AD BUYERS JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS FOR CBS OVER WEBCASTSOne of the primary advertisers on CBS's webcasts of the March Madness basketball games has called the five million visits chalked up over 56 games "absolutely outstanding." In an interview with the online edition of Business Week, ad manager Dino Bernacchi said that the webcasts, together with TV ads, increased traffic to a Pontiac site by at least 10-15 percent. Advertisers said the audience was about twice what CBS had promised. Meanwhile, Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media, forecast that "next year, the audience will be bigger, because broadband video is a maturing medium." CBS said that the semifinal and championship games this weekend will not be shown on the Web.


Comcast announced Thursday that it will be adding several popular NBC shows to its on-demand service, including the Law & Orderspinoffs SVU and Criminal Intent, the comedy The Office and the drama Las Vegas.Subscribers who access any of the shows after midnight on the day they are broadcast will be charged 99 cents to see them. Shows from NBC's cable siblings USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel and Bravo, including Monk, Battlestar Galactica,andCelebrity Poker Showdown will be available without charge, as will NBC's two night-time shows, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Night With Conan O'Brien. In an interview with today's (Friday) Philadelphia Inquirer,Page Thompson, Comcast's general manager for video services, remarked, "Clearly, the amount of content that we're offering continues to grow steadily and it will continue to grow this year," Thompson said. "We're constantly talking to all the networks about additional content."


Taking advantage of the BBC's standing as the most frequently visited news site on the Internet, hackers have begun sending emails containing excerpts from BBC news stories to lure surfers to a website that takes advantage of a newly discovered virus vulnerability in Internet Explorer. According to The Register,the online British science and technology publication, the emails contain the opening paragraphs of actual BBC news stories and appear to have been sent from the British broadcaster. Each story is followed by a link reading "Read More." That site, which also appears as if it had been constructed by the BBC, contains the complete BBC story but also installs the so-called exploit code.


The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed two bills aimed at bringing television cameras into federal courtrooms, including the Supreme Court. One of the bills permits TV coverage of Supreme Court proceedings unless a court majority concludes that due process would be compromised by such coverage. The other bill (the "Sunshine in the Courtroom Act") permits coverage of Supreme Court oral arguments and also gives authority to any presiding judge in federal courts to allow TV coverage. In an interview with Broadcasting and Cablemagazine, Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio and Television News Directors Association, expressed optimism that Congress will pass the measures. "I think that members of Congress are becoming more interested in introducing TV and radio coverage as a way of holding the federal judiciary more accountable," she said. But several sitting Supreme Court justices have expressed their undying opposition to TV coverage of the court's proceedings. In 1996 Justice David Souter famously remarked, "The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body."


The decision by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to select Walt Disney Chairman George Mitchell to head an investigation into charges of steroid use in baseball has touched off widespread criticism. Disney owns the ESPN sports cable network and Mitchell is a director of the Boston Red Sox. "While George Mitchell is certainly a man of great integrity, I believe that baseball would have been wiser to pick someone who is not as close to the game and may be able to take a more objective look into the facts," Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, told today's (Friday) Philadelphia Inquirer.


The CBS blog Public Eye, which, in an article, recently criticized NBC's Datelinefor the methods it used on its "To Catch a Predator" series, is now locking horns with the Los Angeles Timesblog Channel Island over the article. Earlier this week, the Timesblog, written by Scott Collins, noted that it was rare for one network to criticize the work of another and that the Public Eye article seemed to represent a "fairly significant breakdown in news-division detente" in that respect. In response, Vaughn Ververs, who runs the CBS blog, accused the Timesof "taking aim at CBS" and defended the original article by saying, "Part of what we do here is pay attention to what's happening in the world of journalism as a whole because, let's face it, we're all part of 'the media.'" Collins shot back today (Friday) with an article pointing out that Public Eye's stated mission is to "bring transparency to the editorial operations of CBS News" and to act as an ombudsman for its audience. He concluded: "It's fine to want to play media critic, although for obvious reasons that role doesn't always mix well with the job description of viewers' representative. Public Eye may ultimately need to decide which master it wants to serve."WILL ICE BE HOT?The movie industry is hoping that Fox's computer-animated sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown will finally heat things up at the box office this weekend. They point out that the original Ice Agedebuted at about the same time of the year in 2002 with $46.3 million -- far more than any film released this year has earned on its opening weekend. The film is debuting on nearly 4,000 screens, making it one of the biggest releases in history. Three other films are also debuting this weekend, but none is expected to earn more than $10 million. They include Sony's long-a'coming Basic Instinct 2; the Warner Bros. hip-hop-themed ATL; and Universal's horror flick Slither.


