360AM — Morning news briefing for Monday, May 14 >>

Comcast‘s desire to offer day-and-date distribution of movies on VOD in tandem with their theatrical release, as touted by Comcast COO Steve Burke at last week’s Cable Show, was rejected by two of the nation’s biggest theater chains: Regal Entertainment and National Amusements, whose president—Shari Redstone, daughter of Sumner—told the Los Angeles Times, "It might be good for Comcast, but I don’t believe it’s good for anybody else. Everything that chips away at our revenue chips away at our ability to preserve—and improve—the moviegoing experience." At least two studios, Disney and Paramount, aren’t keen to move up VOD windows to match theatrical releases; Universal, 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures declined to comment.

A day after Comcast won a New York Supreme Court ruling supporting putting the NFL Network on sports tiers, Comcast didn’t waste any time punting the channel Friday to that berth, including to its Sports Plus $4 monthly tier in Houston. The NFL Friday filed notice that it’s appealing the decision. [Houston Chronicle]

Following his ouster last week from HBO, the network’s former chairman & CEO Chris Albrecht pleaded no contest Friday to a misdemeanor battery charge and received a six-month suspended sentence and year of unsupervised probation following his drunken assault on girlfriend Karla Jensen following the De La Hoya/Mayweather bout in Las Vegas. He also agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and undergo domestic violence counseling, acknowledging "unlawful grabbing" of Jensen, who released a statement (with Albrecht) on Friday saying they were both drunk and to blame for the incident. [Los Angeles Times | Associated Press] With Albrecht gone, "HBO is facing the biggest crisis in its 35-year history," writes Newsweek, as the network gears up for the finale of The Sopranos on June 10 (which could whack the Tony Awards on CBS, notes Newsday). To build buzz for Big Love‘s move to Monday nights starting June 11, HBO is giving Comcast digital subscribers an exclusive look back starting May 28, a week before other cable and satellite operators; Big Love: In the Beginning then migrates to HBO.com and will run on HBO on June 24. [Houston Chronicle] Last week HBO pulled the plug on one of Albrecht’s pet projects: the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, which the network hosted for 13 years. [Aspen Times]



• UPFRONT WATCH

The annual broadcast TV upfront kicks off today with NBC‘s presentation in New York, which will highlight NBCU president Jeff Zucker’s just-clinched deal with producer Dick Wolf to premiere first-run episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on USA Network before they run on NBC. Law & Order will return for an 18th season on NBC this fall along with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Previously, Criminal Intent and SVU premiered on NBC with a second run later the same week on USA. TNT had wooed Law & Order before NBCU’s landmark NBC-2nd deal, which Zucker says makes USA akin to a fixth or sixth entertainment network in competition with the big broadcast networks. [Release | New York Times | Wall Street Journal] Click here for NBC’s 2007/08 upfront primetime programming and here for NBC’s digital programming initiatives this fall, including Heroes 360 and The Office 360.

The game-changer in this upfront: the impact of time-shifting linear TV via DVRs (as MarketWatch points out) and online video distribution on linear TV networks’ ad sales, as the New York Times notes. ABC‘s tagline for its upfront event tomorrow, "ABC Start Here," underlines that TV is "just one medium among many" including the Web, iTunes and other off-TV touchpoints, NYT advertising columnist Stuart Elliott observes in his upfront preview. All networks are testing ways to keep viewers engaged through commercial breaks or pods, such as Fox‘s Oleg-the-cabdriver interstitials in 24, Elliott adds. And don’t discount the sitcom’s power to save TV’s bottom line, notes NYT contributor David Blum.

CBS, reports the Wall Street Journal, will talk up how it’s syndicating its entertainment, news and sports programming to a digital network of video-rich websites. Its so-called CBS Interactive Audience Network includes AOL and Joost, in which CBS Corp. took an equity stake last week. CBS is also working on digital distribution deals with social networking sites such as Facebook and Last.fm and also talking to Slide Inc. about allowing MySpace users and others to personalize their web-pages with CBS videos and images. CBS corporate Web strategist, Quincy Smith, acknowledges that its web video portal Innertube has been a bust: "We can’t expect consumers to come to us. It’s arrogant for any media company to assume that." CBS will keep 90% of ad revenue it sells on its new Web network while advertisers get 10%. "I’m really impressed [because we can] make one buy but tailor the ad message differently to each of the sites," says Starcom USA VP Tracey Scheppach. Online video sites like iTunes that sell TV content "will likely peak this year" as more programming shifts to ad-supported free websites, Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey notes in a new study that calls the paid download video market "a dead end." [Reuters]

Fox announced Fox Infinity ahead of this week’s upfront. Its first in-house ad agency to serve all of News Corp.’s marketing needs including cable networks and digital media is being led by Fox EVP of marketing Chris Carlisle. [MediaPost]

Nielsen Media is throwing a spanner in the traditional upfront, with buyers such as WPP’s GroupM and TV network sellers for the first time negotiating with a mix of two data streams: average commercial ratings and live plus three day data incorporating DVR viewing, notes MediaPost; the Los Angeles Times also weighs in. Start-up TV tracker T-TAM says ESPN, CNN and Fox are using its out-of-home ratings to beef up metrics in this upfront. Nielsen today unveiled its first suite of NielsenConnect products led by ad sales veteran Jon Mandel.

