In the Game

G4 buys Tech TV, gets a boost in ratings, viewers

Videogame/lifestyle network G4 is moving up to cable's middleweight division courtesy of parent Comcast Corp. After months of bargaining, Comcast is gobbling up struggling Tech TV from Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures and plans to merge it with G4. The acquisition, valued just south of $300 million, would propel G4's distribution to 44 million homes from 15 million homes. That puts it in a league with Oxygen and National Geographic, rather than Trio and Fine Living.

Of course, there's still plenty of work to be done at G4. Fully distributed cable nets like ESPN and TNT reach almost 90 million homes. But, for new networks like two-year-old G4, gaining a million subscribers is usually an uphill battle. "I went to bed a caterpillar and woke up a butterfly," says G4 founder and CEO Charles Hirschhorn. "I skipped the cocoon phase."

The deal could close in 30 to 60 days. Once it does, G4 should start publishing ratings. That will give a healthy boost to ad sales, since media buyers are reluctant to commit too much money without Nieslen data to back up their buys. Tech TV is already rated, even though it draws only about 100,000 viewers on an average night.

As part of the deal, EchoStar Communications, which had a 10% stake in Tech TV, will have a minority interest in G4. In return, the network gets a slot on the Dish Network's widely distributed America's Top 120 tier.

The networks play together well. G4 focuses on videogames and the gamer lifestyle, while Tech TV has moved away from technology news towards more entertainment fare, like anime
and gadget shows. "It all appeals to the same young-male, tech-savvy demo," Hirschhorn says, adding that videogame program X-Play
is Tech TV's highest-rated show.