Cable360AM — News briefing for Tuesday, July 24 »

Cable operators, brace for a flood of CableCARD calls: TiVo today starts selling a $299 HD DVR online that records up to 20 hours in HD or 180 hours in SD. Potentially sparking the biggest run on CableCARDs since they became mandatory on July 1, TiVo’s HD box accepts cable or over-the-air HD signals and is not compatible with satellite TV service. The drool-inducing TiVo HD and $799 TiVo Series3 HD box "may require two CableCARDs to receive two digital cable channels," notes TiVo’s website. Also requiring a broadband connection, TiVo HD hits retailers next month. TiVo shares rose 18 cents yesterday afer Kaufman Bros. analyst Todd Mitchell raised his rating to Buy from Sell based on Comcast‘s TiVo launch in New England next month. Mitchell says Comcast and Cox will roll out 7.5 million TiVo DVRs by year-end, and projects 20% penetration of their respective footprints; he also sees upside for incremental ad revenue.

The FCC‘s upcoming wireless spectrum auction will be debated before the House Telecommunications subcommittee today. The hot-button issue is expected to dominate today’s hearing, reports Dow Jones. All five FCC commissioners are scheduled to appear. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, last week sent a letter to the FCC which noted, "This auction is certainly the most important spectrum auction to date and establishing the rules that will govern it may be the most important action that the Commission takes this year." Google, which last week committed to bidding at least $4.6 billion if the FCC abides by its conditions for the wireless airwaves auction, is expected to team with smaller mobile-phone service providers to create a national wireless broadband network, "escalating [its] battle with AT&T and Verizon Wireless," notes Bloomberg.

The American Cable Association praised a report to Congress by the Congressional Research Service that "reveals that a number of federal statutory provisions and regulatory requirements, including the statutory retransmission consent and must-carry rules and the FCC program exclusivity rules, strongly affect the contractual terms, conditions and rates paid by cable operators, particularly by small and mid-sized cable operators." These changes, the report concludes, "have ave given programmers with ‘must-have’ programming much greater leverage, particularly when they are negotiating with small distributors."

Only 2% of multichannel TV customers say they are prepared for the digital transition deadline in 20 months; 30% say they will get a box from a cable or satellite provider and 20% say they buy a box at retail; and 15% would replace their TV set with a new digital set while 25% say they would just let their old analog TV go dark. The findings are from Horowitz Associates’ State of Digital and Interactive Television 2007, which was in the field in June and due to be released next month. The Association of Public Television Stations also released research  finding that (no surprise) older Americans are the least-prepared of all.

Pali Research analyst Rich Greenfield finds it "hard to believe" that Comcast would seek to aquire UK cable operator Virgin Media, even though this would enable the operator "to leverage its programming scale internationally, as well as applying best practices." Greenfield argues in a research note today that Comcast "has substantial long-term challenges within the US [and] expanding to the UK brings a whole host of issues with it, not the least of which is they are fighting a powerful, satellite incumbent [News Corp.’s BSkyB] that has dominated the market for years."

National Geographic Channel won the top Mark Award at the CTAM Summit yesterday in Washington, D.C. — click here for details and winners.



• COMPETITION

DirecTV‘s suit (alleging false HD ad claims) against Comcast goes to trial Oct. 22. DirecTV local channels are available in cars with KVH, reports the Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA).

EchoStar‘s Dish Network this weekend launches the ESPN DISH Tech Center, a mobile TV studio that will incorporate interactive coverage of ESPN‘s NASCAR Nextel Cup coverage at Indianapolis. Separately, EchoStar filed a petition with the FCC alleging the Big Ten Network should be regarded as a regional sports network and is unfairly demanding distribution on Dish Network’s basic tier.

RCN yesterday received a limited FCC waiver of the set-top box integration ban, and separately, filed for resale of warrants by some shareholders to purchase shares of the company. It may issue about 8 million shares later upon exercise of those warrants, the company noted in an SEC filing, reports Reuters.



• PROGRAMMING

A&E Networks and Comcast Networks signed on as the charter programmers for Comcast Media Center‘s Ad Distributed Network. Get an inside look at CMC’s ADN in Communications Technology‘s video.

ABC Family‘s first animated series, Slacker Cats, premieres Aug. 13.

AMC will air the Oct. 12th American Cinematheque tribute to Julia Roberts in December. [Variety]

Anime Network signed a linear launch deal with Eagle Broadband and expands from VOD to linear carriage in Kansas with Sunflower Broadband. Anime says it’s "the most widely distributed SVOD service available today—with over 95% penetration to all VOD-enabled households."

