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The Real Estate Network – Who Wants This?

by James F. McClister

Minneapolis real estate mogul hopes to translate his former profession into a 24-hour TV network.

There was a time when baseball was the all-American past time – that was obviously before cable television.

Hoping to capitalize on the ever-present popularity of watching TV, a small group of influential media investors, led by former commercial real estate broker Bobby Atkinson of Minneapolis, have announced their plans to launch The Real Estate Network, a startup up aiming to land in 50 million U.S. households by early 2016.

The channel, which, along with Atkinson, is being backed by former ESPN chairman and founder Stuart Evey, former managing director of Allen & Co. Jack Schneider and Bungalow Media Entertainment CEO Robert Friedman, hopes to capitalize not on the popularity of real estate, but rather its influence.

“Real estate is a vast market,” Atkinson told Variety. “I’m selling a media platform that represents the single biggest asset consumers spend their money on.”

An Advertiser Magnet

The network, to be ad-supported and based in New York City, will feature a typical linear channel lineup, meaning original programming, and a complementing Web package, including a website and marketing place “that will aggregate real estate information and connect buyers and sellers.”

Evey, an investor, told Variety that the station will eventually provide more for the average consumer than anyone ever before, including “access to real estate information anywhere in the world, at any time.”

He went on to claim that advertisers had already showed interest in the prospect, but was light on any further details.

A Network for Who?

It’s currently unclear as to how Atkinson and TREN will provide the programming necessary to fill a complete 24-hour lineup, but the former broker said in an interview that the startup plans to purchase a “distressed” cable channel that already has distribution in about 50 million households. From there, it seems, Atkinson and company would simply convert the channel to TREN.

The only question left is: Who’s asking for a real estate-dedicated network?

It’s not as though the airwaves are devoid of real estate related programming. Already, channels like Bravo, HGTV and TLC provide myriad options for viewers interested in real estate, but none has flourished to the point of building a network around them.

Take, for instance, Bravo’s popular Million Dollar Listing series, which began in Los Angeles and now has spin off shows in New York and Miami – and one coming to Chicago, according to rumor. On a good night, the show might attract a million viewers, and on its best night slightly more. The highest rated episode of Million Dollar Listing: New York in its most recent season was 1.3 million viewers, according to Bravo. To put it into perspective, for the week of October 26, of the top 25 shows rated, the lowest rated was a 30 minute program called College Football Scoreboard, which reviews games played earlier in the day. The sports program garnered 2.5 million viewers – nearly double that of Million Dollar Listing: New York’s best – while the top rated show brought in more than 13 million, according to Nielsen ratings.

From what has been revealed of Atkinson’s strategy, a significant portion of TREN’s success hinges on the adopted viewership the “distressed cable channel” is leaving behind, which doesn’t sound promising considering how widely available real estate programming is on more popular channels.

Acknowledging concerns, Atkinson assured that TREN would go well beyond what’s already out there, especially online.

“The television piece for me is a gigantic storefront to get consumers excited about our digital service,” he said. “We’re building a multimedia platform that is completely unbiased.”

It’s a brazen report from a station whose platform is so heavily dependent on advertising dollars, but Atkinson is convinced of the network’s potential. He said that once the site is up and fully operational, it will offer a plethora of interactive options, like virtual home tours, ultimately comparing it to “something like Google Earth but better.”

Whether Atkinson and his small group of investors will be able to fully realize their grand vision remains up in the air, but it’ll be nonetheless interesting to see how the holes in the team’s strategy are filled as we draw closer to 2016.

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