360AM — Morning news briefing for Wed., May 16 >>

The TV upfronts are in full swing this week — some highlights:

• Mobile ESPN rises from the ashes today, reborn as ESPN MVP and exclusive to Verizon Wireless. The rebranded ESPN mobile service can be downloaded onto five Verizon phones (with more to follow) at no additional charge on top of a monthly $15 Vpak (which includes VCast) subscription. Disney pulled the plug on Mobile ESPN, a branded MVNO content/handset play that only attracted only 25,000 subscribers after its $100 million Feb. ’06 launch. Today’s Verizon launch follows ESPN’s upfront yesterday and Disney’s mobile deal with Sprint, also talked up at ABC’s upfront yesterday. [Release | AP | Dow Jones | Reuters | Chicago Tribune | Hollywood Reporter | ESPN FAQ]

• CBS pitches advertisers today a fall roster that includes a remake of the BBC hit series, Viva Blackpool, still a singing ode to casino shenanigans but now called Viva Laughlin and co-starring Hugh Jackman. Also on tap: Swingtown, about swingers in ’70s Chicago; Moonlight, featuring a vampire P.I.; Cane, starring Jimmy Smits as a Cuban-American sugar-cane magnate; The Big Bang Theory, its sole new sitcom; the unscripted Kid Nation and Power of 10, a gameshow hosted by Drew Carey. The New Adventures of Old Christine and The Amazing Race were picked up for mid-season while Jericho, The Class and Close to Home were cancelled. Survivor is coming back, despite a 17% finale ratings drop-off Sunday. [Release | New York Times | Variety | Zap2It | AP]

• CBS head Les Moonves tells Wired he embraces Web video: "We don’t care how you get our content—over the air, over cable, satellite, the Internet, or on your cell phone—as long as we get paid for it." Moonves says user-generated content is affecting the development process: "We have a bunch of people coming up with ideas for original shows that are very cheap, very experimental. There isn’t a lot of advertising revenue on this, so you need young people who don’t want a lot of money yet. They will later." (His YouTube faves, btw: OK Go and Chen-Bot, a spoof on wife Julie Chen.) Moonves didn’t join the NBCU/News Corp. Web video venture because of "the idea of exclusivity … We think we can accomplish as much alone as they’re doing together." He’s also pumped about mobile content: "We think wireless is going to grow tremendously. Do I think people are going to watch an episode of Survivor on a 2-inch television set? I doubt it. But I do think somebody’s going to go to a grocery store in the middle of a football game and watch that game."

• Fox announced two more seasons of 24 ahead of its upfront tomorrow. [Variety] MIA at NBC‘s upfront on Monday: NBCU TV Studio president Angela Bromstad, who’s reportedly negotiating with NBCU president Jeff Zucker for another position within the company. [Variety] he blogosphere is abuzz that ABC bowed to NFL pressure and nixed a US spinoff of Brit series Footballers Wive$, now on BBC America, recalling ESPN‘s cancellation of Playmakers—see here and here.  

Hispanic upfront news: Gol TV touted its "home team advantage" along with its exclusive English-language U.S. rights to Copa America and a new look and logo. Univision paraded Jennifer Lopez, announced a Spanish-language version of Desperate Housewives and raised some cable eyebrows after CEO Joe Uva said he would like to get $1/sub from cable operators for retransmission consent. Discovery Networks U.S. Hispanic Group announced over 100 hours of programming including HD special Discovery Atlas: Mexico Revealed.

Media buyer’s perspective: Bill McOwen, EVP and director of media investments for MPG, a division of Havas, tells the Wall Street Journal he expects to "do at least 50% more digital purchasing than we did last year" in this upfront; and says of the ratings flap in this upfront, "I don’t think the networks can stay in business if they adhere once again to the current currency of using only live ratings. At the same time, I don’t think marketers can afford to only use live ratings either. If networks can’t monetize their audience, the cost per thousand will escalate through the roof. What has to be done is both sides have to address commercial ratings and find what works for them. There has to be compromise."

