After today the Ovation Channel ceases to exist as a channel on Foxtel and Austar packages, to be replaced by STVDIO from tomorrow.
The specialist Arts channel has been part of Foxtel packages for 13 years, screening concerts, dramas, musicals, dance, classical music, cabaret, literature, jazz, rock music, art documentaries and the evergreen Andre Rieu.
So what went down behind the scenes? Managing Director Gerry Travers spoke to TV Tonight about the changes ahead.
“At the end of March we come off both Austar and Foxtel and we importantly remain on SelecTV and Optus as is,” he says.
“Then we have negotiated to come back onto Austar as a stand-alone channel from the 1st of June. Austar are now taking bookings in their call centre.”
The monthly fee for Austar subscribers will be $6. The channel will also be available to Foxtel viewers from June 1st, for viewers who agree to a 12 month subscription, under separate arrangements direct with Ovation.
“If you’re a Foxtel subscriber we have gained access to Foxtel through the Special Access Undertaking provisions. It’s an annual booking, but effectively it’s $9.95 a month and people can pay monthly if they want to.”
Travers says infrastructure costs that Ovation has had to put in place for Foxtel customer bookings has resulted in a higher fee than Austar-direct subscribers.
“The Foxtel customers will become Ovation customers, so we’ve had to organise our own satellite transponders, Telstra HFC delivery mechanism and we’ve had to pay to get access to the Foxtel set-top box,” he says.
“They’ve all been fairly significant costs and we also have to develop a Call Centre and billing system for all of those Foxtel customers that become Ovation customers.”
Next month Ovation continues its arts offerings of Norah Jones Live, La Traviata, The House of Elliot, and draws upon its regular fare including BBC dramas, military tattoos, Andrea Bocelli (pictured), Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Clive James, concerts and interviews by Ita Buttrose and Glenn A. Baker.
Channel darling Andre Rieu will also remain. Ovation was singularly responsible for establishing his brand in Australia. But recent reports in the press suggest Foxtel executives had grown weary of programme repeats featuring the Dutch musician.
“That was the first time I’d heard that comment,” says Travers. “Many of our audience think The Simpsons is played fairly regularly too but when some programming hits a sweet spot it can move into being seen by others to be overplayed.
“Andre was probably one of those that has been played a lot, but that’s because there are a lot of audiences that actually really love Andre. He really has been a phenomena in the classical crossover music that hasn’t been seen in Australia for many years,” he defends.
“We think Andre has brightened up a lot of people’s lives. The way his music has soothed souls, his power of music and whole delivery of music has brought more joy than pain and suffering, I can assure you of that.”
So what was behind Foxtel’s decision to shift from Ovation to STVDIO? Few will speak on the record about the decision-making. Sources tell TV Tonight the Pay TV giant wasn’t happy with Ovation’s content or performance.
Travers tactfully says there hasn’t been a particular dust-up or disagreement.
“It’s curious,” he reflects. “We had several meetings, but the decision that I was given was that they wanted to ‘renovate’ the Arts and Entertainment space.
“When you look at various measurements on how a channel operates we think we did pretty well in terms of our audience share and growth. They have been upward trends for the last three or four years,” he says.
“We respect Foxtel’s decision. They can do what they choose, and while we were very disappointed with that decision, it’s one that they made. That’s the roughhouse of Australian media.”
Replacement channel STVDIO is operated by SBS subsidiary PAN TV, which already has a close relationship with Foxtel thanks to its World Movies channel. Industry observers note Foxtel CEO Kim Williams and SBS chairman Joseph Skrzynski are passionate arts lovers, both having served on the boards of the Sydney Opera House Trust and the Australian Film Commission.
Losing the lion’s share of viewers from Foxtel could potentially make Ovation unviable but an optimistic Travers is encouraged by the viewer feedback which he says is in the thousands, and has motivated the channel to forge ahead with new subscription models.
“We think we delivered a service that was much-loved, and we think that because people kept telling us that all the time, and they’re still saying that.”
For OVATION subscription from June 1st:
Foxtel subscribers: 1300 682 846
Austar subscribers: 132 432
Optus / SelecTV: No change
Foxtel declined to be interviewed.