Cultural cable is alive and kicking.
The demise of CBS Cable - some would call it an execution by corporate CBS - has been interpreted in many quarters as the beginning of the end for advertising-supported cultural cable. Doomsayers point out that instead of free cultural services, there is only Bravo, a pay-TV service clinging precariously to its fewer than 500,000 viewers.
But too many people are forgetting ARTS, the advertiser-supported basic cable service of Hearst/ABC Video Services. It has grown to a point where it is now reaching more than 8 million subscribers in over 1,700 systems nationwide, far ahead of the fewer-than-4-million subscriber peak of CBS Cable.
ARTS shows healthy signs of surviving the downtrend in the economy as it carefully makes its way through the world's cultural heritage, tastefully selecting only what it can afford to air, what its audience wants to see. And perhaps even more important, choosing programs its own executives would like to watch.
When I chatted with Hearst/ABC president James Perkins and programming vice-president Mary Alice Dwyer the other day at their Fifth Avenue offices, I was struck by the fact that both executives seemed so downright proud of their programming. They did not feel called upon to explain, as commercial network executives often do, that they themselves would not watch much of their own lowest-common-denominator programming.
Mr. Perkins and Ms. Dwyer are responsible for Daytime as well as ARTS. Daytime, also advertiser-supported, is a woman's-magazine-format service which is carried on close to 600 cable systems reaching more than 7 million subscribers. Until now it has been on the air from 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays, but sometime next year it will be available from 1 to 9 p.m. ARTS airs nightly from 9 o'clock to midnight.
How is ARTS faring in the wake of CBS Cable's exit, after having lost around