Network Launches Are Pushed Back


USA Networks Inc.'s plans to launch two new channels — Crime and USA Travel Channel — have apparently been delayed.

Last week, USA officials were mum as to exactly when the two new programming services are now slated to debut. But neither Crime nor USA Travel Channel is on target to roll out by the launch dates originally announced by officials.

Plans for Crime, a diginet developed by USA and Cops
creator John Langley, were announced last March. At that time, officials said Crime would launch this fall. It hasn't happened, and last week USA's emerging networks unit declined to comment on when Crime is now scheduled to roll out.

Crime isn't the only USA Networks programming initiative that's been pushed back.

This summer, USA Networks unveiled plans to create a transactional travel network, USA Travel Channel, an offshoot of its deals to acquire a majority stake in the online travel agency Expedia Inc. from Microsoft Corp. and to buy National Leisure Group Inc., an online vacation package agency.

At that time, USA officials said USA Travel Channel would launch by the end of this year. But a monkey wrench was thrown into that complicated deal earlier this month. USA Networks sued in an effort to back out of its acquisition of National Leisure Group, a deal that was supposed to close on Sept. 28.

USA Networks, arguing for termination of the acquisition in legal papers, cited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as having a "hugely negative impact" on National Leisure's travel business. USA Networks also noted that National Leisure had lost significant business from the warehouse shopping chain Costco Wholesale Corp.

"The travel channel is going forward," a USA Networks spokeswoman said. "My guess is that we'll push it back to right around the beginning of the year."

With domestic travel down because of the attacks, and the ad market soft as well, it could be a tough time to try to launch a cable channel that sells travel packages.

Several cable operators said they haven't heard anything from USA Networks about the proposed travel channel or its launch.


Another programmer, Viacom Inc.'s Black Entertainment Television, has set a Jan. 21 launch date for its new suite of digital services, BET Digital Networks. BET announced plans for that digital package in April. The suite includes BET on Jazz, and three new services: BET Gospel; BET Classic and BET Hip-Hop.

Back in April, BET officials said the suite would launch in the fourth quarter of this year; now it's off until January.

"We were trying to be aggressive in the fourth quarter," said Lee Chaffin, BET's senior vice president of affiliate sales. "But operators told us they wouldn't launch anything until January."

So far, BET has closed a corporate carriage deal for its digital suite with Cablevision Systems Corp., according to Chaffin. It was also talking to operators such as AT&T Broadband and Charter Communications Inc.

Despite the abysmal advertising environment, officials at Scripps Networks said they are forging ahead to launch their luxury-lifestyle service, Fine Living, in the first quarter of next year. In a conference call with analysts, E.W. Scripps Co. CEO Ken Lowe said the company's launch of Fine Living early next year would continue as planned, despite some analysts' concerns that a channel devoted to luxury living would be inappropriate in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But Lowe said during the conference call that there couldn't be a better time to launch Fine Living.

"Fine Living programming will have an aspirational quality that will give it a very strong appeal," Lowe said in the conference call. "It won't be so much about expensive things and places, but how best to use precious time. We think that's a very strong programming message for today."

Lowe added that Scripps' Do It Yourself network also is close to a distribution deal that would put it in front of 20 million homes by the end of 2003. Lowe declined to reveal the operator involved and said an announcement would come "soon."

And officials at Moviewatch, the new network about movies to be launched by Hubbard Media Group, said plans still call for a debut late next year.

Mike Farrell contributed to this story.