News

Clock Ticking for CableACEs

3/08/1998 7:00 PM Eastern

The CableACE Awards may fall victim to cable's own
success, and major and small cable networks are on opposite sides in the debate.

The National Academy of Cable Programming will soon meet,
most likely later this month, to consider whether to scuttle the awards, which would
celebrate their 20th anniversary this year.

The future of both the national and local CableACEs will
come under review, according to NACP spokesman Torie Clarke. However, the local CableACEs
-- at least for this year, and despite the review -- will go on as planned May 5, during
the National Cable Television Association convention in Atlanta, officials said. The NACP
is an arm of the NCTA.

Sources said the national CableACEs are in serious trouble
right now, and they may meet their demise as a result of a recent session of the
NCTA's executive review committee. The presidents of several networks -- arguing that
the CableACEs have outlived their usefulness because cable has made such big strides --
recommended that a decision be made about ending them, sources said.

The rationale is that cable programming today can compete
for -- and win -- Emmy and even Academy Awards, which are higher-profile than the
CableACEs and which get more public attention, a number of major cable programmers said
last week.

"For a long time, cable networks were on the outs, so
you needed this recognition," one top programming official said. "But now, in
many ways, they've [the CableACEs] served their function."

According to Clarke, "There is a review under way.
There is a question as to whether cable has accomplished what it set out to do [with the
CableACEs]: to promote cable programming."

The issue, which has arisen before, has come to a head
because "cable programming has been doing so well, with recent Oscar nominations,
Emmys and in the ratings," Clarke said.

Unlike their counterparts at large networks, officials at
smaller cable networks are crying foul, calling for the CableACEs to be saved as their
only real forum for recognition.

"It [discontinuing the CableACEs] would be a very
disappointing turn of events -- disappointing and disheartening," said the head of
one midsized cable network. "HBO [Home Box Office, which dominates the CableACEs]
doesn't represent all that's on cable."

Discovery Communications Inc. CEO John Hendricks, the NACP
chairman, is trying to reschedule a canceled February board meeting that would deal with
the CableACEs' future. Discovery spokesman Jim Boyle said Hendricks doesn't want
to take a position, and he won't comment on the CableACEs until the full board
debates the subject.

And before any decision is made on the CableACEs, officials
agreed that there must be a consensus of both the NACP board and the NCTA's
programmer-board members, the 90-member Satellite Network Committee. Hendricks is on both
the NACP and NCTA boards.

A published report said HBO had decided to pull out of the
CableACE competition this year, but several sources denied that version of events. HBO
deferred all comment to the NACP. HBO spends up to $1 million to compete for CableACEs,
and it walked off with 32 last year. Shortly before last year's CableACEs, HBO won 19
Emmys, more than all of the broadcasters except NBC.

A number of major programmers, including Showtime, Lifetime
Television and Turner Network Television, said last week that they will abide by the
NCAP's decision, and they declined further comment.

But a number of major programmers, speaking not for
attribution so as not to offend the Hollywood production community, were highly critical
of the CableACEs' relevance.

Several pointed out that few MSO officials attend the
national CableACE Awards ceremony in November, and that the public doesn't watch the
awards on TV like they do with the Emmys. This past November, the CableACE show did a tiny
0.6 rating on TNT, compared with a 1.2 the year before. In contrast, the Emmys earned a
13.5 rating last fall.

"The public is not paying attention [to the
CableACEs]," one top programming executive said.

Another high-level cable-network official described the
CableACEs as "hokey," political and expensive. Programmers not only have to
spend to submit nominations ($400 each), but they must also ante up to buy tickets to send
nominees to the ceremony. Officials feel that those resources could more fruitfully be
funneled elsewhere, like the Emmys competition, which has more promotional value.

That's fine for big networks, the smaller cable
programmers argued, but they added that the Emmys shut them out. First of all, the Emmys
don't have categories to cover all of cable's specialized niche programming,
according to small-network executives. Second, the Emmys have distribution requirements
that some smaller cable networks can't meet. To seek a primetime Emmy nomination, a
cable network must be transmitted "to markets representing at least 51 percent of
U.S. television homes," according to rules set by the Academy of Television Arts
& Sciences.

The Golf Channel this past November won its first CableACE,
competing for best sports-news series against four ESPN shows.

"This [the CableACE] holds a tremendous amount of
value for us, and we'd hate to lose this kind of recognition," a Golf
spokeswoman said. "The CableACE is well-recognized outside of the cable
industry."

Last year, interfaith religious network Odyssey was
nominated for a CableACE for best dramatic special, and it lost to HBO. Odyssey
Productions president Jeff Weber, who has other CableACEs to his credit, lamented any end
to the awards.

"It would be unfortunate if the ACEs were done away
with," Weber said. "It's important for cable to have a unique forum for its
work."

Ray Solley, a William Morris agent who specializes in cable
deals, said his clients -- such as Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg and Linda Ellerbee --
"all treat the CableACEs as a legitimate and important award."

Another Solley client, Production Partners, recently
enjoyed "a quick increase in its visibility" just by getting a CableACE
nomination, Solley added.

Gary Lico, president of Cable Ready, which supplies
programming to cable, was proud last year when his show -- Inside the Actors Studio,
on Bravo -- won a CableACE, his first.

"It would be a shame if they went away," he said.
"You're going to create an industry without awards."

Dave Andersen, a spokesman for Cox Communications Inc.,
said it wouldn't be a surprise to see the national CableACEs ended, since they were
created as "a stopgap only because cable couldn't get into the competition for
the Emmys."

But "the local awards still have a purpose," he
said.

Nancy Larkin, vice president of community affairs for
Cablevision Systems Corp. and chairman of the system CableACE Awards, said some review of
the local CableACEs might be appropriate at this time.

"They're evaluating if there are other
opportunities to showcase our wares," she said. "There is the opportunity to win
local Emmys ... Our industry is rapidly changing, and we are feeling the effects of the
convergence of local and regional [as MSOs cluster systems]. All of that affects how you
define these programs and evaluate and judge them."

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