Martial-Arts Diginet Eyes 2003 Start

A new digital service offering an extensive library of martial arts and combat events will launch during the first quarter of 2003, network executives said last week.

Blackbelt TV will offer nearly 15,000 hours of popular martial arts films, including Enter the Dragon, Once Upon a Time in China, The Karate Kid, Drunken Master, Double Impact
and Out for Justice. The independently owned network will also offer actual martial-arts competitions from all over the world including World Championship Kickboxing, Mixed Martial Arts and boxing, as well as animation, health, fitness and self-defense programming.

"We really believe that this programming, the largest martial arts library in the world, will provide operators with the ability to reduce churn, to drive digital customers and ultimately drive revenue," said Blackbelt TV president Joshua Wexler, who co-produced the martial arts film Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

The service will be free to operators for several years before seeking an unspecified fee.

"This is exclusive, unique, compelling content that is a magnet for a desirable demographic," said chief operating officer Wesley Hein, a former radio and record executive. "Because of that, we think we're bringing something very unique to cable operators compared to most other digital cable channels."

Wexler said the network has "verbal" agreements with six of the top 10 MSOs, but has yet to sign a formal distribution deal. The network hopes to be in 4 million homes by its launch date.

Wexler also said the network will produce and distribute martial arts PPV programming, from which operators will be able to collect revenues.

While the target audience is men aged 18 to 34, the network expects to attract a wide spectrum of martial-arts enthusiasts, from practitioners to fans of karate flicks to aficionados of live combat sports, such as boxing and kickboxing.

Blackbelt TV's executive lineup also includes chairman Larry Kasanoff, co-founder of movie production company Lightstorm Entertainment; and chief financial officer Dwight Crawford, who previously held that position at Black Entertainment Television.

R. Thomas Umstead

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.