Newtown TV producer Ariel Schwartz has wired his basement for a venture in Internet television that gives viewers click control over what they see and when they see it.
New Century Television is Schwartz's 4-year-old Internet television channel, and the basement is its cramped headquarters. From below ground in Newtown, viewers are offered programming on everything from the intricacies of fly fishing to the history of Bucks County wineries.
"We believe this is the new millennium of TV that is emerging, and it's based on people's personal interests," Schwartz said. "Any company, individual, producer, or special interest group could have their own channel and be immediately accessible around the world. Basically, the wild, wild West of TV."
New Century TV offers 500 hours of television programming on its www.newcenturytv.com site - some of it free and some for subscribers only. There are free "client stations" used for marketing, such as those created for La Salle University and the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau, along with special interest subscription stations including channels on art, cooking, spirituality and traveling.
The station has more than 1,000 monthly subscribers who pay fees ranging from $6.95 a month to $99.95 annually, Schwartz said.
On any given day, Schwartz and his skeleton staff of part-timer Ari Fried and freelancer Mike Shoeman will be working in his basement, uploading, editing and prepping content for the site.
New Century TV started when Schwartz and co-founder and fellow Newtown businessman Howard Blumenthal went for a walk in Tyler State Park and decided to take what they had learned after decades of working in television and new media and launch their own company.
The two had worked together on projects beginning in the early 1980s. They produced a best-selling instructional video on photography and worked together on the Emmy Award-winning PBS television game show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Later, they were colleagues at CDNow, a major online retailer of CDs and DVDs then based in Fort Washington.
Schwartz, 49, had started in the business at companies including Newsweek, CBS and HBO. He moved to the United States from Jerusalem when he was 3 years old, and his family settled in Bradford, Pa. Schwartz's father was a Holocaust survivor who moved to Israel after World War II.
Schwartz studied television at Pennsylvania State University, where he met his future wife, Jill, who helps with New Century TV.
Between his television projects, Schwartz worked as a creator of interactive projects for museums - specifically, the touch screens that put information at museum patrons' fingertips. He helped create exhibits for museums including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif.
Later, when Schwartz began to produce popular celebrity interviews and other features to help market products at CDNow, he and Blumenthal had a realization about their future.
"This is what told us that if you put up the right content with the right audience, Internet video is viable," Schwartz said.
The two left CDNow when it was swallowed by German conglomerate Bertelsmann AG. That freedom gave them the opportunity to start their own firm. The visitors center has been a client for three years.
"More people are using the Internet to plan their travel, and if they can have that virtual experience to whet their appetite, it's likely that we'll be able" to persuade them to come, said Keith Toler, the visitors bureau's executive director.
New Century TV's operating revenue comes from subscriptions, advertising and clients such as La Salle, but Schwartz said he and Blumenthal have sunk $250,000 of their own money into the firm. Blumenthal left the company to become chief executive officer of Independence Public Media of Philadelphia, which operates WYBE, a local TV station. He remains a member of New Century TV's board.
In the planning stages is specialized programming on books, business, holistic health, peace, the environment, and dating and relationships - all emanating from Schwartz's basement.
"When we did Carmen Sandiego, we had a staff of 150 and a giant studio, and that program was seen throughout the U.S.," Blumenthal said. "Now, Ariel can take a camera that cost $3,000, take an intern or two with him, and make a TV program that is seen throughout the world."