Cable360AM — News briefing for Tuesday, June 5 »

"Fleeting expletives" no doubt flew from FCC chairman Kevin Martin’s mouth yesterday, as the Commission’s indecency ruling against Rupert Murdoch’s Fox television network was overturned by a federal appeals court. (His profanity-repeating written response is priceless; click here to download.) In a 2 to 1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York ruled that the FCC went too far in issuing a 2006 decision against News Corp.’s Fox for separate incidents in 2002 and 2003 involving profanities uttered live on-air by Cher and Nicole Richie. The court decision could bolster TV networks’ argument that parents need better tools, such as the V-chip and channel-blocking technology, rather than more government regulation to protect children from offensive material. "I’m disappointed in the court’s ruling," Martin told the Washington Post. "I think the commission had done the right thing in trying to protect families from that kind of language, and I think it’s unfortunate that the court in New York has said that this kind of language is appropriate on TV." The FCC may appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, he added. [Washington Post | New York Times | Huffington Post]

HBO named Bill Nelson as chairman and CEO, officially replacing Chris Albrecht on a permanent (he was interim) basis. Click here for details on Nelson’s promotion and other executive changes announced at HBO today.

Comcast sued Qwest yesterday over its "Broadband Challenge" ad campaign [details here] in Denver that debuted May 15, claiming in a "blind taste test" that 72% of Internet users said Qwest was as fast or faster than Comcast — which scoffs at the claims and now wants a federal judge in Denver to bar Qwest’s ads for false advertising and unfair competition. [Rocky Mountain News | Denver Post]

Comcast and Yahoo will offer online clips from seminars and events hosted by the Museum of Television and Radio, which today rebrands as the Paley Center for Media in tribute to late CBS founder Bill Paley, who established the institution in 1975. [Release | New York Times]

Time Warner Cable will deploy switched digital video in half its systems by year-end, offering "virtually unlimited" HD capacity that will allow the company to better compete with satellite-delivered HD offerings, according to remarks by COO Landel Hobbs at the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom conference yesterday in New York. Hobbs said the company also plans to expand to other markets its Price Lock Guarantee program in Kansas City, which freezes rates on "All the Best" packages for 15 months. (The fine print: "15-month price lock available by service extension agreement. $250 early termination fee applies. Franchise fees and taxes not included.") Also on TW’s to-do list, said Hobbs: launching local VoIP telephone service this year, and like Comcast, expanding its commercial services footprint and pushing interactive and advanced ad sales. [Click here to listen to a replay.]

Comcast has a day-and-date VOD believer in Warner Bros., whose home entertainment group president Kevin Tsujihara yesterday said at the Deutsche Bank conference that the first six months of Comcast’s day-and-date two-market test showed a 50% increase in VOD buy rates across all studios with Warner Bros. seeing a 10% rise in DVD sell-through and only "a marginal impact" on its rental business. Tsujihara also touted the "efficient marketing" of promoting a $4 VOD release and the DVD release at the same time and the fact that studios get 60-70% cut of VOD compared with 15-20% of rentals. [Hollywood Reporter]

Joost named former Cisco exec Mike Volpi its new CEO. Founding CEO Fredrik de Wahl moves to chief strategy officer. Volpi, former SVP/GM of Cisco’s Routing and Service Provider Technology Group (including Scientific Atlanta), also served on the board of Skype, the previous Web start-up launched by Joost’s founders. Volpi has big plans including, as he tells Om Malik, "We would love to put Joost on the Apple TV platform." Joost also announced a deal with former Nickelodeon exec Herb Scannell’s Next New Networks start-up to offer three NNN channels. Separately, a VC firm founded by Skype’s founding engineers today invested in another Web video start-up, Blip.tv.

On his first day as AT&T‘s CEO yesterday, Randall Stephenson tells Om Malik: "Our biggest challenge as a company is to ensure that our customers really understand what the new AT&T is all about. We are the most complete communications and entertainment provider for the way people live—and that starts with wireless. When people recognize that, we win. It’s the same on the business side." His personal challenge in the new job: "to make sure that the pieces we’ve assembled–industry-leading wireless, TV, broadband, global operations and local service work together as smoothly and efficiently as possible." He’s also pumped about being the exclusive cellphone partner for Apple‘s iPhone, which will be released June 29: "This device is very important to us, it’s important to Apple and it is going to do very well with customers. It also reinforces with consumers that AT&T is the place to turn for the latest in wireless devices and services."

News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch met with representatives of Dow Jones‘ controlling shareholders, the Bancroft family, for more than four hours yesterday and engaged in discussions that Murdoch called "constructive." Much of those discussions centered on editorial independence at the Wall Street Journal, with Murdoch now willing to establish an independent body (similar to what Reuters has done) to maintain editorial integrity, as the WSJ itself reports. The WSJ looks at Murdoch’s track record of meddling in editorial decision-making, including a front-page headline in 1996 that read, "Is Ted Turner nuts? You decide" after Time Warner Cable declined to carry his Fox News Channel. Murdoch’s response to the WSJ: "Well, we were in a war," and says he approved of using the NY Post to go after Time Warner, but adds: "You’re talking about the daily New York Post in the same breath as The Wall Street Journal. They’re not the same."

Ad spending dipped in the first quarter (by 0.3% to $34.93 billion) over 1Q06 figures, which TNS Media Intelligence attributes to "a sluggish January" and lack of Winter Olympics, leading TNS to conclude: "it is apparent that core growth rates have slowed further from last year’s lackluster levels." Only six of its 19 measured media categories registered year-over-year gains in the first quarter. Online display ads were up 16.7%, consumer magazines increased 7.1% and cable networks posted a 6.3% gain (to $3.82 billion) in the quarter, "with niche interest channels pacing ahead."

• PROGRAMMING

BET launched an online dating service for African American singles on BET.com. BET’s Web dating and personals center went live May 8th.

HBO is commissioning director Spike Lee to film a follow-up documentary to When the Levee Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, his searing post-Katrina doc that picked up one of five George Foster Peabody Awards for HBO at the Peabodys annual ceremony held yesteday in New York. [Hollywood Reporter]

Jewelry Television is launching on Bright House Networks. [Orlando Business Journal]

NBC Universal will distribute its movie titles to LodgeNet for hotel rooms in a deal that includes HD versions of its films.

New Frontier Media reported its fiscal 2007 and fourth quarter earnings with its adult pay-per-view category down and VOD up due to Comcast. CEO Ken Boenish tells CableWorld this week the company is producing less explicit fare at the request of its operator affiliates, starting with erotic thrillers and reality shows.

Speed will air a tribute tonight to former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr., who died yesterday at 74.

• IN OTHER NEWS

Kids are starting to use electronic devices at younger ages: the current average is 6.7, down from 8.1 years in 2005, according to the NPD Group.

BigBand Networks sued Imagine Communications for alleged patent infringement.

Chicago Tribune op-ed urges Illinois Senate to pass the AT&T-backed statewide franchise bill that cleared the Illinois House with a vote of 113-0 on Friday.

Comcast outlined its gameplan for Houston market, which rebrands from Time Warner Cable on June 19. Comcast is investing more than $200 million this year to serve the market’s 750,000 cable customers. This month it launches 20 new channels including the NFL Network and five new HD channels including Golf and ESPN2; in July it migrates online and phone customers and increases Internet speeds from 5 to 6 Mbps (Road Runner email addresses will forward until Dec. 31); and by October it will expand the market’s VOD lineup from 1,000 titles to 9,000 programs. [Houston Chronicle]

The Denver Post looks at Comcast‘s bigger strategy in migrating channels from analog to digital.

Shirley Brady

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