Growing Court TV Reaches 50M Subs

Courtroom Television Network said it expects to reach its 2000 goal of 50 million subscribers by the end of this week, a 32 percent increase in carriage from a year ago.

The 50-million-home benchmark, which Court TV will hit on Dec. 1, compares with 39 million subscribers a year ago, said executive vice president of affiliate relations Bob Rose.

The network gained 11.8 million homes since last November, according to Nielsen Media Research. Rose said that's the greatest percentage of growth of cable subscribers among midsized cable networks.

Court TV, which has added 8 million subscribers since July, expects to reach 60 million subscribers by year-end 2001.

The criminal-justice network has been on a ratings and distribution roll since its ownership conflicts were worked out back in 1998. At that time, Time Warner Entertainment and Liberty Media bought out NBC's stake and became 50-50 owners of the service.

The two companies put their full financial support behind Court TV, and recruited Henry Schleiff as chairman and CEO.

It was a rocky period. At the time, some operators- including MediaOne Group Inc. and Cox Communications Inc.-were so dissatisfied with the network's programming they were dropping the service. Court TV, using a strategy of broadening its scope, added the off-network series
Homicide: Life on the Street

in primetime, along with original reality programming

The network invested $120 million in programming over a two-year period. Ratings have soared as a result of these changes, and are up 75 percent in the third quarter, to a 0.7 in primetime, according to Nielsen.

Court TV did hit a bump this fall when it premiered the controversial show

which featured real-life videotaped confessions by criminals. After sharp criticism from the public and press, Court TV quickly pulled the plug on the show.

In addition to new programming, Court TV also stepped up its public-affairs initiatives, with efforts such as
Choices and Consequences.

All the changes prompted MediaOne and Cox's Phoenix system to reinstate the network to their channel lineups.

In a recent Beta Research study, Court TV topped the list of midsized cable networks that operators said they plan to add to expanded-basic service in 2001. And among systems with 50,000 or more subscribers, Court TV ranked first among the channels operators were "very/fairly interested" in carrying by the end of next year, the survey found.

"We think we are the last analog network to get in the door with operators," said Rose, who acknowledged it will be harder and harder for Court TV to build distribution now that it's at the 50 million point.

In November and December, Court TV will have launched in more than 60 communities in 21 states. The crime-and-justice network is being added to analog lineups at systems owned by Adelphia Communications Corp., AT&T Broadband, Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., Cox, Insight Communications Co. Inc., Mediacom Communications Corp. and Time Warner Cable.

That includes Court TV rollouts in such markets as: Hampton Roads, Va.; Long Beach and Malibu, Calif.; Minneapolis; Detroit; Chicago; Lexington, Ky.; South Bend, Ind.; Independence, Mo.; Duluth, Ga.; and Eatontown, N.J.

Court TV doesn't have the leverage of retransmission consent, or the ability to package itself with a stable of sister services, to help drive distribution, Rose said. So selling points to operators are up-front launch support, some free carriage, uniqueness in terms of trial coverage and public-affairs programs and strong local ad-sales appeal, according to Rose. Court TV's number of ad-insertable homes during the past year has grown to 18 million from 1 million.

"Court TV is a major money maker for these guys," Rose said.

To celebrate its upcoming distribution milestone, Court TV will hold a sweepstakes to select its 50 millionth subscriber. The grand prize will be the "value of 50 years of Court on basic cable."

The winner has the choice of receiving an annual check covering the cost of the basic-cable service, or the equivalent cash value of the prize up front.

The prize recipient will be selected at random from subscribers to Charter's Long Beach and Malibu systems, which have been determined to be the systems that will push Court TV over the 50-million mark. Results will be announced this Wednesday at the Western Show.