January 2008

SpotXchange Lands Investors

Online video ad network SpotXchange said it received its first round of angel funding.

The company did not disclose the amount, but it said investors include Alex Bogusky, chief creative officer, Crispin Porter + Bogusky; Laurence Chang, former portfolio manager, Janus Worldwide Fund; Tim Hudner, former chief operations and chief technology officer, Janus Capital Group; Mike Lu, former portfolio manager, Janus Global Technology Fund; Kent Moore, former portfolio manager, Janus Capital Group; Blaine Rollins, former portfolio manager, Janus Fund; and Claire Young, former portfolio manager, Janus Olympus Fund.

The company will use the funding to expand business development and add features. The SpotXchange platform was launched in late 2006 to help advertisers and publishers buy and sell online video ads.

SpotXchange faces competition from a range of online video ad networks such as Tremor Media, Broadband Enterprises and others.

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Clinton Campaign Buys Hour for Town Hall Event on Hallmark Channel

The Clinton campaign is buying an hour on the Hallmark Channel on Feb. 4, the eve of the Super Tuesday presidential primaries in order to air part of a 90-minute campaign “Voices Across America” national town hall.

The town hall will air at 9 p.m. ET, with national viewers allowed to see it live. Viewers at 21 events across the country and on the Internet can see the extra 30 minutes of content. Sen. Hillary Clinton has used the town hall format during campaign appearances.

The election-eve event will originate from New York.

There had been speculation that, with more than 20 states in contention in the Super Tuesday vote, some with big media markets, the economics of media buys would prompt candidates in both parties to buttress local media buys with an overlay of national ad spending.

Neither Hallmark nor the Clinton campaign offered details of what the campaign paid for the time.

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McCain, Romney Boost Ad Spending

Spending on advertising on the Republican side is still expected to pale compared to that on the Democratic side for Tuesday’s Super Tuesday presidential races, but it’s starting to increase.

The campaigns of Mitt Romney and John McCain both announced last-minute buys today.

The Romney campaign said it made a “significant” buy in California and other states with Feb. 5 primaries.

The campaign declined to say whether it was making all local buys or including some national advertising in its mix.

The McCain campaign, which has been hard-pressed to buy advertising, bought national cable ads on CNN and some other networks and some spot buys.

The McCain campaign did a significant buy on Fox News Channel. Gov. Mike Huckabee's campaign also bought there, although its buy was smaller.

The Huckabee campaign, meanwhile, bought what what may be its first broadcast network spot in the two-hour "Fox Super Sunday" news special preceding Fox's Super Bowl coverage, hosted by Shepard Smith.

The amount of spending by the campaigns couldn’t be immediately determined.

3:40 p.m.: Updated sixth, seventh paragraphs

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Planet Green Invites Bergeron to ‘Supper’

Planet Green, Discovery Communications’ new environmentally oriented network, has signed Tom Bergeron as host for one of its first original series.

In the weekly series, “Supper Club,” Mr. Bergeron will host Hollywood dinner parties at the eco-friendly Venice, Calif., home of Universal Studios president Ron Meyer and his wife, Kelly, an environmental activist. Guests will discuss news and events in the green movement.

The series is set to start production in March.

Andy Friendly, last year named a production and development consultant to Planet Green, will executive produce the series. He previously hired Mr. Bergeron as a host of “Hollywood Squares” and “ABC’s Countdown to the Emmys.”

“Supper Club” is produced by Andy Friendly Productions in association with Discovery Studios.

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ESPN Goes Down Under With HD

ESPN announced its latest branded high-definition service Thursday with HD Australia. It will be among the first HD services available Down Under, where it is expected to begin telecasting there later this year.

“The launch of ESPN HD Australia reinforces our commitment to provide fans worldwide the best quality sports programming,” said Russell Wolff, executive VP of ESPN International.

