Torstar hopes cablers will eat up Popcorn

Canadian media giant Torstar Corp. is launching a basic cable network in the U.S. that will run movie trailers of current releases and localized movie theater listings.

The Popcorn Channel, set to launch in the first quarter of 1995, will be 80% owned by Torstar — which owns the Toronto Star and Harlequin Books — and 20% owned by Canadian TV production company Salter Street Films, a subsidiary of Saltor Holdings, whose chairman, Michael Donovan, will serve as co-CEO of Popcorn Channel. Torstar is also seeking a U.S.-based cable operator to invest in the service.

“Movie companies spend over $ 1 billion a year advertising their movies,” said David Galloway, co-CEO of Torstar. “This channel will provide them with a better opportunity to display their products to the public.”

If the concept of a movie trailer network sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how cable web E! Entertainment Television got started.

Originally called Movieline, the cable channel showed mostly trailers. However, when the channel was having trouble getting carriage and Time Warner acquired a majority of the network, it shifted its format to feature primarily entertainment news and gossip. Larry Namer, who helped create the original service before selling it to Time Warner, still believes in the concept.

The Popcorn Channel will try to do the one thing that Namer could not convince E! to try — go interactive. David Wetherald, chief counsel at Torstar, said the network will try to either work a deal with 777-FILM, the phone line that allows moviegoers to buy tickets by telephone, or launch its own similar service.

“We did some investigation on Movieline and realized that the technology seemed to be the stumbling block; they could not tie in local information with the national information,” Wetherald said. “There is nothing easier than if you can see the trailers and buy the tickets right then and there.”

Eventually Popcorn Channel wants to get into the home shopping business, as well. “We’d let the studios produce their own home shopping programs so you just don’t have trailers and movie listings for 24 hours, Wetherald said. He also did not rule out getting into general programming about the movie business.

Recognizing that channel capacity and cash is tight for cable operators, Wetherald said the service will be free to operators who put Popcorn Channel on the basic tier. If they decide to tier the channel higher, though, Wetherald will seek a subscriber fee.

Popcorn Channel has met with several cable systems and movie studios about the new service with positive results, Wetherald said.

Marcia Norcia has been named executive vice president of the channel.

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