Media Watch

'Malicious Act' Gives Comcast Viewers a Revealing Experience

It's probably the most publicly revealing television moment in the modern era of Tucson TV.

In case you've been away or hiding under a rock, here's a recap: Larry Fitzgerald's fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown in the Super Bowl was followed by exposure of another variety for Comcast viewers who were watching KVOA Channel 4's standard-definition feed of the most watched television event of the year.

Shortly after the Fitzgerald touchdown--which gave the Cardinals their only lead in the game--the Comcast signal froze, then deteriorated with a message that read "RECORDING FINISHED: Your scheduled program has finished recording." The message looked like a digital-video-recorder command. It covered a rectangular portion of the center of the screen as the display showed a porn scene featuring male nudity from shorteez., which is part of the Spice Digital Networks pay-per-view package. (The Web site description: "shorteez. satisfies the fast paced, short attention span, new generation of adult fans looking for more content in less time.")

The snippet then gave way to the regularly scheduled program, as announcer John Madden was breaking down a highlight of the kind of scoring reserved only for a football game.

Not surprisingly, Comcast and other local media outlets were flooded with complaints. Comcast rapidly released a statement of apology, and suggested the possibility of ill intent.

"We are mortified by last evening's Super Bowl interruption, and we apologize to our customers," the statement said. "We are aggressively investigating the situation, including the possibility of foul play."

That statement had been revised by noon Monday: "Our investigation suggests this was an isolated, malicious act. We are conducting a thorough investigation to determine how this happened."

The Comcast feed goes through a sequence of paths en route to the TV viewer.

"The KVOA feed we air, we get from Cox, and they get it from KVOA," said Kelle Maslyn, Comcast Tucson's corporate affairs manager. "We have a fiber link from Cox. They get it from KVOA, and Cox sends it to us. It didn't happen on Cox, which is why we're investigating."

The incident--isolated to local Comcast standard-definition viewers--shares obvious similarities with the noteworthy wardrobe malfunction involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake five years ago. This time, however, the wardrobe in question functioned exactly as intended.

Comcast has offered a $10 credit for those directly impacted by the occurrence.

"We cannot undo what happened, but we remain deeply sorry for the impact this situation has had on our customers," said Comcast in a statement. "To that end, we will be issuing a $10 credit to any Comcast video customer who was impacted. While this credit won't change what happened, we hope it will demonstrate to our customers in the Tucson community how seriously we are taking this situation. To get this credit, impacted customers should call (888) 315-8219."

It clearly hasn't been a fun few days for the cable provider, which boasts more than 80,000 subscribers in unincorporated Pima County, Marana and Oro Valley.

This is also not new territory for KVOA. KVOA experienced a similar technological faux pas in the mid-'80s. This was during the early, exciting, pioneering times of porn on satellite. Some bored master control operator could easily direct one of the stations' satellites--often used to record syndicated programming for future broadcast--to a porn feed, then watch it on the audition monitor (the monitor used to prepare a video feed for broadcast) while the master monitor (which showed the on-air signal) did its thing.

Problem was, said master control operator could accidentally hit the wrong button, and the audition feed would go over the air. That's what happened to KVOA during a broadcast of Late Night With David Letterman. In the middle of a Letterman monologue, late-night viewers were treated to a buxom beauty bountifully bouncing across a stage.


In the weird world of radio rights, local Arizona Cardinals affiliate KCUB AM 1290 (the station that employs me for local UA football and basketball pre and postgame broadcasts) was shut out of carrying the NFC Championship and Super Bowl.

"Once the playoffs reach the championship and Super Bowl stage, the radio rights go to Westwood One," said KCUB program director Chuck Meyer. "Although the Cardinals flagship station (KTAR in Phoenix) is permitted to broadcast, their affiliates on the network cannot air the game unless we obtain Westwood One rights and carry their broadcast.

"KNST (AM 790) had the Westwood rights this year, and they had first opportunity to carry the championship games. I asked Westwood for the rights, on the chance that KNST, for some reason, would not carry the game, but was told Westwood had a local affiliate to carry it."


Tucson junket juggernaut Jim Ferguson landed on the 2008 Top 10 movie critic whores of the year list. He was No. 3--which might be noteworthy since Ferguson should perhaps dominate the top spot with regularity.

The article notes that Ferguson--who gets sit-ins with actors during their promotional stints, then provides those feeds for KGUN Channel 9--is perhaps the only critic on record to have a positive review for The Love Guru.

This almost isn't fair. The real test would be to hunt down a negative Ferguson review.

If you can endure the pulp of Ferguson's so-called critical analysis, the end result can be perplexing. He'll spend his entire screen time talking about the stupendous achievements of the latest Hollywood cinematic cookie-cutter atrocity (for instance, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star featuring David Spade) as if it's the most accomplished work of comedy since The Apartment, and then occasionally dole out a grade of B or C.

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