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Fox To Launch Action Sports Network

Taking direct aim at younger viewers, Fox Entertainment Group plans to launch a digital network tailored to the action sports genre.

Expected to launch in summer 2003, the service — officially announced last week at the Western Show in Anaheim — will target teens and young adults involved in the burgeoning action sports field.

An outgrowth of Fox Sports Net action sports programming like Bluetorch
and Rush Hour, the digital network already has distribution agreements with Time Warner Inc. and DirecTV Inc. and is expected to launch in front of about 2 million digital subscribers, according to Fox Networks Group President and CEO Anthony J. Vinciquerra. Negotiations with other MSOs will begin shortly.

While Fox is the first company to offer a dedicated 24-hour genre service, it isn't the first to target operators with dedicated action-sports programming. ESPN is planning a 2003 launch for EXPN Action Sports On Demand, a broadband and subscription video-on-demand service targeting the genre.

Vinciquerra would not reveal start-up costs for the Fox network, but said that similar services have required around $40 million to $60 million in capital. He also wouldn't reveal the network's rate card, saying only it was "commensurate and competitive with what other digital services are getting." He added the network is not paying launch fees to operators.

Padding the roster

"The MSOs that have digital sports tiers have been looking for a product that sells digital set-top boxes, and they've been very responsive to this," Vinciquerra said. "Now is the perfect time to apply Fox's core action sports and youth culture programming and production competencies toward what is already America's first digital television generation."

Fox Sports Net next month will bolster its action sports roster with the launch of 54321, a daily extreme sports show tracking the competitions, lifestyle, music and culture of skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding and freestyle Moto-X.

"We don't as much view this a launch but an extension of our Fox Sports Net programming," Vincequerra said. "The reaction from the viewers and the advertising community has been phenomenal and we feel this is a natural extension of what we've been doing."

Following a deal earlier this year with London-based content company Extreme Group, Vincequerra said Fox has more than 1,000 hours of action sports programming in its library.

Still, ESPN has arguably the most high-profile events in the field with its Summer and Winter X Games franchises. Regarding Fox's venture, an ESPN spokeswoman said that the network would continue to monitor the action sports arena to determine future opportunities.

Vincequerra admits that Fox would "love" to have content from both the X Games and NBC's Gravity Games franchise, but added that there are many more extreme sports events that aren't seen anywhere.

"We think having a 24/7 cable network we'll be able to base what we do on everything else that's going on," he said.

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.