VTV Targets Gap Between Nick, MTV

Another new cable network has big plans trying to convince teens they want their VTV. That's VTV, short for Varsity Television. The startup is angling to fill what its execs see as the programming gap between Nickelodeon and MTV for 13- to 18-year-olds on cable.

But those channels have big-name shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and The Real World to lure elusive teen viewers. Not so VTV. It will use cheaper foreign acquisitions and free content submitted by schoolkids to fill much of its schedule.

VTV is "akin to a teen broadcast network, rather than a narrowcast all-music, all-weather all-sports network," explains President Joe Shults, who toiled for both MTV and E! Entertainment Television in their early days.

Shults and his team have been building a library for three years. The net's drama lineup includes Canadian series on Native American teens The Rez
and BBC miniseries Sex, Chips and Rock 'n' Roll.

So far, VTV is available only on Comcast Corp.'s Headend in the Sky (HITS) satellite service, and Shults estimates that about 1 million to 2 million subscribers can see it.

VTV did sign a letter of intent for distribution last week with the National Cable Television Cooperative, which represents smaller cable systems, with a total of about 12 million subscribers. VTV expects to roll out on NCTC systems in coming months.

Shults says VTV requires little startup money, although he won't why that's so. VTV "has enough to last us until profitability," which, he says, should come in the network's third year.

The Austin, Texas-based VTV is bankrolled by investors from the oil and gas industry, not media dollars, Shults adds.

The network will be ad-supported but doesn't have any advertisers yet. VTV is courting youthful advertisers in the fast-food, soft drink and videogame businesses. For now, though, Shults says, the net's main focus is a "full court press for distribution."