MEDIA CONGLOMERATES UNITE AGAINST YOUTUBE

NBC Universal and rival News Corp plan to announce as early as today that they are creating a video-sharing service to challenge Google's YouTube, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Thursday). According to the newspaper, the service will be integrated into the Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, and MySpace websites, providing TV shows, movies, and user-generated material. Eric Garland, CEO of market researcher BigChampagne, said that the companies were "pooling resources" to challenge YouTube, which he described as "the most disruptive force" their business has ever seen. Unlike YouTube, which limits the length of uploads to ten minutes, the new service will feature full length movies and television shows from 20th Century Fox, the Fox TV network, NBC, and Universal Pictures -- as well as programs from their cable subsidiaries. The Times article did not indicate whether NBC Universal and News Corp also plan to follow Viacom's lead and pull all copyrighted clips from YouTube. Meanwhile a study by comScore Networks Inc. indicated Wednesday that although YouTube's growth may have been slowed by Viacom's action, it nevertheless attracts 150 million monthly visitors with 54.7 unique viewers. In January it streamed 1.17 billion videos. The number of visitors to YouTube during February, it said, was nine times more than it was during the same month a year ago.

WORLD NEWS -- WITH A SINGLE SPONSOR

One-upping (or perhaps three-upping) NBC, which broadcast an edition of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams with a single sponsor, Philips Electronics, last December, ABC announced Wednesday that ABC World News with Charles Gibson plans to air a weekly series in April with a single sponsor. The tactic will reportedly allow ABC to add about five minutes of editorial content to the programs. The theme of the series will be "Key to the World," with correspondent Bill Weir reporting from various overseas locations. Jon Banner, the show's executive producer, said in a statement that the added time will be used to feature reports dealing with "some stories and some places that we don't go to and don't cover as often as we'd like." CVC, the drug-store chain, has been set as the sponsor for the final show on April 23. Earlier shows, to air on April 2, 9, and 16 have not yet landed advertisers.

COMMERCIALS WITHOUT COMMERCIAL BREAKS?

Media buyers attending an ABC program development meeting in Los Angeles Wednesday were given a presentation on how commercials could be integrated "seamlessly" into a show's content. According to the online MediaDailyNews, ABC used 10 examples in shows like According to Jim and Ugly Betty, in which commercials would "pop up" on props like TV sets and magazines on the set, then go full-screen. Shari Anne Brill of ad agency Carat USA, who watched the presentation, remarked afterwards that the examples presented "an interesting idea," but she wondered whether the shows' "writers and producers will help them pull this off. ... I imagine more powerful producers would say, 'No way, Jose.'"

HALF-HOUR IDOL WINS WEDNESDAY FOR FOX

Although its ratings were down somewhat from previous weeks, Fox's American Idol nevertheless stood head and shoulder above all other programs Wednesday night as it posted a 15.8 rating and a 24 share for a half-hour results show that surprisingly saw the ouster of Stephanie Edwards, who had become a critical favorite. Idol was followed by 'Til Death, which sank to a 9.0/14 -- and in fact was beaten by the second half hour of CBS's Criminal Minds, which posted a 9.7/15. At 10:00, CBS's CSI: NY retained the lead with a 9.1/15, beating ABC's Lost, which recorded a 7.4/12.

LETTERMAN'S "BUD" MELMAN DEAD AT AGE 85

Calvert G. DeForest, who appeared originally as Larry "Bud" Melman on David Letterman's late-night show on NBC, then under his own name when it moved to CBS, died Monday in Babylon, Long Island, NY at age 85, it was disclosed Wednesday. In a statement, Letterman, whose staff members originally found DeForest working as a file clerk after first spotting him in an NYU student film, said: "Everyone always wondered if Calvert was an actor playing a character, but in reality he was just himself -- a genuine, modest and nice man."

Brian B.