Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Business

New vision for Tampa's Channelside: 24-hour health and wellness TV channel

TAMPA — The minds behind what could be the Channel District's next big thing stand in a cavernous wasteland of dirt and concrete pilings, pointing out their sets.

Here, above the tread tracks, will be a future green room and makeup salon. There, a massive TV studio, with windows facing the cruise ships and the Towers of Channelside.

"We want to have that 'wow factor. TV is sexy,' " said Drew Nederpelt, a budding TV executive. "We're going to have celebrities flying in, coming here. . . . This will be the crown jewel."

Nederpelt's vision is the 24-hour Health & Wellness Channel, a TV network — part fitness, part home shopping — targeting the eyes and wallets of the fit and diet-minded.

On Monday, he stood in the fledgling network's planned headquarters: a 60,000-square-foot space, half the size of an average Target, on the ground floor of a two-towered condo complex, Grand Central at Kennedy.

When the four studios here open next summer, beaming programming to satellite networks like DirecTV, the station will likely employ around 100, many of them locals. Later, Nederpelt said, could come the holy grail: a spot on cable TV.

It's no coincidence the network will be across the bay from HSN, which its daytime product Marketplace will emulate. Several Health & Wellness executives cut their teeth at the Clearwater giant, as well as the Golf Channel. Nederpelt, too, is at home in the aisles, having overseen the development of Wal-mart brands like Great Value from the mega-retailer's Arkansas headquarters.

But this network of original programming would be deeply Tampa-based, with shows taped in nearby gyms and hosted by local yogis. Infomercial king Tony Little and '90s Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson will face the cameras, and downtown audiences could gather at the windows to watch the shows taped live.

That Nederpelt, the owner of a New York publishing house, would choose here for his mini-Hollywood could say something about the industrial-born Channel District, its once-barren condos now shaking off the dust.

With Channelside Bay Plaza fielding interest from big names like Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, and downtown awash in the spotlight for the Republican National Convention, Nederpelt said the district's business capacity is set to soar.

"Hopefully," Nederpelt said, "we'll be a big part of that boom."

• • •

Here's what the network has to offer: Morning exercise shows like Spin the World, a first-person cycling ride through scenic routes like the Great Wall of China. Daytime talk and cooking shows like Grocery Aisle Ambush, where shoppers are taught the error of fatty foods.

But wait, there's more: During primetime, the station will offer a medley of game shows, relationship advice and reality TV. One, a competition show likely in the vein of The Biggest Loser, is called Drop & Give Me Everything.

In the middle will be the Marketplace, five hours of models and salespeople hawking workout gear, juicers and "nutraceuticals" like vitamins and herbal cleaners. Bestsellers will be rebroadcast in that trademark of retail TV: the early morning dead zone between 2 and 5 a.m.

The key to the network's revenue is what Nederpelt calls the "cross-pollination" (and what others call product placement) of shows and stuff to buy. If viewers like a meal being cooked, they can call (now) to order not just the ingredients, but the blender, too.

"Everything they're utilizing, we sell," vice president of television operations Randy Gruber said. "Television ends up becoming a means to a sale."

Shows, Nederpelt said, will be toned toward the baby boomers, the TV-weened generation Nielsen Research predicts will soon command 70 percent of the country's disposable income. The calls to action and impulse buys that worked for HSN could no doubt help in a network many might feel healthy just turning on.

• • •

Nederpelt is clearly confident about the idea — Oprah native Dr. Mehmet Oz, he said, called it "brilliant" — but its execution is still a ways away. Building the headquarters from the dirt, including sound dampeners for nearby train tracks, will cost about $3.5 million and take half a year.

And where that money will come from remains a sticking point. Nederpelt said his network, now self-funded, is considering four investment offers to fund the operation. He turned down a $40 million investment from a New York fund in April, he said, believing it wanted too much control.

Standing between the proposed dressing rooms and editing bays, near the "Kitchen" studio and the actual kitchen and the Health Desk with sights of Channelside, Nederpelt doesn't back down on his network's ambitions of grandeur.

"We want to spread the gospel of living long, healthy lives," he said. "We want to save lives, frankly. We want to change the world."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]

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