Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment

Warner-Amex
Joint venture
GenreCable television
FateSold to Viacom
SuccessorViacom Media Networks
FoundedDecember 1979
Defunct18 July 1984
Headquarters,
OwnerWarner Communications (50%)
American Express (50%)

Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Company was a joint venture owned/operated by Warner Communications and American Express that developed and initiated several successful cable networks that remain well-known.

Notable channels:

  • The Movie Channel: Launched in 1979. Existing prior to the creation of QUBE in 1973 as "Star Channel", it served as a premium movie channel for the system.
  • MTV: Music Television: Launched at 12:01 a.m. EDT on August 1st, 1981, a network that aired music programming such as concerts and music videos.
  • Nickelodeon: Launched in 1979, an educational/entertainment network aimed towards preschoolers and children. Its progenitor was a program called Pinwheel that played only on QUBE.

Despite its technological innovation and vision, the creation of the QUBE and its relative financial failure meant that Warner Communications needed outside capital to expand beyond Columbus, Ohio. Additionally, Warner leader Steve Ross understood that the future of cable television was going to demand an ever-expanding programming need.

Beyond QUBE and the end of Warner-Amex

Seeing the potential in the creation of new cable networks, Warner Cable divested QUBE's biggest brands, Star Channel and Pinwheel, into nationwide outlets. Star Channel began by satellite in January 1979 and was renamed The Movie Channel by the end of the year. Pinwheel became Nickelodeon in April 1979.

In 1980, Warner-Amex formed a joint venture with Cablevision's Rainbow Media division to launch Bravo, a cable network indicated to arts and films, it was launched in December 1, 1980, however, it was sold to Rainbow Media in 1984 following Warner-Amex's sale to Viacom.

Lack had worked in sales at CBS Radio (in fact, it was he who suggested Schneider to Warner chief Ross) and had an idea of cable programming as a series of special-interest 'channels.' A devotee of popular music, he developed a half-hour show named Pop Clips at Nickelodeon with musician Mike Nesmith as a program for music video film clips. He also planned a series of 24-hour channels to imitate the strategy of The Movie Channel—single-focus programming for music, video gaming, and shopping. Bob Pittman accepted Lack's idea and inaugurated the music channel as MTV: Music Television (née The Music Channel), in the process developing the careers of such future media executives as Mark Booth, Larry Divney, Andrew G. Setos, and John Sykes.

In 1983, concerned by the strategic and financial failure of its pay-TV venture The Movie Channel (started to reap the benefits Time Inc. was having with HBO and Cinemax), WASEC established a joint venture with Viacom, merging TMC with their premium movie network Showtime to form Showtime/The Movie Channel, Inc. WASECO had no operational involvement with this joint venture.

Meanwhile, WASECO operating partner Warner Communications experienced financial upheaval, including the reversal of fortunes at innovator Atari, and legal questions about business dealings of Ross and his senior lieutenants. In an effort to maximize the good news, Warner Communications decided to spin off Nickelodeon and the rapidly growing phenomenon MTV as a public company (MTV Networks). Jack Schneider also left WASECO, being replaced by senior Warner executive David Horowitz (who oversaw Warner Communications' half of the WASEC joint venture).

A year later, American Express sold their stake in Warner-Amex Cable to Warner Communications, which renamed the company Warner Cable.

In 1985, Warner sold its interest in Showtime/The Movie Channel to Viacom, making them the sole owner of both networks.

During this period, Warner Cable reorganized itself by dividing the company in half (a "metro" unit that had newer wired communities and a "national" unit which comprised the older systems), selling the Dallas and Pittsburgh systems to Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), and ceasing operations on QUBE completely. As a result of subsequent mergers TCI became part of AT&T Broadband and later Comcast.

In 1987, Warner Communications and American Express rendered MTV Networks private, selling its assets (MTV, VH-1 and Nickelodeon) to Viacom for $685 million, ending Warner's venture into cable television until it acquired HBO and Cinemax as part of its merger with Time Inc. It would also return to basic cable in 1996 through the purchase of Turner Broadcasting System. Warner retained the majority of the cable systems,[1] which were spun-off into a separate company in 2009. That unit would eventually become part of Charter Communications.

In 2011, MTV Networks changed its name to Viacom Media Networks.