ZDTV -- which is being launched by an affiliate of Ziff-Davis, publisher of ZDNN -- will provide a range of programming that will be simulcast on its Web sites through video and audio feeds.
Shows include Silicon Spin, a roundtable discussion group similar to The McLaughlin Group, half-hour newscasts, computer-help programs and a Siskel-and-Ebert-like show rating Web sites called Internet Tonight. The channel will also broadcast special coverage of technology events such as Comdex, and, by mid-summer, will add Gamespot to its programming lineup.
'I would worry if they didn't criticize.'
-- ZDTV News Director Harry Fuller
Initially, ZDTV will be broadcast in a handful of regions in the United States, including Las Vegas, Detroit, parts of Georgia near Atlanta and parts of Maine. The company plans to double the number of households to 3 million by year's end.
As with any new venture, the idea has drawn some skepticism from critics.
"It's an uphill battle for any cable programmer, unless you're CNN or MTV -- you always have to battle to get on a particular cable system," said Ken Lim, senior futurist for CyberMedia Convergence Consulting, in Cupertino, Calif. "ZDTV is such a niche -- it's the same thing for the history channel or the golf channel."
Lim said that even if there are 200 programming choices, most cable systems only have bandwidth to broadcast 35 to 50 channels.
To the criticism, ZDTV News Director Harry Fuller says that history has proven that many cable ventures were once dismissed as futile, and have proven to be wildly popular -- including CNN and ESPN.
"I would worry if they didn't criticize," Fuller said. "I can remember when radio people thought that news on TV would never work. The users have voted with their eyeballs and their man-hours and their own time. They are using the Internet more, and they are using it for a variety of information."
Distribution is key
Some analysts think the most difficult hurdle will not be viewer interest as much as the distribution model.
"It's as good an idea or better than many of the 24-hour channels that are already operating," said Peter Zollman, an interactive media consultant based in Altamonte Springs, Fla. "There's a huge market for technology information, and there's particularly a huge market among the young segment.
"Their issue is not 'will there be a market?' -- their issue is the sustainability and the distribution."
Martha Stone teaches New Media & Technology at Roosevelt University in Chicago and is an independent writer who contributes frequently to ZDNN.