Starting Up/Reviving A Cable Network? A Big-Brand Name Might Help

How does one buy into a cable network these days? By having some big money -- and a big name, of course.

"American Idol" host and growing TV entrepreneur Ryan Seacrest and his backers must have a interesting battle plan to dive into the seemingly impossible waters of starting up a new "music, pop culture and lifestyle" network, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which broke the story.

Seacrest is already a fixture on E, one of Comcast's many programming channels, as a producer/anchor on "E News." He seems to be trying to stake his own claim after Comcast takes over NBC Universal.

Long gone are the days when big cable companies like Comcast, which had significant equity interest in a cable network, could bang out a slow drumbeat in building cable subscribers from other cable operators around the country.



Now the easier, almost necessary, way to gain a foothold is to turn around a struggling or mediocre channel. Thus Discovery Health becomes The Oprah Winfrey Network (with Harpo Productions as a partner); thus Discovery Kids becomes The Hub (with Hasbro as a partner).

NBC does have some mini-cable networks -- relative newbies Sleuth and Chiller, each with about 35 million subscribers.

More likely target for a makeover: E's sister network, Style. That network, launched in 1999, now has a hefty 64 million subscribers. It doesn't have much high-profile, high-rated programming compared to its sister network. It has "Ruby," "Giuliana & Bill," "Clean House," "Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane," "How Do I Look," "The Dish" and "Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?"

Sixty four million subscribers aren't quite enough for traditional national TV advertising -- but it's close. National marketers would more likely make the jump when networks broach the 70-million mark.

Like Winfrey, Seacrest would like to put his own imprimatur on the business. His production company already produces "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," one of E's big signature network shows. Still, Seacrest wouldn't be a on-screen personality -- more of a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker.

But that's not all. Comcast would seemingly need to get the approval of other cable operators who have the Style network contracts -- sometimes a tricky discussion, especially if those cable operators aren't interested in another possible MTV, VH1, or E!

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