Time Warner Cable to Drop Ovation

Ovation, the arts-culture cable channel that's enjoyed a distribution surge the last several years, said Tuesday it expects to be dropped by Time Warner Cable on Dec. 31, potentially losing about 7 million subscribers and the key markets of New York City and Los Angeles.

The independently owned network, reaching 51 million homes via cable, satellite and telco providers, went public about the expected drop in hopes of gaining support from viewers and arts organizations that would persuade Time Warner Cable to rethink the decision. “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 TVE offering of incremental and exclusive content covering all arts genres," Robert Weiss, the network's newly hired chief creative officer, said in a release. "At least they can watch Battle of the Nutcrackers through the holiday.”

Brad Samuels, the channel's EVP of content distribution, said in the release: “Time Warner Cable’s main rationale for dropping Ovation is economics and the growing cost of programming. 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 lineup. 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 programs 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.”

Time Warner Cable countered in a rebuttal statement that "steeply escalating programming costs are forcing us to closely assess each network as it comes up for renewal. We look at many factors in making programming decisions. Three of the important factors we look at are unique content, cost and viewership. If a channel’s cost is too high relative to its popularity and viewer appeal, then we may discontinue carriage or move it to another tier. Ovation is among the poorest performing networks, and is viewed by less than 1% of our customers on any given day. We’ve paid more than $10 million in carriage fees to Ovation over the past several years. They’ve had ample opportunity to improve the ratings and the content, and have failed to deliver.

"Also, they claim to be an arts channel but a quick look at their lineup indicates that most of their programming is not," the cable company said. "An analysis of Ovation’s programming shows that it’s not a channel devoted to the arts.  One 7-day period in November 2012 shows that 70% of their schedule was old movies that are repeated, numerous repeats of the PBS show Antique Road Show, infomercials that are unrelated to the arts, and repeats of TV shows from broadcast networks. We regret that the economics of the pay television industry have come to this, but we can no longer burden our customers with costs for low-performing networks. Just as broadcast and cable networks make decisions to cancel or move shows that fail to perform, we are obliged to make the same decisions with networks."

Ovation said the past year saw its biggest investment in new original programming, including the music documentary series Song By Song and the Nigel Lythgoe-produced A Chance To Dance. The channel also has worked closely with local arts and cultural institutions, often in partnership with affiliates including TWC. Institutions in those TWC communities will suffer from the channel's being dropped, the network said. It included a quote of support from Robert L. Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group Ovation has worked with in pursuit of federal funding for the arts.

UPDATE: A public-relations firm said New York politicians (state senators, a state assembly member and several city council members) will be rallying on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan on Wednesday (Dec. 19) at noon, protesting the planned drop of Ovation, under the umbrella of a newly formed organization, Citizens for Access to the Arts.

Ovation added nearly 6.8 million subscribers between November 2011 and 2012, according to Nielsen, a 15% gain. According to SNL Kagan estimates, Ovation receives about 7 cents per subscriber per month from distributors. In 2007, Ovation had only 5 million subscribers in all. 

This is the second recent pre-emptive plea from an independent programmer facing a distributor's potential drop. Last week, the CEO of Youtoo TV complained about a pending drop by Verizon's FiOS TV. Youtoo (the former AmericanLife Television) also is on a list of networks Time Warner Cable has said it has an expiring agreement with and could potentially drop. 

(Pictured: a still from Mighty Uke, a documentary that aired on Ovation.)

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.