station’s analog and digital signals. The companies’ current contract was set to expire at 12:01am this morning. [Release | Shreveport Times] Also on the FCC’s agenda this morning: discussing its upcoming auction of 700 MHz airwaves to be returned by television broadcasters as part of the DTV transition. [AP | Reuters] >>>Update: the commission delayed its meeting until last night thanks to 11th hour haggling—and it wasn’t good for cable. Click here for details.

Nielsen ratings continue to slump across broadcast and cable, worrying network execs that viewers are turning TV Turn-Off Week into a 52-week event ahead of May sweeps and the upfront. USA Today reports that on broadcast TV, "a raft of top shows on all major networks have hit record lows: Lost, Desperate Housewives, ER, My Name Is Earl, The Simpsons, Two and a Half Men, CSI: Miami and, just Monday, Heroes. Still others, such as 24, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and American Idol, had their worst ratings in two years or more." Cable shows also struggled last week, USA Today notes: Bravo‘s 10pm time-slot debut of new reality series Shear Genius snared only 894,000 viewers; MTV‘s My Super Sweet 16 wrapped its season with "a sour 812,000." #1 on cable for the week: Discovery‘s Planet Earth finale on Sunday’s Earth Day, which snared 5.6 million viewers. MediaPost weighs in on the broadcast erosion this season. Everyone’s wondering who to blame: DVRs, cable, the Web, daylight savings, a dearth of fresh ideas… Another possible culprit for viewer churn: volatile schedules, as TV critic Tim Goodman complains in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Fascinating page 1 story in today’s Wall Street Journal on Gemstar-TV Guide‘s former CEO Henry Yuen, who pleaded guilty to a felony for destroying evidence in an accounting scandal that "wiped billions of dollars off Gemstar’s market value." Yuen confessed to being "reckless" and erasing his hard drive before federal regulators could search his computer—yet has somehow managed to avoid jail time or even paying a cent as the five-year statute of limitations has already expired on some of his charges. "A U.S. federal judge ordered him to pay $22.3 million for his role in fraudulently inflating revenues between 2000 and 2002, notes the WSJ, yet "the government hasn’t collected any of it and doesn’t know where Mr. Yuen is." Meanwhile, Yuen—who was fired from Gemstar in 2003—has collected "about $13 million in salary, benefits and attorney fees" from Gemstar and has sold "at least $30 million" in company stock as he pursues new business ventures in Asia. The SEC last month asked a California judge to imprison Yuen and levy a daily fine until he pays back at least $10 million of the $22.3 million owed; even Yuen’s attorney claims he doesn’t know the Gemstar founder’s whereabouts. His ex-wife also "accused him of secretly divorcing her in 1987 by forging her name on divorce papers in an effort to shield his fortune from her." Yuen’s former CFO, Elsie Yeung, was also mired in the scandal that forced Gemstar owner News Corp. to take "about $6 billion in write-downs" while its stock plunged from over $100 a share to below $5.

Bright House Networks launched YOU On Demand, a user-generated VOD service, in its Tampa Bay and Central Florida markets. Customers are invited to submit family-friendly videos in three categories (kids, pets and funny videos) via a request form on the operator’s local channel websites for Central Florida News 13 and Bay News 9. Accepting VHS and DVDs (no online uploading yet), the best videos will then appear on local VOD channels in those markets. Meanwhile, on a state level, Florida’s proposed statewide franchise bill (SB 998) inched forward yesterday, clearing its last Senate committee as it moves for a final floor reading later this week. A telco-backed study claims Floridians "could save more than $400 million annually through increased competition if the legislation passes." [Gainesville Sun]

FON, the Wi-Fi-For-All service that just announced a deal with Time Warner Cable‘s Road Runner broadband service, is testing a version for Mac users. [GigaOm]

AT&T expanded its Ethernet footprint to cover the 13 states it acquired from SBC, a boon to its business services ambitions. [Release] AT&T ranked #1 in business customer satisfaction in J.D. Power’s survey of telco-based commercial telephone services released today.



