360AM — Morning news briefing for Thursday, Mar. 1 (Updated 8pm ET)

Sinclair will allow Comcast to carry its broadcast signals through 12:01am on Mar. 10 while both sides continue to negotiate a new retransmission consent contract. A press release this morning confirmed that talks are continuing and carriage will continue, with no disruption of service to Comcast customers in 23 Sinclair markets. With their current agreement expiring yesterday, Sinclair had threatened to pull its signals at 2 a.m. this morning from Comcast’s markets. The news of the carriage extension broke last night. [Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch]

Comcast passed the 2 million subscriber benchmark for its Comcast Digital Voice telephone service. [Release]

Time Warner Cable stock started trading on the New York Stock Exchange today [TWC’s 1st day trading | Bloomberg]

Cox Communications signed a retransmission consent deal with LIN TV Corp. Terms were undisclosed for the deal, which covers LIN TV’s HD digital broadcast signals in Mobile, AL-Pensacola, FL; Norfolk, VA; Providence, RI; Springfield, MA; and Hartford-New Haven, CT. The agreement also gives Cox the right to deliver LIN TV’s locally-produced content on VOD and creates a new LIN-produced Local Weather Stations in Hartford and Florida’s Gulf Coast. [Release]

Tucson is weighing a new offer from Cox Communications and may reach a new franchise agreement tomorrow. City officials are still smarting over a Cox-backed bill now before the Arizona Senate that limits their franchise authority. [Tucson Citizen | Arizona Daily Star]

News Corp. is expanding its streaming FOX on Demand service that launched online in October (on its O&O FOX affiliate websites and News Corp. sibling MySpace) into a transactional and ad-supported model for all FOX affiliates in a deal approved by Fox Broadcasting’s board of directors. More than 200 Fox affiliate websites will offer the network’s hit series on an ad-supported freeview basis or on a paid download-to-own basis enabled by Fox Interactive Media’s Direc2Drive digital retail store. The service includes 24, Prison Break, Bones, American Dad and other series but not American Idol, House or The Simpsons. [Release | Reuters]

CableLabs is working on developing specifications to enable cable set-top boxes to receive digital off-air broadcast signals. The technology’s goal is to integrate broadcast TV feeds with programming delivered by a cable operator. [Release] CableLabs’ Winter conference kicks off Tuesday in Denver, with technology vendors such as ICTV demonstrating cable tech advances.

The FCC will ask Congress to regulate the content of TV programming set violence parameters, according to commissioner Robert McDowell at an NAB conference today. [The Hollywood Reporter via Reuters]

Blockbuster is in advanced talks to acquire Movielink, the online downloading service owned by Hollywood Studios. [Wall Street Journal]

• COMPETITION

Verizon launched V CAST Mobile TV today with Qualcomm‘s MediaFLO-enabled live streaming networks, a first for the U.S. The eight channels at launch are CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, ESPN, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC 2GO (entertainment), NBC News2Go, and Nickelodeon. Most of the networks’ programming will be in real-time except for the time-shifting of select shows such as South Park. The service is available in 20 markets including Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Seattle. The smaller markets including Portland, OR, Tucson, AZ; Omaha and Lincoln, NE; Albuquerque-Santa Fe, NM; Palm Springs, CA; Colorado Springs, CO; Jacksonville, FL; Wichita, KS; Norfolk-Richmond, VA; and Spokane, WA.  [Associated Press | Wireless Week | Red Herring | Xchange | Businessweek]

Another mobile TV service, Modeo, is being beta-tested in New York but hasn’t announced any deals with wireless carriers. This week it was previewed at a press event [Engadget] and won FCC approval to boost its transmission power. [Release | SmartPhoneToday]

California’s Public Utilities Commission approved statewide video franchise rules today. AT&T and Verizon plan to file applications by next week, at which point the state agency has 44 days to approve or deny them. Verizon, which already offers FiOS TV in 18 cities, primarily in Southern California, said it’s anxious to launch in new markets. "We can hook up most of them right away," says Verizon’s Pacific region president Timothy McCallion. [Los Angeles Times] The PUC unanimously approved introducing state-issued video franchising; naturally, Verizon was thrilled.

