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Universal, EchoStar Facing the Music

Universal Music Group is in talks with EchoStar Communications Corp. about launching a cable network.

Officials at Universal Music, part of Vivendi Universal, and EchoStar declined comment, but sources said that if all goes as planned, the music-video network -- developed by MTV: Music Television and Infinity Broadcasting Corp. veteran Andy Schuon -- would debut by the second quarter of 2005.

The network will feature Universal talent such as U2, Shania Twain, Gwen Stefani and Eminem.

Universal had talked with DirecTV Inc. about a similar music-video channel, but those discussions quickly broke down, according to sources. A DirecTV spokesman confirmed that talks were held with Universal about the channel.

A variety of programmers and music companies have threatened to launch music-video cable networks to compete with Viacom Inc.’s gallery of music-oriented networks -- MTV, MTV2, VH1, Black Entertainment Television and Country Music Television.

Fuse, owned by Cablevision Systems Corp., has made a lot of noise and mounted a vigorous marketing campaign to challenge MTV. But taking on that dominant player is no easy task.

Like Fuse, Universal Music figures it could exploit MTV’s decision to downplay music videos in favor of long-form programming. Universal also wants a showcase for its international artists who don’t have a high profile in the United States, sources said.

Original programming -- such as backstage footage, concert footage and in-studio interviews -- would augment videos on the network, which, sources said, is “going to be very performance-based.”

For more on the potential Universal-EchoStar network, please see Linda Moss’ and R. Thomas Umstead’s story on page two of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.