Cable360AM — News briefing for Monday, June 18 »

After a slow start this year, the television upfront is now in full swing. NBC (the first major network to conclude a deal with uber-media buyer GroupM last week) has secured price increases of 4-5% for its deal-making in this upfront, while Fox is getting 6-7% increases, ABC is seeing 7-8% increases and CBS is a question mark, reports the Wall Street Journal, which says the upfront market could be wrapped up as early as this week. The New York Post, which shares a corporate parent in News Corp., says Fox was the second broadcast network to sell commercial time for the new fall season. NBC and Fox are reportedly negotiating deals based on commercial ratings, while NBC’s $800 million pact with GroupM also included up to three days of DVR playback metrics.

The New York Times‘ sports scribe Richard Sandomir profiles Comcast‘s "battle" with the Big Ten Network, which he describes as "a clash between two ‘big uglies.’" (He also calls Comcast EVP David Cohen "a blunt executive.") It’s the same old song: Comcast (and, in the back seat, Time Warner Cable) aims to put the Big Ten on a sports tier after expressing initial interest in investing in "a more limited, less expensive channel than the conference envisioned." The national sports network, 49% owned by by News Corp.’s Fox Cable unit, aims to balance "the interest in Big Ten sports inside and outside its region by seeking a monthly subscriber fee of $1.10 to be carried as an expanded basic channel to 18.5 million cable subscribers in the conference’s states, but 10 cents a subscriber everywhere else." Comcast’s Cohen contends that would make the network second in cost to ESPN (which charges affiliates nearly $3 a subscriber). Expect more fireworks before the network launches in August.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is being challenged in its $5 billion bid to acquire Dow Jones by a joint bid between General Electric and Pearson PLC, the UK-based publisher of the Financial Times. GE and Pearson "have discussed a scenario in which GE’s CNBC business channel, the FT and Dow Jones would be combined into a privately held joint venture," notes the Wall Street Journal. "The venture would be owned equally by GE and Pearson, with the Bancrofts holding a minority stake," the report added. The New York Times has more.

Time Warner Cable reached an 11th hour retransmission consent agreement with Gray Broadcasting-owned WTAP in mid-Ohio, averting a blackout Friday night. The new deal, which runs through June 30, 2009, covers the NBC affiliate’s HD and SD signals. Time Warner Cable customers in Central Kentucky, meanwhile, stopped receiving HD signals of local ABC and NBC affiliates because of a retransmission consent dispute, reports the Kentucky Herald-Leader. Tim Gilbert, GM of NBC affiliate WLEX-18, writes in a letter posted on the station’s website that he has "given up hope" of being compensated for the signal and even offered it to Time Warner free of charge, but the cable operator still balked. Mark Pimentel, GM at ABC affiliate WTVQ-36, said his station has asked for non-monetary consideration from Time Warner that could include Time Warner carrying WTVQ’s 24/7 weather channel, which is carried in Lexington by Insight Communications.

Philadelphia’s Comcast Center held a topping off ceremony today, affixing a small tree and a miniature statue of William Penn to the highest beam. Comcast is expected to move into its new corporate headquarters by the fall. The controversy-mired 58-story development, designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern, has a 12.7% pre-opening vacancy rate and is Philly’s tallest structure. [Philadelphia Inquirer | Philadelphia Business Journal]



• COMPETITION WATCH

EchoStar and DirecTV‘s soon-to-be-owner Liberty Media may increase their joint bid after UK-based private-equity firm BC Partners took the lead late last week in the race to acquire satellite operator Intelsat, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Optical Entertainment Network launched 20 Mbps service on its Fision triple play rollout in Houston. OEN also launched nine original "relaxation" channels in HD, with new age titles such as "earth" and "abstract" and Dolby 5.1 ambient audio.

Verizon kicked off its triple-play marketing campaign in Rhode Island today (where Cox Communications is the biggest cable operator) and started running ads last week urging Millennium Digital Media customers in Maryland to switch service before the federal government approves Comcast’s takeover of Millennium’s Anne Arundel County operations. [Baltimore Examiner]



• PROGRAMMING

BBC America is developing an hour-long weekly newscast featuring Jeremy Paxman, the presenter of BBC2’s Newsnight program, who the Financial Times says "is renowned as the most fearsome of British interviewers." BBCA president Garth Ancier comments, "I think with George W. Bush’s approval rating at 29%, having a news broadcast with a neutral, British, BBC approach is well-timed." Paxman, the tentative title of the newscast, will launch this fall.

