Clear Channel, Simmons Eye VOD Music

Hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons will look to play in the video-on-demand arena with a new music service set to launch next fall.

Simmons’ company, Simmons Lathan Media Group, in association with live-event-promotion company Clear Channel Entertainment, will launch the “Def On Demand Live!” service on multiple platforms over the next two years, according to representatives from both companies.

Hoping to follow the success of its Home Box Office-distributed Def Comedy Jam and Def Poetry Jam shows, Simmons Lathan will distribute 12 music- and fashion-related events per year through Def On Demand Live!, Def On Demand CEO Will Griffin said.

While the company has yet to ink any specific musical act, Griffin said it is negotiating with several top hip-hop performers and record labels in the business.

“We believe that in the urban and hip-hop culture, there’s really an overlooked opportunity to have [artists’] live performances recorded on tape for television.” he said. “Much like we did with Def Poetry Jam and Def Comedy Jam, where we created a stage and a forum for the most important comedians and poets in our culture, we thought that we should create a forum for live performance for the top [music] performers in our culture.”

The events will be offered to cable operators via VOD, as well as packaged for syndication-television sale and potential DVD distribution, said Joe Townley, president of Clear Channel Entertainment TV, the on-air distribution arm of Clear Channel. While the syndicated product would be edited for television, Townley said, the VOD product would be uncensored.

While other Def-branded television shows have been sold to established networks like HBO, Griffin said Simmons Lathan will test the market with its new concert series.

“With Clear Channel TV, we’re in a better position to create a distribution opportunity for ourselves that ultimately should be more lucrative,” Griffin said. “HBO is a great partner for those other things, but with syndicated television and VOD, we have the capacity to have more control over the distribution business.”

The companies are talking with In Demand about VOD and pay-per-view distribution of the concerts, which would be shot in high-definition. Griffin added that the company is considering offering the events on a per-buy basis or as a subscription package.

The network will also pitch the concert series next month at the National Association of Television Programming Executives’ conference.

Griffin said the music series would complement Simmons Lathan’s Def On Demand VOD network, which is also set to launch next fall. That service will feature content from the company’s library of cable programs, such as Def Comedy Jam, and its direct-to-home-video titles.

For Clear Channel TV, the deal is the first in what it hopes will be several other VOD-content-distribution opportunities, although Townley would not provide specific details.

“We want to create a brand in which we take the hip-hop music culture and present it in a way that hasn’t been presented before,” Townley said. “We would bring together a unique blend of musicians and artists over a period of 12 shows to create some special programming.”

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.