Sleuth to Be First New NBC U Cable Net

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It's a mystery no longer: NBC Universal Cable Entertainment's first new channel since its May 2004 merger was consummated is known as Sleuth, and its first affiliate is Time Warner Cable.

Billed as the first digital triple-pack service, NBC U will launch Sleuth -- a channel featuring library TV and theatrical crime, mystery and suspense fare -- in 2006.

The New Year's Day bow will feature a standard-definition channel, while an HD-simulcast channel and an accompanying video-on-demand channel will bow in the second half of the year, according to an NBCU spokeswoman.

NBCU Cable president David Zaslav -- who said the company has had distribution discussions with other operators -- would not discuss deal terms with Time Warner.

That MSO is expected to make the service available to 5 million of its digital customers at launch, with subscribers in New York, Houston, Honolulu, Wisconsin and North Carolina gaining access. Sources familiar with the deal put the network's monthly rate card at around 15 cents per subscriber.

Before moving ahead with the service, NBCU Cable conducted extensive research with affiliates and consumers, according to Zaslav. He said the crime and mystery genres always ranked at "the top of the list. We've been cautious in pushing ahead because we didn't want to come out with just another channel, but something that had real stickiness to it."

He added that the tri-network approach underscores the way viewers consume TV today. "Three years ago, this would have been stand-alone," he said. "But we've had great consumer response to Universal HD, and we also wanted to give subscribers the opportunity, while they're watching Miami Vice, to be able to go to whether it's Time Warner on Demand, Comcast on Demand or Insight on Demand and get the entire first season."

While still finalizing how the network will provide openings and other interstitial fare, the service will feature such series as Miami Vice, The A-Team and Knight Rider, as well as genre films like Scarface, The Jackal, Sneakers and Casino. Zaslav noted that Sleuth will eventually launch some of its own original fare.

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