News summary for 11/20/07

Tue, 11/20/2007 - 8:48am
CED staff

Opposition mounts against Martin’s cable plan 
By Brian Santo

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s attempt to gain broader regulatory authority over the cable industry is being met with increasing resistance.

Much of the pushback is coming from two groups: free-market advocates and broadcasters with small-but-devoted viewership (and their viewers).

Free-market groups tend to align with the current Republican administration, but opposing Martin’s maneuver are the Heritage Foundation and the Progress & Freedom Foundation. James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation compared Martin’s power grab with Pervez Musharraf’s in Pakistan.

Twenty House Republicans recently sent a letter to Martin expressing their reservations about his course of action, though not outright opposing it.

Meanwhile, the small-broadcaster advocates expressing opposition to the Martin plan include the Faith & Family Broadcasting Coalition, the National Congress of Black Women (NCBW), the League of Rural Voters and the Hispanic Federation.

The concerns are that any number of regulations that Martin has floated – including multi-cast must-carry, leased access and a la carte pricing – will undercut small and minority-owned broadcasters and end up denying their viewers.

Though Martin has stated that he wouldn’t use the authority he gains to push a la carte, many opponents of his regulatory plans have either not heard his denial or don’t believe it.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson weighed in on the subject in a statement, in which he said: “It is deeply disturbing to learn from the news media that the FCC is considering using an antiquated legal rule to advance what is widely seen by civil rights leaders as an anti-diversity agenda. There is virtually no political support from either progressives or conservatives for such pet policies as a la carte pricing, which would raise prices for consumers and hurt most programmers, or for the various ‘leased access’ programs that will squeeze out channel space for minority-owned programmers.”

Cable, gaming industries prepare for confab
By Brian Santo

With OpenCable on the horizon, the cable and electronic games companies are realizing the advantage of getting chummier. Representatives of the two industries are getting together for the first “Cable & Games Summit” on Nov. 27 at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The NCTA, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) are sponsoring the event, which grew out of discussions between the two industries during the cable industry’s annual convention in Las Vegas last May.

The Cable & Games Summit will feature presentations, casual discussion and networking opportunities with senior executives from cable systems, programming services, gaming companies and industry associations.

Presentations and discussions will cover OpenCable, advanced set-top boxes, and distribution and business models. Other subjects will include how programmers are entering the game market, dealing with licensing issues, and creating games and promotions.

The ESA provided an indicator of growing demand for a combination of games and cable TV: More than 13 percent of Americans subscribe to broadband services so that they can play computer games.

“Cable’s robust broadband network combined with the industry’s experience building and distributing mass-market entertainment properties makes cable an ideal partner in the marketing, delivery and ongoing support of interactive entertainment content,” said Kyle McSlarrow, the NCTA’s president and CEO. “There are significant business opportunities for the cable and game industries to come together and provide exciting new services along with a better overall experience for consumers.”

Charter’s loyalty program built on Epsilon services
By Brian Santo

Charter Communications is preparing to launch a new customer loyalty program, called “Live It With Charter,” that will be underpinned by services provided by Alliance Data’s Epsilon business.

Charter has already begun introducing Live It With Charter and will roll it out across its entire coverage area over the next year.

The program employs Epsilon’s proprietary database services, including its loyalty platform and e-mail communications platform, to recruit members, track membership points and communicate with participating customers.

Epsilon said it will also provide analytical support, strategic consulting and fulfillment services to Charter.

Cablevision hooks up with New York-area retailer 
By Mike Robuck

Cablevision announced a strategic distribution partnership with P.C. Richard & Son, a New York City-area appliance and electronics retail chain.

Under terms of the deal, P.C. Richard & Son customers will be able to sign up for Cablevision’s triple-play services at the 35 retail locations within Cablevision’s footprint. Cablevision will also provide its digital cable service to more than 30 P.C. Richard & Son stores, which will use the service to sell HDTVs to customers.

“We are excited about our new partnership with Cablevision, especially since the Optimum family of services is a direct extension of the products we sell,” said P.C. Richard & Son President Gregg Richard.

“The computer buyer can now easily enjoy the speed of Optimum Online, and the TV buyer purchasing their first high-definition TV can seamlessly subscribe to iO TV to receive a crystal-clear HD signal.”

