Cable360AM — News briefing for Thursday, June 14 »

Satellite TV rivals DirecTV and EchoStar partnered today with Clearwire, and are contemplating a joint bid for Intelsat. DirecTV and EchoStar this morning tapped wireless pioneer Craig McCaw’s Clearwire in a three-way distribution agreement that will allows both satellite companies to offer Clearwire’s high-speed Internet service to their customers. In return, Clearwire will offer the video services of one or both satellite companies to its customers. As a result, the three companies will offer high-speed Internet, video and voice in all current and future Clearwire markets by the end of this year.

The DirecTV/EchoStar/Clearwire deal follows a story in this morning’s Wall Street Journal that EchoStar and DirecTV’s soon-to-be-owner Liberty Media are pondering a joint bid for Intelsat, the leading satellite vendor with a fleet of more than 51 satellites and support services. As the Journal notes, Intelsat’s "best customers are cable-television providers." EchoStar founder and CEO Charlie Ergen has broached the idea of a limited joint venture with DirecTV "over the years" and in recent months met with Liberty Media chairman John Malone to discuss "broader cooperation."

The move also follows this morning’s Wall Street Journal story that Sprint, no longer enchanted with WiMAX, may form a joint venture or partnership with Clearwire as an alternative to spinning off its WiMAX business. Sprint is also reportedly wooing third parties such as cable operators to co-invest in its WiMAX buildout. Sprint has already held preliminary talks to that effect with Time Warner Cable, which offers Pivot-branded wireless via the MSO joint venture with Sprint.

FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein expressed doubts yesterday about the viability of a national wireless broadband service, as is being proposed by the Coalition for 4G America (which includes EchoStar and DirecTV plus Google, Intel and eBay’s Skype) in the commission’s upcoming auction of wireless spectrum. FCC commissioner Robert McDowell last week expressed similar concerns. Notes the Wall Street Journal: "The two commissioners’ doubts stem from the fact that in a separate auction last year, the two satellite television companies pushed for a rule change that would facilitate a national license, but then pulled out of the subsequent auction in the early rounds when they were outbid."



The upfront breaks: NBC Universal‘s $800 million pact with GroupM yesterday was the first announced deal in this year’s upfront. The agreement, based on Nielsen’s "live plus three" commercial ratings with three days of DVR playback data, encompasses NBC, its Spanish-language channels and NBCU’s cable networks including USA, Bravo and SCI FI. As the fourth-rated network with a brand new programming czar (Ben Silverman, who replaced Kevin Reilly) named after its upfront presentation last month, NBC wasn’t expected to move first with a major upfront deal, but GroupM was interested in hit series including The Office and Heroes. GroupM, a unit of WPP, has the biggest upfront budget and is the biggest aggregator of TV ad dollars through its three buying agencies—Mindshare, Mediaedge:cia and Mediacom—which represent clients including Unilever, Sprint, IBM, American Express, Warner Bros., Paramount and Audi. GroupM’s chief investment officer Rino Scanzoni brokered the deal with Michael Pilot, NBCU’s new ad sales head. GroupM parent WPP recently acquired 24/7 Real Media to compete with Google and Yahoo on online ads, and took a stake in VideoEgg, a Web video ad agency.  [Wall Street Journal | New York Times | Variety | Reuters | New York Post]

In NBC’s second upfront deal announced yesterday, Nissan (via OMD) renewed a deal for season 2 of Heroes which includes 30-second spots and other on-air, online and wireless opportunities to plug the Nissan Rogue.

Bravo TV, meanwhile, is getting into the talent business by licensing books and merchandise related to participants on its reality series including Top Chef, Work Out, Project Runway and The Real Housewives of Orange County. That includes Top Chef-branded knives from Master Cutlery, a cookbook and a cellphone game from LimeLife this fall, plus other series’ tie-ins. [Release | USA Today] Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick touted the network’s "4D model" for brand extensions and marketing at yesterday’s Promax/BDA conference in New York, notes MediaPost. 4D, explained Zalaznick, means advertising and push messaging; two-way interactive; experiential marketing; and personalized marketing such as social networks and "viral buzz" that boost its TV network first and foremost. "For the next few years," she said, "content is going to first go live on TV and then extend to our other platforms." Bravo’s upfront pitch to advertisers: Affluencers, its term for its influential and affluent viewers.



• PROGRAMMING

The Africa Channel launched on Charter Communications’ Fort Worth, TX, system. It’s now in about 2 million homes in markets including Detroit, Atlanta, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, LA, Macon GA and Washington, D.C. [Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, TX]

HBO‘s conclusion to The Sopranos isn’t expected to whack HBO subscriptions in at least one cable market: Time Warner Cable‘s Raleigh, NC, system, where VP marketing and sales George Douglas says a small number of subscribers cancel between seasons of The Sopranos anyway, but the cancellations aren’t significant, commenting, "The HBO universe is remarkably flat." Douglas, who called the finale "brilliant," was puzzled by fans’ outcry over the ambiguous ending: "I don’t understand, frankly. It is just a TV show." [News & Observer, NC] Meanwhile, fans continue to debate the meaning of the ending while HBO says David Chase didn’t shoot multiple endings except for having Meadow sit down, which was cut—and don’t expect a movie, notes USA Today. Cast reactions (including actor Matt Servitto, who played Agent Harris, on the ending that Chase cut) are posted on YouTube.

Outdoor Channel stated in an SEC filing that Comcast is bumping it from digital onto a sports tier in Chicago, representing a 500,000-subscriber loss to its distribution. [WSJ]



• ONLINE

A&E‘s promo website (freakyourmind.com) for the third season premiere of Criss Angel Mindfreak streamed a million video views in three weeks, AETN’s SVP of consumer marketing Guy Slattery noted on a panel at Promax/BDA yesterday. Comedy Central‘s Lil’ Bush viral video generated 9,000 views in 18 hours after the network held a pre-screening for bloggers in New York, Catherine Moran, the network’s VP of consumer and trade marketing commented. TV Guide Network SVP of marketing Doug Yates shared that a MySpace contest to drive tune-in for its Look-a-Like premiere attracted 172,000 unique visitors, four times the average for similar MySpace contests, and led to a 30% lift in viewers 18-34. [MediaPost]

CNN launched a YouTube channel to solicit user-generated questions for its July 23 Democratic debate and Sept. 17 Republican debate. Anderson Cooper will moderate the two-hour live debates, which will put YouTubers’ videotaped questions directly to the candidates. Here’s Cooper’s YouTube video announcing the historic first for a presidential debate.

eBay pulled out of Google‘s AdWords search engine marketing program after a spat in Boston, where Google tried to woo eBay sellers to an event touting Google Checkout. [New York Times]



• WIRELESS

MobiTV today launches a live channel, NBC Sports Mobile, with live coverage of the 2007 U.S. Open Golf tee-off with Tiger Woods. NBCSports.com is also streaming live coverage of the tournament.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Disney Channel will release video games for consoles and hand-held devices related to High School Musical and other properties this fall.

Shirley Brady

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