Four of the biggest players in the entertainment industry -- Ryan Seacrest, Mark Cuban, concert giant AEG and Hollywood powerhouse talent firm Creative Artists Agency -- are teaming up to launch a new pop culture cable channel.
Called AXS (short for access), the cable network is envisioned to focus primarily on live programming aimed at entertainment aficionados. It is to include a heavy diet of concerts and lifestyle shows and use production facilities at AEG's downtown L.A. Live complex as its on-air home base.
"The industry in Los Angeles is a sport," Cuban said of the channel's plans to cover show business on a 24/7 live basis. The network's flagship show is to be called "AXS Live," which Cuban described as a "'SportsCenter' for pop culture and music."
The joint venture will be rebranding Cuban's HDNet channel, creating a new network that is expected to debut as soon as late spring. Cuban launched HDNet in 2001 and has struggled to get the network widely distributed. Currently in about 27 million homes, Cuban said he thinks having the weight of AEG behind the channel will boost its reach.
"Everybody is going to bend over backwards to work with AEG," he said.
Dish Network, the satellite broadcaster with 14 million subscribers, has already agreed to increase its carriage of AXS by almost 10 million homes, broadening its reach to about 35 million homes.
AEG and Seacrest have been mulling the creation of a cable channel together for some time. However, it is easier to acquire an existing channel than to build one from scratch. Cuban became aware of their ambitions and reached out to AEG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke about partnering with HDNet last fall, officials said.
Seacrest is not expected to have an on-air presence on the channel, but his production company has a commitment to provide content for AXS. Seacrest, who hosts a popular morning radio show as well as Fox's "American Idol," also runs Ryan Seacrest Productions, whose offerings include "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" and "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution."
Interestingly, AXS seems aimed at competing primarily with E!, the cable network owned by Comcast Corp. E! also focuses on entertainment and popular culture and is home to much of Seacrest's production efforts.
Cuban said it will take about six months to change HDNet to AXS. Many of HDNet's shows including its coverage of mixed martial arts and "Dan Rather Reports," which features the former CBS News anchor, will transition to the new network with more live elements, he said. However, the more adult fare HDNet carries, including "Girls Gone Wild" are to be dropped.
"Anything that was TV-MA goes away," Cuban said, referring to the television industry's rating for mature adult content.
For AEG, the alliance gives it an additional platform to promote its live entertainment business. The concert promoter and arena owner has a library of concerts, and its arenas are also used for high-profile events that can provide content for the new channel.
Terms of the partnership were not disclosed, but Leiweke said both CAA and Seacrest are making equity investments in AXS.
-- Joe Flint