Tennis Channel Will Debut With Fed Cup Telecast, Officially Launch With Hamburg
By Richard Pagliaro
American tennis fans can finally tune into The Tennis Channel this month. The Tennis Channel officially announced today its first telecast will feature the United States first round Fed Cup tie scheduled for April 26-27th. The Tennis Channel will debut at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 26th with the first match of the Fed Cup tie. The tie will be telecast free to any cable system that opt to pick up the 24-hour cable tennis channel. Tennis Channel president and founder Steve Bellamy and CEO David Meister said the Fed Cup telecast will serve as a 19-day sneak preview leading up to the official Tennis Channel launch on Thursday, May 15th at 6 a.m. Eastern time featuring live coverage of the ATP Tour?s Tennis Masters Series Hamburg tournament from Germany. "We are offering it (the sneak preview) to the entire cable community," Bellamy said. "It's without any obligation. It's our celebratory gift for our launch. It's 19 days of some of the greatest tennis you'll ever see."
Tennis Week.com reported yesterday that the United States' first-round Fed Cup tie will be the first event ever telecast on The Tennis Channel. The United States will host the Czech Republic in the first-round tie, which will be played at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass. Top-ranked Serena Williams, third-ranked Venus Williams, Meghann Shaughnessy and Alexandra Stevenson form the U.S. squad captained by Billie Jean King. Katrina Adams is the Tennis Channel's announcer for the Fed Cup tie. "Truly, April 26th is going to be the start of a new paradigm in tennis," Bellamy said. "This 19-day preview is available to all viewers, cable and satellite providers around America at no obligation. During this period we will be broadcasting Fed Cup starting at April 26th at 1 p.m. meaning that Venus Williams or Serena Williams will be the first player to ever hit a ball on the Tennis Channel."
In the aftermath of the Fed Cup tie, The Tennis Channel will telecast the Tennis Masters Series-Rome (the Telecom Italia Masters formerly known as the Italian Open) starting on May 5th. The Tennis Masters Series-Hamburg fourth-round match is scheduled to be the first live match the Tennis Channel telecasts on its official launch date. The championship final will be broadcast live on Sunday, May 18th, at 8 a.m. Eastern time. *The matches throughout the tournament will be repeated for prime time viewing. John Barrett will be on site in both Rome and Hamburg as the Tennis Channel announcer for both tournaments as The Tennis Channel picks up the international feed of the event. "Our May 15th launch is a momentous occasion for tennis fans and the entire sport," said Meister. *"Whether you are a weekend player or a dedicated viewer or just a fan of the charismatic personalities, you will love the way The Tennis Channel brings you closer to the game."
In today's conference call with the media, Meister said the Tennis Channel will launch with "47 percent of America's cable households under contract" and estimates the channel will reach approximately three million viewers at launch. Those numbers seem a bit ambitious and based on the assumption of all potential subscribers rather than actual likely subscribers. "We will be launching with Time Warner, who has previously announced a 15-year deal with us, NCTC has a nine-year deal and we are pleased to recognize the new 12-year deal with Cox cable, that leaves the Tennis Channel with 47 percent of America's cable households under contract," Meister said. "We believe that The Tennis Channel will launched with about three million subscribers at or about launch." The Tennis Channel availability will vary depending upon the cable system. Viewers should contact their local cable company or satellite service provider to find out of the Tennis Channel is available in their area.
"It's really up to the individual system in some cases it will be a digital sports tier in other cases it will be digital basic," Meister said. "The simplest thing is for anyone as a viewer or subscriber is to call their provider and find out what's in store for them and what the timing is." In an effort to elevate the current state of televised tennis, the Tennis Channel hopes to broadcast more than the match ? it's ultimate aim is to treat every match as a story, supplying subtext and extensive player profiles to draw viewers into the match by giving them reason to root for ? or against ? players. "One thing we want to do is tell the story of these tournaments and of these matches," Bellamy said. "It's really important for us to show the whole story. For Hamburg and the Masters Series events we're going to be there from sun up to sundown showing every ball hit on that stadium court ? from the first ball hit until the champion raises the championship trophy and collects the check."
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. "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."
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