OBAMA A BIGGER DRAW THAN FOX DRAMA

After being saved two weeks ago by the new one-time-only judges' vote that overrules the audience's, Matt Giraud was eliminated from the American Idol competition Wednesday night. The talent contest attracted 21.85 million viewers and set the stage for Fox's 9:00 p.m. drama Lie to Me to win its time period with 7.88 million viewers. However, the win came against competition from President Obama's "100th Day" press conference, which attracted 18.81 million viewers, divided almost equally among ABC, CBS and NBC. Given its coattails and lack of entertainment competition, even the first-place finish of Lie to Me was regarded as a disappointment.

DISNEY TO JOIN HULU

In a surprise announcement, Disney said today (Thursday) that it had agreed to join NBC and Fox as a full equity partner in Hulu, the popular online video site. Previously Disney had insisted on delivering content from its ABC and ESPN units via its own proprietary video player. In a statement, Disney CEO Robert Iger said, "Disney and Hulu share a focus on delivering the highest-quality entertainment experience and we look forward to working with Hulu to build value for our consumers, our brands and our shareholders." Content from the Disney Channel and Family Channel is also expected to be available free on Hulu and to be supported by advertising.

CONSUMERS WANT INTERNET-READY TV SETS

Consumers planning to buy a new television set within the next year -- 14.5 million of them, it seems -- want one that they can hook up directly to the Internet, without a lot of settop gizmos in-between, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Consumer Electronics Association. The study, "Net-Enabled Video: Early Adopters Only?" found that about half of prospective TV-set buyers will likely hold out for one that has a broadband connection. Of those, most saw such sets as a way of watching favorite shows on demand and being able to access the Internet and watch TV simultaneously. But 48 percent said that they would use the connection to find out more information about shows they're interested in seeing and to identify songs played on the air. In a statement, Shawn DuBravac, the CEA's economist and director of research said, "Consumers want more from their TV experience and marrying traditional television with Internet access is providing the next frontier of the television experience."

FCC ASKS FOR $1 MILLION TO COVER ADDITIONAL TRANSITION COSTS

A million dollars in federal government spending may seem like chump change in a day when some government projects are being underwritten for trillions of dollars, but that's how much FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps has requested from Congress to pay for the costs of some programs related to the transition to digital TV in the coming fiscal year beginning on October 1. Part of the money, he said, would be used to convert low-power repeater stations -- used in rural areas -- to digital. Numerous reports have suggested that when the switchover to digital occurs in June, many people living in rural areas will be without TV even if they have converter boxes, since digital TV signals do not carry as far as analog ones and TV stations have little incentive to convert the repeater boxes because they service too few viewers.

TIME UP FOR TIME?

A few years ago it was called AOL Time Warner, but in 2003 the company dropped AOL from its name, and now it appears that it may one day drop Time as well. In a conference call with analysts to discuss first-quarter results, CEO Jeffrey Bewkes observed that Time Inc., which publishes Time, Sports Illustrated, People, Entertainment Weekly and other titles, had suffered a 30-percent slump in ad revenue during the quarter. Asked about the fate of the unit, Bewkes responded only that the company was exploring all its options. "We aren't assuming that this is all cyclical and will automatically come back when the economy turns," he said. The company is also facing additional challenges related to the climbing value of the dollar in many countries. (While a 10 movie ticket represented more than $20 in revenue last year, it's now worth just over $14.) Particularly hard hit were its foreign TV operations. "Advertising revenues declined 2 percent over the prior year and that was primarily due to softness in our international networks at Turner [Broadcasting] which were down mid-teens, and about half of that was due to unfavorable foreign currency," Bewkes said.

REDSTONE PREDICTS CSI WILL SINK LENO

Sumner Redstone, the chairman of both Viacom and CBS, appeared to have lost none of his feistiness when he appeared on CNN's Larry King Live Wednesday night. Asked about NBC's decision to air a nightly Jay Leno variety show in its 10:00 p.m. hour in the fall, Redstone remarked, "CSI will beat the hell out of Leno." (CBS's CSI airs at 9:00 p.m., although CSI: New York and CSI: Miami each air at 10:00 p.m.) Redstone was upbeat throughout the interview, predicting, "I think we're in the beginning of a bull market" that presages an economic turn-around. He suggested, however, that rival Rupert Murdoch may not see much of a turn-around because of his extensive newspaper holdings. "The newspaper is dying. I'm not sure there will be newspapers and its one business I'd never be in. ... The reason we have not gone to newspapers is because its a slow growth industry and I think they are dying. I'm not sure there will be newspapers in 10 years. I read newspapers every day. I even read Murdoch's Wall Street Journal." As for himself, he alluded to last year's movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which Brad Pitt's character grows younger instead of older. "I'm the curious case of Mr. Redstone," the 85-year-old mogul said. "I have no intention of ever retiring or of dying." He also maintained that at his businesses, he "treats everyone like a member of my family." Commented Los Angeles Times columnist Joe Flint: "Considering that his latest marriage ended after five years, he's estranged from his son, Brent, and has a tense relationship with his daughter, Shari, we're not so sure how much comfort Viacom employees should take in that."