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June 5th, 2007:

No safe harbor for SOBs in Harris County

Last month, the Chron published an editorial calling on the local adult establishments to “drop their legal actions and find suitable properties for relocation”, which made me wonder why they thought unincorporated Harris County would be any more welcoming. Looks like I was right to wonder about that.

Worried the city’s crackdown on sexually oriented businesses could drive some clubs to relocate to unincorporated areas, Harris County officials said they won’t be any more welcoming than their Houston counterparts.

County Judge Ed Emmett said he applauds the city’s tough stance on the clubs but wants the county to be ready to prevent them from setting up outside city limits.

“I want to make sure all of them don’t move out of the city into the county,” he said.

Commissioners Court today will discuss whether such a mass exodus is possible.

Officials say they doubt that because the county has similar regulations to the city, prohibiting sexually oriented businesses from operating near schools, day cares, parks, churches and other facilities.

“Our regulations are similar to the city’s, and we’ll enforce them just as aggressively,” County Attorney Mike Stafford said. “A business won’t gain anything by going into the county.”

Well, yes they would, if there’s a location out there that’s more than 1500 feet from a school, residence, church, other SOB, or any other “sensitive area”, whatever that means. One presumes there are more such places in the unincorporated parts of the county than there are within the city of Houston. One also presumes they’re not exactly in prime areas, which would rather defeat the purpose. And of course, even if there were a suitable place to relocate, it would quickly become unsuitable as soon as someone decided to build a school/apartment complex/church/day care center/other “sensitive” thing within 1500 feet of it. Which gets back to why I still think this law should be struck down, but that’s a separate matter. In the meantime, relocation is a nonstarter, so putting the onus on clubs to do that while the city graciously agrees to not harass them is one as well. Either the latest appeal gets the clubs off the hook, or that’s all she wrote. I see no other ending to this.

Comcast: We hope we don’t suck

I’ve been dealing with a dead high-speed Net connection all day today, so this strikes a chord with me.

Comcast Corp. is taking steps to improve customer service — long a point of criticism for the cable industry — as it prepares to put its name on the local operation.

A review of complaints to the Better Business Bureau since Comcast took control of Time Warner Cable in Houston and surrounding areas on Jan. 1 shows little change in the level of complaints. It does show customers fed up with waiting all day for technicians who never showed up, sales staff who didn’t apply credits correctly and customer service representatives who promised one thing and did another.

Comcast, which is rebranding the service under its own name on June 19, is vowing to do better by making service calls more convenient for customers, monitoring its network to spot problems before customers do and providing new channels customers have requested.

“We are investing more than $200 million this year in the Houston market to upgrade our network, enhance our customer service and launch our products and services,” said Tony Speller, Comcast’s senior vice president for the Houston region, which includes 750,000 customers in Houston and more than 60 surrounding communities.

[…]

In an effort to limit the number of customers who say goodbye to Comcast, the company is trying to eliminate the friction points, Speller said.
A common complaint in the BBB records was customers’ having to wait around an entire day for an installer to show up. Under Time Warner — and currently under Comcast — service windows have run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Speller said Comcast will narrow service windows to no more than four hours, and customers will be able to ask for two- or three-hour windows. Comcast technicians will make service calls seven days a week. There is no timetable to implement the changes, Comcast spokesman Ray Purser said.

Sometimes, according to the BBB records, a salesperson on the phone promised the customer would get a call when the technician was 30 minutes from the home. When no call came, the customer missed the technician and had to reschedule, sometimes days later.

Under the company’s new courtesy-call policy, if a customer asks for it, a company representative will phone 30 minutes before a technician arrives.

Comcast also said it will hire more call center employees and increase pay for new workers. It declined to reveal specific wages, citing competitive concerns.