Verizon‘s FiOS TV service is now available in 60% of New Jersey [Release] while Yonkers, NY, is close to a deal for FiOS [The Journal News]. USA Today looks at the company’s onerous upgrade process. [USAT]

DirecTV is getting serious about broadband bundles. [FT via MSNBC]

• EARNINGS

EchoStar releases Q4 results [Release | Earnings call; transcript courtesy of Seeking Alpha]. Company reports a 15% increase in fourth quarter profit and subscriber growth that beat analyst expectations. [Reuters | MarketWatch]

Viacom releases Q4 results [Release | Earnings call; transcript courtesy of Seeking Alpha]. No longer YouTubed and with traffic soaring to ComedyCentral.com, CEO Philippe Dauman expects to hit $500 million in digital revenue this year. [Reuters | AP] Layoffs continued this week, with 250 cuts at MTVN International. [Variety via Paid Content]

• PROGRAMMING

ABC Family notched its best February ever, with record ratings for Total Viewers, Females 12-34 and Female Teens. Original dramas Lincoln Heights and Wildfire were among basic cable’s Top 5 networks in their timeslots.
 
AMC also posted its best February ratings, with Adults 25-54 up 34% and Adults 18-49 up 27% over Feb 2006.

Chiller, the new horror channel from NBCU, launches today on DirecTV and online.

Comcast launches Video 6 Pack, a VOD/broadband channel, in its Chicago market today. A spin-off of a Web-only show produced by Clear Channel, the Comcast-distributed channel will be available on VOD via Music Choice and continue online at Clear Channel stations’ websites. [Release | Chicago Sun-Times]

Comcast SportsNet re-upped with Major League Soccer team D.C. United, broadcasting its entire 30-game season (starting Apr. 28) and televising all home games in HD. [Release]

ESPN will simulcast Sunday’s NASCAR Busch race in Spanish [AP] while NASCAR broadcasts add state-of-the-art technology. [AP]

ESPN has signed NFL legend Bill Parcells, who returns as a studio analyst on Monday Night Countdown, SportsCenter and other programs. He will also contribute weekly columns to ESPN.com and co-host a show on ESPN Radio.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia wants to morph DVD business into VOD and broadband. [New York Post | Yesterday’s MSLO Q4 earnings call; transcript courtesy of Seeking Alpha]

National Geographic Channel‘s EVP of programming, John Ford, is leaving this summer. [Story]

VH1 Classic will televise the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony live (a first) on Mar. 12. It will be simulcast in high definition on MHD, MTVN’s high-def music channel. [Release]

WWE is getting a run for the pay-per-view money from UFC. [AP]

• IN OTHER NEWS

More than 100 companies are sponsoring SkiTAM (Mar. 29-Apr. 1) in Vail.

Cisco is buying assets of Utah Street Networks Inc., the parent company of Tribe, an online social network. The acquisition includes the software that powers its social networking functions but excludes Tribe.net. [New York Times]

Netscape founder Marc Andreesen launches Ning, a social network. [AP]

Rupert Murdoch will tighten his family’s grip on News Corp. if a deal with John Malone’s Liberty Media goes through. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Comcast accidentally blocked CSTV‘s Air Force/BYU men’s basketball game in Colorado Springs. [Colorado Springs Gazette]

NBC hockey commentator Brett (son of Bobby) Hull knocks NHL coverage on current U.S. TV rights-holder Versus and previously on ESPN. "People don’t even know that we’re on. That’s a huge problem," he tells USA Today.

YouTube is launching You Choose ’08, allowing video responses to presidential hopefuls’ YouTube video channels including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. [Release]

Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg explores the trove of Web video beyond YouTube. [WSJ]

Local search websites want closer ties with users. [WSJ]

eBay is partnering with social-network sites in a bid for younger users. [WSJ] – Shirley Brady

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