News in Brief

Arts and music channel Artsworld takes its final bow; BBC beefs up factual programming; the U.S.'s Henninger Media Services files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
July 18, 2002

July 31 will be the day the music dies for U.K. digicaster Artsworld. Since its debut in December 2000, the arts and music channel has faced stiff competition, most recently from BBC4, the Beeb’s digital arts and culture channel. After 20 months of struggling, Artsworld has simply run out of funds. By getting out now, the company noted in a statement, ‘it’s still in a position to honor its obligations to creditors and staff.’ Parent company Artsworld Channels Ltd. is expected to close up shop by the end of the year.

The BBC will pump £266 million (US$417 million) into specialist factual programming over the next three years, the U.K. pubcaster announced Friday July 12. The amount is almost double the Beeb’s previous commitment to non-fiction shows. Total program spending across genres will amount to £450 million by 2003. The pubcaster also pledges to air a minimum of 650 hours of factual programs on BBC1 in 2002/2003 – some of which will show up on new, regular arts and doc strands – and at least 500 factual hours on BBC2.

The BBC’s boost in programming spending has direct ties to the success of BBC Worldwide. Amid the moans and groans over an economic recession, the commercial arm of the U.K. pubcaster had a banner year. BBC Worldwide reported sales of £660 million (US$1 billion) for 2001/2002. As a result, the Beeb will receive a £106 million ($166 million) contribution to programming, £10 million ($16 million) more than BBC Worldwide came up with last year. Among Worldwide’s top selling programs were The Blue Planet, Walking with Beasts and Simon Schama’s A History of Britain Volume II.

On the digital front, the BBC said in its annual report to the British House of Commons that spending on digital services will not increase significantly over the next four years. Director General Greg Dyke defended the fact that the BBC’s penetration of the U.K. digital market totals at most 1.5%, even though the BBC spends about 8% of its annual £2.6 billion (US$4.1 billion) budget on the service. Digital offering BBC Choice has a viewer share of 1.5% while BBC4 nets a meager 0.1%, according to the Beeb’s own figures. Dyke said the BBC would work to boost its signal across digital terrestrial television (DTT); 20% of homes in the U.K. cannot receive DTT due to problems of geography. Nevertheless, due to the BBC’s universal funding model, residents in those areas pay a licensing fee for it.

In other BBC news, the U.K. pubcaster has entered into a deal that will see BBC World broadcasts delivered live to airliners. AirTV, the partner in the agreement, is rolling out a satellite service carrying 60 channels plus Internet and e-mail connections ‘direct-to-aircraft.’ Using four geostationary satellites, the service will also offer ‘expanded coverage to the maritime industry and remote global locations that are currently unable to receive [television broadcasts] reliably,’ AirTV said on Tuesday July 16. The service is slated to launch in 30 months.

Henninger Media Services of Arlington, U.S. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Company head Rob Henninger was quick to point out that the voluntary move does not mean the production and post-production facility is going out of business; companies that seek Chapter 11 hope to reorganize and become profitable again. Day-to-day business proceeds as usual, but major business decisions must be approved by a bankruptcy court. HMS has already lined up the support of an investor and its bank, Henninger noted.

Sundance Channel is creating a home video line to be distributed in video stores across the U.S. by Showtime Entertainment. Sundance Channel plans to release approximately 12 titles per year on VHS/DVD under the Sundance Channel Home Entertainment banner, in most cases before it airs the films on TV. The deal between Sundance and Showtime is an extension of an exclusive domestic sales servicing agreement in which Showtime distributes titles for Sundance Home Entertainment.

First it was Ozzy Osbourne, then it was Anna-Nicole Smith. Now Liza Minnelli has signed up to have her everyday life made into a television show. Minnelli, 56, has agreed to develop a reality show for music channel VH1, says The Guardian. ‘The project is still in the junior stages’ and no dates have yet been set, a spokesperson for VH1-U.K. told the newspaper. The program would air first in the U.S. and then hit the U.K., the spokesperson added.

In a bid to ‘bridge the communication gap between cats and ‘their people,” pet food maker Meow Mix has announced plans to launch Meow TV – what it claims will be the first television program marketed specifically to felines. The company claims research indicates ’22 % of pet owners watch TV shows they know their pets enjoy.’ The half-hour program will be ready to launch in the fall in the U.S. and will feature visuals with cat appeal – birds, mice, bouncing balls – as well as information for owners. No broadcasters have signed on so far.

Cablecasters are breathing easier as the pre-season negotiations with advertisers wind down. According to a report in The New York Times, industry analysts estimate that the cable upfront market could go as high as US$4.8 billion, an increase of 20% over last year.

The Sheffield International Documentary Festival (October 21 to 27) has announced highlights of this year’s event in Sheffield, U.K. Some of the films to be screened include Judith Helfand’s Blue Vinyl, Stanislaw Mucha’s Absolut Warhol and Coco Schrijber’s First Kill. Sessions include a masterclass with Roly Keating, BBC4 controller, who will discuss the channel’s first year of operation; ‘Newcomers Day’, which will include a pitching competition and strategy discussion with commissioning editors from Discovery, Channel 4 and Carlton; and ‘This Happy Life’ which looks at the cultural exchange in international coproduction partnerships between the East and West.

Japanese director Kaoru Ikeya’s En’an No Musume (Daughter from Yan’an) was voted ‘best documentary over 30 minutes in length’ at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Prague, Czech Republic, which ended July 13. The short doc prize went to Filip Remunda’s Obec B. (Village B.). Lucy Walker’s Devil’s Playground and Andrei Osipov’s Ochota Na Angela lli Cetyre Ljubvi Poeta I Poricatelja (Hunting Down An Angel or Four Passions of the Soothsayer Poet) received special mentions.

The Florida Film Festival, which for 11 years was held in June, has changed its dates to March 7 to 16 for its 12th installment in 2003. Festival director Sigrid Tiedtke said the change is due to the fact that the weather in Orlando, U.S., where the festival is held, is more pleasant in March than in June.

The fourth annual Director’s View Film Festival (February 13-17, 2003) in Stamford, U.S., is seeking entries for the documentary film competition during the festival. The deadline for submission is November 25, 2002. For more information, go to

Marco Williams and Whitney Dow, the New York-based directors of Two Towns of Jasper, will be the recipients of the third annual Anthony Radziwill Documentary Achievement Award, to be presented at the 2002 IFP Gotham Awards ceremony on September 26 in New York. Two Towns of Jasper had its first industry screening as a work-in-progress at the IFP Market last year.

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