Concerts to Be Focus in Shift From HDNet to AXS TV
By BRIAN STELTER
6:25 p.m. | Updated
Ryan Seacrest, his talent agency CAA and the events promoter A.E.G. have been talking for three years about making a cable channel for concerts, live events and other entertainment.
Now they have found the channel space for it at HDNet, the pioneering but poorly distributed channel owned by the billionaire sports and media mogul Mark Cuban. This summer, HDNet will become AXS TV, a joint venture of Mr. Cuban, Mr. Seacrest’s media holding company, CAA and A.E.G.
“We’re going to be able to take what I had hoped to do with HDNet — which was to be live, live, live — and accelerate that considerably,” Mr. Cuban said in a telephone interview before the deal was announced Wednesday afternoon.
Similarly, Mr. Seacrest — who has been the host of the live Fox broadcast “American Idol” for nearly a decade — said that “music, live entertainment and live events” would be the base of the channel. His production company will conceive shows for the channel, as it already does for E! and Bravo, two channels that are owned by Comcast.
Financial terms of the joint venture were not disclosed, and Mr. Cuban would not say whether he retained the majority ownership of HDNet. But Mr. Cuban and his new partners said he would continue to run the channel, which was formed in 2001 as a destination for what was then hard to find on television: high-definition programming.
HDNet grew as high-definition viewership grew, and Mr. Cuban said it was profitable last year. But to date it is offered in just 27 million households, putting it out of reach of most of the roughly 100 million cable and satellite households in the United States. The partners said Wednesday that their top priority was gaining wider distribution. “Distribution will be the first step,” Mr. Seacrest said.
To that end, the partners announced that Dish Network had agreed to expand its distribution of the channel to include non-high-definition homes. The change will allow AXS TV to have more than 35 million subscribers.
In an interesting twist, A.E.G. plans to provide what it calls “unique ticketing opportunities” to Dish Network viewers of AXS TV. Mr. Cuban imagined a scenario that would have artists announcing a concert, then directing viewers to log online with their Dish account to get “first crack” at tickets.
“AXS TV brings DISH subscribers a premier TV destination for concert-goers to watch the most popular concert acts and provide opportunities for unique ticket sales at venues near them,” Joe Clayton, the chief executive of Dish, said in a statement.
A.E.G., the second-largest concert promoter in the United States behind Live Nation, began to roll out the brand name AXS, pronounced “access,” last year with a Web site for concert ticket sales. Executives said Wednesday that AXS TV will take advantage of the company’s events and concert sites, including the L.A. Live entertainment complex in Los Angeles and The O2 in London, and CAA’s relationships with artists and managers.
These are “existing resources,” said Tim Leiweke, the president of A.E.G., that can be mined for new content for the cable channel and its Web site.
Stressing that artists not affiliated with A.E.G. or CAA will be welcomed, he said, “This will be open to anyone and everyone that wants to use this platform to allow an artist to go and talk to their fans.”
He added, “That said, I guarantee that A.E.G. is going to use it.”
With the joint venture, Mr. Cuban is taking the same approach tried by several other channel owners — partnering with other established brands to propel a channel forward. Discovery Communications has partnerships with Oprah Winfrey for OWN and with Hasbro for a children’s channel, The Hub.
The arrangement also acknowledges what he called an “incredibly difficult” environment for independent channel owners. Most major cable channels are owned by media companies that have bundles of channels, affording those companies some advantages in negotiations with producers and distributors.
Of the joint venture assets, he said, “it’s an incredible upgrade for us that would have been difficult — impossible — to replicate.”
Some of the existing programming on HDNet, including mixed martial arts matches and the newsmagazine “Dan Rather Reports,” will remain in place on AXS TV, Mr. Cuban said. A raunchier subset of late-night shows — what he calls “the unrated stuff” — will be cut out.
Reflecting the emphasis on live TV, Mr. Cuban noted that Mr. Rather already has had some live programs on HDNet, including coverage of the New Hampshire Republican primary last week. Mr. Rather does not have a formal contract at HDNet; “as long as he wants to be there, he’s there,” Mr. Cuban said Wednesday, repeating what he has said in the past.Mr. Cuban’s other channel, HDNet Movies, will remain as-is.http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.co...net-to-axs-tv/