Tennis Channel nets cable ace

Solomon in swing as topper

Cable and syndication veteran Ken Solomon has been named chairman-CEO of 2-year-old venture the Tennis Channel.

Solomon, who previously served as chief exec at Scripps-owned Fine Living, will officially assume the Santa Monica-based post Friday. He succeeds David Meister, who has been at the startup since its inception.

Ankling to pursue other interests, Meister leaves on a high note, most recently working with prexy/co-founder Steve Bellamy to close a distribution deal with Comcast. Channel is on track to be in 8 million-10 million homes by the end of the year. TTC is available in 19 of the top 20 markets via agreements with Time Warner, Cox and National Cable TV Co-op.

TTC is owned by Apollo Partners, DND, JPMorgan Partners, Bain, Columbia, Battery Ventures, Frank Biondi’s Waterview Advisors and Edslink.

Solomon has a history of helping fledgling companies bloom. During his recent three-year stint at upscale cabler Fine Living, he grew distribution to 25 million, signing with system operators that control three-quarters of all cable and satellite homes. He doubled affiliate and ad revs year to year.

Solomon exited in the fall, several months before his contract expired, in search of emerging ventures (Daily Variety, Sept. 2).

“With full funding in place and expanded distribution, we are well out of startup phase, and Ken is the perfect person to lead us into a very bright future,” said Biondi, a Tennis Channel board member.

“For me, the fun is taking a network that has incredible potential to grow and build. Candidly, if they were further along, I might not be the right person for the job,” Solomon said.

Exec said he’ll do that by focusing on further expanding distribution — he’s already prepping for next week’s National Cable and Telecommunication Assn. confab — and creating the kind of high-value multilayer ad packages that helped Fine Living establish itself with Madison Avenue.

“We’ve got first-hand access to the best players, world-class events and on-the-ground tournaments that we can use to create compelling packages for our advertising and cable partners,” Solomon said. “It’s not about selling a network. It’s about creating a brand that can be sold on multiple platforms. It’s that value proposition that translates to real revenue.”

Among Solomon’s other priorities will be to bolster existing deals and create video-on-demand, broadband and wireless opportunities for the 24-hour channel.

Tourneys on tap

TTC launched in May 2003 with 3 million subscribers. Execs pledged to spend $70 million on programming and marketing through next year, with an eye toward turning a profit in 2007. Cabler is home to more than 2,500 hours of tournament programming a year, including the U.S. Open; ATP Masters Series; top-tier WTA Tour championship competitions; and the Davis, Fed and Hyundai Hopman cups. Execs just bought rights to the Scottsdale ATP Tour.

Original programming includes series “Center Court With Chris Myers,” “No Strings,” “Match Makers,” “Open Access” and “Tennis Insiders” as well as instructional shows and original specs and docs.

Solomon’s resume includes top positions at Universal Studios/Studios USA TV, DreamWorks Television and Fox Broadcasting. Before joining Fine Living, Solomon was president of datacaster iBlast and held syndie jobs at 20th TV, Buena Vista TV and Paramount Domestic TV.

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