Programming

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 1/18/2012 05:00:00 PM Eastern

UPDATED: 5:55 p.m. ET

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 FightsInside 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 ‘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 ‘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."

September
October