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AtomFilms adjusts to cable TV set

The online entertainment showcase gets ready to launch a 24-hour digital cable station that will air short films and animation on demand. It's a joint venture with cable specialist Global Media.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
3 min read
Online entertainment site AtomFilms has formed a partnership with holding company Global Media Holdings to introduce AtomTelevision, a 24-hour digital cable station airing AtomFilms' signature short films and animation.

Under the joint venture deal, AtomTelevision will create on-demand programming for digital cable provider Comcast to air this fall. The initiative, called Atom On Demand, will broadcast a package of five one-hour programs to home subscribers of Comcast in Philadelphia as part of the U.S. No. 3 cable provider's video-on-demand trial in that city.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The new company, part owned by Global Media and AtomShockwave, parent company of AtomFilms, is in negotiations with all the major digital cable providers to make AtomTelevision a resident cable channel by early 2003, said Mika Salmi, AtomShockwave CEO and newly appointed board member of AtomTelevision.

The move comes as many of the major cable networks work on plans to provide new video-on-demand and subscription services to digital cable subscribers. Under intense financial and competitive pressure, the networks are on the hunt for attractive, inventive programming to lure in new subscribers and bring in additional revenue.

San Francisco-based AtomFilms was conceived as a cable channel by its founder, Salmi, who launched the project in 1999 after a stint at streaming media company RealNetworks. When many Internet entertainment sites went belly up, AtomFilms stayed afloat, merging with Macromedia's interactive game site Shockwave.com in 2001--but not without severe cutbacks.

With a library of about 2,000 short films and animations, the AtomFilms site attracts a loyal audience of men aged 18 to 34, who will be the perfect target for digital TV, Salmi said.

"AtomTelevision is a hybrid of what MTV was in the '80s--a lot of short-form programming--and the Independent Film Channel, a kind of hip venue for short, immediate entertainment," Salmi said. "It has the audience and style of AtomFilms, but it will be better realized on TV with hosts and branding."

AtomFilms attracted about a half a million visitors in June, according to research firm Nielsen NetRatings. It and partner site AtomShockwave together have drawn about 40 million active registered members.

AtomTelevision will be run by Andrew Tow, former president of Century Communications and founder of Global Media Holdings. New York-based Global Media, founded in 2001, develops cable channels to sell to cable networks.

Salmi said that he draws inspiration for the short film channel from G4, a 24-hour games channel that launched earlier this year and is available on Comcast's network. The channel is complementary to AtomTelevision in that it attracts a similar audience, he said. If a cable provider were to line up new channels focused on games, short and animated films, extreme sports and a second generation of MTV, cable providers could have a package of programming that might appeal to a new demographic of subscribers, Salmi said.

Through its partnership with AtomTelevision, Comcast plans to provide short film programming to Philadelphia subscribers at no cost. The shows will consist of Oscar-nominated short films and more popular shorts featuring the likes of Hollywood stars Ewan McGregor and Billy Bob Thornton.