New York -- On the heels of Request Television's
decision to close its doors this summer, Viewer's Choice late last week announced
that it will offer a 35-channel near-video-on-demand operation beginning July 1.
In another development, Tele-Communications Inc. and Time
Warner Inc. will hold a majority interest in Viewer's Choice as part of a
shareholder-restructuring deal that eliminates all studio ownership in the network.
The news comes as high anticipation has been growing from
both Viewer's Choice and Request affiliates about the possibility of finally
realizing the revenue potential of the underachieving pay-per-view business, as well as
putting forth a strong, united effort against the direct broadcast satellite services.
The 35-channel NVOD digital operation will initially be
distributed on TCI's Headend in the Sky transponders, replacing Request's
programming operations. Request two weeks ago announced that it will close down its PPV
operations June 30.
Then, this fall, Viewer's Choice will move its
channels to new transponders, said James Heyworth, the network's president.
Viewer's Choice currently offers 11 PPV channels.
TCI, meanwhile, will increase its stake in Viewer's
Choice to 33 percent, sources close to the situation said. Initially, TCI split shares in
Viewer's Choice equally with several other companies, including Advance/Newhouse
Communications (a Time Warner Cable-run joint venture), Comcast Corp., MediaOne, Cox
Communications Inc., Liberty Media Group, Time Warner Cable, Paramount Pictures, Walt
Disney Pictures & Television and Warner Bros.
In addition, Time Warner Entertainment Co. and
Advance/Newhouse will also take a 33 percent stake in the network, while Comcast Corp.,
MediaOne and Cox will each receive 11 percent shares. The new board bought out each of the
three studios' shares, sources said.
With its ownership and distribution plans in place,
Viewer's Choice has already begun contacting Request affiliates in an effort to
transition them to the network.
"We're hopeful that we can persuade these Request
affiliates to make the transaction as seamless as possible and provide them with the
marketing and operations support that we provide to all of our Viewer's Choice
affiliates," Heyworth said.
But at least one PPV executive and major Request affiliate
said that MSO will explore all of its options before it makes any decisions on a
Viewer's Choice affiliation.
"We are excited about the opportunity that
Viewer's Choice presents to improve the PPV business, but we're still going to
keep all of our options open," the MSO executive said.