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ESPN, Start-Up Net Battle Over X

7/01/2004 10:29 AM Eastern

Does X mark the trademark spot?

That question is at the heart of a dispute between ESPN, owner of the X Games franchise, and The X Channel, an extreme-sports service that hopes to debut late this summer. ESPN last Friday sent a letter to Miami-based X Channel demanding that it “cease and desist” using the name or risk legal action for trademark infringement.

ESPN gave X Channel until the end of the business day Wednesday (June 30) to respond, but the fledgling service said it was continuing to ready itself for a launch, slated for late August or early September.

X Channel CEO Victoria Davis-LaPorta said that after consulting with the company’s attorneys and trademark barristers, they all said, “I don’t know how they can own the X.”

She noted that the network is willing to put disclaimers on the air stating that the service is not affiliated with the X Games.

What the next step in the legal wrangling will be remained unclear at press time.

An ESPN spokesman offered this statement: “As we routinely do, we are prepared to take all appropriate steps to protect our trademarks.”

Davis-LaPorta said: “Do I want to fight [ESPN]? No. But they want to stamp us out so nobody can see us.”

In addition to the Summer X Games, which will hold its 10th competition in Los Angeles Aug, 5-8, ESPN runs Winter X Games. Both alternative-sports competitions receive prominent exposure on ESPN, ESPN2 and broadcast brethren ABC.

The franchise has also has been extended to capitalize on DVDs, an IMAX film, the EXPN.com Web site (expn.go.com/expn/index), EXPN radio content interstitials and EXPN2Day, a monthly series that airs on ESPN2.

Fox Cable Networks Group’s Fuel is also in the extreme-sports cable space.

Trademark issues aside, X Channel is currently developing original programming, including lifestyle fare around athletes from such sports as skateboarding and mountain biking. The schedule would include some instructional programming, as well as competitions.

According to Davis-LaPorta, the game plan calls for X Channel to run six hours of program daily in a wheel format at launch.

She said the network had forwarded presentation reels and held conversations with programming executives at Comcast Corp., Adelphia Communications Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable. She hopes to speak to reps from Charter Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. soon.

X Channel had not yet heard from DirecTV Inc. or EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network about its proposals.

X Channel is being offered free-of-charge to distributors, with operators retaining four minutes per hour for local ad sales. Without specifying, Davis-LaPorta said the service is also open to “deal making” relative to sharing revenues from national ad sales.

Energy drink Red Bull is already on the network’s sponsorship roster, with other advertisers poised to join once distribution is secured, she said.

September