Arts network is first casualty of new tough stance

Time Warner Cable’s new tough stance on network carriage has claimed its first victim.

The cabler plans to drop arts network Ovation at year-end, several weeks after the cabler’s CEO Glenn Britt came down hard on networks he said drive up costs but don’t pull their weight with viewers.

Ovation said Tuesday it would be yanked off Time Warner systems when its carriage contract expires at midnight on Dec. 31.

“Such an action by Time Warner Cable would negatively impact millions of Time Warner Cable customers who will no longer have access to Ovation’s unique arts programming,” it said in a statement. “Our plan has been to grow Ovation as fast as possible in all key metrics,” said CEO Charles Segars. “In a few short years since taking over the network, we have achieved that plan.”

Ovation is in 55 million homes with total day household ratings up 55% year over year.

Brad Samuels, Ovation’s exec VP of content distribution, said Time Warner is investing heavily in sports but TW Cable execs have “chosen to limit their customers’ viewing options by cutting the only arts network in their lineup…For pennies a month, TWC can continue to offer its customers the only network dedicated to the arts and continue to take part in vital arts and arts education programs for the communities they serve.”

Escalating sports programming costs have operators pulling out their hair, but sports still draws eyeballs. Time Warner Cable has invested $3 billion for a 20-year deal to telecast the Los Angeles Lakers games and created L.A.-based regional net Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Deportes for Spanish speakers.

As costs across the board, not just for sports, have risen steadily, cable and satellite operators say they are loath to pass those costs on to consumers with higher monthly rates in such a skittish economy. Britt told a major media conference this month that networks couldn’t assume carriage is a sure thing anymore.

“This is not a birthright. This is not a (free) lunch. Because the consumer is telling us we can’t afford these prices anymore, where we have to, we are going to start cutting things off,” he said.

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