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Calabasas Cable TV Station Will Cater to Horse Lovers

HorseTV, a new Calabasas-based cable television station, is preparing to launch 24-hour programming this fall, betting equestrians, those in the industry and those who simply like horses will create a market of viewers as they do for other sports programming such as USA’s Golf Channel and The Tennis Channel. Built around an original news and entertainment show that will feature behind-the-scenes stories, celebrities involved in the industry and other equestrian notables, the station hopes to tap into what executives believe is a $100-billion industry with about $30 billion spent annually on horse-related activities and products. “That tells you there is a huge market there, and that is not just the person that has a horse or touches a horse,” said Chris Stafford, director of communications and news production for HorseTV Media Group Inc. “It’s people that don’t have a horse, but will go and buy horse-related merchandise and have some interest in horse-related activities.” Stafford ticks off a host of celebrities, including Patrick Swayze, who raises Arabian horses, and William Shatner, who breeds quarter horses, along with Olympic competitors and racing jockeys as prospects for a news and entertainment show with broad-based appeal. In addition, HorseTV will feature equestrian and rodeo events, training and educational programming, horse-related movies and television shows like the classic “National Velvet” and “Mr. Ed,” even Saturday morning children’s programming, all with horse themes. The library of programming will largely be drawn from the collection of the company’s founder and president, Sally Lasater, a lifelong equestrian, competitor and businesswoman who has served as an industry consultant. The expense of launching a new station can be prohibitive for both programmers, who typically have to wait years to recoup their investment, and for cable distributors, who are under pressure to produce profits. HorseTV hopes to break into the industry with a somewhat unconventional approach. Fee-based strategy Rather than relying on advertising or licensing revenues, the company will launch as a fee-based channel, charging subscribers about $5 to $7 monthly and sharing those revenues with the providers who carry the programming. In some markets, the station will provide fee-based video-on-demand programming. That way, executives say, they can garner distribution and build an audience without the expense and time typically involved in launching advertiser supported programming. “We are going to be able to launch this network and drive it to profitability with far fewer subscriptions and far less investment capital than a traditional network and less time to break even,” said George Greenberg, CEO of HorseTV, a 30-year industry veteran who has been involved in the launch of the Sci-Fi Channel, the Golf Channel and most recently SiTV. Mini-pay as it’s called, is not new, and it does boost the chances that a programmer will get channel space, industry experts say. But whether it turns out to be a gift horse for HorseTV will depend on whether the company is able to attract enough subscribers willing to pay for round the clock access to its program content. “It is very attractive from a distributor’s point of view because they don’t have to pay anything to carry the program, and if it is successful they get to share in the revenues,” said Jim Trautman, managing director of Bortz Media & Sports Group Inc., Denver-based consultants to the industry. “That does improve the chances of a service like HorseTV to get carried. Making it work The trick is to make it work from the programmer’s point of view. And historically, it’s been more difficult economically than the more conventional approach.” The Golf Channel, which launched as a subscription service, has since transitioned to a more traditional model, Trautman noted. Investors say they have put their money behind Greenberg’s long industry experience and the business model. “This is a channel that has a significant subscriber base, but it’s not a broad one,” said Leonard B. Shavel, a HorseTV investor. “What they have developed is a way to access that market.” And officials at HorseTV point out that as the number of subscribers to digital cable services grows, so too does their access to an identifiable base of viewers who would be willing to pay for such a service. “By year end, with the combination of DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite), Direct TV and digital, the number of addressable homes will approach 50 million,” said Greenberg. “So the reason why networks like these mini pay stations are starting to proliferate is we have a critical mass of addressable homes.” At the same time, HorseTV will also act as an affinity marketer, advertising and selling its libraries of videotapes and other merchandise on the station and offering additional products and services through its Web site. “There will be lots of opportunity for us to attract revenues and underwriters and sponsors,” said Stafford.

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