MSG Varsity Suits Up

Cablevision Systems has called a multiplatform play for MSG Varsity — touted as the New York area's “ultimate destination for high-school sports and activities” — with a Sept. 24 launch of four linear channels and a companion Web site for its 3.1 million cable TV and broadband customers.

For now, Cablevision has no plans to sell advertising on MSG Varsity. Instead, the MSO's strategy is to offer hyper-local programming that is unavailable via satellite and telco TV services. MSG Varsity's kickoff comes just a few months after Verizon Communications premiered FiOS 1 local news channels in Long Island and New Jersey.

Cablevision's plans to launch MSG Varsity and hire key staff members were reported last month by Multichannel News.

The linear MSG Varsity channels will be available only on Cablevision's cable-TV service, at channel 14. Currently, the Cablevision channel guide is at that position and will move to channel 99.

The 24-hour network will cover not only high-school sports, but also other activities, including debate, band, drama, dance and student government. MSG Varsity will be available in four unique geographic programming feeds, serving Long Island, Brooklyn/Bronx, Connecticut/Westchester/Hudson Valley and New Jersey.

Cablevision did not name which high schools will participate in MSG Varsity. To date, according to the company, more than 30 schools across the operator's three-state service area have signed on and MSG Varsity soon expects to have close to 100 signed up.

In addition to its professionally produced content, MSG Varsity will work with high schools to allow students and faculty to create their own TV and Web-video segments. Cablevision also will launch, a Web site the company said “brings together essentially all of MSG Varsity's professional and school-generated content.” The site will have four subsections for each geographic region, as well as dedicated areas for partner schools.

The final leg of the multiplatform rollout is MSG Varsity Interactive, an interactive-TV offering that will take the professional and school-generated content from the Internet and make it available on Cablevision's digital cable service on channel 614.

Cablevision is funneling some of its existing programming resources into MSG Varsity. Cablevision Sportscene, which has aired high-school sporting events throughout the New York area, will become part of the new channels' High School Sports Showcase, and News 12 Networks' high school sports and news coverage will be incorporated into MSG Varsity.

MSG Varsity's general manager is Theresa Chillianis, who has been with Cablevision for almost 10 years. She most recently served as Fuse's senior vice president of strategy and business operations; prior to that, she oversaw product management for Cablevision's iO TV digital cable service. Before joining Cablevision, she worked at Clairol in brand and product management.