360AM — Morning news briefing for Monday, Apr. 2 (Updated: 9pm ET)

Deal or no deal? That’s the question today as fans hope In Demand can cut a 13th hour deal on behalf of its cable operator owners to keep MLB‘s Extra Innings out-of-market baseball games package this season. MLB agreed Saturday to extend negotiations beyond its Mar. 31 deadline after Comcast dispatched a top-level delegation Friday from its Philly HQ to help In Demand hammer out a deal. No word today as talks continued and the parties tried to settle their differences and finalize a contract. Sen. John Kerry today urged MLB to strike a deal and "not abandon baseball’s greatest fans" on opening day.

Meanwhile, Tribune today announced it will sell the Chicago Cubs following the 2007 baseball season to real estate magnate Sam Zell as part of accepting his $8.2 billion offer to take the company private. Zell also receives Tribune’s 25% stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which launched in 2004. CSC will broadcast 72 regular season Cubs games this year. HDNet/Dallas Mavs‘ owner Mark Cuban and Playboy CEO Christie Hefner were among the potential Cubs’ acquirers rumored today. [DM Wire]

A dispute between Fox Sports Net and DirecTV and EchoStar could lead to FSN Midwest’s Cardinals telecasts being blacked out this season in parts of Illinois, Iowa and Kentucky. FSN is holding out for the DBS providers’ basic service package. [St. Louis Post Dispatch] FSN North changes its name to FSN Wisconsin today, just in time for the Milwaukee Brewers’ regular season opener. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel] FSN Houston will air 50 Astros games in HD this season, starting next month. [Houston Chronicle] FSN will televise nearly 1,800 live MLB games on cable and satellite this season, a 10% increase over last season. On a typical night, FSN will televise 10 MLB games across its 19 regional sports nets this season. [MediaWeek]

SportsNet NY, the TV partner of last night’s winning NY Mets, is running new promos to tout the Amazins’ on-air home. NY Yankees games on YES Network tend to draw bigger audiences than SNY’s Mets games. [Variety]

Cox’s AutoTrader.com this week kicks off a local MLB marketing campaign with the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Local, team-related marketing will be augmented by spot-TV buys across a dozen cable and network television channels, including vignettes on Comedy Central and sponsoring Saturdays on Speed Channel. [MediaPost]



• OPERATOR MOVES

Comcast and Insight Communications are ending their Insight Midwest partnership in a deal expected to close by year-end. Upon completion of the transaction, pending approvals, Comcast will own 100% of the partnership’s cable systems serving Illinois customers in Rockford/Dixon, Quincy/Macomb, Springfield, Peoria and Champaign/Urbana, and Indiana customers in Bloomington, Anderson, and Lafayette/Kokomo. As of December 31, 2006, these systems passed 1.2 million homes. Insight will have sole ownership of the partnership’s systems passing 1.3 million homes in Kentucky (Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Covington) and Ohio (Evansville, Indiana and Columbus). [Release]

Comcast invested in Vyatta, creator of open source router software and hardware network infrastructure products. Om Malik blogs the "investment indicates that cable carriers are getting serious about chasing the small and medium sized businesses, and competing with the telephone companies in more than just consumer markets."

Cox Communications tapped Vyyo "as part of Cox’s newbuild (3GHz) architecture and for business services in its existing network." [Release] Vyyo, which last month hired cable vets Wayne Davis as CEO and Jim Chiddix as vice chairman, reported Q4 & 2006 results today.

Is Time Warner Cable planning to pick up FON? [GigaOM]



• COMPETITION WATCH

News Corp. shareholders are tomorrow expected to approve an $11 billion asset swap with Liberty Media at a special investor meeting. The vote should end a two-year stand-off between the companies’ controlling shareholders—News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and Liberty Media’s John Malone—over a large voting stake Liberty Media accumulated in News Corp. In the swap, News Corp. will give up its controlling interest in DirecTV and other assets in exchange for Liberty Media’s shares. The deal lets News Corp. "gracefully exit from DirecTV," writes the Wall Street Journal.

DirecTV hired Ellen Filipiak, a cable veteran of 25 years at Adelphia, AT&T Broadband and other operators, as SVP of customer service [Release]. DirecTV’s DVR-based "On Demand" service is getting ready to launch; here’s a peek at the UI.

AT&T is being accused of unfair tactics by municipalities. [Chicago Business Ledger]

Verizon struck a deal to add NESN HD to its FiOS TV channel lineup in Boston and 39 other Massachussetts communities, a boon to Red Sox and Bruins fans [Release]. Verizon also announced a $14.99/mo. high-speed Internet offer for 12 months of 768 Kbps service and $19.99 for 3 Mbps service [Release].



• PROGRAMMING

A&E premieres the fourth season of Dog the Bounty Hunter on Tues. Apr. 10.

Azteca America is being dropped in all Pappas Telecasting markets on June 30 except for KAZA-TV in Los Angeles, the network’s flagship station whose carriage agreement expires June 30, 2008. Pappas, which carried the Latino network for six years, stated that "its programming has not developed and ratings have not grown as we had expected." [Release]

BBC America in June will introduce a new demographically- themed primetime schedule aimed at upfront ad dollars; click here for details.

BET Networks hired two former AOL execs: Janet Rolle was named EVP and CMO while Alvin Bowles was named SVP, integrated marketing. Veteran Viacom/MTVN PR hand Jeanine Liburd was named BETN’s SVP, communications and public affairs. [Release]

Bravo premieres The World According to Whoopi, a stand up comedy special starring Whoopi Goldberg, on Thurs. Apr. 5 at 10pm. [Release]

CNN
is losing political analyst Jeff Greenfield to CBS News, where he will become senior political correspondent on May 1 [Release | Washington Post]. Greenfield was a media analyst for CBS in 1980. CBS recently hired CNN reporters Kelly Wallace and Daniel Sieberg; CNN anchor Anderson Cooper also contributes to 60 Minutes.

