My Turn

Building a Network About Education

10/02/2013 2:07 PM

A labor of love for three cable-programming veterans – a cable network focused on education – has taken a step toward its goal by launching on-demand video programs on Verizon’s FiOS TV.

American Education Television Network (American ED TV), nearly three years in the works, is the brainchild of former sports-network distribution executive Matt Cacciato and two former Court TV colleagues, producer Fred Cambria and on-air anchor Jack Ford.

“What we aspire to be is sort of the ESPN of the education world,” Ford, a legal analyst for CBS News, told me, as recounted in this week's Multichannel News Through The Wire column (subscription required).

“We’re going to tell all the important stories, and we’ll do all the important features, and we’ll have a lot of the educational news you can use.”

Short-form features now in FiOS’s news and information folder include ones ranking colleges by their entrepreneurial degree programs, by “green” curricula and by how students rank their professors. They’re hosted by Ford and Rob Franek, publisher of The Princeton Review, filmed on the campus of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.

Future topics will include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, test preparation and educational technology.

Cacciato, a longtime YES Network executive before moving full time to the new enterprise, said the model initially relies on sponsors and advertisers. The charter sponsor is Columbus, Ohio-based science and technology research firm Battelle, and VOD technology provider Vubiquity is a strategic partner.

“FiOS TV subscribers have wide viewing interests for live and on-demand video content,” Michelle Webb, executive director of video content and strategy at Verizon, said in a statement. “The addition of American ED TV to our video on demand library enhances the content consumers can access to learn more about education and at a time that is convenient to their schedule.”

Jim Riley, chief revenue officer at VOD encoder and distributor Vubiquity, also said in the statement: “Studies have shown that the Free On Demand category drives a high degree of satisfaction with subscribers. By adding quality programming focused on the education market to the mix, American ED TV is a key part of the movement that continues to drive value from the FOD platform. We’re thrilled that American ED TV recognized our expertise in both delivering and marketing content and chose Vubiquity to help launch the service.”

Ford, a former trial lawyer who teaches law at Yale University and New York University, said the FiOS features will show that American ED TV is going to be entertaining to watch, and not a tutorial for teachers.

When the network reaches full-time status, shows might also include reality series. One in the works already is about “the great drama” parents and kids engage in by visiting campus after campus in the hunt for a college to attend, he said.

Joe Covey, CEO of the Mag Rack how-to VOD service, said he offered to provide American ED TV videos with a launch pad before the network struck its own carriage deal with FiOS.

He called education an underserved category on TV and predicted viewers will find the network, despite the usual challenges posed by navigating through operators’ guides to find VOD fare. FiOS has one of the better navigation systems, he added.

License fees are nearly impossible to get for “free” VOD services, but if American ED can keep finding sponsors “and keep their costs low, they should be able to make it a real business,” Covey said.

Cacciato said affiliate fees are in the plan, but only after the network goes full time. He also pointed out many media and telecommunications companies, including multichannel distributors, have longstanding public commitments to support education. Cambria, Ford and company also have produced specialty videos for Battelle and others, another promising revenue line. You can see some of their work at the web site http://americanedtv.com/.

“At the end of the day, nobody’s going to criticize you for putting more programming on that’s focused on education,” Cacciato said.