Shell Excited About Comcast-Sony Combo

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It’s not easy for anyone to launch a cable network these days, but Comcast Corp.’s new programming czar, Jeff Shell, is bullish about the channels that will be spun off as a result of the MSO’s partnership with Sony Corp.

Former News Corp. executive Shell -- who doesn’t start as president of Comcast programming until May 2 -- is being pretty circumspect about his plans until he actually assumes his post.

But he was upbeat about one of the biggest tasks that will fall under his purview -- namely, the rollout of a 24-hour preschool channel and additional networks resulting from Comcast’s participation in a Sony-led $4.9 billion purchase of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

“The MGM/Sony partnership is something that’s been talked about in L.A. for decades,” Shell said Monday. “Sony has so much content and, up to now, they’re not really leveraging that content in the cable world. And, so, I think there’s a real opportunity with the guys at Sony and the content they have to create some pretty interesting channels, although, once again, the ability of those channels to succeed will come down to how attractive the concepts are that we can collectively come out with. And having a content partner like Sony is a tremendous advantage.”

Asked if he could comment on what those Sony- or MGM-related channels might be, Shell said, “No. I don’t know, and I don’t think they know yet.”

There has been much industry speculation on what networks Comcast will create based on the Sony/MGM deal, ranging from 24-hour movie networks to a soap-opera channel and an action network.

In his newly created post, Shell will manage Comcast’s entire content portfolio, which includes ownership of or investments in E! Entertainment Television, Style, The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life Network, G4, TV One and several regional sports channels.

The preschool network that Comcast will launch this year -- in partnership with HIT Entertainment plc, PBS and Sesame Workshop --will also be overseen by Shell, who resigned as CEO of Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. in December.

Shell -- who was president of Fox Cable Networks Group before moving to Gemstar -- has lots of experience rolling out new channels. Under his watch, Fox Cable launched Fox Movie Channel, the FSN regional-sports services and National Geographic Channel.

Although Shell acknowledged that it’s hard to get traction for a new network, he was upbeat about Comcast’s odds.

“Having Comcast behind me there, behind those channels there, Comcast obviously gives you a lot of power,” he said. “If nothing else, you’re hopefully in a chunk of Comcast homes, so that gives you a base to start a channel.”

Shell added, “The second thing is, like anything, you need a concept and a brand and programming that people will like and desire to have on their cable system and desire to watch. And I think Comcast is doing it the right way, clearly. First of all, I have a two-and-a-half-year-old, and all she watches is Jay Jay the Jet Plane, so I know there’s going to be a demand for they stuff they’re doing with HIT and PBS.”

Shell -- who plans to come to New York next week to attend the first joint upfront for Comcast’s networks -- also spoke in generalities when asked if he plans to consolidate some services among the MSO’s various channels, like affiliate sales and marketing.

“I have no idea because I haven’t even had a chance to go in and start talking to people among the networks,” Shell replied regarding internal consolidation. “I would say that in concept, there’s a lot of benefit to be realized by being able to manage certain functions together and cross-promote and things like that. But until I get in there, my sum total of knowledge about the Comcast networks -- from the ones that I wasn’t a part of before -- is from watching them as a viewer. So I really don’t know.”

Shell is familiar with Golf -- once sitting on its board -- and OLN because he was at Fox Cable when it was a partner with Comcast and other MSOs in those networks. Comcast now owns them.

He also knows G4 CEO Charles Hirschhorn from their days together at The Walt Disney Co.

Shell, who grew up in Los Angeles, is about to close on a home he’s purchasing in Philadelphia. He has East Coast ties, having worked and gone to school in the area. He added that one of his sisters lives one mile from his new home in Philadelphia, and his wife’s father is from the “City of Brotherly Love,” as well.

Shell, who plans to skip the National Show this year, has been fielding lots of congratulatory calls.

“Comcast has a lot of admirers out there, and I think a lot of people are excited for me,” he said. “A lot of L.A. people are, ‘Philadelphia?,’ particularly people who haven’t been there. So that’s from people who thought I’d never leave L.A. But when you talk to people who’ve been to Philadelphia, they get it completely.”

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