American Movie Classics will become the latest basic-cable network to spin off a new niche programming service with the launch of a 24-hour-a-day channel dedicated to classic love stories.

Romance Classics, as the new cable service will be called, isn’t scheduled to go on the air until early 1994, but AMC’s parent, Rainbow Programming Holdings, has started preliminary discussions with cable MSOs about the new service.

AMC won’t be the only cable network to pursue this strategy. MTV and Nickelodeon earlier stated their intentions to test new spin-off channels–independent channels focusing on specific niches of their programming mix–in Viacom systems in 1993.

And rumors continue to circulate that Lifetime Television is contemplating starting a 24-hour-a-day soap opera channel.

A Lifetime spokesman would not comment on the speculation, but said, “We are always looking at new business opportunities.”

Joshua Sapan, president of Rainbow’s national services division, said Romance Classics is the first cable channel designed to be launched on cable tiers.

Following the passage of cable reregulation legislation, cable operators are repackaging cable services into new tiers of service to be priced between basic rates and premium services such as HBO and Showtime.

Rainbow will be pitching Romance to operators as a potential source of revenue in the reregulatory environment.

There is a severe shortage of channel capacity plaguing the cable industry, which is inhibiting the growth of new cable webs such as the Cartoon Network and the Sci-Fi Channel.

But Rainbow believes that within the next two to three years many cable systems will embrace technological advances that will greatly expand the number of cable channels they can carry.

While today’s cable systems offer 40 to 60 channels, the adoption of digital compression technology will mean cable systems may have as many as 150 to 200 channels in the future.

Rainbow is launching Romance Classics in anticipation of that explosion.

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