Network launches TV programs for conservatives

Traditional medium bypassed

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NEW YORK | Kelsey Grammer is an investor and public face supporting a network that launched Wednesday with entertainment designed to appeal to political conservatives.

RightNetwork, whose first series, “Running,” follows the fortunes of some “tea party”-backed candidates for public office, also is trying a new model to establish itself. It is initially making programming available through video-on-demand services, the Internet and mobile phones, bypassing the approach of a traditional television network with a spot on channel lineups.

Investors hope the support of a conservative audience that has made Fox News Channel and radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh successful also could work for entertainment programming, said Kevin McFeeley, RightNetwork’s president.

“We feel the precedent has been set,” he said.

Mr. Grammer, the Emmy-winning star of “Frasier,” said the network represented a desire by him and some political friends “to stop allowing people who hate us to define us.”

“If you have NBC, ABC, you have entire networks flooded with a very particular point of view,” he said. “They won’t admit it, but it’s clearly the way it is. There’s plenty of room for us.”

Initial programming also includes “Right2Laugh,” with stand-up comedians; “Politics and Poker,” with card players sitting around talking politics; and an entertainment newsmagazine. New episodes are made available every few weeks, Mr. McFeeley said. Some of the candidates featured in “Running” already have lost primary bids.

In the works is a sitcom called “Moving Numbers,” about quirky political consultants trying to elect a candidate to the U.S. Senate. Mr. McFeeley said RightNetwork also will offer some vintage programming, including old episodes of William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line.”

“We’re not out to vilify or accuse or identify anybody as an enemy,” Mr. Grammer said. “We’re out there to encourage people to open their minds and take a look at some things that we as a group of people believe is the right direction for the country.”

While Mr. Grammer narrates a programming highlight reel available on RightNetwork’s website, he hasn’t participated as an actor or producer in any of the network’s programming. The only other investor the privately held company has identified is Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor and owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers.

That led to initial false reports this spring that Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable company, was a backer of RightNetwork. In fact, the network doesn’t even have a deal to distribute its programming through Comcast, which aggressively markets video-on-demand offerings. Thus far, Verizon FiOS subscribers are the only people who can access the shows on demand, Mr. McFeeley said. Nokia is the only mobile phone outlet.

It illustrates the huge challenge RightNetwork faces in trying to build its brand at a time when cable and satellite companies have little space to offer new networks, said Derek Baine, a senior analyst at SNL Kagan. Only Anime, which had some limited success with a specialized lineup of Japanese animation, and Fearnet, which offers horror films and has the backing of Comcast and movie distributor Lionsgate, have gone this way, he said.

“The problem is, you’ve got to get a way for people to find you,” Mr. Baine said. “Without big marketing dollars, how are people going to know you are on the air?”

Mr. McFeeley said the video-on-demand approach will mirror the way people are increasingly watching television, by selecting from available programming and making their own schedules. He said the company will target potential conservative viewers with e-mail messages touting the product.

With billboards, “we’re trying to hit some of the major media markets to let people know that we’ve arrived,” he said.

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