Howard Stern Gets a Pay 'Channel’

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Radio shock jock Howard Stern has entered into an agreement with In Demand Networks to televise his upcoming Sirius Satellite radio show next year on a subscription video-on-demand service. The three-year pact also affords the VOD and pay-per-view purveyor rights to Infinity Broadcasting’s weekday radio show The Howard Stern Show. E! Entertainment Television had been running an edited takedown — for language and nudity — from those shows for 11 years.

Terms were not disclosed. In Demand CEO Rob Jacobson said the operating divisions of three of the company’s owners — Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications Inc. — agreed to offer Stern’s fare on an SVOD basis.

He expects many other In Demand affiliates to come on board for what will amount to a dedicated Stern channel.

“Why wouldn’t they? This is a great marriage between a great technology and great content. Howard Stern is a brand onto himself,” said Jacobson, who also said In Demand is already engaging in preliminary discussions with other MSOs.

At press time, In Demand was working toward hiring a production team to begin filming Stern’s current syndicated radio show that emanates from WXRK in New York, and has been lobbying to end his Infinity contract before it expires at year’s end. Calls to Stern’s agent Don Buchwald were not returned.

While not set in stone, In Demand’s plan is to edit Stern’s current show, as well as his upcoming Sirius program, into 60- to 90-minute presentations, which would be available the evening of the following day. In either case, the telecasts would not include the bleeps and pixilation that have obscured some of the more risqué parts of Stern’s world. In Demand’s presentations would run commercial-free.

The initial introductory SVOD price will likely be in the neighborhood of $10 per month.

Jacobson said a handful of Stern shows each month may be made available on an individual transaction basis.

After gauging consumer interest and fine-tuning the program’s format, Jacobson said In Demand would “likely increase slightly” the cost of the monthly subscription package.

That uptick most probably wouldn’t occur until next year after the Sirius show begins — or earlier if Stern is able to exit his Infinity pact.

Moreover, Jacobson doesn’t anticipate that “most of the major marketing and promotional support” behind the program from In Demand and cooperative efforts from cable affiliates will come until 2006.

“We want to make the customer experience is a good as possible the first couple of months before we really start pushing it,” he said.

E! dropped out of the bidding to retain Stern’s current radio program when the contract expired in June. The network — which sources say retains Stern library rights for two years — continues to air encore editions. Published reports indicated Spike TV and Comcast made a run for the rights. Jacobson called characterizations of Comcast leading the on-demand charge for Stern as “inaccurate.”

Asked whether In Demand holds sublicensing rights to place another version on basic cable, Jacobson replied: “Contractually, we could think about that. But that’s not our focus.”

Jacobson, citing Stern’s highly rated radio program, solid ratings on E! and past PPV performances, was sanguine, if not specific about the shock jock’s SVOD potential.

“We feel confident that this will be a good business for Howard and a good business for In Demand and its affiliates,” he said.

A Sirius spokeswoman declined to comment about the In Demand deal, noting it was inked by Stern. She reiterated earlier Sirius comments that the company would need to sign 1 million subscribers to offset Stern’s five-year, $500-million contract.

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