FBI Counts Charter Subs

The FBI has begun contacting cable networks about Charter Communications, asking for information of how the cable operator counted its subscriber base. At least eight programmers have been called by FBI agents in the past two weeks, with questions centering on an odd move last

December in which the MSO suddenly declared that it was claiming rebates on license fees that the company mistakenly counted but were actually bad-debt customers that weren't really paying.

Charter reversed course in April and paid networks most of the money. But since the company faces a grand-jury inquiry into, among other things, whether it was overstating its subscriber counts, questioning networks paid on a per-sub basis is natural. So far, network executives say, FBI agents are not asking about other operators, but they are interested in general industry practices. Charter would not comment.—J.M.H.

NBA TV Set for a Fast Break

NBA TV may tip off sooner than expected, having inked distribution pacts with EchoStar Communications and DirecTV. "With two deals done, we might move up the launch date to early January," says Ed Desser, president of NBA Television. Earlier plans called for a February launch. Desser also says talks with cable operators are progressing more rapidly than expected. NBA TV is angling for digital carriage on most systems. "We have live, first-run sports programming not already on analog," Dresser says. Don't be surprised if Time Warner Cable is the first cable operator to sign up for NBA TV. Parent company AOL Time Warner owns a 20% stake in the channel.—A.R.

HD on the Move

Two mobile production companies have inked multimillion-dollar deals with Thomson Grass Valley for HD-capable gear for production vehicles. NEP Supershooters will pay around $8 million for 40 LDK 6000 mk II Worldcam cameras, HD production switchers and HD Profile XP Media servers. Meanwhile, NMT cut a $6 million deal for 22 LDK 600 mk II Worldcam cameras, HD production switchers and a Trinix routing system. Because of the technology's flexibility, says NMT President Jerry Gepner, the NMT will be able to produce HD in any of the formats now in use by broadcasters.—K.K.

ET Gets Pushy

As part of Paramount's push to make Entertainment Tonight even bigger, the show is launching Instant ET, a Web push application that users can download to their desktop. Instant ET will update users on the latest entertainment news and offer them streaming-video clips from the show. The application is branded with the logo of ET's local TV affiliates."This gives affiliates prized digital real estate," says Paramount's Richard Orosco.—P.A.

Station Logs DTV Payday

KICU-DT San Jose, Calif., raised a few eyebrows at the FCC last week by reporting that it took in $90,000 over 12 months for its digital-data-transmission service. That kind of money is a staggering amount for a DTV service few predict will get beyond the drawing board any time soon. The skeptics are right: KICU-DT's digital cash dried up after a three-year deal with Intel expired. Intel used the digital signal for software downloads and other services. "Unfortunately, our datacasting revenue next year will be zero like everyone else," said Jeff Block, vice president of KTVU Partnership, the Cox subsidiary that owns KICU-DT.

Digital stations were required to report to the FCC last week on their ancillary services. Only a handful are earning any revenue. Among them: WKRC-DT Cincinnati, $8,280 for high-speed Internet; KSL-DT Salt Lake City, $8,000 for Interactive TV; and KQED-DT, $2,000 for data transmissions. More reports are expected to trickle in this week.—B.M.

Related