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McClatchy-Tribune  06/24/2014 12:01 AM ET
Back9Network Signs Deal With DirecTV, Hiring Aggressively [The Hartford Courant :: ]

June 24--Back9Network, the startup golf lifestyle TV and online programmer, said Monday it signed a multi-year deal for a channel on DirecTV, its first television contract, and is adding as many as 40 jobs immediately.

The hiring has already begun, Back9 President Carlos Silva said Monday. The existing staff is about 50.

Back9, with offices in the Phoenix building and a studio under construction across Constitution Plaza,, also said it will open the studio in August, in time to launch the DirecTV shows in September.

Founder and CEO Jamie Bosworth had told me earlier this year that work was progressing on the $7.5 million studio at the site of the former Spris restaurant, but many people were skeptical it could thrive without a national TV contract.

Back9 has raised about $30 million, including a controversial state package of $5 million, and has hired some big names, notably Ahmad Rashad as executive producer and host. Although Bosworth and others at the media company had said they could make it work with an online audience only, a national TV contract was widely seen as the sole route to success.

Rashad will host The Ahmad Rashad Show, a "behind the scenes" look at the world of golf, as one of three, half-hour shows at the core of the Back9Network programming.

The others are "Ball Hogs, "inside the never-before-seen world of the men and women who risk their lives diving for 'white gold' in ponds and lakes; and Golf Treasures, which will "follow prominent golf collectors Ryan Carey and Bob Zafian, owners of Green Jacket Auctions, as they travel the globe on a mission to hunt down and acquire the world's rarest and most sought after golf memorabilia."

In all, Back9 will produce about 1,100 hours of original programming in its first year, including 10 original prime-time series and live shows three times a day.

Terms of the DirecTV deal were not disclosed.

Under the deal, as is typical in cable or satellite TV "carriage" contracts, both Back9Network and DirecTV will sell advertising for the shows. Ad sales staff is part of the current hiring, which mostly comprises production employees, Silva said.

"We'll be evaluating more staffing as we move through the fall," Silva said.

The company could also be eligible for additional state aid through the film and digital production tax credit program. That state assistance is not available for live shows, but much of the content on Back9 will be recorded productions.

Some productions will be done as a partnership with other companies and some will be exclusively created by Back9. Rashad will be in Hartford, Silva said, because of his broader role as executive producer.

Among the names on Back9Network's talent roster, Jennifer Bosworth, the wife of Jamie Bosworth and a former reporter on FOX CT, is no longer with the company, Silva said. The Courant reported previously that the Bosworths are divorcing after three years of marriage.

It remains to be seen whether this deal leads to a cable deal with one of the major carriers, including Comcast, which owns the Golf Network. Bosworth, who testified earlier this year in Congress about the dangers of the proposed, $45 billion Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, said Comcast was initially negative about signing on Back9, while Time Warner was warm to the idea -- until the merger was announced.

DirecTV is seeking federal approval for its own merger with AT&T, a $49 billion deal that would catapult AT&T into a major position as a TV provider. It's unclear whether AT&T would pick up Back9 on its U-verse TV package if the merger were to go forward.

Bosworth had also said that the satellite providers, including DISH Network and DirecTV, did not typically roll out their own new programming. But that picture is changing as everyone from Amazon to Netflix is producing or buying exclusive content.

DirecTV will place Back9 on Channel 262, near other lifestyle channels, Back9 said.

"This long-term agreement provides us with a strong initial television distribution-base and sends a clear message to the marketplace of our goal of becoming a fully distributed lifestyle network," Bosworth said in a written release.

 

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