Hundreds of Channels, but Where's the Artsy Stuff?

Flip through your cable, and it seems there's a channel or three for every possible interest: golf, history, animals, kids, home improvement. But you have to look hard to find the fine arts. Back in the day, both Bravo and A&E featured classical music, ballet and the visual arts. But they've long been taken over by Project Runway and Law and Order reruns.

The easy conclusion to draw is that the fine arts don't have a big enough audience to make a go of it on national cable. That's not so, says Charles Seegers, CEO of a venture called Ovation TV.

"It worked wonderfully well for Bravo, it's worked for A&E, and it continues to work for PBS," he says. "The reality is, it's always worked."

The problem, as Seegers outlines it, as that the fine arts worked too well. Bravo got such a big audience that its corporate owner — NBC Universal — wanted that big audience for its more mainstream fare.

"When we saw Bravo and A&E move on to more general entertainment, we saw a wide-open category to take," Seegers explains. Ovation TV, after a little more than a decade as a small player in that category, has recently re-launched as a national fine-arts cable channel.

Media consultant Kathy Rasenberger says there's a hole in the cable lineup where a fine-arts network could fill a niche, but it won't be easy for it to succeed financially. Fine-arts programming is expensive to produce, she points out, and building an audience could be tough. A ballet fan isn't necessarily going to want to watch a show about a museum.

Ovation TV will succeed if it builds an audience with opera and documentaries, Seeger says, because people who like fine arts are desirable to advertisers. A bigger challenge might be for Ovation to continue with the arts and not get sucked into reality shows, as Bravo and A&E did.

After all, this is a cable landscape where a show called Flip This House airs opposite a show called Flip That House.

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