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HBO Plans to Give Movietime Channel a New Identity

August 22, 1989|STEVE WEINSTEIN

HBO, which last week took over the management of Movietime, intends to refashion the obscure basic-cable service that plugs and covers the movie industry into "a major-league channel" along the lines of CNN, TBS and MTV.

"If it's showbiz, it's going to be Movietime's biz," said Seth Abraham, HBO's senior vice president of programming operations and sports, who also serves as HBO's representative on the Movietime board of directors. "It'll be short-form pieces, headlines--lots on the channel that will allow people to come and go as they please. It will really be a resource for people who are interested in the entertainment business, and that includes movies, television, music, sports, theater, books."

Until now, Movietime--which was launched two years ago, has mostly been a publicity device for the film industry. With several young personalities serving as hosts, the cable service has aired movie trailers and celebrity interviews interspersed with coverage of gala Hollywood openings. The service claims to be available in 14 million homes nationwide, but on many of its 498 cable systems, Movietime is only offered for a few hours a day. CNN, TBS and ESPN, by contrast, are available 24 hours a day in more than 50 million homes.

Movietime is owned equally by eight cable operators and entertainment companies, including HBO. The channel previously was run by one of its co-founders, Larry Namer, who will remain a member of the board of directors.

Abraham likened the planned HBO version of Movietime to Ted Turner's "Headline News" channel or an all-news radio station where the audience knows that at 10 minutes after the hour they will get a business report, and at 30 minutes past they know they will get sports. On Movietime, Abraham said, there may be movie reviews at 15 minutes past every hour and a celebrity interview at 30 minutes past the hour.

But Abraham cautioned that the new Movietime would not be aggressively out to break news stories. "We are not going to make it the CNN of the entertainment business," he said. Instead, HBO will spruce up the look of the channel and give it a whole new identity and dependability.

HBO has dispatched four executives to Movietime for one to three months as an interim management team and will hire a permanent team of executives to oversee the changes in the next few months. Abraham said he could not comment conclusively on the fate of such regular Movietime programs as "Word of Mouth" and insisted that the changes at the channel would not happen overnight.

Sources at Movietime who did not want to be identified said they believe that HBO, which plans to launch another basic-cable channel of its own later this year featuring an all-comedy format, was interested in taking over Movietime because it wants in on the growing and lucrative world of basic cable. They said they expect HBO to try to buy a bigger share of Movietime soon.

Abraham said only that HBO was originally interested in owning a part of Movietime and now in managing it because of the way today's TV viewer flips impatiently from one channel to the next.

"People don't sit for an hour watching the same program anymore," Abraham said. "With remote controls and all the zapping, watching TV in the '90s is going to be like walking through the supermarket. Movietime will really cater to grazers. It's a perfect vehicle for that kind of television viewing."

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