Q&A: Passion For Arts Propels Ovation

Apr 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

There’s an independent network that’s causing the television industry to take notice. Cable’s 24-hour Ovation TV is the only network dedicated to serving consumer interest in the arts and personal creativity. Since relaunching in June, the network has made great strides. TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman spoke with Ron Garfield, chief operating officer of Ovation TV, about the upfront for Ovation, and how the year ahead, and beyond, is expected to play out.
TelevisionWeek: Tell us about the upfront for Ovation TV.
Ron Garfield: This was the first upfront for Ovation TV since we relaunched in June 2007. We took an approach this year with the upfront, which really was setting up multiple meetings across the country with many, many agencies. To date, we’ve got over 70 meetings on the schedule, and we probably have done 50 already because we’ve been doing this since March.
TVWeek: What are you enthusiastic about with the network now?
Mr. Garfield: We’re really excited about the fact that we’re introducing a programming concept to the upfront advertisers, a concept that is nowhere else in the cable landscape. We are truly the only network that focuses full-time on art, culture and creative passions. It is a category that now is completely untapped. There is a huge interest in this category. It is amazingly broad.
TVWeek: How broad?
Mr. Garfield: There are roughly 54 million people who attend major league sporting events across the country each year; there are 255 million people that attend an art or art-related event—literally five times as many people. This is a very broad category, and it plays out across a wide demographic. It is a lifestyle, art and how people incorporate art into their lives. We are the only channel that really delivers programming to them.
TVWeek: How many households are you currently reaching?
Mr. Garfield: We’re in 28 million households. What’s cool about that is that at this same time last year, we were in 5 million households. We have grown fivefold in the last year, and arguably we’re the fasting-growing independent network in the business now, bar none.
TVWeek: Ovation TV is not affiliated with any of the major media companies?
Mr. Garfield: We are not affiliated at all. We are independently owned. We don’t have leverage from any other vertical media group. We don’t sell in conjunction with any other channel. We are out there doing all this on our own.
TVWeek: Why was there a need to relaunch last June?
Mr. Garfield: Ovation had been around for 10 years and, for a variety of different reasons, it failed to reach its potential. My partners and I saw a void in the marketplace. We saw a new way to present art on television, to expand how art is presented on TV. Art is consumed in a different way today. There are now a number of different platforms by which consumers get art. We saw an expanding definition of what art was. We saw an opportunity there for advertisers who weren’t being served by this programming category.
We purchased the channel in 2006. As part of that we continued our partnership with Time Warner Cable, we entered into a partnership with DirecTV—both of these large major distributors that nobody else offered this content. We did some rebranding, a new on-air look, new creative.
TVWeek: What are some of the specifics from the upfront?
Mr. Garfield: First, it’s important to understand how we program the channel. We program by genre night, so there’s something for everybody on a different night, because art covers many different disciplines. Monday is all about performance, and that could be anything from classical performance to modern or avant-garde performance. Tuesdays is about profiles of artists. That encompasses a wide variety of profiles, it could be Vincent van Gogh to Kurt Cobain to Frank Lloyd Wright. Wednesday is about art and expanding the definition to include what you would see in a gallery to design, architecture, digital photography, cultural tourism—all of that falls into art. Thursday is music, almost a Starbucks mix: Peter Gabriel to Eric Clapton to classics like Ella Fitzgerald. Friday is art-house film, and films about artists and art. All of our events, all of our original programming, fits into one of these categories. We have programmed the channel by event.
TVWeek: What’s gotten the most enthusiastic reaction?
Mr. Garfield: One of our biggest events was called “American Revolutionaries,” and this is what we came out of the box with last year in July. “American Revolutionaries” was a two-week event that celebrated great Americans who revolutionized their particular form of art. That included Frank Lloyd Wright in architecture; Elvis in music; Martin Scorsese in film. What we did throughout that event was to create interstitials for our advertisers. Buick was introducing the Enclave, so we created 10 custom-made interstitials for them that ran throughout the month. We created a micro-site on our Web site for them and it all tied into the “American Revolutionaries” event on-air.
TVWeek: Was it a success?
Mr. Garfield: Oh yes. We’re going to repeat it again in July of this year with a new theme. And, by the way, for next year’s upfront, we’ll introduce it again with a new theme. This year we’re doing “American Revolutionaries: The Women.” Next summer will be “American Revolutionaries: Rock and Soul.” That will look at the African American artists.
We’re also doing “Art in the City.” It’s our first original programming series. It’s a cultural tourism show and we focused on six great cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, London and Paris. We go in and we shoot all the great galleries, off-the-wall places. It’s like a walking tour of the city.
TVWeek: That’s original content; what about the other nights?
