Florida will become the first state with its own news
channel this week.
After six years of planning, affiliate negotiations and
vows to launch "next year," backers of Florida's News Channel said the
venture is ready to launch over a statewide fiber optic network Sept. 7.
It will be launch without fanfare, as the network wants an
opportunity to make sure that it suffers no technical glitches, executives said. Marketing
won't begin until Nov. 26.
The venture has attracted two major operators as
affiliates, said Bob Brillante, managing partner of the programming service and former
vice president of the Florida Cable and Telecommunications Association. Comcast Corp. and
MediaOne systems will launch the service during its first 30 days of operation.
The channel expects to have 2 million subscribers by early
Although Brillante described the operators as equity
partners, this was disputed by Jedd Palmer, MediaOne's senior vice president of
programming. MediaOne is merely a licensee, he said.
MediaOne was attracted to the service because it will
operate in a virtual format, meaning that the imported signal will be branded as part of
the local system and community. Also, as part of its agreement, MediaOne can use the
WorldCom Inc. fiber optic backbone to move its own programs to MediaOne systems around the
state, he said.
Although he was mildly bullish, Palmer nonetheless said
that the company had not committed to launching the state news channel in the franchises
in Broward and Dade counties that it is attempting to acquire in a system swap with
Tele-Communications Inc. in exchange for MediaOne's suburban Chicago operations.
Comcast executives did not return calls for comment.
The majority funding for the channel comes from Phipps
Ventures, which owned a Tallahassee broadcast station until it cashed out in 1995.
Brillante and other executives are also investors.
The channel will launch without Time Warner Cable, Adelphia
Communications Corp. and Cox Communications Inc., Brillante said. Time Warner will launch
its own proprietary service.
An Adelphia official said the only executive who could
speak on the matter was on vacation last week. Cox TK(HOLD FOR Short AD)
But the state channel will still get into some of the
markets that those operators control. GTE Media Ventures, which is overbuilding TCI in
markets including Tampa, has also affiliated with the news network. And in an interesting
distributional twist, an independent broadcaster -- WNTO, channel 26 in Orlando -- has
signed up with the service, and it is a equity partner.
Brillante said the network is a must-carry station in 23
cable systems reached by the signal.
Other operators did not discuss affiliation negotiations,
but Brillante said talks continue with Cox and Adelphia.
The Florida venture will be a different use of the medium.
Based in Tallahassee, nine regional bureaus will feed stories to the newsroom. Capitol
coverage will be produced by Video Communications Southeast, a video-news bureau under
contract to the cable channel.
The network will air the news in half-hour segments, with
the Tallahassee anchor in front of a blue screen. The news output will be differentiated
among eight zones, producing "hyperlocal" news content, Brillante said. If the
need arises, the network could go up to 20 zones.
NBC-affiliated stations will be production partners in the
venture, sharing their news stories in exchange for stories from other bureaus. In its
earlier iterations, plans called for each of the seven NBC affiliates to hold 5 percent
stakes in the network.
Initial launch markets include Tallahassee, Panama City,
Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and West Palm Beach.