TV Land goes dual

Other networks are less ready for the costly strategy
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TV Land is introducing a dual feed June 1 to the East and West Coast time zones. Other networks, though, are not in a hurry to take that expensive step.

When TV Land's subscriber base grew to 60 million, the Viacom-owned network decided to undertake the intensive upgrade from a single to a dual feed. "We're not a midsize network anymore," explained Maria Caulfield, vice president of affiliate marketing for TV Land and TNN. "We have a large subscriber base [on the West Coast], and we want them to see prime time programming as it was meant to be seen."

With a single feed, TV Land's prime time block aired from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. for East Coast viewers but in the early evening for the West Coast audience. In addition to bringing true prime time programming to the Pacific time zone, a dual feed will offer new programming options to the East Coast's late-night viewers.

TV Land is also moving from an analog to a digital satellite signal, which, Caulfield said, was a necessary move but will not affect quality.

Neither TV Land nor the other networks would comment on the price of upgrading to a dual feed, but sources said it could cost $100,000 a month to rent another transponder to transmit a second feed.

Although the 60 million mark is a common threshold, not all midsize networks plan—or can afford—to make the change. Home & Garden Television, for example, has nearly 70 million subscribers but still operates a single feed.

"You get to present the programming when you intend to [with a dual feed], as opposed to putting on a gardening show at 4 a.m. on the West Coast when not even the most hard-core gardener is outside," President Burton Jablin noted. HGTV is exploring moving to a dual feed, but it's very expensive and creates problems for the network's already crowded transponders, he explained.

A&E and the History Channel—which have 81 million and 72 million subscribers, respectively—moved to a dual feed in March 2000, but sister channels Biography and History International remain on a single feed. Food Network (about 50 million) and Speedvision (42 million) also use a single feed.

Although auto-racing network Speedvision time-shifts its prime time block, a dual feed probably isn't worth the investment, according to Senior Vice President of Affiliate Sales Becky Ruthven. "We have a lot of live-event programming carried nationally, regardless of when it happens," she said. "It doesn't matter when it's on. People want to see it live."

A dual feed would not dramatically increase ad sales or ratings, she added, because programming and sales are done on a national, not regional, level.

Many smaller networks remain on a single feed while they build distribution. TechTV (about 25 million subscribers), SoapNet (9 million subscribers) and E! Entertainment's sister network Style (11 million) all operate one feed.

An exception is Toon Disney, which has operated a dual feed since 1998 despite reaching only 21.2 million viewers. But the cartoon channel's Disney parent has pockets deep enough to fund the upgrade.

The 58 million-subscriber Court TV took the plunge and moved from a single feed to a dual feed in 1999. "We wouldn't have gone through the expense of upgrading to a dual feed if it weren't beneficial for ratings and ad sales," said a spokeswoman, declining to give details.

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