Ryan Seacrest, AEG and CAA’s year-long quest to launch a cable network has come to an end. The trio have partnered with Mark Cuban’s HDNet to launch a joint venture and rebrand HDNet/HDNet Canada as AXS TV (pronounced “access”). It will launch in June, replacing HDNet in 35 million homes.
Seacrest’s Ryan Seacrest Media will hold an ownership stake in AXS TV. As part of the deal, his Ryan Seacrest Prods will also develop and produce new programming for AXS TV. While actively working behind the scenes, Seacrest will not have an on-air presence on AXS TV. His participation in the joint venture also won’t interfere with his pending new NBCUniversal deal that will likely include on-air responsibilities, a first-look deal for Ryan Seacrest Prods and a continuing relationship with E!. ”Over the last year, we’ve been diligently working with our partners AEG and CAA to strategize and explore how we could deliver quality live entertainment and lifestyle programming to a large audience. HDNet is the perfect partner to help us translate our vision into a reality,” the CAA-repped Seacrest said. “Mark Cuban and (AEG’s) Tim Leiweke bring a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial experience and spirit to this venture, and I’m confident our collective collaboration will make AXS a success.” Cuban said that in the the new venture, he will work with “Ryan the entrepreneur, Ryan the mogul and Ryan the producer. We will pick his brain because AXS is about pop culture, and there is no one who has their finger on the pulse of pop culture more than Ryan,” he said.
AXS TV will focus on live entertainment and lifestyle programming through access to AEG’s more than 100 venues worldwide, including Staples Center, Nokia Theatre L.A. Live and The 02 in London. AXS TV will provide exclusive behind-the-scenes access to live concerts and music festivals at those venues as well as red carpet premieres, award shows, parties, pop culture events, interviewing artists and celebrities. As for the concerts or other live events themselves, Cuban said that the network will talk to the performers to try to get “as many right as we can” to carry them. Cuban said that HDnet had already been gearing towards doing as much live programming as possible, which will now be taken to a new level with the rebranding. He pointed to ESPN’s position in sports as a model of what he wants AXS TV to accomplish in pop culture. The command center of AXS TV’s live coverage will be an AEG-owned studio in Los Angeles overlooking the plaza in front of the Nokia Theatre. Despite the shift from male-oriented to pop culture fare, some of HDNet’s signature programs, including HDNet Fights, Inside MMA, Dan Rather Reports, Sunday concert series, and select non-scripted series will continue on AXS TV. Cuban called the network’s news coverage his “guilty pleasure” and stressed that Rather “isn’t going anywhere.” That part of HDnet’s portfolio has evolved too — Rather has been doing more live programs, including live coverage of the New Hampshire and the upcoming South Carolina GOP primaries.
Cuban said that he approached AEG’s Tim Leiweke after seeing reports that AEG was trying to launch a channel with Seacrest and CAA, and after discovering that all parties had a “shared vision,” the deal came together in less than 4 months. After originally mulling the launch of a brand new cable network, Seacrest, AEG and CAA’s plan gradually shifted towards taking over an existing channel that already has distribution. When HDnet launched in 2001, its forte was HD programming, which at the time was novelty on TV. By now, most broadcast and cable network air their programs almost exclusively in HD, making the network’s moniker and original focus outdated.
AXS TV will continue to be available on HDNet’s existing distributors, including DIRECTV, DISH, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Charter, NCTC-member systems, Suddenlink and Shaw (in Canada). Cuban said that all of them “loved” the rebranding idea and are on board with it. Additionally, he said that he has open conversations with some of the cable providers that dropped HDnet in the past couple of years. One of HDnet’s current distributors, satcaster DISH, will expand its carriage of the rebranded HDNet by upgrading it to the America’s Top 120 programming package. Additionally, DISH will begin offering AXS-branded Video-On-Demand concerts starting on March 15, 2012. Starting Aug. 1, DISH and AXS TV will launch AXS Headliner Club, an online audition site providing local bands and musicians the opportunity to audition to perform at an AEG-affiliated club or theater. Financial terms of the new venture were not disclosed.