BY JON LAFAYETTE Negotiators for the cable industry are turning to the marketing experts for advice in one important aspect of the plug-and-play talks: labeling. CTAM board member Joe Rooney, SVP of marketing, Cox Communications, chairs the new Labeling Working Group, charged with providing “a marketing perspective on labeling and nomenclature issues relating to consumer electronics” for the negotiations. Translated, that means the cable industry doesn’t want a repeat of “cable-ready” confusion, preferring instead to come up with its own recommendations. Those in turn will be negotiated with the consumer electronics industry, which, says CEA president Gary Shapiro, wants voluntary labeling based on agreed-upon definitions. “As we know there is already a requirement to label using the cable-ready 1,2,3 labels. It is hoped that this requirement will either go away or be replaced by the labeling scheme we co-develop with cable.” Seth Morrison, SVP of marketing, CTAM, explains, “One of the concerns we had in the agreement is that in the past it’s been very confusing for customers to understand exactly what they were and were not getting.” News Corp. will not force Cablevision to buy it out of the companies’ sports partnership at an estimated $1 billion-plus price tag. Instead, the two have agreed to stay in business together — at least until Dec. 18, 2005, when News Corp. again has the right to exercise a put. News Corp. exercised a “sidecar” put option to sell its 50% directly held stake in two regional sports networks, Fox Sports Net Chicago and Fox Sports Net Bay Area. News Corp. maintains 40% of the overall regional programming partnership, while Cablevision, through Rainbow Media Holdings, holds 60%. Analysts were watching the negotiations for signals as to whether Cablevision’s management was willing to part with additional assets. Had Cablevision bought out News Corp., its ownership structure would have been simplified, as Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen said last week in a research note, positioning the company to “take advantage of future consolidation in the cable industry.” With the News Corp. partnership remaining intact, however, management could be indicating it is unwilling to consider a buyout, Reif Cohen said. The print ad campaign for the new Lifetime magazine breaks this week, followed by on-air spots on Lifetime‘s nets starting in March to promote the magazine’s official launch in April…. USA Network said it had sold 18 of the 20 commercial units in its upcoming reality series Nashville Star…. Showtime is filming the current New York revival of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town starring Paul Newman. The film is scheduled to air this summer…. Cablevision said it secured rights from ABC to broadcast the Super Bowl in HD and will be offering it to iO digital customers in select areas…. Cable Positive is accepting grant applications to the Tony Cox Community Fund, which supports partnerships between cable systems and local AIDS organizations.

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Lifetime announced “Gift of a Lifetime,” part of the net’s pro-social giveback initiative partnering with charities to identify five women and their families to receive the “gift of a lifetime”

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