TCA Slot Is Worth the Fuss

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Cable networks have good reason to worry about getting
berths at the Television Critics Association tour.

Cable programmers universally agree that the TCA tour is an
invaluable way -- in terms of efficiency in both cost and logistics -- to get word about
their programming out to the public.

"This is a forum where we can tell people what we are
doing and reach the whole country," Knowledge TV general manager Bob Jones said.
"It's a shot at informing a whole range of viewers. It's just something you can't
afford to miss."

The opportunity is crucial for networks that aren't part of
programming fiefdoms, according to Jones.

"It's even more important for smaller networks than
the larger ones," he said. "People are going to find out what Discovery
[Channel] is doing. For a smaller network -- particularly one doing originals -- it's one
of the few ways to get word out in a concentrated manner. We can't afford to travel all
across the country."

Last July, Knowledge TV participated in a special
new-network block at the TCA summer tour. As a result, the network got 40 mentions in
newspapers.

"Our story count was very good," he said.
"That's driving our interest to go back a second time. It's really hard. I know every
network would like to go."

E! Entertainment Television senior vice president of
original programming John Rieber said, "In one hour, you can reach the entire
country's most influential newspaper writers. The impact for the network is phenomenal. At
the TCA, you can also see the critics face-to-face, which helps enormously."

Courtroom Television Network -- which presented at the TCA
tour only once before -- applied for and won a rotator slot for this July. The network is
undergoing a programming overhaul, and it wants to tell the TV writers about it.

"I'm hoping that the TCA is looking to give us a
slot," Court TV executive vice president of strategic planning and programming Art
Bell said, before learning of its selection. "It's very important. We're at a
critical point. We have new programming. We are changing our brand. It's important to have
the press talking about what the network is."

Romance Classics general manager Martin von Ruden said if a
TV critic sees a presentation on a show they like from a network that is not available in
their market, they sometimes write about it anyway and tell their readers to call their
cable operators and ask for that network.

"That's why the TCA is so important to new and
emerging networks," he added.

Nonetheless, the suggestion from some cable networks that
Home Box Office and Showtime Networks Inc. -- which typically have three or more hours
each to present their panels -- should give up some of their time didn't sit well with the
critics.

"I wouldn't take anything away from HBO or Showtime --
especially HBO, which I think deserves an entire day of its own," said Tom Jicha, TV
critic for the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"They provide most of the star power we need when we
have to send back daily columns from Pasadena, especially when most of the B-list cable
networks are presenting projects, however worthwhile, that will not be on the air for
months," Jicha added.

San Francisco Chronicle TV critic Tim Goodman said,
"I definitely would not want either HBO or Showtime to have its time cut to fit these
channels."

And TV critics who grow weary being holed up for two weeks
for the TCA tour certainly don't want to see it go on longer to make way for more cable
presentations.

"It would be nice to have the newer nets get a chance
to show their wares, but if the tour is extended anymore, there is going to be a Jonestown
reaction among critics," Jicha said.

"The problem with the newer nets is only peripherally
linked to the tour," he added. "Most of us have so much to cover and write about
during these intense days that we're not going to allot much time to networks that don't
have substantial carriage in our markets. Our job -- at least as I see it -- is not to
create a demand, but to report on what is there."

Jicha suggested casual get-togethers with new networks,
"because a network is liable to enter your market between tours, and it's nice to
have at least a basic knowledge of what they do."

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