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Baby Bell TV Alliance Hangs Out Its Shingle

May 10, 1995|MARK SAYLOR and SALLIE HOFMEISTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Vowing to become cable television's "worst nightmare," executives for a telephone company venture into TV programming christened their new company Tuesday and told Hollywood's creative community that they are open for business.

The venture, launched in October by Bell Atlantic, Nynex and Pacific Telesis, gave its name as TELE-TV in an announcement in Beverly Hills before 800 members of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society.

Sandy Grushow, president of the venture, told the gathered producers, agents and studio executives, "TELE-TV's message today is a simple one: We're open for business and we want and need a product that comes from your imagination and inspiration."

The high-powered panel representing the new company promised it will revolutionize television by putting viewers in control of what they watch and when they watch it. But how quickly that will happen is still unclear.

For such a vision of interactive television to be fully realized, the companies must upgrade the wiring to their customers' homes--a process that is expensive and slow.

The executives said that in the meantime, the venture will bring new forms of programming to millions of customers by late 1996 via a wireless transmission system capable of handling 100 digital channels. Over time, as wiring is upgraded into customer homes, the service will become increasingly interactive. They said service will be better than and the price competitive with cable television.

To meet that start-up date, the venture will have to begin making deals for programming almost immediately. Initially, TELE-TV will license many of the same channels and networks that form the core of cable programming, but the executives promised new and original forms as well.

Grushow said that as they put together the new venture they don't want to forget what has made television so successful: "It's easy, relaxing, comfortable and entertaining."

TELE-TV currently employs about 130 people, but the phone companies haven't said how much they will invest in rewiring their communities.

Appearing publicly together for the first time since the launch of the venture, the panel featured the chief executives of each of the telephone companies and Michael S. Ovitz, chairman of Creative Artists Agency, the Hollywood talent agency that has been advising the phone companies.

Ovitz, speaking words that surely must have warmed the hearts of the Hollywood gathering, said, "What we have here is representative of what we believe to be one of the great future marketplaces of our community."

After showing a glitzy video of the new company logo, Howard Stringer, the former president of CBS and now chairman of TELE-TV, said, "Get used to it, it's going to be around a long time."

The high-powered show-business presentation included a specially taped Top 10 list from talk show host David Letterman.

While the vision presented Tuesday by TELE-TV was one of optimism and clear vistas for the creative imagination, some analysts and cable competitors remain skeptical.

The fact that the companies are starting with a wireless system "indicates they want to delay their" physical wiring, said Stephanie G. Comfort, a research analyst at Morgan Stanley in Denver. Comfort was attending the National Cable Television Assn. meeting in Dallas.

William Bresnan, president of Bresnan Communications Co., a cable operator based in White Plains, N.Y., said the phone company plans should be looked at with greater skepticism because of shifting strategy and the companies' high cost of doing business.

"What made them change after they pronounced how easy it would be to get into broadband?" Saylor reported from Los Angeles and Hofmeister from Dallas.

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