Through The Wire: Cable Needs a Good Broker

10/18/1998 8:00 PM Eastern

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor opted out of lastweek's crucial local-phone-interconnection case -- a conflict-of-interest withdrawal thatcable lawyers will likely note in their next all-client memo.

O'Connor, as the lawyers say, "recused" herself because she owns about $50,000in AT&T stock, and AT&T was a key participant in the case. Unless she dumps thestock, O'Connor will likely have to bow out of future court cases concerning cabletelevision, on the assumption that AT&T completes its plan to acquireTele-Communications Inc.

If O'Connor, who is worth at least $2.3 million, decides to keep the stock, the cableindustry could lose its most ardent defender in the court, which is sharply divided on theFirst Amendment rights of cable operators. O'Connor, for instance, wrote twice to blastthe notion that mandatory cable carriage of local-TV signals is constitutional, in a causethat O'Connor's side lost by one vote.

A&E and Discovery Networks are normally intense rivals,so what are two posters plugging A&E's HistoryChannel doing on the future storefront of Discovery's outlet in New York'sGrand Central? History sponsored the Grand Central rededication, and the posters toutingthe renovation bear its logo. To add insult to injury, work on the Discovery store isrunning months late. "Their cash registers are not going 'ka-ching,'"crowed History's consumer-marketing VP, Artie Scheff. "Instead, people are goingright by and reading The History Channel" logo. Retorted a Discovery spokeswoman:"I can understand why The History Channel would want to share in the success of theDiscovery Channel stores."

One of Sony Corp.'sslogans is, "Do you dream in Sony?" But given the recent experience of two Wirecorrespondents who trekked to Tokyo to meet with Japanese consumer-electronicsmanufacturers and cable operators, a different tag line seems more appropriate. Youguessed it: We nightmare in Sony. After being escorted to a small, hot room and beinginterrogated by an eager-to-dodge PR cub, Sony executives summarily refused to answer anyquestions related to cable. That includes Sony's investment in GI (which is "still innegotiations," they said), operating systems slated for TCI, or just about any otherrelevant topic.

Sightings: After hours at the Atlantic Cable Show in Baltimore last week,Comcast Corp.'s Bob Beyer and Marcus Cable's David Intrator were spotted accosting Homicidestar Richard Belzer, who had stopped by The Black Olive restaurant in Fells Point withother cast members. By all accounts, the encounter was cordial.

New York 1 Newshas gone national -- in a way. The local-news channel on Time Warner Cable of New Yorkhas, since last month, been slipped into office scenes of Spin City, Michael J.Fox's primetime sitcom on ABC. When his character, Big Apple Deputy Mayor MichaelFlaherty, is in his office, he finds out what's happening locally via NY1. According toNY1's internal magazine, that makes sense, since Fox and others on the DreamWorksSKG-produced sitcom's cast really do watch the channel.

What, no New Jersey Nets yearbook? ... InsightCommunications' Michael Willner, a Garden State native, welcomed TCI president -- andfuture AT&T exec -- Leo J. Hindery Jr. to Basking Ridge, N.J., with the gift of twobooks at a recent NCTA board meeting: Jersey Diners and Looking for America ontheNew Jersey Turnpike. Hindery graciously denied that he was moving hisfamily east, but he added, "What's one more place to hang my hat?"

By Kent Gibbons, from bureau reports.

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