Carriage countdown begins for new channels


Toronto - With Rogers Cable and ExpressVu both sticking to their launch dates of September 4th and 7th, respectively, for the newest roster of digital specialty services, programming buyers and affiliate reps, p.r. folks and negotiators are all furiously working overtime these days - which will make for an exciting August.

With precious few details emerging on carriage deals for any of the category one or two channels from the cable giant or the satellite leader, and with only a few of the channels actually revealing their broadcast lineup, August will likely be chock full of press releases and other announcements, not to mention high blood pressure and sleep deprivation.

Only Shaw Cablesystems and Star Choice have announced some of its digital lineup, saying last month the companies will launch a total of 28 new channels (including seven from Alliance Atlantis plus the 16 English category ones at Shaw). The cable company has said it plans to launch the new channels in September, but has not yet announced an exact date.

Part of the problem with the extended negotiations is that in years past, when cable ruled, launches were uniform, done on the same day and packaging was roughly the same among most operators.

In the digital realm, packages, timing and rates vary from operator to operator, so hammering out carriage deals has proven challenging. "Although, it's gotten a bit easier in the last two weeks," one affiliate rep told Cablecaster, "they must be feeling the pressure as we get closer (to launch)."

The variables are enormous, as some operators are asking for marketing dollars from programmers and others telling the license-holders that they are on their own when it comes to marketing and have asked for no extra cash. Some programmers are also unhappy with the partners they are being grouped with in certain projected theme packs. And Rogers, for example, is reportedly asking programmers for a 50% slice of any t-commerce business the channels receive, according to one affiliate representative.

The main problem for the programmers is that trying to chart a road map towards the pay dirt of profitability from these new niche channels is no easy task. The maximum available market will be about 2.3 million boxes come September. "So, if as a channel, you hit a million, you should be having a party," said the affiliate rep.

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