Gene Schneider poised to start Irish cables humming
RTE would provide the programming, and may even take an equity stake. Its board was yesterday debating the investment, which could be confirmed within the next week.
It emerged last night that Flextech, the cable and satellite programme packager, had considered backing the venture, but was not convinced it would succeed.
Sponsors of the new channel, dubbed Tara, are also in negotiations with the three leading cable operators to arrange carriage, including the UK's largest, Telewest. The aim is to launch into the crowded cable market in the autumn.
The new channel is aimed primarily at a potential audience of up to 8 million expatriate and first-generation Irish who live in Britain, and will broadcast a mix of soaps, drama, comedy, music and news from 12 noon to midnight daily, taken from RTE's schedule. The Irish broadcaster spends pounds 120m a year on programmes.
The Irish service will be also be available in Australia, Canada and South Africa, its backers say.
In the end, it hopes to be able to reach a significant proportion of the Irish diaspora, which could total 50 million world-wide.
The launch marks the first UK foray of Mr Schneider, whose company is listed in New York and capitalised at nearly $500m.
Mr Schneider, the 69-year-old "entrepreneur's entrepreneur", designed and built the first US cable system in Wyoming in 1953, and spent the next 30 years developing what would become a 1.1 million-subscriber network in 17 states. He sold out to TCI's John Malone, one of America's bona fide media barons, in 1989, for $2bn, and kept $100m worth of TCI stock for himself. Since then, he has built an international network of cable and satellite investments that now spans 23 countries, including Israel, Australia and countries in Latin America.
Mr Schneider and Mr Malone, who are both based in Denver, Colorado, have done several deals together, including one infamous exchange that saw Mr Schneider buy international cable assets from Mr Malone for $85m, only to sell back a fraction of the holdings at a considerable premium, using the rest of the assets as a platform for to expand his operations overseas.
Mr Schneider is famously press-shy, particularly since a heart attack in 1992. Know as a trail-blazer, he has been eclipsed in the popularity stakes by entrepreneurs who followed him - men such as John Malone and Wayne Huizenga, the founder of Blockbuster, the video hire giant now owned by Viacom.
Mr Schneider also hobnobs with some of America's best-known media moguls, including Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and a neighbour of Mr Schneider's.
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