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Old 09-30-2003, 03:38   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Wheels TV to supply car news

Cable channel to target auto enthusiasts, include field office in Detroit

By John Porretto / Associated Press

ACTON, Mass. -- Add 24-hour automotive news and consumer programming to the list of cable networks hoping to find a niche among those already airing round-the-clock shopping, cooking, golfing and other interests.

Wheels TV, based in Acton, Mass., outside Boston, plans to launch in the first quarter of 2004 with programming targeted to auto enthusiasts. The outfit will have field offices in Detroit, New York and Los Angeles.

Its lineup will feature original and acquired programming that focuses on cars, trucks and motorcycles, but not on competitive racing, the niche of Fox Cable Networks Group's Speed Channel.

"Wheels TV is all about our enjoyment of the automobile," said chairman and founder Jim Barisano. "That runs the gamut from the wind in your hair with the top down to safety and performance and resale value. We're more on the road than on the track."

The channel will cover topics such as technology, history and traffic. While the lineup is not yet set, a sampling of shows includes Wild About Wheels, Muscle Car Crazies, Import Tuner Time and Auto-Biography.

Barisano said Wheels TV also will feature coverage from various international auto shows, classic movies, manufacturer-sponsored programming and daily news segments.

Stan Soocher, an associate professor of music and entertainment industry studies at the University of Colorado at Denver, acknowledged the difficulties of starting a new cable network, but said the world of autos aside from racing seemed to have potential.

"We're a car culture, so you really have quite a vested interest in most of the audience," Soocher said. "But you can end up in 100 million homes and still not be successful. You have to have the eyeballs on your channel, and to do that you need an attractive product."

Barisano said Wheels TV hopes to be in 5 million to 6 million homes when it launches early next year. Right now, the private entity is working through the National Cable Television Cooperative, which represents many of the nation's smaller cable systems.

Wheels TV also is in the early stages of trying to forge relationships with cable bigwigs such as Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, as well as satellite television providers DirecTV and EchoStar, Barisano said.
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