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Fast Track

8/17/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Hearst-Argyle Shoots and Scores With 'Playbook'

By Michael Malone

Taking cues from Facebook and MySpace, Hearst-Argyle Television launched a sports Website called “High School Playbook” late last week to considerable buzz. The high school sports platform, located at www.highschoolplaybook, employs a social-networking model to help users share video, news and views about high school sports, music, and whatever else is on kids' minds.

“It's more than sports—it's the whole high school experience,” says Hearst-Argyle Executive VP Terry Mackin, who called it the “five minutes of fame” for student athletes and musicians.

Offering schedules, scores, statistics, and lots of video from 10 different school sports, Playbook launched on Hearst affiliates in seven markets. The station group is shooting for 25 markets by January 2008, and 50 in a year's time; the plan is to license the service to Hearst and non-Hearst stations alike.

Besides user-generated video and footage shot from pros, Hearst is training students to shoot HD video from the sidelines. Sixty such “sideline reporters” are already in place, and Hearst executives say the reaction from students has been tremendous. “That has exceeded our wildest expectations,” says Mackin. “It's SportsCenter for high school sports.”

Media companies are suddenly very eager to tap into high school athletics—and the teen consumer. Time Warner's Sports Illustrated increased its stake in school sports site takkle.com earlier this summer, and takkle.com CEO David Birnbaum says they'll announce a TV partner in the coming months. CBS Corp. bought Maxpreps.com earlier this year for $43 million, and Yahoo bought rivals.com in June.

Fox, which acquired scout.com two years ago, is close to launching a high school sports/networking platform for its owned stations; FoxHilites.com offers a peak at the concept.

Mackin termed Playbook a “seven-figure investment, minimally.” Both local and national advertising, primarily from the apparel and telecom sectors, will supply revenue. Hearst will market the project on its stations (it owns 26), while reaching out to young consumers with spots on ESPN and MTV.

Hearst will moderate all video for inappropriate material, but will mostly let users police themselves.

Three Hearst-Argyle stations, KCRA Sacramento, WTAE Pittsburgh, and WBAL Baltimore, now provide Playbook features within their existing local YouTube channels, which launched earlier this summer. Four more stations added Playbook last week: WESH Orlando, WLWT Cincinnati, WYFF Greenville/Spartanburg and WXII Greensboro/Winston-Salem.

DirecTV Loses in False-Ad Suits

A U.S. district court ruled in favor of Comcast and against DirecTV in two lawsuits on false advertising.

The Illinois court ruled in favor of Comcast's motions for injunctions against DirecTV, preventing the satellite-television-service operator from using advertising that references certain consumer and installer surveys.

The court also ruled against DirecTV's motions for injunctions against Comcast relating to its use of advertising referencing its high-definition picture-quality survey. “We're pleased that the court has issued an injunction ordering DirecTV, its affiliates and resellers to immediately stop airing the false and misleading ads claiming superior picture quality over cable,” Comcast said in a prepared statement. “The court's order confirms, once again, that DirecTV's claims are unsubstantiated and based on flawed and unreliable studies.”

The flare-up between the companies began in May when DirecTV filed a suit against Comcast over its advertising campaign claiming that direct-broadcast satellite customers preferred Comcast's high-definition picture quality over satellite. The ads were based on findings from a Frank N. Magid Associates study that was commissioned by the cable operator.

Comcast filed its injunction against DirecTV's advertising campaign challenging Comcast's picture quality in July.

Earlier, DirecTV had launched ads claiming the satellite provider would “soon” have more HD channels than cable. —Jonathan Hemingway

CBS Verizon Launch New Mobile-TV Service

CBS, Verizon Wireless and mobile-TV-service provider MediaFLO teamed up to create a new mobile-TV channel that will air a real-time, 24/7 feed of the activity inside the house used for CBS' Big Brother 8 reality show.

The Big Brother 8 channel will run from Aug. 19 through the show's season finale Sept. 18, and it will be available to subscribers to Verizon Wireless' V CAST Mobile TV service, which uses MediaFLO's broadcast spectrum to deliver live video to specially equipped handsets.

MediaFLO, a subsidiary of cellular-phone-chip giant Qualcomm, already carries primetime episodes of Big Brother 8 on CBS Mobile, one of the eight regular channels on its service.

In total, hundreds of hours of live programming will air on the new dedicated Big Brother 8 channel, which is available at no additional charge to V CAST Mobile TV subscribers.

“We are thrilled to provide Big Brother's passionate and digitally savvy fans with yet another way to keep connected to the show 24/7,” said Cyriac Roeding, executive vice president of CBS Mobile, in a statement. “CBS Mobile is about innovation and creating truly made-for-mobile experiences. This Big Brother channel is both—a first in the United States and the most mobile entertainment possible—allowing you to 'live' with the Big Brother houseguests on your phone 24/7.”

The Big Brother 8 channel is another example of MediaFLO creating temporary, special-event channels as part of its mobile-TV service. Earlier this month, it teamed up with sports programmer ESPN to create EXPN, a dedicated channel that provided eight hours daily of live coverage from ESPN's X Games extreme-sports event. —Glen Dickson

HBO Picks Up 'Flight', 'Entourage'

HBO picked up a second season of Flight of the Conchords and a fifth of Entourage.

Both series are slated for sometime in 2008, and each concludes its current series run Sunday night.

Offbeat musical comedy Flight has averaged 1 million viewers Sundays at 10:30 p.m. and 2.5 million for cumulative weekly plays. The show, starring New Zealander pair Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, has developed something of a cult fan following over its 12-episode run this season, with episodes often ranking atop the iTunes charts.

Hollywood buddy drama Entourage has averaged 2.9 million viewers for Sunday premiere episodes at 10 p.m. this season and averaged 5.3 million for multiple plays throughout the week. This season has marked the show's best performance except for the second half of season three, which averaged 3.9 million viewers with premiere episodes that ran after The Sopranos.

The shows have been bright spots for HBO this summer. Earlier this week, HBO canceled its other freshman summer series, John from Cincinnati, after the surfing drama underperformed since its June 10 premiere. The network said it plans to extend its development deal with the show's co-creator, David Milch.

Joining the renewed shows in 2008 are a new season of polygamy drama Big Love; new series 12 Miles of Bad Road and In Treatment; and, this fall, a sixth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and new relationship drama Tell Me You Love Me.—Anne Becker

TV Pioneer Chet Collier Dies

Veteran producer and cable news pioneer Chet Collier died Wednesday in Florida after a long illness. He was 80.

Collier's death was reported Wednesday afternoon by Fox News' Shepard Smith on Studio B. Collier, a longtime associate of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, had helped to launch the News Corp.-owned cable news network in 1996 and served as executive vice president.

An Emmy Award-winning producer for The Mike Douglas Show, where he hired a young Ailes to be his assistant, Collier also worked with the likes of Steve Allen, Merv Griffin and Regis Philbin. He later worked with Ailes at CNBC and the MSNBC-precursor America's Talking before following Ailes to FNC.—B&C Staff

Corrections

An item in the Aug. 6 B&C Week incorrectly stated the status of NBC's Vince Manze. He is president of NBC program planning, scheduling and strategy.

The CBS Audience Network distributes content to AOL, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple. An Aug. 13 story (“Big Shot Has Big Local Plans”) incorrectly said Yahoo! was part of the distribution network.

The photograph for the Aug 13 cover was shot for the U.S. Army by Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl . His photo credit was inadvertently omitted.

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