With automotive being a big (pun intended) driver each upfront, New York Times kicks the tires on DriverTV and online vehicle showcases for prospective car-buyers as MarketingCharts notes that car-makers’ traditional ad spending will fall while online spending will continue to grow.



• COMPETITION

DirecTV will launch a navigation portal next year "that will be stocked with a user’s favorite shows, a list of buddies and their recommendations and a streamlined remote with fewer buttons," reports the San Francisco Chronicle in a story about navigation systems (including Hillcrest Labs‘ Wii-like motion-sensor remote nav) at the Cable Show. DirecTV EVP of entertainment Eric Shanks says the satellite provider is "considering voice-activated search features that allow users to speak" into a remote control to find a show or movie.

AT&T‘s U-verse offers "more channels, more HD channels, competitive speeds, and slightly lower subscription fees," reviews the San Jose Mercury News. "At some point, consumers are going to get more entertainment and faster Internet access for less money. It’s about time." Another plus for this reviewer: the ability to record four shows at a time. A downer: no HD VOD, like Comcast.



• PROGRAMMING

Azteca America launched on Cox Communications‘ Tulsa, OK, market, its ninth Cox market and first so-called "white area" agreement launch; it’s also on Buckeye Cable in Toledo, Ohio. [Release]

Cartoon Network launches "Toonami Klik" street-skating tour. [Release]

CN8, Comcast’s regional news network, received three Emmy awards from the National Television Academy’s Boston/New England chapter; its Washington, D.C. studio opens tomorrow. [Release]

Fuel TV, Fox Cable Networks‘ action sports net, signed a digital distribution deal with Comcast that will make it available to more than 50 million cable and satellite homes by year-end. [Release]

FX tapped Reggie Bradford’s ViTrue for user-generated fan contest touting return of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in July. [Release]

MTV‘s Rob & Big returns May 22. [Release]

mtvU taps Cisco to sponsor its second annual digital incubator. [Release]

The N premieres multiplatform Star Stylist June 15. [Release]

Nickelodeon/MTV Networks Kids and Family Group promoted Sarah Kirshbaum Levy to COO, from EVP, strategy and business operations for Nick.

Nick at Nite names Funniest Mom in America (3). [Release]

Showtime attacked by anti-evolutionists for televising doc, Flock of Dodos, starting Thursday.

TV Guide Network brings back Look-a-Like with MySpace component on May 29. [Release]

Versus today televises the live semi-finals in the Louis Vuitton Cup, with four challengers competing; the Comcast-owned sports net is broadcasting live America’s Cup action for the first time this season.

VH1 Rock Honors will premiere Thurs., May 24 on VH1, VH1 Classic and MHD; it was taped at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Saturday. [Release]

WWE promoted Geof Rochester to EVP of marketing; he’s now responsible for global marketing, integrated brand initiatives, talent branding, live events, pay-per-view, advertising and promotions, research, creative services, and public and government relations; he reports to WWE chairman Vince McMahon. Also promoted: McMahon’s daughter Stephanie McMahon Levesque to EVP, talent and creative writing; and John Laurinaitis to SVP, talent relations.

& Mediaweek looks at cable networks’ summer programming plans.



• ONLINE

Comcast‘s thePlatform partnered with adap.tv for integrated online video advertising. [Release]

IFC releases original Web series, Getting Away With It, on VMIX.com. [Release]

Joost added the Horror Channel to its network of affiliates. [Release]

Wal-mart is adding Skype-compatible Web phone gear to its 1,800 stores plus the first prepaid Skype phone cards. [Release]

Yahoo should merge with NBC Universalhypothesizes the Wall Street Journal.

BusinessWeek says viewers are ready to watch long stretches of TV on sites like Joost; NYT begs to differ.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Cisco is prepping a "super-DVR" with wireless networking, reports BusinessWeek.

Vyyo reported 1st quarter earnings.

TargusInfo survey says: nearly 2/3 of consumers want caller ID on TV and cellphones.

AP looks at cable operators’ burgeoning local VOD programming.

Could Comcast go private? Craig Moffett does the math (via Seeking Alpha).

Time Warner Cable NYC’s Betty Campbell-Adams keeps her husband’s legacy (and small business) alive. [NYT]

Former MTVN ad sales EVP Sue Danaher named president of Reactrix, an out-of-home ad firm.

WSJ "Numbers Guy" Carl Bialik shreds the OECD’s global ranking of high-speed Internet access that put the U.S. in 15th place. The OECD counts broadband lines but doesn’t take into account population density, unlike the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which found that 47% of American adults had home high-speed access in February.

NYT‘s Richard Siklos gets an inside peek at Rupert Murdoch’s plan for world domination, including News Corp.’s May 6th digital summit featuring 22 year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and eBay CEO Meg Whitman. Said Murdoch to his top execs: "You all think I’m too old. I think you’re too old." 2nd best quote is from Barry Diller on News Corp.’s bid for Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal: "Rupert Murdoch is utterly consistent. It’s not like he’s adding toys. This is oxygen to him."

Shirley Brady

• Click here for 360AM news briefing for Friday, May 11 >>

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