VOOM COO Sees More Retail Ahead

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Rainbow DBS Inc. chief operating officer Mickey Alpert said the Voom HDTV satellite service will broaden its retail approach in coming months and is investigating launching additional satellites that use recently obtained broadcast spectrum.

Voom, which was launched in October, is currently available only in Sears Roebuck & Co. retail stores and via Voom’s Web site. That base will grow, but Alpert declined to give details.

Speaking after a panel discussion at the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association’s SkyForum conference here, Alpert said new retail deals could be announced in the next couple of months.

“We’re talking to regional retailers and national retailers,” he said.

Wall Street analysts would prefer that parent company Cablevision Systems Corp. spin off the satellite unit as soon as possible. Alpert said plans are on track to file a Form 10 registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the second quarter, and it’s hoped the unit could be separated from Cablevision soon after the necessary SEC documents are filed.

In a research report, UBS Warburg cable debt and equity analyst Aryeh Bourkoff said he expects the SEC filing before the end of April.

Alpert also suggested an ESPN programming deal could be forthcoming, given that Cablevision recently signed a carriage agreement with the sports network. Having the ESPN channels (including the ESPN HD service) should add to Voom’s appeal, he said.

Sports programming in HD could be a big driver for the Voom service, Alpert said, along with movie content.

Voom could use the boost. According to Cablevision’s 10-K annual report, Rainbow DBS had just 1,627 subscribers as of Dec. 31.

And now that Rainbow DBS is charging for the service — it was free until March 31 — the need for more compelling programming is stronger than ever.

Alpert said Voom has added customers since the free period ended, but declined to give specifics.

“Starting from that small base, we are very pleased with the growth,” Alpert said.

He added that subscriber base should rise even more once Voom begins aggressively marketing the service.

“Until the end of February [when most of the programming deals were finalized], it made no sense to market the service,” Alpert said. “Now, we have the programming package we hoped to have much earlier.”