You know what would make me happy today? Have enough roving technicians so that when your home Internet service craps out, you don’t have to wait two full days for a repair person to make a visit. I was going to be doing some work at home this week and next so Tiffany can take care of some stuff at her office, and let me tell you, this was beyond inconvenient. The good news is that it belatedly appears the problem was a system outage, and not merely my connection – I’m waiting on confirmation of that. All I know is that if I’d been running a business from home and had this happen, and then been told I had to lose two whole days waiting for a technician to fix it, I’d be really pissed.

(If we had citywide WiFi in place today, I’d at least have a backup option for when this sort of thing happen. Someday, someday…)

Early voting Day Two

Before we get to the picture, some deep thoughts from our illustrious County Clerk.

“With only two candidates, one is bound to get a majority; unless we have an even 50-50 tie, and that’s not very likely,” said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman.

Well, you have to admit, she did cover all the possibilities. At least, without bringing imaginary numbers into the equation.

More seriously:

She says she’s not expecting heavy voter turnout.

“I would like to remind everyone that in a low-turnout election the value of your vote is greater.”

But each ballot is still important.

“The person elected to this office represents the whole city. They play a role in making some important decisions about the conduct of city government.”

I figure turnout will be at most two percent. District Council races get more votes than what we’ll see. I can’t begin to emphasize how much your vote in this election counts.

And with that:

You know what to do. Here’s a more useful link to early voting times and locations (thanks, Stace). Go vote!

Fox versus Crosby conclusion

Yesterday, I mentioned that an update to the Fox 26 story on sex offenders in Crosby was supposed to be broadcast last week. I’m not sure if there was a miscommunication about that, or if they just postponed it for one reason or another, but it was shown last night. Here it is, more mash note to Crosby than an explanation of how they got it wrong the first time around, but I’m sure it served the intended purpose of soothing hurt feelings. So there you have it.

Houston: The European car commercial backdrop city

I like this.

Houston Film Commission executive director Rick Ferguson said many European companies want to film here because of the the uncluttered skyline and architecture.

A German-language BMW commercial was filmed in Houston in April. Auto companies, in particular, love filming commercials in Houston, Ferguson said. That’s because the city has “so many high-tech and modern buildings that have reflective surfaces.” The good lighting off the buildings can make the car look great from all angles.

Over the past three years, about half of the 192 commercials that have gone through the Houston Film Commission — which represent about 50 percent of the ads filmed in the city — have been for European or Asian products.

Foreign directors, Ferguson said, like the city’s versatility, the cooperation they get from public officials and the way the downtown skyline looks from Allen Parkway or Memorial Drive at the “magic hour”– right before dusk when the lighting is perfect.

All right-thinking persons enjoy the view of the downtown skyline from Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive, pretty much at any time of the day. But yes, heading east towards downtown at sunset would be pretty optimal.

Random thought: The next time someone wants to do some viral marketing on behalf of Houston, maybe they could hunt down some of these commercials and put a few of the downtown-skyline-from-Allen-Parkway-at-dusk clips on Youtube as part of that effort. Just a suggestion.

About 500 feature films, television movies, miniseries, TV pilots, music videos, commercials and documentaries were shot in the Bayou City from 2004 to 2006, Ferguson said.

We’ve come a long way from RoboCop 2, haven’t we?

Another football league?

Via King Kaufman, who does an interview with one of the investors, we have this NYT article about a proposed Friday night football league called the United Football League (UFL), which would play in the fall and thus compete with the NFL. The founder is Bill Hambrecht, who as a part owner of a USFL franchise, knows a thing or two about going up against the great football hegemon. Which doesn’t mean he has learned all the lessons from that experience, as this suggests to me:

Where others might be daunted by the N.F.L.’s success and power, though, Hambrecht came to believe its monopoly status gave him an opening. “I really started thinking hard about this after the Los Angeles Rams left to go to St. Louis and the Houston Oilers went to Nashville,” he told me over drinks recently. “Why do you leave two of the top 10 TV markets in the country for these two smaller markets?”