• PROGRAMMING

A&E cancelled just-launched reality series Sons of Hollywood. [AP]

CNN‘s Lou Dobbs is offering presidential candidates two minutes (uninterrupted) airtime to address a single topic in a series called 2008: Time for Answers. Dobbs follows up with questions, as he did in the segment’s debut Monday night with Texas Republican Ron Paul. [Variety]

Gospel Vision, a low power UHF broadcaster in Palatka, FL, got a one-month reprieve to stay on Comcast, which yesterday converted the market from Time Warner Cable. [Palatka Daily News] Not to be confused with Gospel Music Channel, which Multichannel News says is looking to acquire Black Family Channel.

HBO greenlit The Pacific, a WWII miniseries from Steve Spielberg, Tom Hanks and their Band of Brothers co-executive producer, Gary Goetzman. The Australian-based production will likely premiere in 2009. [Variety]

Howard TV, In Demand‘s pay-per-view uncensored version of Howard Stern’s satellite radio show, is promoting the service with a mobile peep show today in NYC’s Times Square. A converted milk truck outfitted with video booths showing naughty bits from Stern’s show will be parked on 42nd Street, a stone’s throw from the Broadway show, Mary Poppins. Visitors must be 18 or older for the stunt, which promotes a free Web preview of the raunchy PPV service running today through Sunday.

NBCU TV Studios signed an unprecedented deal to move NBC‘s Passions soap opera to DirecTV this fall, after the series ends its run on broadcast. DirecTV will keep producing the soap but cut back airings to four times a week instead of five when it launches Sept. 17. It will run on DTV’s original programming channel, The 101. NBC announced earlier this year it planned to cancel the eight-year old Passions. [Release | Variety]

Outdoor Channel sold its Gold Propectors Association of America subsidiary to company vice chairman Thomas Massie for $3.6 million and said it would focus on its core TV business. [Release]

Scripps Networks reported first quarter earnings growth of 10% increase in ad revenue and 20% growth in affiliate fee revenue. Revenue at Scripps’ five networks increased across the board in the first quarter over 1Q06: HGTV was up 12% and is now in 92 million homes; Food Network was up 15% and is now in 92 million households; DIY was up 7.7% and is in 43 million homes; Fine Living grew 24% and is in 45 million homes; and Great American Country was up 18% and in 41 million homes.

TV Guide Channel is adding interactive features on Dish Network, and will go full-screen on Dish starting May 2. The new ITV service (powered by Ensequence) adds recommendations and enables pay-per-view ordering and digital recording. [Release]

Hockey fans ponder: will the NHL dump Versus for ESPN? [News & Observer, NC]

Rosie O’Donnell announced (as expected) she’s leaving ABC‘s The View in mid-June. Her blog has more.



• ONLINE

Joost, Viacom‘s prom date on the Web after suing YouTube, still has some kinks to work out. A PC World blogger checked out the still-in-beta Web video site and didn’t find the "broadcast quality" video touted, but gives Joost the benefit of the doubt that as more users come on board the peer-to-peer network’s service may be faster and more reliable. It’s already embedding ads, consisting of a pre-roll banner ad and "a single 10-30 second video ad every 20 minutes or so during the show. The ads don’t last long enough to be annoying, however," the reviewer notes.

MSN is beta-testing an upgraded version of its video site on the heels of relaunching MSN Entertainment with "a new TV-show database covering more than 1 million episodes and over 175,000 series," notes PaidContent.

MySpace and reality producer Mark Burnett will launch Independent, an interactive political series, in early ’08. [Release]

Revver signed a deal with Intent MediaWorks to create video channels around artists such as 50 Cent, while Revver’s user-generated videos will be distributed across Intent’s P2P platform. [Release]

VDC, a streaming video subscription-based website whose offerings include the Sportsman’s Channel, Mav TV and the Pentagon Channel, added Starfish Network, devoted to non-profits and charitable organizations, as a free channel. [Release]

Viacom‘s GoCityKids online city guides launched a local marketing initiative with Comcast‘s Salt Lake City and Boston markets. [Release]

Shirley Brady

• Click here for 360AM news briefing for Tuesday, Apr. 24 >>

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Charter ’s 3Q 6.9% customer relationship growth was partially offset by a $218mln one-time adjustment for estimated sports network rebates that it intends to credit video customer. Unlike with Comcast

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