Urban-Centric Pay Net Plans Debut

A new multi-niche digital premium service — with aspirations to morph into a digital service suite with hip, funky fare for urban cable customers — will go public at this week's National Show in New Orleans.

S Network, managed by New York-based Sovereign New Media Group Ltd., will launch a trial preview of its proposed service May 9, using Galaxy XI, transponder 13. The satellite feed will continue through the end of the month, as Sovereign officials hold carriage negotiations with MSOs.

A search for permanent transponder space is underway. S Network's premiere is planned for September or October.

Sovereign founder and chairman Newton Hinds III, who also serves as a general sales manager for AT&T's collection of digital media centers, will set up operator discussions and unveil the service at a press luncheon scheduled for May 7.

"I'm looking forward to getting some deals done," Hinds said. "Just because of where I am at AT&T, I can't pull out a wand and wave for some AT&T Broadband contracts. But things look promising. We've got a tremendous amount of advance interest in our pay model."

That model has a collection of independent programmers and entrepreneurs contributing material to S Network, and keeping internal overhead low.

The format is divided into seven categories, each with its own programmer. They target the interests of urban cable subscribers, particularly people of color.

The categories are Arts, Caribbeanet (music, lifestyle, and sports shows on Caribbean culture), Comedy, Glory (religious content), Music, Sports and Worldcast (international event coverage and movies in English).

Each genre will be featured one night per week, and float within the other dayparts. If particular genres work well, they could become separate digital pay or basic services, and another programmer will assume the open timeslots.

Operators will be encouraged to offer S Network for $6 per month. Hinds estimated the channel could break-even at the 5 million customer mark.

S Network's model recalls Intro Television, Tele-Communications Inc.'s early 1990s basic-channel venture, which blended material from a variety of proposed services into one outlet. TCI ultimately turned the service off, after it failed to land clearances with other operators.

Hinds has higher aspirations. With $5 million from seed-fund appeals, Sovereign and its executive board — including Inner-City Broadcasting founder Percy Sutton and New York Knicks basketball player Mark Jackson — are working to raise $40 million.

Several executive board members have pledged funds, and Hinds is approaching AOL Time Warner Inc.'s minority media-opportunity fund, as well as a similar fund from J.P. Morgan Chase.