Turner South Deals Add 1.5M Subs

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Turner South, the regional entertainment network, has closed carriage deals with AT & T Broadband, Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. that will give it 1.5 million new analog subscribers, officials said last week.

The new agreements expand distribution for Turner South, which celebrates its first anniversary on Oct. 1, to 3.3 million subscribers. It now reaches more than half of its targeted distribution universe.

"I'm just really happy," said Andrew Heller, Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s president of domestic distribution. "We launched a new network with a new idea, and reached 50 percent of our base within a year. It's a wonderful thing. It shows the strength of our programming."

Time Warner Cable, which, like Turner South, is part of Time Warner Inc., will provide the regional network to 800,000 subscribers via systems in Memphis, Tenn.; Greensboro, N.C.; Columbia and Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Jackson, Miss., and smaller systems throughout Georgia and Alabama.

Comcast will roll out Turner South to 435,000 subscribers in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Gasden, Ala.; and Savannah, Augusta, Chamblee, Dallas, Rome and Hinesville, Ga.

AT & T will launch Turner South in systems in Alabama and Georgia with roughly more than 200,000 subscribers.

Targeted to a Southern audience, Turner South's schedule is a mix of original programming, movies, sitcoms, regional news and sports. Its footprint consists of cable systems in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and parts of North Carolina.

Now that last week's deals have been inked, Heller is no longer in the uncomfortable position of explaining why TBS Inc.'s cable operator cousin is not carrying Turner South. Heller said the three MSOs that just reached terms had received calls from subscribers asking about the regional network.

As Time Warner Cable's systems expand their channel capacity, MSO spokesman Mike Luftman said, they are looking to add programming with a local flair. Once Time Warner reaches a corporate carriage deal with a network, he added, they're free to do just that.

Time Warner Cable's pact with Turner South "is consistent with the commitment to that philosophy" of allowing systems to add regional programming at the local level, Luftman added.

Also last week, Time Warner and Bloomberg Television reached terms on a corporate carriage agreement, or "hunting license," officials confirmed.

TBS Inc. is seeking only analog deals for Turner South, said Heller, because its target distribution is just 6 million subscribers. "With digital, the economics didn't work," Heller said.

Turner South presently reaches 1.8 million subscribers to such operators as MediaOne Group Inc. (now part of AT & T Broadband), Charter Communications Corp., Northland Communications, Adelphia Communications Corp., Mediacom, Cox Communications Inc. and BellSouth Entertainment.

Also last week, Turner disclosed that it had extended its carriage deal for Cartoon Network with Comcast, which already provides the service to 4.4 million subscribers. Under that deal, Comcast will launch Cartoon Network to an additional 1 million subscribers by the end of the year.

The operator has also committed to launch Cartoon to another 500,000 homes over the next year, adding a total of 1.5 million homes to the network's distribution base.

Over the past 90 days, Comcast had added Cartoon to systems that include Verona/Woodbridge, N.J.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Venice, Fla.; Sarasota, Fla.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Dover, Del.; Woodbury, N.J.; Ontario, Calif.; and Simi Valley, Calif.

MSO deals for Boomerang, Cartoon's digital spinoff, are expected to be announced shortly, said Heller. That network currently has affiliation deals with satellite providers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.

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