Cuban Rebranding HDNet as AXS TV in Joint Venture With AEG, Ryan Seacrest Media and CAA
UPDATED: Rebranded net slated to debut in June, expands Dish distribution in new partnership
By Melissa Grego -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/18/2012 5:00:00 PM
Mark Cuban's HDNet will be rebranded as AXS TV (pronounced "access") as part of a joint venture with AEG, Ryan Seacrest Media and Creative Artists Agency, the reps for the joint venture told B&C Wednesday.
As part of the deal, holding company Ryan Seacrest Media will have a stake in AXS.
The rebranded network is scheduled to debut this summer -- the aim is June -- with an eventual goal of becoming a destination for live programming 24/7. Dish has signed on to expand its distribution by including a standard definition version of the network on its America's Top 120 programming package. HDNet is currently on the satellite provider's HD tier. Cuban says HDNet is now in about 27 million homes and that the Dish deal will bring AXS TV's distribution to more than 35 million. As part of the agreement with Dish, the satellite operator will make AXS-branded concerts available on VOD starting March 15.
AXS will "leverage the global reach and portfolio of content opportunities of its partners to create live entertainment and lifestyle programming," according to the companies' announcement. The network's content is described as providing exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to live concerts and music festivals, red carpets, pop culture events and in-depth interviews. AXS will capitalize on AEG's presence in live events and affiliation with more than 100 of the industry's venues around the world to "connect audiences with the complete live experience."
Cuban says the goal for AXS is to someday, though he wouldn't begin to guess when, provide round-the-clock live programming. "My goal has been taking HDNet live, 24/7," he told B&C in an interview Wednesday along with Timothy J. Leiweke, President & CEO, AEG; and Dave Shull, senior VP of programming for Dish at AEG's office at LA Live in downtown LA. He adds that going live 24/7 with AXS is "absolutely" the aim.
Signature HDNet programming including HDNet Fights, Inside MMA, Dan Rather Reports, Sunday concert series, and select non-scripted series will continue on AXS TV.
The parties would not disclose financial terms and when asked whether any cash changed hands Cuban said "cash is not an issue in this group." But the access to AEG's $4 billion in assets was a nice deal for HDNet.
As recently as this fall, Seacrest, AEG and CAA were reportedly in talks with Viacom about taking over VH1 Soul for their announced collaboration to create an entertainment, lifestyle and pop-culture network, according to a September Hollywood Reporter story
Cuban says he had been watching the reports about the planned network; he has known Leiweke for a long time and reached out to Leiweke. The deal came together within four months, Cuban says, adding that he will continue to run the rebranded network.
Production facilities at LA Live will serve as a hub for much of the programming and most of the production will be based in Los Angeles. Sales will be based in Los Angeles and Dallas and operations will stay in Denver, Cuban says.
As part of the agreement, Ryan Seacrest Media will provide access to multi-media platforms, and celebrity and brand relationships, as well as assist in the corporate brand development for AXS TV. Ryan Seacrest's production company, Ryan Seacrest Productions, will also develop and produce programming for AXS TV.
CAA, which represents Seacrest, will help create valuable content relationships for the network and provide strategic advisory services in the areas of corporate development, marketing, technology, and brand integration and sponsorship, among others, according to the announcement.
But don't expect to see Seacrest onscreen or Kardashian reruns.
Leweike and Cuban emphasize that the deal is to build the network with Seacrest's mind going forward. Not his face. They do not intend to mine RSP's library, nor is Seacrest himself expected to be on-air. When asked if a red carpet event pops up that both E! and AXS would naturally cover, AXS will do so with its own staff -- and not conflict with Seacrest's other obligations. Leweike says the agreement from the beginning was to not take away from or conflict with any of Seacrest's commitments with E! and Fox.
Seacrest is currently in negotiations to reup with NBC Universal, which owns E!. The deal will likely include on-air responsibilities and a first look deal for Ryan Seacrest Productions.
Among the programs Cuban is planning is a daily live hour on AXS topics, a sort of SportsCenter for the AXS audience.
With the emphasis on live programming and considering the name of AEG's LA Live complex, the name "Live" might naturally have made sense for this network. But Leiweke says "a lot of people own the name â€˜live,'" adding that AXS represents the spirit of the new network, which will tap AEG assets to give viewers special inside access and perks like ticketing opportunities, premium seating, private viewing areas and food & beverage specials.
He says AXS' host studio at LA Live also is a natural tie-in for the company's ticketing platform, axs Ticketing. The companies also plan to utilize the resources of AEG's O2 in London.
Marketing the relaunch is likely to take "more of a turtle than a rabbit" approach, says Cuban. But Leiweke promises a big presence at AEG facilities, particularly LA Live and O2.
The potential for partnerships with MVPDs on promotions and perks for viewers is a big part of the pitch Cuban says they plan to make to distributors.
As an example, Starting Aug. 1, Dish and AXS TV will launch AXS Headliner Club, an online audition site providing local bands and musicians the opportunity to audition to perform at an AEG-affiliated club or theater.
Expect Cuban and company to be pushing for expanded distribution, "as much as possible, as soon as possible," he says.
Shull says the MVPD partnerships and the planned content sync right up with the satellite company's recently-unveiled strategy of bolstering its presence as an entertainment provider under the leadership of Dish CEO Joe Clayton. In a statement, Clayton says: "The new Dish is all about â€˜more music, more movies, and more magic.' So, we're pleased to provide a majority of our subscribers front row seats to this innovative channel."
Sports are likely to maintain a place on the network -- particularly MMA, which has been a big part of HDNet. But as far as pursuing sports programming, Leweike says, "that is not the intention" and that the main idea is to pursue an "underdeveloped" opportunity in live programming within the music and pop culture world.
"HDNet is the perfect partner to help us translate our vision into a reality, giving us an instant reach into 35 million homes when we rebrand the channel and launch AXS TV," Seacrest said in a statement. "Mark Cuban and Tim Leiweke bring a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial experience and spirit to this venture, and I'm confident our collective collaboration will make AXS a success."
"We have worked closely with AEG and Ryan Seacrest to conceptualize a new network that could benefit from our combined resources and create a new distribution opportunity for artists and content creators and their high-quality entertainment and lifestyle programming," said David O'Connor, Managing Partner, CAA, in a statement. "Mark Cuban and his HDNet make a terrific partner for this venture, and we look forward to joining forces to help build AXS into a premier cable destination for entertainment enthusiasts."
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