Game’s on for Comcast Fest

Philadelphia — A trio of networks owned by Comcast will be front and center at the inaugural U.S. Sports Film Festival in Philadelphia this week.

The Oct. 23 to 26 event will showcase 23 films in a trio of local theaters. Titles include documentaries such as The Zen of Bobby V, chronicling former Major League Baseball and current Japanese manager Bobby Valentine; Signature Series: Pete Sampras, about the tennis legend; and Gunning for That No. 1 Spot, which follows top high-school hoopers as they compete at the legendary outdoor court in Manhattan’s Rucker Park.

Sports-themed theatricals will also screen. A full schedule is available at

Meanwhile, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, regional news network CN8 and national sports service Versus all will have marketing elements, including signage at the various events, tied to USSFF. Comcast Spectacor, which owns the National Basketball Association’s 76ers, the National Hockey League’s Flyers and the minor league hockey Phantoms, is also involved with the festival.

USSFF’s opening-night cocktail reception is being sponsored by Versus, while Comcast SportsNet, the event’s overall presenting sponsor, will host a post-screening gala.

SportsNet also is affixed to the festival’s Audience Award. At every showing, festival-goers will be handed a ballot to grade the film to determine an overall festival winner.

A Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia spokeswoman said the RSN and Versus are engaged in discussions with the films’ producers for possible airings on the services.

Both CN8 and Comcast SportsNet plan to cover USSFF events and will have exclusive access to bring festival talent, directors and producers to their air.

Season ticket-holders for the aforementioned Philly teams have been afforded discounts for the sessions.

Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia officials are also expected to attend the parties, screenings and attendant panel sessions, but they have a conflict: They’ll be sending personnel out of town to cover the hometown Philadelphia Phillies in the first two games of the World Series on Oct. 22 and 23.

— Mike Reynolds

Next-Gen i-Guide Looks to ’09

Radnor, Pa. — The next version of the i-Guide interactive program guide used by Comcast and other cable operators — slated to include “Start Over”-style features — won’t be ready for commercial deployment until the second half of 2009.

The IPG’s next major release, version A28, will include several key enhancements, including support for Start Over applications and switched digital-video systems.

The software, which runs natively on Motorola set-top boxes, will go through lab testing and trials in early 2009 before its general availability in the latter part of the year, said Sharon Metz, Macrovision’s vice president of vertical marketing for system operators for North America.

The i-Guide is developed by GuideWorks, a joint venture of Macrovision and Comcast. Macrovision completed the acquisition of Gemstar-TV Guide International in May.

Comcast had previously hoped to roll out a service similar to Time Warner Cable’s Start Over, which allows viewers to restart certain recently aired programs, by the end of 2008.

Other features in store with A28: the ability to search and record by actor, director or keyword, similar to TiVo’s WishList (e.g., the DVR can automatically save all upcoming programs with a specific actor); folders to group DVR recordings of the same show; and bulk deletion of recordings.

The next i-Guide can also show viewers who tune to a standard-definition channel an on-screen prompt that lets them switch to an HD version if it’s available. “We think subscribers will really get a lot of value from these features,” Metz said.

Support for switched digital video originally was planned for version A25, released earlier this year. (A26 and 27 were consigned to beta releases.)

That was pushed to A28 because the switched digital video portion of the guide encountered “technical issues” in testing, said Macrovision executive vice president of marketing Corey Ferengul, who declined to be more specific.

— Todd Spangler

Start Your DTV Engines

Washington— NASCAR driver David Gilliland will use his No. 38 car as a high-speed billboard, promoting the February 2009 national transition to digital television.

The Federal Communications Commission said it agreed to pay $350,000 to ensure that Gilliland’s driving suit and Ford racer hood promoted the Feb. 17, 2009 federally mandated migration from analog to digital broadcast TV.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin said the sponsorship was “an extremely effective way for the FCC to raise DTV awareness among people of all ages and income levels.”

Gilliland is supposed to race the FCC DTV sponsorship car in three events — the first of which was scheduled for Oct. 19, in Martinsville, Va.

— Ted Hearn

Fox Tops Cable’s Debate Coverage

New York — In the final 2008 presidential debate, Fox News Channel and NBC were the ratings winners on the cable and broadcast sides.

NBC set the pace with the third faceoff between Republican nominee John McCain and Democratic opponent Barack Obama, averaging almost 11.3 million viewers. ABC was second with 10.6 million watchers, followed by CBS with 9.16 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Fox News Channel, which led cable news networks, averaged 9.07 million viewers, ahead of CNN’s 8.93 million. MSNBC had 3.72 million, and sister service CNBC delivered 731,000.

All told, the Oct. 15 debate — which was also carried by Telemundo, Mun2, Univision and BBC America — averaged 56.5 million viewers.

— Mike Reynolds

Callender Exits HBO

New York — Colin Callender is leaving his job as president of HBO Films. With the premium network since 1987, Callender said he will launch a new entertainment and content company, plans for which he will detail next year.

— Mike Reynolds