BET will not premiere Hot Ghetto Mess tomorrow. The provocatively-titled series will now be called We Got to Do Better, reports AP. (Will protesters—or grammarians—lobby for "We’ve"?)

CNN.com recaps last night’s first, CNN‘s YouTube-generated TV debate for the Democratic presidential candidates. CNN is expected to replace Paula Zahn at 8pm with Campbell Brown this fall, reports the New York Times. Brown, whose hiring was announced yesterday, joins CNN Sept. 1 but isn’t allowed on-air until Nov. 1, per her NBC contract, and is expecting her first child in late December.

Comedy Central premieres stand-up special, Gabriel Iglesias: Hot and Fluffy, Aug. 4 at 10pm.

Court TV‘s upcoming rebrand to TruTV prompts an odd press release from on-air talent Carla Baron.

A Discovery Channel crew was attacked in Bulgaria while shooting a special on recovered gold treasure.

FX premieres Glenn Close’s Damages tonight at 10pm; critical raves include today’s New York Times.

HBO renewed Big Love for a third season, and will temporarily restore this season’s run to Sunday nights after John From Cincinnati concludes. Big Love‘s premiere ratings have dropped from an average of 4 million viewers in season 2 to about 2 million this season, when HBO moved the series to Monday nights. HBO argues the series performs well cumulatively with On Demand and DVR playback. [Variety]

Hustler TV signed a worldwide exclusive VOD and PPV deal with Diabolic Digital.

Logo‘s first animated series, Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World, premieres tonight at 10pm. "Some of it is clever, but none of it challenges heterosexual assumptions about what gay life ought to look like," notes the New York Times.

MASN: the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network will team up with the Big South Conference to air live football and basketball games beginning Nov. 3.

Discovery’s Military Channel expanded its Reconnect America public affairs campaign with new PSAs being distributed locally with $3 million of air-time on Comcast and other distributors.

MTV Arabiya, a joint venture between MTV Networks and the Arab Media Group, will launch later this year.

Music Choice announced a major milestone—one billion VOD orders served, according to Rentrak data—and a new free VOD carriage agreement with Mediacom Communications.

Outdoor Channel will premiere DockDogs, a dogs-jumping-off-docks competition, in Oct.

Planet Green, Discovery’s eco-lifestyle channel launching next year, has started pre-production on 13-part series, Eco-Town, by presenting its plans to Greensburg, KS, local officials. [Wichita Eagle]

Sundance Channel will run all six episodes of One Punk Under God Thursday starting at 7pm in tribute to Tammy Faye Messner, who died Friday. The original series features her son, Jay Bakker, an alternative Christian minister.

TV One premieres Baisden After Dark, a talk show featuring radio host Michael Baisden, in Oct.

WWE is offering wrestling fans who sign up for its 24/7 SVOD service a free month (Sept.)



• ONLINE

Animal Planet‘s Petfinder.com added an online disaster preparedness kit.

Cox Communications‘ attempts to thwart spammers noted in Wired’s blog.

Joost tapped Level 3 to support its Web TV streaming in North America and Europe; and added content from National Lampoon.


Just-launched ReeledIn offers social networking for Web video producers; the New York Times has more.



• WIRELESS

AT&T launched mobile video sharing in almost 160 markets yesterday, allowing users to share/display videos while they chat for $4.99/mo. for 25 minutes or $9.99/60 minutes.

Crown Castle pulled the plug on Modeo, its nascent mobile TV service.



• PEOPLE

BendBroadband promoted Tim Olson to VP of sales; he retains his title as VP of sales, Central Oregon Cable Advertising.

Discovery Networks promoted Annie Howell to SVP communications, public affairs and talent management for Planet Green, from SVP, communications, Discovery Networks; and Dan Russell to VP of programming for Planet Green, from VP of programming at Discovery Health.



• IN OTHER NEWS

Comcast agreed to refund 200,000 Metro Detroit customers who were accidentally double-billed. [Detroit News]

USA Today examines the race between cable and satellite TV services to dominate HD (here and here).

Chicago Cubs bids are expected to top $1 billion; the Tribune Media sale includes the baseball team, Wrigley Field Stadium and a share in Comcast‘s SportsNet Chicago. [Reuters]

ExtendMedia announced at the CTAM Summit additional features for its OpenCase digital content platform.

The Oklahoma Telephone Cooperative deployed digital ad insertion from ETI Software.

Click here for Monday’s 360AM news briefing »

Got a tip? Contact Shirley Brady at sbrady@accessintel.com

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