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UMG Eyes 'Uncensored' Space

First, it was just Fuse trying to horn in on MTV: Music Television's turf, with an aggressive ad campaign that tweaks the No. 1 music channel.

Now another player — a powerful record label — is exploring launching a music-video network, one that's edgier than either MTV or Fuse.

The world's largest record dynasty, Universal Music Group, has been doing preliminary research about creating a premium cable channel that would run uncensored music videos featuring its talent, including such artists 50 Cent and Jay-Z.

A Universal Music spokesman declined to comment last week. But DirecTV Inc. confirmed that it had recently been approached about the proposed premium service.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 2 that Universal was planning to launch a premium, uncensored music-video channel.

The music giant is working with a consultant — adult-entertainment veteran Bill Asher — to see if it's financially viable to roll out the channel, or if the potential market is too limited, according to a source.

Asher, the former president of Vivid Entertainment Group, parent of The Hot Network, now has his own company, called 1 AM, the source said.

Another premium cable network that will air uncensored rap videos, Hype TV, is slated to debut this year. Hype — an acronym for Hot Young People's Entertainment Television — is headed up by former Fox Family Channel executive Tracy Lawrence.

While it isn't set to launch until late 2004, the upstart hip-hop-themed Hype TV plans to distribute original programming and uncensored videos to Playboy Television subscribers and pay-per-view customers, beginning in May.

Lawrence said she doesn't consider the would-be service competition because Hype TV will be more attuned to the hip-hop community, as opposed to Universal's more general music-oriented channel. She added that Hype will also proffer other programming.

Hype founder Peter Griffith said Universal's effort "validates the fact that uncensored videos are something that people want to watch."

For their part, ad-supported programming services such as Viacom Inc.'s MTV and Black Entertainment Television, as well as Rainbow Media Holdings-owned Fuse, all monitor and screen the music videos they run.

"There have been times when we have send a video back because it pushed the content a bit," a BET spokesman said.

In contrast, Universal Music's offering would be a commercial-free, subscription premium service, so it would not have to worry about sponsors' potential negative reaction to graphic music videos.

"We're obviously mostly digital basic," Fuse president Marc Juris said. "We have a different responsibility to the viewer. With that in mind, we always are providing videos that are approved for general broadcast … We do require that they be within broadcast standards."

During its late-night show Uncut, BET does have more flexibility, airing music videos that "stretch the boundaries" and have "more of an edge," according to the BET spokesman.

Juris bid Universal Music well in its attempt to launch a network.

"The folks at Universal are our friends," he said. "We love them. We love their artists. We love working together, and another music channel with another voice is a great thing and we applaud it and wish them the best."

MTV claimed that it looked forward to having another player in their programming genre.

"We don't comment on rumors, but we welcome new players in the music-video category and we think the exposure is good for the music industry and good for everyone in it," an MTV spokeswoman said. "We'll still keep working hard to do great music programming responsibly and stay on the top of the pack. "

Juris even argued that his spunky Fuse made it possible for Universal Music to enter the music-channel fray.

"For years, no one would dare even think they could create a music channel that could go up against MTV," he said. "We proved by being passionate, creative and committed, and really listening to our audience, that there is a place for another music channel. So I feel in some way the team here helped pave the way for another music channel."

If the proposed network secures carriage on DirecTV, it would have access to more than 12 million subscribers.

R. Thomas Umstead contributed to this report.