The revamped Odyssey, A Hallmark & Henson Network has
signed a corporate-carriage deal with Time Warner Cable that will add 4 million analog
subscribers to its distribution, officials said last week.
Time Warner, which already carries the repositioned Odyssey
in more than 4 million homes, will roll the network out to another 4 million full-time
subscribers under terms of the new affiliation deal.
Those launches kicked off in part last week in Tampa, Fla.,
and they will continue through June 2004 as the MSO does its system rebuilds, Odyssey
chief operating officer Lana Corbi said. The network's distribution currently stands
at 29 million, with the target of 50 million in the next few years.
"A lot of Time Warner systems were just waiting for
the corporate deal to be done to add us," Corbi said. "It's a lot of
momentum for us. We're finding a very positive reception."
The corporate-affiliation deal, however, won't
guarantee Odyssey reinstatement on Time Warner Cable of New York City. In late January,
that system dropped the channel in Manhattan, where it reached about 500,000 subscribers.
Corbi and Barry Rosenblum, the system's president,
said there are discussions about Odyssey getting back a berth in Manhattan, but no
agreement has been reached yet. "We've been having conversations back and
forth," Rosenblum said. "Certainly, [Odyssey] having a deal with corporate will
make it easier."
But he noted that the MSO deal doesn't cover digital
carriage, and he favors putting Odyssey on digital when the system launches its digital
service sometime this fall.
Corbi said she realizes that Time Warner's
channel-capacity situation in Manhattan is "tough," but she added that Odyssey
is "essentially an analog channel."
After suffering several big drops in markets such as New
York and Phoenix, Odyssey has announced launches totaling more than 8.5 million
subscribers since December, when The Jim Henson Co. and Hallmark Entertainment joined
Liberty Media Group and the National Interfaith Cable Coalition in ownership of the
network. Henson and Hallmark acquired their 45 percent stake for $100 million.
Under the leadership of new president Margaret Loesch, the
network's staple of faith-and-values programming is being augmented by broader,
family oriented entertainment fare from the Hallmark and Henson libraries, as well as by
original shows. Odyssey plans to spend $200 million on programming over the next three
Odyssey began revamping its program schedule in April, and
that effort will continue this fall. In October, Odyssey will premiere an original movie, The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow,produced exclusively for it by Hallmark.
In addition to Time Warner, Odyssey has also closed
carriage deals with AT&T Broadband & Internet Services and the National Cable
Odyssey is offering cable operators what Corbi described as
"competitive" upfront launch fees for carriage, as well as free carriage,
depending on what an MSO wants. "We're being as open and flexible as we can be
and structuring deals in various ways," she said.
Odyssey officials would not comment on financial terms of
the Time Warner deal.
Time Warner will give Odyssey 236,000 full-time analog
homes in Tampa. The network had been available part-time to 70,000 homes in that area. The
operator will make Odyssey available full-time to those subscribers, as well as to 166,000
other area subscribers.
During the past two months, Odyssey has also received
several other launch commitments, including one from Time Warner in Milwaukee with its
415,000 subscribers. Those Milwaukee homes are part of the 4 million new launches covered
by Odyssey's corporate-affiliation agreement with Time Warner.
Earlier this year, Time Warner began launching Odyssey in
Orlando, Fla., but that rollout to 500,000 subscribers is separate from the 4 million
homes covered in the corporate deal.
"It's a good channel," Time Warner spokesman
Mike Luftman said. "It gives diversity to our program offerings."