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Veteran Execs to Launch Diginet Incubator

A group of cable heavy hitters have formed a new company that plans to pitch a suite of independent digital-cable channels to operators later this year.

The company, TVifusion Inc., was formed by Jeffrey Reiss, the founder of Showtime, former pay-per-view programmer Request Television and Cable Health Network, which later merged with Lifetime Television.

In its quest to seek out the next John Hendricks, Bob Johnson or Brian Lamb, Reiss said the company plans to help independent digital-cable networks reach the big leagues by handling affiliate sales, ad sales and satellite-transponder costs.

TVifusion will charge service fees and take equity stakes in the networks. The services will serve several niches, including ethnic and cultural channels, sports, music, "infotainment" and "hybrid local" channels, he said.

"We're going to be bringing the vision and creativity of entrepreneurs whose ideas deserve to reach their target audience," Reiss said. "Without TVifusion, they won't be able to reach the cable industry."

The company will launch two diginets by the end of the year and eventually expand to at least 12 channels, Reiss said.

CEO Reiss has assembled a who's who of cable players to get the company off the ground, including president Brian McGuirk, the former vice president of affiliate relations at NBC.

McGuirk, brother of former Turner Broadcasting System Inc. CEO Terry McGuirk, held earlier posts as vice president of NBC Asia and managing director of Turner International Asia Pacific.

Former PrimeStar Inc. vice president of programming Abby Aronsohn is TVifusion's senior vice president of business development; former Encore Media Group LLC and Showtime Networks Inc. programmer Timothy Ryerson is vice president of programming.

Ex-Piper Jaffray managing director Fern Portnoy is the senior vice president of network relations.

Consultants include Sandy McGovern, the former president of National Geographic Channels Worldwide, who hooked McGuirk up with Reiss. Jerry Maglio, a former top executive at United Artists Cable and other cable companies, is also a consultant.

"It's a platform that can attract talent from a major," said McGuirk, who is still searching for a cable veteran to run the company's affiliate sales department, a key position.

The company, backed by Warburg Pincus, has raised $10 million to build its infrastructure, Reiss said. Warburg Pincus owns about half of the company, while management and individual investors own the other half.

Though TVifusion will field ideas pitched by independent programmers, the company has a couple of its own ideas, Reiss said. Those include a Jewish network and a "personal-empowerment network," Reiss said. Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. executives also have said they plan to eventually launch a faith-based network, American Catholic TV.

At present, most digital-cable programming comes from big media companies such as Viacom Inc., The Walt Disney Co. and Discovery Communications Inc.

Reiss and McGuirk said they believe that there is demand among cable operators for programming that's even more diversified. The company hopes to sell the channels in a package, but it also would be open to selling them individually, McGuirk said.