Attempting to counter concerns by advertisers that users of digital video recorders will bring about the death of traditional commercial broadcasting, top network TV executives released a study Wednesday, which, they said, represented "clear evidence showing that homes with DVRs watch significantly more television, and could increase the average primetime audience for a program by an average of 4 percent." The study showed that homes with DVRs averaged 5.7 hours of TV viewing per day, versus 5.1 for homes without DVRs -- a 12 percent increase. The study further showed that "high levels of awareness/recall on commercials they have fast-forwarded" with 58 percent going back "to watch commercials they mistakenly skipped."


After encouraging its viewers to sign up for a free beta test of its online Pipeline service, CNN is now turning away new volunteers, amid reports that the full service will soon launch. The TVNewser blog reported Wednesday that the service will cost $24.95 a year and provide 4 live streams of content, including a "fully produced newscast 'pipe' that runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday." (It was not clear whether the newscast would be live during the entire twelve hours or whether it would be a tape of a shorter program that would be repeated and updated throughout the day.) In announcing its plans for the service, CNN described it as "not simply CNN television on the Internet" but "original news programming created exclusively for an online audience."


It was revealed today (Thursday) that the man who agreed to plunk down nearly $60,000 on eBay -- the money goes to charity -- to have lunch with News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch was Bill Zanker, founder and president of The Learning Annex. In a statement, Zanker said that he expects to use the lunch meeting to discuss the expansion of his company and extending a motivational speaking tour of entrepreneurs featuring, among others, Donald Trump. Earlier this month The Learning Annex said that it was paying Trump $1.5 million for each one-hour talk at its Real Estate Wealth Expo Tour of 2006 and guaranteeing him $15 million plus expenses. "Paying Rupert Murdoch $1,000 a minute for a one-hour lunch feels like a bargain compared to the $25,000 a minute I'm paying Donald Trump," Zanker said.


Vivendi Universal, which nearly drowned in debt when its former chairman, Jean-Marie Messier, went on a two-year, $100-billion acquisition spree, boasted of a turn-around today (Thursday). It reported a rise in net earnings of 73 percent -- much of it from tax savings for the first nine months of the year. (Without the non-recurring item, net earnings would have risen more than 30 percent.) Particularly striking was the performance of the company's Canal Plus pay-TV operations as the channel gained more than 400,000 new subscribers during the period.


Two of Television New Zealand's top news anchors have disappeared from the screen and the state-owned network's CEO has quit following government efforts to cut salaries of leading personalities. One of the anchors, Judy Bailey, had been a fixture on the network for nearly 18 years, earning an annual salary of $550,000. Susan Wood, host of a current affairs show, had been earning $307,000. Revelation of their salaries had caused a public outcry, Bloomberg News reported today (Thursday). It quoted Paul Norris, who was TV New Zealand's news director from 1987-94, as saying, "Ordinary members of the public just can't comprehend how someone could be worth that much" for being a TV anchor. The figures are puny compared with those for their U.S. counterparts. Katie Couric reportedly earns $15 million per year. Newly installed NBC Nightly Newsanchor Brian Williams reportedly earns $5 million annually.


In perhaps the most elaborate hoax ever devised for TV, contestants on Space Cadets, an upcoming British reality series, have been led to believe that they are going on a trip to outer space, the London Timesreported today (Thursday). The newspaper said that the nine contestants are about to undergo training in what they believe is Russia after actually circling around Britain for hours. Their training center, a onetime British military base now populated by Russian-speaking actors, has been given a makeover to resemble Star City, the cosmonaut training center in Russia, and their space shuttle is actually the movie spaceship built for the Clint Eastwood movie Space Cowboys, the Timessaid. The sound of the launch has been created by Hollywood sound technicians, and an outside screen will provide the illusion of a view of Earth. Space Cadetsis due to ... er ... launch on Dec. 7.


Clark, TX, population 125, has legally changed its name to DISH, thereby winning free satellite television service for all of its residents from EchoStar's DISH network. The town changed its name at a city council meeting on Tuesday, taking EchoStar up on its offer of free service for 10 years to any municipality willing to rename itself DISH. The publicity ploy was reminiscent of a similar stunt in 1950, when the city of Hot Springs, New Mexico changed its name to Truth or Consequences, the title of what was then the most popular game show on radio.


