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Movieola seeks new partner for specialty channel

Toronto, - A round of layoffs by prospective partner Stornoway Communications was the last straw for the license-holders of digital specialty service Movieola since three of four original partners which founded the short film channel were let go as a part of Stornoway's recent cutbacks.

According to one of those partners, Cal Millar, those firings run counter to a partnership agreement that had yet to be consummated. The agreement, said Millar, called for the four original partners of Channel Zero, the company which owns the Movieola category two digital license were to remain employed with Stornoway. All four, Romen Podzyhun, Millar, Anthony D'Andrea and Howard Balde, were hired by Stornoway in September, 2001 as the partnership began to take shape.

However, Balde and D'Andrea were among those let go in Stornoway's first round of cutbacks in February and Millar was fired last week, while Podzyhun resigned today.

Millar told that the conditions of the partnership agreement was that all four would remain Stornoway employees after the deal was done. The firings, said Millar, coupled with Stornoway's unwillingness to re-hire them, "violates the deal," which had not closed.

Millar added that those conditions meant that Channel Zero was within its rights under terms of the deal to walk away. "We asked them, 'are you going to hire back the people terminated?' We got no response and in subsequent meetings to that, they told us the deal would not close."

All four partners are now back running Channel Zero and Movieola and will be hiring a couple others. "You don't need a whole lot of bodies to operate a digital television channel," said Millar.

The behind-the-scenes matters should not affect the channel in any way, says Millar, even though it is broadcast from Stornoway's Toronto broadcast centre. He added the company is now searching for another broadcast industry partner and is planning to launch another category two channel this fall called RetroTV. "We have every intention of expanding our distribution into the United States and around the world, but it will take a partner with industry experience and the drive to succeed," said Podzyhun.

With such a name, and with others like Prime, DejaView and TVLand operating in the "classic television" space, Millar said RetroTV will be different, pointing to other programs like "77 Sunset Strip" past soap operas, police series' and even sports that can still be channeled.

The partners are encouraged by early signs of Movieola's popularity. While he declined to release specific figures, Millar said among cable operators, Movieola ranks in the top 25 in terms of popularity among the new digi-nets and in the top 10 among DTH customers. He added Movieola's penetration was in the 25% range. "(The results) are almost exactly where we'd projected we would be," added Millar.

Comment from Stornoway Communications, itself a partnership with Cogeco Radio-Television, are pending.

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