Dish Adds Reality Import


Sporting such fare as Rescue 911
and America's Most Wanted, international import Reality TV last week secured a big U.S. platform via EchoStar Communications Corp.

Flexing its 9-million subscriber clout, EchoStar obtained a 20% equity stake in the channel, expected to join Dish Network's "America's Top 150" package later this year.

"It was a business agreement that made sense for everybody," EchoStar senior vice president of programming Michael Schwimmer said.

The channel has been airing internationally since December 1999. Chris Wronski, chairman of parent company Zone Vision Enterprises, said Reality TV's carriage agreement pact with EchoStar runs for five years and calls for "limited free periods," after which the company would pay license fees.

Wronski said he hopes to announce a deal with a major cable operator by year-end. A company spokeswoman said Reality TV would consider yielding equity to obtain cable distribution.

Should Reality TV meet its Dec. 1 launch target, it would presumably beat a couple of other genre entries to the punch.

Reality Central, led by E! Entertainment Network co-founder Larry Namer and outdoor advertising executive Blake Mycoskie, hopes to launch in January. Its game plan calls for an amalgam of news and information shows, genre imports and enhanced encore editions of shows like Survivor
and Fear Factor.

Elsewhere, former EchoStar and Cable News Network executive Doron Gorshein is pushing The America Channel — which will feature more homespun, man-on-the-street fare, with programs celebrating regular people doing extraordinary things with their lives — to cable and DBS providers. The America Channel has indicated a second-quarter 2004 launch target.

Executives with those networks didn't return calls by press time. Schwimmer, though, disclosed that he's had "discussions with both of them."

Asked if EchoStar — now with more than 9 million Dish Network customers — is pursuing equity positions in other carriage deals, Schwimmer said: "I think EchoStar could provide value to new programmers. We can help bring them to market and provide insight to the market that they might not otherwise have.

"For independent programmers that we have invested in, our desire is to help that business grow."

Schwimmer also confirmed that EchoStar obtained an equity stake in Los Angeles-based Sí TV, an English-language, Latino-themed service aimed at young Hispanics and multicultural audiences, as part of an agreement for America's Top 150 carriage.

Sí TV last week said it secured distribution agreements with Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications Inc. to launch on Feb. 25, 2004. Sí TV also said it's in discussions with the AOL Time Warner Opportunity Investment Fund about a potential equity investment.

Last week, Sí TV co-chairman Jeff Valdez said the service will have access to 18 million cable and satellite homes at launch.

Zone Vision — which represents several U.S. programmers abroad, including Discovery Communications Inc. — plans to announce a U.S.-based affiliate and ad-sales team — as well as a general manager for Reality TV — in the upcoming weeks.

Wronski estimated Reality TV's start-up costs here would be in the "tens of millions" instead of the $100 million or more it typically takes to bow a service on a domestic basis.

Reality TV currently counts 35 million subscribers in 125 territories, including the United Kingdom. It has 1,800 hours of reality library programming.

Wronski said executives are beginning to negotiate with U.S. production companies about original shows, which would likely begin airing on the network next spring. Down the road, original U.S.-based productions could account for up to 10% of the network's lineup.

Shows in its library that have not arrived in the U.S. include RPA, chronicling life in Australia's biggest hospital, and To Serve and Protect, about Canadian law enforcers.