Fallen Star

Yes canceling the Far East foreign-language channel

The expulsion by Yes satellite TV company of the Star World channel from station 27 on the digital receiver to the remote provinces of station 270 a few weeks ago, boded ill. It was only a matter of time until Yes turned this expulsion into permanent banishment.

And indeed, last week, it became clear that Yes had decided to drop Star World from its channel package.

Until its expulsion, Star World occupied a desirable position on the digital receiver, between Channel 2 (station 22) and Channel 3 (station 30). The proximity to Channel 3 suited Star World's entertainment character. The Far Eastern channel offered many current American series.

For example, starting on Wednesday next week the sixth season of the popular "American Idol" singing competition will be aired. The program, watched by an average of 63 million viewers in the United States, will appear on Star World only one day after the U.S. broadcast.

Though the program's ratings were somewhat lower in Israel, many would be happy to watch a program of this kind so soon after the original broadcast. Israeli viewers may continue to enjoy "American Idol," because Channel 3 will air the program for the first time, with Hebrew subtitles and without commercials, three days after the program airs in the U.S.

But there is no replacement for an entire channel. After it was relegated to a far-flung position on our hand-held remotes, many viewers found it hard to locate Star World. Thus, satellite company directors were free to conclude that few watched the channel.

Making a similar excuse, the satellite company decided that it would also cut the BBC World news channel from its package.

It is true that Israel Channel 2's news broadcasts enjoy much higher ratings, and the cable company's attempt to eliminate CNN created an uproar that caused it to reverse its decision, but there are still viewers who are interested in the news reported on one of the world's leading channels.

Yes took advantage of a period in which the competing HOT cable company was under the gun following its decision to cut its budget by dropping BBC Prime, Eurosport and the Adventure Channel.

Complaints regarding HOT's decision to cut BBC Prime were fierce and justified. Attempts to whitewash the damage caused by this decision, by offering British content in a VOD (video-on-demand) format, were considered an insult to viewers' intelligence. BBC Prime not only offers drama, lifestyle programs and entertainment suited to British TV fans, it also raises the level of local television production. Where did local cooking and fashion programs obtain their inspiration and their formats if not from this channel?

Claims regarding Star World's limited ratings are peculiar. Niche channels target a limited number of viewers, by definition.

Channels that the cable company decided to keep, like National Geographic and Hallmark, do not attract more viewers. Moreover, do cable company directors really believe that the Chinese and Georgian channels, whose launch they gleefully announced, will attract masses of viewers?

In addition, sometimes viewers of a certain niche channel really do represent a minority, but a minority with values - or at least, a minority which yields profits.

Subscription costs remain the same

Those who mainly consider economics would be wise to listen to that minority. An article, published in Globes, about the viewing habits of the top tenth percentile said that 3 percent watches BBC Prime (one of the dozens of channels that appears on their program guide), and only 1 percent watch National Geographic, 3 percent less than those who prefer Channel 8.

Star World and BBC Prime are prominently flagged in campaigns to enroll new cable and satellite entertainment-package subscribers. They help sell the package. But announcements that they are being dropped are delivered in a humble, debilitated voice. Needless to say, when a channel like this is dropped without asking consumers, subscription prices are not reduced.

Yona Wiesenthal, deputy content director for Yes, says that the satellite company prefers to relinquish a channel that does not have subtitles and has very few viewers, "who do not watch that channel under a magnifying glass."

In response to questions regarding whether a niche channel is supposed to target more than a limited number of viewers, he maintains, "There are niches and there are niches. Star is not a niche. Ratings were so low that you couldn't define them. There were channels that went off the air, like TCM, because ratings were low and there was no apparent justification for keeping them. We prefer to take the money and invest in other channels. When Yes went on the air, we did not spell out that we would also offer 'Yes Doco' [a documentary film channel]. We added it to the package without raising the price. We are constantly taking steps. The good of the customer is always in our sights."