“ESPN HD and ESPN2 HD have been important drivers of HD growth in the U.S and continue to be among the most frequently watched HD services,” he added. “We are pleased to be offering fans in Australia that same big-picture experience.”

ESPN currently offers two HD channels with plans to launch ESPNEWS HD, ESPNU HD and ESPN HD Australia in 2008. ESPN HD has more than 16 million subscribers, and plans to deliver more than 1,000 events in the format in 2008. HD Australia is its first ESPN-branded high-definition venture outside the United States.

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HD DVD Tries to Go Deep With Super Bowl Ad

Could Sunday’s Super Bowl mark HD DVD’s Hail Mary?

The Toshiba-led next-generation DVD player format, declared all but dead by at least one technology research firm this week, will air a commercial touting the advantages of HD DVD during Fox’s Super Bowl telecast Sunday.

Toshiba, whose HD DVD format has lost ground to the Sony-backed Blu-ray player, will run a 30-second ad, confirmed Nicole Lawler, a Toshiba spokeswoman. Fox is charging between $2.6 million and $3 million for 30-second spots during the Super Bowl.

The commercial is an attempt to boost HD DVD market share, which has declined since Sony included Blu-ray players with HD televisions during the holiday season and took another hit earlier this month when Warner Bros. said it would release HD movies exclusively for Blu-ray starting in June.

HD DVD’s strategy is in marked contrast to that of Blu-ray, whose Panasonic-sponsored shopping mall tour showcasing new-this-year Walt Disney Studios HD releases such as “Finding Nemo” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” began last week in Toronto.

Last year, Super Bowl commercials were seen by an average of 92.8 million people, according to Nielsen Media Research, while Fox estimates a worldwide audience of 800 million people.

Still, the commercial’s effect may arrive too late to help Toshiba, whose electronic devices unit had a 7.6% decrease in operating income on flat sales for the quarter ended Dec. 31. After almost matching Blu-ray’s market share for the first week of January, HD DVD’s share fell to less than 10% the week after the Warner Bros. announcement, according to NPD Group, and was 34% for the week ended Jan. 19, according to Web site Digitalbits.com, citing NPD.

Warner’s decision “has left HD DVD with just Paramount and Universal as its major Hollywood supporters, both of which account for only 30% of all HD movies,” said a report from technology research firm Gartner this week. “By the end of 2008, Blu-ray will be the winning format in the consumer market, and the war will be over.”

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Rounding Up HD News: HDNet to Carry Shuttle Launch

HDNet Will Telecast Feb. 7 Space Shuttle Launch
HDNet will be the exclusive high-definition telecaster of the Space Shuttle Atlantis launch Feb. 7. The telecast of NASA’s 24th U.S. mission to the International Space Station will start at 2 p.m., with the launch scheduled for 2:45 p.m., HDNet said in a statement.

JVC Developing LCD TV With Funai
JVC has agreed to produce and develop LCD television sets and video equipment with Funai Electric starting this year. Beginning next month, Yokohama, Japan-based JVC’s Mexico plant will make Funai brand televisions for sale in North America while Osaka, Japan-based Funai’s Poland factory will make JVC HDTVs for Europe, JVC said in a statement this week. The companies will try to cut costs with a joint-purchasing agreement while cooperating on research and development, JVC said.

New Mets Stadium to Feature HD Scoreboard by Daktronics
The New York Mets’ new baseball stadium will feature a 12,000-square-foot high-definition scoreboard made by Daktronics. The scoreboard will have multiple video boards and one of the largest out-of-town scoreboards in baseball, Brookings, S.D.-based Daktronics said in a statement. The Mets will move to Citi Field from Shea Stadium for the 2009 season.

Newscaster’s HD Concerns Trigger U.K. Lawsuit
A BBC newscaster sued a United Kingdom health clinic because she said a cosmetic surgery procedure she received in preparation for the network’s new high-definition broadcasts left her disfigured, according to London’s Daily Mail. The newscaster, 37-year-old Kate Silverton, missed two weeks of work after the procedure because of facial swelling, the Mail said.

