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In Demand Exec Will Become Food’s GM

New York — In Demand veteran Sergei Kuharsky is leaving the pay-per-view/video-on-demand service to take over the newly created general manager position at Food Network, executives close to the network said.

Kuharsky, formerly executive vice president of sales and marketing for In Demand, will handle the day to day operations of the Scripps-owned Food Network, currently in 91.7 million homes. Kuharsky will report to Food Network president Brooke Johnson.

TCM GM Tom Karsch Leaves the Balcony

Atlanta — Turner Classic Movies executive vice president and general manager Tom Karsch will leave the vintage film network later this month.

Karsch, who has been leading the service since the summer of 1995, sent a letter to TCM colleagues Friday morning stating that he “realized a lifetime professional goal” when he was “given the opportunity to manage a network business” and that the time is now right for his departure and “new challenges.”

According to sources at the network, Karsch, 48, will likely exit TCM in a couple weeks. During the interim, management will assess the network’s leadership structure before deciding whether there is a need to conduct a formal search for a replacement.

TCM debuted in April 1994 in about 5 million homes. Under Karsch’s leadership, TCM, which remains commercial-free, has grown to 75 million subscribers and expanded its offerings with more updated movies, original documentaries and profiles on many of filmdom’s giants.

Over the years, Karsch, who started his Turner career in sports marketing at sister service TNT, also headed Turner South, an 8 million-subscriber regional entertainment and sports service Turner sold to Fox Cable Networks Group last May for $375 million.

Sports Firm SCP Takes 80% Stake in GolTV

New York —Sports media and entertainment firm SCP Worldwide has agreed to buy 80% of GolTV, the soccer network that broadcasts in Spanish and English counts some 10 million satellite and cable subscribers.

Through a joint statement, the parties, acknowledged that they “reached an agreement on the partnership transaction,” but declined to comment further.

Sources close to the negotiation placed the price tag in the $200 million range and anticipate that the deal will close within the next two months.

For SCP Worldwide, whose principles include former Madison Square Garden chief Dave Checketts and ex-College Sports Television executive Chris Bevilacqua, the transaction marks another stride in the soccer world. SCP owns the Real Salt Lake franchise in domestic soccer circuit Major League Soccer.

If the transaction is completed, GolTV — which already showcases action from the top leagues in Spain (La Liga), Germany (Bundesliga) and Central America — could proffer a host of World Cup qualifying matches involving South American nations: SCP gained television and multiplatform rights to the 90-game, 10-nation qualifying tournament, including world soccer powers Brazil and Argentina, for the 2010 World Cup.

Elsewhere on the pitch, Fox Soccer Channel and sister service Fox Sports en Espanol netted a three-year deal through the 2009-10 season for English-language and Spanish-language TV rights for Italy’s top league, Serie A.

Over the past two seasons, primary Serie A rights in the United States have been held by GolTV, save for the home matches of Catania, Lazio, Cagliari and Torino, which have been airing on Fox Soccer and Fox Sports en Español.

Along with recently extended rights for the English Premier League through 2010, David Sternberg, executive vice president and general manager of the two services, said the networks’ lineups from Europe are in good shape for the balance of this decade.

“We have exclusive rights to two of the top three leagues in the world. We believe the addition of Serie A, along with the EPL, are a perfect complement to our domestic soccer programming,” he said.

Comcast’s FearNet Scares Up Most-Viewed Month

Philadelphia — FearNet, Comcast’s on-demand horror service, closed its most successful month to date in February with 6.66 million views, according to officials.

The service has scared up a total of 26.6 million views since its premiere last Halloween.

Multiplatform FearNet — a joint venture between Comcast, Sony Pictures Television, and Lionsgate Entertainment — has been consistently ranked in the Top 10-viewed VOD networks from more than 200 offerings.

Officials said that FEARnet.com is the top horror site in America with over 45,000 registered users, over 11 million page views and over 2.8 million video views since launch.

Verizon Promotes O’Connell To Telecom Chief Marketer

New York — Marilyn O’Connell, who led the development and launch of Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV service, was promoted to chief marketing officer of the Verizon Telecom business unit, overseeing the telco’s phone, broadband and video services for consumers and small business.

O’Connell succeeds Bob Ingalls, currently Verizon Telecom’s CMO, who will retire at the end of March, director of media relations Sharon Cohen-Hagar said. Shawn Strickland, previously vice president of product management for video services, will take over management of Verizon’s FiOS TV service.

Discovery Puts 'Earth’ On Demand

Silver Spring, Md. — After five years in the making, miniseries Planet Earth will premiere on Discovery Channel March 25. But in a bid to build buzz, a sneak preview will appear on its video-on-demand service nine days earlier.

The hour-long episode, titled “Forests,” hits Discovery On Demand on March 16, accompanied by behind-the-scenes footage and preview content for upcoming installments

“Getting it out there early, we’ve found, is a way to create that consumer buzz,” said Discovery senior vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Michael Snyder, who expects that “deep-diving” VOD support will boost ratings for the series.

Planet Earth, narrated by actor Sigourney Weaver and co-produced by Discovery and the BBC, comprises 11 hours profiling diverse ecosystems, including wildlife footage from forests, mountains, plains, oceans, freshwater, deserts and arctic environments.

Beyond the preview, Planet Earth episodes will air Sundays in two- and three-hour blocks, from March 25 through April 22. Each installment will be supplemented with on-demand content, including short-form segments. On-demand folders will be available until May 3.

“It’s also an opportunity for a distributor to be able to say, 'See it here first,’ ” Snyder said.

Among the distributors carrying Discovery On Demand, which offers about 75 hours from the programmer’s various networks each month, and Discovery HD Theater: Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Bresnan Communications, Insight Communications, Verizon Communications and several members of the National Television Cable Cooperative.

Comcast is the only operator that offers the network’s high-definition on-demand channel.

A unique aspect of the show, and one Discovery will highlight in its on-demand folder, is the integration of new technologies used in filming. For one, the production crew filmed animals and tropical storms using Cineflex Heligimble, an aerial photography system used by police, military and some news organizations.

The series also boasts HD images from space and the deep sea; time-lapse footage to show changing seasons; and high-speed cameras that slow down movement up to 40 times in order to capture rare animal predation, such as great white sharks leaping out of the water to prey on seal and crocodiles grabbing wildebeest.

Snyder said the Planet Earth campaign complements Discovery’s ongoing education partnership with The Nature Conservancy. The network will air Conservancy public-service announcements during the series, as well as offer private screenings at its chapters around the country.

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