TWC drops arts net Ovation from cable line-up
Michelle Clancy | 19-12-2012
US cable MSO Time Warner Cable has informed arts-programming network Ovation, apparently in a unilateral action, that it intends to drop the network when its current contract expires at midnight on 31 December.
This follows TWC CEO Glenn Britt's comment that TWC would be "having a different kind of conversation" with small niche channels going forward.
Ovation seemed a bit bewildered, having released stats that show it has grown from five million to 51 million homes in six years and is available on major cable, satellite and telco systems across the country. And last year, the network made "its biggest investment to date in original programming," it said, resulting in an increase of 55% in audience, making it the fourth fastest-growing network in the US by Nielsen's reckoning.
"Our plan has been to grow Ovation as fast as possible in all key metrics," said Charles Segars, CEO at Ovation. "In a few short years since taking over the network, we have achieved that plan. Ovation is the fourth fastest-growing network and I am confident this arts-centric team will continue to post impressive gains in distribution, advertising and ratings throughout the new year."
Britt warned earlier in the month that he could drop pricey but low-rated channels from the TWC line-up. Speaking at a UBS investor conference, he said that he plans to take a "hard look" at programming contracts, evaluating channels that "cost too much relative to the value of the service." Low-rated nets will from now on see a "different kind of conversation ... than we had with them five, six or ten years ago," he said, because programming is "just starting to cost too much".
"Time Warner Cable's main rationale for dropping Ovation is economics and the growing cost of programming," said Brad Samuels, executive vice president of content distribution at Ovation. "While they are investing huge amounts in sports programming, they've chosen to limit their customers' viewing options by cutting the only arts network in their line-up. Ovation believes this decision was ill-conceived. For pennies a month, TWC can continue to offer its customers the only network dedicated to the arts and continue to take part in vital arts and arts education programmes for the communities they serve. Ultimately, we hope that Time Warner Cable will see the value our other affiliate partners see in Ovation, and will reconsider their decision."
Pay-TV operators have increasingly complained about the practice of bundling networks — media companies ask for a bundled fee to cover a wanted, high-rated channel, but often insist that distributors also take and pay for lesser known, less popular channels. An example would be AMC Networks, which bundles the popular AMC network with others, like the Sundance Channel, that are more niche plays.
But Ovation says that niche programming serves an important purpose. "If Time Warner Cable proceeds, then in 2013 its customers who love the arts will miss out on our enlightening and entertaining shows like Song by Song and A Chance to Dance, brand-new original series, an increased number of co-productions and an extensive VOD and TV Everywhere offering of incremental and exclusive content covering all arts genres," said Robert Weiss, Ovation's chief creative officer. "At least they can watch Battle of the Nutcrackers through the holiday."