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Cable production: the real winners.

As a new multiplexing era begins, in a competitive world where broadcast networks no longer engage in cable bashing, but are serenading cable instead, both basic and pay cable channels continue to program more aggressively. So as to maintain their respective niches, these cable channels increasingly want to produce original programming. According to industry reports, in 1990, the cable industry spent $1 billion on programming.

Donna Harris, vp of original programming for Lifetime, a service targeting women ages 18-54, stressed that in the age of remote control, "what is presented on cable must be in the same league as everyone else." Their fall season illustrates this: nearly 60 per cent of Lifetime's programming is original, world premiering six movies a year. Lifetime has also stated that they expect to spend a record $1 billion on programming in the next 10 years.

Like Lifetime, the USA Network will introduce, for the first time, a night of original programming next summer, which is considered a "high" ratings time for cable. The broadcast networks, whose ratings race ends in May, spend the rest of the summer in reruns. David Kenin, senior vp of original programming said, "For the past five years, USA has had a summer strategy: Since there are few program initiatives in the summer, USA introduces as many new episodes of programs as we can, as well as new product. The lack of other offerings makes viewers roam around the dial, finding new alternatives - like USA - that are attractive."

Kenin feels that acquired programming is very important, but pointed out that original programs "count" more than off-net shows. "Even if ratings are less than off-net shows and may drive down profit margins, there may be other sources of revenue that will balance the score." These sources would include international sales, home video and subsequent station syndication of programs.

Reportedly, in 1990, USA spent $35 million in programming. This season, USA will introduce up to 30 world premiere movies. Airing his month is Writer's Block and Blackmail. The live program, USA Lucky Day, wraps around the entire game show block; and A&E's programming budget for |91-|92 is 50 per cent higher than last year. Two world premieres debuted last month: Dinosaur and Brute Force.

The cable industry has profited in that the broadcasters have turned to their adversaries as production partners. USA, Nick at Nite, HBO and Lifetime have benefited from such recent deals, but virtually all the broadcast networks have been approached to discuss possible co-production and development deals.

With the diminishing number of MOW's on the broadcast networks, pay cable channels that are movie-driven have a unique opportunity to fill the void, attracting viewers the broadcast networks leave behind. Steven Hewitt, vp, original programming, for Showtime Networks, reported that, "Lower budgeted action titles do well for us. By reducing those B titles that have failed at the box office and increasing our made-for-TV productions, we will be letting go of the middle ground."

Independent producers have also turned to cable as a less expensive means for their smaller projects. Theatrical giants such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola are currently working with HBO, Showtime, TNT, Comedy Central, Bravo, and The Family Channel. Among the Showtime projects: Coppola is overseeing the Showtime documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, Zalman King (9 1/2 Weeks) is in production with a 90-minute film, Red Shoe Diaries, which is also serving as a pilot for 4 half-hour episodes in development. Both will air in the spring. Next year, Showtime will air up to 12 new titles next year.

The fifth largest cable network, The Discovery Channel, has successfully tapped into the independent community as well, in that most of their original production is done outside. In 1990, TDC spent an estimated $38 million in programming. Now producing over 50 per cent of original programming, nine new series have made their world premiere this fall, along with additional U.S. and cable TV premieres. From now through the 1993-1994 season, Discovery plans over 100 hours of original programming.

According to HBO's chairman, Michael Fuchs, this was the first year that cable premieres of original programming have outperformed premieres of theatrical movies. The Josephine Baker Story scored an 18 rating and 30 share in HBO homes when it debuted earlier this year.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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