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Ops May Browse Rainbow VOD Mag Rack

Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. — in an effort to reach homes outside parent Cablevision Systems Corp.'s enhanced digital universe — will pitch its new Mag Rack video on-demand, special-interest programming service to MSOs.

The unique VOD service launched Sept. 28 to a small number of Cablevision subscribers as part of the MSO's new digital "iO: Interactive Optimum" offering. It packages several ultra-niche channels that come complete with videocassette recorder functions such as pause, stop and rewind.

The channels — formatted like a magazine rack — are geared toward very unique hobbies, lifestyles and special interests.

The first 10 video magazines include programming targeted toward Catholics (American Catholic), weddings (Bridal), vegetarian cooking (Club Vegetarian) and motorcycles (Motorcycles Freedom).

Classic Cars, BirdSight, Maximum Science, Natural Health,Photography Close Up
and Wine World
round out the current Mag Rack offerings.

The video magazines range from 10 minutes to an hour in length and are presently being updated once per month. Several could be refreshed more frequently if necessary, Rainbow said.

While the services are presently only offered to Cablevision subscribers, Rainbow president and CEO Josh Sapan said the company is pitching the Mag Rack to other MSOs. While Rainbow would prefer to offer the entire package as part of an MSO's digital-cable lineup, Sapan said he would be open to allowing operators to offer portions of the package on an à la carte basis.

Sapan would not reveal specific rate card terms for either scenario. He also wouldn't disclose how much Rainbow is spending to produce the video magazines.

"We think this offering works best as part of a digital platform that will add a lot of value to digital subscriptions," Sapan said.

But at least one small MSO executive believes the services could generate more incremental revenue on an à la carte or subscription basis.

"With such narrowly niched services, it might work better as a subscription service on top of the digital basic package," said the operator.

Mag Rack executive vice president and general manager Matt Strauss said the service is expected to expand to 20 video magazines by the end of the year, and to as many as 40 to 50 by the close of 2002.

Rainbow is currently looking for editors to oversee the content of each "magazine" to ensure they adequately serve the viewers' specific interests.

The magazines target narrow niches, but ones that enthusiasts follow passionately. For example, Sapan said that though there are 18 million bird enthusiasts in the U.S., there hasn't been any dedicated programming aimed at that group.

"We use three criteria: How many people are interested in it, how much money [do] they spend on their hobby and how passionate are they about it?" Strauss said.

Mag Rack could provide advertising opportunities to retailers that target a specific niche, he noted. One of the main attractions of targeted print magazines are the ads created for enthusiasts, he said.

"We could see advertising sometime down the line, but only as an added-value to the subscriber, not the network," he said.