No Longer Hot for CNN

Every few months in the past two years, the HOT cable company has announced it will stop broadcasting popular television channels like BBC Prime, Hallmark and National Geographic.

Every few months in the past two years, the HOT cable company has announced it will stop broadcasting popular television channels like BBC Prime, Hallmark and National Geographic.

After these announcements, HOT would resume negotiations, one of the sides would fold (each company said the other did) and the channels would still be aired.

Now it's CNN's turn. As in previous cases, HOT is demanding that the news network reduce its prices, while the network, in this case Turner Broadcasting System, says it has reduced it as much as possible.

If nothing changes, CNN will disappear from HOT subscribers' television screens on midnight, October 31 when its contract runs out.

This cut in HOT's channel supply comes in the wake of company CEO David Kaminitz's statement that he intends to reduce the costs of content providers by NIS 200 million. The cost saving does not ensure a reduction in subscription price.

The last time HOT discussed taking channels off the air, it tried to make a gesture, perhaps as a diversion, to add other channels - a Chinese one and a Georgian one. This did not work. The viewers wanted Hallmark, National Geographic and especially BBC Prime.

HOT's previous negotiations with Turner Broadcasting ended badly. One day, TCM and Cartoon networks disappeared from the broadcasting schedule. During the talks on these channels' terms, the issue of CNN was also broached, but HOT decided it was too important to discontinue broadcasting. Now the contract with the international news network is ending and suddenly it seems less important.

"We don't break signed agreements," says Yossi Lubaton, HOT's marketing V.P. "But now, when the contract with CNN has been opened, we tried to negotiate and the price they're demanding is hundreds of percent higher than the other channels. All the content providers understood that our mind was made up, but CNN chose to conduct a PR campaign. They're playing a stupid childish game instead of negotiating. We've never conducted 'take it or leave it' negotiations, but their way led to a breakdown."

A Turner Broadcasting spokesman said "for years, CNN has cooperated with HOT and reduced its prices. But this has become a vicious cycle of threatening demands on HOT's part. We've reached a point where we can no longer provide a service, we cannot cover costs and are losing money. It's simple business logic."

Neither side is willing to cite accurate prices. A HOT spokesman says: "We're traded on the stock market. You can see our expenses on content have gone down."

The reduction may be seen on the stock market, but not in subscription fees. HOT says it finally decided not to discontinue broadcasting National Geographic and BBC Prime after the last clash with them, not because of the public's objection but because the channels agreed to reduce their prices by 30 to 40 percent.

A National Geographic spokesman said this figure was far from the price finally agreed on.

HOT's spokesman said CNN still believes it is as popular as in the first Gulf War, but today its viewing has dwindled considerably. Today more viewers in Israel and the world watch Fox News, an American, not international company, he said. HOT did not provide figures to substantiate this claim.

A CNN survey shows a different picture. Some 500 people were asked which international news channel they would watch during a newsflash about a world crisis, such as the demonstrations in Myanmar or shooting on a presidential convoy in Pakistan. The interviewees were not asked to choose from a number of channels, and 40.3 percent said they would turn first to CNN. The survey indicates that CNN leads the international channels broadcast in Israel. Only 6.6 percent chose BBC World as their first option. Fox News was rated third; only 2 percent chose Sky News.

Lubaton is one of the latter. Sky News is his favorite foreign channel in the event of an international crisis.

CNN receives no state support and a Turner official said it was "required to produce its own income." As for Fox News, Lubaton is not at all concerned that the viewers receive their international information from a network known for its political bias and American identity. In the United States, Fox is seen a great success, he says, so "it's not such a bad channel."

Lubaton adds that HOT offers viewers four international news channels - France 24 (an English-language French network), Sky, Fox and BBC World. "That's quite a lot," he said. "We don't want to take CNN off the air and we don't underestimate it, but we will have to make a rational decision in existing market conditions. In our estimate, a very small number of viewers will be hurt. We will be happy if CNN decides to enter negotiations."

A Turner Broadcasting spokesman said it was forced to react to HOT's media campaign on the subject. HOT's criticism of CNN derives from commercial considerations and does not reflect the channel's popularity in Israel and worldwide. HOT is finding fault with the product in order to reduce its price, he said.

One way or the other, the Cable and Satellite Council has announced that HOT subscribers who wish to cancel their contract with the company because of this will not have to pay a fine.