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Music Channel Ready To Rock

Record company Universal Music is in talks with EchoStar Communications Corp. to create a challenger to MTV called International Music Feed (IMF).

The new network could emerge from attempts to resolve a fight between the two companies.

Industry executives say Universal is hoping to finalize a deal in time to make a big push at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual convention in April.

Court documents show that the companies have stopped preparing for a trial in favor of settling the suit that Universal filed in January 2005. On the eve of IMF’s scheduled launch that month, EchoStar refused to add it to the lineup of its Dish Network DBS service.

Universal secured an injunction last April, forcing EchoStar to add the network while they continued to fight it out in court. IMF has secured no additional distribution. Universal and EchoStar would not comment.

The channel is led by Andy Schuon, the onetime head of music programming for MTV. He got squeezed out in 1997, and has bounced between radio and record-company ventures, including defunct iTunes-wannabe Pressplay.

Record executives have long dreamed of owning a music-video channel on which they’d showcase their artists and address music fans’ hunger for the videos that MTV has moved away from. Previous efforts have been snagged by antitrust issues and the fear that labels would put the best videos on their own channels ahead of rival networks.

IMF will feature an array of international artists, including Latin and Indian, and a hefty dose of American artists on various Universal labels, such as Black Eyed Peas.

The dispute centers on a failed $1.5 billion investment in EchoStar by Universal parent company Vivendi Universal in 2001, which gave Vivendi five channel slots on Dish Network. Vivendi’s go-go days quickly ended and the company sold its stake back to EchoStar at a $500 million loss.