Virgin Media music, travel nets in works

LONDON — Richard Branson’s Virgin Media Group plans to launch music and travel TV channels in the U.K., a step in keeping with the Virgin tycoon’s refocus on pursuing entertainment interests.

Virgin Media has not yet secured a distribution deal, but has held talks with satcaster BSkyB and Britain’s cable operators for analog carriage. The company has also approached British Digital Broadcasting and Digital Television Network, the two consortia bidding for the U.K.’s digital terrestrial TV license.

Digital deal tomorrow?

Virgin Media chief exec David Campbell told Daily Variety, “We could do a digital deal tomorrow, but in the short term we’re looking for an analog platform.” Campbell added that he expected to have both channels on air by the end of 1997.

Another music channel in Britain would increase the pressure on MTV, which is already competing with the music channel the Box in the U.K. and will likely soon face another rival in the teen channel Rapture, which is expected to launch in the summer. The Virgin channel will be a mix of music and lifestyle programming.

The travel channel will also be geared to a young demographic and will be linked to selling travel packages interactively through the Internet.

Branson appeared to have put entertainment on the back burner after the sale of Virgin Records to music giant EMI in 1992. Early this year, however, he launched his new record company, V2, with an initial investment of up to about $100 million.

Virgin is also a partner in one of several consortia bidding for a slice of $240 million in National Lottery funds intended for the setup of four film “mini-studios” in Britain.

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