WETA plans launch of classical music channel for cable TV

Dick Cavett and Fanfare logo

Based on articles in Current, Nov. 23 and Dec. 7, 1998

Washington public TV station WETA and cable entrepreneur Jack Clifford will offer a 24-hour, advertiser-supported cable channel next year, built around classical music videos supplied by recording companies. WETA President Sharon Rockefeller and Clifford announced the service, "Fanfare: The Classical Music Channel," on Dec. 2 during the Western Cable Show in Anaheim, Calif.

Dick Cavett (in photo above) will be the primary host for the 24-hour service, which will begin operations next Thanksgiving, with WETA producing the original connective material.

Clifford, former executive v.p. of Providence Journal Co. and chairman of the cable operator Colony Communications, and now head of Clifford Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz., will serve as chairman of Fanfare, L.L.C. He and a group of investors are providing initial financing. Station spokeswoman Laurie Fry said WETA is a partner but is not revealing how much of the venture it will own.

The Fanfare partners said they have arrangements with major classical recording labels Sony, BMG, PolyGram, EMI/Angel and the Warner Music Group to obtain videos of individual classical music selections. The channel already has five times the inventory of videos that MTV had when it started, according to Clifford.

On a promo tape, a selection of videos feature mature stars intercut with the kaleidoscopic eye-candy of MTV, as well as younger performers with sex appeal not often visible from the second balcony of concert halls: soprano Kathleen Battle (is that her, lying there, caressing herself?) and full-lipped baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky brooding in a roomful of lovers. Even performers who are dead and/or camera-shy can be featured: the camera lingers on the innards of a Steinway as Glenn Gould plays a Bach prelude.

Cavett, two other veejays yet to be hired, and celebrities from other fields will introduce selections and interview artists. (In the preview tape, Cavett contributes interstitial drollery, taped in WETA President Sharon Rockefeller's living room.) Cavett, 62, has hosted talk shows on ABC, public TV (1977-82) and CNBC. Regular news segments will report major record releases and other news from the classical music world.

WETA said a 1997 survey of cable subscribers by Frank A. Magid Associates determined that 52 percent said they would "definitely" or "probably" watch a channel like Fanfare.

Fanfare will compete to some extent with Classic Arts Showcase, which carries high-brow cultural videos. That nonprofit channel, founded by arts advocate Lloyd Rigler, original marketer Adolph's Meat Tenderizer, is available to more than 50 million homes, according to the network.

Part of the WETA's team on the project is Ralph Malvik, WETA's executive director for cable relations. Malvik was an early staffer at the Learning Channel who later managed the cable access center in Montgomery County, Md., before joining WETA in January 1996.



To Current's home page

Earlier news: WNET will package regional arts channel for cable operator in New York City area, 1998.


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