As television subscribers with Cablevision know, Plum TV, the popular Hamptons celebrity TV network, went dark on May 6. A message on the screen of Cablevision’s channel 18 informs viewers: “Important customer update. Plum TV has ceased operations and is no longer available…”
Whether that is just here in the Hamptons or everywhere remains unclear, but we do know there are similar reports out of Montana and Nantucket, where Plum TV also was active. At its height, Plum TV broadcast about the good life in Miami Beach, Aspen, Vail, Telluride, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and the Hamptons. Media attempts to contact executives at Plum by Variety, Long Island Business News and Patch have led nowhere thus far. Whatever Plum executives know, they are not saying publicly yet.
In any case, the story of Plum, which was a rich man’s dream, is a fascinating one, and in many ways parallels an attempt made by me for Dan’s Papers in the 1980s. For several years in the 1980s, Dan’s Papers were published in Hawaii, Marco Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Cape Cod, Block Island and Daytona Beach. The only differences were that the founder of Plum was rich, while back in the 1980s the founder of Dan’s was not and Dan’s—shedding most of its giant empire—pulled through and thrived, while Plum did not.
Let’s look at Plum first. Tom Scott made his millions by as a twentysomething by cofounding the famous Nantucket Nectars brand of fruit drinks. He and his partner Tom First famously began by selling them out of the back of their boat on Nantucket. They were the self-proclaimed “juice guys.” They sold the company to Ocean Spray in 1997 for $70 million.
In 2004, Tom Scott got another idea. Why not, on his own, create a TV network for the rich and famous? Where do the rich and famous hang out? Resorts! It could occupy a TV channel in all the upscale resort markets. He’d start with one on Nantucket, and if that worked out, he’d expand it around the country to other resorts. By 2010, he’d done that.
And how was he doing financially? Who knew? He seemed to be thriving, but it was a private company. His slogan was “Live the Good Life.” His people were selling advertising, making videos, attending parties. Here in the Hamptons, Plum TV had its own television studios in Bridgehampton, had photographers, videographers and, at many events, beautiful young television personalities to ask all the right questions. The content of the network was about one-half based in this resort community and one-half on stuff produced at other resorts. Seemed like a good idea.
In 2010 however, Tom Scott announced an arrangement with the founder of Ocean Drive magazine in Miami Beach, Jerry Powers. Powers, after many successful years, had sold Ocean Drive and was looking for something else to do. Powers would be CEO and Co-Chairman along with Scott not only for Plum TV in the Hamptons, but for the entire Plum TV operation in all its locations. Soon after this announcement, it was further announced that Plum would soon offer magazines in several locations where they already had the TV networks.
Plum Hamptons magazine came out here in the Hamptons in the summer of 2011. Its first edition came out over 200 pages long. But by the end of summer, there seemed to be trouble in paradise. At that time, Jerry Powers gave a startling interview with members of the media.
According to Powers, Tom Scott’s Plum operation had blown through at least $15 million dollars, and was not paying many of its bills. Powers said, it was sinking deeper. He was amazed. And he wanted out.
In January of 2012, Plum went into bankruptcy. Scott made a stiff-upper-lip sort of announcement, praised the staff, and said he hoped the company could seamlessly march into the future under the banner of some other businessmen he had contacted. In March of 2012, these were Joseph Varet and Morgan Hertzan, men who worked together at MTV and had founded LXTV. Hertzan would be based in New York and would work the East Coast, trying to drum up business. Varet would be based in Los Angeles and try to drum up business on the West Coast. Their product would serve an upscale market,
but would largely consist of TV production and distribution via media postings on the internet, social media, TV, their own site and on YouTube.
At this juncture, it is hard to say what is going on, except to say that the channels mentioned above have now gone dark. For all we know, Plum in another guise nationally is a big success. The local part, however, is gone.
I will say yesterday, I downloaded the Plum TV app to my iPhone. And it works. The postings on it seem to be at the rate of one a month, the last of them two weeks ago, a video called “Cabinet of Curiosities,” about a fancy cabinet of curios in a private home in Manhattan. But that was before May 5. On Wednesday May 9, it was reported viewed 279 times. It had 15 “Likes.”
Now we come to old Dan Rattiner and his saga to create a nationwide empire of resort newspapers, not with millions but with maybe 75 cents.
Dan’s Papers by 1980 had editions in the Hamptons and the North Fork and on Block Island, as the BLOCK ISLAND TIMES, which had been running at that time for ten years. (It was sold at the end of this saga for a goodly sum, and is now the paper of record of Block Island, Rhode Island).
Anyway, in 1980, I discovered a way to send floppy disk computer files through a telephone line from one place on the planet to another for no cost. This was an astonishing thing to stumble upon in that year. The internet as we know it had not yet been launched.
There was, however, something called
MCI Mail. It wasn’t very well known and was only a modest success. But if you paid $35 a year, you could send a computer file from a floppy disk stuck into one of those olden days computers to MCI Mail, and they would put it in a “box” for you to keep until you wanted it at a later date. That way, if you lost your
disk or your modest hard drive crashed, you had it somewhere. You’d get a password to open the box.
Also that year, the Osborne I portable computer came out. It was the first commercially successful portable computer. It was the size of a suitcase, but you could lug it to far away places and use it. Using a telephone connection, Osborne I made you able to write a newspaper story in Afghanistan and send it to the Chicago Tribune in a matter of seconds. But it would take a while, you’d have to set up your own system, and it could be quite costly.
What I did was buy a $35 yearlong subscription to MCI Mail, give out the password to all the reporters, and then arm these reporters with Osborne Is. I bought nine of them. (They were $1,700 each). They’d write a story, put it in the mail box, and then in Bridgehampton, our worldwide headquarters, we could open the mailbox and retrieve it. Voila!
Then I had another thought. Why not start Dan’s Papers anywhere! I put a small 1/24-page ad in the paper. “Wouldn’t it be Fun to Publish Your Own Newspaper? You can!” One after another, I got takers. Each newspaper would have its own name (the one in Hawaii was the “Mai Makena”), but under the name it would say “One of Dan’s Papers,” and we could use their stories and they could use our stories. And by joining the Dan’s Papers network you also got cassette tapes explaining how to publish a free newspaper, sell ads for it, distribute it and write it. I sold a licensing fee to join this network for $100 and for 5% of the profits going forward, if there ever were any.
Of course, in the end, I not only overwhelmed myself with paperwork and corporate governance, I also set it up so I’d have no real money to provide this end of the service. When it got to be in six states with the headquarters still in Bridgehampton with no new staffing, it kind of fell apart. So we just ended it. Oh well.
What I did avoid, however, was losing tens of millions of dollars. And I avoided bankruptcy. Smaller and leaner, Dan’s Papers went on to greater things. It sold in 1997 for $19 million. The company that bought it, after paying us, went bankrupt, and so now we have it back. Dan’s Papers is now in its 53rd year. God Bless America.
By the way, did you know that the popular radio show “Car Talk” stopped being produced last fall? The guys Click and Clack talk to callers about used cars problems, but they continue on in re-runs. And it’s pretty funny. But listen closely. “So my problem is I have a 1988 Toyota Camry and it runs well, except it makes this kachugga, kachugga sound…”
It just reminds me of all those reruns we saw on Plum TV at the end, all of things happening in days gone by but presented as if they were today—a time warp. And oh, how much younger we looked.