Knology snags Graceba for $75 million
By Mike Robuck

Knology recently said that it would acquire Graceba Total Communications for $75 million in cash.

Dothan, Ala.-based Graceba is a triple-play provider that has about 25,000 connections. Knology said it expects to fund the $75 million purchase with $16 million of cash on hand, and with $59 million of debt issued under the company’s existing credit facility as an incremental first lien term loan. Subject to all of the usual approvals, Knology expects the deal to close in the first quarter of next year.

“Graceba is an acquisition similar to the PrairieWave transaction, although somewhat smaller, located within our existing Southeast footprint,” said Knology President and CEO Rodger L. Johnson. “The Graceba market has strong demographics, and the business is delivering healthy operating and financial results.

Similar to PrairieWave, Graceba is a very well-run organization with a Knology-like focus on customer service with a consistent business philosophy.”

West Point, Ga.-based Knology is the 17th largest cable operator in the U.S., with 221,800 current subscribers.

Verizon offering symmetrical FiOS Internet service in 16 states
By Traci Patterson

Verizon is now offering its high-speed symmetrical FiOS Internet services to consumers in 16 states, with downstream and upstream connections of up to 15 or 20 megabits per second (Mbps), depending on the state where the service is sold.

On Oct. 23, Verizon launched the symmetrical FiOS Internet service - featuring an upload and download speed of up to 20 Mbps - in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

In Florida, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Verizon now offers downstream and upstream connections of up to 20 Mbps, as well. And in California, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington State, connections of up to 15 Mbps are available.

"By introducing these new services where we sell FiOS, Verizon now offers the fastest broadband upload speeds to the most consumers in America," said Susan Retta, VP of broadband solutions for Verizon. "This is just another example of the power that Verizon delivers with fiber-optics straight into customers' homes."

The symmetrical services are available for as low as $64.99 a month with an annual service plan, the company said. 

In Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, Verizon is quadrupling the upstream connection speed of its highest-speed FiOS Internet service from 5 Mbps to up to 20 Mbps. The downstream connection speed of this service is up to 50 Mbps. 

In California, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington State, Verizon is tripling the upstream connection speed of its highest-speed FiOS Internet offering from 5 Mbps to up to 15 Mbps. The downstream connection speed of this service is up to 30 Mbps.

Broadband Briefs for 11/20/07

* SeaChange appoints McGrath to CMO
By Mike Robuck

SeaChange International announced today that Simon McGrath is the company’s new CMO. McGrath is currently the director of strategy and development at On-Demand Group, which is a subsidiary of SeaChange.

“Simon (McGrath) is the perfect person to help drive SeaChange’s strategic marketing initiatives as the digital television industry’s growth begins to rely heavily on value-added software applications and services, specifically the creation of successful advertising business models for VOD,” said SeaChange Chairman and CEO Bill Styslinger. “Simon brings a unique understanding of interactive media development and the acquisition, monetization and management of content to SeaChange.”

* SCTE Foundation re-elects board members, adds fourth
By Traci Patterson

At its annual meeting conducted earlier this month, the SCTE Foundation board of directors elected its four officers to one-year terms, three of which were re-elected.

Keith Hayes of Charter Communications will continue to serve as SCTE Foundation president, John Clark of the SCTE will remain in his role as VP and Mike Phebus of Jones/NCTI will continue as secretary. New board member Greg Allshouse of Comcast will serve as treasurer.

* Dish Network adds ESPN, Disney iTV apps
By Traci Patterson

EchoStar’s Dish Network has launched two interactive television (iTV) applications for ESPN and the Disney Channel, allowing advertisers to reach a more targeted audience with interactive ad campaigns. Interactive content includes scores, headlines, TV listings and show information.

The applications, ESPN Interactive Zone and Disney Channel Interactive TV, will be available to the more than 12 million Dish Network subscribers who receive iTV services. Dish Network now has 40 iTV offerings.

* CSG CEO Ed Nafus to retire; EVP Peter Kalan named successor 
By Brian Santo

CSG Systems’ President and CEO Edward C. Nafus plans to retire at the end of the year, following nearly 10 years with the company. The new CEO will be Peter Kalan, currently the company’s EVP of corporate and business development.



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