CNN is adding to its stable of double-surnamed anchors by reportedly hiring Campbell Brown from NBC, and will "likely" shuffle its on-air lineup when she joins in July, possibly replacing Paula Zahn. Variety says Zahn’s show is being axed while Lou Dobbs’ show will likely move but not be cancelled. [New York Post | Variety]

EWTN‘s Mother Angelica is one "gutsy, determined woman." [Indian Catholic]

Gospel Music Channel taped the opening concert at the Evan Almighty movie premiere in Los Angeles and is airing the concert and related news segments throughout its schedule. [Christian Post]

HealthiNation joined Charter Communications‘ VOD lineup; the companies will also develop interactive advertising opportunities for local and regional advertisers.

HBO‘s saga of The Sopranos finale continues, with Paola Colandrea, the mystery man in the "Members Only" jacket at the diner, reiterating his claim to the Philadelphia Inquirer that another ending was shot but not used; naturally, he’s writing a book. The New York Times‘ David Carr examines the new "capos" at HBO under Bill Nelson, and says the split leadership team "seems like a way of deciding by not deciding," even if good for morale.

HBO Family will premiere Magic Cellar, an animated series based on African folk tales, on June 23.

ION Media‘s new owner, Citadel Investment Group, completed its tender offer for shares of Class A common stock.

MSNBC hired retired general Wesley Clark, who ran for president as a Democrat in 2004 and has served as an analyst at Fox News Channel for the past two years. [AP | New York Post]

MTV Networks struck a deal with Visible World for dynamic, targeted advertising.

Starz‘ big screen aspirations, and Liberty Media-enabled relationship with Chris McGurk-helmed studio Overture Films, is examined in the Denver Post.

TLC has been shooting its exclusive Web series in Boston, notes the Boston Globe, by nabbing commuters on the Red Line for its Makeover Train three-minute makeovers, which run through July 2 on TLC’s online fashion guide.

TNT premieres a new season of The Closer tonight, followed by new series Heartland, starring Treat Williams — click here for Seth Arenstein’s reviews.

World Championship Sports Network Channel launched today on AOL Video with more than 60 Olympic and lifestyle sports; WCSN also launched a YouTube channel today.

Dismaying news for Outdoor Channel and the Sportsman Channel: A five-year survey of outdoor recreation finds a sharp drop in the number of Americans who fish, and a lesser decline in hunting. [Newsweek]



• ONLINE

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association and NBC Universal filed comments Friday in the FCC’s network neutrality docket. The NCTA reiterated its stance that net neutrality is a "solution in search of a problem" while NBCU accused the FCC of standing by "mutely" while the Internet is hijacked by bandwidth hogs, with peer-to-peer traffic now accounting for 60%-70% of all Internet traffic.

One-third of U.S. Internet users expressed interest in locally-subsidized wireless Internet service, according to a new study from Ipsos Insight. Houston begins building out its municipal wi-fi network in mid-July, notes the Houston Chronicle, which examines lessons learned in Philadelphia’s wi-fi network (where EarthLink expects to have 5,000 subscribers by year-end, reports the Philly Inquirer) as an example. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s wi-fi network is being extended to Oakland.

Comcast‘s Spokane, WA, GM Ken Watts reveals his Web-surfing habits to the Spokesman Review.

Fox Entertainment Group tapped Brightcove to handle Web video duties for "each Fox network and studio," including FOX, FX and Speed.

Grouper, Sony‘s Web video portal, relaunches next month with a new name, look and features. [WSJ]

MLB Advanced Media now earns Major League Baseball $400 million annually, boasting a growth rate of 30%, 50 million unique visitors a month, 1 million paying subscribers and a billion minutes of streaming video. Newsweek has more.

MSNBC named the Weather Channel its exclusive provider of weather content.



