The success of America's Health Network likely will depend on whether the nation's hospitals will tune in to the idea of a 24-hour all-healthcare cable channel.
With financing secured from the former top executive duo at Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., the 2-year-old network now is focusing on its marketing strategy.
"In every market we are in, we want to have a hospital or health system or local healthcare company as a promotion partner," says Webster Golinkin, the network's chairman and chief executive officer.
Richard Scott, Columbia's former chairman and CEO, and David Vandewater, Columbia's former president and chief operating officer, are leading a group that in November became the majority owner of privately held AHN (Nov. 17, p. 14). The amount of the group's investment wasn't disclosed. AHN wouldn't reveal its revenues or other financial information.
When Scott was at Columbia's helm, the company had signed a letter of intent to acquire the network. Scott and Vandewater resigned from Columbia July 25 amid a federal government fraud investigation of the company, and new management pulled the plug on the AHN deal in August.
The network was launched March 25, 1996, from Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., as the "first and only television source for round-the-clock health and medical information." It offers six hours of live daily programming, which is repeated during the course of a 24-hour period. Two-hour specials also are featured. Hourly health news segments will begin this quarter.
Columbia planned to install AHN in its 350 hospitals and 150 surgery centers, a move AHN says would have greatly expanded viewership. Rather than Columbia's annual 40 million patient visits, which AHN had hoped to turn into 40 million viewers, the network now must try other tacks to sell its programming to the nation's hospitals.
AHN wouldn't reveal potential partners or whether there were any deals with other healthcare systems or companies in the pipeline.
Under AHN's strategy, local hospitals or health systems would purchase what are known in the television industry as "local avails," or local advertising spots during the channel's programming.
"If TCI was the operator in your area, they would be carrying America's Health Network," Golinkin says. "A hospital or health system in that area would be purchasing local avails (on AHN). In turn the hospital purchasing local avails would be promoting AHN in all of its facilities."
AHN reaches 7 million households in 50 states. About 4.5 million households can see the show on their cable systems, while the remaining 2.5 million can get it via direct satellite television. Golinkin's goal is to double viewership by the end of 1998.
"I think it has a high potential, but one of the dictators of its future success will be the programming," says Robin Potter, host of a half-hour Kansas City, Mo.-based television show called "Healthcare Business Review." His show isn't offered on AHN.
As for Scott and Vandewater, their roles in the network are pretty much as silent partners-at least to the media. Neither is speaking to the press about the venture or anything else. But AHN is likely to take advantage of Scott's and Vandewater's contacts and experience in the healthcare industry.
"We really feel that we can do many of the same things with Rick and David as if Columbia would have been the investor," Golinkin says. "We'll have one foot in the media business and one foot in the healthcare business."