New Diginet Searches for America

Looking to hit home with tales of the everyman and woman, former EchoStar Communications Corp. and Cable News Network executive Doron Gorshein is preparing to launch The America Channel in the second quarter of 2004.

The diginet would focus on regular people doing extraordinary things with their lives, said Gorshein, who has held initial discussions with MSOs, satellite providers and ad agencies.

"This is not about celebrities and politicians, but real people and their realities. We think the programming will be edgy, envelope-pushing and dynamic," he said. "The stories will be thought-provoking."

Gorshein said initial funding has come from individual investors, as well as investment banks. "We have enough seed money for the foreseeable future," he said.

The network has retained Waller Capital Corp. as a strategic and financial adviser. "Based on conservative numbers," Gorshein said, "we need to raise $65 million."

Rick Newberger, managing director of Vanguard Media, which has been involved with the launches of The Golf Channel, Sci Fi and Tech TV, said The America Channel's business plan calls for it to break even with 25 million subscribers, a base it expects to reach after its third year. Ultimately, the service hopes to reach some 50 million homes.

Production costs will be relatively inexpensive at "just 60% of traditional nonfiction programming," according to Gorshein.

Newberger said the 24-hour service will bow with an 8-hour programming wheel, repeating three times.

In terms of distribution costs, Gorshein would say only that there will be a "low net effective rate with an initial rate abatement." Proposal calls for no sharing of advertising revenues, although distributors will have local avails.

Gorshein said two "light bulb" moments triggered The America Channel. The first came when he was licensing the CNN news service around the world.

"The stories and images were shaped by politics, economics and the media," he said. "There was nothing that really focused on Americans from a humanistic side."

The second went off during post Sept. 11 channel surfing.

"There was a real lack of programming that spoke to me," he said. "There was a void in terms of programming that showed how Americans really live, work and play."

Research from Smith Geiger LLC evidently bears out similar sensibilities. In a study of 600 cable and satellite subscribers aged 18 to 64, SmithGeiger found that 47% of respondents indicated "it is difficult to find something on television that really speaks to me" and that 63% would like to know more about the everyday lives of Americans around the country.

Newberger said the channel concepts have broad appeal, but resonated particularly well with 18-to-34-year-olds. "They have a need for connection and can strongly identify with juggling their careers and family responsibilities," he said, adding the precepts also appealed to women 35 to 49.

Among the shows The America Channel has in various stages of production: Road Trip, in which a man and woman set off the country to uncover unique communities and people; Occupational Hazard, a look at unusual jobs, like a tour guide on the Colorado River; Campus Report, in which cameras document the doings of college life; American Stories, a look at ordinary folk who've made a splash, like a single mother becoming a big city mayor, or immigrants that have become millionaires; and Faces of America, a series of in-depth profiles of diverse social, ethnic and religious groups.