USA renews CNET deal

Internet company to put four programs on air

USA Networks renewed and expanded its programming deal with CNET in which USA Network and sister cable web Sci-Fi Channel will televise four programs produced by the Internet company.

Beginning Sept. 20, USA will premiere a weekly two-hour programming block, “CNET: The Digital Domain,” which will run each Sunday from 6 a.m.-8 a.m. The block consists of “CNET Central,” “The New Edge,” “The Web” and “Cool Tech.”

The weekly two-hour block on USA is a new wrinkle on the original deal struck between USA and CNET in 1995. Previously, only “CNET Central” ran on USA while the entire block was televised by Sci-Fi Channel.

Because USA reaches 75% of U.S. TV households, compared to Sci-Fi’s 51% coverage, Dan Sexton, senior VP of CNET Television, predicted that CNET’s programs will double its cumulative viewership each week from 1 million people last year to 2 million this year.

CNET’s two-hour block will also receive two weekly runs on Sci-Fi Channel. It will air on Sci-Fi on Saturdays from 9 a.m.-11 a.m., and Sundays from noon to 2 p.m.

Another difference in the CNET-USA arrangement this year is that “The Web” will be tightened from its one-hour format last year to a half-hour this year.

Also, “Cool Tech” is a new show to the lineup. Sexton described it as a show “about consumer, high-tech gadgets like fuzz busters and digital phones.

When the San Francisco-based CNET launched its first TV shows on USA and the Sci-Fi Channel three years ago, the company intended its programming block to blossom into a stand-alone, 24-hour cable channel. In 1995, USA purchased of a 5% equity stake in CNET, so the Internet programmer had a cable network investor to help create a new cable web. (USA still owns its minority stake in CNET.)

However, CNET has since decided against this strategy.

“We’ve been through business model after business model, but it did not make financial sense to do it,” said Sexton.

In contrast, Ziff Davis recently launched its ZDTV, which competes against the computer/Internet genre of CNET’s TV shows, as a stand-alone channel.

“Ziff Davis has a long road ahead of it,” said Sexton.

Instead of launching separate cable channels, Sexton said that CNET will concentrate on producing TV shows for already distributed channels. The company’s first foray into syndication, “tv.com,” has passed 75% of the country, and CNET plans to create additional shows for USA Networks and other services.

“We want to brand the CNET name,” said Sexton. “Television is a great way to do it.”

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