Cable360AM — News briefing for Monday, June 4 »

Breaking: HBO named Bill Nelson as chairman and CEO, officially replacing Chris Albrecht, who resigned last month following his arrest in Las Vegas. Click here for details on Nelson’s promotion and related executive shuffle.

Earlier: Yes, the MTV Movie Awards aired live last night for the first time in their history (with censor-baiting Sarah Silverman hosting) and CNN aired the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate, a Wolf Blitzer-hosted forum that the BBC called "more free-flowing and substantive" than April’s Dem debate. But the big buzz on American TV last night and this morning was The Sopranos‘ penultimate episode on HBO, which featured a brief cameo from Jets’ coach Eric Mangini. (And that’s all I’m saying.) Expect Sopranos fever to hit an all-time high this week as the series’ finale looms on Sunday. The show even made the cover of the June 4th issue of The New Yorker, where editor David Remnick pens an ode to the series, which he compares to the works of John Updike, Philip Roth, Fellini, Aristotle and, of course, Martin Scorsese. Comcast‘s Richmond, VA, market also postponed its move of HBO to digital cable until June 11, a day after The Sopranos‘ finale airs, notes the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Canadians can view the finale on Astral Media’s The Movie Network in eastern Canada and Corus Entertainment’s Movie Central in Western Canada. Newsweek frets over HBO’s post-Sopranos future in an article titled, "It’s Not Television—It’s HB Uh-Oh," and opines: "if the channel needs a big hit, it’s probably got one in 12 Miles of Bad Road, a ruthlessly funny Dallas for the Bush era starring Lily Tomlin."

Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. execs meet today with members of Dow Jones‘ controlling shareholders, the Bancroft family. Murdoch is waging a charm offensive that is inching his company closer to winning over the family, but as the New York Times quips it, "He had them at $5 billion." Veteran cable exec (and now chief InterMedia Partner) Leo Hindery praised Murdoch’s ability to turn the Bancrofts’ "no" into a "we’ll think about it" and face-to-face meeting today. "As a tactician, strategist, long-term investor, he’s literally without peer," observed Hindery (no slouch in the acquisitions dept.; see Sportsman Channel item below). The Wall Street Journal reports that advisors to Bancrofts are concerned about Murdoch’s plan to slap the WSJ brand, as the media mogul has stated is his intent, on News Corp.’s upcoming Fox Business Channel: "The Journal already has strict controls over the use of its name with licensees. That could be a sticking point with Mr. Murdoch, who is expected to want to use the Journal‘s name to promote his other media properties."

AT&T‘s new president and CEO (as of yesterday) Randall Stephenson is profiled by the San Antonio Express-News and on Bloomberg.com, where he comments that fending off competition from cable operators while growing his business is "a tall order." AT&T introduces U-verse in San Diego today (its 21st market) with the boast that its "high definition programming and other features make AT&T U-verse TV cooler than cable." U-verse will have 25 HD channels at launch in San Diego while Cox Communications locally offers 17 HD channels, although Cox also offers quadruple-play bundles with Pivot wireless phone service. The San Diego Union-Tribune has more.

Cable ratings slumped during May sweeps, with the month’s top-rated cable network, TNT, off 15% over its year-ago audience and ESPN down 29% in viewers over 2006 figures. The New York Post has more. Cable networks’ ad sales execs hope they can grab share in non-prime dayparts from broadcast networks in this upfront, reports Mediaweek. Hispanic networks’ upfront tally likely will increase 7% as they test advertiser-friendly approaches such as Telemundo‘s first ad-free telenovela (and "the power pod," which makes the first commercial break in every primetime show :60 seconds long) and Univision‘s Web series sponsored by Unilever, notes Ad Age. Meanwhile, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau‘s Commercial Ratings Commission will meet a week from today (June 11) to discuss Nielsen’s first wave of commercial minute ratings data, issued last week with incorrect reporting for women 55-64.



• REGULATORY

A Verizon-backed statewide franchise bill goes before the state legislature in Massachusetts tomorrow. Paul R. Cianelli, president of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, will testify against the bill and tells The Republican: "This basically is a fight between Verizon that supports legislation that benefits only them and municipalities. The present system works well for Verizon. They’ve been very successful getting franchises. Is there a municipality that wouldn’t want Verizon service? Of course, they’d want it." The Boston Globe has more. Also in the Northeast, Verizon is girding to do battle with Cox Communications in Rhode Island, where it’s launching FiOS TV this month, including New England Cable News, as NECN pres/founder Phil Balboni tells Providence Business News; the Providence Journal has more.

