World cinema is still waiting to say Bravo

Rollout slowed by low sales

NEW YORK — A future of pics starring actors like Catherine Deneuve, Roberto Begnini and Carmen Maura — all emoting in their native languages 24 hours a day on U.S. TV screens — has veered off the information superhighway onto a side road, casualty of the slower-than-expected rollout of digital set-top boxes.

“Cable operators haven’t moved as fast as we thought they would” in creating subscriber-friendly digital tiers for niche networks like World Cinema, said Joe Cantwell, exec VP of new media for the Bravo Networks.

World Cinema is the name of the proposed 24-hour cable network devoted exclusively to subtitled foreign films, a channel being developed by Bravo and its sibling, Independent Film Channel. WC originally hoped to start operations sometime in 1998.

But Cantwell said Bravo hasn’t given up on the concept, keeping it alive by showcasing a weekly Wednesday-night foreign film on Bravo under the World Cinema rubric.

Though Bravo’s viewers have to read subtitles when they click on the Wednesday movie, Cantwell said the average rating of the timeslot for October-November reached a 0.3 in cable homes. That number matches the primetime average for Bravo’s full weekly sked of programs in English.

The other outlet that’s keeping WC from going out of business is a juiced-up Web site (WorldCinemaTV.com) that the 1.5 million or so cable homes throughout the U.S. with high-speed modem hookups can call up on their TV sets at the click of a mouse. WC’s broadband site features full-motion video. Users can call up short films, clips of pics in current theatrical release, film fest news and full-length features.

For the next Cannes Film Festival, Bravo plans to buy online rights to some of the short films both in and out of competition and make them easily available on the cable-modem Web site, according to Cantwell.

And when the day comes that millions of subscribers have bought digital set-top boxes and are much more comfortable with using their TV sets to surf the Web and buy all sorts of products online, Cantwell will pump up Bravo’s sales force to convince cable operators to buy WC as a 24-hour network.

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