Microsoft and its ad agency, Crispin Porter Bogusky, were the targets of ridicule Thursday following the decision to yank its ad campaign featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates after just a few days. Owen Thomas, who runs the website Valleywag, which first reported the decision to halt the campaign, commented on the site, "The ads only reminded us how out of touch with consumers Microsoft is -- and that Bill Gates's company has millions of dollars to waste on hiring a has-been funnyman to keep him company." Wiredmagazine's website quoted Kathy Sharpe, head of digital marketing agency Sharpe Partners, as expressing doubt about Microsoft's official line that it only intended to air the two Seinfeld/Gates spots. "They bought expensive media -- the last ad aired opening night of the football season. To do two spots? It doesn't make sense to me. That last ad only ran one weekend." But Microsoft marketing exec Mich Mathews told the Associated Press, "The notion that we're doing some quick thing to cancel (the Seinfeld ads) is actually preposterous. .. Media buying is something you have to do months in advance."


Advertisers spent 6 percent less on broadcast television during the first half of this year as they did during the comparable period a year ago, according to a study by Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The research company attributed the decline to the writers' strike. On the other hand, spending on ads for cable TV rose 8.1 percent and for syndicated shows, 7.2 percent, as advertisers withdrew from broadcast and found alternative spending outlets. Cable and syndicated programs were not seriously affected by the strike.


The U.S. government is likely to run out of funds set aside to help pay for those settop boxes that will enable people without cable or satellite services to receive digital signals over the air on their analog TV sets. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration conceded Monday that it could run out of the $40 rebate coupons in January, a full month before the February 17 national switchover.


The head of Saudi Arabia's highest court, the Supreme Judiciary Council, has ruled that it is permissible for Moslems to kill the owners of satellite TV stations that broadcast "immoral" programs. Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan issued a warning during a radio interview that owners of satellite TV channels who broadcast "indecency and impudence" would face "consequences." He then added, "Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly it's permissible to kill them." The Associated Press observed that such a fatwa was particularly surprising given the fact that many of the satellite stations are owned by prominent Saudi princes and businessmen. As Saudi critics warned that al-Lihedan's remarks could fuel vigilante action, he altered his statement somewhat saying that those broadcasting indecent programs should be brought to trial and, if found guilty, executed. The controversy erupted as organizers of Abu Dhabi's second annual Middle East Film Festival announced its October lineup, including Body of Lies,starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo di Caprio as a CIA boss and an agent tracking down a terrorist in Jordan and Woody Allen's Victoria Regina Barcelona, which has scenes of three-way and lesbian sex.


The al-Jazeera English channel, which has defended itself against angry U.S. critics ever since it launched -- and has been unable to find a cable outlet in the U.S. -- is now having to deal with critics within its own ranks. Britain's Guardiannewspaper has disclosed that Tony Burman, the new managing director of the channel, has sent an email message to staff saying that he believes the channel suffers from a "bullying, abrupt, top-down 'culture' within AJE that -- in your view -- frequently smothers open debate and discussion. This must change." Burman, a former editor-in-chief at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's news division who was appointed to the top position at al-Jazeera English in May, also promised the staffers that he would introduce a "sweeping new initiative to help move al-Jazeera English to the next level."