WITH TECHNOLOGY now making it possible to consider 200- or even 500-channel cable television systems, it's not surprising that Ovation Inc., an Alexandria, Va., media company, has announced it will introduce a new fine arts cable network for high-quality theater, music, dance and visual arts. The company recruited J. Carter Brown, former director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, as board chairman and plans to start with 12 hours of daily programming late next year.
This fine arts network initially may try to find its niche among the 200 million people who visited American museums last year. Mr. Brown expressed great enthusiasm for the project and suggested the format might take viewers on museum tours of such blockbuster shows as the recent Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the National Gallery's "Great French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation."
Ovation also will produce a daily cultural and news review program as well as present major regional concerts, theater and dance productions. The idea, according to Mr. Brown, is to get away from movies and made-for-TV productions like PBS's "Masterpiece Theater" in favor of more "performance-based" programming involving arts institutions.
The Ovation network is planned as an advertising-supported venture. Mr. Brown and Ovation President Harold E. Morse believe that "narrowcasting," as the cultivation of niche audiences is called, can be profitable if the target audience is reached. So the Ovation network will be aimed at upscale viewers in the 35-to-65 age bracket, who presumably make up a significant proportion of the audiences at symphony orchestra concerts, theater and dance productions and museum shows.
The idea of a television network devoted to arts programming would be in many ways a fulfillment of TV's early promise as an educational medium. It is also an aspiration that frequently has been frustrated by the harsh economic realities of the industry. Given that history, if Mr. Brown and his colleagues are still willing to try to make the fine and performing arts centerpieces of a viable commercial network, more power to them.