ReelzChannel: It’s Finally Show Time

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In 2000, Hubbard Media Group announced plans to launch a Hollywood movie-based network called MovieWatch.

Six years later, Hubbard’s MovieWatch, renamed ReelzChannel, is ready to launch Sept. 27.

Hubbard Media chief Stanley Hubbard said last week that he’s secured enough distribution to belatedly launch his planned comprehensive network to provide news and information about movies within the theatrical, home-video, video-on-demand, pay TV and basic-cable distribution windows.

ReelzChannel will debut to 28 million subscribers, which Hubbard said was the most ever for a network start-up and the mass audience the channel needs to secure national advertising revenue.

Hubbard said last week that top cable distributors Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. joined DirecTV Inc., EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network, Charter Communications Inc., Insight Communications Co. Inc. and the National Cable Television Cooperative in agreeing to distribute ReelzChannel as a digital network.

Since Hubbard -- also chairman and CEO of parent company Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., a St. Paul, Minn.-based firm that owns nine TV stations and several radio outlets -- announced plans for MovieWatch in 2000, much has changed.

Cable companies have added 19 million digital-cable households, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and 250 new nationally distributed video-programming services have been created, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The movie business has changed, too. The emergence of Internet-based distribution services from Movielink LLC, CinemaNow Inc. and Starz Encore Group LLC’s Vongo -- plus mail-order movie-rental services from Blockbuster Inc. and Netflix Inc. -- have altered the way consumers view movies.

ReelzChannel officials said the changes work in their favor. Network president of television Rod Perth said movie-content consumption is far greater than it was six years ago, making ReelzChannel more valuable to consumers.

Hubbard would not reveal how much the network will have spent prior to finally flipping the on switch, but people close to the network said the venture will cost Hubbard some $50 million from announcement to launch.

Hubbard predicted, though, that the network will break even “inside of two years,” with revenue mostly derived from national advertising.

The network will retain all advertising-avail time, and it has already signed a number of charter advertisers, although Hubbard would not name any.

To compensate operators, Hubbard said, ReelzChannel will provide affiliates localized, one-minute “What to Watch” interstitials twice per hour that will promote the local system’s upcoming on-demand or pay TV movie features.

The network will also overlay local on-demand, pay-per-view and theatrical movie listings over original content aired throughout the day.

Hubbard would not reveal terms of affiliation agreements, but sources close to the network said operators distributing the network to more than 20% of their subscriber base will not pay any fees.

Representatives from DirecTV, Dish, Insight, the NCTC and Time Warner could not be reached for comment at press time. A Comcast spokeswoman said that while the cable company has an affiliation deal with ReelzChannel, “We haven’t announced any launch plans at this time.”

Along with the launch of the digital service, ReelzChannel will also create a broadband-video service. Still in development, the site will let users track movies through various distribution windows and watch trailers on-demand, Hubbard said.

For more on ReelzChannel, please see R. Thomas Umstead’s story on page six of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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