Big Base For Fox Reality

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Getting off to a real good start, Fox Reality Channel could be born next year with 17 million subscribers in tow.

The Fox Cable Networks Group startup, now expecting to bow early in the second quarter, has inked key distribution deals with No. 3 U.S. MSO Cox Communications Inc. and No. 2 satellite-TV platform Dish Network, sources said last week.

DirecTV Inc. — controlled by Fox parent News Corp. — is also expected to be on board at launch of the service, which will feature a mix of library fare and original content.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said the Cox deal encompasses the 6.3 million-customer MSO’s digital platform, while Fox Reality will be positioned on 10.5 million-subscriber Dish’s America’s Top 180 package.

Meanwhile, an executive management team for the new network has yet to be announced. Industry sources said Fox has engaged in both an internal and external search for leadership.

Executives at Cox, Dish parent EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV didn’t return calls by press time. Officials at Fox Cable declined to comment.

Fox Reality Channel will enter what could become a crowded genre arena. Reality TV launched last December on Dish Network, while Reality 24/7, BlueHighways TV and The America Channel are all looking to grab their own slice of the reality pie.

While a number of reality shows have failed to set the viewing world afire, such fare as Survivor: Vanuatu, The Apprentice 2, Fear Factor and Amazing Race 6 all placed in the top 25 shows in viewers the week of Nov. 29 through Dec. 5, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

On the programming side, sources paint an eclectic lineup for Fox Reality Channel.

In addition to some original shows, Fox Reality will dip into library fare like Secrets of Street Magicians Finally Revealed, as well as domestic and international versions of Joe Millionaire and Temptation Island.

Fox Reality also hopes to grab the rights to time-shifted reality fare appearing on the Fox broadcast network, whose reality roster includes The Simple Life and The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best and its cable services, as well as shows from other networks.

Sources said the game plan calls for Fox Reality to bring on reality-series contestants to provide commentary and analysis.

During a conference call last month discussing the company’s first quarter, News Corp. president Peter Chernin said the service was on plan to debut in the first half of the year.

“Right now, it looks like we’ll be able to launch that somewhere between 10 and 15 million subs, which will be a pretty substantial launch,” he said.

He didn’t discuss at the time where that distribution would come from, or if it would include carriage on 12 million-subscriber DirecTV.

Additionally, the Fox camp is expected to premiere a business channel next year trading on the infrastructure of Fox News Channel.

When it debuts, Fox Reality will vie for the attention of genre proponents with Reality TV, the channel that reaches more than 140 million homes throughout Europe and Asia, and has been available on Dish since December 2003.

That channel proffers such fare as LAPD: Life on the Beat, America’s Most Wanted: Final Justice, Rescue 911 and Trauma Center. Reality TV, which also imports reality shows from abroad to the U.S., will add U.K. favorites Jane Goodman Investigates and Sixth Sense with Colin Fry sometime in the first quarter, according to a network spokeswoman. 

Reality 24/7, formerly Reality Central, has carriage deals with Insight Communications Co. and Mediacom Communications Corp. It plans to supplement acquired reality shows with behind-the-scenes information, news and gossip about the hit shows. It has about 150 past reality-show contestants under contract.

Cable veteran Larry Namer is Reality 24/7’s CEO, and USA Network founder Kay Koplovitz is chairman. Officials did not return phone calls to update launch plans.

The America Channel, under former CNN executive Doron Gorshein, wants to showcase programming about local heroes and communities around the country.

BlueHighways TV is a lifestyle channel being launched by Stan Hitchcock, who helped found and run CMT: Country Music Television. It plans to offer programming on American music, arts and crafts, travel, and outdoor activities.

The network, which has inked a distribution deal with Bresnan Communications, expects to launch in the first quarter.

A spokeswoman said it is close to announcing carriage contracts with two other MSOs.