Time Warner Cable subscribers did not see SpongeBob SquarePants and Jon Stewart vanish from their TV sets Wednesday night, thanks to a last-minute agreement between the cable company and Viacom. The deal came after the two sides conducted rankorous exchanges between themselves at the negotiating table and on television over Viacom's demand for an increase in carriage fees. At midnight, when the deal finally expired, they agreed to keep on talking, and finally, about an hour later, they reached an agreement (but did not make the terms public). Earlier in the day the American Cable Association demanded that Viacom stop running a "crawl" telling subscribers that they might lose their favorite programs because of the dispute. The ACA observed that only 16 million Time Warner Cable subscribers would be affected and that the announcement was likely to alarm the "82.9 million subscribers around the country that have nothing to do with that mess and are now concerned their service will soon be disrupted." Analysts generally agreed that whatever increase in fees that TimeWarner will now pay Viacom for retransmitting its programs will be passed on to subscribers.


An estimated 1 million users of Microsoft's Zune media player discovered Wednesday that their devices would not work. Microsoft operators initially expressed bewilderment when calls began flooding customer support lines about the problem, and it was hours before the source of the shutdown was discovered -- a problem in the device's internal clock driver that could not figure out how to handle the extra day of a leap year. The company advised its users simply to wait another day, drain the battery, restart, and reload content from their PCs -- a solution that was not likely to instill confidence in the product that was Microsoft's so-called iPod killer. "Microsoft has been trying to keep up with Apple, and this is potentially very embarrassing," research director Richard Doherty of technical consultants Envisioneering Group, told today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times.