Action Founder to Launch Niche Diginets

In an effort to capitalize on the emerging digital-cable platform, former Action Pay-Per-View founder Rick Blume will launch three reality-themed niche digital channels on July 1

Blume, now president and CEO of Internet-based company Offline Holdings Inc., will attempt to exploit the popular reality genre — and target teen and young-adult audiences — with Chronicle Digital TV, Offbeat and Passport. Kidstuff, geared toward children, is scheduled to bow in 2002.

"When I realized how quickly digital boxes are being deployed, I thought it would be the right time to launch new digital networks," Blume said. "In a 500-channel environment, it would be difficult to offer just one service. The costs would be easier to amortize over four channels."

Blume hopes to place the networks before 500,000 digital subscribers by year-end, but that may prove difficult in the present climate. He's asking operators for 5 cents per channel in a climate in which many digital services are being offered free of charge, at least for the first few years.

One operator, who wished to remain anonymous, said the concept is interesting, but the licensing fees may be a bit steep.

"I don't know enough about the deal, but 5 cents seems a lot to ask for new digital services," said the MSO executive.

Nevertheless, Blume believes the four channels' programming will fill several niches not currently served by many of the digital networks.

Chronicle Digital TV will focus exclusively on documentaries, with a full slate of cultural and historical presentations plus an array of original independent films. The scheduled programming includes the 1997 Academy Award-winning Long Way Home,
as well as Edgar Cayce, Andy Warhol
and Beautopia, Blume said.

"The service is targeted to baby boomers who are interested in documentaries both past and recent," he said. "There's a huge number of documentaries that have not been seen on TV in years that we'll offer."

Offbeat, which is aimed at Generation Xers, features innovative and cutting-edge programming that appeals to a young adult demographic interested in music, pop culture and technology. Program examples include Kurt and Courtney, Spinal Tap,Paris is Burning, Punks, Slam
, as well as "rockumentaries" and music features like Stop Making Sense
and Quadrophenia.

Blume added that extreme sports programs, including martial-arts shows, will also run. "There's room for a network that provides offbeat programming that MTV is not showing," Blume said.

Passport will focus on facets of international travel and entertainment. The network will also include a commerce element by presenting viewers with global vacation opportunities, including tour, hotel and air packages, which will be sold on-air in conjunction with a Web site.

Kidstuff, which won't launch until the summer of 2002, will skew toward children ages 5-12 with reality-based "edutainment" — programming that both entertains and educates young viewers on topics that interest them most, Blume said.

To help acquire and develop programming for the services, Blume has appointed documentary and movie producer Henri Kessler as Offline's senior vice president of programming.

"Henri's outstanding track record will help us to immediately create a strong brand by delivering the highest quality programming that will attract subscribers," said Blume.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.