Bankrupt cable channel America's Voice has found a
knight, but one with some kinks in its armor.
Last Monday (March 6), 5th Avenue Channel Corp., formerly
known as Tel-Com Wireless Cable TV, announced that it had launched a new financial
television network called NeTVideoNetworks, with a 10 a.m. to noon program, Net
A press release sent out by the company said it launched in
14 million households -- 11 million homes on America's Voice and 3 million through a
deal it had with Comcast Corp.'s CN8: The Comcast Network regional channel.
America's Voice -- which filed for Chapter 11
bankruptcy protection in January -- confirmed its deal and said it plans to extend the
NeTVideoNetworks programming to a 12-hour (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) block next month.
But CN8 spokesman David Shane insisted that the 5th Avenue
announcement was bogus, claiming that CN8 rejected a pilot of the program 5th Avenue sent
to the company the weekend before the show was to launch.
Melvin Rosen, CEO of 5th Avenue, had a different story.
"I was on the phone after the 10 a.m. launch with [CN8 general sales manager] Bob
Bubeck, who told me we should be proud of the programming. He congratulated us,"
"What 5th Avenue has been saying is untruthful,"
CN8 spokesman David Shane responded. "The thing was never on the air." Shane
refused to arrange an interview with Bubeck. "He's not authorized to talk for
this article," Shane said.
Last Thursday, 5th Avenue executive vice president Erick
Lefkowitz said the company had filed a "federal suit" against CN8, although he
said he didn't know which court it had been filed in. Later that day, Rosen said he
couldn't comment on "whatever legal actions have been taken."
Shane said CN8 hadn't received a copy of any lawsuits
filed by 5th Avenue against Comcast.
America's Voice spokesman Jim Halling said the network
has had positive feedback from subscribers on Net Financial News, which relies on
the channel's network of "net cams" installed in viewers homes, allowing
them to interact with analysts on the program.
"What we're trying to do is to provide live,
interactive programming to our viewers. This is an outstanding opportunity for our
viewers," he said.
Lefkowitz said 5th Avenue plans to expand its two-hour
programming block into a 24-hour channel within the next three months. He added that the
channel would contain 10 niche segments, including Net Video Health, Net Video
Careers and Net Video Travel.
Lefkowitz declined to comment when asked if the company
plans to acquire America's Voice.
Halling said there are a "number of investors
vying" to acquire the channel.
In late 1998, 5th Avenue made financial-press headlines
when its stock went on a roller-coaster ride after news broke that Ivana Trump had
invested in the channel, then subsequent reports came out with allegations that some of
the company's investors were stock manipulators.
The company decided last year to drop a plan to launch a
lifestyle channel with Trump, choosing to launch a financial-news channel instead.
Miron Leshem, an independent contractor that 5th Avenue
hired last fall to handle investor relations for the company, was listed as the contact on
the press release announcing the CN8 and America's Voice launches. According to
several news reports at the time, the FBI arrested Leshem in 1996 as part of a stock-fraud
Last week, Leshem insisted, "No complaint was ever
filed." But according to a Securities and Exchange Commission order, Leshem agreed to
a settlement with the SEC last March.
The settlement came after he was charged with violating the
Securities Act and the Exchange Act for allegedly paying stockbrokers kickbacks to
purchase 10,000 shares of Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino Inc. for their customers in
November 1995, according to the SEC.
Last Wednesday, Lefkowitz said he "wasn't
aware" of Leshem's 1996 arrest for stock fraud, which one newspaper said was
announced at a news conference by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.
The following day, Lefkowitz said he "fired"
Leshem after a reporter informed him of the arrest. "We didn't know about that
thing he did. He told the company that he did once get cited," Lefkowitz said.
Lefkowitz added that Leshem studied the stock market for
5th Avenue and consulted the company on its SEC filings.
The company's most recent filing was a Jan. 28 SB-2
registration statement announcing that 17 of its shareholders plan to sell 3.3 million
shares of common stock. One of those investors -- Michael Ploshnick, who plans to sell
30,000 shares -- was charged with violating securities laws in 1997 for "material
misrepresentations" tied to the offering of $13.9 million in debt securities,
according to the SEC.
Rosen insisted last week that 5th Avenue -- which also owns
wireless cable systems in Wisconsin and Costa Rica -- is a company he has invested
millions of dollars in that is now trying to provide a service to cable subscribers.
"We have poured our life and guts into building this
thing for a number of years. I have poured millions and millions of dollars of my personal
growth to accomplish this thing. We are the most straight, direct people," he added.
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