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CNN, NBCU Alums Jon Klein, Jeff Gaspin Team Up for Online Video Venture

Sarah Palin reportedly target by firm for channel akin to Glenn Beck's the Blaze

Two of the biggest names sitting on the sidelines in the media business are teaming up for an online video venture.

Jeff Gaspin, formerly chairman of NBC Universal TV Entertainment, and Jon Klein, previously president of CNN, are launching Tapp, a series of digital subscription channels that will be built around particular celebrities.

“Not every celebrity or talent out there has the ability to get on cable but they still have rabid fans,” said Gaspin, who will serve as chairman of Tapp, which will be run day-to-day by CEO Klein. “We think this will allow all those people to have an outlet.”

Former vice presidential aspirant Sarah Palin was identified as one such individual they were approaching, according to a report Monday in the New York Post. Gaspin and Klein declined comment on any specific individuals being courted.

Such a venture is not unlike the Blaze, a successful subscription service launched by former Fox News Channel personality Glenn Beck. Given the challenges of monetizing ad-supported content, paid channels are becoming more in vogue, from YouTube’s own experimentation with that format to the Chernin Group’s investment in Crunchyroll, a company that specializes in that business model.

Gaspin and Klein have lined up well-known investors including Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Discovery Communications and Demarest Films, in addition to investment bankers Ken Moelis, Peter Ezersky and Michael Huber. Tapp’s founders dclined to specify the level of investment but made clear it will be a lean operation.

“This is my third startup and you learn early that you want to spend as little as possible to make sure as much of that investment ends up on the screen,” said Klein, who counts the Feed Room among the companies he’s started.

The first of what they describe as dozens of channels will be launched in the coming months. Talent involved will range from household names to more niche attractions.

For $9.95 per month, or $100 a year, per channel, Klein and Gaspin are betting on luring enough subscribers to make Tapp a booming business. “Glenn Beck and the WWE are proof that passion drives subscription,” said Gaspin. “We’re very confident that the fans who feel the most passionate about certain personalities will pay for access to a high-quality product.”

Gaspin exited NBCU in late 2010 after Comcast acquire the conglomerate. Klein left CNN in 2010, and was later succeeded by Jeff Zucker — who happened to be Gaspin’s boss when he led NBCU as CEO.

In addition to the Discovery investment, the company also has the company’s senior VP and GM of digital, Sean Atkins, sitting on Tapp’s board. Klein indicated that the Discovery, which knows a thing or two about personalized channels from its launch of OWN, could collaborate with Tapp in the future.

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