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Rainbow, Fox Target Nets To Teens

Teens and young adults will have some fuel to light their fuse for music and action sports as Fox Cable Networks Group and Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. last week disclosed plans for networks targeting 12- to 34-year-olds.

Fox Cable will bow Fuel, its new action-sports network, on July 1. The service, which targets males 12-to-24, will feature competitive and noncompetitive action from skateboarding, surfing, motocross, snowboarding and wakeboarding.

"Action sports have really become one of the most significant influences in youth culture today," Fuel vice president of programming and marketing C.J. Olivares said. "We're excited about taking a market-leadership position in trying to communicate the power, passion and depth of these sports, and the role that they play in youth culture."

The digital-cable network is expected to launch to 2 million subscribers through deals with DirecTV Inc., Time Warner Cable and Cable One Inc. Fuel president David Sternberg would not reveal the network's rate card, but said it would not be linked to any retransmission deals for Fox-owned TV stations.

The network will deliberately avoid any direct association with Fox, hoping instead to establish an identity separate from the powerful Fox Sports brand, Sternberg added.

To keep the action continuous, Fuel will lean heavily on content product sponsorships and less on traditional advertising.

"We will have ad breaks, but we're looking to change that model and reduce the number of breaks," said Olivares. "We're having dialogue with agencies to maybe develop two-minute pieces, as opposed to the traditional 30-second piece."

Approximately 60 percent of the network's programming will consist of licensed content, which could potentially include acquired programming from Fox Sports Net (which features a weekday afternoon block of action-sports programming), Fox Sports World and NBC's Gravity Games.

Two-thirds of licensed product would come from international outlets, and action videos sold at retail throughout the U.S., Olivares added.

With regard to original programming, the network is in negotiations with the Association of Surfing Professionals to gain access to its world tour events.

The diginet will also feature several music elements, highlighting emerging artists and musicians from both the action-sports industry and independent record labels.

Alternative music is also the focus of Fuse, the new name for Rainbow's Muchmusic USA music-video service as of May 19. Positioned as a competitor to Viacom Inc.'s dominant MTV Networks stable, the new moniker is reflective of a multiplatform approach to TV, online and interactive game play, according to president Marc Juris.

The move marks the end of Rainbow's association with Canada-based company CHUM Ltd., which teamed with Rainbow in 1994 to help launch its Muchmusic network in the U.S.

In March 2000, CHUM sold its 50 percent interest in the channel to Rainbow, but allowed the U.S. programmer continued use of the Muchmusic trademark, as well as access to its programming library. CHUM executives last week expressed no interest in launching a competing network in the U.S.

Along with the rebranding effort, Cablevision Systems Corp.-owned Rainbow last Tuesday officially unveiled a street-level studio in Manhattan, across from another parent-company holding, Madison Square Garden. It also announced the launch of Fuse On-Demand, a new video-on-demand service that will offer full-length music videos from a variety of genres, as well as original programming.

The company will work with operators to determine pricing and to figure out how systems will offer the VOD service, said Rainbow president and CEO Josh Sapan.

Rainbow said it will spend "millions" of dollars on the Fuse rebranding effort to reach disenfranchised MTV viewers, who want greater input into which music videos air.

"We're trying to raise the value of the channel and show that there is another music channel that reflects the audience's tastes and sensibility, and put a different value context to broadband and cable modems," Juris said.

Looking to keep its identity fresh and relevant to its target audience of 12-to-34-year-olds, the network — presently in 31 million households — will use several Fuse logos and taglines "to give consumers a reason to return to see what's new," Juris said. The network will not use the rebranding effort as an opportunity to raise licensing fees, added Sapan.

Among the new shows slated to air on the channel are 4 Play, a hybrid music/sports series offers four simultaneous screens of extreme sports action and music videos; Ill-Legal TV, which pirates programming from Internet sites; Uranium Classics, featuring music from legendary hard rock bands; Kung Faux, which fuses B-title martial arts films and hip-hop music; and Marcha!, an English-language music series devoted to Latin alternative music.