No, not the guy from “Titanic.” The other one from the cable industry. The one who used to run TCI before AT&T bought it (and quickly unloaded it to Comcast before re-entering the video business years later without it… yeah, telco logic). Anyway, Leo Hindery on Tues took a break from pitching Barack Obama (he’s a big supporter) to strike a content deal with NBCU. World Championship Sports Network, which Hindery controls as managing director of InterMedia Partners, will combine forces with NBCU to create new cable net Universal Sports, the “preemininent multiplatform destination for Olympic sports programming.” WCSN was already making a name for itself as a year-round Olympic sports resource and will now add NBC Sports’ considerable programming and production expertise to the mix—all only weeks before the 2008 Beijing Summer Games start in China. The deal involves an undisclosed NBCU investment in WCSN. As part of the transaction, NBCU will become a significant shareholder in WCSN and will jointly control WCSN with InterMedia Partners. The WCSN management team, including chmn/CEO Claude Ruibal and pres Carlos Silva, will continue to manage the company. Billed as the partnership’s “first step” is the airing of this week’s gymnastics and diving Olympic Trials on Universal Sports. Those early-round competitions had not had a viewing platform in the past. What does this all mean for TV coverage of the Olympics this year? It can’t hurt, but advertisers are already queasy about the Summer Games because of fears that they could turn into a political hotbed over issues such as China’s policy on Tibet. Easing such fears in recent weeks, however, have been global sympathy for Chinese citizens affected by a devastating earthquake and ensuing aftershocks in the Szechwan province.
Add another “console” to the long list of living-room appliances that—in one way or another—could significantly challenge current cable set-tops and even tru2way-enabled devices on deck for 2009. HP has announced retail availability of its “HP MediaSmart Connect” technology (first unveiled at CES 2008) to “connect people to a wealth of online content from wherever they watch TV.” OK. Easier said than done, right? Among promises is the ability to rent or purchase movies from CinemaNow, share and buy photos from Snapfish and listen to Internet radio at Live365. The media can be stored on a computer and displayed on a connected HDTV set using Windows Media Center technology. Other content participants include Starz’s Vongo, MovieLink and FOX Sports. Windows Media Center also features the Internet TV Beta, which offers more than 100 hours of video from MSN, including new shows from providers such as A&E, Bio, CNBC, DIY, Fine Living, Food Network, FOX Sports, HGTV, History Channel, iFilm, MSNBC, National Geographic, NBC News and StupidVideos. With Playstation3, XBox360, Apple TV and others making similar inroads, it’s unclear which consoles will become dominant (or whether they will all share a chaotically fragmented marketplace). For content providers, the prospect of supporting multiple set-tops and potential content standards is daunting to say the least. All the more reason that cable’s tru2way technology is on the fast track with one big advantage: It’s geared toward CE companies like Sony and Panasonic rather than “computer” brands like HP and Microsoft. Which one has traditionally done better in the living room? The only wildcard is perhaps Apple, whose clear dominance with iPods and iPhones gives it a unique window into both the computer and CE worlds in the eyes of consumers. For cable content providers, it’s just more places to reach consumers. Long term, that’s never a bad thing.