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Ovation Sets June Relaunch

Ovation TV will relaunch in June with a new on-air look and a programming strategy aimed at creating partnerships with local arts organizations that will provide network affiliates with bonus video-on-demand content.

The brand refresh is timed for the nine-year-old channel’s previously announced June 20 launch on DirecTV. With that deal, Ovation’s reach is expected to more than triple from its current base of 5.4 million cable subscribers. The channel is not providing specific distribution numbers for the DirecTV deal, which will position Ovation on the direct-broadcast satellite leader’s Total Choice Plus tier.

The DBS debut coincides with the introduction of Ovation’s programming strategy away from a fine-art-centric service to one with a broader palette that will see it devote each day’s schedule to a specific genre, such as performances, visual arts or film. Weekends will be home to “stunts and specials,” according to chief operating officer Ron Garfield.

The modifications were prompted by a change in ownership last August: Ovation TV is now controlled by a group of private investors including Arcadia Investment Partners, Hubbard Media Group, Perry Capital and The Weinstein Co.

The localized arts partnerships, meanwhile, will help to key a deeper push into cable, Garfield noted. Initially, the channel is focusing on creating these relationships in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, where Ovation is carried by systems owned by Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

Garfield, citing recent survey research, said that in 2005, 50 million-55 million people in this country went to live sporting events, a total that was dwarfed by the 260 million that attended art-related events, ranging from festivals to recitals to plays and other live performances.

“This is not a niche category. Every city and town attracts people to something [arts related],” he added.

Ovation’s first two local arts partners are: The Harlem School of the Arts, a 43-year-old institution providing instruction for youth in dance, music, theater and the visual arts in New York; and P.S. Arts, a nonprofit organization devoted to returning arts education to public schools in Southern California.

“We’ll drive awareness of the institutes. We’ve produced public-service announcements for them that we’ll be placing with affiliates,” Garfield said.

In turn, these and other institutes have content that can not only be culled for presentation on Ovation’s broadband portal, but can edited for use on affiliates’ VOD platforms.

“What will really set the channel apart is localism … Art is different in New York City than it is in Santa Fe, N.M. In the [target] marketplace, we’re building 360-degree partnerships,” Garfield.

Ovation already has master distribution agreements with Time Warner and Comcast, among other operators, and Garfield believes the channel will widen its distribution base under the localism strategy due to its “unique value proposition.”

More arts partners will be named soon and the initiative expanded to more markets as interest warrants, Garfield said.

When the channel launches on DirecTV, its on-air look will change. Ovation’s in-house design team worked with an outside agency to create on-air elements that are vibrantly colored, with the contemporary look and feel of a magazine, Garfield said.

As for the content, Ovation executives are going through the partners’ libraries, and the channel’s own, with a fine-tooth comb, gleaning the best content to fit the revised programming scheme.

Asked about HD plans, Garfield said new productions and series will be shot in the enhanced format “so we have it.” He’s not sure how the channel will use it at this juncture, though.