Ralph Edwards, who pioneered "reality shows" on radio and TV long before the term came into existence by hosting and producing such shows as Truth or Consequencesand This Is Your Life, died Wednesday in West Hollywood, CA at age 92. This Is Your Life, in which celebrities were caught unawares and hustled into a TV studio where Edwards surprised them with friends and family who described incidents in their lives, was one of television's longest-running series, beginning on NBC in 1952 (it originated on radio four years earlier) and ending in 1961; a British version, launched in 1955, went off the air just two years ago. Only this month, ABC announced that it plans to revive the series with Regis Philbin taking over as host.


No doubt about it, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is the best Harry Potter movie yet, most of the major critics seem to agree. The film, which opens in most cities at midnight tonight, is being ecstatically praised, even by critics who expressed reservations about the three earlier Potter flicks. One of the reasons may be that Harry has now crossed over into puberty (although the character is 14, Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays him, is 16), and is being allowed more intense experiences, both in terms of magic and romance. (Although the previous films were rated PG, the new one is rated PG-13.) Jami Bernard in the New York Daily Newscalls it "the darkest, most thrilling entry yet in the movie franchise." To Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the new movie "is the most fun and the most fraught with conflict." Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times concludes: "It's taken them long enough, but the movies have finally gotten Harry Potter right. Despite the reported $2.7 billion earned by the series' three previous attempts, it's not until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that a film has successfully recreated the sense of stirring magical adventure and engaged, edge-of-your-seat excitement that has made the books such an international phenomenon." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesobserves, "The film is more violent, less cute than the others, but the action is not the mindless destruction of a video game; it has purpose, shape and style." Much of the credit for the film's artistic success, the critics say, goes to director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco). Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionnotes that Newell "is the first Brit to direct a Potter picture. Perhaps that's why he 'gets' the books better than his predecessors. He's more comfortable with the boarding-school setting -- the rush between classes, the heart-to-hearts in hidden rooms, the petty estrangements and the unnecessary hurts." Several critics have high praise for the older actors in the cast. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times particularly singles out Ralph Fiennes, writing: "For years, the movies have tried to transform this delicate beauty into a heartthrob, but as Schindler's List proved, Mr. Fiennes is an actor for whom a walk on the darker side is not just a pleasure, but liberation. His Voldemort may be the greatest screen performance ever delivered without the benefit of a nose; certainly it's a performance of sublime villainy." Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning Newssuggests that parents ought not to be concerned about that PG-13 ratings. "The film follows in the fantasy tradition of stretching perceptions of the possible, and it does so in a richly realized and recognizably human universe. Sometimes, it's better to be scared than bored," he writes. Ty Burr in the Boston Globeagrees, noting that the movie "is oddly less scary in some ways than last year's Prisoner of Azkaban -- less predicated on computer-generated ghoulies and funhouse shocks. The dread here cuts deeper, though. When we hear the wail of a grieving father toward the end of the movie, it's the first genuinely human moment in a Harry Potter film, and it is awful." A handful of critics are less than enthusiastic about the movie, however. "Count me among those just mild about Harry," writes Kyle Smith in the New York Post. "The all-out cuteness of the Hogwartsians, with their Pufnstufs and Whiffenpoofs, is fine for people of developing minds, but the story so often stops its forward motion to take us on long detours into the land of CGI effects that it amounts to a $150 million magic show." An equally lukewarm review comes from Claudia Puig in USA Today, who remarks: "It's hard to beat the last movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and this film is not better, but it has much to recommend it."


The attorneys general of 32 states have called upon the major studios to slap anti-smoking messages on all home-video releases in which smoking is depicted. The AGs -- California's Bill Lockyer was conspicuously absent -- affixed their names to a letter drafted by Maryland's J. Joseph Curran Jr., who observed that he and the other AGs have repeatedly raised concerns about studies showing that movies play a large role in influencing young people to smoke. The letter specifically referred to a new study conducted by Dartmouth Medical School which concluded that adolescents with the most exposure to depictions of smoking in movies were nearly three times as likely to try cigarettes as those with the least exposure to such depictions. "This latest study reiterates what we have been telling the motion picture industry for two years -- we need their help in protecting our children," the letter said. Reporting on the letter, Daily Varietyscoffed that it proves "that where there's smoke there's usually plenty of publicity."


Hollywood may be dragging its feet when it comes to putting its product online, but Bollywood is not. GV Films announced today (Thursday) that Internet users outside of India will be able to watch films from its 6,000-title library for about $1 to $5 per movie beginning on about April 15 of next year. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, A. Venkata Ramani, a GV Films board member, said, "Though online downloading of Indian movies has been going on through individuals, it has never been organized or corporatized. ... So in that sense ours will be a green field venture."