The critical reaction to Ice Age: The Meltdownis about the same as the reaction to the original movie four years ago: icy. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timessums up: "The movie is nice to look at, the colors and details are elegant, the animals engaging, the action fast-moving, but I don't think older viewers will like it as much as the kids. The first Ice Age movie more or less exhausted these characters and their world, and the meltdown doesn't add much." In the Toronto Globe and Mail, Jennie Punter writes glumly, "Meltdown is essentially a journey from point A to point B, a simple classic plotline on which to hang a collection of set pieces -- some delightful, some wacky, some tediously hackneyed." Michael Booth in the Denver Post, who bestows three stars on the movie, nevertheless remarks that it is really "a fantastic short film stretched by a couple of hours of filler." Several critics applaud the computer-generated animation. "But the story needs to catch up to the magic. Otherwise, what's the point?" asks Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post.


As expected, critics everywhere are tossing stones at Basic Instinct 2. Manohla Dargis in the New York Timeslands a few particularly heavy ones. She writes that it is "no surprise that Basic Instinct 2... is a disaster of the highest or perhaps lowest order. It is also no surprise that this joyless calculation ... is such a prime object lesson in the degradation that can face Hollywood actresses, especially those over 40. Acting always involves a degree of self-abasement, but just watching trash like this is degrading." The actress Dargis refers to is Sharon Stone, whom several critics single out for a particularly heavy bashing. For example, Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer, who calls her performance "quite terrible," then goes on: "Stone is betting that a 48-year-old woman can be as hot and dangerous as the 20-somethings the film industry is addicted to. Bully for her -- in theory. In practice, Stone appears to have had so much work done that her face resembles a tautly made bed, and her unchanging expression of smoldering arrogance seems less an acting decision and more the result of neurotoxins. The body may be willing but the flesh has been immobilized." Kyle Smith in the New York Post describes the movie as "Botoxic" (under a headline reading "Necromancing the Stone), and concludes: "There are inflatable toys that are livelier than Stone, but how can you tell the difference? Basic Instinct 2 is not an erotic thriller. It's taxidermy." And Carina Chocana in the Los Angeles Times concludes her review of the movie this way: "Dead serious and stone idiotic, the only basic instinct in evidence here is desperation."


The actors appearing in the rap- and roller-skating-themed ATL (the airport code for Atlanta) are receiving quite a bit of critical praise; reaction to the movie itself is mixed. Teresa Wiltz in the Washington Postwrites that "despite the bromide-infested script" the movie "works ... thanks to some strong performances and to [director Chris] Robinson's skill in evoking the hickory-smoked flavor of the setting." Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News positively relishes it all. "This sharp-looking tale of friends growing up and skating together in hip-hop Atlanta has wit and heart that transcend most formulas," he writes. On the other hand, John Anderson comments in Newsday: "There's a lot that's right about ATL, the debut directing effort of music-video maker Chris Robinson. But the things that are wrong are simply fatal." The worst review of the movie is published in, of all places, Atlanta, where Bob Longino writes in the Journal-Constitution. "ATLis not interesting. Nor compelling. Nor lively. Nor always comprehensible. Nor is it worth remembering beyond the moment you toss your popcorn tub into the trash bin before the exit. ... ATL is slow. Painfully so. The script is so muddled it can take more than a half-hour to figure out what the heck the thing is about. ... In other words, it's like being stuck at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for hours. With nothing to do but sit and yawn."


On the eve of its scheduled opening, the Bahamian government's Plays and Films Control Board has banned the showing of Brokeback Mountain,touching off protests by gay activists, libertarians, and theater owners in the Caribbean country. Chavasse Turnquest-Liriano, liaison officer for the control board, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "The board chose to ban it because it shows extreme homosexuality, nudity and profanity, and we feel that it has no value for the Bahamian public." However, Philip Burrows, a theater director, told the wire service, "You have a group of people who are telling grown men and women what they can and cannot watch. ... I cannot understand denying people the right to make their own choices."


Toshiba got a head start on Sony today (Friday) as electronics stores in Japan began selling its HD DVD players, which play high definition DVDs for home theater systems. The company said that the $1,000 players will be arriving in the U.S. sometime next month. Sony, which has developed a rival -- and incompatible -- Blu-ray high-definition player, has indicated that it may not be available until November.