Cable’s superior ad platform: Today’s WSJ also looks at cable operators’ advanced ad sales, including addressable advertising, interactive and VOD ads and—see ratings flap above—improved viewership data culled from the set-top box. "Think about the power of the set-top box in people’s homes and what that box is able to collect," says Cox ad sales SVP Billy Farina. "We would be able to gather richer data than Nielsen has just because of the infrastructure we have built." Time Warner Cable‘s ad sales president Joan Gillman says cable’s #1 value to advertisers "is they get Internet-like data" while Charter‘s advanced ad guru Todd Stewart says targeted advertising increases viewer engagement and relevance so "the advertiser is going to reach a better consumer and we’d maximize their results. It’s a double win for both of us."

• New research from Publicis shows that viewers are unhappy with primetime TV programming, with 38% saying they’re less satisfied and 75% finding it less or no more compelling than in years past. [MediaPost]



• ONLINE

Amazon will launch a DRM-free music download service later this year with EMI and other labels, following EMI’s DRM-free deal with iTunes. [Release]

Comcast‘s Ziddio launches "Are you WWE‘s biggest fan?" viral video promotion on Friday.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt explains audio ad push to USA Today.

HBO is offering the 1st episode of upcoming series Flight of the Conchords on its website through to the series premiere on June 17th. It’s also—in a first—allowing Web users to share the episode in a DRM-free version that can be embedded on blogs and social network sites including MySpace, where a Conchords page is now online.

MySpace removed and blocked "a few thousand" user profiles of convicted sex offenders yesterday following complaints from eight U.S. attorneys general, but (citing privacy laws) won’t divulge identities to authorities. [New York Times | Reuters]

YouTube was sued by Grateful Dead musician David Grisman for copyright infringement. [WebProNews]



• PROGRAMMING

Discovery Channel‘s Emmy-nominated Cash Cab moves to 6pm on May 28 and gets a four-week stint at 10pm starting May 30.

MSG airs the John Duddy/Dupre Strickland boxing event on a one-day tape delayed basis in HD on Sept. 19.

TNT is developing Family Man, a series about a conflicted criminal, with William H. Macy as star and co-writer. Macy starred in (and co-wrote) TNT’s original movies Door to Door and The Wool Cap. [Variety]

Viacom plans MTV launch in Japan. [Variety] MTV returns to Sin City for Reunion: The Real World Las Vegas season starting May 30.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Decker Anstrom, pres/COO of Landmark Communications, was elected chairman of the National Cable & Telecommunications 2007-08 board of directors; he served as NCTA pres/CEO from 1994-99. Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge was elected vice chairman; Advance/Newhouse chairman/CEO Bob Miron was elected secretary; Cox Communications president Pat Esser was elected treasurer. The NCTA’s 2007-08 executive committee includes Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts as past NCTA board chairman, the incoming board of directors and NCTA pres/CEO Kyle McSlarrow in an ex officio role, in addition to: Time Warner Cable pres/CEO Glenn Britt, Mediacom Communications chairman/CEO Rocco Commisso; GCI pres/CEO Ron Duncan; Suddenlink Communications chairman/CEO Jerry Kent; Charter Communications pres/CEO Neil Smit; and Insight Communications vice chairman/CEO Michael Willner.

John Malone’s Liberty Media is expected to get a green light from MLB today to acquire the Atlanta Braves from Time Warner in a tax-free transaction. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Warren Buffett upped his Comcast stake from 8 million to 12 million shares [USA Today] while Carl Icahn nearly halved his Time Warner stake from 25 million to 12.9 million shares [LA Times].

Akimbo stops delivering video Aug. 1 to its RCA-branded set-top box to focus on PC delivery. [Screen Digest]

Concurrent raised $14 million through a private placement. 

NY Post‘s Page Six spots HBO chairman Chris Albrecht out on the town with forgiving girlfriend Karla Jensen.

Food for thought as cable steps up commercial services: new research shows word of mouth marketing has the biggest influence on business-to-business decision-makers. [Promo]

BusinessWeek examines the racial digital divide, with only 14% broadband adoption among African Americans according to data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates welcomes Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos, Meg Whitman to his annual CEO Summit, which kicks off today. [Seattle Times] In big news for gamers, Microsoft this morning announced it will release Halo 3 on Sept. 25. [Release] Shirley Brady

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