Mr. Garfield: It’s a combination. It’s original and it’s acquired content. These themed events will be anchored by an original piece that is then built around different acquired content. Much of our acquired content is stuff that has never been seen before, and one of the reasons is that we’re one of the only outlets for art content in the U.S. marketplace right now.
TVWeek: Are other events planned?
Mr. Garfield: Yes, we have a show called “Everything Is Art” that focuses on the intersection of art and design and commercialism. There will be an original program that will be done around the event of “Everything Is Art.”
TVWeek: What shows do you have in development?
Mr. Garfield: There is a show called “Vanity Fair,” which we’re doing in conjunction with the L.A. County Museum of Art, and it’s going to be a retrospective of the great photographs that Vanity Fair takes, in particular Annie Leibovitz’s photographs, the celebrity/personality pictures she has taken. One of the biggest hits we’ve had, and we’re doing it again this year, is “The Battle of the Nutcrackers.” We got four different versions of “The Nutcracker”—two were very traditional, two were more avant garde. We ran all four versions and we asked our viewers to vote online for the version they liked the best. We got tens of thousands of votes online. On Christmas Day, we aired the winner, which was the Mark Morris “Nutcracker,” and then we ran a marathon of “Nutcrackers.” This year we’ve added two more versions into the mix and we’re calling it “Battle of the Nutcrackers: The Grudge Match.”
TVWeek: What other programs are on deck or in development?
Mr. Garfield: We have a show called “I [heart] My Art”—it’s a combination of a couple of things. People who create art for the sheer love and passion of art, for no commercial gain whatsoever. It’s going to be anchored by a show called “Bathroom Divas,” which is essentially an “American Idol” for opera singers. It is very cool, very engaging, very fun to watch. It’ll give people a whole different perspective on opera.
TVWeek: Ovation TV is more about content than stars or personalities?
Mr. Garfield: Yes, absolutely.
TVWeek: What is the feedback from advertisers?
Mr. Garfield: Luxury automotive companies, upscale advertisers, the usual suspects. There is interest in targeting an audience like ours. Advertisers are a little bit nervous right now and we have somewhat of a recession-proof audience.
TVWeek: Is there a five-year plan for Ovation TV?
Mr. Garfield: We all have five-year plans. We’re in 28 million households now and we’re planning to be in 35 million by the end of the year. We’re building this channel, and the real key to that if you look at where we’re going—and one of the reasons we’re being successful—is that Ovation TV is about localism. Art is different and relevant to people in their local markets. There is not any city in the country that is not proud of their art and culture. We appeal to that. One thing that we’re doing that’s very well received by advertisers is multiple relationships with performing art centers, museums, arts education associations in major markets across the country. We’re able to connect our advertisers and distributors with these cultural institutions. For example, last year with Geico here in New York, the Natural History Museum was doing an exhibit in the Hall of Human Origins—the caveman exhibit. Geico had their caveman creative, so we created an interstitial tying the Geico caveman in with the Hall of Human Origins. It was our entry into Geico. There was on-the-ground collateral for Geico at the museum and it was a way for us to add a different level to basically a 30-second campaign.
TVWeek: If people truly want arts television, why are other networks not filling that need?
Mr. Garfield: Let me say that there are networks that have done really well with arts programming, two in particular—Bravo and A&E. They built on arts programming. The reality is that their corporate parents changed, their focus changed and they moved away from arts programming. It wasn’t that it was not successful. You don’t get to 80 million households by not being successful. Their focus and directions changed based on their ownership.
TVWeek: Will your independence keep your focus on art?
Mr. Garfield: Absolutely. We’re focused on art. We’re not looking to go in other directions. We know there is a void in the marketplace. We identified it and what we’re seeing—the responses we’re seeing from our customers, advertisers, distributors, viewer emails, phone calls—it all just confirms to us we knew what we were doing when we went into this. When people find this channel, they love this channel. One of the things about this category that resonates with advertisers and distributors is that it is a passion category. People are passionate about art because at some level people incorporate a creative passion or art into their life. It can be as simple as playing the guitar or going to a renaissance fair or attending the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Ore., every summer. In every community in the country, there is art. We want to be the place to go, the destination channel for everything to do with art.
TVWeek: What about your Web site?
Mr. Garfield: We already have viewers submitting art to the site. We’ve created on-air promos with that. We’re going to be creating social networking on the Web site very soon. People will be able to go and create social profiles of themselves. They can come and discuss art. That is where we want to go. The Web site will have event calendars on a market-by-market basis.
TVWeek: How are you spreading the word about Ovation TV?
Mr. Garfield: We’re doing a lot of stuff virally right now. We have a channel partnership with YouTube and we’re getting a lot of interest through that. We’re in their top 75 channels on YouTube. We have been featured on the front page of Amazon’s music page. We’re spreading the word through our partnerships and through our cultural associations.

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