Comcast Wires TechTV Deal

Dec 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Comcast Communications is nearing an agreement to purchase TechTV for nearly $300 million, sources familiar with the deal said Friday. The cable operator plans to merge the network with its struggling video game channel G4.
Representatives for Comcast and G4 declined comment. A TechTV spokesperson said, “We can’t divulge anything right now and we’re being true to the process. We anticipate an announcement before the end of the year.”
One source said Sony Pictures Entertainment, which reportedly has been in negotiations for the network, was the closest runner-up in the bidding. Several other bidders were in the running as recently as this fall. After billionaire and philanthropist Paul Allen put a “for sale” sign on the network, the Greenbridge Group in Connecticut, representing Mr. Allen’s Vulcan Inc., received at least four bids (TelevisionWeek, Sept. 22).
If TechTV and G4 are combined, it is unclear what the channel will be called. One source said TechTV owner Mr. Allen may tap former UPN Chief Operating Officer Adam Ware to run the combined network under Comcast. Mr. Ware was reportedly in talks with Mr. Allen last year to run TechTV.
Both networks offer technology-related programming, but the similarities appear to end just about there.
San Francisco-based TechTV, which launched in May 1998 and currently is available in about 40 million homes, has considerably wider distribution than G4, which is in 11 million homes. TechTV has also gained ground in the ratings recently, nearly doubling its late-night viewers with its introduction of a new programming block. In addition, the network recently announced a VOD deal with none other than Comcast.
Los Angeles-based G4, however, has struggled to establish a strong presence since its debut in April 2002. Comcast allocated $150 million over five years to bring G4 to profitability by targeting male gamers age 12 to 34, yet one source said the operator is “losing a fortune” with the network and has already spent $125 million of its G4 budget.
The video game network has also had to fend off more established competitors who have begun targeting gaming fans with their programming. Viacom’s Spike TV, for example, is touting its upcoming “Video Game Awards” as the first-ever televised pageant for gamers despite the fact that G4 aired its first G-Phoria awards in August. What’s more, Game Show Network announced the purchase of two video-game-related programs from the United Kingdom. TechTV’s recently rebranded video game news-and-review program “X-Play” actually predates all of the other shows.
TechTV is one of Mr. Allen’s myriad investments. In 1976 he and Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft, where Mr. Allen served as chief technologist until he left the company in 1983. He is the founder and chairman of Vulcan and chairman of cable provider Charter Communications. He also has stakes in DreamWorks SKG and Oxygen Media.
Jon Lafayette contributed to this story.