Taking a page from "American Idol," Billboard magazine is launching a talent show, "Billboard Next."

America's oldest music industry
publication has teamed with Los Angeles-based Associated Talent Management to package the TV show and Fluid Music Inc. to use the Internet and mobile devices to engage viewers.

Fluid Music created the musical talent competition Web site "American Idol
Underground," licensing the name from the TV show. Fluid will use the "Underground" format for "Next": Unsigned performers are ranked by the number of online listeners
they draw.

Organizers hope to launch the Web site this year and produce the show in 2009.

But Billboard needs to hire a production company before Associated Talent Management can even begin shopping the show to broadcast and cable networks.

The top six artists or groups with the most listeners online will advance to the TV show. On the program, a panel of three celebrity judges and one judge taken from the Web site's pool of amateur music reviewers will choose the winner.

Unlike Fox's hit show "American Idol," "Billboard Next" will involve the audience in the nominating process.

"We wanted to create a competition that was more democratic than 'American Idol,' " said Dan Levin, Associated Talent Management's chief executive and "Billboard Next's" production partner.

Billboard's talent competition will differ from "American Idol" in other ways, too. It will allow individual artists and groups from all genres to compete. Bluegrass, jazz, rhythm and blues, and metal will be in the mix along with country, pop and rock.

Winners for each genre will be invited to go on concert tours.

The "Billboard Next" show is expected to air sometime next year.

LA36 Spared

With death by budget axe looming over LA36, the backers of L.A.'s arts and education cable network were able to convince City Council members to cough up enough money to keep the channel broadcasting for the next year.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had recommended that $555,000 slated to cover the channel's operating cost for the year be completely slashed, which would have resulted in the station going dark, said Carla Carlini, general manager of LA36. Instead, Carlini was able to get the City Council to earmark $605,000 for LA36.

Carlini said that she gained the backing of the city's Information Technology Agency, chief legislative analyst and chief administration officer, and went to the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, where budget committee member and Councilman Bill Rosendahl spearheaded the vote to fund LA36. Rosendahl was an anchor on the channel before running for council.

Funding from the city represents between 60 percent to 70 percent of the channel's overall annual budget, with the remainder coming from leasing its broadcast truck to Los Angeles Unified School District station KLCS-TV for local sports programming.

Besides providing educational courses for local teachers and students, LA36 airs and records live concerts as part of its "Live at the Ford" series, and shows live and recorded local high school basketball, baseball and football games.

Real D Deal

The agreement Real D signed last week to install 3-D projection technology on 1,500 screens owned by Regal Entertainment Group is additional evidence that it's the next big thing in the movie world.

With the 3-D version of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" hitting the multiplexes soon, and at least 10 films expected to be released in the format next year, Hollywood studios have been pushing to convince theater owners to get more screens ready for the onslaught.

In order to be able to show 3-D movies, theaters must be outfitted with digital cinema technology, which eliminates the need for film. Then, Beverly Hills-based Real D comes in with special software and hardware to make the projection of digital 3-D possible.

Of the estimated 38,000 screens in theaters across the country, only 5,000 are equipped with digital cinema technology. Of those 5,000, only 1,000 have been upgraded with 3-D technology.

Entertainment industry analysts say that they need at least 12,000 3-D screens by next summer to accommodate the plethora of films set for release next year.

High-Definition Contract

Andrita Media Center will handle the technology necessary for cable and satellite carriers to receive Hallmark Movie Channel high-definition programs.

Studio City-based Hallmark launched its HD channel last month and recently signed an agreement with Andrita's owner, Broadcast Facilities Inc. Both Andrita and its parent are in Los Angeles. Under the agreement, Andrita will prepare programs from the Hallmark Hall of Fame library for high-definition cable and satellite feeds.

Studio City-based Hallmark had been using NBC Universal's facilities in Denver, but that studio doesn't have HD capabilities. So Hallmark asked HD broadcast studios for bids. While financial details have not been released, Los Angeles-based Andrita Media won the contract.

Hallmark's parent company, Crown Media Holdings Inc., recently renegotiated agreements with several cable and satellite companies giving those carriers the right to offer Hallmark Movie Channel HD to their customers.

Dish Network is the only carrier of Hallmark HD in Los Angeles at the moment. Hallmark expects other carriers to sign on soon.



Staff reporter Brett Sporich can be reached at bsporich@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 226.

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