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Eco network new climate for cable TV

The environment will be the focus of a new mini pay cable network called the Eco Channel.

“We’re not planning to preach to our subscribers with left-wing, save-the-world programming,” said Eric McLamb, the founder, chairman and CEO of the Eco Channel, at a news conference here to announce some details of the new network. “We’ll be entertainment-driven.”

Jack Hoagland, the vice chairman and president of Eco, said the channel will have to get investors to pony up about $ 32 million for the first three years, covering start-up costs, marketing/promotion and as many as 4,000 hours or so of programming. Ellicott City, Md., is the channel’s home base.

The revenues for the channel, which has a tentative start date of Dec. 6, would come mainly from subscribers who’d pay an extra charge every month (still to be determined), which Eco would share with the cable operators. Eco would also solicit advertisers, but the extra monthly tariff would hold down the subscriber count,which in turn would make the channel of limited interest to Madison Avenue. McLamb’s most ambitious projections put the subscriber total at about 10.5 million by December 1999.

No cable systems have signed to carry Eco yet, and McLamb says he’s ready to give profit participations to cable operators who agree to clear it.

McLamb says he’ll go after revenue streams outside the boundaries of cable, including what he calls “interactive multimedia,” plus print and electronic publishing, international sales, homevideo and radio and TV syndication.

The 300 hours of exclusive programming “already purchased and accounted for,” Hoagland says, include a 20-part series of documentaries on animals produced by Lithuanian TV and an elaborate sci-fi miniseries produced by Russian TV that Eco has edited down to five hours and dubbed with an English-language track.

“Ideally, the Eco channel needs 1,800 hours of programming a year to look right and feel right,” he continues. “And because they’d be too expensive to produce, most of these shows will have to be acquired.”

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