YCTV goes belly up

Service was $25 million in red

NEW YORK — Discovery Communications’ YCTV (Your Choice TV) — which repeated episodes of some TV shows at more convenient times for cable subscribers who couldn’t program their VCRs — has folded its operation.

The Denver-based limited-liability company, with Discovery owning 51% and John Malone’s Liberty Media owning 49%, employed about 40 people, most of whom got pinkslips July 31. YCTV ended up losing about $25 million.

A small group of cable systems, most of them owned by Malone’s TCI (Tele-Communications Inc.), Cox (which is on the management committee of YCTV) and Comcast, were setting aside as many as five digital channels for the rescheduling of programs from the following YCTV clients: ABC, HBO, ESPN, Comedy Central, National Geographic, PBS and the various Discovery-owned channels.

The cities in which YCTV was operating included Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Detroit, Hartford, Conn., and New Orleans.

More losses ahead

But, according to a Discovery source, YCTV faced millions of dollars of further losses if it continued operating because so few cable subscribers in these markets have ordered the highly advanced set-top boxes that would give them access to the YCTV offerings.

Another reason YCTV has shut down is that the need for its existence will vanish when the broadcast networks start rolling out as many as five additional digital channels each, starting later this year, at the order of the Federal Communications Commission. Much of the programming on these digital channels will consist of the reshuffling of existing shows on the main network into different time periods.

YCTV also faced the prospect of the government’s forcing cable operators, through the imposition of must-carry, to make room for all of the broadcasters’ digital channels. Cable operators are desperately fighting this blueprint, but one of the first group of services to get replaced on cable systems if digital must carry takes hold will be the YCTV channels.

Convenient soaps

ABC was one of YCTV’s most active clients, funneling such ABC-owned series as “20/20,” “PrimeTime Live,” “Nightline,” “General Hospital,” “All My Children,” and “One Life to Live” to YCTV for rescheduling.

A spokesperson for ABC says the network is disappointed that YCTV has folded. But ABC will continue with its soap-opera experiment in tests with Time Warner Cable in Chicago, TW and Advance/Newhouse in Houston and four TCI systems in Charlotte, N.C. In these tests, ABC will repeat the three-hour “All My Children,” “One Life to Live” and “General Hospital” block that night in primetime, the next morning and twice again on the weekend.

YCTV’s VP of communications Julie Lucas said she and four of its executives will stay on for a few weeks to help the operation close down with a minimum of chaos. The four are Nancy Stover, the CEO; John McCoskey, senior VP of operations; Tom Tepper, controller; and James Lightstone, senior VP of business affairs and general counsel.

And all may not be lost. “We’re protecting our technology and our patents,” Lucas said, “which we’ve registered in custody of Discovery in case the marketplace changes” creating new demand for the service two or three years down the road.

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