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TCI setting sights on Kaleidoscope

Tele-Communications Inc. has purchased a substantial equity stake in the 6-year-old Kaleidoscope Network cable service, whose 24-hour programming slate targets Americans with disabilities and major health concerns, it was announced Monday.

Neither TCI nor Kaleidoscope would confirm the precise amount of the investment other than to say it is “significant” but less than 50%, and obviously a multimillion-dollar deal.

“There is also a commitment from TCI to support Kaleidoscope in a rollout on its systems,” said Dr. Bill Nichols, prexy and CEO of the network that last year amended its format to include what it calls “health, wellness and ability” programming imbued with a CNN-style medical information on demand flavor.

Kaleidoscope claims some 14 million to 15 million subscribers and was, until last year, known as “Kaleidoscope: America’s Disability Channel.” Its primary audience is the estimated 49 million Americans with disabilities and 31 million of their friends and family members — which the networks dub a $699 billion annual consumer industry.

TCI’s investment provides the country’s largest cable operator (with some 15 million subscriber homes) with two seats on Kaleidoscope’s nine-member board, more than any other corporate entity. Those seats are being filled by Jedd Palmer, TCI’s senior VP of programming, and Bill Airy, prexy for TCI’s Digital Health Group.

While Nichols declined to verify just how widely the San Antonio, Texas-based Kaleidoscope would be carried to TCI’s subscriber base, he said the plan is for TCI to carry it in all of its digital homes via its fledgling ALL TV basic package.

Indeed, the channel appears to be precisely the sort of niche service that stands to thrive on a digital tier once that technology enjoys significant deployment.

“Kaleidoscope has managed to devise a credible business plan to meet the needs of an important, underserved constituency in our country,” said Dr. John Malone, TCI’s chairman and CEO, of the equity deal. “We are pleased to support it, and I hope the rest of the industry will take a good look at it as well.”

TCI joins fellow investors Southwestern Bell, Prime Cable, C.W. Group (a healthcare venture-capital investment firm) and Sandler Capital as a Kaleidoscope backer. Nichols heads the four-member group of original owners.

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