Slate.com in talks to start Slate TV

Summary:Michael Kinsley will participate in future TV show.

The online magazine Slate, edited by former Washington pundit and CNN Crossfire co-host Michael Kinsley, is in talks with media companies about forming a joint broadcast venture that will be called "Slate TV," MSNBC has learned. Although no deal has yet been inked, the plans are serious enough to have moved Microsoft, which owns Slate, to quietly register the domain names SlateTV.com, SlateTV.org and SlateTV.net on August 16.

Slate jumped to reserve the Slate TV domain names to "take them off the table, as it were," said Scott Moore, Slate's publisher. (Microsoft is a partner in MSNBC.)

Moore confirmed that Slate has been approached by various media companies, which he declined to name, with the intent of forming a joint broadcast venture that would become "Slate TV."

But the format of the show is unknown. "We think that the notion of a TV show is an interesting one," Moore said. "But we haven't made a deal and we haven't really decided exactly how we might go forward with it," Moore said.

Kinsley told MSNBC he would be a part of whatever Slate TV turns out to be. "We think a variety of Slate's 'meta-news' features - lively, intelligent synthesis of what's going on in politics and culture - would adapt very well to TV," Kinsley said in an e-mail interview.

Moore believes there is a synergy at work with advertisers on Slate that will cross over to any kind of broadcast venture.

"The notion of sort of packaging advertising between television and the Web ... is one of the reasons we think it's an intriguing idea." said Moore.

Making it work
Other online publications have attempted the jump to TV - and failed. Wired magazine tried three years ago to launch Wired TV in a joint venture with MSNBC Cable, without success.

How is Slate planning on avoiding its own broadcast debacle? "It's awfully preliminary to speculate on that," Moore said, but whatever Slate does it "wouldn't be a standard, talking-heads type of show." Certainly having the "star power" of editor Kinsley won't hurt Slate TV's chances, Moore acknowledged.

Moore also said that he's going to be paying close attention to some of the various interactive television programming efforts that are expected to be rolled out in the coming months to see if any of those ideas can be adapted by Slate TV.

To be TV or not
Plans to launch Slate TV seem to fly in the face of comments Kinsley himself made during an interview with Dan Kennedy, media critic for the Boston Phoenix, in June.

Web publications are pushing the immediacy of the news cycle even faster. Kennedy asked Kinsley whether he felt like he's expected to be "be more of a TV station than a magazine."

Kinsley replied: "That's one of the things we're definitely trying to resist... One of the things I'm determined to resist is turning Slate into TV by other means. We are going to cling to the print metaphor. Although we hope to use video and other big-bandwidth things in useful and creative ways, we don't want to become a TV station."

And of Slate's famous e-mail dialogs that are reprinted in full, Kinsley said people are "constantly suggesting" that they put the writers in a chair and put them on video, to which he replies: "We think e-mail is a medium that is better at communicating serious ideas in a lively way than TV."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the broadcast medium Kinsley largely left behind when he jettisoned his high profile "sensible liberal" role on CNN's Crossfire verbal slugfest.

When confronted with the Phoenix interview, Kinsley deftly side-steps any cognitive dissonance, saying that whatever Slate does with broadband on Slate.com will be "more/different than TV."

The seduction of the synergy between a Web publication and a cable or broadcast TV show tie-in "is too great to pass up," Kinsley told MSNBC. (Kinsley continues to fill in as an occasional substitute host on Crossfire; he says he "hasn't given any thought" to whether a Slate TV project would curtail future TV appearances.)

"Of course we hope the TV show will be different in ways that reflect our on-line experience, and we hope to learn things doing the TV show that may prove useful on-line," Kinsley said, "but basically they're two separate projects."

That stance makes media critic Kennedy happy. "As long as they're not going to screw with Slate, they can do whatever they want with TV," said Kennedy, an unabashed fan of the online publication. "I would be apoplectic if I thought they were going to start draining resources from what they have now in order to add to the TV show." Still, Kennedy isn't ready to give the idea of Slate TV a free ride.

"I'm just skeptical as to whether what I like about Slate would translate particularly well to TV," Kennedy said. The amount of content on Slate lends itself to readers who have the ability to pick and choose, Kennedy said. "I can read when I want; I can read as little or as much as I want, that's the nature of the medium. To try and translate this into some sort of a, I'm just guessing, an hour long TV show is a lot less appealing to me," he said.

Kennedy believes that however Slate TV shapes up, it should be available on the Web site in video form: "Broken into parts... so I can watch a five minute segment that's 45 minutes into the regular show," without having to sit through the first 40 minutes.

Topics: Tech Industry

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