The Tennis Channel Holds Court


The Tennis Channel has officially fired its first serve.

Taking aim at the digital-television arena, the
fledgling network -- led by former Home Box Office and Financial News Network Inc. executive David
Meister and backed by an investment group headed by ex-Universal Studios and
Viacom Inc. honcho Frank Biondi -- hopes to bounce onto viewers' screens sometime
next summer.

The network also lists tennis-industry giant International Management Group
as an investor and strategic partner.

At a press conference in Manhattan Tuesday, Meister and president Steve
Bellamy, a tennis entrepreneur, announced that the 24-hour network will offer a
combination of live and taped tournament play; instructional programming from
top instructors like Nick Bollettieri, Vic Braden and Brad Gilbert; and news and
lifestyle programming featuring behind-the-scenes and personality-driven

However, the executive management team and Biondi were light on details when
it came to answering specifics about distribution and profitability goals,
license fees and rights acquisitions.

When asked about the investment level, Biondi said an initial outlay had been
secured and the network was 'weeding through a second round to get it on the
air.' He added that digital networks typically need somewhere between $30
million and $100 million to launch, and Tennis Channel would be 'somewhere in
that range.'

During the press conference, Meister said Tennis Channel has had preliminary
discussions with cable and satellite distributors, but there were no carriage
commitments at this point. He added that the network would make a second pass
shortly, armed with a more specific business plan and programming points. He
declined to disclose license-fee structure.

In an interview, Meister said the network would 'listen to and explore' the
possibilities of distributors taking equity stakes. However, he added, 'That's
been the experience' when it comes to start-ups.

As for programming, Meister said Tennis Channel has secured rights deals with
tournaments sanctioned by the Association of Tennis Professionals (men's tour)
and the Women's Tennis Association from 'Florida to California and from Europe
to Asia.' Additionally, he said, Tennis Channel has agreements with World Team
Tennis, the Seniors Tour and at the collegiate level.

Tennis Channel will also likely dip into library programming. IMG senior vice
president Barry Frank said the sports-marketing company had some 700 hours of
classic tennis action available.

Meister noted that tournament schedules for the network's first year of
operation would likely be announced within two months.

All told, Tennis Channel's initial game plan calls for a lineup comprising 40
percent tournament coverage, 40 percent instructional programming and the
balance a combination of lifestyle shows and news elements.