The definition of art can be as broad or narrow as one cares to make it. For Richard Melman, channel director for U.K. digital channel Artsworld, the broader the definition, the better. ‘I don’t think it’s my job to decide what is art. It’s merely for me to reflect what’s out there,’ he says. ‘The most important thing to me is to be able to put together interesting, original, exciting programs that cover the whole repertoire of the arts. One of the great pleasures for me as a commissioner is that in the same week, I was able to commission Elvis Costello and Deborah Harry doing a jazz concert [Fire at Keaton's Bar & Grill] and I became a coproducer on Dame Felicity Lott singing La Belle Hélène in Paris.’
Commissions make up a substantial portion of Artsworld’s schedule – 35% to 40%, according to Melman. The rest of the lineup consists of acquisitions culled from trips to the major TV markets, including MIPTV and MIPCOM. With almost a year under its belt, Artsworld is now a recognized player, but Melman recalls that the initial program-seeking excursions were daunting. ‘For the first six months, we had to convince people we were actually buying arts programs in the U.K., because they thought that no one ever did that.’ He says Artsworld’s acquisition fees fall into the US$2,000 to $5,000 range, while the channel will contribute anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 for a commission, depending on its role as a coproducer.
Despite the budget limitations common to most upstart digicasters, Artsworld tries to keep its doors open to international production companies. Notes Melman, ‘We have limited budgets. I don’t claim to have hundreds of thousands to spend on my commissions, so it makes sense for me to look closer to home, but there’s no reason at all why we wouldn’t commission outside. We’re already doing a couple of coproductions with Australia. If somebody has a good idea, it doesn’t worry me if they’re in Bombay or Newcastle.’
Cash aside, Artsworld offers doc-makers other perks. Says Melman, ‘We came to a decision very early on that we wouldn’t cut to clock. In former lives, I’ve been partly responsible for having 10 minutes taken out of a program because it had to run to time. I decided that if we claim to be an arts channel, then whoever made it had a reason for making it the length they did, so we don’t interfere with the program.’
Melman has a similarly flexible attitude with regard to thematic grouping. He explains Artsworld offers anchor points within the schedule – film on Tuesdays, dance on Wednesdays, jazz on Thursdays, etcetera – but viewers are never stuck with only that subject throughout the night. ‘We always have an opera on Monday nights, but we might have one on Saturday night too, if we have a particularly special one… [And] once we finish the opera, we might do one of our book series or maybe a painting series.’
Melman claims the channel is on track to reach its goal of 100,000 subscribers by its first anniversary in December, so far attracting an average audience in the 35-plus range. Programs in the works include a series on art in prisons and an interview between U.K. broadcaster Clive James and Australian poet Les Murray. Artsworld currently broadcasts daily from 2 p.m. to midnight.