New York -- Courtroom Television Network's new chief said
last week that the game plan for the struggling service is to broaden its niche and to be
more entertaining in a "classy way."
At a forum here on the "art of channel
makeovers," Court TV president and CEO Henry Schleiff said, "Justice is not only
blind: It is also broad. The plan for Court TV is to broaden the niche that's the
strategy, in a nutshell."
He made his remarks at an International Radio and
Television Society Foundation Newsmaker luncheon last Tuesday.
Schleiff, newly installed as head of Court TV following the
restructuring of its squabbling ownership, said the legal channel must "provide a
distinctive window on the American system of justice."
Schleiff maintained that Court TV's value to operators is
the variety that it can add to their program lineups, since they "are not just
selling ratings, but a diverse package." The ratings-deprived network earned a 0.1
Nielsen Media Research rating in primetime in the third quarter.
"It's not just all about ratings," he said.
He acknowledged that is a tough mandate, with so many
cable-news channels and broadcast networks doing intensive coverage of legal issues and
trials today, as well as an explosion of syndicated legal-related shows, such as Judge
"We have to recognize that and bob and weave around
it," Schleiff said.
To be more accessible to viewers, Schleiff said, the
network must take a new approach to some of the shows it is already airing. For example,
its series, The Greatest Trials of All Time, did episodes on "very erudite,
highbrow" cases such as Sacco Vanzetti, when it should have been covering cases like
that of mob leader John Gotti.
"We need to do trials of greater recognition,"
He added that Court TV will also look for opportunities to
acquire off-network shows "that are classy and that fit our profile."
Said Schleiff, "That's something we'll chase."
Court TV's distribution stands at roughly 35.2 million
homes, and its remaining partners -- Time Warner Inc. and Tele-Communications Inc., the
latter via its Liberty Media Group unit -- have just committed to giving it an additional
5 million subscribers during the next few years.
But the network is still seeing drops from other MSOs. For
example, Cablevision Systems Corp. in Oakland, N.J., is taking off Court TV in the unbuilt
portion of its system -- 175,000 homes -- effective Nov. 1.
Earlier this year, Time Warner and Liberty bought out NBC's
stake in Court TV, and the restructured ownership has promised to ante up funds so that
the network can invest in programming and promotion -- something that Schleiff said it
hasn't been able to do during the past year.
"The confusion in ownership was reflected in the
network, which remained status quo," he said. "And this is certainly not a
business where you can stay status quo Now, it's up to us to broaden the
programming and run with it."