Must-not-see TV? / Owners Pull Plug on Channel 10 Funding

His shoulders aren't broad enough to support Channel 10 any more, said energy and telecoms baron Yossi Maiman yesterday. He and the other partners won't pay its bills any more, he said.

Channel 10 is in a fight for its life after Maiman, its main shareholder, dropped the bomb and said that the money infusions would stop this month. If so, Channel 10 will have to stop broadcasting within weeks.

During Channel 10's eight-year lifetime, its shareholders have lost NIS 1.3 billion. The company also owes about NIS 103 million more for content, license fees and royalties, a debt that the shareholders have already stated they won't pay - in contrast with the assurance of CEO Yossi Varshavsky, yesterday that all liabilities would be met.

Yesterday Channel 10 announced that it would be canceling planned productions.

Its employees said they'd be demonstrating outside the Knesset today.

"I've been talking with my partners all week," Maiman said in an emotional address at an economic conference yesterday. "Everybody agreed not to inject any more money. My shoulders aren't broad enough. Barring changes, and I ask that you not view this as a threat, I personally don't want to and can't bear this burden alone. At this stage my partners and I are halting money infusions and the channel will have to subsist on what it can."

The mood in the corridors of Channel 10, at its center in Givatayim, was grim yesterday. Some of the workers, headed by human resources and administration manager David Ohayon, believe succor might be found if they resume the protests they held last winter.

"We plan to fill buses with workers from the channel, [the Internet portal company] Nana 10 and the news corporation, and anybody else who supports us," Ohayon said yesterday. Dozens of workers have vowed to help pay to organize protests, he said, adding that the workers mean to demonstrate wherever they see fit. They might demonstrate together with their families, he added, "so people can see we're just people with families who are about to lose their livelihood."

'Pilots' Wives' crashes

Shortly after Maiman's dramatic announcement, Varshavsky convened the station's workers, to brief them on the decision of the controlling shareholders and on the state of the channel's finances. Channel 10 will meet all its liabilities, he said, which could well mean that it has to stop broadcasting in a matter of weeks.

"We didn't have a lot of time to prepare for this," Varshavsky told Haaretz. "I knew about Maiman's intention from Sunday night. In conversation with the workers, I promised everyone that we wouldn't remain so much as a shekel in debt to anyone. That badly hinders our ability to continue to broadcast."

Immediately after the talk with Varshavsky, the channel's management convened. Four original productions are being shut down. One is the drama series "Pilots' Wives." Two are variety shows that Channel 10 says are in advanced stages of production.

Though they will be holding protests, in no case will the workers make use of Channel 10 broadcasts themselves as a platform to advance their cause, their representatives decided at a later meeting.

Channel 10's license expires at the end of January 2010.

Keshet and Reshet, the two broadcast companies that run the rival commercial channel, 2, yesterday released statements of support for Channel 10. "Reshet calls on the government of Israel to assure the continued existence of Channel 10," that company stated.

Keshet president Alex Giladi accused both legislators and regulators of passing laws that made it impossible for Israel's television industry to continue to exist.

The Communications Ministry stated that it's waiting for the Finance Ministry to approve a compromise that had been formulated by the communications minister, to reschedule Channel 10's debt and lower its royalty payments this year, to reduce its debt to NIS 38 million. "The channel already stated that it could pay NIS 10 million. The Finance Ministry should agree to reschedule the remaining debt and royalties," the Communications Ministry's spokesman said.