In the Loop

Old CEOs Never Die...

Talk about a low profile. Mike Armstrong has quietly resigned his post as chairman of Comcast. The former CEO of AT&T Corp. has elected to demote himself to the post of non-executive chairman of the board of directors. Armstrong got Comcast's "top" slot last November when the MSO acquired ailing AT&T Broadband, a move that allowed Armstrong to save face while not having to grapple with the AT&T operations. It was supposed to be a two-year gig, one giving Armstrong a New York office (Comcast is based in Philadelphia) and not a whole lot to do. Armstrong has elected to demote himself to the post of non-executive chairman of the board of directors. The advantage: His contract gave him an immediate $10 million payout, a mix of old options and cash.J.M.H.

'It's Chinatown'

Tom Berringer (right) is no Jack Nicholson, but he plays Jack on TV. USA Network made no secret that its new series Peacemakers was derivative (think CSI-meets-Gunsmoke), but we didn't know quite how derivative it would be. In the two-hour pilot airing July 30, wealthy landowner Art Wannamaker is killed. As town marshal, Berringer investigates with his newfangled forensic-scientist sidekick. They discover that the victim was planning to give away 10,000 acres of land. And that the land controlled all the water to the town and nearby mines. And that among the land he owned was … Chinatown!!! Yes, a big chunk of the plot was ripped off from the 1974 classic mystery Chinatown, which centers on the murder over land and water rights "What does Art Wannamaker have to do with Chinatown?" Berringer's character asks. Apparently everything, but that's pretty much where we hit the eject button.—J.M.H

Does ESPN Have a Plan C?

As ESPN's big Aug. 1 rate hike looms, no cable operator has yet signed up for the sports network's alternate affiliation deal. Operators, for some reason, years ago agreed to a 20% escalator in ESPN license fees, not focusing on the fact that in, say, 2003, the price would rise to $2.60 per sub monthly. (That's 5-15 times the price of other basic networks.)

ESPN is making a big deal out of a proposed alternative package, one that reduces the escalator (though not the base rate) in exchange for a new long-term agreement and the launch of all sorts of new product, some also carrying a high price.

"We're not signing," said one MSO executive. "To us, it looks more expensive in the long run, not less expensive."

But ESPN affiliate sales chief Sean Bratches says he's close to several deals, including affiliates among cable's top 10 operators.—J.M.H.

IBS To Test Daypart Sites

Internet Broadcasting System, which produces Web sites for TV stations, is learning something from those stations: dayparting. "Stations have known for a long time that people have different needs for TV at different times of the day," says IBC CEO Tolman Geffs. "We found the same thing is true on the Web."

So, to increase usage and ad revenue (the 70 IBS-produced sites generated $15 million in the second quarter), IBS will start experimenting with Web sites that are offer different looks and content during various dayparts: morning, noon, afternoon, evening and weekend. The test sites are Hearst-Argyle's WBAL-TV Baltimore and NBC's WMAQ-TV Chicago.

IBS's principal broadcast client/partners are NBC, Hearst-Argyle, Post-Newsweek, Cox and McGraw-Hill.—H.A.J.

Winning Friends

Broadcasters brag about their emergency weather reports. FCC Media Bureau attorney Shaun Maher found out last week that broadcasters' claim is no idle boast. Just as his wife was leaving for work on the afternoon of July 9, a report on WTOP(AM) Washington warned her of a possible tornado in Lincoln, Va., on her drive in from Loudon County. That gave her time to take another route. As it turns out, a tree fell directly on her normal path. "I don't know how close she would have been," Maher said. "At the very least, she would have been caught in a backup with terrible wind and rain. At worst, she could have had trees coming down on top of her."—B.M.

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