TNN president Albie Hecht was understandably elated last week as he paraded some new shows and big news — a whopping legal victory — at the Television Critics Association Tour in Los Angeles. Following an opening clip from the new series MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge that showed Hecht’s head inserted on contestants’ bodies, the architect behind TNN’s attempted June 16 rebranding (before it was legally derailed by director Spike Lee) gleefully uttered three words: “Spike TV lives.” Announcing that Viacom and Lee had settled — with the director even defending TNN’s right to a new identity as potentially important to “the First Amendment rights of Viacom and others” — Hecht got down to the business he had wanted to get down to all along: unveiling new programming with his vision for “the first network for men.” Beyond supporting upcoming shows including a 25th anniversary nod to Animal House and the surreality series The Joe Schmo Show, which puts a reality TV contestant in a scripted format, Hecht and the Spike TV team now face other pressing business — not to mention another lawsuit, filed last week by Janet Clover, a former stripper who alleges that she gave Stripperella creator Stan Lee the idea for the animated series while she was working at a Tampa, Fla., adult club. With Lee’s lawsuit dropped, Spike TV executives must now build the new brand and resolve the 13-month-old contract renewal dispute between MTV Networks and the National Cable Television Cooperative, which represents more than 1,000 independent operators. To that end, The New TNN’s current repositioning as Spike: The First Network for Men needs some explaining. “Initially when you say you’re going to have a network for men, people automatically think it’s going to be beer, babes and belching,” said Dario Spina, VP of marketing and promotions, in late June. “We want to go above and beyond that and embrace all the interests of men.” Now wrapping up a six-week marketing campaign for Thursday night’s animation block The Strip (the June 26 debut was the network’s highest-rated premiere ever), Spike TV is gearing up for the second season of Slamball (starting Aug. 4) and Ride With Funkmaster Flex (starting Aug. 16). “There will be marketing support for those shows towards the end of July leading up to those premieres, everything from radio promotions to partnering with Funkmaster Flex on his car tour, plus a lot of guerrilla marketing for Slamball,” said Spina. The target audience for all Spike TV marketing efforts are the demos pursued by advertisers and the so-called laddie magazines. “We’re going after younger, upscale men with a core demo of 18 to 34; we were No. 1 in 18 to 34 over the quarter,” said Spina. “We’re also, with regard to measurements, looking to 18 to 49.” But how many of those Spike TV converts will come from the more than 14 million customers served by the NCTC’s members is still up in the air. The NCTC has been without a deal with MTV Networks since last June, primarily because MTVN wants to add Spike TV and sister net CMT in a manner that is unacceptable to the co-op. “Their rate card for the past year and a half has a rate for TNN in the mid-30s and a rate for CMT of 15 cents, so that’s 50 cents — but then if you don’t carry CMT your TNN rate is 50 cents, it’s not 35 cents,” said NCTC SVP of programming Frank Hughes. “Most everybody carries TNN, but not everybody carries CMT. And those people who don’t have [CMT] are very, very upset with this rate card. So we’re [still] in negotiations with them on an agreement.” NCTC members such as Massillon Cable TV and Sunflower Broadband, among others, had earlier dropped CMT before the new rate structure in favor of cheaper country music service Great American Country [GAC]. Sikeston, Mo.-based Galaxy Cablevision last month refused to carry TNN/Spike at the higher license fee, prompting Viacom to pull several of its networks (MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, TNN, CMT) last month. “We do continue to carry the MTV Networks products TV Land and Comedy Central…and we look forward to a fair resolution of any and all issues between us,” said Ron Dorchester, CEO, Galaxy Cable Inc. An MTVN spokesperson declined to comment on the negotiations. Some small operators said last week that the re-rebranded network should be reevaluated. “We don’t need a channel for men,” said Bob Gessner, president of Massillon, Ohio-based Massillon Cable. “What we need is good, incremental, popular programming that is cost effective when it comes to attracting customers and ratings points. And a name change isn’t going to do that.” Like Gessner, Patrick Knorr, general manager at Lawrence, Kan.-based Sunflower Broadband, is dismayed about programmers tying networks together in order to secure distribution. “I am concerned about the lack of cooperation that MTV Networks seems to be giving the Cable Co-op, as well as the draconian tie-ins that they are placing on their programming,” Knorr said. If a deal is not reached he may feel compelled to follow Galaxy’s lead. “As a small operator, we have to make our decisions and pull programming [because] there is no room in our margin lines to continue to give programmers blank checks,” said Knorr. As for Spike TV’s emphasis on the male viewer, he added: “I think the potential for backlash exists; we haven’t seen it yet, but their full programming lineup is only now just going out. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before I get a call from a concerned parent about Stripperella.”

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RMCA Transforms into Media+Tech Collective

The Rocky Mountain Cable Association is tearing down all its boundaries. On the surface, it may look like its just-revealed rebrand to the Media+Tech Collective is the latest example of a group shedding cable

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