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E! Veteran Namer Backs Reality Net

Blake Mycoskie and his sister finished second on CBS's 'round-the-globe Amazing Race
last spring because they couldn't hail a cab to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

Now he's running around again, trying to put the reality genre on cable 24/7.

Along with E! Entertainment Television co-founder Larry Namer, Mycoskie — who launched successful outdoor advertising businesses in Nashville, Tenn., and Dallas — is looking to launch Reality Central next January.

The service, which seeks digital carriage, hopes to capitalize on the programming trend that has shaken broadcast's drama-and-sitcom foundation in recent years. It would amalgamate news and information shows, genre imports and enhanced encore editions of programs that have already played in the U.S.

The targets: adults 18 to 34, millions of whom have flocked to shows like Joe Millionaire, Survivor
and Fear Factor.

"The water cooler talk today is about what happened on Joe Millionaire, or is Trista going to marry Ryan [ABC's The Bachelorette]. The winners on these shows have become celebrities themselves," said Namer, who serves as CEO. "This is not MTV's The Suite or Discovery 9. This is differentiated programs."

Added Mycoskie: "Many young people have grown up on [MTV's] The Real World. For them, this is what TV has been about. Reality Central is a way for advertisers to reach an elusive group."

Starting today, Namer, Mycoskie and other TV veterans like former Spelling Entertainment Group executive Karen Miller (Reality's senior vice president of programming and marketing) and former Fox Cable Group general manager Andrew Thau (head of business development) will be trying to reach cable and satellite providers with a pitch promising two years of free carriage, plus up to a 10% cut of advertising dollars for charter affiliates.

Backed by first-round seed money totaling $25 million, including investments by reality show winners, Reality Central has a conservative business model that calls for it to launch in 3 million homes.

To further entice distributors, Mycoskie said Reality Central will develop daily gossip and news content for broadband and video-on-demand applications.

The marketing pump will include mall tours this fall, featuring many of the 30 reality programming stars that have signed promotional contracts with the network, including Survivor
winners Richard Hatch and Tina Wesson. The executives expect to have 100 reality veterans in the fold by launch.

Namer said negotiations to acquire rights to shows that have aired in the U.S. are underway and he is confident they can be procured for reasonable fees: To date, reality shows have not enjoyed second lives in syndication.

"There's a lot of programming just sitting on shelves," he said.

Jean Pool, executive vice president, director of operations for ad agency Universal McCann, said the channel could have appeal on Madison Avenue as clients try to reach young adults.

"We certainly don't have enough of them and some of these shows have developed loyal followings," Pool said. "I'm not saying the reality craze is going to last forever, but the channel has a chance to morph as the genre does."