Cablevision Fields 'MSG Varsity' Squad

Cablevision Systems will launch MSG Varsity -- billed as the New York area's "ultimate destination for high school sports and activities" -- to its cable TV and broadband customers on Sept. 24.

The operator's plans to launch MSG Varsity and hire key staff members were reported last month by Multichannel News.

The linear MSG Varsity channel will be available only on Cablevision's cable TV service, at channel 14. Currently, the Cablevision channel guide is at that position and will move to channel 99.

The 24-hour network will cover not only high school sports to but also other activities, including debate, band, drama, dance and student government. MSG Varsity will be available in four unique geographic programming feeds, serving Long Island, Brooklyn/Bronx, Connecticut/Westchester/Hudson Valley, and New Jersey. For now, Cablevision has no plans to sell advertising on MSG Varsity.

Cablevision did not name which high schools will be participating in MSG Varsity. To date, according to the company, more than 30 schools across the operator's three-state service area have signed on and MSG Varsity soon expects to have close to 100 signed up.

In addition to its professionally produced content, MSG Varsity will work with high schools to allow students and faculty to create their own TV and Web-video segments. Cablevision said it will provide training in multimedia creation and distribution to its partner high schools.

Cablevision also will launch, a Web site the company said "brings together essentially all of MSG Varsity's professional and school-generated content." The site will have four subsections for each geographic region, as well as dedicated areas for partner schools.

The final leg of the multiplatform rollout is MSG Varsity Interactive, an interactive TV offering that will take the professional and school-generated content from the Internet and make it available for viewing on Cablevision's digital cable service on channel 614.

"MSG Varsity marks the first launch ever of a comprehensive suite of services dedicated entirely to high school activities," Tad Smith, president of Cablevision's Local Media unit, said in a statement. Smith was previously CEO of Reed Business Information, which owns Multichannel News, before joining the cable company last month.

Specific programming on MSG Varsity will include: High School Sports Showcase, with coverage of more than 400 live-to-tape games and events each year; daily studio shows such as the High School SportsDesk highlights show; specials such as The Marching Bands, which features halftime band performances; and The Challenge, an academic quiz show for area students.

Cablevision is funneling some of its existing programming resources into MSG Varsity. Cablevision Sportscene, which has aired high school sporting events throughout the New York area, will become part of High School Sports Showcase, and News 12 Networks' high school sports and news coverage will be incorporated into MSG Varsity.

Meanwhile, MSG Networks -- ostensibly the new property's older sibling -- have covered high school sports for more than two decades, led by sports reporter Mike Quick. A new weekly call-in talk show on MSG Varsity, A Quick :60, will be hosted by Quick and will include in-studio guests and interviews with coaches and players. The show also will present a "student spotlight" segment, during which a student will appear on the show to present his or her own video feature.

MSG Varsity's general manager is Theresa Chillianis, who has been with Cablevision for almost 10 years. She most recently served as Fuse's senior vice president of strategy and business operations and prior to that oversaw product management for Cablevision's iO TV digital cable service. Before joining Cablevision she worked at Clairol in brand and product management.

"We are looking forward to working hand-in-hand with our partner schools to develop content that resonates with their own communities, and that will make MSG Varsity unlike any other service available today," Chillianis said in a statement.