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Rainbow's New Babies

The winds were blowing hard in lower Manhattan last Wednesday. Mere blocks north of the piers where the Staten Island ferries embark, folks headed to the Voom introductory press conference fought a stiff headwind crossing Broadway, past the famous Arturo DeModica bronze bull.

Once they got inside, what Chuck Dolan's crew at Rainbow cooked up them was beautiful: new, commercial-free HDTV programming.

An art-gallery channel — boy did that look cool on the big HD projection screen behind Rainbow's stage.

Brent Chapman, Voom's senior VP of developing sport businesses, calls the Rush channel — with stuff like cliff diving and sailing in high-def — the kind of thing that'll genuinely impress the friends of those expensive-TV buyers.

Dolan says the timing is perfect: HD sets are selling well, and there's not enough HD programming.

Still, Voom requires a $750 box and will charge $40 a month (or more, with extras) for a service whose core is 21 very pretty channels that nobody's familiar with, plus lots of standard-def cable channels. HDTV sets sold separately.

A fun theory is the HD programming will generate enough buzz that other satellite and cable operators will need to license it. Analyst Rich Greenfield — who's said he'd have preferred that the satellite blew up at launch — raised that possible motivation in a good note on Voom last week.

By the way, Greenfield liked a lot of what he saw of Voom, especially the interactive guide. He called it "awesome."

One smart cable executive, who's heard the story from Dolan and Rainbow people several times, still finds the Voom concept "crazy." As for licensing, the exec pointed out operators need to clear bandwidth for broadcasters' HD signals — so it won't be easy to adopt the new Rainbow babies.

Long after the speeches stopped, Dolan was still patiently explaining what Rainbow hath wrought to huddles of reporters in scheduled intervals.

"What's different about this is the concept of a network of channels — 21 channels," the soft-spoken cable legend said at one point. "And they're not 21 separate channels, in a sense. They all belong to that whole construct, the Voom concept.

"You'll see that more later," he went on. "We have the facility to put a crawl at the bottom of each one of these channels, with separate editorial control of it. There will be a host and hostess in common for the 21 channels, who will show up on the different channels."

Hmm, OK.

Dolan continued, getting to the heart of the matter:

"The idea of selling the subscriber a single service that at this point is comprised of 21 channels is different. Especially with all of these being original channels.

"We hope the future of it will be bright. We'll improve the quality of those channels, reacting to what we learn from the market. And in time we'll increase the number of those channels."

Maybe he's right, and Voom will be a must-buy and generate enough cash to make this work. Or maybe it's a lot of wind. But it's a real service and an innovative new pay TV competitor.

And that's no bull.

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.