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TW cable: Tiers, cheers and jeers

NEW YORK — The media gossips had a field day after Time Warner Cable revealed the 11 channels it will add to a $1.95-a-month tier starting this fall in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

The ones that made the cut, in alphabetical order, are: Animal Planet, BET on Jazz, Classic Sports Network, CNNSI, Eye on People, Independent Film Channel, Ovation, Turner Classic Movies, TV Land, Encore’s kids network Wam! and a Crosswalks city-government channel.

Gradual rollout

The plan is to have the tier in front of about 225,000 of TW Cable of NYC’s 1 million subscribers, with a graduated rollout — based on the upgrading of the system block by block — that will make the 11 channels available to all subscriber homes by the year 2002.

Time Warner’s Gotham system will add three other networks — HBO 2, Cinemax 2 and Starz — that are not part of the tier. Crosswalks got in because the city gave up a channel last month to accommodate the Fox News Channel as part of a deal between TW and Rupert Murdoch that ended a bitter lawsuit between the two companies in New York.

Some of the networks that ended up with rejection slips include: Disney’s ESPN News, Scripps’ Home & Garden, Murdoch’s FX, Viacom’s Sundance Channel and Chuck Dolan’s Romance Classics.

Time Warner owns CNNSI, the 24-hour sports-news network, and Turner Classic Movies, a commercial-free lineup of mostly theatrical golden oldies.

The Independent Film Channel was favored over Sundance, sources say, as a good-faith gesture by TW as part of the ongoing negotiations — still not settled yet — between TW’s Gotham system and IFC’s parent company Cablevision Systems Corp. over the renewal of Sportschannel New York, another Cablevision company.

TW Cable of NYC wanted to choose one music channel, one insider says, and BET on Jazz got the nod over Viacom’s MTV spinoff M2 and Cablevision’s Much Music on the one-to-a-customer theory: Viacom’s TV Land survived the winnowing-out process and Cablevision got IFC.

Clone deals

TW owns HBO and Cinemax and will make their multiplex clones available free to subscribers who pay the full monthly fees for HBO and Cinemax. One source says it didn’t hurt Starz that it’s owned by John Malone, who has an equity stake in TW, and that the network has exclusive pay cable output deals with Universal Pictures and Disney’s Touchstone, Hollywood and Miramax, among others. Malone also owns 49% of Discovery’s Animal Planet and 22% of BET on Jazz.

After about a year, sources say, TW’s Gotham system hopes to induce up to 20% of its subscribers to pay $1.95 a month extra for the tier. If that figure can inch up to close to 40% by the fourth or fifth year, TW will probably collapse the tier into expanded basic, where all of the mass-circulation cable networks reside.

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