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Reality Central Seeks To Become a Reality

Reality-show contestants who try to exploit their exposure usually shoot for acting or modeling gigs. But one former contestant is looking to leverage his experience into a reality-show cable network.

Reality Central is planned as a digital cable channel focusing entirely on the reality TV genre. That means mixing reruns of off-network reality series, episodes of foreign series that have never aired in the U.S., and E! Entertainment-like news and features about reality shows and their contestants.

Big plans

The chairman of the network is Blake Mycoskie, who finished third with his sister, Paige, on the second round of CBS's The Amazing Race.

Mycoskie had already started a small billboard company but now has raised money to start a channel.

Coming in third on the second season of The Amazing Race is pretty much the extent of Mycoskie's TV background. But he has teamed with Larry Namer, who in 1988 helped launch Movietime, the network that was later reworked into E!. Namer has more recently been a consultant and has been involved in other cable and Internet ventures, such as Recovery Network and faltered interactive-TV ventures Steeplechase Media and

A hot genre

"Reality TV is one of the hottest television genres to come around," according to Mycoskie. Young viewers, he observed, are particularly addicted to the shows, and many are dedicated to three or more of them.

Mycoskie and Namer say they've raised about $20 million from private investors but would not name them. Namer estimates that's enough money to carry Reality Central through a planned launch by March 2004 plus 12 months of operation. He believes the venture will ultimately need $50 million, low for a successful cable network. Namer said he has had only the most preliminary conversations with cable operators about distribution.

Namer's goals are relatively modest. He figures Reality Central can succeed with 20 million subscribers at the end of four years and a Nielsen household rating of a 0.3.

A significant obstacle is the short shelf life of reality shows. Those made for broadcast TV spike up with heavy promotion but don't seem to hold up in reruns after everyone knows who got thrown off the island or married the bimbo.

But a small cable channel can thrive on them, Namer said. "It's one thing if you need another big rating, but you're talking about a cable network that only needs a 0.3 or 0.4."