'S' Checks Pulse for Multi-Niche Pays

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Sovereign Media Group Ltd. is expected to flip the switch on S Network, its multi-niche pay venture, by week's end over Galaxy IX, transponder 1.

The New York-based company transmitted a prototype version of the channel last May and kept it running for several months, allowing MSOs to take a look.

Now, with more funding in the bank and additional programming gathered from various sources, Sovereign is poised to bow S Network. Carriage discussions are underway with various cable and satellite providers, although no pre-launch agreements had been struck by press time.

Showing at NCTA Show

The upcoming National Show "will be our opportunity to beat the street and see what deals we can create," said Sovereign CEO Newton Hinds, who founded the company after several years as general sales manager of AT&T's Digital Media Centers. "We're going to meet with the operators and show everyone that we have come around the corner and be an important service for the multicultural audience."

Under S Network's pay format, independent entrepreneurs program a specific genre of material, targeting urban households aged 18 to 34, and compensate Sovereign for the time. That way, Sovereign's overhead costs are kept in check.

The format is divided into seven categories, with each genre featured one night per week. S Network is asking affiliates to charge customers $6 per month.

$10M raised so far

On display are Arts, Caribbeanet (which offers the music, sports and trends of Caribbean culture), Comedy, Glory (religious), Music, Sports and Worldcast (international events and English-language movies). If certain genres do well, they'll be converted into separate digital premium or basic services, with the S Network time assumed by another independent supplier.

Sovereign has raised almost $10 million in funding for S Networks, largely from private sources and angel investors. A few domestic and overseas venture-capital firms have expressed interest in equity positions, but first want to see the network running, Hinds said. The channel will reach the black once it has 5 million paid customers, executives said.

VOD service?

Video-on-demand carriage is a feasible carriage alternative. "We're in a prime position to address the future TV audience, doing it in a way that's appealing to cable systems, considering how VOD, and ultimately [digital video recorders], will be an important part of this universe," said Hinds. "As an incubator, we can manage a lot of channel and programming development on the systems' behalf."

S Network plans to get the word out via radio ads on urban and ethnic stations, cross-channel spots and movie theater ads. Street teams also will be deployed.

S Network in some ways is a throwback to Intro Television, the early 1990s basic network from Tele-Communications Inc. that showcased an assortment of content from proposed channels. Intro was shown the exit door at TCI after other operators didn't carry it.

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