Kentucky‘s tax on satellite broadcasters was upheld Thursday by a federal appeals court in Cincinnati. [AP]

The city of Los Angeles voted Friday to file a lawsuit challenging the FCC‘s new rules that reduce local officials’ oversight of cable television franchises. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, the former Adelphia Communications executive who now represents LA Council District 11, said the proposed rules could reduce public access programming and make it harder for the city to protect residents who are customers of the cable firms: "It is not in the interest of the customers that this legislation go forward." [Los Angeles Times]

As FCC chairman Kevin Martin continues to push a la carte, a study out today from Forrester Research shows consumers are clueless about how a la carte pricing would work. In a survey of 5,000 cable and satellite customers asked to design their own channel line-ups, respondents chose an average 26-channel package but said they were willing to spend only $24.08 or less than $1 per channel. Only 51% were willing to pay anything to receive ESPN, and of those who would, the average monthly fee ESPN fans would pay was 94 cents (vs. ESPN’s $3-plus carriage fee). Discovery Channel was the #1 network respondents would pay for, citing an average of 86 cents per month they’d be willing to shell out. Mediaweek has more.

The FCC continued to nitpick at cable last week, with Thursday’s ruling that operators must provide competitors with alternative points of access to existing wires in multi-unit dwellings when the wires are behind sheetrock, a building material for which the cable industry was hoping to get an exemption. [Variety]



• PROGRAMMING

A&E renewed Gene Simmons: Family Jewels for a third season, upping its order to 24 episodes from 20. The series is its second-highest rated for A18-49 and 25-54 behind Dog the Bounty Hunter. [Variety]

ABC Family‘s Kyle XY will run on ABC this summer, following a similar move last year. The series’ new episodes will run on ABC starting June 15, four days after premiering on ABC Family.

American Life TV is struggling financially because it can’t get widespread distribution on Comcast, which network officials ascribe to ALTV’s backing by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. "Comcast is not friendly to ALTV," the head of the Unification Church’s Crown Communications division, which runs ALTV, tells Variety. Network officials say the Church has no input into programming decisions other than its mission to be family-friendly, and none of its employees belong to the Church.

CBS chairman Sumner Redstone told shareholders last week, "CNN would be a lot better off if CBS owned it" while CEO Les Moonves said he’d be "very interested" if Time Warner were willing to sell. A Time Warner spokesperson says CNN is not for sale, and both sides say no formal approach has been made. [Variety]

E! is talking to Lindsay Lohan’s mom Dina about starring in a reality show with the working title: Mom-ager. [New York Post]

Fox News Channel covered the JFK terror plot more extensively than CNN or MSNBC on Saturday, with the word "terror" used on FNC at least 77 times through 10pm, compared to 43 times on CNN and 24 times on MSNBC. [TV Newser]

here! relaunched its website, heretv.com.

MYX, the Asian-American network from ABS-CBN, will be available a monthly premium for $4.99 on DirecTV starting June 15; it’s currently available in a package of channels. [San Jose Mercury News]

NBC‘s new programming head Ben Silverman is profiled in Ad Age and the Los Angeles Times; both highlight his (worrisome to producers and writers) advertiser-friendly track record of product integration on his TV series. Silverman’s co-chair, "veteran lawyer and deal-maker" Marc Graboff, confirms to the Times: "We are bringing advertisers into the process much sooner than ever before." Silverman and Graboff today promoted Katherine Pope to president, NBC Universal Television Studio. Succeeding Pope as EVP, NBC Entertainment, is Teri Weinberg, who headed up scripted entertainment at Silverman’s Reveille production company. (Update: Silverman and Graboff promoted Erin Gough Wehrenberg to EVP, current series, for NBC Entertainment from SVP. She was NBC’s primary production exec on The Office, produced by Reveille; the release says she "helped to develop" the Emmy-winning series.)

NBCU announced local ad sales tie-ins for its original series on Bravo, USA and SCI FI; its summer sports lineup on Universal HD; its June schedule on Sleuth; and its multi-network and -platform "roadblock" around its U.S. Open golf coverage.

NESN operations workers vote Thursday on whether to join the NABET union this week. [Boston Globe]

Ovation TV plans a major on-air stunt—"American Revolutionaries," which runs from July 1-15— that will showcase 25 films and documentaries about American creative iconoclasts and innovators such as Marlon Brando and Kurt Cobain. Starting June 20, when the channel relaunches with a new look, tagline ("Make Life Creative") and a national rollout on DirecTV, it will introduce themed nights: Mondays for arts performances, Tuesdays will be programming about artists and creators, Wednesdays will focus on visual arts and Fridays devoted to cinema. Music programming will continue to be highlighted on weekends.