• MOBILE

Apple announced that the iPhone "will feature up to 8 hours of talk time, 6 hours of Internet use, 7 hours of video playback or 24 hours of audio playback.*" The all-important asterisked footnote: "*All Battery claims are dependent upon network configuration and many other factors; actual results may vary." The highly anticipated cellphone, available June 29 from Apple and AT&T, will also feature "optical-quality glass" instead of a plastic surface.

Microsoft today launched its new MSN Mobile portal in an effort to improve navigation and other MSN.com features for mobile devices; scroll up for Microsoft’s other news today.

Yahoo‘s Japan service will allow users to download songs from Apple’s iTunes store, which will develop exclusive content for peopular Japanese artists. [PC World]

Yesterday’s New York Times ran an in-depth profile on mobile TV and content offerings centered around ESPN, which boasts more than 9 million visitors to its its mobile website each month.



• TECHNOLOGY

Ahead of SCTE‘s Cable-Tec Expo, which begins tomorrow in Atlanta, the Metro Ethernet Forum announced that Comcast, Suddenlink, Bright House Networks and CableLabs are MEF members, joining Cablevision, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and RCN. Also at Cable-Tec: Cisco unveils its Cable ServiceMesh solution for next generation networks; Microtune announces its tuner technology is embedded in the Arris DOCSIS 3.0 ultra-fast wideband modem; Everstream will unveil near real-time analysis of high-speed data networks; and Terayon will demo CAP-1000, a new CherryPicker application for digital video processing of MPEG-4 HD and SD video. Click here for Communications Technology’s Cable-Tec mini-site.

NXTcomm kicks off today in Chicago, touting IPTV for telecom providers. Motorola introduces its open software platform for IPTV set-tops (dubbed KreaTV) while Microsoft will unveil its latest IPTV advances, notes the Chicago Tribune, including Microsoft Mediaroom, its new name for its IPTV software platform. Microsoft also announced an investment in and partnership with China’s Sichuan Changhong Electric Co., a major TV set maker, to develop "in-home network digital entertainment." [AP] Other vendor news includes Integra5 extending its partnership with SeaChange to offer quad play service to IPTV providers.



• IN OTHER NEWS

From CableFAX Daily: "We were sad to hear that Larry Oliver, one of the most respected publishers in the biz (and an all-around nice guy), is leaving Reed Business Information. His exit as the vp, gm and publisher of Broadcasting & Cable/Multichannel News is reportedly part of a larger reorganization. We wish him the best in his next endeavor."

Comcast Digital Voice is not longer optional in the Bay Area, where Comcast was allowing customers until last week to receive its older and cheaper digital phone service. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Blockbuster threw its support behind Blu-Ray HD discs, its exclusive high definition format starting today. It tested Blu-Ray and HD-DVD in 250 of its 1,450 stores since late last year and found that customers chose Blu-Ray more than 70% of the time.

TV Week notes the lame excuses preventing captioning of TV content — and keeping deaf viewers out of the "new TV" revolution, with online video players for major TV networks not captioning (although NBC’s upcoming player with Fox this fall is slated to support captioning). Cable networks have a four-year window to add captioning so many new networks don’t bother; HD broadcast captioning is a challenge, and only "some" VOD offerings are captioned.

Videogame sales, including hardware and software, increased 49% last month over May 2006, with consumer emand for Nintendo‘s Wii console and Sony‘s PSP hand-held device helping drive May sales to $815.5 million, notes NPD Group. The New York Times says video game manufacturers are shifting their focus to lure more casual players.

NASCAR filed a $100 million counter-suit against AT&T yesterday, accusing the company of interfering with its exclusive sponsorship agreement with rival wireless company Nextel. The suit also asks that NASCAR be granted the right to kick AT&T (and all telecom companies other than Nextel) out of its top series in 2008. [AP]

The New York Mets and "several groups of investors" have held discussions about obtaining the rights to operate a Major League Soccer team starting in 2010 "at the earliest." [New York Times]

The Wall Street Journal looks at companies using "unified messaging" to improve internal communications, linking email, phone calls, instant messaging, video conferences and other tools to break down silos. Other companies are trying a Wikepedia approach to sharing information internally — one Intel engineer’s intra-company wiki has been viewed more than 27 million times.

Shirley Brady

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