G4 Brand for Merged Nets

Mar 29, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Comcast Corp.’s G4 brand will dominate the merged cable network created by the purchase of TechTV, which was finalized last week, sources said.
“It’s safe to say [the new network] will be called G4,” said Allan Singer, senior VP of programming investments at Comcast.
However, representatives of G4 insisted the decision on the name is not final and said it might be a variation on G4. If federal regulators approve the deal, the combined 24-hour channel will likely launch in May.
As first reported in December (TelevisionWeek, Dec. 8, 2003), Comcast will fold TechTV into its gamer network G4. Insiders said the deal is worth just north of $290 million to billionaire Paul Allen and his Vulcan Programming Inc. Comcast will control a majority stake in the venture, while EchoStar Communications will hold an estimated 12 percent stake in exchange for distribution on its DISH Network.
The move is a significant step up for the video game channel, which views TechTV as a fast track to increased distribution and as a source of compatible programming. G4 is seen in 15 million cable homes while TechTV is in 43 million homes. Due to overlap in the market, the combined net will be seen in 44 million homes. That means when the deal closes, G4 will become big enough to be Nielsen-rated, which should help with advertising.
Charles Hirschhorn, founder and CEO of G4, will be CEO of the combined network. Insiders said G4’s new headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., will house the network, while TechTV headquarters in San Francisco is expected to be closed or downsized.
Last Friday, G4 executives called TechTV’s cable operators to reassure them the new network will retain the same young-male demographic goals. MSO reaction is a concern during any rebranding as an operator can hold a network in violation of its content agreement if programming radically shifts.
The Survivor List
G4 Chief Operating Officer Debra Green said the new network will feature the best of G4 and TechTV, along with new original programs. G4 will soon decide which shows on both networks will continue, though Ms. Green offered a preliminary list of programs likely to survive.
From G4: “Icons,” “Judgment Day,” “Pulse,” “Players” and “Cheat!” are in favor. From TechTV: “X-Play,” “Robot Wars,” “Anime Unleashed,” “The Screen Savers” and “Fresh Gear” will likely continue.
“The new network will be about video games, the gamer lifestyle, gadgets and gear,” Ms. Green said. “Our consumer is the iPod-carrying, HDTV-watching, camera-phone-using VOD generation.”
The purchase involves a unique set of circumstances. Typically, larger companies consume smaller companies and retain their original dominant identity. In this case, a small network is gobbling its larger and well-branded competitor. Given TechTV’s recent growth and viewer recognition, one might wonder whether Comcast would be tempted to stick closer to TechTV’s brand than to G4’s.
But Mr. Singer attributed TechTV’s success to its length of time in the marketplace more than its programming. TechTV was established in 1998; G4 in 2002.
“The [new] network has to start with G4, which is a programming idea that we think has proved out the way we hoped it would,” he said. “We see this as really a way to jump-start the distribution of G4.”
Victims of Success?
That sort of comment riles TechTV workers, who see themselves as victims of their own success.
“I think they would be crazy to use us only for the real estate,” said one TechTV insider. “I think G4 has been sort of stuck, distributionwise.”
Ms. Green said input and resources from TechTV will not be discarded.
“We will be going up there fairly quickly and listening to their advice and suggestions,” she said. “We would love to hear from them. There will be joint discussions about what this network will look like.”
Initial overtures between the companies began about a year ago in a very informal fashion. Ms. Green and Mr. Hirschhorn were having drinks at the Four Seasons in New York when Mr. Hirschhorn asked her to name her biggest idea for the network. “I said my idea is to buy Tech TV,” she said.
As it happened, Paul Allen came into the lounge and Ms. Green was put to the test. She approached Mr. Allen and told him her company wanted to buy TechTV and merge the networks.
Mr. Allen, she said, “had almost no reaction.”
“He didn’t know who the hell I was,” she said.
But a month later, Mr. Allen announced that the company was on the market and negotiations began. From there, it progressed “with fits and starts,” she said.
When Comcast made its unsolicited bid for The Walt Disney Co., there was speculation the TechTV deal had been shelved.
Not true, said Ms. Green: “I didn’t see the Disney announcement as having any impact on [the deal] other than to reinforce the overall Comcast strategy of building content.”