MediaOne 3 Regional Network Mixes News and Gomer Pyle

Joining the trend toward broad-based regional networks, MediaOne Group Inc. has launched MediaOne 3, a channel that offers local entertainment, news, sports and information programming to more than 1 million subscribers in New England.

The service provides up to 40 hours of locally produced programming each week to the MSO's subscribers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. It also airs such classic off-network series as Hogan's Heroes, Perry Mason, I Love Lucy, The Fugitive, The Honeymooners, Gomer Pyle and The Streets of San Francisco.

With its syndicated programming, MediaOne 3's lineup is similar in some ways to that of an independent TV station.

"It's a general-interest, broad-based cable network that has a regional slant to it," said R.B. Lerch, vice president of original programming for MediaOne's Northeast region. "We want our subscribers to think of us as they think of their local broadcaster."

Turning to localism in order to compete with direct-broadcast satellite, a number of cable operators have created regional or local channels. Many of them have recently moved beyond local 24-hour news and regional sports networks toward broader services that also offer entertainment programming.

Cablevision Systems Corp. for example, has its regional Metro Channels in the New York DMA. Comcast Corp. offers regional network CN8: The Comcast Network to its 3.9 million subscribers in the mid-Atlantic region. In Atlanta, MediaOne has a local channel called TV 33.

Even national programmer Turner Broadcasting System Inc. has rolled out a regional entertainment network, Turner South.

MediaOne 3 airs on channel 3 in the majority of systems served by the MSO's Northeast region. It now reaches 1.2 million of the operator's subscribers, and will be available to 1.4 million by the end of the year.

In addition to running locally produced shows such as Chowdah, a look at what's hot in the region, MediaOne 3 also airs live game coverage of five New England-based minor-league and university teams, as well as Boston Red Sox games in the Springfield, Mass., area. In that DMA, MediaOne 3 is the exclusive outlet for Red Sox games produced by WFXT, Fox's Boston owned-and-operated TV station.

MediaOne 3's sports roster includes exclusive coverage of the American Hockey League's Lowell Lock Monsters and Springfield Falcons; the Lowell Spinners, the single-A baseball team of the Red Sox; Harvard University football; and University of New Hampshire women's hockey.

The regional channel also provides comprehensive coverage of high-school sports throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and airs nightly newscasts covering three towns that are underserved by broadcast news.

MediaOne 3's Metro News operations cover Lowell, the Fall River-New Bedford area and Cape Cod, Mass., offering daily coverage of local and regional events that are passed over by TV stations in Boston and Providence, R.I.

Each of those three areas gets its own newscast daily, as MediaOne is able to easily offer "hyperlocal programming" through fiber-optic technology, Lerch said. MediaOne 3 is delivered to homes via fiber.

MediaOne inherited its local-news operations from Colony Communications Inc., the MSO from which it acquired the three systems several years ago.

MediaOne 3's schedule also includes New England Political Review, a weekly show that examines political issues in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

MediaOne in Atlanta also produces its own local channel, TV 33, according to Lerch. But MediaOne 3 is different from TV 33 in that it airs the vintage syndicated shows, which are meant to draw viewers who enjoy them to the regional channel, he added.

"They go away with a better feeling about MediaOne," he said. Subscribers are also exposed to promos for the MSO's many product offerings, he added.

Having a regional channel "differentiates us from our competitors, and we generate incremental ad dollars," according to Lerch.

MediaOne 3, which has a "multimillion-dollar" budget, doesn't charge license fees. It is strictly advertising-driven, Lerch said. The network's business plan calls for it to hit the breakeven point in three years, he added.

MediaOne 3 is similar to CN8 in that both are "MSO-driven," Lerch said. But the two networks differ in that MediaOne is "blatantly" trying to reinforce its brand with its name, MediaOne 3, he added.

And CN8 has more of a public-affairs focus, with some sports and news, than Media-One 3, according to Lerch. "We're more of a general-interest mix," he said.

Turner South is unlike MediaOne 3 in that has the benefit of drawing programming from Turner's library. It also airs more professional sports games, such as Atlanta Braves baseball, Atlanta Thrashers hockey and Atlanta Hawks basketball, according to Lerch.

MediaOne 3 had a soft launch in March, but formally announced its debut late last month.