Comedy Central launched Crash Course in Comedy, an online school for aspiring comics with instructional videos and interactive features; Hyundia is sponsoring. [Release]

Discovery hails the Season 3 return of Deadliest Catch (tomorrow night) with a fish-wrapper street marketing campaign this week. [New York Times]

fuse today debuts a daily (6pm ET) show, The Sauce, a magazine-style format with live performances and interviews. [Release]

FX premieres The Shield‘s season 6 (of 7, writes the L.A. Times) tomorrow at 10pm ET. FX also announced details on Damages, its upcoming series starring Glenn Close, who played Capt. Monica Rowling in The Shield‘s fourth season. The 13-ep legal thriller, which will premiere this summer, features Close in her first starring TV role as New York-based prosecutor Patty Hewes. Damages also co-stars Ted Danson, Rose Byrne and Tate Donovan.

G4 programming will receive the first video ads on BitTorrent’s P2P entertainment network enabled by YuMe Networks, a broadband advertising tech firm. [Release]

HBO signed Sydney Pollack to direct Recount, a feature-length account of the 2000 election turmoil in Florida; it’s set to debut in spring 2008. [Hollywood Reporter] He’s also polishing off his acting chops for HBO with a great cameo role in the second "final" (or 7th last) Sopranos episode, premiering Apr. 15. As HBO gears up for the final eight eps starting Sunday, academics debate whether Tony should die. "It’s the only satisfying ending," says Al Gini, a philosophy professor at Chicago’s Loyola University who incorporated Soprano’s leadership traits into a business ethics course. [Los Angeles Times]

ION (which reported earnings today) will counter Discovery’s Lost Tomb of Jesus with a special, The Fabric of Time, set to air (naturally) on Good Friday, Apr. 6. [Release]

MSNBC.com today launches a new branding campaign and tagline, "A Fuller Spectrum of News." [Release]

MTV introduces a Thursday primetime comedy lineup this week, anchored by Human Giant, a sketch comedy troupe at 10:30pm with guests including 24‘s Mary Lynn Rajskub, Tony Hawk and Ghostface Killah. The final season of Pimp My Ride precedes it at 9pm, followed by Nick Cannon Presents: Short Circuitz at 9:30pm and Three 6 Mafia’s Adventures in HollyHood at 10pm. A sneak peek at Human Giant is available tomorrow on MTV.com and MTV Mobile, in addition to Xbox, iTunes and Human Giant’s website.

NBCU & News Corp.’s shared broadband video portal plans to give Yahoo, MSN and other affiliates 10% of ad revenue with the 90% balance going to the site’s partners and copyright holders. YouTube’s typical revenue split, in comparison, is 70% to its content partners and 30% to YouTube. [New York Times]

Showtime launched on Comcast’s HD VOD service yesterday, in time for the premiere of its new series, The Tudors. [TVPredictions]

TCM premieres RKO Lost & Found on Wed., a trio of restored versions of 1930s vintage RKO films thought to have been lost for 50 years. Part 2’s trio of RKO films airs next Wed.

USA begins its 26th year of covering the Masters from Augusta, GA, on Thursday. Universal HD will simulcast USA’s tournament coverage in high-def. [Release]

WWE‘s WrestleMania 23 attracted more than 80,000 fans yesterday to Detroit’s Ford Field, where Vince McMahon lost the "battle of the billionaires" to Donald Trump and was "forced" to shave his hair. With more than $5.38 million in ticket sales, WM23 is now the highest grossing one-day live event in WWE history. No word yet on PPV buy rates.

TV viewing among adults 18-24 has (no surprise) increased since Nielsen started reporting out-of-home viewing including college dorms in January. Magna Global says ABC has benefited most among broadcast nets while Adult Swim, Comedy Central, MTV, TBS and VH1 have shown the largest primetime ratings increases on cable in that young-skewing demo. [Hollywood Reporter]



• IN OTHER NEWS

CableLabs announced its exhibitors and hot topics (OCAP, security, wireless, user-generated content) at the 2007 Cable Show, May 7-9 in Las Vegas.

UBS managing director Aryeh Bourkoff, its senior cable, satellite and entertainment analyst, becomes vice chairman of its technology, media and telecoms (TMT) investment banking group on May 1st. [Release]

Google‘s April Fools’ gotchas: TiSP, a toilet-based Web service (complete with press release, FAQ and instructions); and Gmail Paper.

Trademark dispute resolved, Apple announces music deal with EMI (home to Beatle’s Apple label) that will bring higher quality, DRM-free (but no Beatles) to iTunes for $1.29 a pop. Mark Cuban is a fan of DRM-free music; on his blog, Cuban suggests charging "people an extra 5 dollars on their cable bill for DRM free, unlimited use music… There is no reason why each label can’t be a ‘network’ comparable to Turner, NBC Universal, HDNet, etc. that gets paid by the subscriber." In another sign of digital turmoil in music’s ranks, Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Universal’s Interscope Records, is joining P2P service LimeWire on June 1. Bob Lefsetz has more.

CE retail giants Best Buy and Circuit City report Q4 earnings on Wed. Circuit City is laying off 3,400 of its top salesclerks—you know, the ones who understand HDTV, media centers, home networks, etc. [New York Times] HP, meanwhile, is getting out of the media center business. [DigitalTrends]

Shirley Brady

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