Dont Blame Ops for Channel Failures


To the Editor:Aw, come on. Let's stop feeding the false rumor that it's the cable operators who put the kibosh on now-defunct channels.

Cable operators launch channels, they don't liquidate them. It's time to stop repeating that unproven and unfounded argument against the very industry that has launched hundreds of new channels filled with television choices.

It might provide an easy excuse for programmers who missed the market, but it certainly shouldn't be part ofMultichannel News'excellent reputation for reporting, as it was inMultichannel News'25th Anniversary supplement (Sept. 18).

The mistaken claim that networks have been "shut down" because of cable operators' refusal to carry them was not the reason that The Monitor Channel was closed in 1992. Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of The Monitor Channel, and, I suspect, in most cases.

In my 20 years of experience launching and distributing programming services to cable operators-including the The Monitor Channel-I have seen channels shut down because of their own mistakes in the market or the owners' changed strategies or lack of financing, but not because of the cable operators.

The Monitor Channel, in fact, is an excellent example of the cable industry's willingness to support new channels that serve untapped markets. Its wide distribution also refutes the mistaken claim that cable operators need to "own a piece" of a channel to launch it. What matters is the programming, the target audience and the ability of the programmer to provide value and deliver results.

Without these, there's not much reason for a cable operator to consider launching.

In a period of very tight channel capacity, The Monitor Channel had far exceeded its distribution goals, with over 6 million subscribers launched in 10 months, signed contracts with all of the top 25 MSOs and launches within each one of them. It was the last new network to charge a rate card in its early years, rather than offering a subscriber bounty.

Even after The Christian Science Publishing Society announced in April that it would shut down the channel, every single system continued to carry it until the signal was actually turned off in June 1992. Big, medium and small systems carried The Monitor Channel until its end; even TCI [Tele-Communications Inc.] didn't drop it.

The Monitor Channel ceased operations because its owners, the Christian Science Publishing Society and the Christian Science Church's board of directors, decided to rechannel all of their media investments toward the flagship international newspaper,The Christian Science Monitor.

The cable channel-along with journalistic enterprises in TV, radio and a monthly newsmagazine-were shuttered. To place the blame for the channel's demise on the cable industry is completely wrong. The owners opted for the print medium over TV.

Judging by The Monitor Channel's early success in distribution and ratings, cable operators and their subscribers liked it a lot more than its owners did. Nothing in the Monitor's story supports your claim that "distribution" was its problem or any other network's problem. Your second

reason-"financing"-hits the mark.

Like many other former networks, Monitor's owners decided to stop funding it, much to the surprise of the cable industry that supported it.

Monitor is just one example. It's time to stop parroting the programmers' excuse that "the cable industry didn't get behind a channel" and instead face up to the reality that the wrong products at the wrong prices are never bought by anyone, not even cable operators.

Barbara Bellafiore Sanden
Bell Communications