Apr 10, 2006

In Danger of Getting Kicked Off Cable

Cartoon Network has done some dumb things in the past six months, mostly airing live-action programming, trying to attract the audiences who watch live-action fare on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and getting rid of everything that made Cartoon Network Cartoon Network.

Of course, in spite of all these changes, Cartoon Network feels that they're doing a great job with minor increases, compared to major ones in the same period a year ago.

But you know who doesn't think Cartoon Network is doing a good job?

Cable operators.

Yeah! Cable operators, the people who actually place these networks on their lineups. Apparently, and color me crazy for suggesting this, they believe that a network that calls itself Cartoon Network should, um, show cartoons and not stray from that intent. Otherwise, you're getting into G4/OLN territory. More people are getting rid of OLN (formerly Outdoor Life Network) because that outlet is straying away from its outdoor recreation roots in favor of fare like NHL Hockey. G4, once a video-game news and info outlet, merged with the tech-driven TechTV, but trashed both formats in favor of a Spike TV-esque outlet.

Cartoon Network is trying to become a neo-Nickelodeon, Kinescope as you will. And cable operators are worried. Don't believe me? Here's something I read at Television Week earlier today (no ownership is implied)

Cartoon Network has an innovative solution for boosting its sagging ratings. Producing better cartoons? Nope. Producing non-cartoons. The network announced last week it has begun taking pitches for live-action programming and hired Ramsey Naito as VP of long-form development.

Only problem: Networks that significantly alter their programming or format run the risk of angering cable operators for deviating from their agreed-upon programming mission. "This is going to be a problem," said cable distribution consultant Cathy Rasenberger. "To add live action to a network that's defined by cartoons may be impossible to do given the content restrictions in their agreements. Allowing this is totally up to the operators. It just sounds like a major deviation."

But cable operators were split on whether such changes could cause a conflict. "We always closely watch what programmers do, especially if they make changes that take them away from how they sold us the service," said David Grabert, spokesman for Cox. "This is the first we've heard of these plans, but if we feel like they're going too far, we'll let them know."

A spokesperson for another multiple system operator said Cartoon shouldn't worry.

"Their contract with us doesn't stipulate against live action," the spokesperson said. "As long as the change doesn't alter the spirit of the channel, they're fine."

So . . . the whole "cartoony spirit" excuse they've been giving isn't fooling everybody afterall. Let's hope the cable operators keep Cartoon Network honest. I'd certainly would like to see them push their muscle a little more.


Jorge Garrido said...

This is like when MuchMusic started airing Ren & Stimpy in the 90's but they had to stop airing it becasue it wasn't music televison.

Or like how Music Televison Canada is an all-talk network wiht no Music.

jh said...

Yeah, that's probably the only thing I could agree with the CRTC about, the whole "themed networks must remain solely what they were licensed to be" law. MTV Canada had to be more or less a talk/teen network because MuchMusic and its digital channels are the music outlets in Canada. The fact that this is MTV's second Canadian adventure is because CHUM had a problem with the original MTV Canada, which they eventually bought when they bought MTV Canada's parent company.

(Before you ask how would this US-based wackadoo know so much about Canadian television . . . I keep my eyes out for it because, quite frankly, for its faults, it's not as insane as American television)

The CRTC nearly kicked off G4TechTV because they wanted to air Anime Unleashed, which wasn't a tech-based series (surprisingly to American fans, G4TechTV not only continues to air tech-based shows, but also continues to use the TechTV name underneath the current G4 logo, unlike the American counterpart which has become, um, uhhhhhh, Spike TV?).

I am curious about how they'll handle Teletoon's recent airings of Beetlejuice, Space Jam, and Batman, although they all have either inspired animation or centered around animation, and not that "live-action cartoon" nonsense CN's selling stateside.