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Profile: Derek Harrar, Senior VP and General Manager of Video Services at Comcast Cable

The player: Derek Harrar, senior VP and general manager of video services at Comcast Cable.

The play: Mr. Harrar is leading the largest U.S. cable provider’s efforts to compete against satellite operators by expanding its on-demand service, which offers customers about 250 high-definition program choices that can be accessed at any time, in addition to about 30 linear HD channels. Comcast plans to boost its monthly HD movie inventory to 3,000 titles next year.

The pitch: Comcast, which has 24 million cable subscribers, plans to compete against leading satellite provider DirecTV, which had 87 linear HD channels at the beginning of the year, by expanding its monthly HD television show and film choices to more than 1,000 a month by the end of the year. “We don’t really think it’s about the linear channels anymore,” Mr. Harrar said. “High-definition customers are more advanced, demanding and technology-savvy. Most say they’d rather have programming on their own schedule.”

Backstory: Mr. Harrar, 37, joined Comcast in 2004 after seeing a job posting on its Web site—he’d gone to the site to find out how he could upgrade to HD for the Super Bowl. Mr. Harrar had previously been an investment banker for eight years, primarily with Morgan Stanley, and had become familiar with cable and Internet technology while working in the Silicon Valley. Raised in Philadelphia, Mr. Harrar graduated from Washington & Lee University.

Blu-ray or HD DVD: The format war “certainly hasn’t hurt us,” Mr. Harrar said, adding that HD programming on cable “saves customers from the exercise of wading through these technologies and buying an expensive piece of equipment.”

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Consumers Prefer Online Viewing to VOD, Study Says

Internet video viewing is leaving video-on-demand in the dust.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from Solutions Research Group. The study found that, in November, about 20% of Internet users watched a TV show online each week, compared to 14% who watched a TV show on video-on-demand.

Broadband is in 60 million U.S. homes now, compared to about 37 million homes that have digital cable, said Kaan Yigit, analyst with Solutions Research Group.

“All triple-A network content is up on network Web sites for catch-up purposes now. Only a limited amount of triple-A drama is available on VOD,” Mr. Yigit said.

“VOD has movies, but either they are older than what the customer wants or more expensive than what they want to pay,” he continued. “Twenty-nine percent of those with VOD say the content costs too much. Even though most big cable companies offer lots of free content, there is still a perception that it costs extra money.”

Broadband also is pulling ahead because search is better online and consumers can find content more easily, he said.

The study found that nearly 80 million Americans, representing 43% of the U.S. online population, had streamed a TV show at some point as of November 2007. That’s up from 25% in October 2006. About 5% watched a TV show using an iPod or other portable device.

Many consumers are specifically visiting network Web sites to watch TV shows. About 21% of consumers said that was the main reason they visited a network site. ABC.com has the best user experience, according to 52% of consumers. Fox was next with 44%.

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This Week in HD: Jan. 31-Feb. 6

HD programming picks for Jan. 31-Feb. 6: “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Departed,” Super Bowl XLII

“The Shawshank Redemption” (Cinemax). Thursday, Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET. Combine Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins and Bob Gunton (yes, the Warden) with a Stephen King novella adaptation, and you get a 1994 best picture Oscar nominee. In HD.

“The Departed” (Cinemax). Friday, Feb. 1, 10 p.m. ET. Oscar’s best picture of 2006 also garnered Martin Scorsese his first Academy Award. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and supporting actor Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg star in the tale about Boston’s Irish Mafia.

Super Bowl XLII: New England Patriots vs. New York Giants (Fox). Sunday, Feb. 3, 6 p.m. ET, Glendale, Ariz. “American Idol” champ Jordin Sparks sings the national anthem, Tom Petty performs at half-time and New York and Boston sports fans will continue to hate each other long after the game is over.

—DANNY KING

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