Scripps‘ TV stations will use JVC cameras and equipment for HD production.

Si TV will launch Si TV-HD in 2008; the US-based Latino network said it has already produced more than 200 hours of high-def programming for Verizon‘s FiOS TV, which will add the channel when it goes live next year.

Ski Channel (from Tennis Channel founder Steve Bellamy) signed Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley as on-air talent, analyst, spokesman and advisor. The VOD-only sports network launches in 1st quarter ’08 with Time Warner Cable already on board. [Hollywood Reporter | Variety]

The Sportsman Channel is now fully owned by InterMedia Outdoors, a subsidiary of Leo Hindery’s InterMedia Partners that acquired an equity stake in the channel in May 2006. TSC founder C. Michael Cooley remains as president and CEO and the network will launch a robust VOD offering using its library, according to today’s release.

TV Land begins its off-network run of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in August; the deal includes prior seasons of ABC’s award-winning reality series. 

USA‘s premiere of The Starter Wife on May 31 drew 5.4 million total viewers, including 2.88 million A18-49 and 2.8 million A25-54. [Variety]

The Weather Channel‘s 25th anniversary and hot seat overlooking global warming with Dr. Heidi Cullen’s weekly series on climate change is profiled in today’s New York Times. Ratings may be down since Hurricane Katrina coverage spiked, but revenue is "growing fairly robustly" says pres/CEO Debora Wilson.



• ONLINE

Turner‘s GameTap.com expands from a subscription-based, North American site to a free, ad-supported service starting today. The more robust "all-you-can-play" gold-level subscription service remains. The site also launched a digital download store today with more than 450 titles including Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary. [Release]

Google‘s search engine-tweaking was examined in yesterday’s New York Times.

The Hearst-Argyle Television Group announced a revenue-sharing deal with Google‘s YouTube. Starting today, its stations in five markets (Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Boston and Manchester, NH) will start posting locally-produced video reports on their own YouTube channels. [More: Wall Street Journal | Reuters]. The announcement follows Washington Post‘s story yesterday examining the challenges facing local broadcast stations and their need to get Web-savvy and go mobile.

The New York Times writes that "the established pornography business is in decline — and the Internet is being held responsible." The culprits: amateur videos online, which caused the professional porn video business to rake in $3.62 billion last year (from $4.28 billion in 2005); and the popularity of high-speed Internet broadband service, because "faster connections have simply allowed people to download free movies more quickly, and allowed amateur moviemakers to upload their creations easily."

Michael Eisner’s Vuguru studio received two Emmy nominations for broadband drama; the full list of nominees is here.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Amp’d Mobile filed for bankruptcy; it has close to 200,000 subscribers and launched in Dec. 2005 and raised $360 million in funding from MTV Networks, Universal Music Group and others. Amp’d series Lil’ Bush is the first mobile series to migrate to television, premiering on MTVN’s Comedy Central on June 13.

Apple‘s iPhone—about which Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said on his company’s fourth quarter earnings call: "I, like many others, [am] waiting to see the iPhone"—will debut June 29, as announced in new spots that broke during last night’s 60 Minutes telecast on CBS. The fine print at the end of its new ad campaign: "Use requires minimum new two-year activation plan" with the cellphone’s only wireless carrier, AT&T. [Engadget | Computer World | New York Times]

Brash, a start-up that has attracted $400 million in backing, is planning videogames based on TV and movie properties. [Wall Street Journal]

Comcast is expanding to 58 new communities in Vermont this year. [LightWave] Comcast’s bandwidth reclamation continues in Mobile, AL, where it’s bumping C-SPAN2, ESPN Classic, GSN and Hallmark Channel to digital. [AL.com]

Harron Communications mourns the passing of Margaret Harper Harron, its former chairwoman who died last week; she was 94. Her husband, company founder Paul F. Harron, died in 1977. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Major League Baseball won’t take Sling Media to court despite comments in the press last week, reports the Wall Street Journal, although it still feels the start-up doesn’t have the right to stream its out-of-market games. Sling CEO Blake Krikorian commented, "I’m relieved to hear that."

Time Warner Cable will expand its commercial telephone roll-out, which offers VoIP digital voice to small- and medium-sized businesses, to all its markets by Dec. 31, except for its still-to-be-upgraded systems it aquired from Adelphia last year. COO Landel Hobbs sees commercial voice as a $12 billion to $15 billion growth business. [Reuters]

Shirley Brady

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