New York-area religious leaders are seeking a meeting with
Time Warner Cable New York City officials after the system announced that it will drop the
faith-oriented Odyssey Channel next month.
The 1.1 million-subscriber system announced plans last week
to drop the interfaith service for Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.'s MSG Metro Guide,
barely one month after Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson Co.'s $100 million
investment in the 30 million-subscriber network.
But Time Warner -- which is currently channel-locked, but
which is looking to add more locally targeted programming, like MSG Metro Guide -- decided
to drop the low-rated Odyssey service.
"Typically, what we do is look at the viewership
levels for the services, and Odyssey is among the lowest-watched services on the
system," said Robert Jacobs, senior vice president of the system.
The decision, which takes effect Jan. 28, upset the
National Interfaith Cable Coalition, a minority owner in Odyssey, and the NICC is
organizing its membership to protest the move.
A consortium of nearly 70 Protestant, Jewish, Catholic,
Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical and Pentecostal faith groups and traditions, the NICC holds
a 22.5 percent interest in Odyssey. Liberty Media Group holds 32.5 percent, while Hallmark
and Henson hold the remaining 45 percent.
"This is an enormous blow to the religious
community," said Arthur Caliandro, senior minister of the New York-based Marble
Collegiate Church. "There isn't much in the media today that supports the
spiritual interests of people."
Caliandro will gather leaders from other faiths with the
hopes of sitting down with Time Warner to discuss the situation. While he understands that
economics and ratings play a major role in such decisions, he said the service is
important to religious and nonreligious viewers.
"In the circles that I travel, Odyssey has a very
strong following," he added.
The move represents a rare setback for a service that has
experienced several gains recently. Just two weeks ago, Odyssey signed an expanded
multiyear affiliation-renewal deal with Tele-Communications Inc. that will increase the
network's distribution to 85 percent of the MSO's analog-subscriber base.
Ironically, it also inked a deal with Time Warner Cable,
which will roll out the network to almost 500,000 subscribers in central Florida starting
And many industry observers believe that the inclusion of
popular and high-quality programming from Hallmark and Henson will ultimately attract more
viewers to the channel and nicely complement its religious fare.
Yet, prior to Time Warner's move, some operators
expressed concern that the new programming shift might alienate loyal viewers, and that it
could be in conflict with current affiliation agreements.