ZDTV Adds Subs, Plans to Dump Name


ZDTV, which just closed a corporate carriage deal with Time Warner Cable, will get a new name as part of its rebranding this fall, according to officials.

Both the cable network, which now reaches 19 million subscribers, and its companion Web site will get new monikers, ZDTV chief operating officer Joe Gillespie said last week. "We're looking at an improved brand," he added.

Rather than having any relationship to its mission as a network "dedicated to the digital lifestyle," ZDTV's current name reflects its original founding company and owner, Ziff-Davis Inc.

But that relationship no longer exists. Now, the cable network is wholly owned by computer billionaire Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures Inc. And Ziff-Davis, in turn, is being acquired by CNET Inc. So ZDTV wants to fully distinguish itself from Ziff-Davis and CNET, according to Gillespie.

The rebranding will probably take place in October or November, and it will more closely tie the network to and reflect the areas it covers, like digital technology, he said.

ZDTV's affiliation agreement with Time Warner is merely a hunting license for the MSO's 12.6 million subscribers, and it covers both digital and analog distribution.

"ZDTV offers our customers unique programming that will only become more valuable as the importance of the Internet and the online world continue to grow," Time Warner Cable chairman Joseph Collins said in a prepared statement.

ZDTV-which Comcast Corp. recently rolled out to 330,000 analog subscribers in Baltimore-has 6.9 million analog subscribers, 1.3 million digital homes and the remainder of its distribution through direct-broadcast satellite operators DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.

Following the Time Warner pact, ZDTV has deals with all of the major MSOs except Cablevision Systems Corp.

The network's affiliation agreements include deals with AT & T Broadband, Comcast, Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc., MediaOne Group Inc. and Adelphia Communications Corp.

ZDTV-which is projecting that it will be in 23 million homes by year's end-takes both analog and digital carriage because, according to Gillespie, "There is no such thing as bad distribution."

But he acknowledged that when ZDTV does pitch cable operators for analog carriage, it points out that its service regularly reports on the kind of technology-such as high-speed modems-these MSOs are trying to sell to their subscribers.

ZDTV's other selling point is that it is a unique programming service. "There is only one technology channel," Gillespie said.

The network is in the process of expanding its original programming and, by the end of the year, it will do 26 hours of originals per week. In 2001, ZDTV plans to boost its original programming to 44 hours per week, which would be a 70 percent increase.

As part of its initiative to increase its original fare, ZDTV is adding a new half-hour weekly music show, AudioFile, Aug. 24. Later this year, the network will also debut its version of America's Funniest Home Videos, called You Made It, and will air a 30-minute special called Dash's Animation House.

The overall programming strategy now is not just to inform viewers, but to entertain them, Gillespie said.

For example, the new music series is a magazine show about digital music and digital technology, exploring the ways computers and the Internet have created a renaissance that is redefining the traditional relationship between artist and audience.