Comcast and Circuit City tomorrow hold a grand opening for their first co-branded retail store, called Connect, in Medford, MA. The Boston Globe describes it as "more electronics spa than big-box gadget supermarket. Customers can relax on stools, sip coffee, watch local cable channels on massive television screens, and work with consultants who help outfit their digital home with both hardware and content." Quipped a customer during this week’s soft launch, "This is a great idea. It’s like rent-a-boyfriend." The Boston area was selected as Connect’s launch pad because it’s a top 10 market for digital and broadband penetration, and also one of two Comcast markets to launch its Mobile Access wireless phone service last month. Circuit City’s chief marketing officer, Peter Weedfald, is a Samsung veteran with a background (via CTAM) of helping the cable industry promote its HD services.

DirecTV is launching NASCAR HotPass, a subscription package of five channels, for the 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup season that kicks off with the Daytona 500 in February. Each channel will have its own announcers (2), cameras (19 in total) and designated driver (1) offering a unique vantage point on the action. Fox Sports TV Group chairman David Hill estimates he needs 200,000-250,000 subscribers at $99 each to break even on HotPass. "We’ve got a hell of a lot of money invested in this," the Aussie tells USA Today sports columnist Michael Hiestand. "Mother of God, I’m lighting prayer candles. Otherwise, they’ll ship me back to Australia in irons." The Associated Press has more; click here to read the press release.

• New FCC Commissioner Robert MacDowell is against a la carte because "we’re in an a la carte world already," he said at the CSFB Media Week conference on Tuesday (AP via Rocky Mountain News). Huffington Post blogger Josh Silver says FCC chair Kevin Martin is trying to strongarm MacDowell and push through the AT&T-BellSouth merger.

Sunflower Broadband GM Patrick Knorr is stunned at NFL Network’s asking price for its eight-game package of live games that kicked off over Thanksgiving. "It’s outrageous," he tells Lawrence Journal-World, the local newspaper owned by the same company that owns his Lawrence, KS-based cable company. Knorr estimates the package would have cost his subs more than $2/mo. extra to receive 6/8 games because of blackout restrictions.

• Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is donating $15 million to establish a cancer treatment center using state of the art proton therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. Roberts tells the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) that the Roberts Proton Center is being established for three reasons: his wife Aileen is fighting early-stage breast cancer; it will be based in his (and Comcast’s) hometown of Philadelphia; and it’s using leading-edge technology. The $142 million center will treat about 3,000 patients annually and opens in 2009.

Sheila Johnson, the ex-wife of BET founder Bob Johnson, is making a $5 million gift to the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Johnson’s donation will fund a center in her name to serve more than 7,500 children and adults every year, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Clinical services will address communication disorders, illiteracy, career skills and counseling.

Hallmark Channel is sponsoring the Christmas Spectacular at New York’s Radio City Music Hall for the sixth consecutive year; the venue, owned by Cablevision, is famed for its annual holiday event featuring the Rockettes. Hallmark EVP of ad sales Bill Abbott hosts advertisers and their families at the event tomorrow night, while (on the other side of Times Square) Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan will be taking the stage at B.B. King’s Club as a featured performer in the 6th annual holiday fundraising event for the Lustgarten Foundation. Dolan’s band, JD & The Straight Shot, will perform (along with some borrowed Rockettes) to raise money for pancreatic cancer research and treatment, the disease which took the life of former Cablevision vice chairman Marc Lustgarten.

• The New York memorial service for B&C reporter John Higgins will be held Dec. 12 at the Lodge at MTV Networks from 6:30-9:00. To RSVP, please contact Denise Galarza at 212-258-8572 or by sending an email to

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