'X’ No Longer Marks Extreme-Sports Startup

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You can now spell the latest network aspirant in the alternative-sports space without an X.

After legal wrangling earlier this month with ESPN, The X Channel has changed its name to The Epic Sports Channel.

Despite the moniker modification, Epic continues to eye a fall debut as a round-the-clock network featuring such alternative sports as mountain biking, skateboarding, surfing and wakeboarding.

The battle was drawn in late June when ESPN — looking to protect its X Games franchise — sent a cease and desist letter to the Miami-based service. Victoria Davis-LaPorta, CEO and founder of the fledgling service, said the channel went about its business of trying to secure carriage and more programming for a targeted launch of late August or early September.

LaPorta had earlier said her network would “prefer not to fight” and was willing to put disclaimers on the air stating the service is not affiliated with ESPN’s X Games.

Subsequently, ESPN sent a second cease-and-desist letter before filing a complaint and a restraining order against X going forward.

While the restraining order was not granted, a hearing to determine an expedited trial schedule was held in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on July 8, when both parties presented their case. The name-change decision followed.

“We took all of the appropriate and necessary steps to protect our trademark and we’re satisfied with the result,” said an ESPN spokeswoman.

LaPorta, said counsel “referred to us in New York,” advised the network to settle because otherwise “you’ll have claims in court and wind up spending all your money” there.

She said Epic is now in the process of changing all of its marketing materials and other identifiers to reflect the new moniker. She expects the network’s new Web site, epicsportschannel.com, to launch sometime this week.

“We’re having to redo an enormous of amount of work. Hopefully, this does not delay us too much in terms of our launch,” she said.

LaPorta said she had contacted advertisers and MSOs about the name change last week, and remains hopeful of launching the linear network in the October timeframe. She said that Epic has “opportunities” for video on demand deals with cable operators, and is “getting close” on pacts for “24/7 agreements.” She declined to identify the distributors.

LaPorta said Epic now has 65 finished hours of programming in the can and raw footage for another 300, including what it captured at the recent Gorge Games. She said Epic was also “weighing an unbelievable amount of programming” from outside suppliers that have come to the network in recent weeks.

In addition to competitions, Epic plans on presenting lifestyle fare around alternative sports athletes, as well as instructional shows.

ESPN has plenty invested in the X Games: the 10th version will be held Aug. 5-8 in Los Angeles, and the sports giant also owns Winter X Games. Both competitions receive prominent exposure on ESPN, ESPN2 and broadcast brethren ABC.

Moreover, the franchise has been extended to capitalize on DVDs, an IMAX film, the EXPN.com Web site, EXPN radio content interstitials and EXPN2Day monthly series that airs on ESPN2.

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