Chicago -- Buoyed by its revamped primetime schedule and
rising ratings, Courtroom Television Network has won back MediaOne Group Inc. as a major
affiliate and closed additional carriage deals that will give it 6.4 million subscribers,
officials said last week.
As part of a new long-term affiliation deal with MediaOne,
the MSO will restore Court TV to roughly 900,000 homes in New England, as well as adding
it to about 100,000 subscribers in Los Angeles, for a total of nearly 1 million homes.
Saying that subscribers didn't like the network and
complaining that its ratings were low, MediaOne switched out Court TV six months ago,
around the time of the Western Show.
"MediaOne dropped us for very legitimate
reasons," Court TV president and CEO Henry Schleiff said. "They told us, 'Go
resolve the issues and we'll reconsider.'"
In addition to the MediaOne pact, Court TV has also signed
new long-term deals with Comcast Corp. and AT&T Broadband & Internet Services, as
well as extending its carriage with direct-broadcast satellite service DirecTV Inc. for an
additional five years.
So systems with 2.4 million subscribers will roll out Court
TV this summer, with the network racking up total commitments for 6.4 million new homes.
With those commitments, Court TV's distribution will jump
by 20 percent this year, to more than 39 million by year's end, according to Schleiff.
"The launches grow out of recognition of our
improvement across the board, [our] programming momentum, the resolution of our ownership
and the commitment of our partners," he said. "We've literally relaunched this
network building on its brand recognition and live trial coverage. Our success is directly
attributable to the progress we've made."
After finally working out an ownership conflict last year,
Court TV owners Time Warner Inc. and Liberty Media Group recruited Schleiff to run the
Schleiff's strategy was to broaden the channel's scope to
crime and justice, in addition to its live daytime trial coverage. One of his first moves
was to acquire reruns of Homicide: Life on the Street to use as the linchpin of
Court TV's primetime.
Court TV's ratings have soared as a result of Homicide,
its original programming and the movies the network is now airing on weekends.
In the May sweeps, Court TV's primetime ratings were up 200
percent to a 0.3. The network has recently been hitting a 0.4 in primetime, and it plans
to spend $100 million on original and acquired programming over the next two years.
MediaOne spokesman Rob Stoddard said the MSO is bringing
Court TV back to its New England systems for several reasons.
He recalled that the decision to remove it had been
controversial at the time, adding that MediaOne heard complaints about it from both
subscribers and lawmakers, including members of the Massachusetts congressional
delegation, and it was responding in part to that.
Stoddard also noted that MediaOne's system rebuilds are
making more room for Court TV, and that "its numbers [ratings] are beginning to go
up." And he complimented the network's executives for being "quietly and
politely persistent" about trying to regain carriage.
As part of its new deal with AT&T Broadband, that MSO
will increase Court TV's distribution by 50 percent over five years, to 10 million homes
from 6.6 million, Court TV executive vice president of affiliate relations Bob Rose said.
The long-term affiliation deal with Comcast covers New
Jersey, California, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Comcast will also launch Court TV in
new markets this year, possibly in Baltimore.
In addition, in July, 200,000 Century Communications Corp.
Los Angeles subscribers will be converted to full-time carriage of Court TV in rebuilt
areas, with the network being launched on the rest of Century's Los Angeles systems --
300,000 subscribers -- over the next 18 to 24 months.
Last week's news had Court TV officials optimistic.
"We believe we are going to get to 60 million homes," Rose said.
In addition to approving of Court TV's programming changes,
cable operators also liked its new public-affairs initiative, "Choices and
Consequences," according to Schleiff. Choices and Consequences is an educational
program aimed at keeping youths out of court by teaching them to think before they act.
Some of Court TV's summer launches include: 500,000
AT&T Broadband subscribers in Spokane, Olympia and Vancouver, Wash., and Eugene, Ore.;
250,000 Time Warner Cable homes in Houston; 240,000 AT&T Broadband subscribers in Salt
Lake City; and 230,000 Lenfest Communications Inc. homes in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Schleiff said he plans to meet with Cox Communications Inc.
officials soon. Earlier this year, Cox CEO James Robbins questioned the narrowness of the
network's niche, Schleiff added, but Court TV has broadened its programming philosophy
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