Cable360AM — News briefing for Friday, June 22 »

The Big Ten college sports conference commissioner Jim Delany is demanding an apology from Comcast, which sent a talking points memo (entitled "Get the Real Facts about the Big Ten Network") to reporters that Delany mistakenly said was referenced in a June 18 New York Times story by Richard Sandomir. Delany claims Comcast’s memo accuses the Big Ten Network of gender bias in its planned coverage, which BTN refuted in a press release yesterday. "We don’t expect (BTN partner) Fox or the Big Ten Network to stoop to the level of artificially generating consumer appeal," Comcast Midwest Division president Bill Connors told the Chicago Tribune. "If there is a demand for this product, people will act on their own. It’s a single-digit percentage who view [BTN] as an absolute must-have. That’s why the best landing place is on a sports tier." Delany also told reporters on a conference call he’s still negotiating with Time Warner Cable (and other distributors) for non-sports tier carriage. BTN launches Aug. 1.

Comcast also disputed Qwest‘s claims it’s been blocking calls from its subscribers to Qwest’s customer service line by counter-charging that Qwest’s toll-free lines are faulty. "Qwest knows that it is the cause of the call failures," wrote Comcast attorneys this week in a letter that threatened legal action if Qwest doesn’t cease and desist its claims. "[We] can only assume that Qwest is far less interested in addressing its operational shortcomings than it is in generating public distortions about a competitor." [The Oregonian | Spokesman Review]

Qwest, meanwhile, is engaged in a new battle. It’s miffed at Colorado municipalities whose recent cable franchising ordinances require new cable franchise applicants (ie Qwest) to disclose where and when they plan to install cable. Qwest Colorado president Chuck Ward complained to local officials this would reveal sensitive information to competitors. [Denver Post | Rocky Mountain News | Denver Business Journal]

Cincinnati Bell took a "hard look" at bidding for Insight Communications, being shopped to prospective buyers by the Carlyle Group, but concluded the asking price was too much. Jack Cassidy, Bell’s president and CEO, told investors yesterday, "It would make sense strategically, knowing what I know about voice, broadband and serving enterprise customers," but added that the asking price "was beyond my means." [Cincinnati Enquirer]

NCTA pres/CEO Kyle McSlarrow spoke this morning before a House Telecom committee hearing on media violence and children, reiterating the role of parents and channel-blocking technology in protecting kids from harmful images; his remarks also promoted cable industry-funded PSAs that cable systems and networks have been running to educate families. Earlier this week, McSlarrow touted cable’s technology advances at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando; his remarks are posted here. McSlarrow hosts an OpenCable technology vendors’ showcase at NCTA HQ on Monday, where Microsoft and TiVo will demo their wares to legislators and others as part of 20 tech firms demonstrating cable’s cutting-edge and two-way interactive TV services. Cable operators will also be in attendance.

TBS has landed rerun rights to NBC’s The Office and My Name is Earl. The Office will make its off-network cable debut on TBS this fall, in an unusually early $130 million shared window deal that TBS negotiated with NBCU and Fox Broadcasting (on behalf of its 10 O&O Fox stations). The Turner-owned cable network will run episodes (paying about $650,000 each) from The Office‘s first three seasons twice a week this fall, two years before the Monday-Friday stripped rerun rights are granted to TBS and Fox, which signed a five-year license for at least 130 episodes of the Emmy-winning series. TBS also nabbed non-exclusive broadband streaming, On Demand and wireless rights that kick in Fall 2009. My Name is Earl, also joining the TBS lineup in Sept. 2009, includes digital rights (broadband, VOD) in a separate deal that Turner negotiated with series owner Twentieth Television. [Variety | Hollywood Reporter]



• PROGRAMMING

BET launches a live late-night gameshow, Take the Cake, on July 9 at 11pm. The Monday-Friday series, produced by Endemol USA, allows viewers to compete in real time for cash prizes by entering online or text messaging answers to pop culture and trivia questions. Text-message players will receive show-branded entertainment on their handsets before each night’s winners are announced live on-air. [World Screen News]

CNBC head Mark Hoffman is being eyed to take over for departing NBCU TV Stations head Jay Ireland, according to the TV Newser blog.