The answer, of course, is that the N.F.L. doesn’t really have to worry about where its teams are located, since most games are televised and the bulk of the league’s revenues come from its network contracts. What’s more, with the right stadium deal and enough corporate sponsorship, team owners can make as much (or more) money in smaller cities as they can in larger ones. That’s why the N.F.L. does just fine despite not fielding a team in 21 of the country’s top 50 markets — including such enormous metropolitan areas as San Antonio, Las Vegas, Orlando and (of course) Los Angeles. Nor does the N.F.L., which now has 32 teams, have much incentive to expand. On the contrary: expansion dilutes the TV money. (Greg Aiello, the N.F.L.’s spokesman, told me that “expansion isn’t on the table right now.”)

So the first step in Hambrecht’s plan is to enter big cities where the N.F.L. isn’t. As Mark Cuban put it to me in an e-mail, “There are quite a few good-sized non-N.F.L. cities that can support a pro team.” So far, the U.F.L. has decided to put teams in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Mexico City. (Cuban is considering taking the Las Vegas franchise.) Each owner will put up $30 million, giving him an initial half-interest in the team; the league will own the other half. But eventually the fans themselves will become shareholders — because each team is going to sell shares to the public. Then the owner, the league and the fans will each own a third of every franchise.

First, I like the idea of fans as shareholders. Not sure how that will work in the real world, but I think the concept of selling stock in a team will appeal to a lot of people, and therefore will be a success from a capital perspective.

But there’s some real disingenuousness in these paragraphs. The NFL only has 32 teams, so in the best-case scenario it would be leaving 18 of the top 50 markets out. Obviously, the NFL has a gap in Los Angeles, but it’s interesting that the UFL is talking about Las Vegas, Orlando, and San Antonio instead of San Juan, Portland, and Sacramento, all of which are larger metropolitan areas than those three. Vegas is the hottest city without a major sports team, but it’s not like Orlando (three NFL teams in Florida) or San Antonio (traditionally Dallas Cowboys turf) are un-served.

Another head-scratcher to me is in the interview Kaufman does with Hambrecht:

I think it strikes a lot of people as odd, though, for people like you and Mark Cuban to say, “This is the new business we’re going to invest in in sports, competing with the NFL,” as opposed to, say, getting in on maybe not the ground floor, but the second floor, with something like lacrosse, where there’s obviously huge potential for growing from almost nothing.

Well, the people that understand the business understand exactly why we’re doing it. We’ve had some very interesting conversations with some NFL owners and others. Hey, they understand. Football is the most valuable content that there is now in the media world. By design, they’ve restricted the supply to get a monopoly price out of the consumer. Look at the fights they’ve had with Comcast.

It’s almost an obvious monopoly, and they have left 40 percent of the market open. They have not kept up with the demographics of the United States. It’s still basically a Rust Belt league. You just look at the map, it’s really kind of fascinating to look at it compared to the population. It’s shifted and they haven’t kept up with that. So, you know, if it were any other business, there’d be people filling that market.

This is the one major sport that’s left a good part of the market open. As we move along, particularly in the media world, it’ll get a lot more understandable and hopefully a lot more believable.

Again, look at the MSAs-by-population chart. Pittsburgh and Buffalo are shrinking, New Orleans has shrunk since 2000, though not because it’s a “Rust Belt” city, and Cleveland is growing slowly, but again factoring out the LA anomaly, I’m not sure where the NFL is losing out on national population trends. Besides, how is it that the NFL is the “one major sport that’s left a good part of the market open”? You could make the same case for Major League Baseball, which ignores all six of those major metro areas I mentioned above. Only the NBA would seem to have the market as Hambrecht sees it covered.

I’m not going to say Hambrecht is totally wrong here – even if I thought he was off his nut, the UFL is still in its conceptual stage, so what exists now and what will be when they kick off may be two different things. Read the Salon interview and see what you think. I think if I were a zillionaire I’d have find more productive ways to squander my money, but hey, I’m not, so what do I know?