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Voom’s HD Legacy Survives

Aug 22, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Four months after Cablevision Systems shut down its Voom satellite service, the high-definition television channels that were the foundation of Voom live on.

Starting today, Cablevision’s Rainbow Media unit is relaunching the channels as a programming package to be offered to cable, satellite and telephone companies looking to bolster their hi-def video content.

The high-definition channel suite marks the beginning of the third piece of Rainbow’s business strategy, Rainbow CEO Josh Sapan said last week in an interview. The company already has a linear channel presence-with AMC, IFC, WE: Women’s Entertainment and Fuse-as well as a video-on-demand business space with Mag Rack and sportskool, which offer instructional content on everything from weight training to guitar playing.

Rainbow will initially offer 10 HD channels as a single package under the name Voom HD Networks, with plans to increase the number of offered channels to 21 sometime early next year. The channels will feature programming that covers news and sports and several niche areas of interest, including extreme sports, travel, art and horror films.

To get the service, distributors will be required to take the entire offering of channels.

Satellite company EchoStar Communications is the first distributor to carry the channels, as part of a 15-year carriage agreement that puts Voom channels on a high-definition service tier. That carriage agreement is part of a broader deal in which EchoStar owns a 20 percent stake in Voom HD Networks.

Greg Moyer, a co-general manager of the service, said that Rainbow views the Voom channels as “a premium service with a little ‘p’,” or a service that is niche-oriented but designed to have enough content to appeal to a cross-section of demographics. He added that the channels, which are now commercial-free, are likely to remain so going forward. “It is not our intention to mimic ad-supported television,” he said.

The arrival of the Voom channels comes at a time when content distributors are focusing greater attention on providing a flurry of advanced services, including HDTV, to customers who are growing ever more interested in receiving their television content in hi-def format. According to a study by Forrester Research, the number of homes with HDTV sets is likely to grow past 50 million over the next six years.

By offering a wide array of content in high definition, “We are satisfying viewers in ways that haven’t been done before,” said Nora Ryan, the other co-general manager of the service, adding that Voom’s goal is less about aggregating large audiences than it is about creating content for a broad array of constituents who can benefit from the HD experience.

Indeed, while the Voom networks feature sporting events and concerts in high definition, they also include an art channel that showcases pieces of art as well as channels devoted entirely to niches such as kung fu movies and horror flicks. A total of 2,000 hours of high-definition content is available to be broadcast on the channels, as well as 1,000 movies, including 17 James Bond films that will be available in hi-def on one of Voom’s movie channels, The Majestic.

Voom HD has also struck a deal with artist Robert Wilson to create the first-ever collection of high-definition video portraits, which will air on Lab HD, a channel devoted to televised works of art.

The relaunch of the channels comes four months after Cablevision shut down its satellite service, which failed to attract many customers and cost Cablevision hundreds of millions of dollars. The company announced earlier this year that it was shutting down the service after an internal debate over Voom triggered a boardroom showdown between Cablevision Chairman Charles Dolan, who had lobbied hard to continue funding the satellite venture despite its struggles, and his son, CEO James Dolan, who pushed equally hard to shut down what had become a money pit for the company.

James Dolan eventually won the battle and Cablevision began dismantling the satellite operation, selling a high-definition satellite and the old Voom customers to EchoStar.

Cablevision decided to keep the high-definition channels that were a main selling point for the satellite service-which had billed itself as the first all-hi-def satellite service-and begin marketing them to other distributors.