Niche sports nets have been proliferating like amoebae and each is as unique as the league it covers. One commonality is that startup nets generally are seen as adjuncts to larger established channels, serving as avenues that connect fans to the big leagues in a more intimate fashion. Unfortunately, the other common thread is that the economics remain shady, indistinct, even in matters as germane as VOD. While NFL Net is gung ho on VOD—svp of distribution Adam Shaw said his company’s on-demand offering is "the best VOD product available"—others remain a more standoffish. Fox Sports Net pres Bob Thompson says FSN has been testing VOD, although he’s not worked out the money angle. "We’re used to getting paid for our content, and a lot of VOD models seem to be free," he cracked at Kagan’s Net Start-up conference. "Until we figure out the proper business model, we’re going slow." Other new and newish nets like CSTV have stressed customer choice from the beginning, although pres/CEO Brian Bedol says the digital model still is "in the 1st inning." The idea is to get away from the idea of a linear channel, Bedol says, and as content is pushed/pulled over media via various apps, fans won’t be served so much as "superserved." Most important, nets that serve smaller, passionate audiences need to focus less on shoulder programming than programming from the heart, Tennis Channel chmn & CEO David Meister said. By making the Maria Sharapovas of the game less of an abstraction through behind-the-scenes vignettes and other forms of ancillary content, the road from casual observer to die-hard fan can be bridged that much faster. — Iced? Doug Perlman, the man responsible for divining a course for a US NHL net, said the work stoppage was not a factor in the venture’s development. Perlman couldn’t speak to the issue on everyone’s mind—the league’s collective bargaining agreement—unless, as he put it, "Kagan is willing to pay my $50K fine." No launch date’s been set for the network.

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