Ryan Seacrest in talks to launch cable network

EXCLUSIVE: Teaming with CAA, AEG on joint venture

The reality producer, radio personality and "American Idol" host is in early talks with talent agency CAA and entertainment company AEG about jointly launching a new cable network.

The business venture is in very preliminary stages, but the network's concept is described as music, pop culture and lifestyle oriented. Seacrest is likely to have some kind of on-air presence in the venture. Unlike Oprah Winfrey's upcoming OWN cable channel, however, Seacrest is expected to operate mainly as an influential partner rather than serve as the face and personality of the network. The channel won't be "Seacrest TV," but will have its own brand.

The network would pull programming from AEG's worldwide concert and live venue assets (such as the Staples Center, L.A. Live and The 02 in London), and leverage Seacrest's entertainment industry relationships and insight as a reality producer.

Sources stress that Seacrest's work on E! will continue and that the new channel will not be programmed as a competitor to E! -- where Seacrest executive produces and co-anchors "E! News," as well as produces the network's top-rated series, "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

Moreover, Seacrest is said to have a strong relationship with Comcast Entertainment Group president and CEO Ted Harbert. Sources say Harbert will assume a larger role in the company following the planned Comcast merger with NBC Universal.

The first hurdle for the network will be to secure cable and/or satellite distribution. Parties are in talks with various companies. One big question has been whether Comcast will carry the network. As of right now Comcast is not involved in the venture and has no plans to carry it.

Even without carrying the Seacrest/CAA/AEG channel, Comcast chiefs in Philadelphia are said to be "very supportive" of Seacrest and searching for ways to give him new opportunities after the company's NBC Universal merger.

Launching a cable network in 2010 is no easy task. A cable land rush in the 1990s and early 2000s had companies launching networks left and right. That dried up after the arrival of bandwidth-hogging high-definition content, which cramped the ability of cable operators to distribute new channels. At the same time, the proliferation of so many niche content choices began to offer programmers diminishing profit margins. Most new cable brands nowadays are rebranded from underperforming networks -- like how Discovery Health is converting to Oprah Winfrey's new network, OWN.

Seacrest and his partners' most likely path to distribution would be to convince one of the cable channel-owning power players (like MTV Networks or Discovery Communications) to let them rebrand a struggling channel that already has a fair amount of distribution.

Seacrest has demonstrated skill as a producer through his company, Ryan Seacrest Productions, with titles ranging from "Kardashians" to the Emmy-winning "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution."

Yet for many in the industry, Seacrest launching a cable network would nonetheless seem like a great leap. Keep in mind, however, Seacrest's career has been characterized by surprising bursts of growth over a relatively short period of time -- from hosting "American Idol," to taking over "American Top 40" as a radio personality to "E! News" producer and co-anchor, to an active reality producer.

If anything, a few years passing without Seacrest making some headline-making expansion is would be more unusual.