MILLIONS VIEW OBAMA ONLINE

Barack Obama's inauguration may have marked a media transition as well as a political one Tuesday as tens of millions of viewers throughout the world accessed the new president's inaugural address on their PCs and mobile devices. With CNN alone serving 25 million streams during the day and rival Fox News, an additional 5 million, the webcast easily represented a record for online viewing. (CNN's previous record was 5.3 million, set on election day last November.) However, the demand was more than most websites could handle, and viewers often had to put up with herky-jerky images and frequent video interruptions that lasted several seconds. They didn't appear to mind. However, at times some viewers were only able to see still images, and CNN had to inform some viewers that they had been placed in a queue to receive a stream. Somewhat surprisingly, dozens of passengers on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to New York were able to get acceptable reception from the airline's new Gogo inflight wi-fi service.

CRITICS SLAM TV COVERAGE OF INAUGURATION

Nielsen is expected to release figures for TV viewership of the inauguration this afternoon (Wednesday). Meanwhile, TV columnists are offering their own observation on the coverage, many agreeing that it tended to be predictable -- hardly five minutes passed between observations that Obama was becoming the first African-American president -- and bland, with hardly a wordsmith behind a microphone. In the Washington Post, media critic Tom Shales wrote: "TV anchors, reporters and commentators groped for suitable words, but no words could really equal the impact of the pictures." The New York Times's Alessandra Stanley commented, "Anchors, compelled to say something, reached for trite metaphors and hyperbolic expressions of wonder ... that didn't begin to match the reality unfolding live behind them." In USA Today, Robert Bianco wrote: "On every outlet, TV reporters embraced their fear and hatred of silence, rushing to fill every empty space with bits of trivia." Obama's speech was given passing grades as reporters struggled to find a memorable phrase in it. But the London Times observed, "This wasn't the occasion for his most soaring of speeches. It was instead an oration rooted in the immediate challenges. It was directed at two audiences: a hopeful but anxious one at home, and an uncertain but hopeful one overseas."

DEPARTING FCC CHAIRMAN WANTS CABLE COMPANIES FINED

Outgoing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has proposed that fines be leveled against the nation's top cable operators for allegedly failing to provide documents to the commission related to their rate increases for migrating analog channels to digital. Martin said that the FCC had received nearly 600 complaints from cable subscribers about the practice, which he called "unacceptable." The cable companies he said, "did not provide the commission with all of the information we requested."When cable operators migrate analog channels to a digital tier, consumers are forced to pay more if they wish to continue watching the same channels," Martin said in a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison. "Or, consumers may continue to pay the same amount to watch fewer channels. This is not the type of consumer choice that the Communications Act envisions."

SAG WAR HEATS UP

New verbal shots were fired Tuesday in the current civil war between moderates and hardliners in the Screen Actors Guild. This time the battleground was the pages of Daily Variety, where SAG President Alan Rosenberg accused the moderate dissident group of behaving "like children. ... They refuse to take responsibility for anything they do." He said that he and his allies on the SAG board had blocked a resolution to fire chief negotiator Doug Allen last weekend because it "was horribly written, and we were blindsided. ... They slipped it under the transom." But New York board member Paul Christie told the trade publication: "The resolution was written well enough to be understood by a 5 year old, and he knows everybody in the room understood every word of it, especially the 'children' making up the majority of the SAG National Board." And former SAG secretary-treasurer James Cromwell charged that "the negotiations have remained in the hands of people who are misinforming the members."

MICROSOFT PULLS OUT OF COMCAST

Microsoft, which once laid out elaborate plans to become a powerhouse within the cable industry, has quietly sold off its shares in Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable system. The Wall Street Journal noted today (Wednesday) that Microsoft had invested $1 billion in cash in Comcast in the hope that it would be able to distribute settop boxes employing Microsoft technology into the homes of Comcast subscribers. However, as other journalists have already reported, few of the 500,000 settop boxes that Microsoft had built ever ended up in the homes of cable subscribers. Microsoft was also once an equal partner with Universal NBC in the cable channel MSNBC, but has withdrawn from that partnership.