Voom Pitches HD Nets

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In a difficult environment, Rainbow Media Holdings LLC is officially pitching distributors on Voom HD Networks, salvaged from Chuck Dolan’s defunct satellite service.

Rainbow will start off by marketing a suite of 10 HDTV channels, which EchoStar Communications Corp. is already carrying, to cable. By the end of the first quarter of 2006, Voom HD will expand to 21 networks, Rainbow CEO Joshua Sapan said.

He wouldn’t specify how big a license fee Rainbow will seek for Voom HD, which will only be offered as a full suite, with distributors required to take all of its networks.

Rainbow -- which is being spun off by parent Cablevision Systems Corp. -- wants distributors to offer Voom HD as part of an HDTV basic package, not as a separate HD tier with its own price tag.

The programmer is trying to create a viable business out of the remnants of Cablevision chairman Chuck Dolan’s failed Rainbow DBS direct-broadcast satellite service, which carried the Voom HD networks.

Earlier this year, Cablevision -- after a huge battle between the elder Dolan and his son, Cablevision president James Dolan -- sold its Rainbow 1 satellite to EchoStar for $200 million and shut down the DBS service. The Voom HD networks were saved, though, because EchoStar received a 20% stake in the channels and agreed to offer them on Dish Network in a 15-year carriage deal.

Wall Street analysts had argued that Cablevision and Rainbow should have wholesaled their Voom HD networks to cable operators and DBS providers from the get-go, rather than trying to launch their own full-fledged DBS service. By waiting, Rainbow may now have trouble getting MSOs to give up increasingly precious bandwidth for all the Voom HD networks, some said.

Sapan stressed that Rainbow is creating original content -- “probably the most robust and abundant undertaking in the world of HD” -- specifically for Voom, not a simulcast or conversion of standard-definition channels.

Voom HD -- with 2,000 hours of native HDTV programs and more than 1,000 movies transferred to HDTV -- has a huge HDTV postproduction facility and studio in Manhattan that represents a $30 million investment by Rainbow.

The 10 core Voom HD channels are Rush HD, Rave HD, Animania HD, Monsters HD, Guy TV HD, The Majestic HD, Ultra HD, Equator HD, Gallery HD and HD News, offering movies, news, sports, fashion, arts, music, travel and animation. Rainbow maintains that this package will appeal to a broad spectrum of demographics and will encourage HDTV channel surfing.

For more on Voom HD Networks, please see Linda Moss’ story on page one of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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