Join Date: Oct 2002
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New Agreement Helps Put Tennis Channel In 38 Percent Of American Homes
By Richard Pagliaro
The Tennis Channel has set a December launch date, and is already spreading across the nation. The network announced today it has signed a letter of intent with the National Cable Television Cooperative for a long-term affiliation agreement to carry the start-up cable network on the cooperative's systems through 2011.
It is the second major cable affiliation agreement in the last month for the Tennis Channel, which signed a 15-year commitment for Time Warner Cable's 12.8 million subscribers on June 17th. The National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) is comprised of a cross-section of cable operators, including Adelphia, Mediacom and CableOne, who collectively serve 14.5 million subscribers in the United States.
"This agreement with the NCTC is another quantum leap for The Tennis Channel," Tennis Channel president and founder Steve Bellamy said. "We are continuing to make great progress in dealing with distributors, even as an independent network, despite the industry-wide distractions of consolidation."
The agreements with NCTC and Time Warner provide the network with 38 percent of all U.S. cable subscribers now under contract. It is a significant achievement for a start-up cable network. It is the equivalent of a tennis player going from the qualifiers to the fourth round of tournaments in the space of one month.
"It is a mind-alteringly important agreement for us," Bellamy said. "Getting distribution is the ball game and we are in the ball game now. For any nay-sayers in the tennis industry who may have doubted us, these two distribution deals are a huge breakthrough for us. We are pouring most of our energy and resources into distribution and trying to get into as many American homes as possible. The backbone of our programming will be live tournaments as well as news and player interviews and profiles."
The letter of intent with the NCTC provides a nine-year affiliation agreement. The final contract is expected to be finalized by the end of the month. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. "The Tennis Channel is perfect for today's cable operator," said Frank Hughes, senior vice-president of programming for NCTC. "It's original programming at a time when most new channels are simply recycled and broadly appealing to our subscribers."
The Tennis Channel is using Comedy Central's sales staff in its efforts to reach cable operators and advertisers the results are more profound than a punchline. Whereas many sports-based networks appeal primarily to a male demographic, tennis transcends gender and race, which is attractive to cable operators and advertisers.
"Tennis obviously has a diverse appeal, with over 70 million adult American enthusiasts," Hughes said. "With strong appeal to African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans, the Tennis Channel is a perfect fit for our members, who have urban, suburban and rural systems in all parts of the country."
One of the Tennis Channel's biggest resources may be the players themselves.
"The players are really into and have been very supportive and cooperative," Bellamy said. "Right now, we're basically amassing an entire library of player interviews so that we can take our viewers behind the scenes during a match and show them what the players are thinking and feeling through the words of the players themselves."
Proposed programming for its inaugural year calls for the Tennis Channel to devote 40 percent of its content to live tournament tennis, 40 percent to instructional tennis, resorts and equipment telecasts and 20 percent to tennis news and player profiles. According to Bellamy, The Tennis Channel's audience will ultimately serve the dual role as both viewers and programmers in determining the direction the new channel takes.
"Our flexibility is a strength," Bellamy said. "If a network has to air a sitcom, tennis takes it on the chin. If have a great match going on, we won't cut away to the instructional show, we'll stay with the match. We're going to throw the programming up and see what sticks and what people respond to. If viewers want more tournament coverage or if they end up loving our news then they'll get more of it."