Comedy Central is launching a six-episode Web video series, Stick Figure Exodus, which will feature three colors says online programming exec Lou Wallach: "white paper, black lines, red blood." [Wall Street Journal]

Hallmark Channel is developing a non-fiction series, Only in America, a cross-country journey for "the heart and soul of America." [York Town Square, PA]

History Channel‘s Ice Road Truckers gets a thumbs up from New York Times TV critic Virginia Heffernan.

Lifetime is developing a series based on UK drama Mile High. The British series about randy flight attendants and pilots premiered in the U.S. on BBC America. [C21Media]

SCI FI says farewell to Stargate SG-1 tonight; click here for Seth Arenstein’s review of this and other cable programming this weekend.

Showtime‘s Meadowlands got a thumbs down in the Wall Street Journal, which writes: "There is also a price to be paid for watching Meadowlands, which for a viewer with intact sensibilities will mean almost unrelenting pain, discomfort and disgust. … As a murder victim expires here, a smile comes over his face as with his last breath he utters: ‘I’m leaving.’ Lucky man." (That hurts.)



• ONLINE

Facebook added 3 million users (now at 27 million) after adding 800 new services from third-party developers last month, notes the Wall Street Journal, adding that Rupert Murdoch fears the college-skewing site is becoming more popular than MySpace. "They’re all going to Facebook at the moment," the News Corp. chairman told a reporter. Web-tracker comScore estimates that 105 million people visited MySpace in April while 38.8 million visited Facebook.

"Google is Watching You," warns BusinessWeek, while the head of US Air Force intelligence fears that Google Earth is a threat to national security, notes Reuters. Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, Google is building a massive data-center in Iowa.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation opened an "island" in Second Life, the 3-D online community, to better understand "how virtual worlds are being used by young people." [New York Times]

Liberty Media made an offer to buy the 47% of FUN Technologies‘ shares it doesn’t own; the Canadian online casual and fantasy sports games firm is considering the offer.

Does Nintendo‘s Wii have its sights on social networking with the launch of Mii avatars, news, weather reports, photo sharing and other non-game features? MediaPost is just asking.

Michael Eisner’s Vuguru studio, which just wrapped its 80-episode Prom Queen this week, will launch a three-week spin-off, Prom Queen: Summer Heat, in August.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Adelphia released Time Warner Cable shares today with the completion of the "True Up" clause of its chapter 11 reorganization. Reuters has more.

AT&T plans to launch U-verse in Georgia as soon as statewide video franchising rules go into effect Jan. 1. [Chattanooga Times Free Press]

Chieftain Capital Management‘s Glenn Greenberg holds 55.55 million Comcast shares — quietly. [GuruFocus]

The Consumer Electronics Association released a new digital TV standard for consumers using radio frequency connections.

Jonathan Adelstein is the first FCC Commissioner to support 700 MHz "open access," notes Ars Technica.

Comcast Eastern Division president Mike Doyle was named chairman of Mommy’s Light, a charity aiding children and teens whose mothers have died. Doyle has been a long-time supporter of the non-profit organization.

Hollywood studios are grappling with a new wave of piracy hitting this summer’s movie releases, including Disney’s Ratatouille and Michael Moore’s Sicko. [Wall Street Journal]

RCN yesterday premiered The RCN Sports Talk Show, an original weekly series covering sports in its Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, PA markets. Cox Communications will debut Sports Night Oklahoma on July 23 in a bid to appeal to Tulsa and Oklahoma City sports fans. The series, airing weeknights at 10pm, will beef up Cox OK’s local channel, which currently features local news and syndicated TV classics such as Bewitched and Gunsmoke. [The Oklahoman]

TiVo CFO Steve Sordello resigned to become CFO at an undisclosed "well known late state venture funded company headquartered in Silicon Valley."

Spotted dining at Manhattan media power lunch spot Michael’s this week: Hallmark Channel head Henry Schleiff and CNN exec Jim Walton, and "Cablevision‘s Barry Frey." [Fishbowl NY]

Shirley Brady

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