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Fox's Reality Check

7/18/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Fox is upping the reality ante. Not just devising another bizarre twist on dating or home-makeover shows, Fox Networks Group is dedicating a cable channel to reality.

Slated to debut early next year, Fox Reality Channel will buy reruns of popular reality shows, from Fox and other networks, and create its own originals. It has two other options for inventory: dipping into libraries at Fox-owned Twentieth Television and Fox Television Studios and rerunning international reality shows, such as the French version of Joe Millionaire.

"We have so many resources, this fits naturally within the company," says Fox Networks Group President and CEO Tony Vinciquerra. "It has a built-in constituency."

And high-profile hits. Inside Fox's vaults are successes like Joe Millionaire and Temptation Island, as well as various evergreens, from Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed to Man vs. Beast.

To get Fox's biggest reality hit American Idol, though, the network would have to cut a deal with FremantleMedia North America and 19 TV.

It would face competition.

Startup Reality Central, slated to launch later this year, also intends to re-air reality shows and craft unscripted originals. So far, Reality Central has distribution deals with Insight Communications and Mediacom Communications. Game Show Network, a far more established channel with 55 million subscribers, has been buying up reality reruns like Average Joe and The Mole.

So far, Fox Reality Channel has no carriage deals. One early distributor is expected to be News Corp.-controlled DBS company DirecTV. Vinciquerra says the channel could break even with 15 million subscribers.

Industry execs have long expected News Corp. to use the DBS service to launch channels, but Vinciquerra says he'll have to sell DirecTV on the concept, just like any other cable and satellite operator. "Any new channel is going to have a difficult time launching in this environment," he says. "It will live and die by its programming."

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