Adelphia, Dish Deals Bolster Odyssey

Boosting its distribution, Odyssey Network has reached long-term carriage deals with Adelphia Communications Corp. and Echo-Star Communications Corp.

EchoStar now offers Odyssey via its Dish Network's new "America's Top 150" program package, according to officials. Also, DirecTV Inc. recently added the network to its "Family Pack" tier.

Carriage on those two direct-broadcast-satellite platforms provides Odyssey with an immediate infusion of 1 million subscribers.

"We have had some erosion," Odyssey president and CEO Margaret Loesch said last week. "But it's a very successful time now."

Odyssey lost between 2.5 million and 3 million PrimeStar subscribers when that service was acquired by and merged into DirecTV. The network was also dropped in some markets several years ago, after Hallmark Entertainment and The Jim Henson Co. bought stakes in it and evolved it from a religious to an entertainment service.

The latest carriage deals make Odyssey available to Dish Network's 4.3 million homes. And the Adelphia deal is reportedly not just a hunting license, but includes subscriber commitments.

Odyssey also has MSO affiliation agreements in place with AT & T Broadband and Time Warner Cable.

Now a wholly owned subsidiary of Crown Media Holdings Inc., Odyssey reaches almost 28 million subscribers at present. The network changed hands again this year, going to Crown Media, whose investors include Hallmark Entertainment, EM/TV & Merchandising A.G. [parent of Henson], Liberty Media Group, KirchMedia GmbH & Co. and the National Interfaith Cable Coalition.

Odyssey is on target to reach 30 million subscribers by the end of this year, 33 million by the end of 2001 and 49 million by the end of 2004.

Also last week, Odyssey said that Matt Frewer, who stars in the upcoming Odyssey telepic The Hound of the Baskervilles, will reprise his Sherlock Holmes role in three more original movies produced exclusively for the network by Hallmark. Kenneth Welsh plays Dr. Watson.

When Odyssey officials saw the dailies for The Hound of the Baskervilles, Loesch said, they were impressed with the chemistry between Frewer and Welsh and approached Hallmark about three more Holmes movies. Hallmark agreed.

"I asked Hallmark, 'Why do a one-shot?'" Loesch said. "I really think it could be a franchise for us."

The second film in the series, The Sign of the Four, starts production in Montreal Sept. 25. The Hound of the Baskervilles debuts Oct. 21.

The Sign of the Four is the fourth made-for-TV movie Odyssey has announced this year. It joins Hamlet, which will air in December; Voyage of the Unicorn, set to premiere next January; and The Hound of the Baskervilles.