Z Music Gives Way to Video Rola

Those Christian rock videos featuring bands like Stryper weren't cutting it, but Gaylord Entertainment Co. is banking that VJs spinning mariachi videos and other Mexican music will be a big draw in the U.S. cable market.

The company's Gaylord Cable Networks division plans to launch a 24-hour Mexican video channel called Video Rola-Music for Your Eyes July 1, through a joint venture with Mexican cable operator Mega-cable, which currently distributes the channel in Mexico.

Gaylord recently began telling cable operators it would like to switch out subscribers to its Christian rock-video channel, Z Music Television, for Video Rola, Gaylord Cable Networks president Cindy Wilson said.

The launch marks the biggest push in the U.S. market for Nashville, Tenn.-based Gaylord since the company sold Country Music Television and The Nashville Network to CBS Corp.'s CBS Cable in 1997.

Gaylord still distributes CMT International-which is being renamed MusicCountry-in Europe, Latin America and Asia. It also distributes music channel Solo Tango in Argentina.

Gaylord signed a noncompete deal with CBS Cable that prevents the company from launching another country-music channel in the U.S. until the end of next year.

Since acquiring Z Music in 1994, Gaylord has distributed the channel to about 7 million households, mostly through over-the-air and part-time distribution, as well as about 1 million cable homes.

"Targeting the contemporary Christian marketplace on cable at this point in time-when cable is so competitive-we probably missed the window of opportunity in terms of being able to do that," Wilson said. "Right now, we don't feel that the Christian community is best served by trying to address it through getting cable carriage, because it's just very difficult."

Gaylord will fold Z Music's television presence and rebrand the channel under its Musicforce.com electronic-commerce division. "We're going to move the resources over to the Internet and really try to drive our viewers toward that platform," Wilson said.

The company sees a bigger market for Mexican music in the United States, Wilson said, noting that two-thirds of the U.S. Hispanic population are Mexican. Video Rola is targeting the 8.5 million U.S. Hispanic households for distribution, she added.

And while English-language music channels such as Viacom Inc.'s MTV: Music Television and VH1 are abundant on U.S. cable systems, Gaylord believes it's filling one of the few underserved niches with Video Rola, Wilson said.

"We feel like it's a music channel that's addressing a demand for something that's not being addressed in the marketplace, and that's hard to find these days," she added.

Video Rola's target market includes cities where some of the most popular radio stations are programmed with Mexican music, including those in Southern California, Texas and even cities such as Chicago and Portland, Ore., she said.

Gaylord is pitching Video Rola to its current Z Music affiliates, which include Charter Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable and RCN Corp. But the operators aren't contractually required to switch out Z Music for Video Rola, and Gaylord isn't counting on all of the affiliates to go for the new format.

It may be a tough sell to convert Z Music systems that aren't in large Hispanic markets to Video Rola. But Gaylord expects some markets, such as Charter's Los Angeles system, to be good systems for Video Rola carriage, Wilson said.

Charter hasn't decided whether it will switch out Z Music for Video Rola, but the company will meet with Gaylord executives at the National Show in New Orleans this week to discuss the change, vice president of programming Patti McCaskill said. "We'll take a look at it," she added.

Megacable programs Video Rola in Guadalajara, Mexico. The channel features a mix of studio shows such as La Hora Feliz (Happy Hour) and Mexican music videos, including the banda, grupera, ranchero and mariachi styles.

Gaylord expects to distribute the channel on both digital and analog tiers. "We're optimistic that in some cases, there may be some analog carriage available in markets that are really heavily targeted toward the Hispanic population.but we're realistic and we know it's going to be a combination of digital and some analog," Wilson said.

Meanwhile, the noncompete deal Gaylord signed with CBS Cable when it cut the CMT deal expires in 17 or 18 months, she said. When asked if Gaylord would launch another country service after that, she replied, "You never know."