Cablevision Systems’ direct broadcast satellite service, which has been viewed with skepticism on Wall Street and in the cable industry, is about to become a reality — as soon as Oct. 1. Cablevision has formed a partnership with retailing giant Sears to launch the long-anticipated service just as the crucial holiday selling season heats up. The service will be called VOOM, according to a person familiar with Cablevision’s plans. On Sept. 5, VOOM.com was registered with Network Solutions by Cablevision. According to an internal Sears memo sent out to managers at the local stores, the details of which were obtained by Cable World, the service will feature 39 HDTV channels, including 21 VOOM exclusives. An initial suggested retail price of $749 covers all hardware, an off-air antenna for local channel HDTV reception, professional installation and a two-year warranty. On Friday, wiring for the service was being installed in the electronics departments at several Sears stores in the New York area, according to two separate Sears “Brand Central” salespeople contacted by Cable World. A programming executive familiar with the service cautioned that last-minute elements of the service are still being hashed out, and it’s possible that certain details, such as the timing, lineup or even the name, may change. Kim Kerns, a Cablevision spokeswoman, would neither confirm nor deny any of the details. “We have nothing to announce at this time,” she commented. On Aug. 5, Cablevision CEO James Dolan said in a conference call that the company’s satellite service would launch in October. Cablevision is launching the service in the 61.5-degree orbital slot, the easternmost in the United States, where it owns licenses for 11 frequencies. Using spot-beam technology, the satellite can effectively reach 143 DMAs, including 76 of the top 100 and 67 of the remaining 110, according to a Cablevision filing with the Federal Communications Commission. That leaves much of the Northwest and swaths of the West and Southwest with no coverage. Through January 2004, the VOOM service will be available exclusively at Sears, where VOOM will be showcased as the HD feed. To drive demand during the upcoming holiday selling season, customers who buy the equipment will receive a special introductory offer that includes the VOOM HD Exclusive pack and any one of six “plus” packs at no charge through January. After the introductory offer, monthly charges of $39.90 kick in for the VOOM Exclusive pack. A 40-plus digital cable channel option will be available at $29.90, and optional programming packs consisting of a combination of HD channels and standard-definition channels will be available at $14.90 each. An advanced Motorola set-top is believed to be at the heart of the service. DVR capability is expected some time next year. According to the Sears memo, VOOM-exclusive channels would include HD Rave, the first high-definition music channel; HD Ultra, focusing on fashion, home design and travel; HD Gallery, featuring art, architecture and cultural performances; a mood channel called HD MOOV; HD Animania; HD VOOM News; HD Cinema 10, a pack of ten HD movie channels; HD Epics, featuring cinema and performing arts programming; a horror and thriller channel called HD Monsters; an action sports channel called HD Rush; a world sports channel; and HD Treasure, which will focus on the eclectic tastes of collectors. In a September 2002 Federal Communications Commission filing, Cablevision’s Rainbow division, which owns the satellite, listed HBO HD, HDNet Movies, HDNet Sports, Showtime HD and Discovery HD Theater as channels in a prototype program menu for the service. Much, but not all, of the content for the exclusive channels could be provided by Rainbow’s existing networks. By the end of this year — at which time the service could be spun off to investors — the company is expected to have invested a total of some $900 million in the venture. Investors cheered the June announcement of the spin-off as it appeared the company finally quantified its total investment.

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