New Nets Eye Outlets for Men, Gays

A group of ex-Showtime executives are developing a digital channel aimed at men, officials said last week.

The group is now trying to find private investment partners to finance the launch of Maverick Entertainment Network, which has set a tentative debut date of early 2004.

"We've already done our initial stage of financing," said Steve Severn, part of the group trying to launch MEN. "Now we need the right strategic partner."

Like Severn, Steve Smith, Rob Stevens and Doug Jost — the other partners behind MEN — are all former vice presidents, general managers or directors of Showtime affiliate sales regions with more than 40 years of combined experience.

"We have a very successful track record at distribution," Severn said. "We know how hard it is to start a network."

Showtime's 'Outlet'

Meanwhile, Severn's former colleagues at Showtime and MTV Networks plan to launch a gay and lesbian premium digital network, named Outlet, next spring, according to a purported internal memo posted on the Internet last week

A Showtime spokeswoman said it was "too premature" to talk about the gay network. She wouldn't comment on the authenticity of the memo.

The programming plan for MEN calls for a network that would offer information on a daily basis on a variety of topics of interest to males — such as entertainment, finance and sports — in an "edgy, humorous" fashion. Severn said that as a viewer today, he has to go to networks ranging from ESPN to MSNBC to get that information.

"As a man, there are probably five or six networks I'll fly through to try to find what I'm looking for," Severn said. "There is the opportunity for putting something together in one place. We will talk to men the way men talk to each other."

In trying to launch the channel, Severn said his group is trying to do for men 18 to 54 what has already been done for women: create a channel dedicated solely to the masculine half of the population.

"Lifetime's done it in a wonderful fashion [for women], and Oxygen has struggled to do it, and you even have [WE:] Women's Entertainment," Severn said. "But for men, programming is very fractionalized."

Several programmers have considered creating a cable channel for men, similar to the men's lifestyle magazines, whose readership has grown 8.3 percent in the past year, according to Mediamark Research. Sources said Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. has studied launching a men's channel modeled on Details
magazine, though Vulcan denies it. And at one point, Universal Television Group was talking to Maxim
about creating a network based on that sassy, irreverent publication. But Universal has decided not to go forward as a partner in the Maxim

"We looked at the possibility of a Maxim
partnership for a network but at the end of the day, it just didn't work out," said Steve Webster, senior vice president of communications for Universal Television.

'MEN' is no Maxim

Severn doesn't see MEN being as outrageous as a network based on Maxim
might have been.

is very over the top," Severn said. "People read it just for a grin. People don't take it seriously."

He said that the landscape for launching a network is brutal now, so many groups are not doing it. That means, "it's a great time to strike" and roll out MEN.

Severn added that his group has "a unique distribution plan" for MEN, but he declined to discuss it. He also would not say exactly how much money MEN was trying to raise, but said it was less than the $100 million several other startups have secured to debut.