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Cable Technology Feature Article

December 31, 2012

2013 to Bring New Cable Channel from Participant Media

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

If the name “Participant Media” doesn't sound familiar, perhaps the company’s work will. Participant Media has been behind some fairly major names in recent years, including the recently released “Lincoln,” as well as “The Help,” and several documentaries including Al Gore's own “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The firm is set to launch a new project in summer of 2013, with a new cable channel geared toward providing the impetus to social action through media, according to founder Jeff Skoll and CEO Jim Berk.

The Participant Media channel, which doesn't yet have a proper name, will have just that by an anticipated March announcement. The company is looking to start with a pretty sound library under its belt, having already purchased The Documentary Channel and picking up the distribution assets of Halogen TV, which will provide the Participant Media channel with a distribution base of about 40 million homes from launch.

The Documentary Channel was seen on both Dish Network and DirecTV (News - Alert), giving it about 25 million homes' worth of reach, and Halogen TV was a feature of both AT&T U-Verse and a VOD platform for a combined total of around 11 million viewers. Some Time Warner (News - Alert) systems also threw in numbers.

Better yet, Participant Media will have plenty of big names coming in to acquire and develop further content, aimed at the 18- to 34-year-old market. Names like former head of MTV Brian Graden, the Jim Henson Co.'s own Brian Henson, and famed glutton / documentarian Morgan Spurlock.

Naturally, one of the biggest problems that such a network will face is trying to get the attention of this age group in the first place. With the Millennial market rapidly making moves away from traditional cable to online sources, it's going to be a challenge for Participant Media to keep the viewers it's trying to target.

But with research indicating that the market is decidedly lacking in material in which Participant Media intends to specialize, it may well fill a critical void and keep attention locked on this channel.

There are also indications that Participant Media doesn't particularly care about ratings; “The idea is we have something different than other channels. We've got the funding. We can operate in a private environment. We're not tied to quarterly earnings,” stated CEO Burk. “We are going to provide funding well beyond the advertising and subscriber base, investing in this channel and programming in order to grow it.”

Bold words indeed, and given that founder Skoll made an estimated $3-billion fortune as a founder of eBay (News - Alert), they may well have the money to support that ambition.

Trying to second-guess the cable market is never an easy feat, and those who try are all too likely to be proven wrong down the line. Participant Media nonetheless has a sound plan to its credit. It remains to be seen, however, if the execution of that plan will prove sufficiently sound to get the viewers in the door and keep them there.

Still, betting against the well-funded and the truly driven is seldom a good idea.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Braden Becker

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