Cable Nets: New Identities, Investments

G4 REBRANDS WITH HELP FROM ‘ESQUIRE’; CBS TAKES STAKE IN CUBAN’S AXS TV
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There was a flurry of cable-network activity last week involving the rebranding of NBCUniversal’s G4, an investment by CBS in AXS TV and the naming of the joint venture English-language news and lifestyle service from ABC News and Univision.

In an effort to reach upscale men, NBCU and Esquire magazine this spring will rebrand video-game proponent G4 as Esquire Network. Owned and operated by NBCU, Esquire Network, led by G4 general manager Adam Stotsky, will replace the 10-year-old service that has targeted young males with mostly video-gaming content. G4 averaged 130,000 primetime viewers in 2012, a 2% increase from the prior year.

Esquire Network will officially launch on April 22, and present such original reality series as the food-themed Knife Fight, produced by Drew Barrymore, and travel-centric The Getaway (working title), executive produced by Travel Channel host and personality Anthony Bourdain. It will retain G4 series American Ninja Warrior and acquired shows Parksand Recreation, the NBC sitcom, and off-Starz comedy Party Down; both series star Adam Scott.

“There is a vastly underserved audience in cable TV — today’s modern man — and by joining forces with Esquire, we will deliver a multiplatform experience to this upscale, engaged, passionate audience, one that widens the aperture beyond G4’s technology and gaming base,” Stotsky said in a statement. “Esquire magazine brings 80 years of unparalleled insight into what makes men tick, and we will incorporate the best of this iconic brand to produce original shows that build the network for growth and success.”

CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, who has expressed interest in owning a general-entertainment cable network like his competitors, took a step in that direction on Valentine’s Day by acquiring a minority stake in AXS TV. The service, owned by Mark Cuban Cos., AEG, Creative Artists Agency and Ryan Seacrest Media, succeeded HDNet in July 2012.

Under the multiyear commitment, terms of which were not disclosed, AXS TV will gain rights to repeats and shoulder programming around such live CBS content as the Grammy, Tony and Academy of Country Music awards and the Kennedy Center Honors, plus marketing considerations from the broadcaster. Cuban will continue to serve as president and CEO of AXS, which counts 38 million subscribers and is available in both high- and standard-definition.

“CBS is happy to provide AXS TV with live event content as the basis of this partnership,” Moonves said. “This is an innovative way to use our tentpole programming to gain more ownership in the cable network business.”

Meanwhile, ABC News and Univision News have christened their JV, an English-language news and lifestyle service targeting Latinos and non- Latinos, as Fusion. Announced in May 2012, the network will bow in the second half of this year and is aimed at the U.S.’s approximately 50 million Hispanics, as well as others interested in Latino news and culture. Hispanics, whom census projections estimate will account for 30% of the U.S. population by 2050, have combined spending power of over $1 billion.

The service, which is drawing talent and other resources from both camps, will be based in Miami, where Univision Networks is headquartered, with distribution handled by Disney. Fusion, focusing on the economy, entertainment, music, food, immigration, pop culture, education, politics, health and wellness, has already secured carriage with Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, AT&T and Google Fiber. Carriage negotiations continue with other providers as Fusion looks to expand its distribution base before launch.

“The launch of Fusion will be a major milestone in Univision’s 50-year history of service to the Hispanic community,” Univision Networks president Cesar Conde said in a statement. “We’re delighted to partner with ABC News in this exciting new network that will extend Univision’s unequaled coverage of Hispanic issues and lifestyles to English-dominant audiences for the first time.”

Noted ABC News president Ben Sherwood: “Our goal is for this young, vibrant, and media hungry audience to come to Fusion to be informed, entertained and empowered. It will be fresh, fun and optimistic and of great interest to Latinos and non-Latinos alike.”

Elsewhere, Asian sports proponent One World Sports has acquired exclusive North American TV and broadband rights to 72 Yomiuri Giants home games during the 2013 Nippon Professional Baseball season.

Owned by privately held, Dallas-based One Media Corp., One World Sports said it believes that holding the rights to the “New York Yankees of Japan” will prove popular with Dish Network, Cablevision and Mediacom Communications subscribers, and could serve as a calling card to snare other distribution pacts.

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